Beijing City – Temple of Heaven

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

The Temple of Heaven Park is located in the south of Dongcheng District. The park is lovely and quiet after the craziness of more central parts of Beijing. The temple was rebuilt in 2008 for the Olympics, which is a bit disappointing if you were expecting an older structure. Still, worthy of a visit. Don’t miss Echo Wall – if there are not loads of tourists around (unlikely) you may be able to hear what people are saying about you on the other side of the sight.

Beijing City – Beihai Park

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

Beihai Park is in Xicheng District and northwest of the Forbidden City. It is our favorite park. It consists of a number of lakes, the largest, Beihai or North Sea, is huge. It blooms gloriously with lotuses in summer – we were a bit late as only a few blossoms were left. There were many people dancing (to traditional to jazz music) and groups singing. It’s a restful place to sit or stroll around. Grab a lolly of pressed rice and fruit and watch folks boating on the lake. Note that if you enter by the North Gate and walk along the West side of the lake you cannot officially walk up the East side of the lake. However, if you exit by the Southwest gate and then act like a stupid tourist at the Southeast Gate, you can probably gain re-admission for free. 



Beijing City – Peking Opera

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

A trip to Beijing is not complete, nor your life according to our guide Sucre (Chinamango), until you experience the Peking Opera. He is right, so make sure you go. Shows are available at a number of venues, they start at about 7.30 pm and last for about 1 hour. Pay a bit extra to get front row seats (about 300 RMB / US$45, which includes tea and snacks) and you will have a memorable evening. You might even want to sing along…..


Beijing City – Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square and Parliament Building

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

Located in the central part of the Dōngchéng District are some of Beijing’s best attractions. We took the subway to Tian’anmen Square and then walked to each of the sights. The infamous square is vast, accommodating over 1 million soles. Located off the square is the huge Parliament building, which seats over 5,000 politicians from around China, an obelisk war memorial, Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall/Tomb and an enormous unmarked building that our guide asserted was the equivalent of the USA’s CIA….

The best part about the square is people watching – loads going on. We met some guys from Tibet who insisted on photos.

Nothing really prepares you for the size and imperial splendor of the Forbidden City (FC). The first photo below is of the whole of the FC, taken from the top of the hill in Jingahan Park and looking South with the North Gate in the foreground. You can only enter the FC by the South (Meridian) Gate and exit by the North Gate. After entering the South Gate you proceed with growing awe at the sheer size of the city – which was basically for one person – the Emperor – plus his entourage of a wife, concubines and eunicks. Apparently the concubines were always fighting with each other and bribing the eunicks so they could get to sleep with the Emperor – if they got pregnant they got better accommodations and presents ……You could send a few days exploring the FC. My advice would be to walk in a fairly straight line between the South and North Gates, turning your head East and West as you proceed. The Palaces and Hallways get ever more impressive as you head North, until ultimately you arrive at the Imperial Gardens and the North Gate. Time to go and have a nice cup of tea.




Beijing Outskirts – Huanghuacheng Section of The Great Wall of China

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

Our guide Sucre, of the Chinamango travel agency (contact Jet Liu), provided a terrific excursion to the Huanghuacheng section of the 8,800 km long Great Wall of China. This section is about 60 km North of the center of Beijing – takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to get there by car. You can get a bus, but realistically you need to get a car and driver. It is worth the extra expense to see this wild part of the wall with zero tourists around. 

Most parts of the wall are sensitively restored, with other parts unrestored and crumbling through weathering and plant damage. It’s a bit of a short, steep climb to reach the wall from the roadway, but well worth the effort. The views South towards Beijing and North/North West to the mountains, behind which lies Mongolia, are magnificent. 

Once on the wall, walking along it is fairly easy, although some parts have steep sections, either with or without steps. Make sure you have shoes with good grip and take plenty water and  insect repellent.

Some folk talk about building a wall on the US Southern border. Personally, I do not think that this is a good idea. However, if you are going to do it, make sure it will look beautiful, last at least 2000 years and in the future become one of the worlds wonders…


Beijing City – Lama Palace and Hutongs

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

The Lama Temple, properly known as the Yonghe Temple (Palace of Peace and Harmony), is a temple and monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism located in Dongcheng District of Beijing. The building and artwork of the temple is a combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan styles. The building exteriors are very beautiful, as can be seen below. The many Buddhas on display within are also very elaborate and varied – however, no photos allowed so you need to trust me…..


Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences. They used to cover Beijng but many were demolished to allow for new building. As a result, many Hutongs are now protected – whether that be as residences or as hip shopping streets.  

Beijing City – Summer Palace

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016
The Summer Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located in West Beijing, and is easily accessible by subway. The Palace consists of beautiful buildings, made-made lakes and gardens. The walk along the shore of the main lake offers plenty of shade, either from the avenue of trees or beneath the painted ceiling of the open-sided corridor – the longest such structure in the world. Access to the inside of the Palace buildings is very limited, but their beauty is, in any case, apparent from their external architecture and decoration. There is much talk of the Empress Dowager Cixi in the Palace literature as the Dragon Lady, due to her apparent ruthlessness. I’m not sure she was any worse than any of the Emporers.



Beijing City – Chaoyang and Xicheng Districts

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

Beijing is a vast city, with seemingly endless ring roads that radiate out from the old Imperial center. To make sense of where you are, it is best to understand that there are 4 central districts which contain most of the main sights:

– Dongcheng: Major sights such as Forbidden City, to the East of central lakes

– Chaoyang: Embassies, international bars and restaurants (area Sanlitun is hub for fashion), to the East of Dongcheng

-Xicheng: Central lakes and backpacker area, to the North of Dongcheng

– Haidian: University and Summer Palace, to the West of Dongcheng.

This post deals with Chaoyang and Xicheng Districts.

Chaoyang

Our well located hotel (Holiday Inn Express Dongzhimen) is in Chaoyang district, so we spent our first morning, a Sunday, walking to the local Dongyue Temple and Ritan Park.

Dongyue Temple is a Daoist (Taoist) temple in the Chaowai area of Chaoyang.  The temple is dedicated to the God of Mount Tai. Founded during the Yuan dynasty, it is the largest temple of the Zhengyi school of Daoism in northern China. The temple itself is very peaceful, being off the main tourist route, and contains some interesting architecture and antiquities. Our favorite was the Bronze Wonder Pony, pictured below, which promises cures for all illnesses in return for a prayer and a touch. My back is still stiff but there is time yet…..

Walking South a few blocks is Ritan Park. As this was a Sunday, everyone was out either practicing their tai chi (to a variety of musical genres – including country), vogueing, or showing off their birds’ songs. The park  includes The Temple of the Sun, a very picturesque small lake and a hill topped with a shady pagoda offering great views of the city.



Xicheng

We then took a subway to the 2008 Olympic Park (Lines 2 and 8). While the buildings were very impressive, the concrete landscaping was a bit barren. Still, worth the short journey.

A few subway stops back towards the city center are the Drum and Bell Towers. These were the Emperors clocks. Both towers offer great views of the city, after a short, steep climb.





A few subway stops and bus (#909) ride away is the sprawling 798 Arts District. Partially renovated factories house a vast collection of contemporary art. Definitely worthy of a visit. There are plenty places offering great food and coffee, like Flat White.

As a footnote, the subway and buses are easy to use, but if you do get stuck somewhere, taxis are easy to wave down and inexpensive – just make sure the meter is running.

Start Of An Epic Journey

By Paul S Bryers, December 2015

Dull start to the day here in Wilton Manors, Florida. Good day to be traveling, which is just as well as our flight itinerary is Fort Lauderdale -> Houston -> Los Angeles -> Melbourne -> Auckland, arriving latter city early Thursday afternoon i.e.,  Christmas Eve. Dinner booked at SPQR at 8.30 pm and Carol Service and Mass a thought for 11.00 pm. I wonder if either will come about. Auckland is the first major city in the world to reach Christmas Day. I’ll let you know if any calamities strike. We leave Auckland on December 26th for Queenstown, and after a week there, head NW up the coast, ending up in Picton. Then to Wellington by ferry for a night and finally a few days in Melbourne before heading back to Florida. It is going to be an epic trip, so stay tuned for lots of photos and few words.

Reykjavik alive!

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

Reykjavik is an amazing city! 

Like the country and the island upon which it resides, and despite its ancient and rich history, Reykjavik is best described as “youthful”. The surrounding sea is fresh and clean, the mountains are high and show little signs of aging, the buildings are mostly modern, the architecture is angular and sophisticated, and folks of all types are made welcome.   
    
   

On the latter point, it was Gay Pride while we were there, and everyone seemed to be very excited about the 4 day event, with rainbow flags proudly popping up everywhere, and a street was turned into Dorothy’s yellow brick road – well OK, Dorothy’s rainbow road….Dogs and trolls were made to feel at home, and even puffins wanted to get in on the fun.   
   

On your first day in the city, take the free walking tour, which lasts about 90 mins, cover about 1.5 km and introduces you to the main sights. This tour was very informative, and with our guide, Lolly, was fun as well – he had a good sense of humor – you have to when you have green hair – and he will tell you about local politicians and the sex lives of elves. In any case, meet your guide at the starting point at Clock Tower on Laekjartorg Square at 12 or 2 pm. If you are in a group you will need to book at info@freewalkingtour.is. The tour includes Parliament, Old Cathedral, Hallgrimskirkja Church (very tall church which can be glimpsed from many parts of the city), City Hall, National Theater, and views of the huge Harpa Concert Hall. Lolly peppered our tour with anecdotes and fact that only a local would know. I would say this short tour is a must!   

   

After the tour, be sure to walk along the sea front to visit the glass covered Harpa Concert Hall and enjoy the great views of the mountains to the North.    

   

And that was Reykjavik!

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