A Travellerspoint blog

Great City, Great Wall

Beijing, China

80 °F

We had a whirlwind few days in Beijing, hitting the ground running as soon as we arrived on Monday afternoon after a 17-hour "hop" from San Francisco (I guess we should be getting used to these by now). We enjoyed a walk through the historical center of the capital, circling the Forbidden City and exploring several hutongs (narrow streets and alleys through traditional courtyard residences). Along the way we stopped for a excellent snack of roubing - sort of a giant, flattened, pork-filled dumpling-extraordinaire (we'd spotted the Guo Wei restuarant, but opted for these instead).

On Tuesday, jetlag allowed us an early start and we spent most of the morning at the Temple of Heaven, a sprawling complex south of the Forbidden City where the emperors used to pray for good harvests. The site had been painstakingly restored in advance of the Olympics and was truly remarkable, most of all the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a massive structure supported only by 28 wooden pillars.

For the afternoon, we headed to the Forbidden City on the subway. The former imperial palace is truly massive - covering nearly 180 acres - which probably helps to absorb the massive crowds. Though the entire place is impressive (and would've certainly been a nice place to hole up as emperor), we most enjoyed the leafy gardens at the rear of the palace and the unique museum of imperial clocks (probably because these were furthest from the crowds), featuring timepieces from around the world from the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is just the gate to get to the actual entrance!

We ended the day on a high note at the Yonghe (Lama) Temple, one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the world that features an 18m tall statue of Buddha carved from a single piece of wood (in case you had any doubt, the certificate from the Guinness folks is below).

Yesterday, we made the requisite trip out to the Great Wall at Mutianyu - a section that had inspired Bill Clinton to proclaim "The Great Wall here is very beautiful, very grand, more beautiful and grander than what I imagined" during his 1998 visit. I think we both felt this captured our feelings and we were inspired enough to make the steep climb up the western end of the section (that's Nicole carefully descending).
Too bad that Nicole left her sunglasses in California

On the way back into town we stopped by the Olympic Village - still buzzing with activity and visitors - before ending at the Summer Palace - an imperial getaway in the northwest of the city for those times when the royals felt too closed in by their city-center palace. This definitely ranked towards the top of our list in Beijing given the scenic setting. The only downside was the huge crowds in the central areas. You could almost sense that out of the 1.3 billion people in China, a not insignificant portion had decided to visit the Summer Palace. At least they were able to stick together with their groups thanks to an ingenious color-coded hat scheme (though they might want to consider using some colors other than red and white).
Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace
White Hats
Red Hats
White-Red Hats
More White Hats
More Red Hats

All-in-all, we had a fantastic time in Beijing and only wish we could've stayed longer (I'm not sure if travel writers and guides who recommend only 2-3 days in the city have actually been to Beijing). I last visited in 1998 (this was Nicole's first time) and the change from then is simply astonishing. The area we stayed in - XiCheng - looked more like Singapore than the Beijing of my memories. Furthermore, everything was new - from the airport to the roads (in better shape than any in the US or UK) to subway trains and lines. Maybe, this is partly a post-Olympic halo, but I don't think so.

Finally, even though Nicole will pick up on our first day in Chengdu in her next post, I thought I'd close by listing the contents of the "emergency kit" in our hotel here.

Johnson & Johnson Tampons
3 Durex Quality Condoms
King Refreshing Drink
Swashes Sanitary Wet Tissues
One-time use underpants (M&F)

By "emergency" I think they must mean some sort of hyperactive sexual escapade, but maybe I'm just reading into things.

For those of you who have read this far, you can also find full Beijing pictures (currently uploading) on MobileMe

Posted by jkirsch 06:57 Archived in China

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Courtesy of Richard Hildebrandt's brain: "Nicole, I'm predicting a bright future for you...especially since you left your sunglasses here" (gotta love him)

by Danielle

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