Well according to the guidebooks and “things to do” the Forbidden City was number one. Today was the day and to top it off there was a gale blowing so the smog had been blown away and we could see some blue sky and the air felt much fresher!!
First stop today, Tiananmen Square. The only thing I knew about the square was a demonstration, a man stood in front of a tank and a massacre. It is also the largest square in the world.
When we arrived so did a million other people and we were all funnelled through security which took a while and then we were allowed into the square. It wasn’t a completely open square as we were expecting as it had a huge building in the middle which divided it into two. Couple this with the security cordons and we couldn’t quite walk around freely. But then I guess that’s not what the square is famous for.
We worked out that the building in the middle of the square was where Chairman Mao was lying in his open casket. We weren’t allowed to take any bags or cameras in to see him so after we got those stored away we joined the procession to queue up and see the body.
It was a long queue and we were funnelled through more security into the building where we split and without anyone stopping we all passed by his body lying in an open casket under a Chinese flag, flanked on either side by guards and enclosed in a glass room. It was one of the most bizarre and surreal things I have ever done.
To the north of the square was the Forbidden City and like everyone else we decided to go there next. On our way we are asked to stop and have our photo taken about half a dozen times…nice to enjoy this minor celebrity status.
The Forbidden City certainly looks forbidden from the outside with huge terracotta walls keeping the peasant folk out. The entrance gates looked like temples and the whole place was huge, about 1000m long by 500m wide. Inside were temples, huge halls, residencies, gardens, an opera house and more things than I am sure we didn’t get the chance to see.
One of the highlights for us was a hall full of magnificent old clocks. They weren’t your standard sit on the wall clocks they were masterful works of art. There were moving parts and most were gold or gold plated at least and represented flower pots or men working or just about anything else you could think of.
It was a bit of a shame that we saved the Forbidden City for last as we have to admit we weren’t massively impressed. It is huge and the buildings were massive and impressive but on the whole they were buildings which we had seen many times before in nicer settings with fewer people. Also the area seemed like one big paved area. Maybe this is due to the massively high numbers of people visiting everyday but it did detract from the beauty of the place. It wasn’t that the place was disappointing but it wasn’t as impressive as we thought it was going to be.
We went from there north again towards the hutongs which are the alleyways which used to dominate Beijing before the redevelopment. They are an absolute rabbit warren and full of houses and shops and restaurants and I am sure a thousand other weird and wonderful things the further you go in. It was great walking around looking at all the different little shops. To be fair we are actually staying in the hutongs just a little further away from the touristy areas and it has been great buying our fruit and water from the little shops near our hostel. Walking along and seeing the hustle and bustle of everyday life has been great too. The most surprising thing about the hutongs is how quiet they are considering how close they are to the centre and how many people live there.
There was only one way to finish off our time in Beijing and that was to grab some Peking duck and as our colds had passed it tasted even better this time. T
At Tiananmen Square just outside the Forbidden City entrance.
Always time to pose for a photo!
The intricate detail in the ceilings was beautiful
One of the first main squares and halls in the city.
The mural of the nine dragons.
We found it difficult to capture the detail and the beauty in the buildings but they were quite wonderful.
Wandering through the hutongs. We didn’t always take the right turns but it was fun walking around them.
Walkways come sitting rooms are the norm.