We are surprised at how modern the city is as we drive in from the airport. There are lots of skyscrapers with brilliantly lit lights. In the morning the smog is heavy and everything looked gray.
As we drove through the congested streets of Beijing during the morning rush, I couldn't help but notice the locals , of all ages out taking their morning exercise. Every little available space it seemed would be used for Thai Chi or other types of activity!!
This city of 16 million has been working hard to get ready for the 2008 Olympics and when we visited there are countdown clocks all over the city. There is construction going on everywhere and we are told heavy industry has been relocated to help clean the air. They still have a lot of room for improvement
Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan) -
The park is massive , with 716 acres and has a beautiful lake known as Kumming Lake located on the South side. We took a boat ride across the lake .It gives a good vantage point to see the willow draped banks and the amazing opulent palaces on the hill tops. Located in the lake at the Summer Palace is a strange boat is made of marble and not surprising it can't float . Simply put ,it represented power.
We were told the story by our guide about the lady for whom the garden was built . She was the stepmother of the Emperor ,was strong willed and known to many as the Dragon lady. This garden was rebuilt for her around 1860.
Its truly lovely with many ancient trees lining passageways and wonderful gardens.
One of the most beautiful sights at the Summer Palace is the Long Corridor. The half mile long corridor is painted with different scenes taken from Chinese history and culture. Originally it was painted especially for the Empress when she had grown to old to travel to other parts of China. The thinking was China would be brought to her through this art. We were told there are 10,000 images in all. I was somewhat skeptical about the statistics that came our by various guides...but none of the less it was an amazing sight!
And of course there are beautiful gardens. For me its always about the gardens. Next to traveling, gardening is my passion. I loved the ancient gardens at the famous Summer Palace and I especially loved the masses of lotus floating in the lakes. This was an incredibly rare sight for me to see.
This is a preserved area of the city where people live just as they have for hundreds of year . The low rows of houses line narrow passageways.
Today in fact there are not many of these areas remaining as the way is cleared to make room for huge skyscrapers.
Our group was invited into the home of Mrs Wong who lived in the Hutong area of Beijing.She had a historic house with many little rooms and a courtyard with many birds in cages . We were surprised to here that no one in the Hutong has a toilet. They use a public toilet in the neighborhood. Even more surprising is the fact that the house we visited was worth several million dollars . I guess it comes down to location !
We felt like we were in the amazing race when we rounded the corner and all these uniformed bike drivers were there waiting to take us through the village. It felt a little silly but it was fun and relaxing being driven around through the narrow streets.