Trip Start Mar 25, 2012
22Trip End Apr 14, 2012
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First stop Tiananmen Square - really packed with people. The police are busy sorting out the pedlars who are selling Mao souvenirs.There is a brisk trade in Chairman Mao caps going rate 10yuan - £1.
There are long lines at the mausoleum but we rush accross the square for a group photograph in front of the Tiananmen Gate - The Gate of Heavenly Peace. It seems that is what everyone else wants as well and the professional photographers are doing a roaring trade.
Then it is a fight to gain entry to the Forbidden City. All the entrance ways are packed. Just think for 500 years no one but the Imperial Family and their servanys were allowed in now it is a free for all.
There are no trees in the public areas of the city as the Chinese word for trouble is the letter T in a rectangle!!
Also the floor is 15 layers deep - this effectively prevents seeds growing and malcontents tunneling in. A real consideration when the place was built in the Ming Dynasty 15th Century.
The Forbidden City is vast and there is not time to see it all - the sun is out and it is warming up.
I would hate to be doing this in the summer when it is really busy and 40degrees! Our local guide keeps us well away from the crowds as much as possible, the vast majority of tourists are Chinese. All the groups dutifully follow their flags - including us.
Once through the vast barren courtyards of the official reception halls, the buildings and courtyards become smaller and are the personel quarters on the Imperial Family - Emperor, Empress, Dowager Empress and all 3000 concubines! How on earth did he sort that lot out on a daily, or rather nightly basis, well as it turns out his mother and wife did it for him!!!
Next stop is lunch at the Hutongs - this is the orginal housing of Beijing before they started building the highrise blocks. The housing plan was set out by the Moguls who developed the first city plans and created a regular city plan with wells and shared public bathrooms.
Families live in small walled units where each family has 3 rooms. These are all owned by the government and are rented. The few Hutong communities remaining are protected. Lunch is prepared by the lady of the house in a tiny kitchen. All 21 of us squeezed into the one small room.
We are transported through the narrow streets by rickshaw. Cars are banned but no-one pays much attention. Each section has a shared bathroom block - there are no doors - it is recommended that you sing.
Next stop is the Temple of Heavenly Peace - the colour scheme changes from the Imperial red/yellow to the religious blue/green. The Temple is set in a lovely garden where everyone is hanging out mostly playing cards in the gardens...
Although not feeling very hungry after a large lunch it is off to Peking Duck dinner, with a demonstartion on how to carve the duck into 182 small slices with a hatchet - it was done very quickly and was quite delicious.