Following an early morning wake-up call, everyone in our group met in the hotel lobby, luggage in tow, for an 8:00 am bus ride to the airport for our flight to Beijing. A little tension began to build as 8:00 came and went with no bus. No bus at 8:15, 8:30, 8:45. Finally, a little before 9:00, the bus pulled up, and we quickly loaded luggage and people and we were off in under 5 minutes!
Fortunately, rush hour traffic was lighter than normal due to the start of a three-day Chinese holiday–the Dragon Head festival. Many people had the day off from work. Despite a late departure from the hotel, we arrived at the airport in pplenty of time. Thanks to our Nanjing Medical University hosts who accompanied us to the airport, we were quickly pointed in the right direction and at the boarding gates with time to spare.
The flight, however, was an hour late in departing, as we sat on the tarmac due to heavy traffic. We arrived at the Beijing airport a little after 2:00 pm at the newly constructed Terminal 3. This sleek and efficiently designed facility opened in 2008 to handle the increased traffic generated by the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Our new tour guide for the Beijing segment of our trip was waiting for us, and had us on the bus and on the way for our first destination in Beijing–the FORBIDDEN CITY.
The Forbidden City was a massive complex of ancient, but very well preserved buildings in the center of Beijing that served as the Inperial Palace for a succession of Emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Construction began in 1407, and the inner sanctum was never seen by the world for over 500 years. The emperors, their families, servants, officials, and even the emperors’ concubines lived here in secluded luxury. The massive complex contains 800 separate buildings with 9,999 rooms located amid plazas, courtyards, and gardens.
Our next destination,Tianamen Square, is located next to the Forbidden City, and it is the largest public city square in the world. From ancient to modern times, the square has been a gathering place with great political significance. On one side of the square sits the Chinese Parliment building, and on the opposite side is the newly built Chinese Revolution Museum scheduled to open soon.
The Chairman Mao Mausoleum, built in 1977, sits at the far end of Tianamen Square. The massive expanse of this area can not be appreciated until one walks from one end to the other–it takes a good 10 minutes to complete this walk!
Following these visits, we checked into our hotel which was located in a pedestrian-only busy shopping and dining area blocked off from vehicular traffic.
Longing for a taste of “Western” food, we found a McDonald’s nearby, and Dr. Davidson treated all of us to dinner. A very nice mnager realized the language barrier, and she took our orders at the table, and then hand delivered them to each of us. Never had this kind of service at McDonald’s in the States! Following our dinner of familiar comfort food, we hit some of the neighboring shops before returning to the hotel.