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China 1: Arriving in the hutongs

Earlier this month a taxi let us out at the side of a busy road in Beijing, the driver gesturing the direction we needed to head in. Forcing alertness from foggy brains, we crossed the road and trundled up the historic hutong on the hunt for our hotel.

So why China? It was a fairly impromptu thing – Mike’s mind starting whirring earlier in the year when he saw an airfare special and figured we could get there without needing too many days off work. And while China doesn’t really feature on my travel to-dos, I didn’t need much convincing in part because it would be relatively cheap and an opportunity to visit friends who live there.

Because of the 10-day duration I didn’t have any ambitions to blog on the go. Just as well: long hot days on our feet left us pretty shattered each night – also, wifi wasn’t flash.

We flew via Auckland and Hong Kong. Neither of us bounce out of overnight flights rejuvenated and this was no exception. Maybe next time we should do what one of our fellow passengers did and rock a bunny rabbit onesie. (It did look very comfy.) We were happy to finally arrive in Beijing – though surprised just how hazy it was and it made me wonder how much we’d enjoy our five days here.

It took a while for our driver to understand where we wanted to go. The Chinese character translations provided with the confirmations proved to be no good whenever we attempted to use them on the trip. The journey was educational in the practices of Chinese driving – it was comical when it wasn’t horrifying.

We found our hotel down a side-alley, not needing the scout sent to look for us which the taxi driver unbeknownst to us had called ahead to suggest! We liked the look of Courtyard 7 when we researched hotels because it was a renovated former courtyard residence dating back 300 years or so.

Our room was off the rear courtyard which, back in the day, housed the unmarried daughters. Small but well-equipped, it did force us to confront the realities of toileting in this part of the world. Blessedly ours was a sit-down loo rather than squat, though paper was not to be flushed!

It was early afternoon, plenty of time to do stuff. We ventured back out to the main street, Nanluogu Xiang. It’s about 800 years old but has been restored and is today bustling with life, full of little boutique-y shops and food and drink outlets. Over the weekend it would become very, very busy as kazillions of Chinese flocked into their capital city for the mid-autumn festival.

We saw signs of the development that is gradually shrinking the old district. However with about 28 sites around here designated a heritage status, its protection and future is somewhat guaranteed.

Several hutongs branch off Nanluogu Xiang and we disappeared down a few. These were quieter and more authentic; less commercial and more residential. Really interesting… though we soon realised we needed to keep looking over our shoulders for bikes, scooters and rickshaws. Scooters were the tricky ones – to our surprise they were all electric and you couldn’t hear them coming.

We made our way to prominent features of Dongcheng district: the Drum and Bell Towers. Dating back to the 1270s, their original purpose was musical but later they became Beijing’s official timekeepers until 1924 when Western timekeeping was adopted. The current towers are more 1700s era and we were expecting to be able to go inside but unfortunately both were closed for some kind of renovation work.

The hutongs around here are also taking a hammering.

We pushed on. Provided we could keep the yawns under control, we wanted to see the Houhai Lakes and some of China’s famed night lights before we’d call it a day.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hayley, you aren’t just whistling Dixie when you write that you and your husband travel. Wow, you have been all over the place. And still have many countries to visit. You must have thousands and thousands of travel photos by now.

    The pics of your stay in China are great and very interesting. I laughed and was terrified when I read that driving there was at times horrifying. I can only imagine the experience.

    23 September 2014
    • That expression made me smile, not something you hear much around these parts! Whatever my country count is, it’s fairly modest, but I certainly do have many thousands of not-well-catalogued travel photos. I’d like to improve my organisation of that one day.

      Everywhere we went the general road behaviours were bad and we came very close to being in accident in a taxi at one point. I’m surprised we didn’t see more of those kinds of incidents.

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting Yvonne!

      26 September 2014
  2. China has never been high on my list of “I need to go there” places, but your photos and written impressions are intriguing. I look forward to your future posts!

    23 September 2014
  3. Ooooh, I’d love to go to China! What a great experience, Hayley. Your photos are wonderful, just how I imagined the place to be. How is the food? I expect it is very different from the chinese food that we have in the west. It must have been fascinating to visit and I can’t wait to hear more about your trip, please don’t keep us waiting too long 😀 xxx

    24 September 2014
    • It was a great experience and I was probably a bit surprised how much I enjoyed China – at least the tiny bit we uncovered. It helped a lot that Mike had done so much research and knew how to get places. The food was average – though I’m not a foodie, am fairly conservative with food and needed to try and avoid wheat. But you’re right; unlike here to an extent, the Chinese food we came across seemed to consisted of a lot of noodle dishes (rice less so), deep fried things, and chilli spices. We never got round to hunting out some Peking duck. Lovely to hear from you as always Lottie, thank you x

      27 September 2014
  4. Beijing looks great – nice to see that some parts of it at least are being preserved. It looks more leafy than I would have imagined. Looking forward to hearing more.

    25 September 2014
    • I enjoyed Beijing more then Shanghai from a tourist point of view, and I too was surprised at the amount of greenery. Given the city’s pollution, trees must play a very important role.

      27 September 2014
  5. Never been there, but maybe someday. Very interesting and inspiring photos.

    25 October 2014

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