Sorry so late again on my posting, but man oh man, what a day we had yesterday!
We decided to go and visit both the Summer Palace and the Botanical Gardens yesterday. If you are ever in Beijing here’s some advice: You gotta see both these things. But not on the same day! Both places are huge (tens of acres each), and we really shorted ourselves by trying to cram them both into one day, especially with my poor Mom having a bad ankle. That being said, the parts we did get to see were stunning beyond words, and so far they are my favorite attractions in Beijing without question.
We started with the Summer Palace, which has a history far too long, complex, and interesting for me to go into here, but I recommend you do a google search and do some reading about, even if only briefly. In a nutshell, it was built as a get-away for various emperors in China, and is one of the most beautiful and interesting places that I’ve seen here. With a large man-made lake to cross, several hundred year old bridges, and intricate walking paths all along the palace grounds, there is a lot of nice scenery to take in, and was a welcome change from all the concrete that I’ve been seeing in other Beijing attractions (not to mention the city itself!)
The Summer Palace itself sits high upon a man made mountain, with dozens and dozens of staircases, paths, and rocky cave steps leading up to it’s summit, with various temples and courtyards along the way. The views are stunning, the grounds are beautiful, and the walk is a bitch. It was a bitch for me, actually, and I thought my poor mother and aunt were going to kill me. But I insisted that we climb all the way to the top where the palace is, and after all was said and done, everyone was happy that we did.
The climb to the top (from the north side) is fantastic. As you climb from level to level, your view of the city and the mountains opens up just a little more with each flight of stairs, until finally there are no more stairs to climb. But that doesn’t mean that you’re done. They last couple hundred vertical yards are traversed by climbing through rocky caves, passages, and rock formations until finally you reach the summit, and the palace itself. The palace is, like most things in Beijing right now, under renovation, so we could not go in, but even so, it was worth the climb. The view is stunning, and you really can appreciate what the Emperors saw in this place.
The walk down the south face is a little more relaxed. Unless you’re my Mom, who has an ankle that makes downward slopes or stairs painful and challenging. So for the next half-hour or so, I walked as a crutch for her as we slowly descended back down to lake level. Then it’s a nice long walk down “The Long Corridor”, which is lined with temples, artwork, and common areas leading back out to the main gate.
That alone should have been enough for a perfectly incredible day, but we weren’t done! Having eaten on the palace grounds, we felt energized enough to tell our driver (we had aquired a car and driver through my Uncle Swede’s company for the day) to take us to the Botanical Gardens for what we thought would be a nice relaxing afternoon of pretty flowers…
Yeah, right. First of all, the Botanical Gardens are on the very outskirts of Beijing, and not at all close to our apartment (more on this in a minute). Secondly, the gardens are, like everything here, immense. Plus, there are more temples at the garden, and I felt that I had to go see those as well (and am very glad I did.) So we walked for a bit, but it didn’t take long for Mom’s ankle to give out completely. Luckily there are tram cars that operate within the gardens, so she was able to ride back out the the entrance and wait, while Gini and I saw the amazing “Sleeping Buddha” statue and temple, and at least a bit more of the Botanical Gardens.
Without wanting to ramble on, and repeat myself, I cannot stress how large (and beautiful) the Botanical Gardens are. When we first entered, I was stolidly unimpressed. But this is one of those areas where you really don’t see anything good until you start walking around and exploring the grounds. Not everything is accessible from a main path, and the more time that you wander around the grounds, the more you will be surprised at what you stumble across. And no matter how much you walk, you always get the feeling that you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. The gardens could have easily filled an entire day (and camera memory card) for me, but both time and lack of camera card space limited me to just a couple hours.
Which, during rush hour on Friday before a holiday (it’s Labor Day here this weekend), was about how long it took us to get home after our long day of walking. I’m not even gonna get into that story, suffice to say our driver (and any drivers on the road in Beijing at that time) are brave beyond words. I’m happy happy happy to be alive after that mess of a car ride.
Well hopefully you’ve enjoyed the story as much as we enjoyed the day. And now you may understand why, after getting home and having some dinner, I opted to go to the bar instead of writing this post and all the captions for the 115 photographs that I took yesterday (which you may now enjoy right here.) 🙂