37 yrs old.absolute love of traveling - and photography, writing, health / nutrition, relaxation. ...Find out more!
A scheduled night in Beijing and a canceled flight the next day? I couldn’t believe my luck!
I had just spent the last two weeks in China working my ‘other life’ - massaging for a cycling team at a huge, ten day race in Qinghai province. Departure point was Beijing and all the teams flew home bar one person whose flight was cancelled – score!
We flew from Lanzhou to Beijing, and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Forbidden City and/or The Wall but alas, the sun was set by the time we arrived. I had to resign myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get to see these great sites…
However, lady luck shone down, and the next day, the organizer broke the ‘bad news’ to me. So, for that afternoon, I opted to visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. I could have easily gotten a taxi, but I chose the more adventurous route: free hotel shuttle to Beijing airport, airport train to the city and then tube to the Forbidden City. This all went well, but let me forewarn you about the Beijing metro/tube system. Think of the London tube and multiply the amount of people by ten (but don’t make the stations or the tube trains bigger). And this is during off-peak times! Normal ‘give way’ rules don’t apply either as I soon discovered. For the first time in my life, I was shoved into the train by a guard so that the doors didn’t close on my bag. Once inside I was ‘rolled’ around, by the throng pushing past me to get right into the centre of the carriage.
I ended up getting off a station too early, which still surprises me, because I was watching the electronic map above the doors, each station to my destination being crossed off… and I exited too early!? Not sure how I made this mistake as the Forbidden City is clearly marked on the tube map.
What a sight to behold when exited the correct tube station! I was facing the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square was behind me. Ok, time to explore!
I entered the main entrance into the Forbidden City (TiananmenGate).
Also referred to as the ‘Palace Museum’, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace for the Ming and Qing dynasties. Its construction began in 1406, with 500 of its 600 year history seeing 24 emperors rule from within the walls. It’s pretty much a fortified castle, with an incredibly wide, 4km long moat, and 10m high perimeter walls protecting 9000 inner halls and rooms!
The lay-out consists of two parts: the outer court, where emperors handled court affairs and held different ceremonies and the inner, where the emperor lived and handled day to day affairs. There is also the Imperial Garden, entered from either inside or outside the walls which costs 2 yuan to enter.
The ‘outer city’ is free, but the ‘inner city’ requires a 60RMB entry fee. Make sure you have enough local money to cover this (I didn’t, and it took a while to find an ATM with a cirrus logo!) I ended up back at the metro station and discovered that the police in blue uniforms DO speak English and were able to direct me to an ATM machine. It was now 3pm, and the Forbidden City museum closes at 5pm. – so off I went again, this time I would get a ticket! There was a hawker selling Forbidden City maps to people queuing at the ticket office, for 5RMB, which I highly recommend.
Walking through the Forbidden City leads you towards ‘Jingshan Park’ (2RMB to enter), a man-made hill that overlooks the Forbidden City. The hill provides good feng shui and as all other dynasties were situated south of a hill, when the capital was moved to Beijing, a hill had to follow. It is probably most famous as the place where the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty ‘Chongzhen’ committed suicide in 1644, by hanging himself. Apparently his loyal aide followed suit. The hill is only 45m high, with two pagodas on the way up, plus another at the top. The highest pagoda houses a huge Chinese Buddha and there was no shortage of Chinese worshippers paying their respects. Two hours is plenty of time to take in the sights and sounds of the Forbidden City plus Jingshan Hill.
Tiananmen Square is situated just across the road from the Tiananmen Gate of the Forbidden City. I went over for a quick look, but there is not much there. A 38m Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and of course its history. The worst in 1989, with the ‘Tiananmen Square student protests’, which saw the deaths of hundreds of students. However, Tiananmen Square has been the site for various political events and student protests, not just 1989.
Going back to my hotel proved interesting. I decided on a taxi, from the bottom of Jingshu, but none of the taxis (even the empty ones!) were stopping for me! Eventually, the Chinese equivalent of a ‘tuk tuk’ driver pulled up to inform me I’d never get a taxi from there! After much negotiating including taxi finding fees, I did taxi back to the aiport hotel which cost 50RMB.
Stay tuned for part two – The Great Wall.