Sunday, March 17, 2013

I've been negligent in getting my posts up at the end of 2012 due to an unexpected family situation. But, now, finally I've been able to find the time to complete it. Beijing, Great Wall and Nepal follow. All visited during November 2012.

Beijing, China, November 2012: China was never on my list of places to see. It didn't appeal to me for a few reasons. My cousin,who lives in Singapore talked me into a one week trip to Beijing. So glad we did it. Thank you AMP! Aside from the air pollution which was really hard on me, it is an amazing city and I would go back in an instant. We also nipped out to the Great Wall, Mutianyu for an overnight stay. I'd see more of the Great Wall, too.

First stop was Apricot Courtyard Inn in the Zhonglouwan Hutong near Drum and Bell Towers. Great little place, reasonably priced.
Hutongs are alleys or narrow streets found in Beijing and formed by lines of courtyards. Since the 20th Century hutongs have declined dramatically to make way for new buildings. There are still many well preserved hutongs to see in Beijing, one area being in the Drum and Bell tower area.

A brilliant sunny, cold day in the hutong.
This is the Drum Tower. Built in 1272.  

Near the Drum Tower was a great little cafe - Excuse. We ate here most mornings.
Yummy tomato, cheese and egg on baguette style bread and cappuccino.

The friendly owner of Excuse Cafe.
Didn't get his name :-(

Our view from Excuse Cafe included this bicycle rickshaw driver every morning, doing the cross word (I think) and waiting for his business day to start.

Cute kids.
Everywhere in the hutongs there are courtyards and in the early morning you see young children with what I assume to be grandparents out and about getting some exercise and fresh (not) air. (The air pollution some days just left you coughing all the time.)

Local store near Excuse Cafe and Drum Tower. 

Bicycle candy seller

Fruit and candy with a clear, hard candy coating to keep it together and on the stick. 

There are quirky signs all over Beijing. I loved this one. Tile Cat is a restaurant.
I have no idea how tiles and cat relate to the food.

A motorcycle rickshaw.
You enter through the back and sit on a bench facing backwards. A tight fit for two of us but a warm ride on a chilly November afternoon.

Nanluoguxiang also known as NLGX
Nanluoguxiang, meaning South Gong Lane, is about 800 years old. NLGX is the poster child for the New-Old in China. A quiet local hutong neighborhood just a few years ago, this alley was tagged to become a model hutong for tourists. The entire stone street was repaved in record time in the fall of 2006, and the store fronts were quickly transformed with the addition of traditional window and door details and some bright red paint. Where there used to be only a handful of little hutong shops and cafes hidden away in these alleys available space is now running out in the rush to open the next best café, restaurant or cute souvenir shop. Among the glitter, you can still catch glimmers of old Beijing hutong life.

Many/most courtyard homes in the hutongs do not have toilets. There are neighbourhood facilities that you use. (We had a private bathroom at the inns) So if you are out for stroll or even at a bar in the evening, the toilet can be found close by. And it is very communal. No cubicles for individuals. Just one open room for all to share. Well maintained and clean for the most part.

Tienanmen Square.
Vast and surrounded by fast moving, many lanes of traffic which make it hard to enter and exit. It is the third largest city square in the world. Entrance to the Forbidden City is at northern end, behind us
Like my cat ears?  Got them on NLGX.

The entrance to the Forbidden City graced by a portrait of Chairman Mao.
No one was jaywalking the multiple lanes of traffic to get to the entrance, choosing to take the underground walkway. Good and careful comrades.  

Fashion crimes on display at Tienanmen.

Amusing sign at the Lama Temple

Once inside the Forbidden City you walk through square after huge square, up steps to a formidable building, through it into another square and another building. It goes on forever. It is vast and then it has all sorts of buildings and squares off to the left and right. It was built in the 1400s and has been home to emperors and their households. It contains 980 buildings! Forbidden refers to the fact that no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor's permission

No entrance to this building. Moving on....

Beautifully restored paint and tile work on one of the buildings. 

Close up of intricate tile work at Forbidden City. 

After viewing the Forbidden City's 'Clock Museum' we stopped for a soup to warm us up. Here is the Emperor and Empress being fed by a restaurant employee. All over Beijing and in Mutianyu I saw white cats with one green and one blue eye. A genetic mutation that is extensive it would seem.

A pagoda in the Summer Garden of the Forbidden City. 

We visited the Yonghe or Llama Temple the following day. It is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world and it resides in Beijing. Interesting that it has been preserved. This is the only photo I took that I really like. It is a huge complex (nothing in Beijing is done on a small scale). We also saw the 26m tall White Sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Incredible!

This was a cool bike shop / restaurant mostly patronized by expats. Wish I had gotten the name of it. And at this point I can't even remember which hutong we were in. Bikes were hung from the ceiling and you retrieved yours by climbing stairs at the back of the shop, walking along the walkway which you can see in the top left corner of the photo. Bikes are hung on hooks which ride on a track. Pull your bike close to you, disengage and lift it down, walk it along the walkway, down the stairs and out the front door. Restaurant served excellent food. Good idea for limited space.

We visited a doctor of naturopathic medicine. This was his office / tea room
Famous "Ghost Street" or Gui Jie with it's many lanterns. Famous for its restaurants.

After returning from the Great Wall we stayed at this guest house in the NGLX neighbourhood. Excellent place. I would recommend it. Click on the name for a link that takes you to Trip Advisor reviews.

Across the alley from Maoer Hutong B&B was a variety store and this cat on a leash. She was perched on top of an air conditioning unit looking down at the passers-by. She did come down to street level and I got to pat her. She had the silkiest fur and was very well looked after it seemed.
Street view in the hutong. Just down the alley from our B&B.


At another Buddhist temple in Beijing we witnessed a special ceremony taking place. It seemed like a dedication. The two monks appearing here are dressed in their finest for the event and chrysanthemums line the stairs.

People love their dogs and in Beijing everyone seems to have one. These guys were hanging out in a park, smoking cigarettes, talking and each had a dog in a funny coat. What are they thinking?

Everywhere in the hutongs we saw cars with pieces of plastic, boards, scrap metal, leaning against their car wheels. I think it was protection from dogs peeing up against the wheels.  

We visited the Niujie Mosque (Cow Street Mosque) which is the largest mosque in Beijing. It has been around since 996 AD. Here the faithful are entering the prayer hall. It is a very large complex.

Near the back of the complex is the 'ladies prayer hall'. All in all a very interesting place.

Street view at night. South of Tienanmen Sq. Busy shopping, pedestrian street. There was street art on display and the almost full moon above. Lovely.

Corner store at night in the hutong. I like this shot.

2012 Bar in an alley off NLGX. We had a few cosmos and whiskies here. I wonder if it has become 2013 Bar?  

In 2012 Bar we found rather eclectic decor. The curio cabinet to the left had lots of jewellery and figures.

Up close shot of "boyz in the 'hood"

Monsters and Robots

Another quirky sign. Bomb chicken? Who knows?

Street vendors on NLGX selling glow collars for doggies.

Love the bike and side car. As for the plush toys.....

In case you can't see, the fast food sign reads:
Exploding Chicken;  Big, Big, Big; Squid Neck; Special Incredible.  
One Exploding to go please.

Local bar near inn.

These were everywhere. Says it all.

Bomb Chicken.
Signing off...