I stayed at the Temple Hotel, a 600 year old former Tibetan Buddhist temple, that saw service as a factory after the revolution and has recently been converted into a chic boutique hotel. It was rescued from demolition by a trio of entrepreneurs who spent 3 years restoring it into an 8 bedroom gem, hidden in a traditional hutong district within walking distance of the Forbidden City. The hotel has a popular, high end, 'contemporary European' style restaurant, a description that would normally have me running for the hills, but that in this case served me a wonderful tasting menu that I can't recommend highly enough. The complex also houses a permanent light installation titled 'Gathered Sky' by James Turrell, the only one in China.
Escape the crush of people at the Summer Palace and head to the Aman at the Summer Palace. Their Chinese restaurant serves traditional Cantonese cuisine along with Peking duck, a must if you're in Beijing. The property is serene and the decor is super chic. I could almost imagine the Empress Dowager Cixi walking down the corridors with her entourage.
First on my agenda was the Great Wall , a sight I missed on my first visit. I took a car to the Mutianyu section, which is a longer drive from the city but reputed to be less crowded than other locations. It was a hot and humid summer day but the sky was blue, a very rare occurrence in Beijing I was told. I braved the hour long hike up steep steps up to the highest watchtower, and was amply rewarded by the spectacular, and iconic, view of the wall snaking its way through the rolling country.
I'm a flea-market aficionado so the Panjiayuan market was on my 'must do' list. The market is comprised of over 3000 vendors and separated into sections so if you're looking for semi-precious beads, blue and white porcelain vases, vintage books and photographs or furniture you'll find it there. I found some great curiosities among the vendors without regular stalls who had laid their blankets loaded with objects outside the designated market area. The items they were selling were disorganized and largely junk but felt more like the ˜flea market" I had come for. I bought an antique embossed brass cigarette case for 40 dollars, a bargain for an item that will inspire the next iteration of my minaudieres.
Entering the National Centre for the Performing Arts or The Giant Egg is like walking into a spaceship but instead of flying off to outer space you are going to an opera. The iconic design by French architect Paul Andreu is especially photogenic at sunset when the lights inside illuminate and reflect against the water surrounding the structure. Several photographers stand in position at the same spot just to capture the perfect moment when the building reflects the egg shape perfectly. Unfortunately the audience was so noisy it was impossible to enjoy the performance.
WHAT I LOVED MOST
I woke up early to take a leisurely stroll to Jingshan Park . This thousand year old park (formerly a private imperial garden) is a hub of activity for people of all ages playing badminton, rehearsing folk dances and practicing martial arts. The senior citizens doing their morning Tai-Chi reminded me of my Mom, who can be seen doing the same thing in New York's Chinatown at 6am every day. Not all globalization is the US exporting movies and fast food! A hike up the hill to the Wanchun Pavilion resulted in the expected magnificent views of the Forbidden City. I jostled with the locals to get the best spot for my selfie.