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.


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.


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.

Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

By Paul S Bryers, June 2016

I have been coming to Coll for family summer vacations, on and off, for over 55 years. Coll – 12 x 3 miles and pop. 200 – is located 3 hours sail from Oban on Cal Mac’s Clansman. There are flights from Glasgow and Oban, but I recommend the sail. Typically, you will need to spend the night in Oban as the Clansman leaves early morning. There are plenty of great B&Bs in Oban (I recommend the Corriemar House on the Esplanade). It is more difficult to find good places for dinner, but the Ee-Usk on the North Pier is excellent.

The sail to Coll is beautiful, with views to the Morvern and Ardnamurchan Peninsulas and the Isle of Mull. As you approach Coll watch for the Islands of Rhum, Eigg, Muck and Canna to the North. If you are lucky, you might get to see the Isle of Skye in the distance.

Coll is the best place I know for total relaxation. If you need to be with people, don’t come.

As the Clansman pulls into the pier at Arinagour, the Island’s vilage, you get a sense of the rest of the island i.e., lots of machar with a few houses here and there.

You can stay at the Coll Hotel (simple rooms, great little bar and restaurant), in the village bunkhouse or in self-catering cottages scattered across the island. There is also a walled campground.

Eateries are limited to the Coll Hotel and The Last Port of Coll – both good, with local seafood (and wifi). Food stores are The Coll Stores and a small shop attached to The Last Port of Coll. My advice is to bring most your own food (and wine) if you are going to be self-catering.

You can walk everywhere (if you like 5-10 mile walks), but it’s best to have a car. You might be able to get someone to drive you around, but I wouldn’t bet on it – you cannot rent a car on the island. The island is pretty flat, so biking is an option. Take your own bike or hire from Fiona Kennedy at the Post Office.

There are excellent walks and beaches along the West facing coast of the island, especially at the West End (e.g. Crossapol, Caolis and Feall Bays) where there is a RSPB Reserve (think Corncrake and Lapwing). The East End sports two very beautiful beaches – Sorisdale (famous for Bill Travis in Ring Of Bright Water) and North End Beach. Between the two Ends are plenty of other beaches (e.g., Hogh Bay). Vitually all have golden or white sands and turquoise blue waters. However, if you want to swim, a wet suit is preferable (OK, essential if you are over 10 years of age).

Kayaks are available for rent in the village, and you might be able to get a local to take you out on a boat trip. Seals are plentiful on the rocks off of many beaches, and are very inquisitive so come fairly close.  Finally, there are a wide variety of seabirds, including the very noisy oyster catcher.

Weather – This is Scotland, so it can be wet for a few days in a row. However, over the last 10 years I have found the weather to be consistently good late May and June.

Short Two Night Castle Experience in and around East Coast and Royal Deeside, Scotland

Having always travelled to the West Coast of Scotland while on vacation, it was time to investigate east of Inverness to see some famous castles. First stop, under 2 hours from Inverness, is Fyvie Castle. This National Trust property has terrific gardens (free of charge) and has a long history, reflected in the architecture. The original castle can still be seen in the two towers that rise above the exquiIte gardens. It is well worth doing a tour of the the castle itself – (£12.50 per adult: weekdays guided and weekends self-guided). Look out for the music room with the splendid tapestries – very good place for a classy wedding.  

Next up was Dunnottar Castle. En route, have lunch at the Ythank Hotel, Methlick – great traditional pub food with friendly locals. You can stay in Stonehaven for the night, it is just a short coastal walk to the castle – The Ship Inn is a good option for B&B and dinner with a great view of the harbor. 

And now for the big hurrah – Balmoral Castle, private summer residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This is a wonderful experience – just £11.50 per adult. Exquisite gardens – floral and vegetable. As for the Castle itself, you only get to see inside the Ballroom, but even from that you get a feel for the small scale, private splendor that makes this the annual retreat for QE2 and her family. And yes, there is a corgi trail for the kids to follow. After Balmoral, a trip to Braemar Castle is in order, and a walk along the Queen’s Drive with a follow up walk to Lion’s Head is very rewarding

And finally, stay the 2nd night in Ballater, a Royal Deeside town – in fact, The Royal Deeside town. You must stay at The Auld Kirk (try for Room 4) where you sign in at The Pulpit and enjoy your breakfast under the stained glass windows. Then enjoy dinner at The Lochnagar Indian Restaurant – great ambience. 

Rise early and do an easy 3 hour walk around Loch Muick – wear a deer stalker and plus fours as it is still on QE2’s Balmoral Estate. And finally, finally, a wonderful drive through Cairngorm National Park back to Inverness.

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.