March 18, 2014
Our guide Peter told us that in China that we would never be alone. Quite an understatement given our tour today. We off loaded near Tiananmen Square and found ourselves in a sea of people and souvenir vendors. The pictures will reflect the environment. So far we have been able to find places to take pictures which edit out most of the crowds. It was impossible today.
There are 23 million Beijing residents, a few hundred thousand tourists at any one time. It seemed that most managed to find their way here today. Nonetheless, we walked past plenty of security and Mao in his Lenin like crystal cocoon. We did not stop to say hello. We posed in front of his Mona Lisa like smiling image plastered above the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen).
Once through the gate, we started our journey towards the Forbidden City itself. The palace complex dates from Mongol times but was largely built under the Ming Dynasty. The buildings have a distinctive similarity despite their function. There are clues as to their importance based upon the number of dragon sons on the eaves. Dragons being the symbol of the Emperor are there in spades.
The size is overwhelming as are the crowds. It was survivable. Getting a picture of the throne was like a Black Friday Sale at Walmart. We will watch the Last Emperor when we get home for a better view. A visit to the Concubines and their Quarters was slightly less packed. We finally found the Dragon Lady Empress’ spread. Saw the Imperial Phone. Since that time Chinese women all have phones.
We survived the palace and went to lunch before heading to the Summer Palace. The group was down to ten from the ship and the Chinese were even fewer. The summer camp of the Manchus is a few miles from the city center. The palaces only held a few thousand VIPs and servants. The buildings are constructed around a lake.
There are pagodas, monasteries and a covered walkway with ten thousand paintings. There were only two tourists for each painting. We were quite happy to reach the marble boat that was built with the Manchu Navy funds while the Japanese were building real ships. We then boarded the Dragon Boat for a short cruise past Marco Polo Bridge who was entertained here by Kublai Khan a while ago.
We spent some time back at the hotel bidding adieu to our fellow travelers. We will be on our own tomorrow.