Second day in Beijing.
My second day in Beijing will be focused on the legendary Forbidden City. Yesterday, on my way to Tian An Men square I was near its entrance gate so I know already where it is. Today weather is still fine so I will walk. On my stroll I cross peaceful areas off the beaten path. This district is made of hutongs as well with a small stream running in the middle of it. Riverside is very well kept. My attention is drawn by a sign in Chinese and English belonging to an association in defence of dogs. For a moment I think to use the photo of it for a joke, pretending that I took it outside a restaurant serving dog dishes. Seriously speaking about this topic I have to say that, in my opinion, this issue is highly overrated in the West. It is likely not a hoax but, at least in Beijing, none still eats dogs and actually this is the most popular pet nowadays. Another stereotype seems to be “Beijing crowd”. I still didn’t see it. Probably I need to go in modern districts. I realise I have still a lot to see, including the Great Wall of China, and only two more days to spend in town according to my plan. While I’m deep in these thoughts I reach the Forbidden City ticket office.
Visit of Forbidden City.
Queue for tickets is reasonable, only 15 minutes waiting, but is quite ‘dangerous’. Why? Because of the umbrellas. You should know that in Beijing umbrellas are widely used by women to protect from hot sun. Waiting in the queue I was surrounded by Chinese women and their umbrellas’ ribs exactly at the height of my face. Reached miraculously safe and sound the ticket booth I got a ticket for 60 yuan (7,5 Euro). Please keep in mind that is required to show passport so don’t forget it if you come here. Sky is now a bit hazy but I won’t complain. It is time to enter the Forbidden City or, as it is called here, the Palace Museum. This was the imperial palace until an empire actually existed, in 1912. The entire area, we’re talking about almost one square kilometre, was at that time closed to ordinary people. Some part of the palace was only for the emperor, his wife and the concubines while other buildings out of a total of 980 located within the city walls were used by administration officers working during their daily business. The palace must be visited going from south to north so, I join the flow and I get it through the Meridian Gate. As soon as I enter I understand that my visit will take a long time. In front of me there is the Gate of Supreme Harmony huge but nevertheless it takes less than one third of the width of the city. Those gates, as the gate of heavenly peace that I’ve visited yesterday are not made of an arch as we can imagine. They are huge buildings now hosting collections of historical items. For now I decide to go around the gates, first on left side then, on the way back here, on the right. Visit of the city goes through beautiful gardens with marble bridges similar to the one I saw in the circular city, strange sculptures and buildings particularly remarkable for their decorations. It is the Chinese architecture at its highest level. Within the site there are at least two more museums requiring an additional ticket of 10 yuan: the treasure gallery and the house of clocks. The treasure gallery is actually made of three different exhibition sites having the usual solemn Chinese names such as: Hall of Spiritual Cultivation, Hall of Joyful Longevity and Belvedere of Well-Nourished Harmony. Treasure gallery is a must due to incredible gold, silver or jade exhibits. Also the buildings are very beautiful. By the way, I forgot to say that Forbidden City buildings are mostly built with wood. I actually loved more the house of clocks. Here you will find wonderful items, mostly built in Europe even if some was made within the imperial court. At specific hours, clocks are playing and this is really a show. Their complex mechanisms makes me remind my memories goes to the peacock clock I’ve seen in Hermitage Museum. After the visit to these two additional galleries I keep visiting the immense site. Having seen the two sides now I’m pointing north crossing the central part of the city. One gate after the other, with my eyes full of images of statues, decorations, flags, lanterns. Now, after more than four hours spent in the city I have to say I’m bit tired. I need to see something new. I quickly gain the northern gate (Gate of Divine Might) where is located the exit and I get out. And now?
Getting out from Forbidden City, it is enough crossing the street to reach one of the four entrances of Jingshan Park. It seems the emperors needed a lot of spaces. Their palace was huge as I’ve just seen, then there was the circular city I’ve visited yesterday that was the private park and now this wide imperial garden, open to the public only from 1928. This rectangular green space has an artificial hill at its centre. It is interesting to know that it was built using the soil dig out building the moat of the Forbidden City. The park that is accessible for a ridiculous cost (2 yuan, about 25 eurocent) is an intimate place and full of trees. From the top of the hill you have best view of the Forbidden City giving you a clear perception of the huge amount of building within the walls. This park is famous because the emperor Chongzhen committed suicide here in 1644 marking in this tragical way the end of Ming dynasty replaced by the Qing one. Not far from the commemorative plaque there is a famous attraction of the park: the peony garden. Unfortunately this should be seen in April when flowers are in full bloom. Now I just saw the green plants. Park can be visited in about one hour so now I have still some time to spend for today. What to do?
Temple of Heaven.
Answer to my question is in the title of this chapter. Yes. I should have time enough to visit Temple of Heaven but I have to hurry. I walk fast to the ‘closest’ metro station, more than 1,5 kilometre far but this way I reach the entrance of the temple in time. The overall temple park area is bigger than forbidden city and of course I will not have time to visit it. I will then go straight in the direction of the most famous building here, the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests, maybe the most famous Beijing’s landmark. On its way I go through the incredible Long Corridor. What I liked of it is not only the beautiful shades of green of the roof but the people under it. Hundreds of Beijing citizens, in small groups, some playing cards but mostly a table game I don’t know. I will discover later that is the Xiangqi, also known as Chinese chess. Some of the players seems just aiming to relax while others are very concentrated on their next move. I leave the players sitting on the sides of the corridors and I finally head to the main temple. Once there I have that strange feeling of seeing closely something I saw before just in picture. For a moment I feel like being sucked in a photography, becoming part of it. The circular three-storey wooden building is in front of me surrounded by white marble stairs. It is almost closing time and therefore there are no many visitors. Unfortunately now the sky is a bit cloudy and also due to the afternoon light pictures are not good as I would like. I will play with them later maybe using HDR. And I did it. You can see result in this Flickr post.
A pleasant evening.
Out for dining, I decide to test one small and clean restaurant, located not far from my hotel, in a small alley of same district. It is quite popular among the locals but I’m the only tourist. There is no english menu but the waitress brings me a tablet where I can browse all the available dishes and choose what I want to eat and drink. In the end it comes out I took a very tasty plate of pork stew with peanuts and veggies. Surely best food I had so far in China. Beijing’s evening looks great with full moon shining over the northern lake where I walked after dinner. There is a magic atmosphere is magic with all the lights reflecting on the water. There is still someone sliding on it on rental boats. An happy town wishes me good night and so I do with you. Before, take a look at photo gallery where I’ve added more pictures. Hope you like it.