Me between Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City
Well, David Friedman hit the ground running on the evening of December 22 after 18+ hours of travel. Both of us were immediately awed by the sheer size of China's capital city. The plan was to ride the subway to Tiananmen Square and walk from the subway station to our guesthouse. As it happens so often when travelling, things don't always go according to plan. We arrived at our transfer station and were not permitted to continue as the subway shuts down at the early hour of 11pm. So, plan B is to take a cab.
What can I say about Beijing cabs? They're unfair? Unprofessional? Uninformed? All of the above? Anyway, we exited the subway station into absolutely frigid temperatures ranging from 0-10F. It was also quite windy in the evening. Cab hawks swoop down on their pray offering rides for unreasable amounts: 250RMB, 200RMB, etc etc. I was in no mood to bargain, so after much banter, we headed for an intersection far from the subway station and its relentless cab drivers. We flagged a cab and he agreed to take us for 50RMB. We got lost. We had to stop at another hotel to
ask for directions and a working phone number. Their internet was broken at the hotel. So after some wandering, we finally found the hostel. Addresses are one of the many areas of spoken Chinese where the tones play a vital role.
After some Chinese food, a couple beers, and a lot of chatter, we fell asleep in our room. It was not a bad place at all. Friendly staff, clean rooms, interesting travelers, everything you need in a hostel. It was to be our home for the next few days.
Time to start our explorations of arguably the most famous city in Asia. Shall we start with Tiananmen Square? Of course! Tiananmen Square is supposedly the largest public square in the world and it looks every bit the part. With no places to sit, secruity checkpoints, and Chairman Mao's glowing portrait overlooking us, we decided to save the square for after the Forbidden City (located just north of the square). The Forbidden City is the largest ancient building in all of China (you will be reading a lot of superlatives in the Beijing section of this blog by the way). The city is REALLY impressive
Friedman at the Nest
(The D is for David)
and turned out to be, aside from train stations, the only crowded place we went to during our entire trip. We wandered about the Forbidden City for a couple of hours (keep in mind it was absolutely freezing cold). We saw where all of the old Chinese emperors and their concubines hung out back in the day. One area of note was a well that bore the name of a young concubine. Why name a well, you ask? Apparently she was thrown into the well by the emperor for undisclosed reasons. On a lighter side, the City was beautiful and very well maintained. There was also an impressive clock museum with clocks given to previous emperors and chairmen of China from all over the world. Some clocks from the 17th century used robotics to act out a scene on the hour. One of the more intricate clocks had a robot that could write a letter. And these clocks are old! Others had birds that sang and flapped their wings, some used running water, miners breaking rocks, people drinking beers, all kinds of scenes.
After lunch, we headed north to the Olympic Park. We got to see the water cube
The MOST delicious food in China
and the Bird's Nest Stadium Both very interesting pieces of architecture.
Christmas Eve was a bit of a bummer of a day, but we still had fun. We had stayed up late the night before chatting with a very interesting guy from Finland. He was on his way to Hong Kong and had taken the train from Moscow to Beijing. We ended up sleeping in quite late, especially with the goal of trying to hike the Great Wall. We followed some Lonely Planet directions to a bus station in middle of town and were told we were too late for the buses to the Great Wall and we'd have to postpone for the next day. We spent the rest of the day wandering Beijing. That evening we met with some friends of mine that I had met when I hiked through Bingzhongluo (see previous blog). We enjoyed Beijing's MOST famous dish: Peking Duck. That is some really REALLY delicious food and probably the BEST meal I've had since coming to China. It was really fun to see them again and talk about what we've been up to. One of my friends owns a high-end hiking shop
in Beijing. I say high-end, but I really just mean all the stuff in it is real. They don't speak much English, so unfortunatley Friedman stayed quiet through most of the meal. They were impressed about his Boeing job, though. We have plans to meet again in a few months to climb some mountains in northern Yunnan. I'm excited about that, too!
Merry Christmas and off the the Great Wall of China. The what? The BIGGEST, LONGEST, MOST IMPRESSIVE, wall in the world? Why yes! That one! Luckily we had saved the coldest day of the entire trip for hiking the wall. We went to the Badaling section because it was the only place that was open to tourists during the winter. We hiked as much as we could and ended up being outside in 0 degree weather for over 4 hours. We were better prepared than most for such weather, so we did alright. The views were really nice, and the wall is well renovated at this section. With snow and ice everywhere and freezing temperatures, there were very few people hiking around. We saw some pictures of the wall during the summer and it
The Wall and the Snow
A cold day for hiking along the Great Wall of China
is quite crowded, indeed! Most crowded place in China? Maybe so.
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