A story of walls, citys and temples

Trip Start Dec 25, 2011
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Trip End May 10, 2013


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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Well this wasn't the plan. I'm in Beijing already. My final China destination.

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I woke up early and was on a Xi'an airport shuttle bus by 8am. The bus took an hour to reach the airport. In plenty of time for my 11.30am flight to Beijing.

Coming into land over Beijing, I could see nothing. It's not possible to distinguish where the clouds end and the pollution starts. It's just one big grey smog. Even as we were landing on the runway, I could barely see the other parked planes!

Getting from the airport to the city was easy, a half hour train (£2.50) goes directly and meets up with the metro. I had to catch two separate metro trains (20p for the entire journey!) to where I am staying in the Dongcheng district.

By the time I arrived, it was already 4pm. And I can't be bothered to go out again!



Wednesday 13 March 2013

Thinking I was up fairly early, I headed off on the metro towards Tiananmen Square.

I like the metro here. It's made up of 16 different lines and is rather like the London Underground in shape, with all the lines weaving in and amongst each other. However, unlike in London which charges nearly £2 just for a short ride, this one is 20p no matter how far you travel! Also something that is really cool - some of the sections have hundreds of consecutive tv screens stuck on the outer tunnel walls, so when you drive past, you can see the moving tv screen pictures out of the train windows!

Tiananmen Square is the third largest public square in the world, at 400,000 square meters. It was built in 1415 during the Ming dynasty and has since expanded in size. All around the square are large old buildings covered in red flags. These buildings are now all museums. Towards the north end of the square is a monument.

To get onto the square it is necessary to pass under the road via an underpass. Each of these underpasses has a long unorganised 'queue' to pass through a security check - so noone is allowed onto the square without a thorough screening. Well, that is unless you are a white person tour group, they just walk on past. And if you are a white person who can blend into a white person tour group, you don't need to join the security check crowds either - cheeky!

So apparently I'm not early. I have been beaten by thousands of others. So, defeated, I joined the hoards heading over the small bridge and through the small passage ways through the Gate of Heavenly Peace into the Forbidden City. With a large photo of Mao on the outside. It wasn't particularly peaceful. There were crowds of people, walking at a snails pace to pass over the small bridges over the water.

The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 52m wide moat, which reflects the watch towers along the edge and looks really pretty - even in this chilly weather! The area has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Forbidden City is so called because it was off limits for 500 years. It was the imperial palace from the Ming dynasty onwards, where the emperors lived. Construction began in 1406 and took just 3 years, with over 1 million workers.

The area it covers is huge. There is building after building after building. A total of 980 buildings. All in an ancient design, with orange roofs extending for as far as you can see. Around the roofs are pretty designs in red, blue and green designs. The corridors off to the sides of the main squares are like a maze, leading to lots of different other rooms.

Despite the numerous signs reminding you not to touch the bronze statues cordoned off, all the Chinese were leaning over to give everything a good rub. As a result, all the bronze statues are being worn away and large shiny patches on them. But as with everything, if there is an opportunity to ruin it, the Chinese will be right there.

Towards the northern end are the 'gardens'. These gardens are displays of weathered rocks - all worn away into pretty shapes! Also some strange shaped trees that look like they are upside down, with the roots on the top. Scattered around are various small pagodas.

I left the Forbidden City through the Northern-most gate and into Jingshan park. This park is an artificial hill using the soil dug out from the moats around the Forbidden City. The park is used by locals for recreational activities, I found dance classes and ribbon twirling! On top of the hill are three pavilions, with a lovely view out across the city - in particular the Forbidden City. All the orange roofs, joining into one big roof!

Wangfujing Dajie is the main pedestrianised shopping area of Beijing. All the usual shops are about - Apple, Zara, Hermes and McDonald's. One of the side streets off this busy road offers something a bit different. It's a food market, specialising in some of the rather more exotic foods - scorpions (still alive!) on sticks, deep fried seahorse :( and sea star, crispy tarantulas, lizard, shark meat and some bugs. Eugh. I didn't try anything! Of course there are some more normal things about as well, including fruit on sticks, steamed buns and cooked sweetcorn! While I have seen bugs on menus in quite a few places around, this is the first time I've seen all the other animals - I'm not sure whether its just a touristy thing or not (although 100%2525 of the other visitors to the street were all Chinese).

Back on the metro for a few stops, towards the Temple of Heaven. The main structure is set within a large park. This temple was constructed during a similar time to the rest of ancient Beijing, starting in 1406. It was traditionally where the emperors would visit annually to pray for a good harvest. And this again is another UNESCO World Heritage site. The main temple is circular, made of 3 circular sections, it is blue and really pretty.

I went into the nearby pearl market. This building, split into 5 levels of shopping heaven/hell (!) doesn't just sell pearls. The top couple of floors are reserved for pearls, but the others are full of tourist tat. Fake bags, scarfs, sunglasses, watches - all the usual Asian market culprits. But also lots of China souvenirs - chopsticks, paintings, pandas, fans.....perfect! Some of the women quote outrageous prices here - £20 for a small plastic fan, when a women just 2 stalls down had offered the same thing for £2. Cheeky. A lot of bargaining is needed!

On the way back, I got off the metro a stop early to walk along the high street near to where I am staying. It's a small neighbourhood within Beijing. The shops were good - a nice supermarket, a post office and loads of restaurants!

Im exhausted. What a long day!


Thursday 14 March 2013

The Great Wall of China.

One of the New 7 wonders of the world. And a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is one of the main reasons I came to China. To see a wall.

Construction of the wall began around 220 BC under Qin Shi Huang (the same guy responsible for the terracotta warriors). Construction continued through time. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) sections of the wall were joined up and it became the worlds largest military structure - with a total length of 20,000km! Designed to protect China against any unwanted visitors. Even today, parts of the wall have been reconstructed for easier tourist viewing.

I visited a small section of the wall - Mutianyu. This section is 2.2km long, with 22 watch towers spread out over the wall. I left Beijing at 8am for the 2 hour drive, 80km North of Beijing.

The wall is up on the top of the mountains! To get up to the wall, I caught a cable car. That was a bit scary, suspended above the group with basically nothing keeping you in place! The cable car went up to watchtower number 4.

Walking along the wall isn't easy. It's up and down and up and up and up! Some parts very steep. I headed East, towards watchtower number 1. This is where the reconstructed section ends. And the ancient part begins. Officially it's not possible to walk along the old section. It's quite a scramble along some of it. I walked along a little way, just to the next watchtower. The views were amazing. The old crumbling wall, heading up into the mountains. The wall spread out both ways around me, really cool.

Being winter, the trees are all brown and the mountains are covered in a light mist.

The wall was so quiet, tourist wise. Ok it's cold - 4 degrees. And I was freezing in my many layers, scarf, gloves and hat! But there can't have been more than a hundred people there. Perfect for deserted wall photos!

From watchtower 1, I walked back the other way, along the reconstructed wall. I got as far as watchtower 14 and didn't have time to go any further before it was time to head back. I walked for 3.5 hours along, up and down!

The reconstructed wall was a lot easier to walk along. A wide path, but again mostly steps up and down! The views all around were just so spectacular. It's just a wall, but it's so cool!

On the way down, there are a couple of options. Walk (but we didn't have time!), cable car back down, or tobogganing! I haven't been on a toboggan since I was about 10 years old! A metal chute winding down the side of the mountain. So I went with that option. It was really fun!

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant. Contrary to most 'tour' lunches, this one was really good! We had a huge selection of dishes, all really tasty.

We had been told to be back for lunch by 1.30pm. By 3.30pm one of the boys was still missing - noone knew where he was. But the bus wasn't able to wait any longer for him, some people had flights to catch. So we left. I have no idea what happened to that guy. But I hope he was ok!

The return trip to Beijing was 2 hours, so was gone 4.30pm by the time I arrived back. Exhausted!


Friday 15 March 2013

The 2008 Olympics were held in Beijing. The main stadiums are just North of the city centre. The National Stadium - also known as the 'birds nest' due to its interweaving steel design cost US$423 to build and is now hardly used. The stadium is quite cool looking from the outside. The grounds of the Olympic green are huge. One large concrete space, which is still full of people - and souvenir sellers chasing you down the path! Just across the road from the birds nest is the Water cube - with an outer appearance of bubbles. Today is a really misty day, so the buildings are hardly visible through all the grey cloud!

A couple of metro changes later, I am at the most ornate temple in all of the city. The Lama temple is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. It was previously the home of an emperor, but was converted to a monastery in 1744. Today it is still used as a place of worship - it was full of Chinese with handfuls of incense sticks. Signs covering the walls stated that 3 incense sticks must be used each time you pay your respects to the Buddha!

There are four main courtyard areas, each surrounded by temple buildings with ornate red roofs, bordered with pretty blue, red and green carvings. The smell of incense followed you around. Really, it just looked the same as all the other temples I've been to all over China. But was pretty all the same.

The streets surrounding the temple were full of incense shops. All these narrow maze-like streets form the hutongs of Beijing. Traditionally the buildings in hutongs are made up of rooms surrounding a courtyard. The buildings traditionally do not have bathrooms. Instead, there are shared bathrooms dotted around the streets - you have to go out in the cold to these shared bathrooms!

My hostel is within a hutong - with all the rooms around a really pretty courtyard. But it's far too cold for sitting outside to enjoy the surroundings! And thankfully have ensuite bathrooms.

I'm still really tired from all the wall climbing yesterday, so the rest of the afternoon I spent lazing around!


Saturday 16 March 2013

Today I have several jobs to do.

Firstly, I need to visit the post office. I have bought so much stuff recently (including my tailor made clothes in Vietnam!) that I am fed up of carrying it all around. I took my bag of goodies along with me and they were emptied out on a large table for inspection. The woman took great delight in unwrapping all my perfectly wrapped bits and passing comment on the number of cat related items and laughing at my cuddly shark. All the breakables were wrapped in layers of bubble wrap and all piled into a (huge!) box. I got rid of 7kg of stuff. Brilliant!

After a lot of confusion - with a now only-Chinese speaking man - about my name and address, I gave up and typed it all in for him. Hopefully I will see that box of things again when I am at home!

My hair is a mess. After a year of salt, sea and travelling, my hair is sun-bleached blonde and far too long. I've been meaning to have it cut for a while but not been brave enough. But I spotted a fancy looking hair salon just around the corner from where I am staying, so am going to be brave!

Firstly, they speak no English. So that cuts the small talk. And it's not too hard to measure out with your fingers how much you want cut. Despite asking for the cheapest person, I ended up with the most senior person there - I think he was delighted to be cutting (sort of) blonde hair! I was quite a novelty in there, with most of the workers passing by to have a look at me.

And despite not a word of English being spoken during the whole thing, it actually turned out well - I even had a fancy wavy style blow dry! All for £6.50. Bargain.
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