05. The Beijing Basics

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When in Beijing, do all of the touristy things that come to mind. That was our thought process when planning our trip and we hit as many of these spots as we could in our four days. As a result, my feet are on the verge of falling off, but nothing a foot spa can’t fix. We didn’t land until about 1 o’clock in the morning on Thursday and were instantly targets for tourist scams. As soon we walked out of the airport, a man approached us as a taxi driver asking us where we needed to go. I showed him the address information and asked how much it would be for him to take us to our AirBnB. He pulled up his phone calculator (this is a daily price communication tool, now) and punched in 250¥. I couldn’t help but laugh in his face (it just came out, I promise). As we told him no thank you and began to walk away, he graciously brought down his price to 200¥. What a gentleman. We blew him off and made our way to the waiting line for the legit taxis, where we continued to be harassed by other drivers with their dinky hoopties in the background. We finally made it to our destination (in a real taxi) for only 75¥ and celebrated ourselves for knowing better than to trust the locals looking to make a dollar off of a westerner. It’s the little things, right?

Our first major stop on the trip was Forbidden City in the center of Beijing. This walled in palace includes over 900 buildings with 1700-2000 rooms (the exact amount is still unknown). Being home to over 20 emperors between the 1400-1900’s, this place had a lot of history to offer, and we were excited to see the ancient artifacts that Wikipedia had promised us. However, we were a little disappointed with the lack of native materials remaining on and around the palace. For example, the colorful paint around the perimeter of roof overhangs are all recently done and any artifact that was said to be owned by the dynasties are so far behind roped off doors and cluttered together, you can hardly make out what each one is. All of the large doors leading to the next section of the palace had been repainted and many walls retiled. We were not even able to tell if the roof was original. These “maintenance repairs” (done every Monday) made us sad more than anything and we began to make a game out of it – New or Original. It feels like this is a game we’ll continue to play during our stay here. My favorite part of the Forbidden City was the large marble walkway paved through the center of the palace. The emperor was the only person who was allowed to walk this path during the dynasty era and you better believe we marched all over it. It felt like one of the last genuine pieces of the palace, because let’s get real, no one is going to pay to replace that $@&#.

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We decided to hire a private tour guide for the Great Wall. It’s great seeing all of these historical places in China, but they do not have as big of an impact when you’re unaware of the background story and the events that took place there. So I did a little research on Trip Advisor the week of and found a great one manned touring and driving service. He offered a wide variety of tours through China’s capital and historical landmarks. We made sure he was available for the two of us on Friday, and put our names down for a nine hour tour to the Ming Tombs and Great Wall. We met him at 7:30 AM to beat the traffic heading out of town (the traffic here is on a whole ‘nother level), but started to get a little discouraged with the way the weather was beginning to look. We picked this particular day because of forecast. However, we’re slowly starting to realize it rains almost every. freaking. day. here. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been stuck out in the city without an umbrella and had to run back to our place, arriving drenched. So, we should have known better. Our tour was meant to start at the wall in the morning, followed by the tombs. We were feeling hopeful that the weather would clear by the afternoon, so we swapped the two and got pretty lucky while being at the wall later in the day. As we were driving out to the Tombs, we were making conversation with our guide about the history behind the tombs and the wall. We asked basic questions on the duration of the construction of both landmarks, when it started, etc. His english wasn’t wonderful, so we were patient with one another as we attempted to communicate, then he tells us something that made both of us go silent. He wasn’t really a tour guide, but more of just a private driver. He said he is studying more of the history of these locations to be able to provide tours, but that isn’t exactly what he was there to do that day. He popped open his glove compartment and handed me a book. It was his touring study guide and he said we could take it with us through the Ming Tombs so we were able to read while walking through the different chambers. When we began to guide our own tour at the tombs, we were pretty confused at to why his website and Trip Advisor had lead us to believe he was going to guide us through our excursions of the day. We decided to shrug it off and make best of what we had (this cheesy tour guide play book).

We visited a part of the Great Wall called Mutianyu. It is about an hour and a half outside of the city, so it attracts less tourists than the more popular section called Badaling. This section was relatively quiet that day, which allowed us to get many undisturbed shots and take long breaks in the middle of the steps. We had the options to either hike up to the wall or take a (very sketchy looking) chair lift to the entrance. When we began discussing the idea of hiking up to it with our “guide” , he looked at us like we were crazy. He said it was at least  an hour hike up the mountain and told us there was plenty of climbing to do once we made it to the wall. Man, I am sure glad we listened to him and agreed to take the lift up. Once we made it to the wall, we walked PLENTY and climbed almost 100 flights of stairs. There was light at the end of the tunnel, though, and it didn’t require us taking the sketchy lift back down. YOU GET TO TOBOGGAN BACK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! Freaking genius.

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We decided we would hit up the Temple of Heaven as our last stop on Sunday. We had to check out by 11:00 and didn’t really have any options for where to store our bags, so we decided we would just lug them around with us. It didn’t sound too bad when I proposed the plan the night before (while devouring amazing Korean Mexican tacos). Blah. That was such a mistake for me. Sunday was probably the most humid day during our stay and when you tack on an additional 30-40 lbs. of cargo, you turn into a useless ball of mush. At least I did, anyway. I volunteered to sit with our bags while Shawn explored the temples. The park surrounding them were filled with older local men and women playing cards or entertaining the tourists with their needle work, musical instruments or their grandchild’s handheld karaoke machine while singing nursery rhymes in Mandarin (really wish we had our camera out at this point). We finished our trip by spending over an hour flagging down taxis who all refused to take us to the airport. We finally were able to convince an Uber driver to drop us off at the sketchy airport gates. Overall, the four days we spent in Beijing were enough to satisfy us and everything we wanted to explore. We can’t wait to share more about our adventure with you, soon.

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