The Sites of Beijing
During my studies at Nanjing University I had the chance to travel during the “Golden Week” which is the holiday celebrating the forming of the Central People’s Government of China. This is a week-long vacation period for employees and students in China and is one of the two week-long holidays in the Chinese year, the other being Spring Festival.
During this week long event, I traveled to two highly regarded locations: Beijing and Guilin.
Beijing is a tremendously large city that has too much to do for a day trip. I did not stay very long in Beijing, but can imagine the amount of things only increase if you a resident. For tourist purposes, Beijing is a great spot to stop and see places such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the famous HuTongs of China. I have been to Beijing four times, for short stays, and have always enjoyed my time here (except for the air pollution).
The Forbidden City and Jingshan Park
One of the largest tourist attractions is the Forbidden City. This is the center piece of Beijing and attracts millions of people every year. Right out front of the city is Tianamen square. Inside the Forbidden city is a stark network of buildings, throne rooms, art galleries and gardens. Once you make your way through the throngs of people in the front few throne rooms, you can find a wide array of ancient artifacts in the smaller side sections of the city. The gardens in the back half of the city are also quite exquisite. These range from water-based shrines, to flowing rock gardens. The real treasure, in my opinion, is the mountain directly behind the forbidden city. Jingshan park is the northern point of the forbidden city and was built to complete the Fengshui of the city. There are large green areas in the park, and pavilions where locals usually gather to sing and play instruments. Each time I have visited this park I have witnessed impromptu concerts with the traditional Erhu stringed instrument, drums, and vocals. The park also has three temples on the top of the mountain. It is a short climb to the top, but the view of the Forbidden City and the greater Beijing city is spectacular. These photos are from my third trip to Beijing when the air quality was excellent.
The Great Wall
长城 (cháng chéng), is a very popular tourist attraction. Most people when they go to China dream of seeing the wall itself. Luckily, Beijing’s proximity to some of the more famous sections of the wall make this a very do-able day trip! The experience itself is quite fantastic. While scaling the wall you can almost imagine what it would be like to be a sentry guarding the wall, and can imagine how intimidating it would have been for invaders to run into such a behemoth of manmade construction. Badaling is one of the most popular spots along the Great Wall to visit. In addition to the wall itself, there are many tourist shops and little restaurants to stop in, making the entire trip quite comfortable. To get to some of the more famous sections of the wall, it is about an hour and a half ride in a taxi from the center of the city. Make sure you plan the whole day for this outing.
古老胡同 (gŭ lăo hú tòng) or ancient alley, is a common structural part of Beijing. You can find Hutongs all over the city, and they represent the ancient lifestyle of Beijing. Each Hutong has its own group of businesses, residents and feel. In these alleys you will find tourist shops, artists, tea houses, Peking Duck (北京烤鸭 bĕi jīng kăo yā), and many other hidden gems. You can either take a rickshaw around the alleys (for a steep price, and prone to scams) or walk around them yourself. There are many Hutongs around Jingshan Park and The Forbidden City, making a great pit stop after touring the palace grounds. You will want to spend some time walking through as many neighborhoods as possible, as each one hides its own secrets. On my first trip through the Hutongs, I discovered the Beijing Temple Restaurant, a place that renovated an ancient Tibetan temple into a 5-star western style restaurant. Although it was not traditional Chinese, a western brunch in a beautifully restored temple was an amazing experience.
The Beijing Monument and Qiongdao Island
The Beijing Monument is located west of The Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. While the monument itself leaves a lot to be desired, the surrounding geography makes up for it. These are ancient pathways up rock formations, a giant lake with lighted archways and boats, and a 5-star ancient Chinese restaurant. Qiongdao Island is a specially protected historical site, and one of the first site protected by the Chinese Communist Party. The island is in the northern lake, which is part of a three lake series incorporating the Middle and South lakes, where the Chinese government is. This is a great place to visit for a few hours, and to appreciate the ancient feel of the architecture. I advise going here before sunset and sticking around for the lights to kick in. The magical atmosphere feels as if you are transported back to ancient Beijing.
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