Posts Tagged With: Tian’anmen

Hell of a Hike: The Forbidden City

This is part 3 of our recent trip to Beijing.

After 2 early starts and many miles put on our tired and weary feet we had a later start to our day as we planned to do a self guided tour of the Forbidden City. After another breakfast of coffee and pastry from the bakery next door we set off to the metro stop which was conveniently right in front of our hotel. After our walk to Tian ‘anmen Square, the long way round on Friday, we decided the metro was a better option. The Beijing Metro is extensive and covers large ground. 2 RMB (about 30 cents) to most stops is a super cheap way to travel.

After 2 short stops we arrived at our destination and when we excited the subway, police and security were blocking access to Tian ‘amen Square . We assumed it was due to the large crowds that were already congregating there. We were on the opposite side to the Forbidden City, so back in the metro we exited on the opposite side of the road and joined the crowds pushing towards the entrance. We hoped we wouldn’t be held back here.  Surprisingly the crowds moved quickly and we were inside the grounds. Queues were in different locations and we were not sure exactly where to wait to buy our admission tickets. No one was barring our entrance, so we pushed on through various gates after snapping a few photos. Finally we came to a location where tickets were being presented. With broken English a fellow directed us where to go. Many agent windows were open and the process was slow going. Luckily a gentleman came and pointed to an empty wicket and with some hesitation we moved forward. Luckily a new window opened and we got our tickets within minutes and were inside the next set of grounds.


During the Ming and Qing Dynasties the Forbidden City was home for 24 Emperors.  It is relatively new (1368-1644) not as old or ancient as I would have thought. Our guide, Jason,  from the previous day said most palaces were moved or built a new with each Emperor, so only 1 other is still in existence today. An Imperial Palace housing numerous Emperors over generations was usual. The Forbidden  Palace grounds  contain over 8 700 rooms. The moat which is 52m wide is backed by a thick stone wall which stretches 10m high which provided further protection. Today it only keeps tourists out and allows entrances and exits through its 4 main gates.


Part of the moat inside the city walls. Only beautiful stone work walls here on the inside.

Today was a disappointing day as the pollution, fog and smog made for a cloudy dull day. The brilliant reds, greens and yellows were lost in this dullness that enveloped everything. It was barely above 5˚c, not the sunny high of 15˚c that was predicted. Best to keep moving. I am not sure what I expected but the many buildings all looked similar and none allowed entrance inside. An opening over a railing allowed you a peek inside if you could stand the crowds jostling and vying for position to get a look. Never mind stopping to pose for a photo because you would be taking someone else’s profile or back of their head. Rarely will people stop and wait as you take a photo, often they walk through your shot oblivious to what you are doing. The sparsely decorated rooms were not much to see. Some were covered with plastic coverings or layers of polluted dust. Such a shame to let a large part of history fade away. I guess I expected more opulence and splendor since it was forbidden to most commoners in the day. The wind picked up and despite my many layers, gloves, hat and scarf I was chilled and starting to feel miserable. This only added to the feeling of an anti-climax and we questioned this is it? Additionally, knowing now we will leave China next year added to my sadness. Slowly our plans and excitement around Asia is coming to an end  as so many things are getting crossed off our “Must See List”. The anticipation and feeling of ample time is turning to a feeling of loss and sadness to an interesting place that has been home and sooner than later will only be a collection of memories and photographs.


Tour guides, who approached us outside the main gates and audio tours were available, but we decided to do it at our own pace. The local guides are not hired by the location, so we were leery of how authentic and true their information may be. Not to mention you must wonder if they will scam you later for a large price than agreed on. We may have taken the audio tour, but to be honest we didn’t seek it out and we didn’t notice a place where this was available. With our limited Chinese we decided not to ask, but instead use the well posted signs around the City in convenient locations that explained briefly what we were looking at in Mandarin and English.

Inside one of the many Forbidden City Rooms

Inside one of the many Forbidden City Rooms

The most surprising thing I learned was of the large stone wall and moat that ran around the Forbidden City. Little of the city wall is left today, but the similar style of wall  is still visible here. The moat, still filled with water, can be seen just after you enter near the Tian’anmen square gate. Moats seem more medieval Europe than Chinese, so it was something that really caught my attention.  Our tour guide from our Great Wall Tour told us that today’s Tian’anmen Square used to be part of the Forbidden City, the Emperor’s front yard, he explained. The gardens in the rear of the palace are the only ones left today. The square was built after a model of the Soviet squares in  Russia something that is not normally seen in Chinese city planning. Tian’anmen Square means Gate of Heavenly Peace and according to Wikipedia was destroyed during heavy fighting during a former dynasty. The name of the former gate was used to name the square Tian’anmen.

Stay tuned for more… next time the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, post a week, teaching overseas, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Beijing: Hell of a Hike

Friday we took the fast train from Shanghai to Beijing. In just over 4.5 hours we arrived at the Beijing South Railway Station. The train was fast, clean and well organised. We arrived in a large station not far from the city centre and our hotel. A long que for metro tickets and a few stops later we arrived at our hotel not far from Tian’anmen Square. We booked the Novatel Beijing Xinqiao through a travel booking website. We arrived well before check in which was no problem. The front desk clerk told us we could leave our bags and go and ‘play’ and come back later, or if we preferred go watch TV as we waited for house keeping to clean our room. I was surprised since most hotels are hard and fast on the check in rule and give you no options other than leave your bags, or just go and return at the check in time. We opted to go to the room and the cleaning staff quickly came and cleaned up.

Once we unloaded our bags we headed off to Tian’anmen square. Trying to read the hotel maps with missing streets or

Traditional Red Doors

Traditional Red Doors

street names proved to be a bit of a challenge. We figured we were going in the right direction, but thought we should ask another Westerner who was passing by since we have limited Chinese. This seemed a good choice and a good idea before we missed the opportunity. He told us to return the way we came. We figured we must have been really misreading the map, so took his advice and returned the same way. Along the way I stopped to take lots of photos of regular streets scenes with their interesting red doors and knockers. After walking and walking for what seemed like forever and past a construction area we stopped to look around. It seemed we were 1 small block from where we  should be. Coming out of a small side street we saw the large immense of concrete that is Tian’anmen square.

Tian'anmen Square

Tian’anmen Square


Crossing the road we noticed guards and military presence that seemed to be everywhere. A small shack with an x-ray machines and more security allowed us to pass through and enter the square. In the distance the large familiar red building with Mao’s large portrait topped the square and marked the entrance for the Forbidden City. The square was not much to speak of, but held a monument and 2 massive video screens that showed pictures of flora, fauna and nature sites in China. We made our way to the end of the square where a large street divided the square (8-10 lanes of traffic wide) from the entrance to the Forbidden City. Despite it being a Friday, a working day for the locals, a large crowd gathered at the entrance to the Forbidden City.  It was late in the day and the Forbidden City would need hours to tour, so we decided to leave it for another day. The day was smoggy and cool, the dampness was starting to chill us, so we turned back towards the hotel.

Entrance to the Forbidden City

Entrance to the Forbidden City

We decided to stay on the main road back and avoid the construction. We quickly realised this was the way we should have come earlier. We were at the corner to this street when we had asked for directions. Instead of directing us the right way and taking 20 minutes to get to Tian’anmen the directions we were given sent us back the way we came and totally out of our way. We must have walked an hour to get to the square, out of the way, when we were almost there!

Beijing is known for its Peking Duck so we decided that is what we would have for dinner. Luckily the best and oldest place was only a 5 minute walk from the hotel. The restaurant was over 600 years old and very popular. We arrived just before the crowds started to come in. With our limited Chinese and their limited English we were able to order our meal. I was impressed that I remembered a few Chinese words and we ordered our meal of Peking Duck, a spicy beef dish, rice and drinks. The duck arrived with the chef who expertly cut it in front of us. As most meat it came with the head intact. It was easily removed and set on a small plate off to the side to my relief. Once the meat was cooked the chef went to cut the head in half, since we ordered half a duck. We both quickly said boo-shure (NO!). With a grin the chef wheeled the cart and took the head with him. Dinner was tasty. I prefered the beef. The duck looked fantastic and was flavourful, but a bit too oily for me.

Back to the hotel we decided to enquire about getting to the Great Wall. From Beijing there are about 5 different areas you can visit. It happened to be low season and the area we wanted to see is only available by tour. We could do the closest and busiest part of the wall, which is also the least authentic, on our own. We opted for a tour. I prefer to do things on our own and not stop at all the shops where they expect you to buy things, but we also wanted to get to see a part of the wall that was scenic and not a large tourist trap and super crowded. We booked the tour for the next day. Another early start….

Stay tuned for more… Next time our trip out  at the wall.

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