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Hutongs of Beijing and Lama Temple

semi-overcast -4 °C

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We'd gone into hibernation mode, killing time in the morning in the misguided hope that it would warm up, although it never did. We also had an unhealthy addiction to the Logos game/app that coincidentally amped up our desire to stay inside.

Once we eventually left, we tried out the Taiwanese sandwich shop that my friend recommended. Boy were they good, like little egg or egg and bacon crepes, with a flaky yet oily exterior. They were salty with chili sauce, ketchup and pepper. The vendor even spoke some English so I could be sure mine were meat free. We regretted only buying one to scarf down before the subway ride.

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We came back above ground at Lama Temple, a Tibetan temple that had withstood battles that desecrated other buildings. Originally a residence for Emperor Yong Zheng, Lama Temple was converted into a Lamasery in 1744. Since, it helped to serve as a liaison between China and the Mongol people when relations were healthy.

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By this point, we'd admit that we'd seen a lot of temples, most looking very similar and this one also fit the bill. A unique feature was a giant wooden Buddha statue, so large in fact that they earned a world record (posted in the temple museum) for their statue. They also had the prayer wheels we saw in Sichuan province that were more typical to Tibet.

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Most people visited to pray and bought bundles of incense sticks. There were many sites where they placed the sticks as an offering for each prayer. That incense shop made quite the healthy business. We were pretty cold just wandering around, economically snapping photos when interest topped the desire to have warm hands. The only place to warm up had been the museum with a collection of bronze statues and worship items. Monks stood in the corner, I assumed to supervise, although their phones caught their attention far more than any visitor.

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We found a vegetarian restaurant which was quite far from the temple. It didn't always pay to avoid meat, but the place was nice. It had a health grocery section at the front and then a dining area with several sections. It felt like a tea house out of a kung-fu movie with round windows in the stone walls, dark furniture, an indoor courtyard made to look outdoorsy. We split a kung-pow mock chicken dish that I was a bit sceptical of and I tried some flowery Roselle tea.

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It took a few wrong turns to find our way out of the hutongs and head toward the other hutongs that Lonely Planet recommended. We passed some sweet Christmas decorations like life-sized lobsters wearing Santa hats. Ryan also spotted a few guitar shops that we stopped in to 'warm-up'. Most of the recognizable brand guitars were wrapped in plastic which killed most of the fun for him. There was also a hotdog stand with veggie dogs right near the start of our self-guided tour.

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We opted to do the tour backward based on our location, which was much easier in theory, especially without street names. We started with nice residential hutong alleys that led to the Drum and Bell Towers currently under construction. It was for the best anyway as we would have likely been too cheap to pay the entrance fees.

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Across a busier street, we got a bit more lost trying to decide how far was enough based on the poorly scaled map. Rarely did Lonely Planet produce useful maps in the books themselves. Since our interpretation was that they wanted us to go through someone's yard, we made our own route past vegetable vendors, homes and other one or two story constructions that didn't contribute to the skyline.

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We found a nice little park with a frozen lake that the book forgot. Soon the hutongs got really commercial and trendy as we tried to locate so-and-so's former residence even though it turned out we could only look at the front gate. Our fingertips and cheeks were burning so we went back.

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My friend recommended a nice Chinese restaurant a few streets away from her place for supper so we had a nice feast of lamb wraps, eggplant, a refreshing cucumber dish and fried beans. It was sad to think we'd be saying goodbye soon, felt like yesterday we were having adventures in Thailand together. It was also awesome she put us up and shared her living space for a whole week.

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Posted by Sarah.M 07:44 Archived in China Tagged tower park temple beijing drum lama cold bell frozen hutong closed sandwich taiwanese Comments (0)

Summer Palace

Old and New

sunny -5 °C

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It was less motivating to get out of bed when the weather was chilly. I had come to realize that as Canadians, we were a bit spoiled when it came to dealing with cold weather. Sure, outside it was frigid colder than Mars, the North Pole or wherever, but inside our homes, central heating made us forget the weather unless we looked out the window or needed to leave. In China, we hadn't come across central heating so the chill of winter was always around meaning that you were almost always in a sweater or two. Showering became more infrequent since stepping back out into the chilly non-bathroom was unfavourable. Luckily, my friend had heat lamps in her shower that made the experience better.

We geared up for the day with sweaters, jackets, mitts, hats, scarves. We had a mix of fruit and 7-11 breakfast before using the straightforward subway to get near Summer Palace. At our stop, there were plenty of restaurant chains, although none of them had vegetarian options so we just ended up in Subway. Sometimes we just got sick of trying. We did take advantage of the free refills situation though.

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The walk to Summer Palace was, as per usual, much shorter than described by the taxi drivers' sales pitches. We bought the pricier of the two entrance tickets and wandered into Benevolence and Longevity Hall. There was the standard Chinese architecture we expected along with statues of a lion and dragon.

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Summer Palace served as a home and entertaining area for the royal family. It had commissioned in 1750 by emperor Qianlong. It was damaged during the Second Opium War, then rebuilt and embellished by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1888. She had used funds allocated for the navy to do so. I could see why dynasties went out of style soon afterward.

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Down a path and outside the walls, sat Kunming Lake in the mid-stages of freezing solid. We could see this from our position at the Spring Pavilion. The lake and the hills surrounding it were artificial in the sense that one had been dug and the other formed from the residual earth. Quite an impressive feat, given the immense size. One of the tour guides said that the grounds were eight times bigger than Forbidden City, although that may have been just another sales tactic to promote the usefulness of their services.

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People walked across the lake in the distance despite there being water between the walkway walls and the layer of ice with a mysterious thickness. They must have found a different starting point. Some paddle boats were frozen in the lake as well.

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The leaves had fallen off the trees which was a real shame for the beautiful willows. I supposed winter probably wasn't the optimal time to visit
Summer Palace. We visited a gallery that was mainly closed then went back to the lakeside to make it to the causeway. Designers had tried to replicate the one in West Lake, Hangzhou, but the original was still more impressive. A lot of the temple on the island was closed for the season, but the views of the hills in the distance and pagodas built atop them were impressive. The people walking on the glass-like ice turned out to be locals ice fishing. Quite bold.

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Back at the main Summer Palace area, the tradition of building courtyard after courtyard continued along with the theme of many of the displays being closed. Red coloured the columns while paintings sat right below the curved roof eaves.

We walked down a long corridor to reach the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, a tall tiered temple with a great view of the whole city. It had clusters of stairs to reach the top. On the way down, we saw the Bronze Pavilion which was the only section not destroyed by the Allies during the Second Opium War and by international forces during the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. Many buildings in the palace had been restored to the state it was in today after fires, but looting had claimed many of the treasures.

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Continuing the walk, we passed a large marble boat called Qing Yan F«éng to reach Suzhou Street, an underwhelming market area by the water. Our all-access admission cards became a bit of a scavenger hunt as we tried to locate and visit them all to make the tickets pay for themselves. Only a few other people descended the stairs to see the few souvenir shops still open and the frozen river.

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The Sumera Tibetan temple at Wanshou Longevity Hill caught our eye. It required a hefty climb to reach the top. Some of the stupas were rounder. One of the temples featured a wall with thousands of hand sized Buddha figures carved in it. We realized as we left, that we really should have took the shortcut from the Temple of Buddhist Virtue earlier to save us doing the climb twice.

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Our final stop, after debating whether to stay and complete our bingo card admission ticket or try to catch a glimpse of Old Summer Palace, was the Garden of Virtue and Harmony. By this time, it was pretty relaxed. The pond in the center and the beautiful willow trees were highlights for me.

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We left Summer Palace, looking for the 33 bus to reach Old Summer Palace. We still had maybe an hour or two of daylight. The bus ride was cheap, once we managed to explain our destination to the driver, only a few stops away. We got dropped at the farther South Entrance, so we paid our admission and sped walked past the beautiful park and ponds.

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With the sun still in the sky, we arrived at the ruins we sought. During the Qian dynasty, Emperor Qianlong built a European style garden in Baroque style with the help of Italian painter Giuseppe Castiglione and French missionary Michel Benoist. Construction was completed in 1759. The area featured several pavilions, fountains and even a maze. The buildings incorporated Chinese style in their architecture. In 1860, the Allies also burned and destroyed the grounds. Since many of the pillars and floors were stone, they survived to an extent.

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It was neat to walk the different sites with collapsed and cracked pillars, blocks statues and tiles. The carvings in them still survived. Conservation wasn't at the forefront of the government's mind as all visitors were allowed to walk around and through the ruins, given that they paid the admission fee. Some of the fountains still retained their shapes. There were bronze zodiac animal statues on display too.

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As the sun set, we tackled the maze. The walls were below eye level so we could see most of the layout, but that didn't make it too much easier. A Chinese man helped point out the way to us so we could reach the stone, dome roofed pavilion before complete darkness. We took a few pictures before running back through the park and to the subway.

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We followed directions from the Lama Temple stop to find a hutong area, which was the term for the old alleyway style streets that used to be more dominant in Beijing until urbanization took over. Now they became pieces of protected nostalgic pieces of history and by the looks of this one, a trendy hipster neighbourhood. We found Veggie Table down there, a vegetarian place our guidebook had recommended. The prices were a bit high but I was pretty excited to be able to order essentially anything off the menu. I chose hummus and a chili while Ryan went for a veggie burger. The atmosphere was nice and relaxing, like a trendy bookstore.

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Hutong exploration continued past souvenir shops, trendy bars - even a vampire themed one - and international restaurants including mouth watering Greek food. Ryan's eyes went wide and we agreed to come back to the area. Someone had even built a Christmas tree out of green beer bottles that many stopped to photograph. It felt like Osborne village.

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We came across a paint-your-own-cat store. Ryan was flabbergasted and quite entertained with the idea of people bringing in their cats in on a leash to be commemorated by portraiture. How would they stay still enough? It wasn't until I pointed out the ceramic cats, that he realized the store's true intention. He insisted his idea was better. Perhaps he'll open up a branch in Winnipeg. My initial interpretation of his statement was that people would slap a coat of paint on their poor cats. It's probably good both of us were wrong.

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Posted by Sarah.M 00:56 Archived in China Tagged ruins palace lake china summer beijing fishermen frozen allies boxer rebellion paintcat rebuilt Comments (0)

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