On our fourth day in Beijing we went to see the 2008 Olympic Venues. The first stop was the "Water Cube" building where the swim events were held:
The semitransparent blue walls were an interesting sight, though it would probably have been even more impressive to visit at night when they are lit up from within. The ticket to get in was 120 RMB and we had to wait an hour and a half before our timeslot came up. For some reason the tickets were sold on the opposite side of the building from the one entrance - it was rather confusing because most of the English signs in the area were left over from the Olympics and directed you to entrances which are no longer open now that it is a tourist attraction.
The main pool inside the building was fairly impressive:
You could only walk around in the stands and take pictures, so there wasn't a whole lot to do. Somewhat surprisingly, it turned out that this was basically the only pool in the building (there was one smaller "warm-up" pool, but it was closed off). Other than the main pool, the only other things to see were a bunch of gift shops hawking 2008 Olympics merchandise.
Next up was the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium, for another 120 RMB:
Again the architecture was fairly impressive, but unfortunately the Beijing pollution subdued the sight a little bit. Inside the stadium, only the lowest level of the seats and the field were open to tourists:
There were some big inflatable "Fuwa" Olympic mascots on the field, but not much else. It turns out that walking around an empty sports stadium is about as boring as you might imagine it to be. I had hoped that there would be some sort of displays or interactive attractions set up for visitors, but there weren't. Overall the Olympic venues were sort of a disappointment.
That afternoon we went to the Temple of Heaven, which is a large Taoist landmark in southern Beijing:
Inside was an altar of some sort, but it was hard to get a good look because of the huge crowd pushing and shoving around the door:
There was a large park around the temple, which seemed to be a recreational area which locals used as a meeting place to get away from the hustle of the city. There were large numbers of people playing cards and other traditional games, as well as people singing and playing musical instruments:
It was an interesting and brief glimpse into a more traditional part of Chinese culture, which is sort of rare in the big cities.
On Day 5 we had a ticket to leave for Shanghai in the evening, so we just went to the Beijing Zoo in the morning. The zoo is famous for its panda bears, and we weren't disappointed:
Other than the large collection of pandas, there was pretty much the standard collection of animals you'd expect to see in any regular zoo.
After the zoo we got ready for the train trip to Shanghai. Our tickets were on the "Z" train, which is a new express line with fancy "soft" sleeping berths (the alternatives were "hard sleepers," which didn't sound too fun). The express trips are 11 hours rather than the typical 20. The tickets were about 500 RMB ($75) each, depending on whether you got the top bunk or the bottom. The bottom bunk is considered to be better since it's easier to get in and out of, and it's cooler since the hot air flows to the top of the room (along with the cigarette smoke, as we discovered).
The train station was pretty crowded and was fairly confusing since none of the signs were in English. Our tickets were in Chinese and had 4 numbers on them. I knew that they were probably the train #, platform #, car # and seat #, but I couldn't be sure which was which. Fortunately there was an information booth which was able to point us in the right direction.
On the train we had an enclosed room with 4 bunks:
We shared the room with another man and woman. They were friendly, though we weren't able to communicate with them beyond simple gestures. In the room it was pretty tight, so many people sat outside in the hallway, where there were fold-down chairs:
This was the bathroom:
You don't see the toilet, because it was basically just a hole in the floor, just off camera.
Unfortunately the train left after dark, so there wasn't much that could be seen outside. I was interested to see the Chinese countryside between Beijing and Shanghai, but I wasn't really able to - I slept well enough that I woke up without much time to spare before the train arrived at 7:30 AM the next morning.