Friday, June 28, marked our first full day in Beijing, and we surely made the most of it! Our day began before dawn with getting into vans for our drive to the Great Wall of China. Our trip took two and a half hours to get to Simatai, a village with one of the best preserved sections of the wall. At 8am we began our trek through a light drizzle. As we climbed higher on the mountain into the low clouds the weather turned and we were hit by much more rain. One of the scariest yet most amazing memories is of us standing inside a tower to avoid the rain when thunder roared all around us for over 20 seconds! In the end, our group climbed all the way to the twelfth tower, the last one accessible on this section of the wall, and sang out The Victors from what seemed like the top of the world! Here are some of the great views from atop Chángchéng, or the Great Wall.
From the top of another hill on the wall.
Even though we were exhausted and amazed at how awesome it was to conquer the Great Wall, it was only lunchtime when we headed back to Beijing. After taking in the scenery some of the parks near the Forbidden City, we decided to cover both ends of the spectrum of Chinese history in one day by seeing the site of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The entire central plaza is still intact and open to visitors, so we were able to experience some of the magic. From the opening ceremonies at the Bird’s Nest to Michael Phelps’ records at the Water Cube, we had the chance to experience the sights that we had only watched on NBC. The whole are is larger than life, with a gigantic tower topped with the rings watching over the grounds. The first buildings we saw were the National Indoor Stadium and Water Cube, followed by the Bird’s Nest just across a large square. Unfortunately, we did not arrive in time to tour the inside of these stadiums. However, we made the most of our time by playing frisbee, dancing, and forming a human pyramid. It was a great way to end such an outstanding day in Beijing.
The tower marking the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics
Water Cube - stadium in which Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals!
Some of our group making a pyramid in front of the Bird's Nest.
Our train left at 9:40 Wednesday night to arrive in Beijing at 8 in the morning. Even though every other car we passed had beds for the passengers, ours managed to be one of two with standard seats on the whole train. Nevertheless, we had a comfortable ride, played euchre, slept, and arrived at the station before we knew it.
After dropping of our luggage at the hotel, we headed straight for Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Approaching the gates is an odd experience. Nearly everyone that goes to Beijing has a picture in front of the gigantic portrait of Chairman Mao, but you still somehow stand in awe of the figure and plain red wall on which it is mounted. From here we entered the Forbidden City. Walking from one end to the other, you enter courtyard after courtyard with large temples and other buildings forming the perimeter.
The famous portrait of Chairman Mao as you enter the Forbidden City.
A Fu Lion guards a hall in the Forbidden City.
The most interesting part to me has to be the architecture. The buildings are built using a dougong technique in which repeating brackets are placed on top of each other. This allows for the outward-protruding profile and roof that characterize many traditional Chinese temples. In addition, each building has a rank in terms of importance in the imperial system. Though most of the buildings appear relatively the same, they each have a rank as indicated by the number of animal figures on their roof. The most powerful building in ancient China is the Hall of Supreme Harmony near the center of the Forbidden City – it has twelve animals adorning its roof.
The 5 animals on this building's roof make it a moderately important structure.
Our group’s unofficial mantra has become “well you’re only in China once”. Regardless of whether this is actually true, nineteen of us decided to act accordingly and go for a weekend trip to Beijing. Our main goals for the trip were to see the Forbidden City and Great Wall- the normal tourist stops. What we ended up experiencing was far beyond whatever any of us had guessed. In just four days, we toured nearly all of the major sites, climbed the Great Wall, and enjoyed the nights in a way only possible in Beijing. The city is a beautiful mixture of ancient palaces and modern world capital. In the end, all of us had unforgettable memories of the best old and new Beijing has to offer.