China's Once Forbidden City

Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
Emperors Guesthouse

Flag of China  ,
Saturday, April 2, 2011

Had to take a hard seat on the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. Seems like 2 days before the departure date was not enough to get a hard sleeper ticket. Not a pleasant way to spend the night but at least it was only 12 hrs. Basically a hard seat implies you have two rows of 3 people facing each other with a small table next to the window. While the seat didnt feel as hard as I thought it might, hard seat basically meant the seat was fixed.
As for my seat, it was the middle one. Better than isle (no table at all and people in isle) but not as good as window (since window had the table). Managed to occasionall get a corner of the table where I could put my head down to sleep and also managed to sleep sitting up but with the seats so stiff, not so easy. Lucky I have started getting use to sleeping anywhere and having headphones on helps to keep out some of the surrounding noise.

Probably was lucky enough to get 4-5 hours sleep in dribs and drabs over the course of the night but definately wanted a bed for the folowing night.

Once in Shanghai went to the sunway and found a person rather than machine selling tickets.Was busy with all the people from the trains that had arrived and cant imagine how many people must get served here each day. Must be a killer of a job.

Enventually got to a trains and got the subway to a station near the hostel where I had a view of a chinese gate. Walked 1.5km to get to the hostel. Thankfully directions on the web page werent to bad.

Nice courtyard style house with a decent bed located down a shopping mall that looks like a main street found in any china town around the world. Guess this must be a touristy part of town since while the buildings were in an old style, they looked fairly newly build with their concrete bricks. Similar in a lot of ways to building in parts of shanghai. That is new building old style.

Wandered back out to the street and through the shopping strip of old style chinese builings. also wandered around the bit gate/fort near the subway station entrance.

First things first. Had to go back to the train station to get my ticket to Siping for the following day. There were a number of overnight trains but the plan was a fast 5.5hr train the following morning so I could spend the night in Beijing (Also given the late notice probably wouldnt have gotten a sleeper).

At the train station was lucky enough to find a foreigners window with minimal english (no electronic ticketing as in Shanghai). Was lucky that they had this window since the train I wanted had no seats so my only option was to take a standing place. Decided to do this in the hope I would be able to sit on my pack once I got on the train.

From here headed back to Tiananmen Square which is huge. By now it was getting late in the day and I wanted to try and fit in the Forbidden City so pretty much slowly wandered through the square but without going into any of the museums there.

Lots of statues around the place and symbols related to comunism as well as lots of people. Also lots of soldiers around the place with the occassional large group marching past. At one poin I also must have been passing a parade of some sort since a buch of soldiers were running around a squared chanting a marching song.

While in the square was approached a number of times by chinese women wishing to go have tea so they could practice their english. Avoided this since have read that people get suckered into going to a tea shop and paying excuberant prices. Had noticed a couple of starbucks around the swaure and wander what would happen if you said yes but said you wanted to go to starbucks.

From here headed to the forbidden city which I found to be huge. Seems I just scrapped in before the entrance was closed to new entrants and I defiantely needed more than the 1.5 hours I had to do the place justice. In the end basically just had time to do the central part of the city without any trios to the side parts or surrounding gardens. Should probably make an effort to come again if I have time.

Seems the place is basically a lot of courtyards with buildings located at the northern end that have gates that allow people to pass through. Lots of colourful wooden buildings in a traditional chinese style though some of the material that the place is made out of looks pretty modern. Guess a lot of reworks been done.

Ended up as a nice walk without to many crowds since it was the end of the day. Also found some nice gardens towards the back of the city. Best of all I could pop out the outher side of the city without having to rush back to the gate I entered through.

From the back gate went into Jingshan Park and up to the top of the hill. Lots of people up here which given the view is to be expected. This spot appears to be one of the few high points withinf the second ring of the city that seems to contain the older more historical center of town. Besides that it provides a great view down to the forbidden city and of the rest of the city surrounding the park. Seemed like a popular spot for a photo where people dressed up in traditional dress and had the forbidden city in the background.

Also had some nice views in the opposite direction to the city which I later read was where drum and bell towers were located. After taking the views in for a while wandered back down and made my way around the outside of the forbidden city walls back to the hostel and through the shopping arcade of new old buildings.

Just a final note about Beijing (and I found out later this seems true of chinese cities in general). It appears that the city is surrounded by concentric rings that surround a city center. As expected the further you go out the bigger the rings get. Also with Beijing, at leats it appeared so to me, was that the inner two rings held the older parts of town and had the least amount of skyscrappers or tall buildings for that matter within their circumference. Also believe the city has something like 9 rings which would make it pretty big. With so many people living here I guess it would have to be.

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