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China – Beijing – Forbidden City / Great Wall of China / Dumpling Making – 12th-14th November

We’ve opted for some sightseeing and thrown ourselves headfirst into the height of Beijing’s tourist center; The Forbidden City. Helen came here many years ago on a hot summers day. On this day the sun shone and the sky was blue, but it was very cold. Along with panda hat wearing locals, westerners and street vendors we approached the Forbidden City through the front gates passing under Mao’s portrait and through to the grounds. It’s a massive site built up of several temples, shrines, gardens, halls and statues that were home to the Qing and Ming dynasties many moons ago. It’s a must do in the whole scale of things to do when you visit China. However Dave was expecting a little more!! It is quite tired and the money coming in from the thousands of visitors every day doesn’t appear to be going into the upkeep of the site. However given this it’s still very impressive and is also host to a 4 star toilet facility! Well surely this is enough to go on it’s own merit!!

You can easily spend a day here as there are so many routes within the city, gardens and museums to explore. We opted for a long morning. The colours of the brickwork and walls within the Forbidden City are beautiful and we loved the textures that exist within this environment. Later that evening we ate at The Korean Bistro on Nanluoguxiang, a tourist Hutong area that has a mixture of western and Chinese food, gift shops and bars.

The following day we went on our first of two trips booked with the CCC. This one was for the Great Wall of China and we were going to an area of the wall that isn’t walked often, has no tourist traps and was around an hour and a half away from the city. It was lovely to get out of the city and the weather was again perfect from a photography point of view, although it was bitterly cold in the wind. Our local tour guide is from the village where we started the walk and he along with others from his family had helped to re-build parts of the wall so that people can hike in the area. He had even carried a table to a watch-mans tower so that we could stop there for lunch. We had a lovely group including Trisha and her two children from Portland, Joyce from NYC and Becca from England, our tour guide from the CCC Andy spoke excellent English and had great knowledge about the hike. Both he and the tour co-ordinator Michael were very dedicated in carrying hot water, coffee and snacks all the way. As you can see by the photographs the scenery is quite mystical with a very hazy layer on the horizon. We really enjoyed the walk and were breathtaken by the Great Wall itself.

As we got back down we were invited into the home of our local tour guide. We sat in their living room drinking tea and chatting away, it was a lovely finish to a great walk. When we got back to the CCC we were invited back to Joyce’s for beer and popcorn, Dave, Becca and myself took her up on the offer and before long we were sat in her serviced apartment in Sanlitun. We discovered Joyce is an author of 30+ books!! This is someone who has sheer dedication and is an inspiration to us all. We met up with Trisha minus the kids and went to a very local chinese fast food restaurant for noodles and chinese burgers. We ended the night with a hot chocolate at The Bookworm.

On sunday we went to a charity Christmas gift event at the Canadian International School of Beijing, we bought a few Christmas gifts and soon found ourselves back at The Bookworm using their free wi-fi. This was followed by a spot of shopping before we made our way back to the CCC for their noodle and dumpling making class. This was taught to us by a local professional Chinese chef who specialises in Chinese pastry. We made our dough for the dumplings, left it to rise and in the meantime we had a go at stretching and pulling the dough used for noodle making. This was loads of fun and many people ended up with theirs on the floor as the dough stretched too far. There is a real knack to this and it does take many years to perfect so one lesson wont do much!! For the dumplings there was a meat and veggie option for the filling. The meat is pork and vegetable and the veggie option is egg and spinach. We rolled out our dough, chopped it, flattened it out and then filled it with a little of the stuffing. After this you close the dough in and around the mixture and then make a nice pattern with the dough. We hope that the photos describe it better. Once they were ready they were boiled and then we ate them with a soy dip. They were okay! I’m sure next time they’ll be loads better!! Only a few people got to make the actual noodles but we didn’t cook them so it was more of a demonstration. It was a pretty cool little event, although it would be good to learn how to make the mixture ourselves rather than having it ready to go. We also met Jen from Tinyurbankitchen who is traveling with her husband and writing a food blog.

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f2.0 & Olympus PEN, 17mm f2.8 & 100mm f2.8, processed in Lightroom 3)

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