Tag Archives: Beijing

Gluten-free Beijing

Surprisingly (thankfully!), I did not get sick in Beijing. I was pretty scared that I would accidentally ingest some gluten due to the language barrier, but the Chinese note I had was SUCH A help!

We stopped at our first restaurant on the way to Forbidden City on the first day. It was a small, relatively local, if not dirty, restaurant where locals smoked inside seated at sticky tables. I ordered a simple stir fry and after handing my note to the waitress, she motioned if she could show it to the chef. They prepared my stir fry and rice with cooking oil instead of soy sauce and left the salt off, because often salt or MSG could contain traces of wheat in China  and it’s better to be safe than sorry. It was a little bland, but I was fine afterward.

Every morning we at breakfast in the French hotel chain Novotel where we stayed. The breakfast was relatively expensive, but expansive, with many gluten-free options from fresh fruit, yogurt, dried fruit, deli meat and tapas to fresh omelettes.

Since we couldn’t really find any gluten-free restaurants, we had to wing it with my note. We decided that hot pot would be a pretty easy meal to eat gluten-free, so we went for that the first evening.

The waitress did a double take when I handed her my note that basically said my insides will bleed if they feed me ANYTHING with gluten. She also wanted to take the note to the chef. It was so helpful that I had it printed on a piece of paper that people could take into kitchens.

When our hot pot arrived, it was basically just water. No bouillon or broth because everything they had would have been unsafe for me. It was a little bland at first, but as the meat cooked in the water, the flavors started tasting better. Still, it was a very low-sodium meal.

I was really intrigued by hot pot. The Swiss have adapted something really similar called Fondue Chinoise, which is basically “Chinese Fondue” and it’s boiling broth in a fondue-type pot where you can cook little pieces of meat and eat them with different sauces.

It’s a typical Swiss meal at Christmas, so it was funny to have it in China, the source of the idea! Below were the different items we put in ours: Green onions, onions, greens and meat!

The second and last night in Beijing, Kay wanted to try to get Korean BBQ because he had had it in Seoul and thought it was great.  When we arrived, they seated us and placed scores of little dishes at the table with various foods like kimchi, greens, onions, breads and sauces. Kay explained that you cook the meat on this hot grill and then eat it with all the little dishes.

The problem was that once we gave my note to the waitress and they discussed it with the kitchen, they came back and took away ALL of the little dishes. They brought back two bowls with romaine lettuce and plain salt.

No one at the Korean restaurant could speak any English, so we couldn’t really explain ourselves. They didn’t even trust us to cook our own meat, so a waitress stood there and grilled our meat for us while we ate it with the lettuce and salt. We left a little hungry.

I wanted to get bubble tea to make up for it, but our waitress was outside the restaurant at the bubble tea stand and I wasn’t sure if she was warning the bubble tea worker, but the stand was mysteriously closed for us, even though we’d gotten bubble tea from the same stand the night before.

Our flight from Beijing to Sydney with Air China was relatively uneventful, but they did manage to lose my gluten-free order so I had my first experience on a long-haul flight without a meal option.

Luckily I could still eat the salad without sauce and the fruit and my gluten-free snacks that I have brought with me for this very reason. Kay also gave me his fruit to have a little more food and I was all right without anything for breakfast besides my snacks.

World Wednesday: Beijing!

So I’m a little overdue, considering that we visited Beijing just before Christmas. We travelled to Beijing on the way to Sydney, so with my clever flight planning, I managed to get us a direct flight from Zurich to Beijing and from Beijing to Sydney, leaving us almost three whole days in Beijing to explore.

I have to say, Beijing was awesome! We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had a great, jam-packed layover trip. I am starting to love layovers more and more. Also, we had our first private tour guide and I was surprised how happy I was that we booked it! I spent a lot of time researching the tour because I really wanted to maximize our time and make sure I saw my top picks.

See this? This is the sun rising up bright and clear while we arrived from the airport. We were SO excited how clear it was. There was almost no smog, which is apparently really lucky in Beijing.

I’m always happy whenever we travel somewhere with good weather because so often it’s rainy or cold and cloudy, but to have blue skies in Beijing just felt especially lucky. It was like an early Christmas gift!

First up on Sunday was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Mind you, blue skies does not mean that it wasn’t freezing. It was a bit colder than Zurich at the time and super windy!We got the audio guides with Forbidden City and wandered around for a few hours, but after that we got cold and wanted to head back to the hotel.

The architecture is so entirely different than what you see in Europe and some of the buildings had recently been renovated and repainted.

Also, apparently Christmas is becoming a big thing in China. They had Christmas lights and trees everywhere! It really surprised us because we thought they wouldn’t celebrate as much as Western cultures. I got my fill of holiday lights. 🙂

The next day our tour guide from Catherine Lu Tours arrived at the hotel at 8:00am with a driver to pick us up for our Great Wall tour. Our tour guide’s name was Minnie and she was so friendly! The entire way to the Great Wall she spouted out fact after fact about the Wall and the surrounding area. We ended up visiting the Mutianyu section because we heard it was less touristy and it was fairly empty on a Monday morning.

It felt a little bit like being on a school trip again, except that a private guide has your complete attention and you don’t have to fight for attention to have your questions answered. We could point to anything and Minnie would tell us whatever she knew about a certain kind of drawing, stonework, empresses, you name it!

I was like a little kid on the wall. Somehow being in Zurich at work on a Friday and then being on the Great Wall on Monday morning just seemed crazy… and the sun made me all the more ecstatic.

Tour guide bonus: They can take pictures of you whenever you want! Even Kay was humoring me to take as many as I wanted.

I’m sure the wall must be just gorgeous on a clear summer day, however rare those are. It was really warm with all the sun on the stones, but I just imagine what the hills would like like with a little more green on them.

It was also nice to be out of the city and see a bit cleaner part of Beijing. Being in the city and the surrounding area was definitely eye-opening to the reality of Chinese industry impacts.

We even saw someone collecting the famed “sewer sludge” for gutter oil from some sewers in the city. Kay showed me a Youtube video about it a few years ago and it was astonishing and sad to see things like this really happening. It makes me wonder how much of an impact do our Western needs make on countries like China.

We took a break for lunch, where Minnie helpfully ordered some gluten-free food for me with the restaurant and then we were on our way to the Summer Palace with Minnie giving us a history lesson along the way.

The summer palace was gorgeous and we had a wonderful time asking Minnie about the long gallery and how it was when Empress Dowager Cixi lived there.

Next to Kunming Lake, it was pretty cold. You can see how the water was even beginning to freeze on the surface.

Cold, but beautiful. I was impressed by China. 🙂

On the last day we took our time with breakfast and then went to see the Temple of Heaven and its gardens where locals practice Tai Chi, dance, play cards, music and other games.

Even Kay admitted that he was having a good time. Beijing surpassed all our expectations!

It might not be on my top places to live, especially when the smog started coming back on our last day and you could smell the stink of pollution, but I had a blast in Beijing and would think about visiting China again some day if it works out.

I’m also really impressed how luxurious, handy and informative it was to book a private tour and driver. We are more the DIY type of travelers, but it was really worth it to book. I can’t recommend Catherine Lu Tours enough. They were worth the cost and I would book again in a minute !

Is China on your list of countries to visit? Do you ever book private tours?

Beijing Layover Trip

Usually I am the one in charge of flight searching because I have the patience to try out a million routes and find the best deals. Last year, I found flights with Oman Air to Thailand that made a stop in Oman, so I decided to make a layover trip since we had to break up our flights anyway. Now I’m all about searching for layover trips when we need to change flights!

When I was looking for our tickets to Australia, I kept noticing that the cheapest two-leg routes went through China, either in Shanghai or Beijing with a minimum layover of 24 hours. I’ve always wanted to see the Great Wall but Kay had already visited Beijing and the wall on a work trip, so he doesn’t really want to plan a  whole trip to China. It’s not his favorite country. Whomp whomp.

Buuut, since we basically have to have a layover, I found flights with a 60 hour layover in Beijing so we will arrive at 5:15am on a Sunday, stay two nights and then leave on Tuesday evening before continuing on to Sydney, Australia. Originally I thought we were only staying one night, but I’m excited that we will have two nights and almost three days to see all the sights!

Since 2013, China has been offering a 72 hour transfer visa program for participating countries. It means that we don’t have to apply for a tourist visa at the consulate in Switzerland. Since we are flying on to Sydney, we are allowed to get a visa directly at the airport and visit the city for 72 hours. Woohoo!

Because we are staying for such a short time, especially when I was under the impression that it would only be for two days, I started looking into private guided tours to see the Great Wall. I told Kay that above all, the wall was what I wanted to see the most. I was trying to decide between these three private tour guides:

  1. Great Wall Hiking: 99% TripAdvisor rating
  2. Beijing Impression: 95% TripAdvisor rating
  3. Catherine Lu Tours: 99% TripAdvisor rating

I would love to hike the great wall, but we are going in winter, so I became a little worried that hiking in those conditions on a sometimes unstable wall might not be that fun. For that reason, I focused more on option #2 and #3 with just visiting a section of the wall. Both had lots of ideas for itineraries and helped me decide what I would like to see most. As Kay has already been, he’s been telling me “Whatever you want.” What girl doesn’t love to hear that?? 😀

Here’s what I would probably like to see:

Great Wall:

 (Photo by Robin Zebrowski on Flickr)

I’m interested in visiting the Mutianyu section and have been warned against visiting the Badaling part. Kay doesn’t remember which part he visited!

Tiananmen Square:

(Photo by See-ming Lee on Flickr)

 Forbidden City:

(Photo by Dermot Roantree on Flickr)

 Temple of Heaven:

(Photo by IvanWalsh.com on Flickr)

 Lama Temple:

(Photo by Jody McIntyre on Flickr)

 Summer Palace:

(Photo by Jim G on Flickr)

Acrobatic Show at Chaoyang Theater:

(Photo by J Aaron Farr on Flickr)

We ended up booking a one day tour with Catherine Lu Tours to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in the morning, the summer palace in the afternoon and an acrobatic show at the Chaoyang theater. We rarely see shows when we are on trips, but I read about the acrobatic shows on multiple sites, so I thought, “Why not?”

On the other days we will visit the other places on my list. Now I just need to do a bit of preparation regarding gluten-free eating and we’ll be all set for the Beijing portion of our trip. We do still have some planning to do for Australia too…

*Photos sourced on Flickr using the Creative Commons license*