We’re in full tourist mode today! So it was up at 6.15, breakfast at 7 and meet our tour-guide Michael, at 8, in the hotel-lobby! 😎
On today’s itinerary…
…although due to President of Pakiastan‘s recent arrival here, lots of roads and landmarks were sealed-off! Bugger! 😠
Well, it was good job we left when we did! The traffic was horrendous. Luckily, our driver Zen Hur had motored round these parts for many years and although he couldn’t quicken the journey, he adopted the local (national?) style of driving. This included: minimal signalling; the ability to squeeze into the spaces at least 1 inch shorter than our car; a complete lack of respect, when turning, for cars and cyclists heading towards us in the opposite direction, and finally the tendancy to use pedestrians on zebra crossings as target-practice.
After 45 minutes, we arrived in the centre of Beijing and Tian’anmen Square. Magically, we (and our car) made it in one-piece, but we were denied our first and second planned stop due ‘presidential protocol’ that closed off the Square and The Monument to the Peoples’ Heroes. We could see them, we just couldn’t get near them as the ‘Men in Green’ (and lots of men in identical black suits complete with earpieces) waved us on!
Thinking on his feet, Michael directed our driver to Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts. Wow! What a place. It was stunning from every angle and surrounded by water with its main entrance under the waves, it didn’t disapppoint!
Tiannemen Gate was also ‘out-of bounds’ so we headed straight for…
Ordinarily, it would be possible to queue, and eventually walk past, Mao’s body and marvel at its preservation, but we had to contend with just admiring the Mausoleum from a distance – another local attraction that was sealed-off! 😠
Next stop – entrance to…
The Forbidden City
The queues were beginning to build, but Michael, our Guide, led us through our own entry-point and were soon looking forward to seeing this collection of ancient Palaces. Word to wise though: have your passports handy! We’d only been in central Beijing for less than an hour today and this was the second time that we needed to show them! 😮
As we passed through the central arch (apparently reserved for royalty back in the day), we headed into unknown territory. We weren’t quite sure what to expect…
They love their archways out here and after passing though yet another, we were now officially looking at The Hall of Supreme Harmony (one of the largest wooden structures in China) – and not to be confused with either the Hall of Central Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony! it was impressive from the outset.
Guarded by two lions – one female and one male, we were encouraged to determine which-was-which! Apart from the obvious ‘hunt-the-genitalia’ game (which didn’t help as they were without them!), it took us a while before Michael revealed the female is on the left and the male is on the right – based on some gender stereo-typing involving babies and balls! 😉
Beautifully restored and decorated in the familiar red (for blood), yellow (for value) and blue (for sky), its impact was immediate from any distance. As you might expect, it was very busy whether it was a semi-formal tour like ours, something completely unplanned or the ultimate in co-ordination! 😁
From that point, as we discovered more ‘Halls’ (Palaces), for me, they all blurred into a single multi-coloured mix of stunning architecture and vibrant colours. If there’s a pub-quiz and one of the rounds is ‘Beijing’s Forbidden City’ best choose your team members wisely!
Maybe I’m being disrespectful to the proud history of this place, but it doesn’t take away how impressive everything looked. The amount of detail in the hand-carvings (especially) was worth the visit just for that!
Our final look around The Forbidden City gave us even more examples of the architecture and as we were heading towards the exit, our Guide pointed ut a couple of mythical animals guarding the City – they’re called Xiezhi…
…and I have no idea what the collective noun is! 😉 Their role was to identify the guilty from the innocent and when inflicting punishment on the guilty party, their horns were used (say no more!) 🙄
No visit to China would be complete without a ‘traditional tea-tasting ceremony’, so we took the short drive to a local establishment.
We must have tasted around six very different types of teas (and even me, not being a great tea fan thought they were ALL very yummy), but the ceremony was over too soon. However, it did confirm that the particular type we all enjoyed the most – Hibiscus and Rose variety. It was very sweet and although generally, I hate fruit-teas, this was delicious! We bought some on the visit round their shop but resisted the temptation to buy one of their tea-sets (as beautiful as they were!).
Lunch was a short drive away for a ‘western style buffet lunch’ at one of the swankiest hotels I’ve ever been in! – The Legendale. Another of those ‘totally over-the-top’ places, (and some!) but very nice!
To ease the pressure on the tour-timings for tomorrow, (where we’re planning to visit part of the Great Wall) we brought forward one of our planned destinations for tomorrow…
The Temple of Heaven
This was about a twenty-five minute drive away and we were soon parked and following Michael to the ticket-booth.
Essentially, it’s a giant park with a Temple! And when I say ‘giant’, I mean larger than the three major parks in London put together!
It was (and now typical of this part of China) immaculate with every area of lawn manicured within an inch of its life. The flower displays were stunning too…
The Temple itself is the largest existing complex of ancient sacrificial buildings in China.
Visually, it was yet another stunning piece of architecture. It shape is unsual and is apparently based on a grain-store! Built in 1420, it served as sacrificial buildings for the Ming and Qing Emperors where its primary role was to act as royal altars to Heaven, Earth, the Sun, the Moon and other deities or symbolic forces of Nature. Our Guide, Michael, was clearly a strong believer in the need to respect nature and spoke in a very animated fashion about its ‘place’ in modern religion within China.
It was now getting on for 3pm and we were all feeling ‘templed-out’. Our driver, Zen, showed us that his driving style had NOT been a one-off this morning and we were back at the hotel in no time.
Wow! What a day! Our initial disappointment of not being able to get near Tian’anmen Square has more than been made up for by everything else today. The weather has been perfect for sight-seeing – not too hot, not too cold – and Micheal has been a knowlegeable Guide (and good fun too!)
Tomorrow, it’s the big one – or LONG one at least, as we visit the Great Wall. As a bonus, we’ve got a slightly later start of 8.30! 😁.
More photos (and none of my chat!) HERE
“再见” (translate HERE)