Beijing- Tiananmen Square – Nanluoguxiang Hutong

IMG_20171215_130405 Tiananmen Square

My day in Tiananmen Square was the day I walked 12.6km exploring Beijing.  I took the hottest shower ever when I returned to the hotel that night!  I started the day by walking to Tiananmen Square from my hotel in Wangfujing.

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Traveling in China was not as easy for me as in Hong Kong or Tokyo.  Many things were not in English or even pinyin.  However, I went to a lot of touristy places where maps were along the roadsides.  Although I could not tell what they said, I had a familiarity with my destination locations directionally and the red star demarking “you are here” was pretty universal.  My only destinations were the Tiananmen Square and the most famous hutong, Nanluoguxiang.

For those who might not know, Google, Amazon, and many social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) were banned recently in China.  I knew this ahead of time and thought I had planned for it.  My research suggested certain maps apps. They were supposed to work but didn’t work when I arrived in Beijing.  The hotel had suggestions for alternatives as well, however they were all in Mandarin.  Without a map app, I got lost a lot.  My fellow tour-goers had told me about an app called Turbo VPN.  This app supposedly scrambles your phone to show that you’re not located in China.  I cannot vouch for it because I could not upload this app.  I could not access my Google play store.  Without Google translate, I was squandering.  It was still doable.  However, I was not as adventurous as I’d been in Tokyo.

We’re going to Shanghai for Chinese New Year and this time Mr. Chen is coming with me so I won’t have to worry about it….although, I will download the Turbo VPN and report if it works.  If anyone else has suggestions, please leave a note in the comments section.  Thanks in advance and cheers!

One of the first things I couldn’t figure out was crossing the street.  There were railings along the street at intersections so it was impossible to cross.  I kept passing these signs but I figured it was for entry to the subway.

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see the railing along the road and the sign for stairs? those stairs go down under the road so pedestrians can cross the street
underground crosswalk

Some of them had peddlers selling hats and toys.

After Tiananmen Square, I walked north to the most famous hutong in Beijing- Nanluoguxiang Hutong.  It still had residences but now it’s mainly a mall with street food.  It smelled delicious.  I had pineapple bread there but it wasn’t even 25% as good as it was in Hong Kong.  I’m addicted to it in Hong Kong!  My stomach growls just thinking about it.

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Next up, the food in Beijing and Wangfujing street market.  We also went to Macau for Christmas, hiked up to Victoria Peak, visited another famous street market and went on a dinner boat cruise in Victoria harbor for NYE.  I have never seen so many fireworks!!

If you missed my other adventures in Beijing:

Great Wall, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven.

Thanks!

Beijing- The Ming Tomb- Dingling

We went to a Ming Tomb prior to heading to the Great Wall.  The Ming Tombs are scattered throughout China, but most are near to Beijing.  All of the tombs were built at the bottom of a mountain. They’re mausoleums built for 13 of the 16 Emperors of the Ming Dynasty.  We went to Dingling.  “Ling” means tomb in Mandarin.

I loved our tour guide from Viator, although he was very superstitious.  We went to the 13th and last tomb that was built.  It was destroyed twice.  Once was from WWII by the Japanese.  I cannot remember the other time it was destroyed.  Maybe the Cultural Revolution?

Although the Emperor was not really buried there, according to our guide, we could not enter the tomb from the main entrance.  The main entrance is called the “gateway to heaven”.  We had to enter along the side.  Only the dead would enter through the main entrance and it could only be the Emperor.  It totally made sense once he verbalized it.  He also told us we couldn’t take selfies with the tomb as that would be bad luck.  I think that’s a bit disturbing but I guess I can see someone taking a selfie with a tomb?  I was a little freaked out I was going to mess up one of the rules.

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This is the “gateway to heaven” that we couldn’t walk through on our way into the tomb
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same for this entryway; we could only enter to the right or left

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The doorways weren’t large enough for the tomb to fit through so the Emperor and the two Empresses were never actually buried there.

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donations of incense, flowers and fruit are considered good luck
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the biggest one represents the Emperor’s tomb

We could exit through the main entrance.  Women had to step out with their right foot first and men with their left.  This part of the trip made me so nervous.  Our guide was so excitable and I didn’t want to break any of the rules.

But if you’re curious, I saw plenty of people entering through the main entrance when we were leaving.  I guess they didn’t have a tour guide to explain the bad luck in that.

This concludes the second day of my tour with Viator.  In addition to the tomb, we went to The Great Wall, the jade factory, tea house, and lunch was included.  We did have to pay an additional $100rmb (~$15US) for the round trip ski lift ticket at the Great Wall.  The total for this day, including the lift pass, was $60US.  They picked us up in our hotel and drove us around all day.  I was pleased with their services overall.

Day 1:

Day 2:

The total was $115 US.  I have seen different prices on different days.  I was lucky as both days my tours were a total of 4 people and we had pretty great viewing conditions.

Cheers for a prosperous 2018!

More to come on our Christmas trip to Macau, Tiananmen Square and the fireworks in Hong Kong for NYE.

Beijing – The Temple of Heaven

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The Temple of Heaven was my favorite excursion of the day.  I enjoyed the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden and Summer Palace.  However, the detail in the Temple of Heaven was just stunning.  It was built in the early 1400s just like the Forbidden City.  The Emperor during that era is regarded as a great leader….according to our tour guide.  He definitely created a lot of jobs for his people.

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My selfies have improved. I still can’t believe this was taken with my phone! My only regret- you cannot tell how crystal clear the sky was during my visit.  You can probably tell it was chilly though!

The temple was used to pray for good harvest.  Now it’s the most famous temple in Beijing.  I took so many pictures of it.  The detail was truly amazing.  We only spent 20 minutes at the Temple of Heaven.  Our whole group definitely wanted more time there.  The Temple of Heaven was the last visit on Day 1 of my Viator tour.  We went to the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden, a pearl factory and Temple of Heaven.  It also included a lunch.  The total was ~$55 US.

I’m really glad I visited some of these sights in Beijing when it was so cold.  It was pretty crowded.  I cannot imagine what it would be like in warmer weather.  If you can handle it, traveling to these sights during the winter months might be ideal if avoiding big crowds is desired.  The Forbidden City was probably the biggest crowd I saw during my three days in Beijing.  It was actually the coldest when we went there too because if was our first stop and we arrived at 8a.

Up next:  Ming Tombs, Tiananmen Square, culture in Beijing, FOOD!, and a visit to a famous neighborhood or hutong of Beijing.

If you missed some of my other adventures in Beijing:

Forbidden City and Imperial Gardens

Great Wall of China

Summer Palace

Thank you and Happy Holidays from Hong Kong!!!

 

 

Beijing- The Summer Palace -Viator tours

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After the Forbidden City and Imperial Garden, we visited the Summer Palace.  I imagine the grandeur of the Summer Palace is much more extraordinary when in the midst of summer.  But the scenery was still picturesque.  The lake had a thin layering of ice on the surface that added an interesting depth to all my photos.

It was blistering cold, however the sun came out which helped.  We had ~2h at the Summer Palace to roam on our own.  Our tour guide said we would need weeks to fully explore the area.  The lake itself is >500 acres.  In the warm months, it was a place of respite for the Emperor and Empress.  They would spend much of their time at the Summer Palace instead of the Forbidden City.

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The Summer Palace origin dates back to the 1100s.  It was named a World Landmark in the 1900s.  Even in the bitter cold, locals were playing games and enjoying the beautiful scenery.  We even saw a man writing calligraphy in the sidewalk.  He was creating a portrait of a bystander in the picture below….it’s not the piglet!  He was using water instead of ink.  It was very entertaining.  It made me think of my father-in-law who is quite talented in calligraphy as well.

There are pavilions, temples, gardens and bridges to best enjoy the landscape.  We didn’t even cover 1/3 of it in the time we had there.

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So to recap, on this day trip with Viator, we saw the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden, Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven.  The Temple of Heaven was my favorite stop and the topic of my next blog post.

I did a 2-day tour with Viator.  Lunch was included on both days.  The first day was ~$55 US.  All entry fees were covered in this price.  I thought we covered a lot and I was pleased with our guide.  I loved that our group was small (4 people) and talkative.  I would recommend traveling to these locations in the cold weather because it’s less crowded.  Just wear layers!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Beijing- The Forbidden City and Imperial Garden

It was a chilling -2 degrees Celsius (and windy!) and I was visiting the Forbidden City and Imperial Garden.  The Forbidden City is >150 acres.  It was built from 1404-1420 and housed up to 3000 concubines, the Emperor and Empress and the Imperial Guard.

Everything about the complex followed the principles of Feng Shui.  For instance, the Forbidden City had mountains protecting the entrances.  The entrances were facing a certain direction that is evading me right now.  The main thing I remember is the dragon outside the door of the Emperor’s living quarters.  The Chinese dragon is different than the Western dragon that breathes fire.  The Eastern dragon has horns and water comes out of its mouth.  It never goes to the bathroom.  The significance there is that whatever enters the dragon doesn’t leave it.  So at an entryway of a home, the dragon should be facing the entry.  It will bring money and prosperity into the household (through its mouth–and the money will never leave since it doesn’t use the washroom).  If the dragon’s back is to the door, then the household will squander monies and good fortune instead of collecting them.

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male dragon

Another significance of the dragon, is the dragon stepping on a ball (it’s a pearl which designates power) represents the Emperor and the dragon stepping on the cub represents the Empress.

The male is the yang and the female is the yin.  Yin and Yang are very important aspects of Chinese culture and required for balance.  They are displayed throughout the Forbidden City.  I couldn’t retain all that was shared, but our tour guide was very informative.

I again used Viator for my tour of The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven ,The Great Wall of China and Summer Palace.  It included a pick-up at my hotel and lunch.  There were four of us on this tour–a brother and sister from South America and young lady from Switzerland.  Between them, the oldest was 24.  I’ll explain in a bit how I knew their ages.

We arrived at the Forbidden City right when they were opening at 8:30a.  So we didn’t wait long in the line nor was the line very long.  It was frigid.

Here’s a picture the tour guide took of me before we entered.

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I’m wearing so many layers (leg warmers too if you can’t tell!). The only things cold were my nose and hands….my gloves weren’t wind proof

And the Imperial Garden:

There were trees in the garden with either red or green tags.  Red tags meant the tree was over 300 yrs old.  Green tags meant they were over 100 yrs old.

After the Forbidden City, we drove to the Temple of Heaven.  I’ll discuss that in a separate post.  We also stopped at a facility where they were practicing acupuncture, cupping and holistic healing.   We received an assessment on our health and a foot massage.  This is how I knew the ages of my fellow tour-goers, by the way.

The trained Herbalist looked at my tongue and used my pulse on my wrist to give his assessment.  He said that I don’t sleep well.  He said my mind never turns off and I’m stressed out.  This could really fit anyone but, I hardly slept the night before.  He wrote me a prescription for herbs to aid in sleeping but it was 800rmb for a 30 day supply.  That’s ~$130 US for a 30 day supply.  Yowza.  We couldn’t take a picture or I would’ve asked Qi to translate the herbs for me.  I also heard his assessment of my peers and according to them, he diagnosed them properly.  None of us purchased the herbs though.

There is a book I plan to buy (to Qi’s chagrin!) to study herbs and their healing power.  It parallels my work in a way and I find it fascinating.  I also bought a ton of tea while in Beijing.

old versus new stone floors

I’m fascinated by the dragons.

I have much more to share on Beijing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beijing- The Great Wall- Mutianyu section

DSC_0396 Great Wall

Last week I was in Beijing.  I went there because of all the history in Beijing and to visit all the iconic sights– the most iconic being the Great Wall of China.  The Great Wall was built in 1404.  There were several sections available for tours.  I decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

The weather was supposed to be cold and cloudy.  The day before I visited the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven.  It was gorgeously clear, albeit frigid– but more to come on that in a separate post.  I mentioned it because I figured my quota for good weather had been filled already.  I cannot believe my luck.

I planned tours for a couple of my days in Beijing.  I used a website called Viator.  I was scheduled with a tour guide who called the night before to confirm pick-up in my hotel lobby.  His English was good and his enthusiasm could not be faked.  Our tour group was a total of 4 people.  There were two gentlemen from Melbourne and the third man was from Florida.

We arrived at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.  I chose this section because it’s considered to be less crowded than the Badaling section (very popular for tourists) and a bit more scenic and steep.  It’s further from Beijing and a less traveled part of the Great Wall.

To get to the wall, we had to ride up a ski lift.  This ride was not part of the cost for the pre-paid tour.  Alternatively, there’s an option to walk up the mountain.  For the return, there’s also the option to take a toboggan down the mountain.  Unfortunately (or fortunately– I cannot decide which!) the toboggan option was unavailable.

Prior to getting on the ski lift, our tour guide told us we needed to be back in 2.5hrs.  So climbing the mountain was not an option– although, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen that regardless.

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All the cars were marked letting us know that former First Lady of the USA, Michelle Obama, rode up to this part of the Great Wall

The ski lift dropped us off between watch tower 14 and 15.  We could only walk to watch tower 20, after that, the wall was restricted from tourists.  There is a simple explanation for this.  The Great Wall is >13,000 miles and only parts are maintained for tourists.  Walking from tower 15 to 20 was still quite a trek.  I had several layers on because I thought I’d be cold.  I was sweating from the exertion.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the day I burst into tears.  On the next day, when I visited Tiananmen Square, I was overcome with emotion and gratitude that released itself in tears.  To have the opportunity and means to visit so many amazing places….I cannot believe how blessed I am!!  I tear up just thinking about it.  I was at the Great Wall!  Unreal!

If you missed other beautiful sights I’ve visited in Hong Kong and Japan, please visit these other posts on Mount Fuji and Victoria Peak.

Otherwise, please enjoy these pictures of the Great Wall- Mutianyu section.

By the way, the wind had died down but most of the smog was already eliminated.  Thank you wind for providing the most amazing views!

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my legs were wobbly after 2.5 hours but I walked the whole section

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I was there!!!!

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it was a workout!

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Please stay tuned.

Up next:  Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City and more adventures in Beijing.

Thanks for traveling with me!