Wintertime in the Void

We slept in a bit, and had a quick breakfast in the very pricey restaurant in the hotel foyer, but we were hungry from not having eaten last night, and decided better to get ripped off here, than go out there starving and not know what's going on.

We headed out on foot, walking in the general direction of the forbidden city. It was our plan to get out there and see what was going on. The area was different in daylight, colorful in places, gray in many, and busy. Traffic was insane, the sound of car horns was the never-ending background track to the trip. We were lucky to have nothing but beautiful weather for the whole trip. The daytimes were cold, but not too cold. Night time was very cold. We were surprised how quickly the temperature dropped after the sun went down.

Before long we were facing some old structures. We only had a basic map, so we followed the walls till we came to an opening.

All we knew was these were the walls of the forbidden city.

There was a great moat running around most of it too. When we finally came to a gate we had a choice of left or right.

Good thing we chose left, it led us to the much smaller temple complex of ancestor worship. This was more in line with the time we had, and would have been disappointing if we had waited till after the forbidden city to go. I was accosted by some guy trying to sell me tour books. I bargained him down some from 100 yuan, to two for 50.

Dotted along the walls surrounding the city were these great towers. Looking like some defensive structure from some Microsoft Historical RTS, they were none the less impressive.

The fist thing that I noticed is that most things were made from stone. So much stone. It was great.

Andy Poses for Alex.

Ok, some explanation about this. Asians know how to build a really cool looking roof. Often the corners are adorned with cool monsters. This is something which I assume Japan took from China, since they took everything else.

This leads to soooo many pics of rooftops. If you find them boring, sorry, but I think they are cool.

One of the main halls in the palace for the worshipping of Ancestral Tablets.


Beijing tourism rates toilets around town by stars. We found in the long run that their ratings were, for the most part. Useless.

One of the cooler aspects of Chinese architecture was these stone walkways running up the middle of all stairways. These were strictly for the use of deities when climbing the steps. They are found everywhere and are stunning pieces of masonry.

Inside there was a special display of Chinese bells. It was in a cool hall, with big carvings on the wall of 4 auspicious animals, Tiger, Crane, Dragon and Turtle.

Me and the Garden Gate.

Another great hall.

Anyone who wants over this bridge is gonna hafta deal with the American twosome, seen here sporting their least amused faces.

(Andy on the Left, Alex on the Right, for those of you back home who haven't figured it out yet.)

As we continued to poke around the complex we ended up in the playground of the crown prince. It was a cool park which seemed to be piles of wild stone, but in actuality had many well laid out, paths. I thought it would have been just about the coolest place when I was a kid.

Ah, to have been born a crown prince...

Meh, I think I'll take warm homes over cool playgrounds...

Which leads me to wonder why I live in Japan...

The playground of the crown prince.

After we were done playing in there, we headed out and took the right where we had before taken a left. We found ourselves in the courtyard between the forbidden city and Tian An Men square.

We experimented with using my cameras two shot mode to take our picture together without having to give the camera to a stranger.

The result. One tiny Kuma.

By this point our lack of organization became apparent. We really didn't know where we were, and things seemed to be closing down. We figured out that all major tourist spots close at 4pm. I had noticed back at wangfujing a bookstore that advertised English books. We decided we would have a look at Tain An Men, and then call it an early day. We would stop in that bookstore, get a travel guide, and then retire for the night, get up early and tackle the city proper.

The Gate of the forbidden city across from the square.

Featuring everyone's favorite Chairman.

The gate from Tian An Men.

Say Democracy!

The monument to the peoples heros.

We headed back to Wangfujing district, where I took the obligatory "Look what McDonalds signs look like in this country!" pic.

We stopped and did some shopping (which really means recreational bargaining) I bought a silk tie and some pipes and stuff. Then we decided to get some dinner...

We sat down in this small restaurant at the back of some small alley. We were handed a menu we could barely read (I say barely because Alex and Andy know Kanji, so we could at least identify animals) and ordered a dish and some beer. When it arrived we decided it wasn't enough and let Andy order some more.

That was our Mistake.

Andy ordered up more food than we could possible eat. Seen here are the remnants of Peking duck, duck soup, spicy pork soup, meat dumplings (60!), fried egg yolks, a whole fish (which they actually brought out to show us before cooking it...) and 5 750ml Beers.

Total cost of dinner: About 18.00

After dinner, we headed back out to the alleys for some more shopping. Alex and I bought some pipes, and Andy bought some small glass bottles with river scenes painted on them. He later regretted this purchase, and I thought I one point that those bottles would be the death of me. I can't explain it in typing, you will have to ask me in person. We headed up to the bookstore where we were able to get a lonely planet guide to Beijing and the great wall. It was odd. You picked out the book, when and paid for it, then brought back a receipt, and then they gave you the books. Andy had read that this was how it was done in Russia too...

Turns out the book was a godsend. All of a sudden we had maps, addresses, itineraries, costs, everything we needed. I didn't believe in books when I traveled across Europe, but man! This one was great. We were glad for it too, cause this day was sort of spent wandering... not really knowing where to go for lack of knowledge of what to go see.

We wouldn't make that mistake twice.

This guy deserves a leather hat. He hustled Andy and pushed and prodded. Easily the most persistent salesman we met. In the end I had to wander over and Intimidate him into leaving Andy alone.

Shaved heads are handy when traveling.

Everything can be bought in the wangfujing night markets. Alex took a liking to these little chemical packs to keep your hands warm.

Cheap swords, chess sets, personal seals, it's all here, and it's all low quality!


On to day 3