Saturday, November 29, 2008

Romancing the Summer Palace

Day 3 (Fri, 21 Nov 2008)

Today, we're visiting the Summer Palace. First built in 1750, the Summer Palace has somewhat of a dubious reputation as Empress Dowager Cixi supposedly embezzled funds from the Imperial Navy to reconstruct and expand this opulent garden and grounds for her own pleasure.

But you know, if she hadn't done that, we wouldn't have this beautiful World Heritage site to gawk at today. Because beautiful would be an understatement - the Summer Palace is stunning on a magnitude of 10/10. There are so many picture book spots in this garden that sprawls around a large, shimmering lake, like these scenes from the Garden of Harmonious Interests which features a group of pavilions around a small lake that had partially frozen over.

You can basically spend the entire day just strolling around the Summer Palace. Weeping willows bloom throughout the gardens, providing natural soft focus and romantic frames for photos. On the right is a pic of the two-storey marble boat (yes, it's made from marble!) where Empress Cixi used to enjoy her breakfast while admiring the scenery. Talk about decadence.

Aside: we saw a couple of funny signs. These are less common since the Chinese spruced up their English for the Olympics but you still occasionally find them (the second one was in the gents).

Anyway, we spent just over two hours at the Summer Palace as it was another cold day. The kids were also hungry as it was already after 2pm (we'd had a late start). But when our driver drove us to look for a restaurant for lunch, we found many of them closed, as restaurants in China commonly close at 2pm and reopen for dinner.

We finally found one open - Little Sheep 小肥羊. This is part of a popular chain of Mongolian hotpot restaurants. We ordered a giant tray of mixed vegetables and tofu, as well as a large platter of beef and mutton. You cook the food in a pot of boiling soup (this comes in a variety of flavours, we chose the non-spicy tonic soup which was a concoction of herbs.)

Dig the meat platter!

On the way to the Summer Palace, we had passed by the Olympic Village, so we thought we'd take the opportunity to visit the vicinity on our way back, since we had the luxury of a driver that day. On the right is the Olympic Tower.

We took a stroll down the Bird's Nest Stadium - it really is as impressive as it seems on tv.

Even the lamps were designed to match! Way cute.

And the Water Cube. Very cool exterior, it looks like it's made up of iridescent water bubbles.

To top off that great day, Kenneth's friend who works in Beijing took us out for dinner at a Yunnan restaurant. I can't really tell you what his friend ordered but the spread was substantial - there was a soup, black fungus, smoked meat, fried potato pancake (that tasted like Swiss rosti), some kind of soup noodle, chicken, stir-fried mushrooms.

These are some of the pictures, but we didn't take photos of everything. I'm honestly glad we got to try a different type of cuisine as I'm usually game for a gastronomic adventure, but I'm not sure if we'll eat that again anytime soon. Not because it was bad - more because considering it's Chinese and all the ingredients were familiar, it all tasted strangely foreign! Goes to show how diverse and disparate the different Chinese communities are.


Alcovelet said...

Yah, that woman Cixi, tut, tut. Women like clothes and jewelry what. But to go round collecting palaces?? A bit much.

The Summer Palace looks deserted. I wonder if the number of tourists have dropped so dramatically? We've been there in winter too, and it never affected the crowd. Hmm.

Actually, a few nights of the same rich Chinese food and I'd start to yearn for some noodles or something simple. Hope you guys did the Muslim quarter for some hand made noodles!

monlim said...

Haha, no never made it to Muslim quarter. Why do you think the kids put on weight by the time we came back? Andre has an impressive tummy too! I'm so putting him on a diet...

It was fairly crowded at Summer Palace, maybe we just happened to take the photos at the right time. But it was quite windy and chilly so maybe people stayed away that day? Not sure...

Alcovelet said...

Hey your pictures are deceiving - you guys look so alone in the pics. But now that I look closely, I can see the silhouettes of people in the covered walkways. And since I did the close-ups, wah, I have to say, you're quite a looker. One of those good featured, natural types.

monlim said...

Wah, Ad, I have to chiah you dinner just for that comment!! No lah, where got... like Lilian says, we're selective about the photos we put up, hehe.

Alcovelet said...

Same same! (*secret handshake*)

david santos said...

Really beautiful pictures. Pretty person and pretty colores!!!
Have a nice weekend!

monlim said...

Thanks David and thanks for visiting!

Lilian said...

I'm really clueless. So the summer palace and other palaces aren't located inside the Forbidden City? I assumed they were all in one humoungously huge walled compound.

monlim said...

The Summer Palace is about a 1/2 hour drive away from Forbidden City. Being the Empress Dowager, I think she was not subject to the same rules of confinement!

There's also the Temple of Heaven which is located at yet another spot.