Exploring bountiful Beijing

Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
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Trip End Jun 01, 2011


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beijing was smoggy, humid, bustling, smelly, noisy and exciting, with a little oasis of tranquility in its midst called Red Lantern House (West Yard), where we stayed for a few days; a traditional Chinese design with rooms around a paved courtyard, really delicious food, comfy bed and welcoming and incredibly hard-working staff. Located in the music district, the street outside the hostel was lined with shops selling every conceivable traditional Chinese instrument and modern ones too, and musicians sat on pavement stools playing.
 
We took it easy in the heat and humidity, visiting just a few of Beijing's bounty of temples and gardens and taking in the atmosphere. Despite hearing many stories to the contrary, every sign, bar a few, was in Chinese and English, including the metro. This clearly must have been a fairly recent development, probably a legacy of the Olympics, and it meant we were free and able to move around the city with ease.

We visited the Forbidden City, hiring an audio-guide to take us around the many temples, courtyards and garden. It was grand and beautiful but seriously busy and, despite our love of people-watching, we had to escape to the quiet and cool of nearby Zhongshan Park after a few hours. We climbed up into the Gate of Heavenly Peace from which a huge picture of Chairman Mao hangs, presiding over the crowds of tourists and the vast Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world.

We visited the Summer Palace in the mist and rain, which leant a really romantic air, and wandered temples and buildings with beautiful names - The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, the Cloud Dispelling Hall, the Buddhist Fragrance Pavillion and Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Wisdom. The Summer Palace was where Emperess Dowager Cixi entertained and she imprisoned the Emperor here while she reigned. She had a boat sculpted out of marble from money earmarked for the navy. We took a dragon-boat across Kumning Lake, the elegant seventeen arch bridge, pagodas and willow trees appearing out of the mist and disappearing again. On board, possibly more captivating than the sights was a little girl chewing on a marinated chicken foot. She wolfed it down, claws and all. We liked the large bronze inscribed ox which sat beside the lake. Apparently it was an appeal to the Gods to prevent flooding and in times of drought Empress Cixi beseeched the Dragon King Temple to provide rain. Not sure that would go down too well in the UK as an Environment Agency strategy!

And then it was on to Shanghai. We'd hoped to travel via the rapid sleeper train, but this was fully booked, so it was the slow train for us. The very slow train....
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