China - 2008

The Great Wall


September 15 - 17

On Monday, September 15th, Lynn, Jim, Jay and Barbara flew All Nippon Air from Tokyo to Beijing, a 3 1/2 hour flight.  It was one of the best flying experiences we’ve ever had, from the check-in to the efficient flight attendants to the complimentary wine and beer in coach.  Narita airport is spotless with toilets that can make flushing sounds or music to cover up the rude sounds you may make.  The new airport in Beijing is amazing, too.  There are many Westerners here in Beijing, perhaps because of the Paralympics.  We were met by Yang, our Viking guide, and taken to our hotel.  There were beautiful flowers all along the roads on our drive.  We are staying at the Westin Hotel in the financial district.  It is very new and posh.  We have fresh flowers in the bathroom (which has a rain forest shower) and a live orchid plant in the bedroom.  We thought that the rest of our Grant Park contingent might be resting up after their 16 hours of flying time yesterday, but most of them went shopping in two cabs that didn’t stay together as expected.  They had success in finding some of the souvenirs they were looking for.  Paul and Jack were in the lounge playing cribbage when we arrived, and everyone was in great spirits.  We enjoyed a delicious meal together in the Chinese restaurant in the hotel, then turned in early to be rested for our big day of sightseeing tomorrow.  Tuesday, September 16th, was a busy day.  After a buffet breakfast at the hotel, we boarded a bus and headed for Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  There are three busloads of people from our hotel on this Viking tour.  They are, like us, mostly old white people.  Unfortunately Paul and Jack aren’t on our bus, as they booked the tour through a travel agent.  We did see them later by the moat outside the Forbidden City where they were waiting for their group (they somehow became separated).  We were disappointed that we couldn’t walk through Tiananmen Square as it was closed because of an event.  The square covers 100 acres and it can hold a half a million people.  Mao’s tomb is there and is still open to the public although our guide told us that Mao’s glass encased body is deteriorating.  We spent several hours in the Forbidden City, which covers about 180 acres.  The emperor was the only male allowed to live here; 1000 eunuchs and 1000 concubines lived with him.  The Empress and young children were also allowed to live in the city.  We went from the Forbidden City to a restaurant for a buffet lunch and then to the Summer Palace, which is actually mostly gardens and a lake.  We walked through the Long Corridor to a boat landing where we took a dragon boat back to where our bus picked us up.  We had a short time to rest back at the hotel before heading to a Peking Duck Dinner and the Peking Opera.  The dinner was a feast of many courses, including dumplings, fish, soup, rice, vegetables, Peking duck and desserts.  The roasting of Peking duck is too complicated to be done in homes as it requires a special oven.  We were told that each duck is cut into exactly 120 pieces.  Small slices of duck, scallions and plum sauce are then placed on a very thin pancake and folded.  It is eaten with your fingers.  The reviews were mixed on the duck, but Jay and Barbara liked it.  After dinner we went directly to a theater in the same building where we watched about an hour long Peking Opera.  It’s certainly not like Italian opera.  There were lots of wonderful acrobatics but the singing is a sort of screeching sound (intentional).  Our guide Yang joked that in Italian opera the hero dies, but in Peking opera the audience dies.  After two hot and humid days in Beijing, we had a more comfortable day on Wednesday, September 17th.  On the way to see the Great Wall we drove past several Olympic venues, including the Bird’s Nest.  The Olympic flame was burning for the Paralympics and will be extinguished tonight after the closing ceremonies.  We went to see the Great Wall at Badaling, which is the best preserved part of the wall and the first section opened to tourists.  No one in our group climbed to the top gate of the difficult section we chose but we all walked far enough to appreciate the steepness of the wall and the difficulty of going both up and down.  People of all ages were climbing the wall--we saw a wheelchair coming down and a female amputee with crutches going up.  It was an incredible experience for all of us.  From the Great Wall we went to a restaurant located in a jade gallery.  We had time for shopping after lunch and some of us purchased jade jewelry or small items for our homes.  Some of the large pieces cost tens of thousands of dollars, but we didn’t see anyone purchasing them.  Our last stop of the day was a tour of the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs.  We walked about a mile along a beautiful path lined with 18 pairs of stone sculptures of Chinese ministers, soldiers, animals and mythical beasts.  This is our last night in Beijing and we’ll have a relaxing dinner at the hotel.

Beijing airport

Westin Hotel - Beijing

Our first dinner together in China

Tiananmen Square - Mao's tomb in square building

Tiananmen Gate

Terry and David inside the Forbidden City

Lynn and Jim

Jay and Barbara

Jerry and Gayle by The Hall of Supreme Harmony

Forbidden City

Roof detail - Important buildings have more

Forbidden City - female lion

Emperor's living quarters

Emperor's living quarters - throne and screen

Forbidden City - gardens

Paul and Jack on moat

Summer Palace

Summer Palace - dragon boat

Peking Duck Dinner

Peking Opera

Bird's Nest

Near Bird's Nest

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

Jade Factory

Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs

Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs

© Jay 2020