Saturday, August 24, 2013

Now, where were we?

I got home yesterday and boy, it is good to be home. Shanghai isn't home in the sense that I have my people around me but it has become a home away from home. It is familiar, it is convenient; I can do what I want; I am not living out of a suitcase or worried that I am going to leave something behind in all the packing and unpacking; and, it isn't a hotel room.

So let's pick up where we left off. I will defer the fiber and crafty stuff to another post because I really want to catch you up on all the travel. Remember, we are still at the Beijing trip in June! Let's finish that today and I will continue with the others. There will be a number of posts in the next week, if I can swing it, so I will be all caught up soon.

The Forbidden City is where the Emperor and his family lived. It was really crowded the day we were there. We went during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday. While we were at the Great Wall and Ming Tombs on a working day, we went to the Forbidden City during the long weekend.
This is the entrance gate. Our guide had gone to buy the tickets. You can see the crowd in the entrance courtyard which is huge. The actual palace is a series of buildings that all look rather similar. There are no furnishings in most of the buildings. Our guide told us that a lot of these are in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, split as a result of the Chinese civil war.

Once inside the gate, we were in a giant courtyard..
The place is maintained very well. The government is continually restoring various sections and of course, re-restoring due to the ravages of weather and people.
As you get closer to the next series of buildings, you realize how big they all are.
This is the administrative section of the palace. So everything is built for grandeur and show. Foreign dignitaries were received here. Processions and parades took place here. There are two beautiful lions on each side of the center steps. One is female and one is male. The female one has a cub under her paw and the male has a ball.
Otherwise it is difficult to tell them apart. They are both quite ferocious.

After admiring the lions, we went to the gate that gave entrance to the next courtyard. We didn't go inside many of the buildings that day because it was so crowded. We'll probably have to go back to look at things in more detail.

From that gate, this is what it looks like looking back at the first courtyard.
And looking forward to where we were going...
Here is a close look at a giant incense burner. I am probably not going to do too many more building pictures as they mostly all look like the ones you've already seen. We did get a bit tired of the architecture. One of my colleagues from another country told me that all her Beijing photos looked the same: curved roofs and carved animals.
Another look at the beautiful restored decorations on the buildings.
Each building has guardians on it.. that is what those carved figures on the roof are.
The Emperor was the only one who had ten figures. Tradition said there should be nine but the Emperor wanted to be better than everyone else so he had ten put on his roof.

An Emperor's view of the courtyard..
I loved the carvings on the steps. What you see is a pair of steps - one on each side - that were used by the Emperor's chair bearers. The Emperor floated above the carvings.  You can see the steps and the carving better in this photo.
These giant pots were gilded and you can see some remnants of the gold. I think they were meant for water.
There is a series of animals along the raised platform at the head of the steps. It is a huge platform. I liked this ferocious tortoise because it is such a juxtaposition of a gentle animal with ferocity.
One of the elements of Chinese gardening and architecture is 'borrowed scenery'. You design your garden or view to include things that are not yours. The Emperor borrowed this view of the Jingshan temple that is behind the Forbidden City.
We are now in the more intimate parts of the palace. This is where the Emperor and his family - concubines, wives and children - lived. No one else lived in the palace. I am not sure if servants were included in this fact. But the scale of everything now becomes smaller. Including the lions: you can see the cub in this photo.
Deep inside the palace, there are a few rooms that are furnished. They are rather dark but my iPhone camera did a great job of capturing the contents in dim light.
These rooms were also decorated. Here's the ceiling of one.
Another room...
I liked this painting inside one of them.
The Emperor had a nice shady garden inside the palace. It is a traditional Chinese garden that has a number of vistas that change as you move around. The vistas are fashioned after nature but there are pavilions and spots where one can sit and admire.
We ended our visit by climbing to the top of Jingshan temple to get a birds' eye view of the Forbidden City. I had to jostle for position right at the top to get this photo.
Once I was there, I had to take a few shots.
I am using a landscape filter on my camera here, which brings out a bit more detail, but it also changes the colors a bit.

We then went to the Summer Palace. The current incarnation was built by the Empress Cixi. She took money that was intended for the navy to rebuild it, weakening the navy. The end result was a disastrous loss by the navy to the Japanese (if I remember correctly).

We entered and were immediately entranced by the dock, the lake and the dragon boats.
By no means did we even scratch the surface of this park. It is huge and filled with hiking trails and temples and pavilions. We mainly wandered around the lake and took a ride on a dragon boat across the lake.

The buildings seen on the far side are temples and palaces. We did not go into them although we did walk around to that side of the lake.
Still on this side, a different view of the complex. We walked around to the Marco Polo bridge, which is a replica of another bridge. Each lion that tops the balustrade on either side is different. The bridge leads to an island in the middle of the lake.

Being a holiday weekend, there were lots of families in the park. You can rent paddle boats, walk around, have a picnic and generally enjoy the lovely views and buildings. I wonder what Cixi would think, with all these people wandering around her prized palace?

This is one of the dragon boats. It might even be the one we took.
From the boat, you can see another side of the lake. There are fewer buildings there but more trees and a park-like area. I believe the mountains were sculpted to mimic a beautiful view from somewhere else. Ahh... to be an Emperor!
But today, people can enjoy the facilities with their families. I think that is a good use of the gorgeous park.
As we got closer to the temple complex, we could see how large it was.
At ground level in front of the temple complex, and extending a good bit on either side, is the world's longest covered walkway. It is beautifully decorated so that the Emperor could see different views/vistas as he walked. There are benches on each side to rest and enjoy the paintings also. No two are identical.
Along the way there are circular sections with higher ceilings. They were also decorated.
One of the paintings in more detail.
Looking at the walkway from the outside.

We walked the length of the walkway and then decided to walk around the lake back to the entrance. We could have taken a boat back but wanted to experience the walk. It also afforded us a few different views of the lake.
There were lots of lotus plants along this side of the lake, although there weren't many flowers. I managed to snag a photo of a couple.
And so ended day two of our trip. Our feet hurt so even though we could have done more, we just couldn't. We went back to our hotel and rested and then went out to dinner.

Next up will be Tian'anmen Square and the National Museum.

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