Forbidden City and Beihai Park

4/9

Slept until gone 0900 – what a treat after the broken up nights. Breakfasted at 10 (great omelette chef at the hotel) and then out into Beijing. Took the subway Line 10 south for a few stations, then onto Line 1 west to Tiananmen Square.

As soon as I was at pavement level the offers came – come and see our art gallery, do you need a guide, have you seen the great wall? I did go and see some student artwork and of course they did try to sell me some prints. The art was good, if derivative. I left without buying and headed into the entrance of the Forbidden City.

Past the first gate there’s a long, wide walkway with many sellers and tourists headed deeper inside. To go further you need a ticket. It was about £6 for an adult. I tried to buy an audio commentary but my money was rejected as fake. That’s odd, I thought – it came from Thomas Cook in the UK I thought. Wasn’t sure I wanted audio anyway, so headed into the paid zone, through huge gated archways, walls painted a deep red.

Inside are a series of very large courtyards, divided by more archways, with gold coloured roofs. Everything is on a grand scale – from the walls, the cobbles, to the cauldrons for putting out fires, kept frost free in winter by fires. A river runs through the city, with decorative white stone bridges.

Further inside, the scale gets more human, with walled streets, halls, palaces, pavilions and gardens. The temperature was well over 30c today, and often I would stand next to the air conditioners inside the exhibitions to cool down. If I faced the ac, others thought I was looking at something very interesting through the mesh. You could look into the rooms, but only through rather murky perspex.

In the northern section were the palace gardens and family residences. The pavillions had names like Palace of Gathered Elegance, Palace of Earthly Honour, Hall of Mental Cultivation. The gardens had a variety of very old trees, some interesting rock formations and fish ponds. By this stage the crowds were dispersed throughout the many courts so it was possible to feel quite peaceful in places.

It took a couple of hours to walk round most of the ancient fortress city, 1 km long. I left via the north exit so I didn’t have to walk all the way back south, over a wide moat surrounding the whole compound. I headed west towards Beihai Park, with its large lake and White Dagoba. On climbing the hill and walking past the monument I noticed a sign saying Caves. It wasn’t highly publicised. I paid 50p to climb down tunnels hundreds of years old. I found myself laughing at the contrast – suddenly I was alone underground. Along the tunnels were 100 statues of emperor looking fellows. Each one represented three birth years. Mine was number 48, an ugly bearded little fellow. On the exit were fine views over the lake. Then a Sunday afternoon walk in the shade along the east side of the lake, paddleboats paddling and picnicking people.

So, quite a Sunday Weekend Walk, several hours. After a walk east I hopped in a taxi and headed back to the Hilton. Here’s a video I shot of that ride:

Then out for a Chinese massage at a centre near the hotel. A tiny Chinese lady dug deep into my city- and book fair-stressed body, through pyjamas, I suspect using acupressure points. She was tough! Afterwards, again the 100 Yuan note was rejected. The manager came with me to the hotel to get a replacement. I remembered then we had taken one note when selling some Chinese books on the last day of the fair.

In the evening a final meal with Zhang Dan, Derek and Marleen at an Italian restaurant near The Village. They had hundreds of photos of the owner’s uncle with celebrities – Paul McCartney, Patrick Swazee, Sigourney Weaver, Arnie, etc. Very 80s, including the music. A fairly quick meal, all of us still quite tired from the time zones and the fair. Outside the hotel, a fond goodbye as we went our separate ways – Zhang Dan to her home nearby, and tomorrow, me to Heathrow, Derek & Marleen to Bali.

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