In many posts I've included criticisms of what I've seen. Today, I had a perfectly happy afternoon, and it's only fair we give Beijing credit for that.
I found out just at the last moment I'd have Monday off, so we had no plans to travel anywhere these days. And so, after spending a good part of the day doing nothing (then again, what's wrong with that when you usually spend most of your days doing SOMETHING?), we decided to go to the Drum and Bell Towers. Built in the 13th centuries, when Beijing was a Mongol capital, they're set in a nice area with traditional (and restored) alleys, close to Houhai (one of Beijing's lakes).
And so, we got dressed quickly, lest our sudden impulse vanish (you can get so lazy when you live somewhere, always thinking "oh, there will be plenty of time for that later!"), and headed for the Drum Tower (Gulou, 鼓楼), which in these 2 1/2 years we had not visited (remember what I told you about getting lazy?).
Well, we got there, and promptly got our tickets to climb up. It's got some steep steps but, once you finish that unexpected rear exercise, you're rewarded with views of the Bell Tower (which has some beautiful soft green decoration on top, which harmonises beautifully with the gray stone and tiles), views of surrounding alleys and traditional houses, of Jingshan Park, of Houhai, and even of the modern structures of the Central Business District in the distance. The Drum Tower used to mark (with, of course, drums!) the time of day and, lucky us, there was a drum performance shortly after we arrived! We were standing there, just watching the city from above, when we heard a sudden and rhythmic beating of drums, so we rushed around the tower into the inner hall for this surprise performance!
Afterwards, and reinvigorated by the cold air and the drums, we headed down, to visit the other tower which, alas, was closed. So, since I was STARVING, we stopped at a Yunnanese restaurant (that is, food from the Southern province of Yunnan) right on the small square sandwiched between both towers (what a wonderful site, I must say).
And this restaurant was yet another pleasant surprise: cosy, welcoming, and with a menu so packed with vegetarian dishes I had a hard time choosing! We ordered some delicious, woody rice tea, some fried scallions with mint, thinly shredded tofu with a light chili sauce, fried mushrooms (some short, thin, dark kind), some glutinous-starchy vegetable (it's the disgusting looking one in the pic, and I know you'll all agree which one it is!) with garlic and whatever, and sweet pineapple rice! I was HAPPY. And to top it all (the delicious food, the cosiness of warm rice tea and a place resembling more a friend's living room than a restaurant), we had the most interesting of music as background (friends, this is going to sound weird, but it's the best explanation I can find): imagine the lead singer of "The Cure" (or similar band), singing in Mandarin, with Mongolian throat harmonics reinforcing the vocals at key points, with some industrial "urbanness" for good measure. Awesome. Honestly. That's a kind of cultural mix that makes me feel soooo good.
And so, in the best of moods, we finished our afternoon taking a restored alley to Houhai, stopping to buy a couple of delicious traditional Beijing pastries (one of them with sesame seeds on the outside and filled with sweet red bean paste, heaven!) that made me that much more happy, and arriving at Houhai (后海) for a soft, beautiful sunset light over the lake.
We headed back home, with just the biggest of smiles and the best of moods.