DUMPLINGS, TAI CHI, & PEARLS
Beijing is by far the most cultural and historic city we have visited so far. We stayed there for a week, exploring the cultural gems of China's capital. Airport is far from the city, but taxi system works great at the airport, you just have to get in an official taxi queue- it is similar to the taxi system at the Washington Dulles Airport, there is a handler who will point you to your taxi. Our ride was app. $20. For more info on taxis click here. One thing about the airport was that before reaching customs and putting our luggage through a scanner there was suddenly a huge line and we waited for a while until we went to the front of the line and realized it is due to bad organisation- there were many scanners available, but international passengers were all waiting in line for the same scanner while others were open but not used. So if you are suddenly caught waiting in line, go to the front of the line to see what's going on.
The heart of the city is a broad term for Beijing, since the city is very large, and most historic cites are relatively spread out. Our hotel, The Westin Beijing Financial Street, was somewhat in the middle of all the places we wanted to visit. All the temples we desired to visit were approximately the same distance from the hotel.
Although the bustling city seems to only have skyscrapers and apartments, each temple has its own green space where locals enjoy the peace from the noisy city. If you are a history nerd, and you are planning to visit Asia, Beijing is the place for you. You will enjoy not only learning about its history, but observing people lead their lives in the public, in parks, squares, streets,etc. It is just wonderful watching them sign in parks, practice tai chi, etc.
We expected nothing less from the food, knowing that the traditional American "Chinese" food would probably be nowhere near the actual cuisine in Beijing. Steamed buns, Sweet and Sour Pork, Gung Bao Chicken, Wontons, Chow Mein, and Peking Roasted Duck, filled our bellies during our stay. We passed by markets that sold food we never even thought of roasting, like crickets and snakes. Although it was fun to see it, we will probably not be making that at home anytime soon. We didn't find coffee and desserts delicious, so ended up actually losing weight during this trip, which is something that seldom happens.
Beijing has an excellent, easy to use subway system. This is the best way to get around the city, because of the horrible traffic in Beijing. However, be ready to push your way in/out of the train, otherwise you will never get on/off. We suggest hiring a tour guide as well. Although you can learn almost everything from your tour guide books, having someone help you with navigating the subway, buying tickets, or ordering food, is priceless. Our guide's name was Violet (Ling Hui Lan), for her contact info click here. Beijing also has the world famous pearl market, where you can buy lovely pearls for app. $10 after some negotiations. Beats any present from Target.