Thursday, 24 March 2016

Bring-on Beijing!


After our lovely 2 day stay in Hong Kong we joined “Arcadia” on Thursday. The weather was not the best to see the sights from her rear deck!


At night, as we left port, the mist cleared a little for us to see the lights of the city.


It was still very pretty regardless of the weather conditions!


After 3 days relaxing days at sea we arrived in the port of Xingang from where we travelled, for a 2 day visit to Beijing. After a 40 minute taxi ride we arrived at Yujiapu railway station to catch the Bullet train to Beijing.


The station building was immense and quite spectacular – this was just the waiting hall.


It seemed that the gleaming white Bullet train, with security guard and First Class attendant, were waiting for us to arrive. First class is not that expensive and, as we were to travel at 300 kph, we thought we’d do it in style!



This is the business end of the train and, at every stop,an army of cleaners appear to wash and polish the whole thing from one end to the other! You can see a cleaner in the foreground polishing the windows.


After a metro journey from Beijing South Railway station it was just a short walk to the Sunworld Dynasty Hotel for our overnight stay. This is the huge and lovely indoor courtyard of the hotel.


After settling in to our superb room in the hotel we took a walk around. If the amount of miles we’d travelled by taxi, train and metro just to get to Beijing from the port was not enough to prove how big China is then walking around Beijing certainly was! The city covers some 6,800 square miles with a population of 16 million people.


Our tourist map showed the hotel to be quite close to both The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square but it was a long walk! Finally reaching Tiananmen Square we found it to closed to visitors in preparation for a gun salute later that afternoon. The Square is the world’s largest public square (100 acres)and is bordered by the national Museum and the Great Hall of the people at the sides, Mao’s Mausoleum (at the far end) and the the Forbidden City (at this end).


A close-up of Mao’s Mausoleum and the offending row of guns (left) which stopped us from walking around this vast space



Not prone to too many ‘selfies’, here we are in front of the south entrance to the Forbidden City.  We decided to walk around it’s perimeter for the rest of the day and arrange our visit for the morning. 


Some of the buildings peeking above the huge city walls looked fabulous and bode well for a visit inside. 


Stunning 15th century architecture behind beautiful magnolia blossom.


The Forbidden City is surrounded by a moat. Not just any old moat but a huge, vast, enormous one ……..


…….. which went on for miles and miles as we round the perimeter of this World UNESCO Heritage Site ……..


…… and when the moat disappeared for a while you could walk right up against the walls. Look how small the people are!


As is our habit, we walked away from the tourist trail to head back to our hotel. Narrow streets house shops and bars and stalls frequented by the local people.


After a shower and a rest (to get the feeling back into our feet!) we headed out again to enjoy the city in the evening. Our hotel looked splendid in it’s floodlights.


On the streets people danced and did exercise to music ……..


…. and the small side streets housing the bazaars and markets were heaving with people.


Apart from the usual tourist offerings there was everything on sale from fruit and vegetables …….


……. cakes, pastries and breads ………


… to meat and fish of every kind and colour.


Exhausted from an exciting day’s walking around a small part of the city, we stopped at a local bar for some rice and a beer before heading back for a good night’s sleep.


The next morning we were down at the Forbidden City ticket office just after 8:30 expecting an enormous queue. Happily there wasn’t one as they manage the huge numbers of people extremely efficiently. And huge numbers of people there were! We quickly began to realise that China really does mean “huge” everything. This is the early morning crowd before the “rush” starts!


The place is so huge the large numbers of people seem to get sorted out as we headed for the main gateway to the City proper.


Guards stand on duty everywhere giving the place the feeling that no one dare put a foot wrong!


Once inside the true splendour of the place starts to dawn. There’s vast amounts of carved marble as far as you can see. Not just one but three fabulous marble bridges span an inner moat and, in addition to all the uniformed guards on duty, there are smartly dressed young men ready to keep you from straying the organised route.


The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 and took a million labourers to do it. It was the home of Emperors until 1911 when the revolution brought Imperial China to an end.


Emperor Yongle was the first of 24 emperors to live in the city. Luxury beyond measure was the order of the day and the emperor was surrounded by eunuchs, concubines and thousands of servants.  Some of the largest building are raised on marble terraces – this one has 3 terraces of the most exquisitely carved detail.


The crowds are kept to relatively small areas but there still seems to be enough room for the 100,000 visitors who come each day.


The city has 70 buildings housing 10,000 rooms and extends 1000 yards from south to north.



The buildings are all made of wood and in superb condition. It has survived fire, ransacking and revolution and has seen fairly constant renovation over the years.




There are hundreds of giant bronze urns which were filled with water in preparation for fire fighting should the need arise.


This is the Palace of Heavenly Purity where, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the emperor lived and handled political affairs.


Not open to the public, it does have windows to view inside. The crush for photos is quite unbelievable!


Fabulous inside and beautifully maintained the emperor’s coffin would lie here in state before cremation at the imperial mausoleum. James, being approximately twice as tall as the average Chinaman, had no problem in getting what photos he wanted!


This is the Hall of Unity which represents the union between heaven and earth and harmony between Yin and Yang.


The Hall houses a throne and, in the Qing dynasty, the empress would receive homage on her birthday, the start of the lunar year and the winter solstice. It stand between the Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Palace of Earthy Tranquillity (it’s all good stuff!).


The ceiling of the Hall of Union.



Amazing carvings on huge blocks of marble adorn the areas between one terrace and another.


After the Palace of Earthly Tranquillity come the amazing Imperial Gardens. The trees are ancient and gnarled and rather like a gigantic Bonsai collection.



The garden covers 12,000 square yards and holds Cypresses, Pines and Chinese Wisteria some of which are several hundred years old.




The “Thousand Year Old Pavilion”.


The paths are covered with beautiful coloured cobbles in over 900 designs. When they are wet the cobble show their true colours.


Some of the trees are almost too bizarre to be true!




The Mountain of Accumulated Elegance.





The Hall of Celestial Favour.


Doug and “Ern”!





At the northern end of the complex is the Gate of Divine Prowess. Constructed in 1420 during the reign of Yongle it was originally the gate of the Dark Warrior and it was our way out of this astonishing place. It’s not possible to take in the splendour and workmanship of such a place in one visit and, apart from that, one’s feet begin to object to further punishment.


And, on the outside, the vast crowds spew out into the wider world – most of whom are rather taken aback by the sheer size and beauty of what they had just seen.


After our visit to the Forbidden City there was just enough time to get to the hotel and grab our bags for the journey back to the ship. This is one corner of the street level train station complex – underground it was too large to contemplate!


More washing of the Bullet before we were allowed on on board!


The business class compartment and viewing cabin at the front of the train.


Arrival back at Yujiapu station.


And this is our Uber taxi driver, who made a wrong turn and got us into the container port instead of the cruise terminal. He was so apologetic but we all had a laugh as it took us ages to find our way back out. It was only his third journey as an Uber taxi driver. Bless him! ……


……. but we got back home in very good time to relax and shower off the Beijing grime before dinner.

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