Wednesday saw us head into the Forbidden City.
I was expecting (perhaps unrealistically in this day and age) everything to be "as it was". The smell of fresh paint in the air and bright red walls quickly put paid to that little fantasy. Fair dues, they are getting it ready for the Olympics but when everything looks so new it takes away from the character and charm of the place.
However, after my initial disappointment, faith was restored as we headed further into the heart of the City. You can smell the dust, the wood, the peeling paint is gorgeous, the faded upholestry wonderful. You can let your imagination fill in the blanks.
It is H U G E. And a bit like the Louvre- overwhelming. After seeing so many artifacts, and so many buildings (apparently all of which at one stage housed an emporer) it all starts to blend into one another. But there were plenty of places to rest and catch your breath or just to get out of the sun. When the Olympics come round, that place is gonna be inundated.
The hawkers abound here aswell. Selling maps, books and postcards of the Forbidden City. My favourite however was the Mao watch. I just couldn't pass that up! I'm pretty sure I got ripped off, but hey! It's a MAO watch! And he's waving at you quite happily from his little glass prison.
One thing you notice about Beijing is the shear size of the place. Tianemen Square is simply ginormous, and the roads are incredibly spacious. All of this gives you the impression that Beijing is no more populated than Auckland or Hiroshima. Quite obviously impossible! The only spaces here that "bustle" are the Hutongs. These are the more "traditional" parts of Beijing. Little inter-connecting alleyways with great little shops and stalls selling all kinds of wares. Children running about (or arguing about "fair share"), old codgers playing mahjong, handymen peddling their trade, community gatherings in the local communal outdoor gym. It all happens here. If you ever come to Beijing, get lost for a day in the Hutong, you won't regret it.