For our last day in Beijing I wanted to fit in all of the major sites we hadn't gotten to yet. This included things I missed seeing 9 years ago, since of course Ryan hadn't seen those either. In order to fit everything in, I hired a private tour guide for the day. There are pros and cons to a private guide, but when time is short and there is a lot you want to see, this can be a good option. Price also plays a big role and this was affordable, especially compared to what a group tour for the day would have cost (it was roughly the same price).
We started our day off with breakfast at the hotel.
Sushi...reminds me of home!
This is also very Japanese. I have no idea exactly what the hotel had going on in there but probably some meat and some tofu items.
Noodles for soup
Here was what I ended up with. Pretty American with my choices, but keep in mind I don't have a lot of access (except cooking at home, of course) to American breakfast food. The green label item is yogurt and I also had congee.
We met our guide in the hotel lobby and then headed out to our first stop, the Temple of Heaven. Outside the subway station I finally saw a scene that was very familiar 9 years ago when I was here. Tons and tons of bikes. These are a lot less common now and I think more people use motorized bikes. The traffic and side walk conditions just didn't seem conducive to safely biking. It was hard enough to walk!
The Temple of Heaven was used for sacrifices to heaven back in the 1300's and all the way up to the end of the last dynasty, which ended in 1911. Sacrifices were made for things like a good harvest.
Here we are entering the park area. This park is seriously huge.
This park is a public park now, with entrance fees required to get into the temple halls. In the park there are many people, especially older people, enjoying what the park has to offer. Lots of tai chi and yoga.
Cards and dominos were also popular.
Here is the building that was used for prayer for good harvests.
Here I am with Ryan. Not a lot of shade around and the sun was definitely shining, but we stood still just long enough to take some pictures.
This is a very beautiful building and is a little different from most temple buildings because of the blue used.
This is elevated so here you can see in the background are the stairs, the building just below, and then the city off in the distance.
I know it is a little crooked, but this is what it looked like inside.
Love the colors here with the painting and then it blends into the sky.
Another look inside.
Since we approached it from the back side, here is a picture from the front.
The stone work on the stairs.
Giant incense burner.
Me and Ryan with the front view.
This park all lines up into a straight line, so through the doors from one area you can look through and see pretty much everything.
Interesting stone work.
One of the sets of gates we passed through as we continued on through the Temple of Heaven.
The sun was out and the haze wasn't very heavy, so needless to say this walk down this long walkway was pretty hot. No shade here!
We passed by this tree and a man was there holding out his hands and a group of ladies (in the back of the picture) were there doing the same. We stopped to watch and the man told our guide in Chinese to tell us to join in. Apparently you can feel the energy coming off the tree. It is very old. So we obliged.
It was actually a pretty neat looking tree.
This is the information about the tree. It is over 500 years old (according to the sign, which I made large enough that it should be easy to read everything you would need to know about this tree- don't mind the guy peeking out from behind it!).
More buildings around the grounds. This is a very large temple area and a massive park surrounding it. The buildings all start to look the same after a while, but in this case it is nice to at least see the different colors since many of the other temples are much more similar in shape and color.
Here we are headed over to the circular mound altar.
After a nice little wait in the super hot sun it was finally my turn to take my photo on the mound.
As we were leaving we saw more people doing various activities. This man was doing calligraphy on the ground with washable paint.
Once we left the park we were waiting for a taxi to head to the Lama Temple. While we were waiting we discovered this, although we almost discovered it in a bad way. This was actually very, very hot as someone (likely from the nearby restaurant) was cooking food inside this pot. Then we realized there were actually quite a few of these around on this street corner.
The next stop was over to the Lama Temple, which is a Buddhist Temple. When we were still in the taxi I noticed a few vegetarian restaurants and I got excited. Then it clicked...we were pulling up to the temple! When in doubt, and looking for a vegetarian restaurant, head to the nearest Buddhist temple!
Finally some shade!
Free incense for everyone! Straight ahead!
Step right up for your incense!
Each person got a bundle. There were 2 ways to do this. One was to lay it down inside and not light it. The other was to light it and then toss it in a pit with other incense sticks.
Ryan went first and lit his on fire. The guide told him to go to this big pit of fire. Of course someone came over and told him to stop...because it was a giant pit of fire!
Instead he went to and area with smaller containers that had a flame inside.
Then another person there asked to share his fire and lit hers from his. When we was done he just tossed it all back into the big pit that he was originally trying to light it from.
Then we proceeded through each of the halls, taking a moment to look at the decorations inside.
Here was another hall. The were all in a line, so you just kept walking straight, passing through various temples.
I rarely take pictures of kids, especially without asking the parents, but they were alone and really just adorable sitting there quietly enjoying their drinkable yogurt. I wasn't the only one photographing them either. They were definitely a hit with tourists.
At the very end we entered the hall where the giant Buddha is kept. This was awarded with the Guinness Book of World Records recognition for largest Buddha all carved from one piece of wood (or something to that effect). Here you can see the size of it and in the picture just below that you can see the head a little more clearly.
Here is the certificate from the Guinness Book.
After the Lama temple we headed to a hutong for lunch. A hutong is a traditional way of living in small neighborhoods where the houses have 4 rooms that all share a common courtyard. I had visited a hutong on my last visit, but I knew this was something we wanted to do again. Hutongs have been making a coming back since the last time I was here and some bars, restaurants and shops now operate in these areas, which increases the flow of people and money in these neighborhoods.
When we first arrived we had to wait for our rickshaw driver to pick us up to take us to a families home for lunch. While waiting I watched this lady with her "food truck" prepare lunch for some locals. She took a little of this and a little of that from each container and made a noodle dish. It actually looked pretty good and I think it may have been meatless.
Our starting place was the Drum Tower, but we didn't go up until later in the day.
There were plenty of other rickshaw drivers hanging around. Rickshaw travel is especially common in the hutongs.
Here we are in our rickshaw, heading to lunch.
We passed by some cool looking places along the way. This place is dedicated to fries.
You can see that these are poorer areas, often run down (some don't have running water and no bathrooms...in fact I used a public toilet in the hutong and I do not recommend it if you don't have to!).
Here we are inside the home where we were served lunch. This is inside their courtyard.
The family had these 2 birds in a cage hanging in the courtyard. I visited a family on my last trip and learned to make dumplings at their house, but I don't think it was this family. This home has been opened for tourism since the Olympics.
While we waited for our hot dishes we were served a few appetizers. Actually, at our table it was just peanuts.
Of course we had some white rice.
Ryan and our guide had a meat dish.
They also had meat dumplings.
We shared the veggie dishes. This was excellent. It was just green peppers and eggs.
This was a cabbage (or it could have been lettuce) dish.
After the meal I took a few more pictures inside their home.
Our hostess showed us her skill in paper cutting, which was a family tradition that she learned from her father.
After lunch we got back into the rickshaw for a little more of a tour through the hutong and then over to the drum tower. I took a few pictures as we rode around. Some things just looked too interesting to pass on taking a picture of it.
We stopped to take a picture in front of a museum.
This was another museum we passed by.
Here we are in the rickshaw, enjoying our ride.
Lots of bikes used for things we would normally see cars or trucks doing.
Here is the bell tower.
Locals enjoying lunch outside.
Here is the Drum Tower.
I also visited here 9 years ago and I remember at that time I said that I would never again climb the stairs to get up to the top and then climb back down. I was joking at the time mostly because I knew I wasn't coming back. Boy was I wrong! It was just as steep as I remember it.
Once upstairs we decided to wait the 20 minutes until the drum performance. The drums were used to indicate time to the town below.
This also serves as a museum to show the various items that helped in keeping time over the years.
Here is the view from the balcony of the tower.
You can see the hutong below.
After a short wait it was time for the performance to begin. It was definitely loud but also worth it to be up there to watch them perform.
Next we headed across the way to the bell tower. We didn't go up, but instead headed to the tea store on the first floor so we could experience the Chinese tea ceremony.
The last time I was in China I didn't drink tea, and really at that point I didn't drink any hot beverage. After spending time in Europe and Asia I have grown accustomed to these and was happy to be able to try out the tea again.
Here is a close up of all the teas we would try.
First was oolong tea, which is also popular in Japan.
It is served in a little cup with a wider cup on top and then to drink it you turn it over and remove the narrow cup. It is said to be good for digestion and to increase energy.
Next was the local tea, which is Jasmine. Lots of things around Beijing are Jasmine flavor. You start to really be able to recognize it.
It is a much lighter color. This is said to be good for the eyes and liver.
Next is Pu'er tea. This is a newer tea that is gaining popularity because it is said to help with weight loss and to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and control diabetes. It is the only tea that is best when aged. It comes in these dried disks and you only use a quarter at time and that makes all the tea you need for a day. In China it is not uncommon to use the same leaves all day and just keep adding hot water.
This is more of an orange color. We bought some of this to take home- not so much because they claim it helps weight loss but because we thought it was cool that it was best when aged and it is now becoming very popular in China. I guess you can say we were trying to be trendy!
This is a little blurry, but this is the lychee black tea. It is said to be good for improving circulation and to prevent anemia. The lychee gives it a very sweet smell and taste.
It was steeped with rosebuds. I also bought this tea to take back home but ended up ordering the roses online to save money (and of course they shipped from China...go figure!).
This tea was definitely my favorite of all that we tried.
Next up was a fruit tea.
It had a little after taste and while it was good, it wasn't the best. I believe this was served chilled.
At the very end she showed us these fun mugs that change color/pictures when you pour hot water into them. We didn't buy any, but they were definitely fun. We didn't have any room for these either in our suitcases or at home in our cabinets.
That concluded our tour around Beijing. It was a long day, but it was good, and we saw so much. I definitely feel like we left Beijing on a high note and didn't miss out on anything essential.
Dinner was back at the steamed bun place we found on our second night in Beijing. We liked it so much that we definitely didn't want to leave Beijing without eating there one more time. This time we knew not to order to many steamed buns and instead ordered a cold veggie dish. This was smoked tofu with carrots, mushrooms and celery. Yummy!
Just one order of the veggie steamed buns to share.
Ryan was served some kind of soup. We have no idea what it was but he enjoyed it.
I couldn't leave without posing with the steamed bun "man" out front. This place definitely has some yummy steamed buns.
We walked along the pedestrian street a little more and stopped in to this place to see what all the hype was about. It was filled with people. Lots of what looked like sweets, so we picked a few to take with us.
We still have no idea what this was, but it seemed popular so we bought it to try.
Not really the sweets we are used to but we figured it would be some sort of bean paste anyway.
To end the evening we took a stroll through the night market with the food and looked at all the crazy stuff on last time while zigzagging our way through the little alleyways.
Drinkable yogurt, which is the only way to consume yogurt around here. Even the small cups we would use spoons with we were given a straw to use. They aren't thickened like in the US.
More scorpions on a stick.
Tasty looking fruit skewers.
As a very last thing to try, we went to this ice cream shop to try the Jasmine soft serve.
While it looks good, this was probably one of the worst things I have ever eaten. It was just way to strong and I have allergies to flowers anyway, so this was just too overpowering. But hey, I tried it, and that is what counts!
Since we tossed the ice cream, we tried a little bite of each of the "treats" we bought earlier at the store with the little "cakes". Honestly, no clue what these were and they weren't all that good. But, we tried them!
After that we were exhausted and had a long day ahead of traveling to Xian. Like I said, I think we ended Beijing on a high note and were ready to move on to the next city.
QUESTIONS: Have you ever been cooked a meal at someone's house as a sightseeing or tourist activity? Have you ever visited a Buddhist Temple? Have you ever been to a tea ceremony?