Wow, the historical sights in this city are
amazing! We wandered through palaces, temples and pagodas too numerous to
mention. Most of these fabulous structures were built before Columbus
stumbled across San Salvador in the Caribbean.
We spent 5 days in this city of 13 million people
and could easily have spent 2 weeks. The highlights?
Great Wall of China, actually a
walls along mountain tops designed to keep out the Mongols, and dating from
700 BC. (It failed by the way, the Mongols were in charge when Marco
Polo visited in the 14th century.) We visited 2 sections of the wall,
at Badaling and Huanghua and have wonderful memories of
walking on a deserted section of the wall, looking to the North as the
lookouts must have done centuries ago.
Tiananmen Square - site
of many of Mao's incendiary speeches and
the student uprising of June '89. As befitting the most populous country on
earth, the square is HUGE!
Mao's Mausoleum - Mao is buried in a
glass case, which is raised each morning so that the faithful and the
tourists can file by for their 30-second glance at the founder of modern
China. We took our turn in the line, and found the queue was mostly
Chinese, quiet and reverent (until one exits, when the hawkers try to sell
all kind of tacky souvenirs). At the end of the day, the case drops
into a refrigerated area in the ground for another night of rest.
The Forbidden City - this is a complex of 20+
palaces and temples that served as home for the emperors of the Ming and Qin
dynasties, now a fabulous tourist spot. It was built around the
1400's, and restored several times over the years - it has wonderful
architecture and worksmanship. You need at least 1/2 day to see it
all; not the 1 hour or less that you will get if you go with a tour group.
Beijing Opera - a
fabulous costumes and dancing accompanied by high, screechy singing. We
spent an interesting evening drinking tea and nibbling on local delicacies
as the actors sang and danced. One of our favorites was a dance where
2 warriors pretend to fight in the dark, while we can see all of the
action. The acrobatic skill of the actors is amazing.
Ming Tombs - the Ming emperors spent
their entire lives (and often longer than that) having huge tombs site built
for them. One of the 13 known sites is open for visitors, and the visit to
their chambers 100' below ground level is fascinating.
Summer Palace - another extravagance
of the emperors, a sprawling set of palaces and temples arrayed around a
cool lake. We spent a couple of hours there while a driver waited, but
we should have devoted an entire day to it.
Shopping - The
up-scale stores and
malls on Wangfujing St. rival any major Western city, and the small markets
peddle a bewildering array of 'antiques' and handicrafts from a very
artistic country. Our hotel was on Wangfujing, thus very convenient to
everywhere. A side trip was a walk to the Night Markets, a set of food
stalls set up each night on Wangfujing with a fascinating array of exotic
Overall - Beijing was a very impressive city,
sprawled over a large valley, reminiscent of LA. We found the people to be very friendly and
helpful; enough English was spoken to allow us to communicate at a basic
level. We decided to use local transport - so we hopped an overnight
train to Xi'an. Aboard, we hung out in the 'club car' most of the
daylight hours and made friends with the friendly staff, as well as put away a
couple of local beers.