Thursday, May 31, 2012

Honeymoon: Day 2

11/04/12 - We got up at a reasonable time in the morning as we wanted to make the most of the day and get down to breakfast before it was cleared away. Breakfast in the hotel was nice, although not the best out of the hotels we stayed in - generally during the whole holiday we stuck to eating western food at breakfast (all the hotels had egg stations!), although there was always a selection of Chinese dishes that we could have tried.

Entrance to the Forbidden City
The day's plan was to go to the Forbidden City, which was only about 10 mins from our hotel. The rain of yesterday was pretty much a one off for the honeymoon and on this day the weather was hot and sunny (it stayed like this in Beijing). Walking to the entrance there were a lot of tour guides touting for business and saying that they could get passed the ticket queues quicker, but we just wanted to sort it by ourselves. At the entrance there were huge queues of Chinese tour groups in which each group had there own colour and style of hat. The ticket queue for non-tour groups folks was quite long, but actually took under 10 mins. We then got our audio guide and went into the City. It was interesting place and really big - we probably spent a couple of hours in there, but Jen was quite shocked by her first (and worst of the whole trip) experience of a Chinese public toilet. Near the exit people were being stopped going through by soldiers and there were official looking cars about, so we thought it might have been state officials going by. We went back the way we'd come and found another way through (we ended up at the same place, but after our detour the officials had passed and people were allowed through). Also, whilst in the Forbidden City it was the first time on the trip that Jen had someone request having their photo taken with her (due to her red hair we assume.)

Across the road from the exit was Jing Shan park, which has a happy story of an emperor hanging himself in it! The hill in the park was actually constructed from the soil excavated during the making of the moat around the City. While walking up to the top Jen attracted the attention of a large group of photographer with telephoto lenses trying to discretely take her photo. The tower at the top of the park contained a large Buddhist shrine and offered great views back over the Forbidden City. The park also offered a better second toilet experience than that in the City.
The Forbidden City from Jing Shan Park
From there we walked back down the side of lake in Beihai Park and the side of the Forbidden City to Tianamen Square. There were a lot of soldiers about including some rather obvious plane clothes soldiers/police. We saw the famous portrait of Chairman Mao and headed and through the gate at the north of the Square, which turned out to be the wrong way and just headed back to the Forbidden City entrance! Going back out to the Square we got accosted for the second time, so that a man and his son could get their photo taken with Jen. Initially I was in the photo, but they then asked me to move out the way, so it was just Jen and the man's son! Crossing under the road via the subway (which had X-ray machines) we were in the main part of the Square. We wandered past Mao's mausoleum (not going in to see his body) and saw the changing of the guard. At the south of the Square we went into the Qianmen Gate building - this offered a good view back over the Square, but didn't contain much of interest.
Mao's mausoleum in Tianamen Square

We walked down Qianmen street and went for a pot (well many refills of a pot) of tea at Haos Tea House. We'd not eaten since breakfast, so also had an ice cream from the Hagen Das across the street. After passing a shop for London Olympic merchandise (presumably a reassignment of a previous Beijing Olympic shop) we found a physics-themed footbridge at the bottom of the street. Around this area our guide book had said there were Hutongs (the narrow alleys and courtyards where people would traditionally live) that you could walk round, so we attempted to find them. But, they seemed to have all been flattened for new buildings (we did find some others over the next few days), so we just walked back to our hotel.

We booked dinner at the Pure Lotus vegetarian restaurant, which required us to take our first subway journey. We had to use two different lines, but it was very simple and cheap (20 yuan each). The map we'd brought with us didn't quite extend to the restaurant location (and we hadn't even noted down the address!), so we had to wander around slightly randomly for 30 mins before we found it. It was a rather fancy place with a huge wooden door at the entrance. The food was all served in very elaborate dishes and it looked rather impressive. There was a huge wooden menu that was very confusing. This confusion meant we ordered far too much including a chilli and fake "chicken" thing served in a huge banana-shaped dish (which we didn't really ask for, but just got told about and accidentally brought). But it was all very nice albeit very spicy (given the large amount of chilli). At the end we got complementary fruit served in dry ice!
Complementary fruit

After dinner we went to find bar we had found on the beijinger website, called Q bar, which was supposed to be good for ex-pats. After a 20 min walk we found the bar, which was above a slightly dodgy looking hotel - it was packed, but a bit odd and we couldn't get drink! We left with the feeling that we'd stumbled across a special singles, or swingers, night!?

It was now too late to get the underground home, so we tried hailing a taxi. Eventually one did stop for us. We had a card from our hotel with its address in Chinese script, but the driver had very thick glasses and didn't seem to be able to read it. The driver did seem to have understood the card though and got us back to the hotel for a fee of about £2.40.