Monthly Archives: August 2013

(Climbing to) the Great Wall


I was having two main targets in my trip to China. The first was to see the Terracotta Army, which I talked about in my previous post. The other was to see the Great Wall.

In fact, I think and I believe that the Great Wall should be on the top list of traveller and if I try to become a “true” traveller, I must see it. I did some researches before my trip and I discovered that there are several starting points to see the Wall from Beijing. Badaling part is the easiest and most touristic part. I heard that this part of the Wall was renovated in the 50s and may not be the original Wall. In addition to that, there are also many tourists in Badaling and if you read the comments in TripAdvisor, people are saying that they felt in Badaling like in a Disney world. Hence this option was eliminated at first.

Then I did a detailed search on the internet and I found a club called Beijinghikers. This seemed to me a professional tour which bring people to the “untouched” part of the Wall hence I registered myself to this organization.

There are of course many tours to the Wall, depending on your physical condition and time limitations. I must confess that I was expecting “not easy” but “manageable” hiking to the Wall with this tour. I was mistaken! But my experience of climbing to the Wall with them had been a “true story” for me which I will tell to everybody until the end of my life. The “simple” hiking which I assumed turned out to be unforgettable moments of my life.

The tour was targeting to hike to the Nine-Eyes Tower of the Great Wall, which is on the west side of Jiankou. After 2 hours of travel on a air conditioned bus, we arrived at the end of a road (900 metres above the sea) which immersed to the wild nature afterwards. The route which we supposed to do was 8 km. but our guides told us that we will feel as if it’s 20 km. Packed with lots of waters, we started to climb in a bushy area. That day it was one of the hottest days, but we were in the open air and within the nature. After having climbed almost half an hour, I felt that I was exhausted. I am not a very sportive person, and it was my first hiking experience! But with help of our guides I managed to climb to the top of the mountains, at the 1200 metres of altitude, we came to the Nine-Eyes Tower. At that moment, the whole chain of mountains decorated with the Great Walls and its towers were lying in front of us, a bundle of  feelings of solitude, peacefulness and history were accompanying us. No more words to say. Maybe some pictures will help you understand the beauty of what I’d seen and felt there!

Here are the pictures from the Wall to where we climbed!

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PS: thousands of thanks to the Beijinghikers group, especially to the team members, Jun, Tina and other staff who succeeded to bring me to the top of the mountains to live this fantastic world!

Parks of Beijing – Beihai Park (part 3)


When I asked some recommendations about Beijing from a friend who had lived there, she recommended me to go to the parks. Beijing has become a megacity with its newly built highways, plenty of luxury cars and lots if big malls and skyscrapers. It has become a vibrant city like Hong Kong. But its parks still represent the old tradition of Chinese culture and these are real oasis in the middle of a ultramodern city.

During my stay in Beijing I could see two of them. The first one is the Behai Park www.beihaipark.com.cn. (see my next post for the second one!) Behai Park is considered as the Imperial garden. The park is situated within a sort walk distance from the northeast of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) The most impressive part of the park is the Jade Island. When you enter to the park from the south gate, you will see a stone bridge of more than 600 years old. Through this bridge you arrive to the island where the Temple of Eternal Peace will welcome you. Then you pass the Hall of Wheel of Law (I really like the meaning of these names!). From there you will climb the twisting path and then the steps to reach White Dagoba. This onion shaped white colour temple was built to honour the visit of the 5th Dalai Lama in 1651 and was destroyed by earthquakes in the following centuries and thus was rebuilt. At the top of that pagoda, you can admire the Imperial Palace, the hutongs, and other central parts of Beijing if the air quality allows you. After the visit of the Jade Island, you can continue your tour with other parts of the park. Some guidebooks recommend the famous Fangshan Restaurant within this park which still cooks the imperial palace plates. The park has lots of pavilions or quiet corners or small gardens (like park within the park). During my short trip in this park, my favorite place was the Place of the Quiet Heart where you can immerse yourself in a tranquil and silent environment. That day I was lucky because a sweet summer rain brought some freshness to my heart while I was relaxing in this park.

Famous stone bridge at the south entrance of the park

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Red wishes at the entrance of the pagoda in the park:

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White Dagoba

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View of the lake from the hill

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Fine decoration

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Place of the Quiet Heart

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I recommend this park to everybody wishing to visit Beijing. it may take one full day to see the whole park.

When I exit from the northern gate of the park, I found myself being list in traditional hutongs with plenty of traditional shops. The tourist information office at the exit of the park will provide you very useful info about the district and some maps.

Fromthe narrow hutong:

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I like the chinese traffic signs!

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Xi’an – Terracotta Warriors


Xi’an is a beautiful city, to the west of Beijing. There are regular night trains from Beijing to Xi’an but if you have limited time, you can take a two-hour flight from Beijing to get there. Air China has lots of daily flights and the price is around 450 US$ round trip.

When I arrived to Xi’an I didn’t have any idea of how getting to Terracotta Army site which is situated in the north east part of the city. Apparently Xi’an municipality has a working network of tour guides. Just at the exit gate of the airport, a licensed tour company helps travellers like me. After ten minutes, I was on the way to Terracotta Army, within a luxury and aircon’d car, with an English speaking driver.

Almost after two hours we arrived to the site. The driver organized quickly a good English speaking guide for me and we started our tours which lasted almost 2 hours.

The site is composed of 3 pits and with some other buildings which are used as museum and galleries. Qin Shihuang is the emperor who created this tomb complex. He was alive when the construction of this tomb complex had been started. It took almost 36 years to complete the site. The tomb of theemperor , who was the first emperor who united warriors states in China, was found 1.5 km. away from the Terracotta Army. In ancient times, in China and in many eastern civilization it was a custom to be buried with valuable objects, even with the servants. The army was done maybe for that. In all 3 pits, there were 8.000 pieces of soldiers, archers, cavalerymen and chariots. Each soldier is 1.8 meters tall, and each has a different face. Each piece shows a high level of artistry with different faces, hairstyles and costumes of the soldiers. The Pit 2 contains mostly some excavations work, the Pit 3 contains high ranked officials around a chariot. The Pit 1 is the largest one when you can admire the lines of the army. According to my guide, all the corpses were found without heads, and the archeologists try to resemble a soldier pieces by pieces, which take almost 6 months to finish a piece. During the excavations, the archeologists found an undamaged soldier statute, and he’s called lucky warrior. I also saw the small well which a peasant tried to open in 1974 and from where the whole site was discovered. (The peasant became famous afterwords, and he even signs his photo at the exit of the pits)

The famous charriot….

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The Lucky Warrior…

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The Commander with Big Belly…

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… and the Terracotta Army!

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Xi’an was the capital of ancient China for a long time and this the city where the famous Silk Road starts. The city is very well organized and the center is surrounded with ancient walls dating from 14th century. On our road to the city center, we stopped at the Big Wild Goose Pagado, a Buddhist temple constructed in the 7th century by Tang emperor Gaozong to honor his mother. The scripts of Xuan Zang, who was the first Chinese Buddhist, are preserved in this pagoda. The scripts are the famous  work of art of Xuan Zang, entitled Journey to the West.

Big Pagoda in Xi’an

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Once entered through the ancient city walls, we stopped at the Muslim district which is called Huajue Lane. The city has a considerable of Muslim population and the Great Mosque situated in this district is the oldest mosque in China. Its architecture is very different than other mosques: it’s rather like a Chinese temple and the courtyards and alleys are very pleasant. One interesting thing: the prayer hall is located in the west unlike many mosques in the world which prayer halls are situated in the south / south east.

One of the courtyards of the Great Mosque in Xi’an

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In order to go to the great Mosque you have walk on a pedestrian street with plenty of Muslim restaurants and snack shops. At the end of the street you’ll find Drum tower and Bell Tower of the city but before seeing them, try some of the delicious dumplings or noodles or sweeties in one of the restaurants. The narrow street down from the mosque is plenty of souvenir or antiques shops.

Bell Tower

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Traditional Breads

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Famous wallnuts of Xi’an

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Delicious!

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Xi’an is a beautiful city and is really worth to spend a few days there to feel the history.

Beijing – (part 2)


A Chinese proverb says:   “Seeing is worth a thousand words”. Before coming to China, I must admit it, my opinions about China and Chinese people were neutral and my knowledge regarding chinese culture was limited with China Towns in the big cities and Chinese taxi drivers and cheap Chinese meals in the western world. Eventhough it was a short trip, it helped me a lot to understand how biased I was about this culture. Anybody who thinks that China is equal to cheap goods should spend a few days in one of the Chinese cities and I’m pretty sure that his /her ideas will be totally different from what they were used to be.

The first day when I arrived to Beijing, I felt as if I came to visit a civilization without writing, because a few places have descriptions or translations in English or in Latin characters. This is somethşng as if you are trying to solve a puzzle to understand the meaning of street or stores names. At the end of the day, I understood that the best way of communication was with help of signs.  And like anywhere in the world, you don’t have to know any language when you want to communicate with children, a smile is enough to take their pictures. In Beijing, even most of the tourists are from Chinese, therefore, a person from the west can attract the attention of Chinese and most of the Chinese children are interested to take my pictures while I was trying to take theirs!

Little Chinese Girl!

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The first day, I discovered Tiananmen Square. I think that this is one of the largest suares in the world. Tiananmen, in other words, the Gate of Heavenly Peace was not so peaceful with the invasion of tourists and suffocting heat; however we went there to take pictures under the poster of Mao. This is the place where you have to be if you want to visit the famous Forbidden City. In fact, the Imperial Palace, built at the beginning of 15th c., was where the emperors lived while people had lived in the surrounding outer quarter of the palace, which are called today “hutongs”.

When you visit the Tiananmen together with the Imperial Palace, you discover the feeling of harmony; in fact, and what I understood, basically, this is one of the 4 elements of Confucius, the others being, “peace”, “rest” and “quiet”.

Because there’s a great interest especially to the Imperial Palace, it’s worth to go there in the early morning or in the afternoon, before  closing hours to avoid the crowds.

Gate of Heavenly Peace, North of Tiananmen, way to the Imperial Palace

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Mao and his guards

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At noon, the heat became unbearable and we decided to go to the Beijing Zoo. It’s really very easy and comfortable to go there by taking the chilly metro!

In the zoo, our aim was of course to see the giant pandas, but I also recommend that you see other sections. The zoo is on a vast area, and it was pleasant to spend a few hours there under the shadow of the alleys.

Isn’t she cute?

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Look at my long and beautiful queue!

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We finished the day in the new commercial complex called Sun Litun. This is the trendiest part of the city in those days. There are good places to eat, for those if you wish to eat other than Chinese food. We tried “La Pizza” restaurant and the pizza was really as good as in Rome!

North Sun Li Tun and new trendy place of Beijing

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Sun Li Tun and Beijing by night!

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Beijing – Introduction (part 1)


It’s extremely hot in Beijing. This was my first impression when I queued in the long awaiting visa hall. And the airport is crowded as well. It took almost two hours that we finish everything with the visa employee.

Then I headed towards the official taxis waiting at the exit of the airport. I showed the name and the address to the boy who tries to organize the taxi queue. He said something in Chinese to our taxi driver. Then on the way to the city center we found ourselves with the worst traffic jam in the world which I’d ever seen. The taxi driver stopped the car and asked me something in Chinese. He didn’t understand the place of our hotel. I showed him our address paper. He doesn’t understand one word in English! Thanks God, I have the phone number of the hotel which I pointed to him. He called the hotel to get the right directions. My second experience: few Chinese people do understand English. And the third experience: few of them knows Beijing, and that’s true for the taxi drivers. The conclusion: don’t take a taxi if you don’t know Chinese and the directions!

Finally we arrived to hour hotel, which is one of the oldest and well-known in Beijing (not well-known for Chinese taxi drivers of course!) . It was at the corner of the famous pedestrian Wangfujing street.

In the lobby we got the address of the famous roasted duck restaurant which was only one block after our hotel and we rushed to there!

Again with some difficulties of English communication, we finally ordered the famous duck! A chief brought the whole roasted duck in front of us and started to cut it in small layers and pieces, it’s a real show! And the decor of the restaurant was amazing like the taste of the roasted duck! I’m sure everybody would love this taste!

Back to the Wangfujing street, it started to rain and we felt some freshness which made us feel good.

The first hours in beijing on Wangfujing Street, on a very smoggy afternoon!

First day in Wangfujing

Live street performance on Wangfujing street

Chinese Street Performance

Dad Dong Restaurant, famous for the roasted Pekin Duck in Beijing

Da Dong Beijing Restaurant

Happy ducks waiting to be roasted 🙂

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Wangfujing on a sunny day!

Wangfujing on a sunny day!