Travel: Down the Great Wall and Beyond (Part I)

If you've read my About or my latest blog, you know my major and you know where I was born. For my major, my university requires that you either study abroad for a semester or do a travel seminar for graduation. I was a transfer student so by the time I got around to figuring out everything and settling down in Boston, it already didn't make sense for me to go abroad and retake all of my prerequisite classes. So my option that I had was a travel seminar, which involves just a little over a week in a different country -- mixing in business as well as some touring. Originally, I wanted to go to Italy, not just because I have never been to Europe, but also because the timing was right (I didn't want to go abroad during Spring Break.) But the dates got switched and the China trip got switched to the end of the semester. I won't lie, I was dreading this trip a little bit (18 hours travel?! UGH!)... until I actually got there. First stop: Beijing.

 

The Great Wall

We weren't required to all travel together so the first day was just waiting for everyone to get there. So the second day, we were up bright and early and on our way to The Great Wall of China. I am deadly afraid of heights so when I was told that we'd be taking a lift up to where we needed to be and that we'd be tobogganing down... I guess you could say I was a little less than excited. The trek up was difficult -- if you're ever planning to climb it, make sure you have shoes with traction! Some parts of it are stairs (that aren't the same height or width) and some parts are just smooth inclines and declines. Can you imagine the people that used to man The Great Wall during wars?! Yikes! 

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If you ever visit China, and have the time to visit The Great Wall, you definitely should! The views from the higher points are absolutely breathtaking -- there's nothing else like it. And I mean, where else can you say you tobogganed down one of the wonders of the world? Despite my fear of heights, I made it down safely and successfully! Hooray! 

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Tian An Men Square and The Forbidden City

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Tian An Men Square has quite a history behind it, but that doesn't take away from the fact that if you're in Beijing, you should probably visit it. To get to The Forbidden City, we went through Tian An Men Square.

But first, Tian An Men Square. We were told by our tour guide that no matter what time of year it is, what the weather is like, what day of the week, it's always filled with people. But it's not just tourists from other countries -- it's also Chinese people from other cities and other regions. I don't like discussing politics, but it was interesting for me to see that Chairman Mao is seen as almost a "bad" person in Western societies, in China, he's still considered a hero and people continue to respect him as such. The picture that you see hanging is swapped out during different seasons and Chairman Mao always looks young and lively in all of them.  

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Through the gates of Tian An Men Square and onto The Forbidden City! So if you don't know, The Forbidden City was the imperial palace from the Ming dynasty through the Qing dynasty. This meant that for 500 plus years, this was the home for the Emperor as well as the hot spot for anything political or ceremonial for the Chinese government. Fun fact: A Starbucks had opened in The Forbidden City in 2000, but after much controversy, it ended up closing in 2007.

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Pictured above is the Hall of Preserved Harmony and the largest stone sculpture inside The Forbidden City. The carving weighs about 250 tons, is 16.57 meters long, 3.07 meters wide, and 1.7 meters thick. It's carved out of marble and there are nine dragons total, and lotus flowers along the edges. 

It's almost crazy to think that the only people that were allowed in within these walls were royalty or high ranking officials. And now, us commoners are able to walk around and take pictures of the banquet halls, the steps that we would have never been allowed on and walk on the same ground that past emperors, of what was once one of the most powerful empires in the world, walked on. 

 

Other Random Blurbs

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I'll have to admit, I didn't take many pictures in The Olympic Village, nor did I have too much interest in this visit. But in retrospect, how many people get to visit any of the Olympic Villages?

The Bird's Nest was actually a really cool architectural design, as well as the Water Cube. The National Aquatics Center (or more lovingly called the Water Cube) is now open to the public and will also have a water theme park inside. It wasn't open when we visited, but the theme park looked like it had a giant water slide! Too bad I can't swim!

The drink shown here is called the Beijing Mule. The cool thing about it isn't just the silver cup, but also the fact that the bar that serves it is the highest bar in Beijing. It's located on the 80th floor of the China World Trade Center. The atmosphere (yes, that's also the name of the bar) is fantastic but is definitely a more Westernized feeling bar. The view of Beijing at night from 80 stories up is definitely something to be experienced though! We didn't go out too much while we were in Beijing -- I think just due to the proximity of where we were staying in relation to everything else.

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The architecture in China is absolutely amazing -- wait until you see my next post about Shanghai! The design and intricacy is definitely rivaling anything we can see in New York or Tokyo. It's 44 stories tall and was designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren. Our tour guide told us that when this building was being constructed and when the architectural plans were produced, many of the insurance companies did not want to insure this building -- I mean who would though?!

And of course, what would a travel post be without some food? We had our welcome dinner at Da Zhai Men -- they don't have a website as far as I can find, but if anyone wants to know the address, I'd be more than happy to find out :) I'm surprised I didn't gain an extreme amount of weight while I was in China -- the food was delicious! Everywhere we went, whether it was food from a fancy restaurant, food from a local restaurant or just some snacks we picked up along the way. Warning to those that are picky eaters though: You better open up your mind (and stomach) to try some new things while you're in China!

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That's it for Part One, but Part Deux will be coming soon with more shenanigans in Shanghai. Stay tuned... If you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, Twitter and Email :) 

TravelRisa Xutravel