Still Day 1
Rickshaw tour of old Beijing's Hutong district
After our morning tour of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City we took a short bus ride to a local Hutong. A Hutong is a collection of center facing houses with common courtyards, surrounded by narrow streets. Our tour of this hutong was aboard peddle powered rickshaw. We got comfortable in the back of the richshaw and our driver even happily took a couple pictures for us and then off we went on a fabulous tour!!! We were in a convoy of a dozen or more all in single file as we approached the narrow streets of the Hutong. And by narrow I mean not much wider than 20 feet. As we rode through the meandering streets we could occasionally catch a glimpse of the interior of a house or even the central courtyards. The single story row houses are built in blocks of several units per block. It was quite an experience being driven through the very narrow streets peering into the open doors and courtyards.
What were once mid to low level type housing for the administrators and their families to the emperors during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) have now become a very expensive enclave. Condos are the way of life in Beijing and a common size unit would be in the 500 - 700sq ft, in a high rise configuration. These Hutong units on the other hand, are all single floor low rise and in many cases are protected heritage sites that restrict structural modifications, so are now very expensive to own - if the opportunity ever comes up. Many are passed from generation to generation and never come on the market.
Just about every day on this 2 week grand tour of China includes some entertainment after dinner. Tonight we were treated to a condensed version of a Chinese Opera. Condensed as our guide put it, because a full length opera is the better part of 4 hours long! The highlight for most of us was NOT the opera, but rather the dressing of one of the characters. We arrived 30 minutes before the start of the show and on stage was the main character having his face painted and then the very elaborate process of layering on his costume. I counted 6 layers of extremely colourful, ornate cloaks, sashes, belts that made up his costume, including 6" platform shoes and a black beard that flowed to his waist. Watching him assemble the costume was impressive. The opera itself was unlike anything I had seen before, and as a result was something that was totally unappreciated by most of the western members of the audience. The music and singing fell on unfortunately, very tired ears and eyes and it was all I could do to not fall asleep. Good thing our seats we in the back row of the balcony. Most of our group had to leave and wait in the lobby, some of us did fall asleep and a few of the group managed to stay awake for the entire performance. Day 1 with jet lag was simply too much, but, incredibly enjoyed!!!
Cruise thoughts from the cottage.....
After a lovely weekend at the cottage I had an epiphany! While sitting on comfy chairs on the lawn looking down at the lake I realised the Celebrity Solstice-class ships Lawn Club is just like being at the cottage!!!
Day 1 - Afternoon
Named after the Gate of heavenly peace and built in the 1650s as the southern gathering point to the Forbidden City at the north end of the square. It was enlarged to its current size in the 1950s and can accomodate 600,000 in its 109 acres. With Mao Zedong's tomb, the National Meuseum of China (one of the largest meuseums in the world!) Great hall of the people (Comunist Government buildings) and the Forbidden city at the north end this square is impressive - and its right in the middle of Beijing and its 20 million people. Best known in recent history, 1989 for the student uprising that resulted in martial law and that infamous student vs tank incident where he was run over and killed. Dozens of others were killed and dozens more disappeared.
When listening to the history here I was thankful to be in China and have the opportunity to see first hand an incredible part of the world and understand a bit better its history, and yet on the other hand, knowing that this society although the hand of communism is slowly releasing its iron fisted grasp, it still isn't anywhere near a democracy. I am thankful every day for the freedoms I enjoy!!
For almost 500 years it served as the home for Emperors and staff. Built during the Ming dynasty it is a massive space, almost 180 acres! With 980 buildings it is truly an impressive site. This Wold heritage site has been the grounds for several coups and various attacks. Each successive leader or new Emperor putting his trade mark on the city and its buildings. The last emperor of live in the city was evicted in 1912 and since that time it has suffered much during the 20th century wars. But the government has undertaken a 16 year restoration project with the goal of returning it to its pre 1912 glory.
On the day we we there the most impressive thing were the number of building and the shear size of the city. We walked from the south entrance to the northern gate right down the middle of the city. The 500 year old marble walkways, steps are in great shape as are many of the buildings within site from the central walkway. It was a complete surprise to me how far we walked from what I thought was the palace to the next and then the last one was where the emperor stayed. The first were for his help & then his concubines and all their children. Its a lot of walking!!!! With lots of stairs, both up and down and several spots along the way to stop and rest too.
Still Day 1
Being our first day excursion, we arrived to this downtown center site with eyes wide open – most of us have been awake since 3-4AM! Entering from the south, the first impression is that of a huge park with a white stone roadway that is 50m wide and almost half a kilometer long, lined with trees; A truly impressive sight. Off to the left just after we entered we heard the sounds of traditional Chinese music and saw in this tranquil park setting dozens of Chinese women dancing - more or less line dancing to music doing tai chi moves, it was magnificent to see. Men playing hacki-sak, tossing a ball back and forth, badminton, painting huge Chinese letter on the ground from a 3 foot long paint brush. The park is like a community centre with all the seniors doing their morning exercises! It was so amazing.
The Temple of Heaven site was built on 667 acres 1420 AD during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifices to heaven. Rising in elevation from the south to the north representing earth in the south and heaven in the north, it has several buildings. Two of these – Hall of prayer for good harvest in the south and the Imperial vault of heaven in the north are connected by the Vermilion steps bridge. The emperors believed that they could go to heaven by passing along this long 250M bridge.
Just outside the Imperial vault is Three Echo Stones. A circle of stones with a perimeter of 193M. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear one echo; standing on the second and then the third stone, you will hear two and three echoes respectively.
The final visual site is that of a cypress tree that is 500 years old and has become known as the “Nine Dragon” cypress because of nine of the branches that look like dragons.
Lots of easy walking at a relaxed pace with stops along the way to take pictures on this tour. From beginning to end it lasted almost 2.5 hours.
Day 1 - Beijing
Took a 14 hour, direct, non stop flight from Toronto to Beijing. We flew EAST & arrived in China around 4pm. Stunnnnning hotel! Fabulous clean rooms. Now let me tell you about Beijing. 18 MILLION people in this city. The heart of the city consists of tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City, this is known as Ring Road 1. Beijing is a city made of 5 Ring Roads. We stayed in Ring Road 3 and thought, why are we not more downtown? Well let me tell you how brilliant they are NOT choosing a hotel in the heart of Beijing. The TRAFFIC!!!! Us North Americans have NEVER seen anything like this!!!!!!! First they drive insane!!!! Second, the traffic jams are UNreal! DAILY!!!! You know that one time you took the highway and there was an accident & you went a car length here & then a few minutes later, you moved a bit again..... well, this is Beijing daily rush hour! The day we went to the Great Wall ( out side of Beijing ) took us 3.5 hours to get OUT of the city!!!! Traffic is brutal! Shall we discuss the roads??? Traffic lights are only for cars and buses! Motorcycles, bikes, mopeds & pedestrians do NOT follow traffic lights! I'm surprised more people aren't killed crossing the streets there! Motorcylces on red lights go INTO oncomming traffic!!!!!! People cross BETWEEN cars & buses!! It's a different culture there!
Time to talk about Beijing itself, a huge relatively clean city. As I said, 18 Million people live here. When driving all you see is condo after condo after condo!!! When they build, there are 7-20 cranes building the exact same condo SIMUTANEOUSLY!!! I've never seen anything like this! Everyone hamgs their laundry to dry in the windows or outside their windows... 10, 20 stories up! Amazing, amazing, amazing the amount of condos there!!!
That's all for now, more tomorrow!
New to Blogging~!!
Think of China 2013 with Uniworld! They offer a fantastic 10 Day Beijing to Shanghai tour. and plenty more tours to choose from!
So much to tell you about all the excting places I visited! Beijing, Xian, Wuhan, Yinchang, Cruised down the Yangtze River, Chongqing, Guilin, Yangshuo and ended in Shanghai!!
Chingqing has a population of 32 MILLION PEOPLE!!! Have you even heard about it?
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