Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Great Wall-Mutianyu

            One of the reasons I was so excited to travel to China was to see and climb on the Great Wall. It's always been a "bucket list" destination for me and Mom puts the day into context pretty succinctly so I'll let her do the talking:  "Climbing the Great Wall of China is just that, a climb.  We planned this event for a few days after the May Day holiday.   The factories had been closed, and the clearer air had reached this area outside Beijing.  So it was sunny and hot for our most strenuous day.  We took the subway to a bus station, then the bus for about an hour.  At the bus station we met a helpful man who told us where to get off the bus.  It turned out that he was a tour guide, in fact, somehow, he was our tour guide!  He was friendly, helpful and didn’t seem to overcharge for the 45 minute car ride to the wall.  When we finished, we called him, and he returned us to the bus station."
Our first view of the Mutianyu wall.  Yes, it's still touristy but it's the oldest and most original section relatively close to Beijing.
Excellent description.
View of the tourist path.  The vendors were very pushy and annoyed that Landon spoke Mandarin. 
Finally touched the Great Wall! So much history both military, cultural and emotional within the walls.
Made it up, time to explore!
Just think of all the people who worked on building, maintaining and defending it.
A cool moment for us both.
            The wall itself is a real climb, up and down flights of stone steps. The view was pretty good since this section survived because it was too high on a ridge for the Chinese to dismantle it for the stone.  The surrounding mountains were pretty but still somewhat obscured by haze.  

            We weren't alone on the wall either:  Tourists at Mutianyu.

My favorite pic of the Great Wall.
I wanted to get down on the other side of the wall.
Mom and Abigail heading up.

View after the climb.
            Here a video of us climbing those steps and be sure to listen to Abigail's reaction at the end:  Climbing Mutianyu.

            One thing that I strongly recommend if you climb the wall, actually I recommend for any day trip you go on, is to bring a small water backpack.  I used it every day during our trip but when everyone else was having to pay $4-$6 dollars for a small water, I was using the bottled water from our hotel.  Mom and Abigail weren't sure about my decision to buy it but they were believers once they quenched their thirst with my cold water during our hot hiking.

Soaking it all in.
It says no admittance because this part of the wall was broken down but we had to go explore some more.
Part of the original wall!
I loved how the original wall overlooked everything else. It was really a peaceful moment. 
Not Ray-Ban sponsored but we could've been.
Artsy picture time!
A picture of a Monday taking a pic of a Monday taking a pic.
Brother shot!
            "We all slid back down the ridge to the parking lots via a Disney-World type ride.  We all had individual seats with brakes, and the tube-like slide looked like a water ride without the water. It was fun and a great way to exit the ridge!  

The "train station".
Yes, that is what we slid down, without signing papers or wearing a helmet.  It was awesome!
Lastly, no the track was not automated, you wore no seat belt and you only had a small brake.
            Lastly, Mom pointed out, "I try to hike at least once every vacation, and I’m glad we made the effort to hike the Great Wall that is less crowded than the one nearer Beijing. It was a bucket list day!"  Couldn't agree more, I'll never forget that day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Forbidden City

            After an exhausting day of walking up, on and around the Great Wall we got up extra early to beat the crowds, and heat, to the Forbidden City.  Click here to see us alone, and Abigail dancing, on the subway.   Despite not being awake, we were all very excited to tour one of the worlds most famous palaces.
            First, we were going to see Mao's mausoleum but even at 6:00am the crowds were too thick.  As you can see it's a massive open space and the government makes it's presence known.  Honestly, this would be the only time during the trip that I really noticed all the government cameras, military personal, etc. In that sense it and Washington D.C. have a lot in common. However, and obviously, our capital has memorials for regular individuals, not just sponsored government leaders.

            Here's Moms impression of it all:

            Tiananmen Square is just a big expanse of concrete.  The famous protests (at least famous in America) took place here, but you certainly cannot tell except for the many security cameras.  The iconic picture of the man standing in front of the tank took place on a side street; he apparently was trying to keep the tanks from reaching the square where the other protesters were.  But you can’t tell now which side street it was. Mao’s tomb is here, with a huge line of people waiting to get in.  There are large, Technicolor screens set up to entertain those in line, blasting propaganda according to Landon.  The Forbidden Palace is across the street, with its traditional Chinese architecture, but it has a huge picture of Mao plastered on it, so the effect is ruined. 
            Off to one side there is a flower garden, so we went there, the only attractive spot, to take pictures.  When we asked a woman to take our picture together, she snapped one or two shots, then she gestured to ask if her son could be in the picture too.  Well, we had already realized that the Chinese loved having their picture taken with us, so we agreed.  Apparently our whiteness is the attraction; they usually don’t know that we are American instead of European.   So the son, who looked about fifteen, ran over and stood next to me, and the mother started snapping pictures.   Soon she put down our cameras and used hers instead. Suddenly there were four or five people snapping pictures of us. It was like we had our own paparazzi!  It was unnerving but was an extension of the staring which pretty much never stops.  The Beijingers are okay because they are used to Westerners, but we have been going to tourist spots during the May Day holiday so there have been lots of out-of-town Chinese tourists there too.  They are the ones who stare.  I was taught that it was rude to stare, but apparently that is not a social convention here. I’m beginning to understand why it is in America, though.  

Our first view from the subway.

I have absolutely no idea why this yard art was here.

Go Big Orange?

Cameras, cameras, cameras.

You can't see it but these guys were super skinny.

Morning faces!

Some artisty camera work.

Big shot of it all.

Just a massive government building.

Our first view of the Forbidden City.
Family photo!
            Next, we crossed the street, going underneath it, and came out in front of the Forbidden City.  We were all excited and to get inside but first we had to wait before it opened.  We played cards for a bit but because of the crowd that gathered around us, we stopped.  While we waited Landon was adament we get in front of the crowd by rushing ahead so we could take pictures without anyone around us.  I'm glad we followed his advice because we got to experience the Forbidden City without any crowds.  If you'd like a detailed history of Tian'anmen Square then click here:  Tian'anmen Square.

One of the famous Tiananmen Lions. Don't be fooled they're massive.

No translation needed.

The massive entrance way.

That is the second entranceway. 

At 2,350,000 sq ft it's the size of a modern office building.
            Here's a video of us inside the main gate but be sure to wait to the end of the video to hear the guards yell:  Palace Guards.

This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

This is what most people thing of as the "Mulan" shot.

            Here's a video to help you understand the scale of the above pics:  First Courtyard.

            After walking through the main courtyards, you can see that video here: Forbidden City walkthrough,  we made it to the Imperial Gardens with no one else around us.  For a few moments we experienced the gardens as serenely as the Emperor once had.

            That video is here and it's my favorite:  Imperial Gardens.

Gate of the Imperial Garden.

Imperial guard "dog" statue.

Even the Imperial Gate was massive.  

This is the interior roof of a "gazebo".  In the center is a dragon's head.

Teenagers are the same the world over.


Gift shop guard dog.

            After visiting the gift shop, we all bought some neat picture scrolls, we walked out under the thickest gate I've ever seen to complete our tour.  In all it took about an hour but again we rushed a little to get ahead of the crowds, something I highly recommend.  As we walked out, we once again met the present day but it was in the form of a couple taking prom/graduation/engagement pictures together.  It was a nice reminder that for us the Forbidden City was a great tourist destination but for people living in Beijing it was a nice backdrop for a photo.

Walking out..

She was a great sport in letting the tourists take her picture.

My favorite exterior picture of the moat surrounding the Forbidden City.

            To finish, here is what Mom thought about visiting the Forbidden City:
            Of all the places we saw in Beijing, the Forbidden City with the emperor’s palace was my favorite.  It is right across the street from Tiananmen Square.  We arrived early and waited for an hour to get tickets.  The crowds, of course, were enormous.  We saw many tour groups, both western and Chinese, who where there in the crowds too. They would have to follow a guide with a flag in order to stay together. I was so glad that we had planned the entire trip without taking a tour. 
            Landon had his camera and a plan for seeing the city.  First, it is huge, a real city within the city.  He wanted to bypass all the earlier buildings and the crowds and go directly to the actual emperor’s palace.  So as soon as the gates were opened, that is what we did.  We had to pass several huge buildings holding who knows what cultural treasures, but we arrived at the actual palace with only the groundskeepers there.  It was the only time in China outside on our hotels where I was not in a crowd. Many of the building interiors are off-limits, and the gardens are surely not what they once were, but it was still magical.  We all snapped pictures without having to decide which angle included the fewest tourists.