Other Beijing sites
We went to a few other places besides the major sites. The Temple of Heaven, built in the early 1400’s, is a UNESCO recognized ceremonial area that is surrounded by a park of over 600 acres. We walked around part of the park and saw some of the religious buildings. An important function of the complex was animal sacrifice for a good harvest, and we saw several structures for this purpose. It was a vibrant city park as well, with people doing ballroom dance, playing traditional music, kicking a hacky sack style toy, and singing with a portable mic and speaker.
The Beijing Ancient Observatory was really cool, and would likely draw more visitors if it weren’t overshadowed by Beijing’s other sites. It was built in the 1400’s and used for 500 years. The instruments predate telescopes, similar to the observatory we saw in Jaipur, India, so they have intriguing designs. With their dragons and other details, they are far more ornate in comparison to Jaipur. A small museum describes different ways of measuring the stars going back several millennia in China’s history.
Jingshan Park is north of the Forbidden City, used to be a part of it, and offers amazing views from its hill. We walked here one day from the hostel where we were staying and just enjoyed seeing the City from on high. The park is over 50 acres and had some plaques with historical information, specifically about the Chongzen Emporer, the last Emporer of the Ming dynasty, who committed suicide there in 1644 at age 33 rather than surrender to invading forces.
View of Forbidden City below. Above is looking north towards the rest of Jingshan Park and beyond, the ancient bell tower and beyond that, modern Beijing.
Russian Visas We were in Beijing several weeks waiting for visas for Russia. We had read that it is almost impossible to get tourist visas (transit visas, good for 10 days, are said to be easier but would not be long enough for us to get through the country by train and do some sightseeing) outside of one’s home country, however we did get them in the end. It felt like a gamble, but it turned out ok. There is a 10-page form that must be done for each applicant, and Mr. Fantastic did all six of them twice to fix minor details as instructed by the Chinese staff at Beijing’s Russian visa processing center. It took him over seven hours! And they still found mistakes, which meant either starting over or paying them to correct the mistakes. At the third visit, we decided to pay. Then we gave them our passports and our applications and waited six business days. We waited to buy train tickets because if the visas didn’t work out, we wouldn’t be going by train. We paid something like $1300 for the visas, which would not be returned if our applications were rejected and we didn’t want to risk more. It was nerve-wracking for us low-budget backpackers! We were relieved to get our passports back and delighted the visas were in them. I really wish countries could just get along, though, for many reasons- to end wars and ugliness and of course to end visa hassles and encourage traveling! But that is another topic.