Finally a nice day!  There’s still a bit of haze along the horizon, but at least overhead is blue and you can see the sun.  Temps in low 70s = perfect!

This morning we would have to explore by ourselves, but we would need to change hotels early this afternoon to join our China Spree tour.  The latest I could arrange at the Hilton (despite my Diamond status) was a 1:00 pm checkout, so we packed everything up early this morning and thought we take in a couple of Beijing Parks since the weather was so nice.

Headed out by cab to Jingshan Park.  DH really wants to try to climb to the top.   Cab let us off at the East Gate, not the South, so we never saw the huge ornamental Southern Gate that we had seen from the Forbidden Kingdom’s back gate, but we had a lovely stroll through the park.

Exercise class

Exercise class

We watched various large gatherings of Chinese folks doing group exercises to Western pop music, all fairly intense.  Also heard a lot of Chinese singing, but never saw the people – they were hidden by the trees.

Man Playing Chinese Instrument

Man Playing Chinese Instrument

Began the rather steep climb and came to a small square pavilion where an older fellow was playing a Chinese stringed instrument and a lady was singing, or rather screeching, to his accompaniment.

Wanchun Pavillion

Wanchun Pavillion

A bunch of stairs later, we finally came to a lovely pagoda, only to find out it wasn’t the top.  The path turned, and more stairs greeted us, leading up to yet another pagoda.  After catching our breath, we went onwards and the next pagoda was even larger.  The path turned again and even more stairs leading us to the final pagoda (Wanchun Pavilion) with a smiling golden Buddha inside.  As we climbed, there were 3 temples going up in all – another two on our descent.

Smiling Buddha

Smiling Buddha

The views over the Forbidden City were fabulous, but the sun was in exactly the wrong spot to get good pictures.  The views on the back side overlooking Beihai Lake were great though. We could see the big white Tibetan Buddhist stupa, called the White Dagoba (1651), on Beihai Lake sticking up over the trees.

Never did see the tree stump where supposedly the last Ming Emperor hung himself on Jingshan Hill.  The descent on the west side was even steeper than the east side we had climbed, and we were a bit turned around when we got to the bottom.  Which way to go from here?  But after a bit, we found the unimpressive West Gate and made our way over to Beihai Park.

In order to get there we walked down a narrow street that was packed with Chinese shoppers and loud cacophony of vendors hawking their wares.  Took a video clip of the scene.  Quite chaotic and colorful!

Got a senior citizens’ discount on our entrance fees to the Park – only 10 yuan for the both of us.  Beautiful scene once we got to the lake – very picturesque.  A stone bridge led over to an island (Jade Island) with graceful weeping willows on both banks.  We kept on the mainland side as most everyone else was headed to the island and the big white Tibetan Buddhist stupa.  The lake widened up considerably as we walked past the island.  Lots of small boats tied up along the shore just waiting for tourists.

Jade Island Bridge, Beihai Park

Jade Island Bridge, Beihai Park

Saw more Chinese doing various exercises – particularly graceful were ladies with long streamers.  One really large group (probably over 100) was doing vigorous dancing and pounding parts of their bodies with their hands set to loud modern music played over loudspeakers.  We had to walk through part of this exercise group along the park path – they covered about an acre.

Graceful Streamers

Graceful Streamers

It was a long way around the lake, but we did find the exit finally and the subway.  Had to change trains in order to get back to the hotel.  All in all not a bad experience.  The signs were in Chinese but had small lettered Pinyin underneath, so it wasn’t hard to figure out.  We did have a bit of a problem when we came up out of the subway – once again it was hard to tell what direction to go.  We went into the Regent Hotel for directions.  The “it’s only a couple of blocks – 5 minute walk” we had been told by the Hilton concierge was clearly wrong as it took us close to 30 minutes and was more like 6 huge blocks.

We packed up our last bits and checked out by 1:00 on time.   Got a cab to the Ritz-Carlton Financial Street.  (There are two Ritz-Carlton’s in town.)  Some of our luggage had to sit between us in the cab as the trunk already had some stuff in it, so everything wouldn’t fit.  Seemed a much longer ride than it had on the map, and this hotel, too, isn’t exactly on Financial Street.  DH could see the name on the top of the building, and kept pointing it out to the driver, but with no English it was a bit hard to communicate.  It took the driver a few wrong turns before we could get to it.

Finally got there, only to find out our room wasn’t ready and would be an hour’s wait.  It was 2:00 pm so it should have been ready by now.  They told us we could have lunch in the Café, but it would not be complementary.  DH was not a happy camper, and played one of his “elderly dumb” routines.  They could tell he was going to make a fuss, so finally told us we could wait in the Executive Lounge.  We happily went up there and had some lunch – wonderful buffet spread.  Delicious.  So DH read the paper and I updated my log on my phone.  A bit more than an hour passed and DH went over to the Executive Lounge Hostess and asked her to inquire about our room.  She told DH it would be another hour wait.  He let it rip – at least for DH he let it rip – he’s usually so mild mannered!  Then she offered us an upgrade to an Executive Suite but it would only have a King bed, not two beds as we had reserved.  He was actually in the process of turning it down when I intervened and told him to take it.  So we were escorted there, and I could not believe this room.  This will definitely be the finest room we will ever stay in for the rest of our lives!

A living room, dining room, huge master bedroom, wonderful bath with two sinks and a huge deep soaking pool, and a shower that you could fit six people in.  Oh, and a powder room for your guests!

The whole suite was paneled in light maple and well-appointed with a couch, two stuffed chairs and a huge writing desk.  Floor to ceiling windows curved around the whole place.  Three downsides – the King bed, no Executive Lounge access, and the view was of concrete and air-conditioners.  But I can live with it – we’ll just keep the drapes pulled.

[Found out later that our fellow China Spree travelers, Pam and Howard, also had to wait for their rooms when they got in at 10:00pm after a day-long flight.  Apparently, there’s a NBA basketball game tonight featuring a famous Chinese basketball player.  Also, the Australian Prime Minister is visiting Beijing and is staying at our hotel as well.  Swell!]

We got settled into our room and I did a wash of several of my t-shirts, my knit pants, several underwear and undershirt of DH, and 6 underwear of mine – now we’ve really tackied up the room with all our stuff hanging from light fixtures and anything else that would work.  We must look like real hicks.  Also sent some stuff out to be laundered.  For some reason I didn’t bring enough socks and I figured those might not dry hanging up in our room.  Also sent DH’s jogging suit and a sweater of mine.  Ended up costing us $302 yuan ($50 US), but the next day they came back on hangers, and the socks came back in a lovely box with silk wrappers – very nice presentation! – took a pic I was so impressed.

Now it was time to get ready for our journey to Black Sesame Kitchen and our reservation at 7:00.  Since we had been on Nan Luogu Xiang Street the day before, we kind of knew where we were going.  I took all my detailed maps as well.  Even thus prepared, this is not as easy place to find.  Particularly at the end of our journey, as we went down this very dark alley, feeling like we were going to end up in someone’s house in this old hutong area. Then a voice came out of nowhere telling us that yes, this was the right place.  Entered a warm, dull-red interior and were greeted by Michelle, a Chinese woman who spoke excellent English but with a heavy Australian accent.  We were seated at the best seats in the place right next to the “kitchen”since we were the first ones there.  Fantastic!  The kitchen however is very, very small with several wok burners fired up and a Chinese man and woman all in white chef’s outfits.  Stuff was already cooking and it smelled delicious.  The whole place is very small, seating less than 20.  The folks across the table from us were from Australia.

Well, this was a fabulous meal.  Watching them cooking it and serving it right up, one dish after another one at a time (liked this better as you could actually savor each dish).  The set menu was:

Pan Fried Pork and Pumpkin Dumplings

Fried Shitake Mushrooms

(found out how to prepare them – you have to let them sit in hot water for a few hours before you fry them up.  They still are kind of rubbery, but more like calamari – also they need to be fresh dried mushroom – not sitting on my shelf for years.)

Beef and Black Beans

Five Flavored Eggplant

(delicious and I don’t even like eggplant – they didn’t cook it long so it didn’t get all slimy – and no tomatoes)

 

Red Braised Pork Belly

            (very fatty but I loved it)

Cumin Lamb

(this was a tad bit spicy but I loved it – the little lamb pieces were very crispy – had obviously been coated in something)

Lettuce Stem and Chinese Bean

(don’t even remember this one!)

Kung Pao Chicken

(this was a bit spicy but I managed to eat it – the secret is the combination of chilies I think instead of just HOT.  It was a more complex flavor with both several types of red chilies and Sichuan peppercorns.)

Black Sesame Homemade Ice Cream & Candied Sweet Potatoes

          (this was the BEST!!)

I also learned here that the secret to Chinese Wok Cooking is that you should use a Hot Pan and Cold Oil.  Let the pan get hot and then pour in cold (room temp) oil and then the food right away.  Don’t let the oil get hot before adding the food.

Leaving the place was a bit of a challenge too.  Not so bad a walk down to the end of Nan Luogu Xiang Street, but unlike the last time we were here on Monday, getting a taxi was next to impossible as it was 10:00 at night.  We were standing on the side of the road, hailing empty taxi after taxi and none of them would stop.  Took us 45 minutes to finally get a cab!  We were certainly glad to get back to our Suite!  Too tired to even take a shower – just fell into bed.

Tomorrow our China Spree “tour” begins…..