October 15, 2010. Big country. Big city. Really big Walk.
Could be an all-day 18-mile hike. Could be a 4-mile spin around the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Could walk a mile inside the Farmers Market if you wanted to browse every one of the five or six hundred farm stands. Could walk through 4,000 cypress trees to get to Heaven. Whichever way you turn, this is a delicious way to see the sights while you burn way more calories than you consume.
From Farmers Market to Imperial City
Let’s find breakfast at Sihuan Market, the biggest Farmers Market you’ve ever seen. Smells great. Fresh ginger, homemade sesame oil. Spices, teas, fruits, vegetables, meats. How about a cup of fresh soy milk or tea to go with your jianbing, an omelet crepe with or without hot sauce, kind of like huevos rancheros wrapped in a tortilla. No packaging, no nutrition data. Looks totally fresh and natural; I’m guessing you won’t consume more than 400 calories, which you’ll walk off by the time you get to the imperial Forbidden City.
The Market’s off the beaten tourist path but not far from the Beijing Opera House on the pretty spectacular grounds of the 18th century Prince Gong’s Residence. Follow my big, detailed Google Map to and through the Prince’s place to the north end of Behai Park – really a strip of green surrounding Behai Lake. We’ll follow the eastern shoreline down to the north side of the Forbidden City. About 3 miles; a little more than one hour.
The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
Vast. Walk up any one of a thousand staircases to any one of a hundred elevated walkways and you can’t believe how big the old walled city really is. Eight hundred red tile-roofed buildings. Dozens of temples. A series of grand gates you pass through on the Walk. 2.5 miles around the perimeter. We’ll Walk the north-south axis, right through the center of the City. Best views of the overall layout and symmetry. You could spend a day wandering through here, but that’s tomorrow.
Today, we’ll exit the previously Forbidden place through the south gate, where most tourists enter. Continue south through a huge plaza and under the Gate of Heavenly Peace to the street. A huge boulevard with underground walkways to the other side and Tiananmen Square.
Vast again. But vast and largely empty. Easy to imagine a million people in the Square, with plenty of room for more. Continue south through and around the Square. This passage from the north side of the Forbidden City to the south side of the Square is four miles. Two hours, more or less, depending on how many photo opportunity stops you make.
Put the Ate in the Walk
Hungry? Lots of great street food vendors on the mile of Beijing streets you’ll navigate on your way to Heaven. My map takes you down a mail avenue, but just look down the streets and alleys to the left and right and you’ll see vendors everywhere.
The shopping detour
On the way to or from Heaven, there’s a three-mile loop along historic Dazhalan hutong (street). Silk shops, tea salons, herbal medicine stores. Ruifuxiang, the oldest shop in Beijing. Centuries of silk sales. They “ring up” sales on an abacus; your receipt is souvenir-worthy calligraphy and chop marks. Then onto Liulichang hutong, the antiques district. Real ones. Lots of fake ones. When you’re not Walking, you should stop into the Maliando Tea Market for a jasmine tea lesson. And you have to see the gifted and charming Xu Bu; he and his wife paint incredibly detailed miniature Chinese landscapes on the inside surfaces of glass bottles and spheres. Really. You’ll be amazed.
To Heaven and back
In eight miles. Just three or four hours. Temple of Heaven Park is pretty vast, too. 660 acres (267 hectares) of tranquility posing as landscape design. Thousands of very old cypress trees planted in perfect grids. And the Temple. Just walk around and around and around it. Then head back through the trees toward the center of Beijing.
Or somewhere else. You can walk and eat anywhere. You can make your own map, with or without Google. As a copy writer at Nike’s ad agency wrote, “Just do it”. As Lao-Tzu told us, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step“.
Have a good walk. And bon apetit.
Need more inspiration? Check out
Up Against The (Great) Wall
The Walk That Ate New York
The Walk That Ate Venice
The Walk That Ate San Francisco
Raise Your Standard of Living + Lower Your Cost of Living. A walk like this gives you the immediate benefit of a great day. Making exercise a habit gives you the long-term benefit of great health. Cost: free walking, cheap eating.
Every Thing Is Everything
“… modest levels of physical exercise during middle age increased the probability of successful aging beyond 70 years … [reducing] osteoarthritis, falls and hip fracture, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, cancer, obesity, diabetes…” Evidence Regarding the Benefits of Physical Exercise, Archives of Internal Medicine, JAMA, January 25, 2010
Let’s just say you’re in Beijing. The Walk is free: a fascinating, maybe even mindblowing, orientation tour. Up to 18 miles (29km), seven to nine hours. Some fruit at the Market. Great street food. About $4 dollars if you choose well. Plenty of cash and calories available for the Peking duck dinner at the end of the day.
Let’s Do The Math
18 miles, nine hours. Burn 2,800+ calories. Eat well, but not too much – 800 calories before dinner. Cool way to see Beijing.
It’s Always Something
You’re not in Beijing? Go to your local Farmers Market for some great fruit; buy or make some great snacks. Map your own trail. In the city. In the country. In the U.S. alone, there are thousands of local, State and National parks. Use and support them.
Follow the plumes of smoke to the guys grilling lamb kebabs. Steamed buns filled with diced lamb, chili and garlic are usually nearby. Personally, I look for the guys roasting sweet potatoes over open fires. Less than twenty cents. Really sweet and smoky. 110 calories, four days worth of Vitamin A. Ask around for jiucai bing (sounds a little like “juicy thing”) – a bun or roll stuffed with cabbage, chives, leeks and egg. If you missed the jianbing at breakfast – or you want another one – they’re all over the place. Look for the white wooden stalls mounted on big tricycles.
The great rivalry is between Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant and Beijing Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant. I went to Quanjude for the entertainment. The place is huge, there’s an LED scoreboard ticking off the number of ducks served (more than six million) – and you get a numbered certificate of authenticity with your duck. The duck’s crispy and terrific. Dadong claims to be crisper and leaner. Wherever you go, do NOT order the Great Wall Cabernet. Drink beer. You’ll probably prefer the ole Tsingtao to the Yanjing or Beijing; they’re all very light.