It goes without saying that Beijing is a must see for anyone visiting, living or teaching in China. Not just because of the names, but because these places really live up to the hype! This trip was very special for me because it wasn’t just Sophia and I going, but also my father, mother and brother from the U.S. were here!
After they arrived we gave them 2 days to get over the jet lag, then we were headed to the new high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing. After the recent tragedy involving one of these high speed trains, some people were questioning their safety. We decided to go for it and I’m really glad we did. Travelling by train definitely has its advantages. First of all you don’t have to arrive 2 hours before the train and wait in long security lines. Once on the train, every seat (even economy) has as much leg room as first class on a plane.
Our trip to the great wall was planned out but our first day was open. Through the hotel we found an all-day private tour for only 500rmb ($80), this included a private van with a driver and tour guide! Our first stop was in Tiananmen Square; we were there during the National Holiday and apparently so was every other person in China! It was pretty crazy but luckily for us, Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world and provided adequate space for the 100,000+ people that were there. Being in the square really gave me an appreciation for the history that had taken place in that exact spot.
Directly across the street is the entrance to the Forbidden City, the ancient government capital of China. This turned out to be really amazing. I really had no idea what to expect and no clue as to how massive of a complex I was about to see! To enter and navigate the city requires crossing a series of bridges, after wading through the crowd and getting across the first bridge we entered into a massive open space surrounded with ancient looking buildings. We could see up ahead another bridge and entrance into another opening. As we passed through, our tour guide was giving us history lessons of the entire area. We proceeded through the second entrance and into another massive open space similar to the first. We repeated the process, moved through the square and through another entrance. While I’m thinking that we must have seen most the forbidden city by now, our guide tells us that through the next door is the actually entrance to the city! We must have already walked a quarter mile or more! Entering the next section was overwhelming; there were so many people in line for tickets.
We got our tickets and headed in. I’ll let the pictures tell the story, but the city is huge with ornate statues, artistry and wonderful attention to detail. Walking around you can really get the sense for what it must have been like living there hundreds and hundreds of years ago. A bustling city, inside of a city. Offices, schools, restaurants and housing for the emperor, his concubines and hundreds of children.
We made our way through the city and eventually met back up with our driver at the exit on the other end of the city. It was around this time that we figured out why the tour was so cheap, the guide took us to a lunch spot for the famous Peking duck (Peking was the name of Beijing before it was the capital of China). The food was good, but not great and definitely overpriced. The tour guide gets a kick back from the restaurant and the silk museum and the tea house and the foot massage place. Next up was a brief stop at the birds nest and the watercube, built for the 2008 Olympics. Although we didn’t get to go inside, they are truly amazing structures. On the far end of the Olympic area is a set of 4 massive office building designed to resemble a dragon.
Last stop on the tour was the summer palace, which is actually a huge lake right in the middle of Beijing. This entire area was once home to high ranking officials from the ancient empire days. It was very beautiful and relaxing. We spent most of our time just relaxing by the water, soaking in the views and taking pictures with locals that seem to be equally interested in us (the white people) as they were in the lake and ancient structures.
By sunset it was time to return to the hotel, grab some dinner and rest up for our hike on the Great Wall!
To be continued...