We left Chicago in the evening on 1/8/2014 and arrived in Beijing on the evening of 1/9/2014. The flight was almost 14 hours long. Marsha, our guide in Beijing and the woman that planned our whole trip to China, met us at the airport and got us safely to the hotel. Everyone was pretty tired and we had a big next day planned so we unpacked and went to bed.
We started our day with a huge breakfast at the hotel. They seemed to get quite a few international travelers at this hotel and there was food for all different times of the day, from eggs and sausage to savory noodle dishes with veggies.
Our first sightseeing stop was the Temple of Heaven in southern Beijing. It was first constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty to worship the God heaven and pray for a good harvest. (Photo Caption – Main building is the hall of prayer for good harvests) The Echo Wall surrounds the celestial warehouse. If two people stand on opposite sides of the courtyard, facing the wall, they can speak to each other in a normal volume and hear each other clearly. I told Doug to whisper, since he has a very loud voice, and I could still hear him. It was really neat.
After the Temple of Heaven, we visited a national pearl company and learned about fresh water and sea pearls. We ‘harvested’ an oyster from the fresh water tub and found over 20 small, pink pearls. Mia got to keep the biggest one! Marsha took us to lunch around the corner and we let her do the food ordering. There was way too much but we got to try a little of everything…and we needed to get our energy back for the afternoon tour.
The next stop was a silk company. It was interesting to see how the silk from the cocoons was spun into silk thread. There were also double cocoons that were pulled apart into sheets of silk and layered to make pillows and comforters. (If anyone from my CSC India team is reading this, you will be cracking up at this point and saying to yourself, ‘I’m going crazy with too much shopping and not enough sight seeing!’ Fortunately these stops were short and there was still plenty of daylight left for touring.)
The rest of the afternoon started with a walk down Tienanmen Square. We went past Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and saw the guards changing as we walked toward the Forbidden City. Entering the main gate of the Forbidden City was amazing! Everything is so massive and spread out. We walked down the center path toward the Hall of Supreme Harmony. On the way, I think that I found the IBM kiosks that featured the virtual world replica of the Forbidden City. (This was a project that I worked on about 5 years ago.) The signage invites you to plan your tour but the kiosks were turned off and the gigantic monitor in between them was covered with dust. It made me sad to think that all that work is going unused.
Our favorite area was toward the back in the private gardens. There are interesting rock grottos and winding paths that connect the different areas. Outside of the Forbidden City walls there ware dance groups, people practicing martial arts and groups playing checkers. We bought a feathered version of a hack-a-sac that we saw a group kicking around. (If you are an Amazing Race fan then you saw this activity as a team challenge recently. It is harder to do than it looks!) The temperature started to drop quickly as the sun went down and the crew was pretty tired from the big day.
We went back to the hotel and took a 2 hour nap. We forced ourselves to get up and go out for a walk around the ‘neighborhood’ and found an outdoor fruit and vegetable market. Since it was winter the market wasn’t very busy but looked like there was plenty of room for more vendors and food carts during the summer. We stopped at a noodle hut and picked out something that looked good from the pictures on the menu. It was very good but we were still pretty full from lunch so one dish was enough.
We had another huge breakfast at the hotel today to prep for our visit to the Great Wall. On the way, we stopped at a jade factory and got to watch two carvers creating statues. One very old statue that was on display featured 100 horses carved out of a single piece of jade that measured about 4 feet tall by 8 feet wide, truly amazing! Next we did a stop at a cloisonné factory. There were stations set up to see each step of the process…shaping the brass under layer into the desired style, soldering on the brass wire to create the outlines of the design (sort of like the leading on stained glass), applying the color/glaze into each section of the patterns, cooking it in the kiln, applying color and firing it in the kiln 6 more times and then polishing it to create a smooth surface.
From the factory we drove on and finally made it to the Great Wall. We started our tour on the east side and climbed to the top of a few watchtowers along the way to get an even better view. With each step you couldn’t help but be in awe of the work that it took to build the wall and walking all the ups and downs was really a work out. The weather was perfect, a clear day and cool temperatures with only a little wind. As we turned north, the wall just ended and you could see where the restoration work had stopped. We turned south and headed toward the bridge that crosses over the highway and links to the west side of the wall. Tucked into the valley, before the bridge, was a grouping of pagodas that had interesting decorative paintings. The west side was definitely more crowded and had more of a village feel with a series of smaller buildings at the base of the wall. If we had stared earlier in the day it would have been fun to pack a lunch and walk the whole loop, east and west side. It will be a goal for our next trip!
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a tea house named Dr. Tea. We sampled five kinds of tea, all made at a private table just for us. We learned about their different healing properties and how to drink each type – by slurping, simulating chewing or just drinking.
We had an early dinner at a ‘hot pot’ restaurant close to the hotel. The table consists of a flame/burner in the center of the table that keeps different flavors of broth at boiling temperatures. You then cook your meat and vegetables in the different broths, depending on what flavor you want. The meal was really good but our clothes smelled pretty strong the next day!
See more photos at http://www.flickr.com/jilldaffodil