Ni Hao! (Nee how) from Beijing! We started our first day of touring Beijing at 9am, after having breakfast in the 17th floor Concierge Lounge (Grand Club) at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. We are staying on the 18th (top) floor, and there is a circular staircase leading directly down to the Concierge Lounge area, which we went to for both breakfast and evening hor d’ourves before going to dinner. Here are a couple pics of the “Grand Club” breakfast/lounge area with it’s self-serve buffet area. You could additional order items such as sausage, bacon, eggs, pancakes etc on the menu, which was brought to your table, made to order.
We met our private tour guide ‘Jessie’ at 9am in the lobby of the hotel, and instantly knew we were in for a fun few days of touring. Prior to leaving the US, Steve (DOS) had booked us for three consecutive days of touring via Tours by Jessie. Fortunately after arriving in Beijing, DOS had the foresight to switch our first day tour (Monday), with Wednesday’s tour due to the inclement weather; i.e. major rain was forecast for all day. Monday and Tuesday were indeed rainy, while Wednesday, when we visited The Great Wall of China, the weather would be sunny.
Gathered with our umbrellas, jackets, hand sanitizer and waters, we were picked up out front by our driver ‘Jack’ and ventured out for our full day tour. Although it was rainy and cool the entire day, we didn’t let that dampen our spirits, and had a fun day, as you can see from some of the photos below on this post. (I put ‘Jessie’ and ‘Jack’s’ name in quotes as that is their ‘Americanized name, making it easier for us to pronounce.)
Our first stop was EPCOT, and the Temple of Heaven. Just kidding, but barely, the Temple of Heaven was magnificently recreated at the China pavilion in Walt Disney World’s EPCOT, and now we were actually seeing the real thing here in China.
Here is a link from Wikipedia about the Temple of Heaven. It was originally built in 1420, and was rebuilt in 1750 (due to a fire on the original structure). This beautifuly multi-colored building was built without any nails, and is supported by 28 pylons. Symbolism is very important in Chinese culture and building design, and the pylon count consisted of 4 pylons (representing the four seasons), 12 pylons (representing the 12 months) and 12 outer pylons (represent the 12 hours of the clock). The symmetry, coloring, and grandeur of this (and all Temples, Palaces etc we saw), not to mention the age and construction of the buildings was surreal; yes were actually in the real China; not a Disney re-creation of it!
We walked around the Temple and extensive surrounding park grounds (over 600 acres in size) for a couple hours, and climbed the stairs to the top of the Temple. It was raining most of the day, so most of our photos are decorated with umbrellas, with the exception of a short time we put them down for a photo.
Our guide Jessie was absolutely incredible, and her knowledge of history and attention to detail was amazing and natural; as in every day conversation. And as a bonus, she showed us how to take panoramic photos with our iPhones! I had tried taking panoramic photos before, but never seemed to do it properly. Here is a photo Jessie took for us with my camera, showing the panoramic mode of three temple buildings in wide-screen (panoramic) mode. It looks almost identical to the photo on Wikipedia, but this was taken with my iPhone!
Towards the end of our tour at the Temple of Heaven, we walked thru the exhibit area building. The exhibit area was a museum of Chinese history, where various models of the Temples over the year were on display, including a light up display of the large and latest Temple of Heaven.
On the way out, me made a ceremonial stop by touching the Heaven’s Gate door knobs, thought to bring good luck to tall that touch it.
After leaving the Temple of Heaven, we drove to The Summer Palace, which is well documented here in this Wikepdia article.
A more concise (i.e. Reader’s Digest-type tourist highlights version) is here from China Highlights. Here near the entrance, Jessie is pointing out some of the major buildings we would see or pass-by on our rainy day walk thru the grounds of The Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace was the summer retreat for the Emperors, built around the 1750’s and lasted over several dynasties. This UNESCO designated site is a nice and relaxing change of pace from busy Beijing, and was opened to the public in 1914 after the end of the last Emperor. While architecturally quite different, it reminded me of the grandeur, gardens and elegance of the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia we had visited several years ago. They both are remote from the city, and have massive and well-manicured grounds with countless ornate buildings. The China Summer Palace buildings are spread out of 400 acres, and like the Russian counterparts, seemed quite over-the-top for the aristocracy of the times, compared to the common folk who would never see them in their day. It was quite a relaxing place to visit, and as it was so spread out, didn’t feel very crowded when we were there.
After walking around in the rain quite a bit, (makes it hard to take photos when you’re also holding an umbrella!) we stopped for a refreshment break at one of the many concession areas thru the park-like grounds. I saw a visitor drinking coffee, and that sounded like a nice way to warm up, on this rainy and slightly chilly day. Paired with Pringles-like chips – it was a perfect snack!
We then continued on along the Long Corridor, (as in VERY long), which is actually the longest continuous series of paintings in the world. This outdoor, open air corridor is covered, and extends for 1/2 a kilometer in length, with continuous paintings and artwork adorning the ceilings, partial walls, and columns. While there was obviously so much to take in, I did take a few photos along the way.
The grounds of the Palace were so beautifully landscaped, and a large man-made lake had boats you could rent by the hour for leisurely sailing. The Lotus plants were out of bloom, but still had their huge greet leaves visible floating along the surface of the water. I told DOS I would love to see the Palace in the Spring-time when the Lotus and other flowers were all in bloom.
It was almost 2pm by then, and at my suggestion and the interest of time,we had a quick bite to eat at a local McDonald’s before continuing on; surprisingly DOS and Jessie agreed. It was actually a series of fast-food establishments; like a food court, but with individual buildings.
Our last stop of the day was as the Olympic Park, site of the Beijing Olympics of 2008. By the time we got to the park, it was not only rainy, but freezing outside, even with my sweatshirt and raincoat on. It was a bit of a drive in the rain, and Jessie pointed out the famous “Dragon shaped” building, which belongs to IBM. Here’s to you my retired IBM friend Tom, back home.
We walked what seemed like a mile from the main parking area towards the huge stadium for a few quick photos, before deciding it was time to head back to the van.
Once back at the hotel it felt so good to change out of our wet clothes and shower! We had done so much walking and climbing steps today as well, so a nap was in order. That’s one thing about travel (Steve’s Travel Tips) that I can’t stress enough: If there is a place you’d like to visit, do it now while you still have your health and ability to get around. Many of the exotic places we have visited require extensive walking on uneven surfaces and lots of stairs. Do not wait until you retire thinking you will have the money and time to do an exotic trip. While you may have both time and money then, if you don’t have your health it’s not going to be an enjoyable trip, as seen by the vast distance to the parking lot at the Olympic stadium. It that was flat and covered pavement!
Around 6:30pm we went back down to the Concierge Lounge for the evening hor d’ourves and drinks, followed by dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant. DOS and I were both a bit tired out from the day, but we managed to share a charcuterie platter, and an entree each; steak for me and lamb chops for DOS.
After dinner, I went to the Japanese pub and had a brewski nightcap, while DOS went to bed. While sipping my local beer, I looked thru the photos of the day on my iPhone. It was a long day of touring, but we had a wonderful day in Beijing!