After eating an omelette made-to-order by a 12-year-old boy and listening to another round of I Want It That Way in the hotel’s café, we made the short walk to Tiananmen Square, the biggest political square in the world. Home to the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, it’s a vast plaza now surrounded by government buildings, museums and monuments.
We queued up in line to see the body of Chairman Mao, preserved like a wax figurine in a crystal coffin donated by the former Soviet Union. The mausoleum was mobbed with throngs of Chinese, who after paying homage, furiously purchased all sorts of Mao memorabilia in its gift shop. When asked why MarcZawel.com was not accessible from China, Mao had no comment.
Our next stop was the vast complex of the Forbidden City, swarming with tour groups. The 10,000 square meter grounds took 30 minutes to walk from end to end — there was one building used solely to celebrate the emperor’s birthday, as well as another that housed his 3,000 concubines.
We hired a team of rickshaw drivers to take us through Beijing’s hutongs, or narrow alleyways. Even as skyscrapers crowd the landscape, many residents still live in these types of older neighborhoods. Homes here rarely have facilities, so communal toilets are scattered throughout.
The Qing Dynasty built the Summer Palace to escape the Forbidden City. We next visited its gardens and lakes in order to escape Beijing’s noise and pollution. It was the perfect spot to relax away the afternoon.
Our overnight sleeper train to Xi’an departs in about 2 hours.