After our exhausting and filling cooking class, we walked around the hutongs surrounding the cooking school. This was a completely new neighborhood for us, and we really enjoyed exploring it. Hutongs are old alleyways that usually lead into courtyards where families live. To be honest, though Lonely Planet and every other Beijing visitor gush about the hutongs, we had never seen a reason to be impressed with them. Sure, they're ancient streets, but they're still just alleys. However, exploring the more famous hutongs in this area changed our minds. It was more like a friendly, busy, pedestrian walking street, obviously aimed toward tourists, but totally the type of thing we love. Where else can you find entire shops dedicated to panda merchandise?
Or Oba-Mao propaganda?
And despite the warning outside this public toilet, I found the toilets to be quite clean and more comfortable than most Chinese bathrooms.
We enjoyed a leisurely walk free from the notorious Beijing traffic and stopped by the nearby Drum and Bell Tower, where we got to see a demonstration of the drums. Also, in this area we found the nicest, most helpful people we've ever experienced in China, and that was a welcome change.
On the recommendation of the Australian quartet, we walked around another new neighborhood, Houhai. This beautiful pedestrian area runs alongside a lake, and while shops are expensive and obviously targeted toward tourists, it was a nice area to wander around. Andrew even spent about $15 on some chocolate truffles for me from a European-style shop.
We didn't stay too long, because we were hoping to head to the zoo before it closed that day. Unfortunately, because of a mix-up on the metro, it took forever to get there and we ended up arriving after it closed. Instead, we got back on the metro and headed across town to the Sanlitun area for dinner and a movie. We had hoped to see either "Narnia" or "Tron" in English, but we made do with "The Tourist," which was fun and entertaining. We also ate a wonderful sushi dinner before going back to the hotel for some drinks in the bar before bed.
On our last morning in Beijing, we got up early and tried the zoo again, this time with more luck. The ridiculously low entry fee should have been a clue as to how run-down this place was, but just seeing the panda cubs playing around was worth the trip out there. I was a little upset about the bears who would perform little tricks in exchange for food, but it was cute. There wasn't much special about this zoo, but I do love animals so it was a good time spent.
I almost forgot about crazy raccoon guy. This little guy was doing a million jumping jacks in his enclosure...up against the wall. It was really bizarre. Some form of razzercise???
Finally, we gathered our backpack and went across town for my favorite part of any trip to Beijing: Jenny Lou's. We went a little crazy and spent more than $100 stocking up on tortillas, alcohol, and cheese. We managed to squeeze all this into our bag and make it to the bus station just in time to grab a Subway sandwich for dinner and head home on the bus back to Qinhuangdao.