I spent a marvellous, though tiring, five days in Beijing recently with my father and stepmother. It was a whirlwind of sights and sounds, and the fast pace of their group’s tour schedule kept us all on our toes. Beijing is enormous, but I got to know a large portion of it by way of subways, taxis, and buses.
I walked through the entire Forbidden City – twice – across and under Tiananmen Square a couple of times, through the new National Theater (the one that looks like a giant egg), climbed the very slippery and snow-covered Great Wall, got lost at the new National Airport, walked around the huge, enclosed construction site surrounding the Olympic Stadium (Bird’s Nest) and Aquatic Center (Water Cube), visited the Temple of Heaven, and ate LOTS of American food that I hadn’t even seen in a couple of years.
I was able to join my parents for some of their activities and for a great deal of food – their luxurious hotel put on quite a buffet spread – but was prohibited from riding in their tour group’s bus, for insurance reasons. Hence my acquaintance with the 3 subway trains and taxi ride to reach their hotel, located a great distance from the city center. I also succeeded in missing them completely at the Great Wall – they were evidently one one side while I was on the other. Thank goodness for my new cell phone; their tour organizer was able to navigate me through the entire Forbidden City to meet up with their group. Turns out that they had entered through the north side while I had been waiting for them at the correct entrance on the south side, on Tiananmen Square. All’s well that ends well, and I walked far more than the estimated 5 miles that it takes to cover the entire complex.
My first night in the city was spent at a cozy little hotel near the center of town, in a district that sheltered a few of the city’s historic hutongs – traditional neighborhoods arranged along narrow lanes or alleys. Since I hadn’t slept at all the night before leaving Chengdu – I’d had to get up at 4:30 AM, I also spent a fair amount of time at a local Starbucks re-fueling myself with caffeine. The remainder of my stay was spent at the Loong Palace Hotel, where my parents’ tour group was housed.