Christmas in Beijing

For Christmas this year, Jun and I took advantage of his need to be in Beijing for work that week and we extended it for a long weekend. The last time I visited Beijing was in 2007. It was the first place I had explored in China and everything at that time was so new. I was curious to visit some different places and to experience Beijing with more experience of having lived in China for quite some time now. I flew up on Christmas Eve to meet up with Jun so we could celebrate the holiday there.

The trip to Beijing was uneventful. Jun met me at the airport, and we took a Didi to the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing. Everything went smoothly with my check-in, and I soon was getting ready to bed. One nice thing about the hotel was that it gave each guest a small Christmas stocking with Christmas cookies in them. That was a nice way to start the trip.

Day 1

Christmas! The first thing Jun and I did after we woke up was to open our Christmas presents. Then we got ready for the day and went down to have breakfast.

After eating breakfast, Jun and I took the metro to the Temple of Heaven Park. I don’t remember much about my first visit here. I came here on my first day and I only remember being very tired and disorientated from the long flight. For this trip, I wanted to explore the Temple of Heaven a bit more. And getting to do it with Jun made it even better.

The temple complex was built in the early fifteenth century for imperial use. Ming and Qing emperors visited the site annually to pray for good harvests. Today, the vast park is popular with locals and visitors.

When we went it was a cold day which meant there weren’t a lot of people there. One nice thing about traveling during the off-peak season was the opportunity to explore places more leisurely. Walking around the different buildings was a nice experience. The main temple was quite impressive. We enjoyed walking around the different complexes of the site as well. One thing we did notice was the number of gates around the complex. They seemed to be everywhere you walked.

We soon left from the southern gate and walked towards Yongdingmen Park. Before getting to the park, though, we happened across a restaurant—Duyichu Shaomai—that had been in operation for over 300 years. When I noticed it, I asked Jun what he knew of the place. After searching online, he discovered the history of the restaurant. I suggested we go try it and we soon found ourselves having a late lunch there. The food was amazing. I particularly liked the hot and sour soup. It was nice and warm after having been outside in the cold. Finding this restaurant was a wonderful surprise.

After lunch, we continued our journey to Yongdingmen Park. Yongdingmen used to be the front gate of the outer city of Beijing. With the wall no longer there, the gate is a reminder of the time when Beijing was protected by city walls. Getting into the park was a bit ridiculous as the park administration has closed off access to the park to a limited number of entrances. Finding an open entrance took some time. Eventually, we did find one. We walk a bit around the park before heading north toward Tiananmen Square.

To get to Tiananmen Square we took the metro to Zhushikou and walked up Qianmen Street. The street is one of the oldest shopping areas in Beijing and it has been restored to a more historic look reminiscent of the period from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. It was a pleasant walk up the street.

We then made our way into Tiananmen Square after going through a thorough security check. Being late in the afternoon and a large open space, the wind was quite strong there. Jun and I got a bit cold and decided to continue our walk.

From Tiananmen Square, we went through Zhongshan Park. The park is situated southwest of the Forbidden City. During imperial times the area was used as an altar, such as with the Altar of Land and Grain. Today it is a public park for people to enjoy.

By the time we had walked around the park, it was getting dark, and we decided it was time to go inside. Jun and I had wanted to do some shopping in Beijing for things we couldn’t find in Shenzhen. After getting a Didi we were on our way to Sanlitun. There we were able to buy what we wanted and had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant: Saigon Mama.

Afterward, we went back to the hotel. When we got back to the room, we found that the hotel had provided a Christmas cake! It was cute to look at and delicious to eat. Eating the cake was a wonderful way to end the day.

Day 2

On our second day, we woke up early so we could get to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The drive took a little over an hour to get there. When we arrived, we were the only two to go through the front entrance. When we got on the bus to take us to the Great Wall, we met only one other visitor.

To get up to the Great Wall, we had to go up a trail. When we got to the top the view was nice. And the wall itself was devoid of other visitors. We walked along the wall and explored the different towers for a few hours. This visit was Jun’s first time at the Great Wall. It was my second time. We both enjoyed it a great deal. And then as we were walking, we were greeted by cats who lived in different sections of the wall. They were fat cats, too! Sadly, for the cats, Jun and I didn’t have any food for them.

As morning turned into early afternoon, Jun and I decided to venture to our next destination: Yuanmingyuan Park. When we got there, we decided to have lunch at Hua’s Restaurant. The food was good there. They had an amazing shrimp dish. And they also had a nice flower tea that warmed us up.

When we were done, we then went into the park. This area used to be the Old Summer Palace. It was destroyed in the nineteenth century, and all that remains are ruins. The park is massive. The ruins were quite interesting to visit. In the main area, there was even a maze that Jun and I traversed to get to the central pavilion. After we had walked around the remains of the palace, we walked by one of the lakes to watch the sunset. It was quite spectacular!

From there we decided to go get dinner. First, though, we had to get a COVID test at one of the mobile testing clinics scattered throughout Beijing. That went quickly and soon we were off to Nanmen, a Beijing hotpot restaurant. The food there was nice. We each got our pot, and we had a variety of lamb, noodles, and vegetables for dinner.

After we had finished, we walked back to the hotel to call it a day.

Day 3

Our last day in Beijing had us have a late start. We decided to just venture around the area near the hotel. We first walked up towards Jingshan Park. To get there we passed through some historic streets with some nice buildings along the way. Jinshan Park is directly north of the Forbidden City. On a nice day, you can get a wonderful view of the palace. When we got there, though, we had to contend with some haze and the poor morning light. It was still nice to walk around the park though. And the northern view of the Drum Tower was nice.

From there we walked up toward the Drum and Bell Towers. We wandered around Shichahai and saw the Huode Zhenjun Temple, which is a Taoist temple. Then we went around the Drum and Bell Towers. Finally, we went down South Luogu Lane and explored the shops there. We even bought some candied fruit as a snack.

By the time we got to the entrance of the lane, we had to head back to the hotel to check out. When we got there, we got our things and left them at the hotel for a bit to go have lunch at Xiaodiao Pear Soup. As its name implies, the place is known for its pear soup. The food there was tasty. We were fortunate to have a lot of great food in Beijing.

When we were done, we went back to the hotel to get our things so we could get to the airport. Things at the airport went smoothly and we were soon back in Shenzhen, where we again had to take another COVID test. After that was done, Jun and I took a taxi home and left our things for the next day so we could shower and go to bed.

The trip to Beijing was great and it was fun to see the city again. Spending Christmas in Beijing was a great idea. Jun and I certainly enjoyed our time there together.