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Published: March 28th 2009
Us becoming 'Men'!
As we have been in Beijing for nearly five whole days - and we think this is some kind of personal best - this is quite a long blog. So deep breaths, here we go...
23rd March 2009
Our train arrived at 9.30am and we were instantly hit by the cold. We joined the longest taxi queue we had ever seen and 40 minutes later were heading for our hostel in the famous Hutong streets. There are a number of the streets around Beijing which are basically narrow alleyways full of single storey buildings in which there is not necessarily any heating, electricity or in some cases plumbing! They first arose when Ghengis Khan took the city and there aren't many left especially post-olympics, so to stay in the area is really great. Our first stop after checking in was to attempt to extend our visa. We actually only need an extra three days but have to go through the beauracratic procedure of attending the local police station. Similar to when we applied for our visas initially, we had all our documents and were ready to go...but were yet again rejected. This time for not having a Chinese bank account.
Us, achieving the World Record for coldness...
We decided to pass on opening one and have rearranged our plans for more time in Hong Kong - where we dont need a visa. So there China! As this was then local to the Lama Temple (Beijing's largest Buddhist temple) we decided to stop by. It was beautifully crafted and as colourful - if not more so - as anything we have seen. The highlight was a 55ft Buddha carved out of a single piece of Sandalwood. Very impressive.
As it was our first day in Beijing we then did our usual recce mission of walking the streets to locate ourselves and found ourselves walking through Tiananmen Square and looking straight into the eyes of the iconic Chairman Mao, whose portrait hangs above the gate to the Forbidden City. We had a few photos taken in the square by some excited locals and then headed back to our hostel, walking through the Hutongs to get there - blatantly forgetting the way to go! We finally got back though and had dinner and some Indiana Jones action before heading to bed.
24th March 2009
We were up at 10am and again could immediately feel the cold. The temperature was
17 Arch Bridge at the Summer Palace.
12 degrees without wind...but there was wind, taking the temperature much closer to freezing than we would have liked! To combat the cold we decided on a Hotpot Lunch where we were guided through the spicy experience by the owner. We particularly enjoyed it when other travellers followed our lead and blatantly couldn't take the heat! We felt that after having the original Sichuan Hotpot, that we had served our apprenticeship. Slightly warmed by this we braced the winds and headed towards the shopping district of the city where we ate toffee'd strawberries, and purchased more layers. Shopping is one of the things we really enjoy in China because we have enough language to converse sufficiently!
We then walked to the train station where we had stilted chinese conversations with a few people in order to buy our onward tickets and then headed back to our hostel to try to warm up! On doing this successfully we stepped outside one final time to head towards the now iconic Olympic Village. Some way North of the city, the Birdsnest stadium is quite a sight as you step up from the subway station, equally as impressive is the swimming arena sat opposite.
At The Summer Palace.
Both brilliantly lit, and as architecturally as impressive as anything we have seen, yet apparently unused since the Olympics, the stadium has only two bookings for the rest of this year. We then went back to the hotel where this evening's entertainment was 'Kungfu Panda'.
25th March 2009
Today we were heading for the Summer Palace, one of Beijing's most visited sights and classed as one of China's most beautiful gardens, it was once the place where the emperors would come to chill during the hot summer months. We took the subway half way there but as it was around 18km outside the city centre we then needed to take the bus. Could we find the correct bus? No, but we found every other bus in Beijing! Eventually we jumped on one which took us the long way round, but 2 hours later we were entering the grounds, and Daniel was placated with a 70p Yam. The Summer Place is basically a large lake surrounded by Buddhist temples, various marble bridges and many, many tourists. It took just under 3 hours to make our way around the lake, but despite the crowds it was a very peaceful place to
Mongolia to the right, China to the left!
spend our day. On leaving here we took the longest bus in the world back to our Hutong area and had our first taste of Peking Duck. It was good. Really good. After filling ourselves up with duck pancakes we headed back out to Tiananmen Square where we were surprised to see it closed and guarded by numerous security personnel in various uniforms. This is standard in Beijing but we were disappointed not to be able to walk back through the mighty square. Instead we walked with the crowds back to the gate of Heavenly Peace and then returned to our hostel, photographed out.
26th March 2009
Chairman Mao once said that "He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man" and so today we would become true men (Hayley wasn't sure what to think about this!) The alarm went off at 5.20am for the 6am bus to Jinshanling, roughly 3 hours north of Beijing and which would be our gateway to the wall. On stepping off the bus, unusually, seemingly being the only tour group around, hawkers adopted the tactic of one-on-one selling; not just at the entrance but both of us were accompanied
From a watch tower.
to the half way point of our 10km walk before succumbing to some random purchases! In actual fact, for us, it was a really nice experience because we mixed in a bit of Chinese with their limited English and learnt a few new phrases to boot! On reaching the first watch-tower we were able to look out over Inner Mongolia from one direction, and China from the other, which was an experience neither of us had anticipated - and was a breath-taking bonus. It also allowed us the views of the wall snaking off quite literally as far as the eye could see, and as we were blessed with a perfectly clear day, the views were stunning. The first section of the wall had been restored but as we climbed the steep, stoney walkway we could see the rubbly ruins we would soon be encountering. We climbed up and down for an hour or so - with our new hawker friends - before we hit the 450 year old remains of the vast wall. Here the path became uneven, and the parapet had completely crumbled meaning that the wall fell sharply away on either side of us. It was very
The Gate Of Heavenly Peace, gateway to The Forbidden City....that's Mao above the doorway!
cool! It took us around 3 hours to reach our final destination, passing through two defined sections of the wall, the latter being Simatai. Randomly, on reaching Simatai, you were given the opportunity to take a flying-fox (zip-wire) from the top, 200 yards down to our awaiting pick-up. We took that opportunity and looked back over the brilliant architecture of the wall whilst flying through the air! (Daniel found the harness somewhat uncomfortable though...)
Back in Beijing, we again had some Peking Duck for dinner, seizing our last night here as an excuse to eat some more. We took a beer and then hit the hay early. One of our - admittedly numerous - favourite days so far.
27th March 2009
Each morning we had woken with plans to head for the Forbidden City which was literally on our doorstep, but each day we had put it off. Today was our final chance to get there and we were not going to be side-tracked! This was by far the busiest place we have been in but you can't begrudge the tour groups as this place had been out of bounds for about the last 500 years (hence the name!)
The vast Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is made up of numerous ancient, royal buildings; each of which were assigned for specific duties carried out by the Emperor. It is said that this is the best conserved collection of buildings in China and they were in superb condition, but to us some of it felt a little too well "conserved" (you could almost smell the paint) and we found ourselves preferring the older pieces of architecture. It was a fantastic example of how much pride China has of it's history though and people would flood to every corner of the city to see examples of this (people watching is fast becoming our favourite past time!). The area is huge and so we spent a good few hours wandering around before heading to Jingshan Park where we could climb high and overlook the city. We then began our walk back, around the city walls this time, to have some dinner before taking an overnight train to Shanghai.
So there. That's Beijing, and we didn't really even begin to scratch the surface of the delights you can find here. We could have easily spent double our time here. It would seem that the Olympics has
Knock, Knock....details in the Forbidden City.
had a major, positive effect on this city. You can breath relatively unpolluted air, the streets are well maintained, and the city just feels shiney and new. Of course we have no prior knowledge to base this on, but the city is defintiely going places.
We hope everyone is well, we have added a few extra photos to this blog due to our new found paranoia!
Thanks to all the offers of saving our memory stick. We will be taking you up on your offers as soon as we are home!
D and H
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