Sunday, June 28, 2015

China: Beijing

Beijing was a blessing for these weary travelers. Of the 45 days we had been in China, we had only rested two. Rest days are also seldom actually spent resting. When traveling as we are one has to plan in some capacity pretty much every day. So, when we have a scheduled ‘rest’ day that usually means ‘spend the day planning the next 7 days’ day. By the time we made it to Beijing we were both jonesin’ for some serious down time. The first five nights we spent in a lovely place tucked in an alleyway near the morning market. After we were switched to a room with a bathroom that was big enough (the first one had a toilet with the front no more than 6 inches from the wall), we had a great stay and met a delightful young lady named Lemon. She was so cheerful and greeted us by name every time we saw her. We came back one night and she was in the street hula hooping. It was a great place but on our last day/night we opted to use our free Marriott stay and booked a room in a real hotel! There was a pool, a bathtub, a giant comfy bed and a gym where we were able to lift weights for the third time in 4 months. We were so relaxed and able to rejuvenate some in preparation for Europe.
Our Happy Dragon alleyway- this whole street filled up with vendors in the mornings for the morning market!

Jared: "Christy, it's just a Marriott."
While the accommodations were wonderful, they were definitely not the highlight of our time in Beijing. Our first night we went to the famed street market where they basically sell anything on a skewer. We saw starfish, silkworms, and spiders. Neither one of us was feeling particularly adventurous so we opted for the more safe corn on the cob and cooked pineapple.

Beijing food street can't handle the Hedges.

Seahorse and scorpion on the menu.

The following day we went to Tianamen Square and the Forbidden Palace. I told Jared as we walked up to the complex area that Tianamen Square has always felt very remote to me. He asked, “Like different and foreign?” I told him no, it’s not that it seems foreign, everything in China seemed foreign to me before I experienced it but Tianamen Square for some reason felt very far away. I think because of my age and background this particular cultural landmark seemed more inaccessible than the rest of China or Asia for that matter. The experience itself was actually not that remarkable. It really is just a square that you walk through in order to get to the Forbidden Palace. I kept thinking we had missed something. Perhaps if I were someone else, I would have seen something else.

At Mao's gate about to go inside.

Walking up to the first building in the palace complex

This little temple was nestled up on a rock in the palace gardens.

The Forbidden Palace is worthy of the mysterious, almost mythical name. The place matches all of the cinematic ideals you might have about China. The colors and designs were a nice culmination of the imagery we had seen elsewhere. There were also audio guides available which gave us some insight to the architecture and purpose of the buildings.

After the Forbidden Palace we went to the Summer Palace. This particular palace was built by an Emperor as a gift for his mother. It sits on a manmade mountain by a manmade lake. The land which was excavated to form the lake was used to form the mountain. The main area was along the edge of the water. Several of the buildings were closed but the ones that were accessible provided nice shade to escape from the heat of the sun. I especially enjoyed the pagodas and buildings that appear to be a part of the mountain itself. These look as though they were constructed around the jagged outcroppings and do a superb job (in my less than novice opinion) of incorporating the natural beauty with the architecture.

Along the river where there used to be shops

Little yellow glazed buddhas

A marble boat- used for gatherings, not boating.

So beautiful

Just tucked in next to the natural scenery

Our third day in Beijing was our Great Wall day. We both had been looking forward to this day for quite some time. This would be our third great wonder of the world and we spent quite a bit of time investigating our options to make sure we got the kind of experience we wanted. After being in crowds at almost every major site we visited in China we really wanted to find a way to be among as few people as possible. There are several sections of the wall that are open to the public and these range in popularity as well as degree of renovation completed. While we wanted to see some of the restored wall we thought it would be pretty nice to see a part that had not been “patched up.” The tour option we found involved the Jinshanling section of the wall that is in the mountains and has some serious up and down. We walked a total of about 6 km and started in a restored section then traversed to a portion that had not undergone any construction for around 100 years. There were probably only 15-20 people total on the same section and we were able to have some moments where no else was around. The Great Wall is unbelievable and the experience is one of those that subtly expands your perception of history and mankind. This did happen and people built it and that’s pretty cool.

It keeps going and going

Wow, that's a lot o' wall


She wanted to take a picture with us. How could we say no?

The rest of our time in Beijing consisted of shopping in the famous silk market, shipping the stuff we bought in the famous silk market, visiting some of the architectural sites of the city and relaxing in the Marriott. I was too tired to go see the Olympic Village when Jared went but we both saw the CCTV tower and the SoHo neighborhood.

This is the Temple of Heaven where the Emperor would pray for good harvests


CCTV tower- talk about a corner office

I just loved this little flower shop

And so it was that we said goodbye to Asia.

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