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Beijing – 5000 years of history, 5 days of visiting – episode 1

Beijing

Destroyed by Genghis Han, praised by Marco Polo, rebuilt by Ming emperors, visited by the Romanian noble Milescu, thrown in chaos by Mao, reborn by Deng, completed by the Olympics – Beijing is a fascinating town, that you just cannot pass without being marked for life. First of all you’ll be shocked by its dimensions (Beijing’s area is roughly about the size of Belgium), by its infrastructure (the new airport terminal is the biggest terminal in the world and the city is surrounded by not less than 5 circular highways with very many lanes), by its history (the first human settlements that were discovered are older than 5000 years), by its historic wealth that is reflected in the architecture (the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace or the legendary Great Chinese Wall) but also by the skyscrapers of the 21st Century.

It is the capital of a nation that includes over one billion citizens. If Shanghai was indulged in making money, Hong Kong commerce, Guangzhou production, Taipei music, well Beijing kept what it likes the most – power. It is China’s capital ever since the 13th century (Beijing in Chinese means “northern capital”). Also the architecture of the city inspires power – buildings are massive, without being heavy, spaces are vast (the Tiananmen Square is the largest all around the world) and its development is dictatorial. A couple of years ago a big part of the city was formed out of small living spaces and twisted streets in the Hutong neighborhoods. When the Party called for modernization this slum city was destroyed, millions of people were moved, and instead modern districts were built with huge roads and high blocks. So Beijing was propelled to the middle of the 21st century, everything that got built was worthy of any capital of this world.

But let’s take Beijing step by step. “A step” is just a manner of speaking because the distance in Beijing is enormous and if you plan to visit the major attractions you need at least a bicycle. Most of the people prefer the taxi, though – there’s a lot of cabs and they’re quite cheap (10 yuan for first 3 kilometers, then 2 yuan per kilometer, that is 0.25 euro or 0.30 dolars), but you need a map with the destination written in Chinese – the cab drivers, like almost everybody, don’t know any word in English. More than that, even if you presume to know the name of the place in Chinese (Tiananmen is still in Chinese) you’ll be surprised that the accent is very different and the driver won’t understand where you would like to go.

If China has a strong center – Beijing, Beijing also has a central point out of which everything radiates – it’s the Forbidden City. The old complex of imperial Palaces, named as it is because it was forbidden to the ordinary men, occupies a gigantic area – the emperors of China built this complex for 500 years using huge resources – that’s why the effort put in by tourists is equally big. You’ll need a guide – you can find an English speaking guide that will lead you among the hundreds of pavilions, corridors and squares, or one can get an audio-guide that’s guided through an ultra-modern system, the guide starting to talk exactly in that moment when you arrive in front of a certain monument. And for the surprise to be really big, this audio-guide talks lots of languages including Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian or Tamil. You’ll travel for hours among hordes of Chinese tourists (try to avoid weekends!) wondering at the sight of the vast architectonic complex. Maybe you’ll be surprised by the austerity of the exhibits, you won’t find many object that furnish the buildings… all the imperial thesaurus was transported in Taiwan by the national army of Chiang Kai-Shek and can be visited in the National Museum in Taipei. Evacuated for the first time in 1931 when the Japanese attacked and occupied Manchuria, the huge thesaurus was transported all across China for 17 years, on the railways, by truck, by bullock cart, by boat or by foot, always some steps ahead of the Japanese and afterwards of Mao’s troupes. In 1948 the thesaurus eventually reached Taiwan and it became noticeable that in 17 years of wanderings not one vase was broken, not one spoon was stolen!

A second remarkable imperial complex is the Summer Palace. Here, the order and geometry of the central palace becomes relaxed … we are actually in the palace of holidays …Numerous palaces, pavilions and temples surround a lake full of tens of small boats. Personally, I liked this palace more than the Forbidden City, but de gustibus… On the lake there are water lilies, on the margins people are walking and this whole world is dominated by the temples on Longevity Hill. Again you’re in need of some hours to walk around, admire and catch the atmosphere, to sail the lake by small boats decorated with dragon heads.

Back in the city you cannot miss one of the architectural symbols of China, you can find it on many products labeled “Made in China”, including a worldwide famous all-healing ointment. It’s the Temple of Heaven – a round altar, 5 meters high where the emperor, the son of Heaven was engaged in rituals meant to bring wealth and cleanse the sins of his subjects. The ones that saw a picture of this temple (me included) presume that we’re talking about a building, monumental in all fairness, but still a building… Nothing further from the truth, this pavilion is in the middle of a 267 hectares park (oh my, what kind of residential districts our smart-ass boys back home could have built here!) where day by day, hundreds, maybe thousands of people come to dance, sing, to practice martial art, gymnastics, calligraphy… If you go during the morning when there’s a big activity going on, you’ll get quite a show until you reach the great temple.

And while being among giants we cannot miss the biggest square in the world – the famous Tiananmen. Mankind has learned this Chinese word that means “Heavenly Peace” in 1989 when tanks crushed the democratic revolution started by students. But this square was created by communists, not democrats. Its greatness was thought of by Mao Zedong, who wished for a larger square than Moscow’s Red Square, and during the years of the Cultural Revolution almost a million people took part in parades, that were worthy of the most populated country in the world. Today in this center of the Chinese universe you can walk, take pictures, attend to different organized events, but you cannot ride a bike (by tank it’s OK, apparently). The square is surrounded by worthy buildings- on one side the classic history – Tiananmen gate that leads to the Forbidden City. On the other side there the National History Museum, a pretty Stalinist building, that will mirror the 5000 years old history of China. On another margin there is the Party head quarter and in the middle of the square the huge Mausoleum belonging to Mao, with the embalmed body of the Great Helmsman, that you can visit if you get up early and are willing to stay at a pretty long queue.

There are other places worth visiting that are less large…there’s the Beihai Park, with a lake, water lilies just like at the Summer Palace, but dominated by a huge Buddhist, a Tibetan –like stupa, there’s the Zhongshan park behind the Forbidden City.

For a more exotic evening, if you’re not still sure which one of the thousands of restaurants to pick, you can go on Wangfujing street, the main pedestrian commercial artery in Beijing. At one point, after a corner you can find more than a hundred booths with street food that’s cooked by the minute… if you’re more conservative you can get the classical lamb or pork shish kebab, if you feel more adventurous you can choose snake meat kebabs, scorpions on the grill, or tasty bugs. Hurry up though, this exotic corner closes at around 10 o’clock. After this time of the day, you won’t find food in this area, everything will close…except the hundreds of bars next to Drum Tower which will be extremely full, before you can hurry among the high class, French cognac drinkers in China Dolls for a special night.

A trip to Beijing cannot be complete without a visit to the Great Wall. Although a whole nation was sad by the honesty of the first Chinese Astronaut that said that in spite of the legends the Great Wall cannot be seen from outer space, the long 5000 kilometers wall can be visited in more than one places in the Beijing area, the most popular of them being Badaling. A highway with many lanes takes you till one of the points where you can get a lift up to the ramparts and from here on, it depends on the luck…If you come on a weekend day you’ll find yourself in the middle of a mass that will destroy any doubts involving China not having a billion people. If you end up there on a weekday , preferably off season you can enjoy more this incredible wall, waving over the hills like a gigantic boa. Spiced up from time to time by defense towers the big wall of China is truly an incredible monument.

Can one visit a 5000 years old city in 5 days? The answer is definitely – no. but at least one can court it, one can enjoy some of the most spectacular place and one can leave with the certainty that China will truly be the country that will dominate the 21st century.

How to get to Beijing

Almost any big airline flies Beijing which might become the world’s largest aviation hub in a few years. So, there are plenty of offers and prices of 500 euro for a return ticket from Europe are quite frequent, but this happens off season.

Chinese Visa

The Popular Chinese Republic’s Visa should be got in advance from Chinese Embassies worldwide (I guess there is no country in the world without a Chinese Embassies except those who recognise Taiwan)

Where to stay in Beijing

Unfortunately, I don’t have any recommendations here. I’ve been twice – once I stayed at somebody’s house, the second time I stayed at the Mercure hotel, on some one else’s money. But there are numerous hotels that could have good prices and you can check great offers on Agoda. Usually, you will find better offers here than on other sites including Booking or Hotels.

What to eat

Despite my pictures, Beijing is full of European restaurants. If you like Chinese food and you end up a bit further away from the tourist places you’ll have an excellent dinner and cheap also. The malls are full of well known fast foods, KFC being the most popular. For a more special dinner go at the end of Wangfujing for locusts, scorpions and other delicacies.

Pictures of Beijing:

 Beijing: Tienanmen gate

Mao at the entrance of the Forbidden Palace

Beijing city: Traditional dancer

Dancer

3. dansatoare traditionale.JPG

Dencer

Beijing city

Travel to Beijing: visit the Tienanmen gate

Tienanmen Gate

Beijing: Amateur dacers

Amateur dancers

Bejing city: Swordsman in Heaven Park

Swordsman

Bejing city: Martial arts

Travel Beijing: Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven

Beijing: Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven

Beijing trvael: Tienanmen Gate

Tienanmen Gate

Beijing travel: visit the Forbidden City

Forbidden city

Beijing travel: visit the Forbidden City

Forbidden city

Beijing travel

My audio-guide

Beijing: The forbidden Palace

The forbidden Palace

Beijing: The forbidden city

Travel to Beijing: The forbidden city

Beijing: local food

Beijing: traditional food

Beijing: The great Wall

The great wall

Beijing: The great Wall

The great wall

Travel Beijing: The great Wall

The great wall

Beijing travel: The great Wall

The great wall

Travel to Beijing: The great Wall

The great wall

Beijing city: The great Wall

The great wall

Beijing: The great Wall

Beijing: The great Wall

China: The great Wall

China: The great Wall

The great wall

China

Beijing: Traditional chinesse clothing

China

China

Bejing: Local food

Beijing: local food

China: local food - scorpions

China: Tratidional chinessee clothing

Beijing city: Tratidional chinessee clothing

Beijing travel; the gate

Beijing: Behai lake

Behai temple

Beijing travel: visit Behai temple

Behai temple

Beijing: Behai temple

Behai temple

Travel to Beijing: visit Behai temple

Behai temple

China: Behai temple

China: Behai temple

Behai temple

Beijing: The summer palace

Summer Palace

Travel to Beijing: The summer palace

Summer Palace

Beijing: The summer palace

Summer Palace

Beijing city: The summer palace

Summer Palace

Beijing travel:  The summer palace

Summer Palace

Beijing: The mausoleum of Tao

The mausoleum of  Tao

BEijing: The mausoleum of Tao

Atention please!

Beijing city: The mausoleum of  Tao

The mausoleum of  Tao

Beijing: Qienanmen square

Qienanmen square

Beijing: Qienanmen square

Qienanmen square

Până acum există "4 comentarii" la acest articol:

  1. I can’t believe how many people there were on the Great Wall when you took those photos! I must have visited it off-season, because there were barely any other tourists than our group. I miss Beijing, I miss real Chinese food, it was truly amazing. Speaking of food: did you try those scorpions?

    • Imperator says:

      In 2008, I was at Badaling section of the wall which is quite overcrowded. Last month, I visited Mutianyu which was quite untouristy, just a few souls around. I tried a bit of scorpions in 2008 :) Just a bit. Nothing spectacular, like a snack. What about you ?

      • I’ve been to China in 1998, in September-October. I can’t remember where on the Great Wall I was, but I recall climbing some 7000 stairs to reach it :). I haven’t tried the scorpions. The most peculiar food I ate was a kind of rotten egg, which our Chinese hosts said was a delicacy… and they were so nice that I couldn’t say no. Then I had to run to the toilet at full speed, because I couldn’t swallow the thing!

        • Imperator says:

          many things changed… Badaling area has cable cars, lifts, lots of entertainment… so Chinese are going there in millions ! Where there are no lifts, no cable cars, there are no Chinese tourists :) But, yes, you have thousands of stairs to climb :)

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    My name is Cezar (where the nickname "Imperator" comes from) and I have travelled to 105 countries around the world. In this blog, I would like to share with you stories, memories, travel tips & tricks and news to help you plan your journeys !

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