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April 14th 2013
Published: April 29th 2013
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After a cross taxi driver took us to our hotel from the train station early in the morning - it becomes a theme for our stay here - a one way street is not their favourite place to be in busy Beijing - we settled in with our usual post sleeper train showers and then set off for a walking tour of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Fortunately this time we had all slept well on the train so were feeling a lot more perky.

As soon as we set foot outside the hotel we realised the Tiananmen Square trip would be somewhat curtailed as right outside our hotel was passing the Beijing marathon and loads of runners whizzing by in a flurry of flags and numbers and costumes. All very exciting and we cheered them along. Our hotel was about a 10 minute walk away from the square hence the reason for not being able to get to it without very stern looking soldiers and security guards quickly stopping us. The marathon was far more important than tourists today. We weren't allowed to take photos of the soldiers either, every time I raised my camera with them in the shot they waved their hand at me in a 'no' action and frowned so I took one when they weren't looking instead!

We got to see all the Tiananmen Square main buildings - from across the street - and to be honest it wasn't one of my most looked forward to visits on our itinerary. I was much happier to have more time to spend at the Forbidden City. As we reached the entrance we saw a massive picture of Chairman Mao slap bang in the centre. The guy obviously still exerts a huge influence over the Chinese people, whether good or bad. To some he is marked out as one of history's greatest political strategists, a military mastermind and saviour of the nation, a theorist, a poet and a visionary who has inspired revolutionary movements across the world. But to others he is labelled a dictator whose administration oversaw human rights abuses resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of people mainly through starvation during the famine years, forced labour and executions. Either way his legacy is likely to continue to influence and effect the lives of Chinese people for many years to come.

We walk through the entrance and make our way along the long tree lined walkway towards the ticket barriers. While we are waiting there some posh cars with police escorts enter then turn round and go out again. We didn't see any dignitaries get out so wondered if they just got lost 😉

Tickets in hand we move through the huge main gateway into the Forbidden City and head straight for a toilet stop! We're in luck - they have a special plaque pronouncing them FOUR STAR toilets! This important business dealt with we start to have a look around the Forbidden City.

It is laid out along a straight line with all the buildings on either side of the line being perfectly symmetrical. It was completed in 1420 and has housed 24 emperors over a period of almost 500 years. It was for the exclusive use of the ruling emperor and his imperial court until the abdication in 1912. It was only opened to the public in 1949. We cross over a beautiful white marble bridge. I have to say I didn't notice there were four other bridges but it seems from my guide book that there are as they symbolise the five cardinal virtues of Confucianism! Confusedism more like for Lottie Let Loose! I do see the two lions guarding the halls and notice the same ball under the front claw of one (that must be the male - representing world supremacy) and a cub under the claw of the other (that must be the female - representing nurture). I actually remembered something yay 😊

I read a great sign here explaining that the gate is Zhen Du Men (Gate of Moral Standards) and that is has also been previously known as Xuan Du Men (Gate of Law Promulgation). With all this promulgating of moral standards we quickly moved on before it rubbed off on us! After taking a few of my trade mark jumping photos (thanks Renee) we moved further on to have a look at a beautiful carved marble slope going up to the huge Gate of Supreme Harmony. Apparently only the Emperor was allowed to set foot on this slope. Hopefully he slipped as it looked a lot harder to negotiate than the far more sensible steps on either side for the normal people. I do hate egotistic pomp. A sign nearby told an interesting story about the marble carving. Weighing more than 200 tonnes, this single piece of stone was brought all the way from a quarry miles away in Dashiwo in the western suburbs of Beijing in 1761. It was transported via an iced road made by sprinkling it with water in the winter to make it ice over so the stone could be pulled along the slippery surface. We passed a few large, smiley, bronze cauldrons that used to be filled with water in case of fires - lightening was feared the most as it could have burnt down the entire City. We find out that the big Hall would have been used for important occasions such as the enthronement of the Emperor. I took my place in the scrummage to get a photo of the inside of the Hall and managed to get a shot of the fancy throne inside. Behind the Hall is another smaller building The Hall of Middle Harmony that the Emperor would have used to get ready for the big occasions in the Hall - a dressing room don't you know!

The next Hall along the straight line, behind the dressing room, is what is now known as the 'Hall of Preserving Harmony' (or the Marriage Guidance Hall!) Actually I made that up, though it has had a few different names in the past and different uses. In the Ming Dynasty it was known as 'The Hall of Scrupulous Behaviour' and was used as a dressing room. In the Qing Dynasty it was known as 'The Hall of People's Sovereign' and was used for banquets. Other names have included 'The Palace of Proper Places and Cultivation of Things' and 'The Palace of Peace and Tranquility' but these things are always subjective - I doubt very much the minions of the palace felt much peace or tranquility as they were being shouted at to do this and that by the jumped up, self important Emperor. A wedding also took place in the Hall in 1789 for Emperor Shunzhi.

Moving on through to the next courtyard area and another Hall there was yet another scrummage to get a look inside the building. This time we were looking at 'The Hall of Heavenly Purity' where, since it was first built in 1420 in the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor lived and handled public affairs. Emperors during the Qing Dynasty were kept in the Hall in their coffin after they died to prove they had died peacefully. Another Emperor, Yongsheng, had an 'heir apparent' box set up so that his sons would not kill each other to try to ascend to the throne.

With all these grand halls there surely had to be grand doorways and yes indeed there were. Each was bright red, considered the colour of luck, and had 9 brass studs along the top and nine rows of them going vertically down the door - yin and yang being the key to the design. Passing through this final door we find ourselves in the imperial gardens and a love seat for Sarah and Tom to try out completes what has been a fascinating look into an ancient way of life that is thankfully no longer in vogue. Concubines and eunochs are not really very 21st century - though sadly being born to royalty still is - I'm ashamed to say in my own country too! Time we got rid of that piece of parasitic nonsense and spent our public money on something that benefits EVERYONE not just one disfunctional family! Rant over.

We decided to get a bird's-eye view of the Forbidden City from the Wanchun pavilion at the top of the hillside that we'd seen from the City and so began climbing yet more steps - cough, cough, cough went Lottie and her asthma! The hill used to be linked to the Forbidden City and was supposed to protect the Emperor and his entourage from marauding invaders. It failed to save the last Ming Emperor, Chongshen, who hanged himself from a locust tree in the park in 1644 when rebel troops forced their way into Beijing. We saw the tree that marks the spot as we set off up the hill. The views from the top were great and it really put the Forbidden Palace layout into perspective. We also saw a lake with some little boats, but that would come later!

Having meandered our way down the hillside we decided that some lunch was in order so walked and walked and walked until we eventually got to a really nice restaurant where the others tried Peking Duck and I had some scrummy vegetarian alternatives all washed down with lager (ok Aussies - BEER!). And so to the lake and the boats. We decided that rather than traipsing around doing more cultural things we wanted to mix it with the locals and get out on the boating lake in one of the large paddle boats. Aaron decided he needed to work of lunch so kept at the paddling the whole time while the rest of us took it in turns to try and keep up with his break neck speeding! It turned out to be a really funny afternoon on the lake with lots of almost collisions and shouting back and forth to other boaters.

We finished off a fantastic day in Beijing with a night out at the theatre watching some incredible acrobats, cycle display teams and these unbelievable motorbikes spinning round and round in spherical, metal cage - gasps every time yet another bike came on stage to enter the ball with the other motorbikes!

And so an early night beckoned as the next day was the absolute highlight of the trip for me - a trip to the iconic Great Wall of China.

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