China and Tibet, Part 2
Monday, The Great Wall!
Rested and fed, we start our tour. Before long we are free of the choking traffic and gliding along the main highway to Badaling with its extensively restored section of the Great Wall clinging to the mountain ridge.
It was built to protect Chinese Imperial Dynasties from attack by the Huns. It is a remarkable feat of construction. We have a cold, clear day to explore it. The experience is greeted with awe and wonder. We have always wanted to traverse the wall, and finally, here we are. (Along with hundreds, maybe thousands of Japanese students and other assorted visitors, all determined adventurers.)
We head East, up and up. It is easy to imagine the Imperial armies marching 10 abreast up and down the walkways and stairs. They must have been quite fit. Perhaps this was the original stair master!
The surrounding countryside is just ho hum. It is the wall itself that makes the experience worthwhile. Our visit of a few hours flies by and it is time to move again. Our next stop is the Ming Tombs. Bad news, the United Nations General Secretary is here and the largest and best of the tombs is closed to the public for Security Reasons.
Alternatively, we visit another nearby “lesser” tomb built on top of a small mountain and deep into the hilltop. The path is deep and dank and unsettling to John. We make quick work of this stop and move on. Disappointed, we are on the road again and now ahead of schedule. We decide to stop for a walk along the “Avenue of the Statues”, 500 years old. It is a charming stroll about 1 KM long with 32 huge stone statues of animals and courtiers to the Imperial throne silently standing in tribute to their soverign’s final journey to the tombs.
Now back to Beijing, passing countless highrise buildings, seemingly endless traffic and crowded streets. And Dinner! We begin to notice a pattern. Many of the same dishes repeating themselves from meal to meal. The food is actually quite good with just enough variance so far to keep it interesting. But we are wanting more variety. Different choices and less volume.
Tuesday, The Summer Palace and the Forbidden City
Another cold morning with a lingering fog greeted us. The morning outing is to the Summer Palace and its 73 hectacres of grounds and lakes. This is where the great Dowager Empress spent much of her 40 year rule.
It is an incredible palace with a covered walkway painted with hundreds of mythical scenes. The marble boat isn’t a boat at all, but a fancy entertainment venue built on the lake’s shore.
Our planned boat ride back to our bus was cancelled due to “end of season schedule changes.” Oh well, another opportunity to walk off some of the endless food…
After lunch and a fresh water pearl farm, we head to the Forbidden City. We laugh when our route repeats our first day’s walk. We hide our inner glow as we privately reflect on our independent adventure.
The Forbidden City is vast and awesome. It is hard to imagine what life must have been like. Seemingly endless privledge but I’ll bet there was little freedom. Nonetheless, you can count on life in the palace as far better than for those outside those massive walls.
Layer after layer, the courtyards and buildings become more spectacular, even though the contents are mostly missing. First to the colonial powers from Europe, but ultimately to the Cultural Revolution and its quest to reject all Imperial power.
It is ironic now that theses symbols generate virtually all tourists interest in China.
I am mesmerized by the details carved in marble, etched in stone or molded into beauty. Increasingly we find ourselves lingering behind the group. We sense quiet grumblings.
Next we only drive around Tiananmen Square. We were so glad we were able to casually explore the square on days before.
After dinner we attended a Chinese Opera. The performance was a colorful and interesting display of voice, acrobatics, martial arts and costumes. It seemed familiar and strange at the same time. Though only a 40 minute performance, I thought I would cramp up and die from the painfully uncomfortable seats. In the end we were glad when it was over.
Coming Soon, Part 3: Temple of Heaven and Xian