Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sept.22-23 - Beijing

As our time in Beijing grew short we found ourselves in a whirlwind of tours & sightseeing, trying to get everything into the remaining days. A highlight was the Great Wall. The escape from the city into the clear air of the mountains was overdue and the wall was truly impressive. We went to an area (Simatai) where the wall was still in it's original state; a bit more run down but perhaps more scenic and definitely less crowded. The wall here was very steep so we did a lot of hiking up and down stairs after taking the cable car part way up. A highlight was the zip line we took over the lake to get back down. Standing on the platform at the top looking down turned out to be the scariest part as the ride down was quite pleasant although a bit crowded as they insisted we ride down strapped together.
We used our last day in Beijing to visit the Olympic sites, however could not get within 100 meters of any of the buildings. Security was very tight and the buildings won't open for public visits until after we leave Beijing. So we had to settle for pictures of the Birds Nest through the security fences. We also visited the touristy area (Wangfujing St.) around Tian'anmen Square where there was shopping and the must-visit food market (Donghuamen Night Market). Local vendors set up booths on the street and cook-to-order all kinds of soups, noodles, and various meat & seafood skewers. Andrew tried the snake and I, less adventurous, stuck to the pork and beef. We took a pass on the sheep balls, cow tongue, silkworms, scorpions, and dog meat stew! Pretty much anything that moved was available on a stick and apparently it all tastes like fried grease.

[editors note: added link to photo slideshow - Oct.10]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Adventures in Beijing

We finally got adjusted to the time change & made it out in time to take in a couple of sights in Beijing. Over the weekend we've had many of great adventures. We hit the streets yesterday in true Chinese style - riding bicycles. All roads have dedicated bike lanes which is great, however the taxis, buses and motorized scooters & buggies (going both directions without a clear rule as to which side to keep to) that share the lane keep things about the same as riding on the road at home. The ride in the near smogshine (extent of sunshine here) was nice, however the concentration needed to avoid collision is exhausting! Our destination was a nice park (Yuyuantan Park) where we strolled through gardens, took a paddle boat out on one of the small lakes and watched the sun set into smog (see pictures). When we arrived back at the hotel we decided to relax over a nice duck dinner in the courtyard, very tasty and understandable why it is a local specialty. Peking duck; I recommend it!

Today we returned to the park, this time to take a boat ride to the Summer Palace, where the emperors went to get away from the heat of the city. The palace and park was beautiful but due to smog & rain we weren't able to see many of the views. We visited a Buddhist temple high up on the palace hill where during an attack by the Anglo-French in the 1860's when the palace was pillaged & burned, many of the Buddha’s heads were cut off. Most of the palace was restored so its beauty can still be enjoyed however some Buddha’s still are without heads. We made our way home through the pouring rain and are now hiding out at the hotel for the rest of the evening to dry out our soggy feet! Tomorrow, we're off to the Great wall, I hope the rain stops... :)