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article imagePhoto Essay: Tour of Beijing Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     Feb 13, 2014 in World
Beijing - After five months of teaching English in northeast China, I toured Beijing with a group of Chinese tourists and experienced the famous city's historic and modern wonders first-hand.
Beijing has stood for over 3,000 years but has been most important in the last 800 years as the capital for the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The second most populated city in China and the present capital for the People's Republic of China, Beijing has 20 million people who live in a modern, transportation marvel mixed with historical landmarks that are so big and impressive that most foreign tourists can't even walk through them without difficulty.
I flew into Beijing last September, after leaving Turkey, on my way to southeast China. Beijing airport is the second busiest in the world, and its modern architecture is an artistic mix of steel and glass. When teaching first-graders in Li Shui, China proved more challenging to me than my usual work with teens and adults, my company moved me to the northeast province of Jilin, not far from the borders of North Korea and Russia. From Jilin I had to fly down to Hong Kong in the south, to get my Chinese work permit. Then I took a short business trip to Beijing on the train for more items I needed for that work permit.
Finally, after obtaining my Foreign Expert's license, I got a vacation. My Chinese colleague booked a cheap holiday for me with a group of Chinese tourists, and during the Chinese New Year at the end of January, I took the train to Beijing again. This time I stayed in a five-star hotel near the train station and was able to see the most famous sites around Beijing in 3 long days. We got up at 6 a.m. and didn't get back to the hotel until around 7 p.m. We rode past unique skyscrapers of city center in a comfy bus, walked at least 7 miles each day at our various stops, took hundreds of photos, ate lunch together, and shared our experience of China's most famous places.
Enjoy my photos from those three days. The first day we saw Tiananmen Square before dawn, the largest square in the world that is bordered on all sides by museums, tombs, war memorials, and government offices. Then we walked across the street to the Forbidden City and walked through the royal complex of buildings, courtyards, temples, and gardens used by the Ming and Qing Dynasties. After a hurried lunch at a Chinese restaurant, we finished the afternoon at a princes' complex that resembled a miniature Forbidden City. Just when I thought I couldn't take another step, our tour guide took us shopping along a famous street in "Old Town."
I thought I'd never get up early for the second day, but I knew I couldn't miss the Great Wall of China. An hour and a half drive north of the city into the mountains, the Great Wall proved as impressive as I'd heard, though I thought I'd die from exhaustion after climbing just the long slope to the entrance, not to mention all the steps up the Great Wall and along its seemingly endless lofty pathway. It was a windy day, and the hillsides and evergreen trees looked dry from lack of rain as dust blew in our faces. We didn't walk too far on the Great Wall. After lunch, we wandered all over the gardens and down into the deep tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor. It is located in a big valley that holds the scattered tombs of the other 12 emperors and a lake. The valley must be beautiful in spring, for it had many fruit trees, farms, and stables for riding horses. We drove back into the city and finished our tour by dusk at the once-impressive but sadly ruined Yuan Ming Gardens.
I could barely step into my hotel room and fall into bed, ordering dinner through room service. I swore I wouldn't get up early for the third day in a row, but I just couldn't miss my chance to see the Summer Palace (and I didn't want to show the Chinese that Americans are weak). I'm glad I got up, for the Summer Palace was my favorite place and had the most beautiful lake, rivers, forests, art-covered buildings, walkways, docks, palaces, and temple (with hundreds of steps to climb). Even the evergreen trees looked healthy in winter. Afterward, our tour guide treated us to lunch at a fancy Chinese restaurant that treated us like emperors. With renewed energy, I stubbornly walked through wind-blown Olympic Park and then relaxed through an acrobatic indoor circus. But three days of keeping up with the Chinese (who never complained) finally caught up with me, and I missed the last sight on our list: the Temple of Heaven. Oh, well, I sat in the bus with the bus driver and took his photo.
Beijing s Central Train Station
Beijing's Central Train Station
A night view of Beijing International Hotel near the train station
A night view of Beijing International Hotel near the train station
View of downtown Beijing from my hotel room
View of downtown Beijing from my hotel room
An overview of Tiananmen Square with the War Memorial in the center
An overview of Tiananmen Square with the War Memorial in the center
A view from the Inner Court of the Forbidden City
A view from the Inner Court of the Forbidden City
Gate to the Princes Mansions
Gate to the Princes Mansions
Our tired group waits for our tour guide at the Princes Mansions
Our tired group waits for our tour guide at the Princes Mansions
On the Great Wall of China which stretches for miles across mountains
On the Great Wall of China which stretches for miles across mountains
Deep inside the 13th Ming Emperor s tomb
Deep inside the 13th Ming Emperor's tomb
The ruins of once-beautiful Yuan Ming Gardens which were destroyed by European forces in 1910.
The ruins of once-beautiful Yuan Ming Gardens which were destroyed by European forces in 1910.
The Summer Palace with its lake  walkways  and temple of a thousand steps
The Summer Palace with its lake, walkways, and temple of a thousand steps
Our tour group ate lunch at this fancy Chinese restaurant in downtown Beijing
Our tour group ate lunch at this fancy Chinese restaurant in downtown Beijing
The rings at Beijing s Olympic Park  site of the 2008 summer games
The rings at Beijing's Olympic Park, site of the 2008 summer games
Our Beijing tour bus driver
Our Beijing tour bus driver
Lonna Lisa Williams on the Empress throne at a fancy Chinese restaurant in Beijing
Lonna Lisa Williams on the Empress throne at a fancy Chinese restaurant in Beijing
More about Beijing, China, Forbidden city, Great Wall of China, summer palace
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