Our first day in Beijing began early (6:30 AM). After an American breakfast, we were off to our first stop, Tienanmen Square. It is the largest square in the world and built by Mao Zedong in the 1950s. It is flanked by the Museum, the Parliament and Maos mausoleum. The line to see Maos tomb was huge! In fact, we learned that vendors sell fake flowers to people in line to put on his tomb. At the end of the day, the vendors collect the flowers and sell them again the next day!
From Tienanmen Square, we headed across the street to the Forbidden City, where we spent most of the morning. Some facts about the Forbidden City: It was built in 1406 by the Ming Dynasty. The Emperor, his 2 wives and his 3,000 concubines lived there. We saw the Imperial City and the Inner Palace where the royal family lived. The buildings were beautiful! Red and gold were royal colors, so most buildings used these colors, along with green and yellow.
We hopped back on our tour bus and went to lunch (another buffet). Attached to the restaurant was a government run pearl store.
We learned how pearls were formed and how to tell if they
e real. Rub 2 together, if they create a dust or powder, they
e real. Fake ones also make a clicking sound when rubbed together. Of course, we were given time to shop for pearls after our tour.
Next we went to the Summer Palace, where the Emperor spent his summers. The park was green and lush, surrounding Kunming Lake. Again, we saw beautifully crafted buildings. The longest corridor in the world is here. It is 728 m long and is basically a covered walkway. The roof has over 10,000 different paintings. After exploring a bit, we got to ride a Dragon Boat across the lake. It was a scenic, peaceful and delightfully breezy ride. :)
We left the Summer Palace and headed to the hutong district of Beijing (close together, older living quarters where many residents live). We rode around in pairs on rickshaws, a very unique way to see the sights. We passed many scenes of daily life--people shopping, out at bars, riding their bikes or walking around.
We were invited into the home of a local couple to see a traditional Chinese
house. The "front door" was in an alleyway. Upon entering, you walked into an outdoor courtyard/garden area. There were 3 separate living quarters off the courtyard. To the north was the parents house (which we visited). It had a living room, one bedroom and a small kitchen. The other 2 "apartments" off the courtyard were the living quarters of the two sons and the couples 14 year old granddaughter (of whom they were most proud!). The host family has a contract with the tour company, so the get groups of people in their house every day! Because of the location and size of their house, our guide estimated that their house would sell for about 3 million U.S. dollars!
After the rickshaw tour, we went to a traditional Peking duck dinner. It was delicious! The duck is brought out personally by the chef and carved into 230 pieces. A platter is then placed on the tables lazy susan, along with all the fixings and side dishes. The traditional way to eat the duck is to take a super thin pancake/crepe and put it on your plate. Then, add a few pieces of duck dipped in a plum sauce and
some scallions. Roll up the crepe and enjoy! Other things served at dinner were: rice, pickled cucumbers, tofu, bok choy, and soup. Beer or Coke is served to drink, along with tea at every meal.
Upon finishing dinner, we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved rest! What a busy, yet incredible day. Day Two:
Great Wall Day! I woke up extremely excited to climb the Great Wall today. Ive been waiting for this opportunity for a very long time! We woke up, ate breakfast and were on the bus by 8 AM. The trip to the Badaling section of the Great Wall would take about an hour from Beijing.
Halfway there, we stopped at a jade carving factory (and store, of course!). They had many statues-horses, dragons, Buddhas, etc. and all kinds of jewelry. I was hoping to buy souvenirs for family, but jade is really expensive (all 19 of us on the tour were surprised by this). We did buy a "family ball" that Bryan really liked. It is a round jade ball carved with a dragon and phoenix (dragon = male, phoenix = female). Our guide, James, told us that the
two symbols together usually represent harmony. :) There are two smaller carved balls inside the large one. Overall, it is a neat piece of art.
We arrived at the Great Wall around 10:30 AM. It is in the mountains and all around are hills with the Wall snaking through. What a breath-taking sight just pulling into the parking lot! I was practically dancing in my seat in anticipation. :)
We climbed the Ju Yong Guan section, the most touristy place. So, of course there were tons of people! This section had three towers, each higher than the one before it. We decided to go all the way to the top. The climb to the first tower was the steepest and most crowded. The steps were very uneven-some were as high as my waist, others were only an inch above the previous step. Luckily, there were handrails, so I could pull myself up the high stairs. After making it to the first tower, I thought I might die! (I had yet another sinus infection and my sinuses were killing me) Also, it was extremely claustrophobic and we were up so high that my fear of heights kicked in.....Overall, this
was not the reaction I expected when climbing the Great Wall! Bryan was fine, of course. He was more worried about the trip back down due to his weak knees.
We rested, took tons of pictures and then continued on up to the next two towers. It did get a bit easier. The weird thing about being on the Wall was that it was incredibly peaceful and serene, even though you e surrounded by, literally, thousands of people! Looking out over the countryside and mountains was amazing! Knowing that you were standing on something built thousands of years ago was awe-inspiring. It boggles my mind how people actually built the wall. I can imagine how physically taxing that must have been.
With the third tower in sight, I decided to call it quits. Bryan went ahead on his own. I just relaxed, enjoyed the view and took pictures of him as he climbed. Then, it was time to head back down all the stairs. I was much faster going down than up, but it was still hard work. By the end, my legs were shaking so badly and I never wanted to see stairs again!
it down with 10 minutes to spare before we had to meet our group at 12:30 PM. Just enough time to buy souvenirs. :) We haggled for T-shirts, postcards, a keychain and a Mao bag for Jeff. We got back on the bus exhausted and hungry, ready for our next stop: lunch!
Lunch was at a hotel restaurant where we ate more of the same: rice, meat, vegetables, soup and watermelon, dessert at each meal here. The cumin spiced lamb was delicious! The most interesting thing about lunch was in the room next door to where we ate. There was a huge party being held for a one month old boy! It was almost as elaborate as a quinceanera or bar mitzvah. I guess this is still based on the ancient Chinese ritual to wait one month after a child was born to name him or her. It was really interesting to see.
After lunch, we visited the Temple of Heaven, where the Emperor would go twice a year to worship heaven and Earth. The main building is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. Here the Emperor would pray for or celebrate a good harvest that year.
The buildings at the Temple of Heaven were mostly blue (to symbolize heaven). The green on the buildings symbolized Earth. Red was the color of royalty and all the gold used on the buildings is real! What a beautiful place.
We spent about an hour exploring the park and then headed out to dinner. After dinner, we got to see a Kung Fu show. The music and Kung Fu moves were really cool. However, the plot was cheesy and there was more dancing than Kung Fu. Plus, we were so tired from our two whirlwind days in Beijing, that most of us nodded off during the performance.
We made it back to the hotel, ready to travel to Xian the next day.
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