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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



April 29. BEIJING "The Summer Palace"  Our gray day at the Forbidden City had led to a night of rain, the first bad weather we'd had since our arrival.  Fortunately, it left the sky clear and beautiful for the following day.  We had planned for a day off but with such a nice day we were up and out of the hotel to see the Summer Palace.

There were no group tours at the Summer Palace but it was pretty busy with local people enjoying the beautiful day.  Since we had arrived in Beijing we had seen a steady flurry of snow-like "liuxu" (Willow catkins) wafting through the air.  They sort of came and went throughout the city but they were in full flurry at the Summer Palace when we arrived.  It was like having little pieces of cotton swirling around and because they were so light they didn't really land permanently.  The grounds keepers were trying to sweep them up but the wind just picked them up off the ground again and kept them swirling.  Aside from occasionally catching one in the mouth they were a really pleasant reminder of Spring.

The Summer Palace is an enormous area.  The Kunming Hu Lake takes up most of the space but the land area is still vast and has numerous temples and buildings.   Although the crowds were still low by Beijing standards there were more people than we had encountered at other sites and it was nice to have some company for once.  

We started our day with a quick lunch and then moved on to see some of the many buildings that surrounded Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan).   The first was probably my favorite, a beautiful three story opera house that claimed to be the biggest of its kind.  The main floor was decorated in colorful detail with clouds painted on the ceiling and arched stairways descending onto the stage.  While there were quite a few people strolling about the park there were almost no people inside the individual buildings.  

Along the lake below the man made Wanshou Shan ran a 700 meter long corridor that was bisected in the middle by the entrance to the Benevolence and Longevity Hall, the island's most prominent structure.  Each section of the corridor had a scene painted onto the wood representing a different Chinese myth or folk story.  At the end of the corridor stood a full size marble boat.  Pathways wound around the hillside connecting the the various halls and temples. We ascended the mountain through the Benevolence and Longevity Hall, The Cloud Dispelling Hall and up to the tile covered Huihai Temple.  Down the other side a labyrinth of pathways took us through a Buddhist temple and down to an unfortunate recreation of the famous city of Suzhou that sadly detracted from the genuine historical significance of the park.  From there we circled back around the mountain to the east gate, where we had started, stopped for a rest at a remote villa of lacey Chinese buildings surrounding a quiet pond.  

At this point it was already 4:30 and we had done a great deal of walking but couldn't resist completing our tour with a walk around the entire lake to take in the views of Wanshou Shan from afar and traverse the nine or more bridges that connected the small islands across the lake.  The sun was setting as we finally piled ourselves into a cab and headed for dinner at the Pass By Bar. 

April 30. BEIJING We had done a good six days of continuous walking and it was time for a rest day, good weather or not.  Our hotel had some construction going on nearby that started as early as 6:30 some mornings.  It wasn't a good place to just hang out so we ended up at Mc Cafe on Wangfujing Road.  It wasn't our plan really, we just went there for an inexpensive cup of coffee in the morning and after getting into planning the rest of our trip we didn't leave for over four hours. 

Feeling like we should do something to enjoy another beautiful day we finally hopped into a cab and went to the Liulichang Market, south of Tiananmen square.  It is a well known antique shopping area and clearly out of our budget but was a nice spot for a late afternoon stroll.  Most of the shops were already closed for the May Day holiday but we did make one good find in a tiny shop that sold us an old revolution period Mao alarm clock for Y30 (about US$4).  The street vendors nearby were asking Y80 but this shop started at a more reasonable Y40 and Rob worked her down to Y30.  

The street was in a refurbished older neighborhood.  The buildings had a "too new" look about them but at least the older architecture had been preserved.  Chinese flags had been put out in front of all of the shops in honor of the holiday.  Normally May Day is a big holiday in China with parades and celebrations but this year the government had officially called it off due to SARS.  

From Liulichang Street we walked further south through a modern shopping district and had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant recommended by the guidebook.  Our goal has been a local dumpling shop but it was closed for the holiday.  Unfortunately, the vegetarian restaurant was a bit disappointing really -- too greasy.  All in all we hadn't been having great luck with the Chinese food we'd eaten in Beijing, except that Rob loved his Peking Duck. Of course there were plenty of good restaurants in the city but they were none too cheap. 

The number of SARS cases in Beijing was still steadily rising.  Rumors that the city would be quarantined had been repeatedly denied by the municipal government but we were still getting a bit nervous about our plans.  Our hotel was taking our temperature nightly and with the May Day holiday cancelled the streets of Beijing were getting even more eerie. 

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30