Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Days in Beijing - Day Two




Gerry and I came a day earlier than most of the people in our group.  For booking our air directly with Viking River Cruises, they gave us a complimentary one-night stay at the Westin  Beijing Chaoyang Hotel.


After a fabulous complimentary buffet breakfast at the Seasonal Tastes Restaurant, we headed down to the lobby to meet some members of our group for the very first time. At Day 2, I'm still feeling dizzy walking through the hotel.  See what I mean about everything being reflected off those dark floors?  I feel like I'm sinking or something.  We will meet the rest of the travelers the following day.  The entire group, we find out later, will come from Canada, England and  across the United States.  No one knew anybody.  We boarded our comfy tour bus and greeted everyone as we headed to our seats.  It's open-seating.

This day was basically a free day to do whatever we wanted, but the cruise company gave us options to see a couple of places, complimentary, if we wanted.  We didn't fly thousands of miles to be holed up in a building.  If the tour bus wanted to take us somewhere, we were happy to go.

Our first stop this morning was the Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Beijing in the Chongwen District.  UNESCO is the acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in case you didn't know.  This was the place where emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) held the Heaven Worship Ceremony, but first . . . .   

Upon entering this beautiful complex that sits on 660 acres, we heard music and laughter, and found women performing folk dances with complete abandon.  They were totally rocking' it!  I took photos and these were the best ones.  I was snapping as I was hurrying to catch up with my group, hence the blurred photos.  I'm always lagging behind.  I get so distracted with everything going on around me.  When the tour director says it's time to move forward, I don't always hear that, and then I'm searching for familiar faces or that red Viking sign with the #9 on the back of it.  Thank goodness I'm a fast walker.

The Temple of Heaven complex is larger than the Forbidden City, but smaller than the Summer Palace.  However, the difference is the temple's grounds are surrounded by trees that have existed for centuries.  Interesting fact:  In Beijing, you will see trees with red and green tags.  Those trees with the red tags are aged 300 and above, while those with green tags are aged 100 but below 300 years.  Our tour director pointed out a group of trees opposite the dancers.  Here's a photo of one of those ancient trees.

Seriously, this place is huge - bigger than the Forbidden Palace, remember?  What's so cool about the Temple of Heaven complex is that, in all of its solemnity (except for those dancing women near the entrance where I think is the only acceptable place to celebrate life that way), the local people gather to visit, gossip, play mahjong, and other social activities that make them happy.  They gather in this place as soon as it opens in the morning.  This is their hangout where they chill.
It was a lovely walk, weaving in and out of the beautiful porticos.  The painted designs overhead were bright and exotic.  Within these porticos sat families eating breakfast, children quietly playing, and friends sharing and storytelling.
We came upon a short tunnel and within view was the ancient Temple of Heaven, the most exotic thing I've ever seen, and a sign of wondrous things to see later on.
The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongie Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden Palace.    In the 16th century, the temple was extended and renamed the Temple of Heaven.   Animal sacrifices and prayers were offered at the Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven, for good harvest.  
Gerry in front of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest

It bugs me that I can't remember the name of this temple, and can't find the answer online.  If you know the name of this temple, please share!



Awesome recycling vessels!

The Temple of Heaven is a very popular place for engaged couples to have their photos taken.  The couples were everywhere, the ladies wearing various bright colors, but mostly red (means good luck) and white (to be western-like). Some brides will wear both white and red on their wedding day. It was a beautiful day for engagement photos!






After a relaxing morning at the temples, we were taken to Kunming Lake, just minutes outside Beijing, where the Summer Palace has been since 1750, throw in a fire and reconstruction since then.  The lake is the central lake on the grounds of the Summer Palace.  Together with Longevity Hill, the lake forms the key landscape features of the Summer Palace Gardens.  Kunming Lake covers approximately three quarters of the Summer Palace grounds.  It is quite shallow, with an average depth of only 5 feet.



Nanhu Island

When visiting ancient and historical places, you'll most likely enter through an arch or portal.  They were always a part of Chinese architecture, and there was a place for everything.  This is the art of feng shui, or qi, the practice of harmonizing  using the "invisible forces" that bind the universe, earth, and humanity together.  There are many astounding features to this masterpiece Chinese landscape design including the bridges, temples, pavilions, palaces and halls.
As we entered through the portal, the lake came into view with boats of different sizes and styles. The dragon boat was my favorite, and it took us to the Summer Palace where we were awed by the beauty of it all.

Longevity Hill, where the Summer Palace stands.
Baoyun Pavilion
The Marble Boat is made of wood, to look like marble.  It is not navigable, and is used as a decoration to add to the classic style of the old Chinese gardens.
Seventeen-Arch Bridge in the distance, the largest of thirty bridges in the Summer Palace, of which the lake is part of.

Pedestrians on the Seventeen-Arch Bridge
The dragon signifies power, strength and good luck in Chinese culture.








Long Gallery is the longest corridor in classic Chinese gardens.  It links the attractions along Longevity Hill, and is used as a platform to view the lake and hills.

The Pavilion of Expanse is the largest octagonal pavilion in China.   It sits at the  east side of the Seventeen-Arch Bridge.
Dragons adorn every rooftop.




Yunhui Yuyu Archway
Our tour guide, Angie, with that familiar Viking sign.
It would take an entire day to see everything at the Summer Palace - the temples, gardens, antiques and artifacts, ancient art, furniture and so much more!  But alas, our tour guide has other plans for us.  We head back to the hotel for an early buffet dinner and some downtime.  Have I mentioned the terrible Beijing traffic?  It doesn't matter what time of the day, it is congested all the time.  Cars, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, anything on wheels and pedestrians - all converging at each intersection at the green light.  What should easily be a 15-minute ride can turn into one hour!


It was a great day, and now it's time to download my photos and then curse that I can't access gmail, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  I couldn't even open up my blog webpage to write (type). There are sixteen more days to go without gmail or social media.  It kind of stresses me out.

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