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  1. 1. China From the Great Wall to the Bird’s Nest 36 Car & Travel May 2008
  2. 2. You will need a complete day to tour the wonders and hear the stories of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Photo by Terence Baker Car & Travel May 2008 37
  3. 3. b y Te r e n c e B a k e r Not since Marco Polo returned to Venice government determined to showcase display nine (a lucky number) bolts, and with wondrous tales of the Kubla Khan China through these Games, there would almost 1,000 buildings are on show. You’ll and his palace of Xanadu has China, the seem to be no barrier to moving factories need all day here, and you’ll be there with world’s most populous country, enjoyed and closing roads in the weeks when the many provincial Chinese, who are travel- such center-stage scrutiny as it does today, world’s attention is focused here; the main ing within their country for the first time. as Beijing, its capital, prepares to host the stadium for the games, nicknamed the Go next to Jingshan Park, with its great 2008 Summer Olympic Games. On sale Bird’s Nest for its intricate design of steel view of the Forbidden City, then to the everywhere in this city of 15 million are strips, already is a wonder to behold. Temple of Heaven, which for dynasties- the Games’ mascots: Beibei, Huanhuan, What also is of no doubt is the past was a sacred spot with a “direct Jingjing, Nini and Yingying. fascination the world has for this unique portal” to heaven, and lastly to the Sum- The first thing I saw on arrival, however, city. Start at the architectural gem that is mer Palace, where you’ll hear tales of the was pollution. Cars are everywhere in this the Forbidden City, which sits in front of scheming empress-dowager Cixi. One vast country of new wealth, but seem- gigantic Tiananmen Square. The portrait spot I enjoyed was the Pudu Temple, close ingly none are subject to environmental of Chairman Mao (I witnessed its yearly to the Forbidden City but mostly ignored standards. Due to the smog, only once, removal and replacement; apparently, by “official” tours. To the north of Beijing following a storm, did I see the beauti- one Chinese artist does nothing ever, are the Ming Tombs, where emperors took ful hills to the north, on which perches apart from painting Mao’s likeness) stares their last journeys. China’s biggest draw, its Great Wall. Pol- down from the Gate of Heavenly Peace The tombs should be visited before lution will be a thing of the past, I was as you cross one palace courtyard after China’s star, the Great Wall, or they might told, and I have no doubt that the Games another, along a path where once only prove disappointing. The wall never is. themselves will pass seamlessly. With a the emperor could set foot. Huge doors It is spellbinding. Most tourists head to “ A wonderful, surprise find was the Chestnut Garden of Ming Dynasty, where all the emperor’s ” chestnuts derived. 38 Car & Travel May 2008
  4. 4. the nearest section, Badaling—but be ernment or the army. Adventurous food- tion of the Great Wall, eroded and now no warned, it’s extremely popular. Quieter ies will love such hutong finds as Qi Lun, a higher than 10 feet tall, which predates the sections (the trade off is that there is Peking duck restaurant south of Tianan- sections near Beijing by many centuries. less accessibility) include Mutianyu and men Square. It is ramshackle and atmo- Closer to the city are the area’s two great- Simatai. I went to the extremely quiet, spheric. Reservations are needed. I did est attractions, its stunning dunes and the lakeside section of Huanghuacheng, not have one, but as a single traveler I was Mogao Caves, which contain the world’s where no opportunity exists to actu- found a spot and then told,“Sit here. One largest indoor statue of Buddha and ally step onto the wall. The bonus here hour. Then get out,” which I am sure was thousands of religious paintings painstak- is that I saw only four tourists all after- not intentional rudeness, rather a ques- ingly drawn on walls by monks beneath noon. Also there, a wonderful, surprise tion of limited English. Whatever it was, it candlelight over the last 1,650 years. find (the kind that keeps me wanting to made me laugh and warm to the place. Chinese athletes—and, we hope, Amer- travel) was the Chestnut Garden of Ming A plane will take you to several cel- ican ones, too—are exercising the same Dynasty, where all the emperor’s chest- ebrated places outside of Beijing: Xian discipline right now. And with that, let the nuts derived. for its terra-cotta warriors; Guilin for its Games and Travels begin. A Back in Beijing, I wandered through dramatic scenery of sugarloaf hills; Hong AAA Travel Information: its traditional neighborhoods of narrow Kong for its energy; Macau for its new alleys, called hutongs, which are fight- casinos and resorts. ing for their lives amid modernization. I chose the Gobi Desert, a place in Tourism Information: China National Tourist Office: Traditional houses sport differently which Beijing seems very distant. A Beijing 2008 Olympic Games: shaped house markers depending on if two-hour drive from the small city of the owner was in the service of the gov- Dunhuang leads to a Han Dynasty sec- Beijing Discover Beijing 5 nights from $1725 Holiday Includes: • Round trip airfare on Cathay Pacific Airways • 5 Nights at the Capital Hotel, Beijing • Breakfast daily; 2 lunches • Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven & Summer Place tour w/lunch (full day) • Great Wall & Ming Tombs tour w/lunch (full day) • Round trip airport transfers Departures from JFK. Rates are per person, double occupancy, valid for travel 9/1/08 – 10/26/08. Rates, availability and itinerary are subject to change. Restrictions apply. Rates include a round-trip fuel surcharge and do not include International Departure & Immigrations Taxes up to $100, Passenger Facility Charges of $3-$18 or September 11th Security Fee of $2.50 per enplanement (up to a maximum $5 per one-way or $10 per round-trip). Not responsible for errors or omissions. CST# 1007939-10. UBI# 601 915 263. Copyright © 2008 Pleasant Holidays, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 8 Days, 12 Meals Highlights include: • The Great Wall • Peking Opera • Beijing Zoo Call for a free brochure featuring other dates & destinations! Oct. 15, 2008 from $899 Guaranteed departure! Other dates starting from $799. AAA Members Save $50 per booking! Price is per person, land only, based on twin occupancy and is subject to change. Please call for triple or child occupancy rates. Other restrictions apply. Book your next vacation with AAA Travel Book your next vacation with AAA Travel Call 800/847-8091 Click Call 800/847-8091 Click Visit a branch office Visit a branch office Car & Travel May 2008 39