Reception confirm our fear that after Wednesday there is no room at the inn. There is so much to do in Beijing that we don’t have enough time to fit it all in and now we have to sort out what we’re doing next too which is slightly frustrating. This also shatters our illusion that we can travel in the same manner that we did in 1998, when we would arrive at a town, check the lonely planet for hostels and trawl round them till we found one we liked. Since then the internet has happened which is great for backpackers who can read reviews of places and great for hostel owners who can take advance bookings and keep a steady income but not great for impetuous backpackers who want to move spontaneously. Still change is inevitable and you must adapt or grumble.
We head out under grey skies to the Lama Temple the largest working Buddhist temple in Beijing. It is very busy with coach loads of tourists, western and Chinese, some of whom are pilgrims. Before each temple is a kneeling pad for praying, a oil lamp for lighting incense sticks and a huge metal container emitting plumes of fragrant incense smoke. It is Tibetan Buddhist so there are statues and images of many deities alongside the Buddha statues in the dark, dusty temple halls. We respectfully wander about watching the locals pray in front of a specific deity as we had seen the Russians choose a specific saint. I leave with many questions.
Round the corner to one of the most historic streets to see a Confucius temple. This is where the civil servants had to pass their exams during the Yuan, Ming and Wing dynasties. The contrast to the busy Buddha temple is noticeable and you can hear birdsong. On the outside both temples look very similar but the Confucius temple had very unusual items within the main temple and an interesting museum about his life.
Down the wonderful single storey backstreets to the redeveloped square between the Bell and Drum tower where we start a hutong walk through fabulous scenes of life until we eventually reach Jingshan park and ascend steeply for views from the Buddhist temple over the forbidden city. The view would be awesome if not obscured by pollution but like the other tourists we can’t help snapping away.
We descend and head home through light rain from the grey skies. Al is hungry so we stop st a noodle bar and she orders dry noodles with chilli mince. It is like an Asian spag bol. Sweet and rich and spicy and filling and umami and one if the best things I’ve eaten. Mmmmmmmm