We traveled to China in the spring of 2007. It was an especially great time to visit Beijing. Everything was being spiffed up in preparation for hosting the Olympics the next summer. So, in honor of this summer’s Olympics, I bring you our trip to China.
We began in Beijing.
From our hotel we had a great view of the modern city and an old hutong neighborhood. Beijing is known for its smog but we saw blue skies for the first few days!
We explored several areas of the city before our Elderhostel tour began. (Elderhostel is now called Road Scholar) We usually do our own thing when we travel but for China we felt a tour was the best way to see as much as we could in a limited amount of time and have guides to teach us about what we were seeing.
The best way to get to know a city is to walk it so we did.
The Liulichang is a traditional shopping district of Beijing.
Here are a few shots taken in the hutong neighborhood near our hotel. We’ll visit another one later.
The Front Gate, Zhengyangmen, was built in 1439 to guard the entry into the imperial city. Nearby is the massive Arrow Tower with its rows of many windows for shooting arrows at intruders.
We happened onto this lovely small park, hidden just off a busy street.
Years ago bicycles ruled the roads. Now the traffic is mostly cars. Many people can’t afford cars and still ride bikes. We were told that sometimes the traffic is so bad a bike will get you where you’re going much faster.
Pedestrians take their life in their hands in Beijing. Drivers have the right of way. We found it was safest to cross streets with a crowd. (Imagine you are a zebra; the lion can’t pick you out if you stay with the herd!)
Beijing, like other capital cities, has wide boulevards and big public spaces. Tiananmen Square is one of the largest squares in the world. Pictures do not do it justice. It is HUGE! 109 acres! At one end of the square is the Gate of Heavenly Peace, entrance to the Forbidden City. At the other end is the Mao Zedong Mausoleum.
It was amazing to stand in this space, Beijing’s living room, and remember the pictures we saw in the news of tanks and protesters 20 years earlier. Our young guide knew of this event but it was not part of the history taught in school. She was reluctant to talk about it. It is a defining moment outside of China more than inside.
With the Gate of Heavenly Peace in the background, Will shows off a souvenir – a Beijing Olympics’ cap. This picture was taken on our first day when the skies were blue!
We were surprised at how much English is spoken. All school children study English beginning in 3rd grade. Many people under 30 speak a little English, especially anyone in the tourist industry and anyone trying to sell us something. The people were anxious to practice their English with us. If we paused with a map in hand someone would soon approach and offer help.
I hope you enjoyed this first view of Beijing.