Days 253 & 255: A Walking Tour of Beijing

Michael and I moved back to the USA on day 266 or our supposed 548-day adventure abroad. We almost made it half way! (For those of you who didn’t major in MATHS, half way would have been day 274). I can’t help but be a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the world, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t love the time we did have overseas. It was amazing and I’m thankful we had the opportunity.

Anyway, we’ve been back two months now and it’s about time I wrapped up ‘Around the World in 548 Days’ since the adventure is officially OVER. This blog post and the next are about our awesome trip to Beijing in February, and then I’ll post an adios Singapore blog. Stay tuned!

Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square

A 9-month stint in Southeast Asia without a trip to China seemed blasphemous to me, so I booked tickets to Beijing as soon as we got our move date and realized we had time to squeeze it in. And squeeze we did. Our tight timetable allowed for just three full days in Beijing, barely enough time to hit the biggest tourist draws of the city.

Day one found us walking from our hotel near the pedestrian street of Wangfujing to Tiananmen Square and then south to a shopping district just outside of the square. From there we walked further south to the Temple of Heaven. If the tourist map hadn’t made these sites appear so close to each other we probably wouldn’t have made the more than 8 km trek across the city! We had intended to check out Tiananmen Square and then the Forbidden City with a quick detour to the Temple of Heaven. Five hours later, the Forbidden City was closing and our legs were ready to call it a day.

South Gate of Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square is named after the gate (Tiananmen Gate or Gate of Heavenly Peace) that is located directly north of the square and separates it from the Forbidden City*. The square itself is huge and has imposing gates on the north and south ends, and impressive halls on the east and west sides that house the National Museum and Great Hall of the People, respectively. In the middle of the square sits the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. Having already been witness to one embalmed communist leader, Michael and I passed on the seeing the Chairman.

Chairman Mao Mausoleum

The shopping district just south of Tiananmen Square was so colorful and bustling despite the cold. On a side street we found small stalls selling snacks. I stopped at the least crowded of the stalls to buy Michael a birthday snack – fried scorpion! We both sampled the crunchy and salty snack and were unanimous in our decision that it was tastier than durian.

Fried Scorpion

The Temple of Heaven Park is a peaceful haven in the middle of a busy, crowded city. The park covers nearly 3 square kilometers, and is home to three separate structures built in the 1400’s that were used for prayer, sacrifices, and ceremonies by several dynasties*. Giant, ancient trees line well-manicured paths that lead to and from the temples in the core of the park. We exited the park on its south end and immediately started looking for a taxi, realizing that we were now more than an hour away from our hotel on foot. 30 minutes later a taxi finally stopped for us (we never did figure out the secret to hailing a taxi in Beijing!).

Temple of Heaven

Writing Characters in Water outside Temple of Heaven Park

Day three (I’m skipping day #2 on purpose, it deserves its own post!) turned out to be another walking day, and this time Michael and I actually made it to the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former imperial palace to 24 emperors throughout the Ming and Qing Dynasties*. It’s here where the emperors kept their household, performed ceremonies, and made important political decisions. A wall 8-meters high surrounds the city and contains the 980 buildings situated inside. We walked the 1km from the south gate to the north gate, taking in the traditional Chinese architecture that was originally built more than 600 years ago. Immediately outside the north gate we climbed the hill at Jingshan Park to see the Forbidden City from 45 meters above. It was an impressive sight.

Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City

Throngs of Tourists inside the Forbidden City

Forbidden City from Jingshan Park Hill

We concluded our quick trip with dinner at Quanjude to try the famous Peking Roast Duck. It was delicious! We stopped at the Donghuamen street market on the way back to our hotel to marvel at the array of fried critters on sticks (scorpion, silk worm, frog, spider, sea horse… you name it, they’ll fry it!), and decided to sample something safe – strawberries on a stick dipped in liquid sugar that had hardened. So good! We crashed early that night with our bodies both aching and fatigued, but satisfied that we had the opportunity to visit China before moving back to the USA.

Steaming Dumplings at Donghuamen Market

One of the few “snacks” I was willing to try at Donghuamen

*Thanks Wikipedia for the always reliable, always 100% accurate facts!

My Beijing photos are posted HERE, including those of the Great Wall (next post). Credit to Michael who took most of the Great Wall photos because my fingers were numb!

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