3rd Oct 2010 - 6th Oct 2010 - China
With our final night on the train and we finally nailed exactly how to sleep – 50% alcohol first. That way it was enough to knock you out but not enough liquid that you had to go to the toilet in the night!! We arrived at 6.30pm, and headed straight for a breakfast buffet. Then it was off to the Forbidden City, home to the Chinese Emperors until 1908, plus his wife and up to 300 concubines. Once the Emperor died, his childless concubines were sometimes buried alive. The City was off limits to the public for over 500 years but has finally opened up in recent times as a museum. The City is home to gardens, temples, living quarters as well as halls for coronations and banquets. Next stop was Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest open public space. It can hold up to half a million people inside it. However, to get into the square you need to go through security checks first and the queues are massive. The square is surrounded by museums on the East and West, by the Forbidden City to the North and by Chairman Mao’s mausoleum on the South side. There is not much in the square itself although there were plenty of flower displays, but in true Chinese style all plants remain in their pots rather than being put in a bed.
For lunch we found ourselves a lovely little cafe with a waitress who couldn’t stop giggling at us but the food was delicious and it ended up being our favourite place to eat in Beijing so we went every day we were in Beijing. The afternoon we headed out to the Temple of Heaven. There were lots of people there but it wasn’t quite as manic as the other sights we’d seen that day which was nice and as it was set in a park we could just wander through some open green space which we hadn’t been able to do much of up until then. As we only had a couple of days left in China it was time to go and buy some souvenirs. The first market was rubbish but we found a second market that had 7 floors with all sorts of clothes, accessories and souvenirs so we spent plenty of time browsing and haggling there.
The next day and we went to see our final “Big 3” sight – the Great Wall. We went to a section called Mutianyu which was about an hour and a half bus ride out of Beijing. The wall was amazing and definitely my highlight of the trip. The day was sunny with clear blue skies so would have made for the perfect postcard shot if it wasn’t for the number of other tourists about (the public holiday was still in full swing). The section of wall we went to is 3km long with 26 Ming dynasty watchtowers. There is a cable car up and down but we decided to walk up to the wall instead, a brisk 20 min walk up the side of the mountain. From on the wall you can see out across the countryside and along the wall in either direction but thankfully you can’t see the Subway sandwich shop at the bottom. We spent a full 3 hours just walking along sections of the wall, from tower to tower. Some parts were flat whilst other sections were incredibly steep but from the higher vantage points along the wall the views were incredible. That night was our final night on tour so we had a big group meal although most people were hanging around for at least one extra day so it wasn’t really goodbye.
The next day, my final day in Beijing, we were no longer officially on tour and so were free to do as we pleased. That meant absolutely no 6.00am starts, not even a 7.00am start. Instead we treated ourselves to a lay in and got up at 8.00!! We caught a taxi off to the Summer Palace, which is where the emperor would take his summers to get out of the heat of Beijing. Anglo-French troops stormed the Palace in the 1850’s but the then emperors’ wife had it restored and despite further disrepair in the 1940’s the Palace has had a major overhaul and is now one of the most popular tourist attraction in Beijing receiving up to 10,000 visitors a day. The whole site is set on a huge lake in the middle of the grounds which is a good 3miles to walk all the way around it. Stopping in and climbing the temples can be a good way to get a bird’s eye view of the grounds. One of the more impressive temples was the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha although this had clearly benefitted from restoration work. The grounds are also home to the world’s longest covered walkway, at 728m. From the temple we headed over to the Olympic Park, stopping for lunch at TGI Fridays which we justified as phase 1 of our declimatisation process from China back to the Western World. At the park, we thought we’d have to settle for photos of the Bird’s Nest and that would be it but it turned out we were allowed into the stadium and we were free to wander around as we pleased. We even witnessed a ½ hour cultural show including dancing and martial arts. The sound system that accompanied the show and you can only imagine what kind of atmosphere it could have generated during the games themselves. Once we left the stadium we spent a short while in the rest of the park before heading back to our favourite restaurant for dinner and to say goodbye to the giggling waitresses!
The next morning it was a very early start to ensure that the dodgy Chinese traffic didn’t delay me getting to the airport. It’s normally a 1 hour journey, so I thought I should allow 2 as it was rush hour, yet somehow I made it there in 30mins! After 11 hours in the air, 6 hours in various airports, 20mins circling over my house and more than 22 ½ hours after getting up I walked back through my front door and the end of yet another amazing holiday.