Thursday, May 9, 2013

Beijing Day 2: Highlights

Our second day in Beijing consisted of just two places to visit: the Great Wall and the Olympic Park. 

Part I: The Great Wall At Jinshanling 

We woke up at the crack of dawn -- day 2 of our three-day Beijing trip -- and discovered that it was snowing. We were a bit concerned that our Great Wall trip happened to fall on the one day when it snowed in this Beijing winter.

But Rick, our hostel's manager said, "Snow on the Great Wall is magical." 

We were picked up by a bus which arranges tours to the Great Wall at Jinshanling. Not many people know this, but the Great Wall of China has sections that are located in many different parts of the country.

The most touristy one is near Beijing, in Badaling. The one that we chose was a little farther on, in a mountainous section, 125 km away from the madding crowd. Jinshanling is, supposedly, the best preserved part of the Wall.

Snowy road on our way to the Great Wall at Jinshanling

Overnight, the snow had transformed Beijing into a kind of ethereal world, with snow capped trees and eerily white winding roads. The drive itself was exhilarating already. 

Part of the tour package was lunch, which included such delicacies as "boied" beef and potato and fried tomato with "ogg."

When we finally reached Jinshanling, about three hours later, we paid the entrance fee of RMB 40 (or around 260 pesos). Then our guide sent us away with the some very general directions ("turn left and return after half an hour for lunch"). It looked like we were to trek up the slippery, snowy steps all on our own. 

Jingshan cableway at the Great Wall of Chian 

Originally, we had planned to hike from Jinshanling, to another section of the wall called Simatai. This would have taken five hours, covering 10 kilometers. Now Simatai sounds very much like the Tagalog word for killing (pinatay), and I was pretty certain that a five-hour hike on steep, winding paths (90 degree climbs, in some areas) could very well do just that -- kill us. 

So, imagine my joy when we found out prior to the trip that the Simatai section was closed for repairs. Thank you Lord. 

But the sprawling section at Jinshanling was more than enough really. It was as amazing as I ever hoped it would be. We were literally the only people around for miles on end, and we had the snow-covered snaking wall and majestic mountains all to ourselves. 

We climbed steep towers with their jawdropping views, 

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling 

and took lots 

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling 

and lots, 

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling 

and lots 

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling 

of pictures. 

PART II: The Olympic Park 

Because of a Discovery Channel show that documented the Beijing 2008 Olympic preparations, Jotham had long dreamed of visiting the Olympic Park. 

He had watched as the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube were built from the ground up, and he wanted to see these two iconic structures first hand. 

Which was why when the tour bus from Jinshanling dropped us off at our hostel, we lost no time in boarding another bus that would take us to Olympic Park. One thing about the Beijing buses -- because they are government owned and operated, they are electric buses that are super clean, and  super cheap. We paid only RMB 1 for the 4-km ride from Dongcheng district (where our hostel is situated), to Chaoyang district (where Olympic Park is). 

The Bird's Nest, Olympic Park, Beijing, China

The best time to visit is obviously at night, when the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube are all neon-lit and glowing. There is wide open space that separates these two landmarks, where people walk around, fly kites and take lots of photos.

Water Cube Olympic Park Beijing China

It doesn't like look like it but we were freezing while these photos were taken. Whenever we had to adjust our camera's aperture or light settings, we'd have to remove our gloves and expose our hands to the bitter cold. But anything for a good shot, right?

The Bird's Nest, Olympic Park, Beijing China

This last photo was taken at the bus stop, as we prepared to head back home. It's Jotham's photo and I think it looks like it was taken by a professional. 

PART III: Dinner At Otto's 

It was so late when we got back, and Otto's was the only restaurant that closed late (2am closing time). Recommended by our hostel's manager, Rick, this place quickly became one of our favorite restaurants in Beijing. Why? Because Otto's serves Cantonese style cuisine -- none of the tasteless nonsense that characterizes most of Beijing's food. Here it's all sweet, salty, saucy and all-around delicious. 

Now isn't that the biggest bowl of soup you've laid your eyes on? We were having a bit of trouble making ourselves understood by the waiter, so we ended up with a very large bowl of steaming hot soup. And yes, that is milk tea on the right. This was back in 2011, when the craze had not hit Manila yet. We ordered milk tea because everyone in Otto's was drinking one. 

We ordered prawns that are somewhat like Wee Nam Kee's cereal prawns. Plus a chicken dish in really tasty sauce. And no, we don't know the actual names of the dishes, having only pointed to pictures in the menu of what looked good. 

Thankfully, they were as good as they looked, and so it was that Beijing, Day 2, ended on a pretty high note. 

P.S. If you want to check out Otto's, here are the details of this great Beijing restaurant: 
Address: 72 Dongdan Beidajie, Dongcheng District (10 meters from the main street and across the Xiehe hospital)

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