Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Travels in China: Beijing Day 3

My Travels in China: Beijing Day 3

Dr. Arnold Plotnick of Manhattan Cat Specialists, loves to travel and loves cats.  So off he went... East... way way East... to China.  Over the course of the next few weeks, we will share the cultural and kitty cat highlights of Dr. Plotnick's trip.

(Continued from Day 2 Part 2)

What a day!  We woke up early and headed down to the breakfast buffet.  I grabbed a table close to the wall, in the very corner of the breakfast room.  It’s best to be inconspicuous if you’re going to sneak slices of bacon into a Ziploc bag, right?

The buffet opened at 7:00 a.m.  We got there right at 7:00, and stuffed our faces pretty well. As promised, I discretely purloined the pork, and with bacon-in-bag, we met Vivie out front.  She had her car.  She didn’t know I was bringing bacon with me (heck, who in their right mind would ever suspect this?), so she brought her own small bag of dry cat food!  Is she sweet or what?  She knew we’d need some food to lure the Great Wall strays out of their little hiding alcove.

And so, off we went. Because we left early, there was almost zero traffic, and we got to the Great Wall in about 50 minutes, instead of the usual hour and a quarter.  Vivie purchased our tickets for us from the ticket booth.

To the right of the ticket booth was a small alcove, and it is here where the stray cats tend to congregate.  Sure enough, one or two made an appearance.

You can see them hovering around as I reached into my bag for the sack o’bacon.

I had my bag o’ bacon, and as you might imagine, this brought out the best in these kitties.

A few were a bit skittish, but most were pretty friendly, and I had fun feeding and patting them.

 I think this calico was the prettiest.

This, however, is my favorite picture:  mmmm, bacon.

Okay, enough dillydallying.  It was time to see the Great Wall itself.  The cats had devoured the bacon, so I dumped the rest of the dry kibble on the ground nearby

and we headed up toward the Wall.

The terrain in China is very mountainous, and the Great Wall runs along the highest ridges of these mountains.  To get to the top, you can hike, which is very physically taxing, or you can take the cable car up.  This is essentially a very long ski-lift, and that’s what we did.  Although it is meant mainly to just transport you to the top of the mountain, the ride up itself was completely spectacular and awe-inspiring.

The silence of the mountains was mesmerizing, and the anticipation was intense.  When we got to the top, we were rewarded with just the kind of view you might imagine.

 The Wall is incredible, and you’re seized with this sense of history just standing and walking on it.  You see how it goes for miles and miles, and you try to imagine the human labor involved in making such a structure, and your brain just can’t compute.

We walked along the wall for about an hour and a half, going from viewing tower to viewing tower.  One major advantage of going early is that for about 30 minutes, we nearly had the entire section of the Wall to ourselves.

This is pretty unheard of, given the popularity of the site.  What more can I say about such an awesome monument?  Here are some of my favorite pictures from that day on the Great Wall. Of all the sites we visited on the entire China trip, this was my favorite. 

Our next stop was The Ming Tombs.  Of the 16 Ming emperors who reigned form 1368 to 1644, thirteen were buried  about 30 miles northwest of Beijing. Three of the 13 tombs are officially open as tourist sites.  We didn’t have time to see them all, so we chose Dingling, the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun.  He was the 13th emperor, and he occupied the throne the longest during the Ming Dynasty.  The  entire tomb is made of stone, and is underground.

 It was unearthed between 1956 and 1958.

Before heading back to the hotel, I had Vivie take a bit of a detour so we could check out the famous “birds nest” Olympic Stadium.  This structure has become synonymous with Beijing since the 2008 Olympics, and I wanted to see it for myself.  Getting to the stadium itself would have exceeded our tour time-limit, but Vivie is an experienced tour guide and lifelong Beijing resident, and she knew exactly where to pull over on the highway, to afford us a very good view of the stadium, and you can see.

We chilled out a little bit at the hotel, and then hit the busy shopping area -  Wangfujing Street – again.  As I mentioned last time, this wide street is actually a pedestrian mall.  Now that I’ve become somewhat of a seasoned traveler, I’ve been to similar malls before, like The Ramblas in Barcelona and Istiklal Street in Istanbul.  I must say, Wangfujing Street pales in comparison.  Wangfujing really has very little character and zero “soul”, so to speak.  The stores are mediocre and there’s no notable places to eat, really.  There are plenty of high-end malls, though, with very western-style consumerism.

We’re talking Cartier, Rolex, Tissot, Tag Heuer, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Zara’s, Burberry, Hermes, and the like.  I got a momentary thrill when I saw my favorite store, G-Star Raw,

but alas, the prices were no different than in NYC. We didn’t spend too much time here; it’s not really what I came to Beijing for, but I suppose it was worth a look.

After shopping (mostly window shopping), we went back to the hotel and took a nap, in anticipation for a night of clubbing.  After snoozing for about an hour or so, we were off to the trendy part of town (if there is such a thing in Beijing) for dinner.  I was trying to find a restaurant called Three Guizhou Men which I had read about in my guidebooks, but alas, I just couldn’t find the place, and the language barrier prevented us from getting much help.  So we went to Belaggio instead.

The plan was to go to Belaggio for dessert after the club, but the food was supposed to be pretty decent, so we dined there.  The restaurant was very happening. Lots of young folks dressed up for a night of partying. I was discrete with the camera, not wanting to look too much like a dorky tourist.

We got ourselves a nice window table and ate a nice meal, all the while gawking at some of the monstrous desserts that passed by on trays carried by hip, punky waiters.

After dinner, we went across the street to the dance club, Destination.

After paying a surprisingly low cover charge, we went in.  And then it hit me like a force field:  a throat-stinging, eye-tearing, gag-inducing super-dense cloud of cigarette smoke that you could cut with a knife and carry a chunk back with you to the hotel.  The Chinese are the world’s biggest consumers of tobacco, and nowhere was this more apparent than in this club.  After years of being spoiled in New York, where Mayor Bloomberg banned smoking in bars, clubs and restaurants, I knew I was in trouble here.  I was literally gagging the entire time I was in there, doing my best to try not to breathe.  And though the club was pretty decent sized, there was no escaping it.  We hung out there for about 20 minutes before I had to flee.  Sigh.  So much for Beijing nightlife.

I would not be denied dessert afterward, however.  So, it was back to Belaggio, where I got one of their famous, mountainous shaved-ice desserts.  A MOUND of shaved ice, topped with red beans and candied pineapple.  Amazing.

Hey, if you’re going to go off the diet, then go OFF the diet, right?  After loading up on dessert, we called it a night.

I cannot stress enough how great our tour guide was.  If anyone reading this blog decides to go to Beijing and wants a reliable, professional, intelligent and considerate tour guide fluent in English, with her own car, you should hire Vivie Pan.

Her website is

CHECK BACK SOON for much more of Dr. Plotnick's China Travelog.
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Previous Posts - Day 1, Day 2 Part 1, Day 2 Part 2
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