Over the past few days we would have been exploring all around Beijing. The number of historical sites and UNESCO sites, as well as more modern sites throughout the city, is staggering. Around every turn is a new adventure, especially the hutongs or small alley neighborhoods, with shops, tea houses and restaurants.
Our journey was to begin at the Summer Palace. Our hotel was located just outside of the gates and it was a peaceful place to start. The Summer Palace was built back in the mid 1700’s by Emperor Qianlong and is a vast complex of gardens, palaces, lakes and hills. In fact, it is the largest and best preserved royal garden in all of China. It was actually destroyed by the British during the war of 1860, and was then restored on its original foundations in 1886. It is just a short distance from the center of Beijing, but feels like you’re out in the middle of the countryside. (At least that’s what the brochure says!)
From the Summer Palace, we would have next moved to the center of Beijing. Our plans included a tour of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and a few other sites, including a day visiting the Great Wall.
The Forbidden City is in actuality a palace complex that dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It was continually used from 1368 through 1911. Commoners (that would have been us) were “forbidden” from entering without prior permission. Only Imperial families and invited High Officials could enter. All of the buildings were painted red and yellow, which were the Imperial colors, and those were the only buildings painted that color. I hope everyone else was good with beige and brown!
Tiananmen Square is a big public space that the Chinese Government doesn’t like to talk about, so neither will I. However, there are many temples and museums around the city that we’re told are ‘must sees’. So much for that. Speaking of ‘must sees’, being a tourist or a resident of Beijing likely means that you are part of “Must See TV”. There are over 1.2 million CCTV cameras located throughout the city. Big brother is watching – so is big daddy, big uncle, big auntie and probably big cousin.
Hutongs are narrow alleys with residences, shops, restaurants and tea houses. They are the places to visit to get a real flavor of life in Beijing. We had a motorcycle sidecar tour planned, as well as a dinner at a restaurant called the Black Sesame Kitchen.
The highlight of this portion of the trip was to be our visit to see the Great Wall. We were planning to drive a little farther and visit a section that is not as crowded as some of the main points. This incredible world wonder was originally built more than 2,700 years ago to protect against the invading Mongol Hordes. All together, it stretches over 13,170 miles, with the main portion of the structure coming in at 5,500 miles. It was built at an average height of about 20 ft and an average width of 21.3 ft. Over 1 million laborers worked on its construction over many years.
Wei Wei Fun Fact – More than 1,000 bricks and stones were used to build the wall.
Unfortunately, it didn’t really work to prevent the invaders – it just slowed them down. In my mind, I just picture Genghis Khan’s Mongols getting mad and having to send someone to get a sack of coins, as in the toll booth scene from “Blazing Saddles”.
Not being in China was not going to stop us from enjoying the Great Wall. We managed to enjoy a little picnic and glass of wine while gazing across the miles. Imagination is a wonderful thing!
So this week wasn’t spent just imagining things about China. It was also spent enjoying some wonderful meals, made by my lovely Chef, who also happens to be my wife. Sue put some of those wonderful ingredients we bought together and turned out some delicious dishes – Sesame Chicken, Pork and vegetable dumplings, Hunan Beef and Vegetables, and Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry.
We enjoyed these Chinese dishes with some nice wines too. A little malbec from France, a California zinfandel and a delicious Napa Valley red blend. No Chinese wines, but we did finish up our evening with a nice cup of tea. My favorite has been the Oolong tea and Sue’s has been the traditional green tea.
Hard to believe but the first week of our trip would have been over and we would be moving on. So we shall do the same here. A quick journey to Xi’an is up next. Hope to see you there.