Last Thursday night Matt & I boarded a high-speed overnight train to Beijing. We had "hard sleeper" tickets - which basically means a not very soft bed. We were the two bottom bunks in a room with six beds (stacked three high). It was actually fairly cozy and I slept almost the entire way there, lulled into sleep by the rocking train. Nine and a half hours later, at 7am, we stepped out into the freezing Beijing air to find our tour guide.
There's so much I could say about this trip, but a picture is worth a thousand words (or so they say), so I'll keep my writing short and post pictures to facebook after I've returned to the states.
Day 1 we visited:
*Starbucks!: The Forbidden City didn't open until 8:30, so we headed over to a Starbucks so we could use a non-moving bathroom that boasted Western toilets (but no toilet paper:( ) and sinks for brushing teeth and, of course, get coffee and pastries. Yum!
* Tiananmen Square: So vast! The square is enormous - because of this, the wind dominates and, let me just tell you, BRRRR!!!!! My toes and fingers, though bundled, were turned to ice moments after exiting our warm car.
* The Forbidden City: So elaborate and huge! There are 9,999.5 rooms in this city. We were frozen to the bone, and I looked like a baboushka with my scarf wrapped intricately around my head and over my nose and mouth, but it was very intriguing.
*Hutong district (with the Drum & Bell Towers): I LOVED this area!! So quaint and cozy (if it wasn't so ^*@$!#% cold). We rode in a rickshaw and then wandering the streets and popped into a few shops to look and buy chocolate (yum).
*Silk factory: Okay, so we went to two of these. It was definitely more interesting the first time.
Day 2 we visited:
*The Great Wall: Ugh!! Ridiculous. I don't know how to describe what it's like to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which is also the only remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. None of my pictures capture the scope sufficiently. It also boasted the most ridiculously lengthed alpine slide ever.
*Jade factory: Apparently the Chinese tradition was for a man to give his bride a jade bracelet for a wedding present (she gave him a necklace with jade on it). These are your typical looking thick round bangles (bracelets) that little girls wear in America. When the salesman doing the demonstration wanted to put one on my wrist, I laughed at him and said "You'll need a much bigger bracelet - pull out the biggest one right now - I have big hands, even for an American woman." He didn't believe me and tried the biggest one in his case and then looked at me with incredulous eyes and frantically called his assistant to search for the biggest bangle in the room. They did find one that fit, which I didn't buy due to it's 2,000 dollar (yes, in U.S.) price.
*Ming Tomb: So fun. Sunday & Friday Matt & I had a private tour with a lovely young Chinese woman named Lucy, but today (Saturday) we were on a group tour. There were only six of us in the tour: Matt & I (Americans), George & Charles (recent high school graduates from South Africa - Charles is Chinese, but has grown up in South Africa) and another couple, Paulric (Irish, teaches English in Korea) and Morgy (his Mongolian girlfriend). By the time we got to the tomb, we were all in a great mood from the fantastic all-you-can-eat meal we had at the Jade factory (and eat-all-we-could we did!). We laughed almost the entire time at the tomb. Our lovely tour guide, Erin, kept telling jokes in a very dry tone and before we had time to realize she was joking, she would say, "I'm just kidding." Man, humor really is all about the timing. :)
*Silk factory #2: Luckily they had a coffee shop here, so Matt and I enjoyed espresso.
*Kung Fu show: Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I got so many ideas for the next play I do - especially if it's a musical. They used fabric and lighting and fog machines and bubble machines like I've never seen before. Very tasteful, but fittingly extravagant. The acrobatics and kung fu in this play were simply out of this world. Matt & I were both utterly awed.
Day 3 we visited:
*The Temple of Heaven: I absolutely fell in love with this place. It was gorgeous and very peaceful and simply packed with Chinese people spending their Sunday morning playing cards and dancing and hackey-sacking and singing into microphones and playing accordions and practicing calligraphy with water on the cold stone pathways, etc. I wanted to join in all of the festivities.
*Summer Palace: It's had to say if I loved this more or the same as the Temple of Heaven. It was breath-taking. The Palace sits right by a lake, which is currently frozen, so there were people walking across it (of course we went out on the water and took pictures). There were also many wintery Willow trees (my favorite tree) and this long winding path with trees that follows the edge of the lake. So picturesque.
*Dr. Tea (a tea house): Such fun. We had a demonstration where we tried four different teas and then actually purchased some of their tea (it was so good! and I'm normally not a tea drinker).
*Pearl Market: for shopping galore, barter-style! We were very grateful for Lucy here because she didn't let anyone rip us off, I'm positive we got much better deals than we would have without her.
Then we headed to the train station, had McDonalds and got on our train back "home" to Xiaogan.
Stayed tuned for stories about fancy-pants dinners and karaoke in Xiaogan...