I felt fine on the bus and was ready to go. The bus dropped us off at one end of Tiananmen Square, and we headed off. We went down a staircase that looked like we were heading to a subway. I was very confused because I couldn't figure out where the train would take us. Instead, we turned a corner and went up another flight of stairs. This was a safe way to cross the street and get into the Square. Trust me, you need a safe way to cross Beijing traffic.
When we reached the Square, our guide told us we had 15 minutes to make our way to the other end. She would be waiting beneath the flag of China. While we were walking, I started feeling sick again, so I told Jim to take plenty of pictures, but I was heading to the flag. I had misunderstood and thought that was going to be the end of our tour and then we would head off to the next spot. I walked with our guide as she was also heading directly to the flag. We chatted on the way, and I learned that she had lived in San Francisco for one year. She and I agreed that it was a wonderful city, and we'd both move there in a minute...if we could afford it! She's been working with our agency for 4 years.
While the rest of the group started gathering around us, the peddlers surrounded us. Several of the men in the group all bought the big furry hats and posed for pictures. They were hilarious. We have one little blonde girl in the group, and she also caused quite the sensation until her mother covered her hair with her hood.
We then headed down a ramp and below the street again to emerge on the other side. We went through a large red gate and entered the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the home of the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It's hard to describe how overwhelmingly vast this place is when you walk through it.
As we entered the Forbidden City, we saw the scaffolding and tarps veiling the next gate.
As we got closer to the next entrance, we realized that what we thought had been a view of the building behind a blue translucent tarp was, in actuality, a painting of the building. The actual building is completely veiled as they work on it. We saw a lot of scaffolding and construction as we passed through the squares.
The Forbidden City is a series of open courtyards surrounded by buildings. The entire area is surrounded by 10-meter walls. No easy escape route here! Jim took this picture as we were heading up the stairs through another gate into the next square. That's my back in the lower right corner wearing the blue and yellow jacket and the Land's End diaper bag. We were using it to lug our stuff this week. Trust me the view was better from the back as I'm sure my facial expression was pained.
Many of the buildings had signs up explaining their history.
Somehow the last line of this particular sign struck us all as incongruous.
Finally, after a 9000 (okay, 6/10ths) mile walk, we reached the Inner Gardens. The plants are starting to bloom, but, once again, I felt like we were a little too early to see this place in its prime.
We left the Forbidden City and actually had to risk crossing a Beijing street above ground. I thought we should place bets on who would make it across, but no one was willing to call the odds. Our bus wasn't there yet as there was a huge traffic jam holding up the driver. Our guide kept stepping out between the tour buses to hold her flag so that our driver could see her. I was turned to the side talking to another person in our group when I heard Jim start to yell our guide's name. As I turned to look, several more voices joined in. She looked up confused and waved to us. They kept calling her over and she finally came up on the sidewalk. Another member of the group tried to explain why everyone was calling, but she didn't understand. She explained that the bus we were all pointing towards was not our bus. We knew that. What she didn't realize was that bus was backing up and she was less than a foot away from it before she stepped out of its path. She had her back to that bus and she was standing right in the middle of it so there's no way the driver could have seen her. About ten minutes later, it happened again, but this time she jumped out of the way when we called her name.
We headed back to the hotel for a few hours of free time before we were due to meet for the acrobatic show. Jim and I first planned to eat lunch in the hotel, but Jim wasn't impressed with the offerings. The dining room that serves the breakfast buffet also serves a lunch and dinner buffet. I was feeling much better. The nausea had been gone for hours. I actually felt better when we left the Forbidden City than I had when we entered. We decided to head to the mall next door and try the pizza everyone had been raving about. We ran into about a dozen of our travel mates at this restaurant. The pizza was great, though very different from what we're used to having. The crust was very bready, but had a wonderful flavor. There was no pizza sauce, but a very mild flavored garlic sauce. The menu claimed it would have pepperoni, beef, bacon, ham, sausage, green peppers, onions, corn, and black olives. I saw all the vegetables, but the only meat I saw on it was a few pieces of ham and some crumbled sausage. You could choose between the cheese or no cheese version. After lunch, we wandered through the department store. We were very tempted by a set of the Olympic mascots, but couldn't quite justify the $60 price tag for this small set of plush toys. This was not a bargain department store. In the basement, they had a small market. We picked up some gelato for Jim and a Haagen Dazs bar for me. Now this may seem obvious in retrospect, but pizza and ice cream may not be the best lunch options when you were suffering from nausea earlier in the day. We sat on the bench in front of the mall before heading back to the hotel. We stopped in the lobby and changed our money for Chongqing, went up a floor to the business center and made additional copies we needed of our paperwork when all of a sudden, Mao took his revenge.
I spent the afternoon napping and the acrobatic show was a no show for us. I'm feeling better now. We ended up missing dinner with the gang tonight. I was going to pass, but Jim was going to go on without me at my insistence. Unfortunately, we lost track of time. He headed down about 10 minutes late and missed them.
It's time for me to go because we have about an hour and a half before they come pick up our checked bags. They're pretty much repacked, but there are still a few odds and ends to do. We are leaving the hotel at 9:40 and heading to the airport. We say good bye to Beijing and head off to Chongqing tomorrow. To get Jim's perspective, check out his blog. Only one more day before we see Sera.