Beijing and the Great Wall

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August 2nd 2009
Published: August 19th 2009
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After an overnight train to Beijing (sleeper had sold out, but soft seat ticket was fine), a bus ride and a sweaty walk in the sunshine along a main road, we found the lovely Red lantern hostel in the Xicheng district and refreshed ourselves!

First stop on our list was the birds nest stadium, and it was great! We could go inside and walk around - a (very small) part of the track was uncovered so we ran across it...only so we could say we'd run on an Olympic track! We walked full circuit and there was a good atmosphere. It's a very impressive stadium, and not overpriced at 50 yuan. Next was the water cube, 30 yuan allowed us into the seating area to see where Phelps won his eight gold medals. The pool was empty, as was the diving pool but it was still a good vibe and we enjoyed watching the Olympic montage on the big screen for a while, in the place where it all happened! We also saw the warm up pool...which we later got to swim in! (see below)

Next up we went to Tiananmen square and appreciated the size of it! Rather hungry, we found a good area to the East of Tiananmen square for a recommended duck restaurant, and had the traditional pancakes and lots of Chinese tea. Back to Tiananmen square and we joined the crowds for the lowering of the flag ceremony that is timed with sunset every evening. It was rather unusual to have such a crowd calm and quiet.

Day two was an early start in order to go and see a dead body...yes, Mao Ze Dong is preserved in Tiananmen square and between 08.30 and 12.00 his Mausoleum is open. Bags had to be held in a locker - no cameras allowed, and then we joined the queue which was an experience in itself with everyone so keen to jump that one space in a queue of thousands, literally. Thankfully it was a line that kept moving but it took a good hour and a half! Once through security, we passed a large domineering statue of Mao inside the building, and people laid flowers in front. Then we walked past his body, draped in the red hammer and sickle flag, in an eerie silence. Unfortunately that all erupted into mayhem once again at the gift counter on the other side. In a strange way, it was a good experience, and provoked a lot of thought about how the locals/natives felt about seeing the body of their founder laying there.

Next up, the forbidden city (after another eye-opening queuing experience). It is vast! We spent a good while moving from building to building. The large ones were particularly impressive with vast expanses in between. It's so big we got lost and didn't know which direction we were supposed to be heading anymore! Once we had left we walked into Jinshan park opposite, and for me this was actually more of a highlight. Having walked through the forbidden city, it is hard to appreciate it's size. From the peak in the park however, the aeriel view of the forbidden city is spectacular! I definitely recommend it! The golden roofs stretched as far as the eye could see (which admittedly is limited by the pollution!).

A walk round Quinhai lake and through a hutong and we'd walked a long long way, heading back to Jinshuitan for a good Chinese dinner and a rest!

The Summer Palace is an impressive area, set next to the vast Kunming lake amongst trees. The size of the palaces and the detail are stunning, it was just a bit harder to appreciate amongst the throngs of Chinese tour groups with microphoned leaders, and people selling bird whistles, which unfortunately a lot of people were buying. I found it quite stressful walking round, but managed to appreciate the palace at the same time. My advice would be to get there early. We had planned to walk around the lake, and get to the western corridor, but it really is a long way - the lake is very big!

After a bargain noodle stop for lunch, we got the subway to the Temple of Heaven which I loved. The blue tiled roofs representing heaven were striking, and a nice contrast to the orange roofs that fill the forbidden city. There is a lot of space around the temple, so the crowds are dispersed, and the grounds are very peaceful, covering a large area.

The great wall was something I've wanted to see for a long time, and it did not disappoint. Taking a tour was our best option seeing as it is a long way from Beijing and difficult to organise for only two people (just make sure you know if entrance is included in your tour before you go). We chose to walk from Jinshanling to Simatai, a ten kilometre hike which a little further away than the more popular Badaling section, meaning less tourists! In fact, it turned out to be just our bus on the whole section, which was fantastic once we had all separated at our own paces. The wall itself obviously is impressive, but the scenery around cannot be discounted either - a truly scenic walk! Some parts were quite steep, or uneven and it was a very hot up and down walk, but well worth it!

Yet another highlight for me was swimming in the water cube! Being a keen swimmer, once I found out I could do this, I was really hoping I could fit it in. Except Mondays, the training pool is open 1400-2100 for public lane swimming. It was a bit of process though...temperature check, ticket (50 yuan), swimming test ticket (because we had no Beijing deep water card, 20 yuan), a doctor check (she listened to my heartbeat!), a photo, and the purchase of a swimming hat! The swimming test was 2 lengths of the 75m training pool, which means I am now the proud owner of a Beijing deep water card, valid for three years!

Following in the footsteps of Olympic athletes was quite exciting! The pool was nice and new and well looked after, 2m deep all the way was easy to imagine the professionals preparing for their races! There was still the sign up directing athletes to the "victory ceremony waiting area." I loved it!

The Donghuamen night market was really interesting too - not far from Tiananmen - lots of interesting street foods for sale, including cicadas, scorpions, and starfish on sticks! A good evening stroll with lots to look at.

On the last morning, I'm glad we could squeeze in one last visit to Tiananmen square, and went up on Tiananmen gate, which for 15 yuan was well worth it. It gave me an excellent view of Tiananmen square from above, just as Mao would have seen it. There was a good range of photos of the man himself up there as well.

J x x x

More random bits of note in China....
Queuing is optional....people will freely jump the queue, and it can get quite frustrating!

Beware of the tea scam (in Beijing)...people will ask you to practise their English and ask what you are doing soon as you tell them you are busy, they lose interest which makes me think it is one of those scams, where they take you for a very expensive bit of tea and leave you to foo the bill.

Spitting...happens everywhere.

Facebook is difficult to access because it's banned.

A ride on the Beijing subway is 2 yuan anywhere.

Staff meetings happen on the street - every morning, employees are lined up in an orderly fashion on the street, being talked to by the boss - very odd sight.

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


Temple of HeavenTemple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven

An impressive sight.

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