Back to the Capital

From early morning walks to secret hideaways and the ever so popular parks, the capital is filled with things to see. Experience the vibrancy of this old but, at the same time, modern city in one weekend.

Beijing, for me, is the place where I slowly but irreversibly fell in love with China. It was home to me for two unforgettable years and, in my heart, I still consider it my hometown. So, despite frightful pollution levels, extreme weather, congested traffic and hordes of tourists, I leap at any opportunity to revisit this city of mine.

I have yet to try the overnight train option that my friends recommended as a quick and convenient way to reach Beijing by morning while saving money on one hotel night. The advantage of flying there on a late Friday afternoon, however, is that you get to the capital just in time to enjoy another night out.

Upon arrival, rather than wasting time checking into our hotel, we head straight to our favorite brewery, Jing-A, where a jug of cold IPA and deliciously slow-smoked ribs await us. Afterward, we debated whether to get some rest ahead of our weekend, but the night is still young and the discreet entrance of that cozy speakeasy, Miles Bar, happens to be just around the corner.

I love early mornings in Beijing and the place to savor them is in one of the numerous parks dotted around the city. I choose Ritan Park for my outing. This compact little gem of a park is teeming with life. All along the meticulously arranged paths and stone bridges aspiring musicians and calligraphy masters are practicing their skills, old men are taking a stroll with their caged birds in the gardens, every inch of the platforms are packed with groups practicing their dances or martial arts.

I cannot leave Beijing without paying a visit to the city’s heart, the shabby yet elegant grey hutongs…

I already know what I’m doing after lunch anyway. I’ve missed diving into the nearby bookshops. I could spend hours in The Bookworm alone. Though tiny, it’s got an excellent selection of English books, especially China-related ones. I end up staying even longer in the spacious new Sanlian Taofen, a 600 meter-square expanse of books, dubbed Sanlitun’s Quiet Cultural Sanctuary.

Energized by the morning walk, we head north towards Parkview Green Mall. Apart from boasting its own self-regulating, energy-saving microclimate, this giant glass pyramid of a mall hosts an impressive and tastefully displayed collection of modern art. It takes a while to explore it all and by the time we’re done, it’s time for lunch in expat-friendly Sanlitun. Tough decisions: a salad at Element Fresh, sushi at Hatsune or a slightly more upscale experience at Mosto?

When in Beijing never miss an opportunity to eat genuine Beijing duck. In my humble opinion, no one does it better than DaDong. The original branch of the now-famous restaurant chain is conveniently located near another lovely park, Tuanjiehu. Admiring the view of the illuminated Central Business District (CBD) skyscrapers from a traditionally ornamented pavilion on a quiet hill in the park is a perfect way to round up the day.

After breakfast at a swanky Danish bakery on Sunday morning, it’s time for some shopping at the Pearl Market, which is really just an excuse to chat with the kind salesladies, whom we’ve gotten to know well over the years. One of them is so happy to see us again that she insists on treating us to lunch in the canteen.

I cannot leave Beijing without paying a visit to the city’s heart, the shabby yet elegant grey hutongs inside the Second Ring Road. I end up spending the afternoon wandering around Xihai. Somewhat further from the Forbidden City, this lake and its surroundings feel slightly less touristy than the areas around Beihai and Houhai and thus perfect to soak in the atmosphere while snacking on the famous local xiao chi.

Just like that, sadly, the weekend is over and it’s time to head back to the airport. Somehow, we managed to skip all the capital’s star sightseeing spots. But, hey, you can read about those in any guidebook, right?