Greetings all! 😀
I’m back from China, with full internet access, and ready to update you all on the past three weeks of travel.
To begin, I spent the first week in China with my mom, exploring the culturally complex city of Beijing.
He told me I was beautiful and asked if I wanted to go on a date for cake. He said he had three doctors in his family, which was his big selling point.
He, on the other, sold milk powder for a living, and had an apparent addiction to video games. Hah. 😛I politely declined his offer, but he seemed determined, so he left his belongings with me and returned minutes later with KFC. 😕Not cake, but a tasty egg tart. Such a sweet gesture. 🙂
After saying goodbye to my potential suitor, I took a free shuttle to meet mom at arrivals. There are three terminals at the airport, and hers was a 20-minute ride away.
After a much-needed reunion, we took a 45-minute taxi to our hotel, which cost 10 USD.
Accommodation in Beijing
While in Beijing, we stayed at the Red Wall Garden Boutique Hotel.This is a luxury boutique hotel I found using TripAdvisor. The hotel itself has traditional charm, and we found the staff to be very attentive. The major draw was its central location, near all the famous historic sites.The hotel was recently renovated, yet remains very charming, preserving the original wood furnishings, decorated with beautiful Chinese antiques.Side note: Mom brought facial masks for Beijing’s notorious pollution; however, we never used them, other than for this photo shoot. 😛
The Forbidden City
Despite mass lootings, fires and the despair of the Cultural Revolution, the palace still has the largest collection of wooden structures in the world, as well as, an impressive collection of jade and precious stone antiques.From 1420-1924, twenty-four emperors ruled China from behind these palace walls, ending with the last emperor, Puyi.We bought tickets for 6 USD and entered through the Meridian Gate.Once inside, we walked through the outer court, consisting of three halls resting on marble platforms: the Supreme, Preserving, and Central Hall of Harmony.The Supreme Hall was used for important political events and ceremonies, while the lesser halls were used for rehearsal and breaks.The Dragon Throne of the Supreme HallThe Empress ThroneAfter that we proceeded to the inner court, which is the location of the Palace of Heavenly Purity.
This area was the designated residence hall of the emperor.For an extra 2 USD, we entered the Hall of Jewelry, which boasts gem encrusted headdresses, jade amulets, a colorful Nine Dragon Screen and an opera house.
It’s called the Forbidden City, since no one was allowed to enter or leave without the emperor’s approval.We felt forbidden to leave as well, as we made our way down never-ending pathways, unable to find the exit. Hah. 😛Being silly while trying to find the exit. 😛Lastly, and miraculously we found the south end of the city, which is the location of the Imperial Garden.
The Imperial Garden teems with mystical cypress trees- gargantuan carbuncles encircling their base.As well, after exiting the Forbidden City, we made our way across the street to Jingshan Park. From its three-story pavilion atop Prospect Hill sits a large golden Buddha, and a spectacular panoramic view of the Forbidden City.For lunch we stopped at a hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop for some tasty steamed pork dumplings.It was delicious, filling and much-needed.
Here, the vibe of Communist rule lingers in the air, with strict security around every corner.An officer checked our passports at one point, and inquired a lot about our background. He seemed very sweet, despite his authoritative garb and said he knew of Chicago, near where we lived. Although this is a popular tourist destination, us blondes stood out like a sore thumb, and we became a spectacle.Everyone asked for photos with us, and we felt like celebrities posing against the backdrop of former Communist leader, Mao Zedong, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace.Afterwards, mom crashed from the jet lag and I set out to find us snacks for the next day’s journey to the Great Wall.
I love visiting grocery stores, since they help me understand more about the culture. Mom can also be quick particular on her food choices, so after seeing aisles of strange meats, foreign snack flavors and dense, football-like Chinese rolls, I decided on yogurt and peanut butter sandwiches.On day three, we set off at 6 AM to visit the Great Wall.
The Great Wall of China- Mutianyu Section
The idea of the wall began as early as 7th B.C., and continued to expand for the next 2,000 years, with more than 31,000 miles of extensive walls and 10,000 watchtowers being built.Fun fact: The Great Wall isn’t continuous, which is why invaders like Genghis Khan had no problem invading China.Also, during the Cultural Revolution, people were encouraged to deface the wall and take bricks from it, but now it is seen as a symbol of national pride. 🙂When considering where to visit the Great Wall, we chose the Mutianyu section, since it is the most beautifully restored section, and also less busy than sections closer to Beijing.Getting to the Great WallWe went without a tour, using local bus 916 express to Huairou Station, and then a taxi to the entrance.Cost: 13 USDper person, which is a huge savings, considering most tours cost 50-80 USD.
I consulted chinahighlights.com for the easiest route along the wall. We ended up taking a shuttle bus to the base of the wall, a cable car up to peak #14, a downhill walk to peak #6, a toboggan ride to the bottom, and then finally a shuttle back.
Way to go, Mom! 😀We found this section of the wall to be very clean, with lots of trash bins and workers constantly sweeping the path.The watch towers were sturdy, and offered a spectacular panorama of the countryside.The Great Wall seemed to snake around the mountainside, and into the horizon. Just gorgeous! 😀We also saw spectacular views from the cable car, and had a very unique experience on the toboggan.
Mongolian Hot Pot: stewed beef and chunks of potatoes in a mild tomato curry sauce.
Pickled vegetables: carrots, celery and jicama (a root vegetable similar to turnip)Shredded Chicken Noodle Bowl: rich broth with chicken, vegetables, and leafy greens.Beijing Bloody Mary: an eye-appealing cocktail, served with a pickled cherry, although Mom said the vodka kept separating from the mix. Bottoms up! 😀
Beijing breakfast: steamed greens and mushrooms, corn bread, porridge, dumplings, fried rice, corn, sweet potatoes, and omelets.
The Summer Palace
The buildings sought to replicate various icons around China, including the shopping streets found in Suzhou.At the center of the Summer Palace is the Temple of Gratitude and Longevity.Other attractions include the Tower of Buddhist Incense and the Pavilion of Precious Clouds.
In 1998, the Summer Palace was declared a UNESCO world heritage site for its preservation of Chinese architecture and stunning landscape design.The views from Kunming Lake were absolutely priceless and so peaceful. 🙂
The Bell Tower and Drum Tower
The copper bell in the tower is absolutely massive at over 63 tons, and is the heaviest bell in China.Cost: 6 USD for entry to both towers, including a workout to get up both. 😛Now, day five began a little off-the beaten-path with a visit to the 798 art district.
798 Art District
There is a theme of counter-communism among the art pieces, and ironically many of Mao’s old slogans can still be seen painted along the gallery walls.The district was originally a military factory used during the Cultural Revolution, and is now exclusively used by the local art community.
The Lama Temple
Beautiful architecture, bold gray brick, bright red lanterns, and plenty of character can be found in both the decorations and patrons that inhabit these streets.Only tiny cars fit down the hutongs. 😛Houhai Lake near the hutong.While wandering the hutong, we wound up at local brewery for a well-deserved brew.
Great Leap Brewery
I sampled a cinnamon ale made with rock candy, a wheat weiss, and an IPA called Dubbel Happiness, before deciding on a Banana Wheat Weiss, while Mom went with an equally flavorful pale ale.Cost: 5 USD per beer
After sobering up from our beer, we took in a local show of Chinese acrobatics.
Chinese Acrobatics – Tiandi Theatre
Highlights included an interpretation of the Kublai Khan age, when Beijing was established, then the era of the Qing and Ming dynasty, when many emperors inhabited the Forbidden City, and finally, a futuristic display of modern-day Beijing, post-Olympic games.The talent was undeniable, with contortionists, plate-spinning, tumbling and an unnerving act of porcelain bowl throwing.Cost: 40 USD for mid-range seats
The Beijing National Art Museum
What I found to be the most interesting were all the peace offerings given to Chairman Mao by countries from around the world, including this beautiful swan given by Richard Nixon and the good ol’ USA. 😀Additionally, the museum is free, provided you bring a valid passport, and can handle a pretty heavy frisking at the entrance door. 😛
Afterwards, we enjoyed a culinary treat in Beijing- Peking duck.
Peking Duck : crispy and fatty duck, served sizzling hot with slices of cucumber, onion, hoisin sauce and pancakes to wrap up into a nice little Chinese taco.Side dishes: Stir fried noodles, and cucumbers, fungus, and peanuts in a light vinaigrette.After taking a nap from that food coma, we decided to spend our last night in Beijing checking out the Wangfujing Night Market.
Wangfujing Night Market
The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is actually of complex of buildings that were used annually during the Ming and Qing dynasties to pray for good harvest.
It is currently used as a public park where pedestrians exercise, dance, or play cards to socialize.At its center is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
The building rests on a three-tiered marble stone, and its wooden structure was built without one single nail.From the inside, beside the altar, you can see carvings of livestock, which were typical sacrificial animals used during prayer ceremonies.Nearby, a lesser hall, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, is surrounded by an Echo Wall, and supposedly you can speak to one another from the north to south end.
The final highlight was undoubtedly the Seven Star Stone, which represents the seven peaks of the famous Taishan Mountain, used in Chinese heaven worship.Cost: 6 USD for entrance to all temples. From there, we went to the nearby pearl market for lunch and shopping.The market had a high-end food court, offering DIY spicy hot pots.Spicy Mongolian Hot Pot: prawns, tofu, mushrooms, and leafy vegetables, stir fried in a spicy broth, served with noodles and peanuts.Since this was our last Beijing meal, I will add a side note on the price of food.
Average food cost: Noodles and dumplings were a mere 1-2 USD, while meat dishes, like the Peking duck, set us back 10-15 USD.
Hong Qiao Pearl Market
This famous pearl market has been frequented by the likes of numerous First Ladies, and even the Queen of England.
Personally, I didn’t find any jewelry, but what I did find equally impressive at the pearl market was the spectacular rooftop view of the Temple of Heaven. ❤
Well, there you have it. That wraps up our fabulous week in Beijing. 🙂From there, we took a taxi to the train station, then boarded a sleeper train to Xi’an. Stay tuned to hear more about the next leg of the journey. Until then. 🙂