I took this picture when plastered against the window, about 30 minutes before we landed. (Probably over Manchuria) The fog and smog was about the same as flying into San Francisco. Happy to see our guide “Charlie” with a big sign “BOTWINS” after the 15 hour flights (albeit 1st class—using miles) and a bit wobbly from the food and wine on the long flight.
By 8 PM we were checked in to this lovely Beijing Red Wall Garden Hotel. The rooms facing the courtyard were split level: living room and bath down stairs and bedroom up. I had to mention this because we learned to leave a light on below for when nature called after dark. (Mike’s OK, no broken bones.) But we did have a glass of Chinese rose winé (delicious!) in the courtyard before bed.
The next morning Charlie and our driver were picking us up at 10 AM for The Forbidden City. (He had wanted 8 AM, I wanted 11…so we compromised.)
Appropriate start at Tiananmen Square where the squashed “youth” revolt for Democracy happened in 1989. We bypassed seeing Mao’s frozen body arising from his Museum between 7 and 11 AM and then descending for refreezing. (A dead body, frozen or not, wasn’t one of our priorities.)
This was the enormous entrance to The Forbidden City….directly across from where Chinese youth protested for Democracy…. The Palace of Devine Might also is officially known as the Palace Museum, completed in 1420, and forms both the heart and center of the Chinese universe.
This Hall of Supreme Harmony was the imperial court until the abdication of the emperor in 1912. (Opened to the public in 1949) It is the tallest building in The Hidden City and used by the emperor for major occasions. Inside this hall his throne sits under this spectacularly ornate ceiling. Tired, we ended our tour with the Imperial Garden.
This was the only picture I could find…but it was lush and green when we saw it. A quick lunch (I would have preferred a nap) but Beijing’s Courtyard Houses (hutongs) were quickly disappearing into tall buildings and businesses due to the rapid growth of a city with 20 million plus people. And the Hutongs expanded as in the following picture.
Charlie had scheduled us for a rickshaw tour but we arrived to find nothing available! Our excellent leader moved quickly and forced them to produce 2 drivers and rickshaws in ten minutes. The service did….but the teenaged drivers were inexperienced and “yapped” at each other constantly, never pausing at an open doorway. At the end Mike paid the prearranged fee but NO TIP. The kids stood there looking pissed…but I was furious. Loudly saying NO TIP…I pointed to one saying “Yap, Yap,Yap” then pointed to the other and said the same…then reversed it. NO TIP! They understood.
Charlie made up for the kids’ immaturity by taking us to a nearby hutong of a friend. We entered her small courtyard and she waved us into her 2 room apartment. Family members also had rooms there and she pointed out 3 other doors. (We could have skipped the rickshaws altogether for the insight we got from seeing this!) Other hutongs.
This 2nd courtyard also shows space available but already has “family rooms” built in…with probably more to come.
This hutong, shows the home security of the thick outside walls with a small view of the single courtyard entrance just off the alleyway. Many hutongs, already owned by senior family members (or purchased by them) gradually expanded with additional building and adding family members….all within the large courtyards. Consequently a strong community spirit grew.
The next morning we were whisked off to The Great Wall of China.
A symbol of China’s vulnerability, this wall covered several thousand miles. Originally just earthen ramparts, the wall was created only after China’s unification in 221-210 BC. Ultimately ineffective as it was breached by the Mongols in the 13th century and later by the Manchu. Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, select portions of the crumbling sections have been fully restored.
A great day for an hour and half drive through the mountains to walk on this great cultural site!
We decided on the 10 minute cable car ride to the top, thinking the rest would be mostly down hill…HA! The picture above shows we arrived at the top but walked down to the next guard tower and up to the following tower…etc…..and THEN had to return the same way to the cable car. Whew….but spectacular!
Later that evening we were reserved for the national food favorite at The Peking Duck, which is all they serve. At first I was a little disturbed to see the salads (wrapped in plastic) on the table. Then a large cart with a steaming duck breast pulled alongside….and the wonderful odor obliterated everything else. We were supplied with pancakes, vegetables and sauce and the thin slices of duck….all folded into the thin pancakes and eaten. And we did!
Hate to leave Beijing tomorrow but we are starting our wine tour.