Game on for China
of Beijing, but not everybody speaks English so have your hotel name and destination written for you in Chinese, even when taking a taxi, a cheap and convenient way to get around the city.
If you travel so far for the Games, you will want to do the main sites.
Standing in Tiananmen Square, I began to get a sense of what China and its people are about. It was here in 1949 that Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China. A giant portrait of him still hangs over the gate of the Forbidden City. He died in 1976, but continues to draw the crowds. There are always long queues outside the mausoleumtofilepasthisembalmedremains. I wonder what Mao would make of the National Centre for Performing Arts, nearby. Designed by French architect Paul Andreu, it looks like it has been lifted straight off a set of a sci-fi film. Across the road is the old Imperial Palace, more commonly known as the Forbidden City, becauseonlytheemperorsandtheirservants were allowed to live there.
The Great Wall is more awe-inspiring in reality than in pictures. Believed to have been started by the first emperor of the Quin dynasty more than 2,000 years ago, it comprises several connecting walls constructed by different dynasties. Avoid touristy Badaling and go to Mutianyu. Mao said you are not a hero until you have climbed the Great Wall. When you see how steep the steps are, you will see how right he was. But the climb is rewarding as the views are spectacular. And there is a cable-car.
Next stop was Shanghai, where skyscrapers fill the skyline. Once a fishing village, it is arguably now the world’s most exhilarating city, constantly reinventing itself. Buildings go up and come down in the blink of an eye as the city prepares to host Olympic football and gets ready for Expo 2010.
I stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Pudong, which 10 years ago was farmland. For the most breathtaking views of the city and the Huangpu River, the Grand Hyatt, currently the tallest hotel in the world, is hard to beat. It recently hosted its first Jewish wedding catering for 400. Cloud 9, on the 87th floor, is one of the coolest bars in the city.
If you think consumerism has hijacked Beijing, wait until you see Shanghai. Even the poor areas are crammed with shops, shopping having become the People’s favourite pastime.
For cheap clothes and souvenirs go to the underground market at the Science and Technology Museum in Pudong. It is hit and miss but fun. Never pay more than 30 per cent of the asking price.
Across the river is Puxi, the old Western quarter. To get another perspective, I moved to its new “cutting-edge” Hyatt on the Bund, which provides the perfect respite from the frenetic pace.
The hotel is north of the Bund, about a 10-minute walk from the Bund itself and an 11 Yuan (less than £1) taxi-ride to People’s Square, Shanghai’s heart. The Bund’s art deco buildings are now jammed with designer boutiques and hip restaurants.
Beijing’s Olympic Park stadium is nearing completion