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Highway to Heaven

By: Andrew Pateras

Highway to Heaven

Tags: andrew pateras,blog,travel,photography

Yesterday was my last full day in Beijing. I saved two of the largest attractions for a Monday instead of visiting on the weekend, thinking the crowds would have died down. I thought wrong.  There is only one thing in the world I hate more than being in crowds of people. That is being in crowds of clueless tourists that seem as though everything they do is with the sole purpose of annoying me. I really try to get away from touristy areas as they are obviously crowded, attract pickpockets and are swarmed with vendors selling merchandise at inflated prices. These spots, as beautiful as they may be, are hard to get a decent photograph with all the wide-eyed tourists walking into your frame.  Regardless of my above rant, the Forbidden City is a must see if you are in Beijing. It is full of history and the architecture is stunning. Walking in from the north gate, you can continue south into Tienamin Square. Walking in one direction saves a lot of time, as the walk I was planning yesterday was extensive.  Tianamin Square is known in infamy for the massacre that occurred there in 1989. Walking on the spot where the “Tank Man” stood defiantly in front of a line of Chinese tanks was chilling.  I wanted to visit Chairman Mao’s tomb, but the line was about a mile long and they required me to check my backpack. If you saw my blog entry outlining the equipment I am carrying, you will understand exactly why I am not parting company with my backpack!  After walking through the square on the coldest day I have experienced in more than two months of travel, I made my way down Qianmen Shopping Street. It was another modern shopping street with many western retailers, but to the west, there is a small alley where all the locals sold their goods in small shops. This was a great find, and exactly what I was looking for! I enjoyed many local sweets, such as a triangular bar made of sunflower seeds. I then saw something that looked familiar to me. If you have been to a Greek bakery, you may have tried “loukomades”. These are deep fried balls made of sweet dough and then covered in honey. Assuming they were similar was a big mistake! This Chinese version seemed to be made of pure, deep fried sugar. It was obscenely sweet and I ate at least three of them!  I then made the decision to actually walk to the Temple of Heaven. On the map, it looked like about a 30 minute walk. I forgot however that this is Beijing. It took me 2 hours of walking in the frigid cold to get there, but the long walk was worth it.  The Temple of Heaven is another enormous sprawling complex in the middle of a packed city. The walk through the complex itself seemed as long as the trek to get here. There were multiple buildings and sights to see, but again, the entire area was swarming with tourists from all around the world. It is also another spot in Beijing you cannot miss, but I suggest visiting these places at 8:00am, the instant they open. You will have fewer crowds and queues to deal with getting to view the various buildings.  Today I leave Beijing, and I have accomplished everything that I came here to do, including adding a super exotic food to my list. I will speak to you all again from Seoul, Korea, my 40th country!