So, not only was our flight a breeze, but getting out of the Beijing airport was quick and smooth. The international terminal is brand new for the Olympics and is beautiful and modern (and air conditioned!). It makes LAX look like the Quasimodo of airports.
We collected our bags, and found the taxi line. I had printed out our hotel address and name in Chinese from the website, but our cab driver was still confused. Eventually, he pulled off on a median and decided to phone a friend. Just when I thought we may have lucked out with the worst driver in Beijing, I see a driver throw his car in reverse and back up on the freeway!!
Against the odds, we managed to make it to our hotel -- the Westin, Financial Street -- at about 6:00 a.m. Our good luck streak continued, and they were able to check us in early, so we headed up to our room to shower and have a quick nap.
The room is very comfy.
Inside the Forbidden City.
On many of the rooftops, there was a procession of sculpted animals.
Josh in a pretty doorway.
Josh and Mary walking ahead of me. I'm telling you, this place is huge. We walked all around it, and it took over three hours! It could easily take longer to see everything.
I'm in love with the lion sculptures. This is actually a lioness, according to Mary, because it has a little lion cub under its left paw.
As you can probably tell, it's pretty foggy/cloudy/smoggy today. (In fact, it started raining on our way home tonight.) Fortunately, it made for a "cooler" day (I was still dying of heat and humidity). Unfortunately, my pictures look a little gloomy.
Huge carving of dragons.
The Opera House in the Forbidden City.
More pictures of the Forbidden City. It turns out I took 188 pictures today, most at the Forbidden City. It was just so gorgeous!
Our next stop was Tiananmen Square.
Josh, me, and Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square.
After Tiananmen Square, it was time for lunch! Mary took us to one of her favorite places that is well-known for their Peking Duck!
Josh ordered a bowl of noodles . . .
And, of course, beer!
I decided on the Peking Duck.
Which was excellent!
After lunch, we headed to the Temple of Heaven, a site used by the Ming and Qing dynasties to pray and make sacrifices to the gods in the hopes of a good harvest.
The Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a huge park frequented by locals for morning tai chi or to get some fresh air in the polluted city. (As a side note, I cannot get over how green Beijing is! Not what I was expecting at all.)
The Circular Mound Altar.
Josh in front of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. A circular "echo" wall wraps around this building, and you can hear someone speaking to you on the other side of the building.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This entire thing is made of wood. Oh, and not a single nail was used. Just wood. Pretty impressive, right?
There is a long, outdoor "hallway" as Mary described it (reminded me of the frescoes in Rome) that the animal sacrifices used to be brought down before the ceremony. Now, it's a big gathering place for locals to sing, dance, and play cards and chess. When we walked in, we saw a large choir practicing while an older couple plucked out a different tune on some instruments I have never seen.
A group of men playing a game that is similar to chess.
As we were walking out, we say this gentleman. He has a bucket of water and a big brush, and he is practicing his calligraphy by writing out an ancient poem.
We also saw this guy flying a string of kites. Too bad it's such a gloomy day as this would have been a cool picture.
One of my favorite things about Beijing is how the bicyclists and cars coexist. There are a ton of bicycles, and they have their own lane of the freeway.
It's that blend of ancient and modern that makes Beijing so cool. Check this guy out -- hauling wood on his bike next to a major highway.
We did a little shopping, too, including stops at the Silk Market, the Pearl Market, and some other market with every type of gadget and electronic thingamajig you could want.
Well, this has been quite a post! I have to admit, I am pretty exhausted, so I am going to stop here. Tomorrow we are off to the Great Wall! More to follow soon . . .
(P.S. Please excuse any typos or formatting inconsistencies. Frankly, blogger is driving me crazy, and I am too tired to revise as my brain is mush.)