November 6th. Time to go. Our much anticipated trip was about to begin. Never having been as far east as we were heading it was all new to both of us.
I actually enjoy the travelling, well I do once I get to the airport and I have safely negotiated through check in, particularly when my hand luggage is a tad overweight.Once that's all done it's a tradition to head straight for the bar. Well, at least on this occasion it was nearly midday and by the time we were on the second round...Claire's shout.... it was well past !
We were flying Emirates for the first time and I have to say when the Airbus A380 arrived at the gate for boarding I was somewhat amazed at the sheer size of the beast. It has a wing span of nearly 80 metres, two decks and the lower one which we were sitting in had rows of 10 seats from side to side. You need a golf buggy to take you up the isle if you are sat at the back.
The journey isn't too bad, I actually like the fact that you get off in Dubai and get a connection to Beijing, gives an opportunity to stretch the legs etc but nevertheless, by the time we reached our hotel it was around 5pm the following day as Beijing is 8 hours ahead of the UK.
Just enough time to go and look for a restaurant...and we found an excellent one in the relatively quiet suburb we were staying in...grab a nightcap and off to an early bed.
Our package deal included two full day trips, the first starting at 7.00am the following morning and by 7.15 we were queueing to get in to our first attraction. The Forbidden City.
Across the road the famous or should I say infamous Tiananmen Square and the government buildings in front of which those memorable news reel shots of the man defying a tank to run him over during the protests of 1989.
Over on the other side the mausoleum containing the embalmed body of Mao Zedong which is on public display already had queues forming waiting to file past and pay their respects to the famous leader of their cultural revolution. A bit of a mystery to me that as he was responsible for the murder of an estimated 40-70 million people.
Construction of this vast 180 acre Forbidden City began in 1406 and took a million workers 14 years to complete. The buildings are all made of wood and involves some quite complex joints holding them together. A bit like Hampton Court, only the highest ranking people got as far as the Emperor's inner court and to do so you passed a series of buildings and crossed bridges and moats.
Whilst our guide outlined some of the basic themes of Chinese beliefs and life I had wandered off to look for a photo opportunity.
Must work on this architectural photography, not as easy as it looks creating a decent image, particularly if you can't get the angle you are looking for.
This Dragon statue is one of two, they represent Yin and Yang, complementary opposite forces. In this case male and female. The male in this shot is identified by the fact he has a football under his foot, the female has a baby dragon. If you want to know more about the concept, google it, I lost interest pretty quickly !
Our guide who spoke excellent English enthralled us, well some of us, with his detailed explanation of Wu Xing, the five elements theory and Feng Shui.You'll have to Google that too I'm afraid as I was off with my camera trying and failing to be creative.
I have to say though, the buildings are quite remarkable, at least from the outside. We didn't actually go in any as I don't think they are open to the public.
With the first visit over we headed off for lunch and then a visit to the centre for traditional Chinese medicine. We were told how the five element theory is demonstrated in medical matters by one of the professors of medicine.
There was then an opportunity to have a free medical check which by simply taking a pulse enabled the experts to give a diagnosis of all potential ailments you were or might suffer. Herbal remedies were available to cure your problems, a months supply cost £73. Some idiots actually believed all this and bought some. What tosh !
Anyway, off we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant before our next visit which was to the Temple of Heaven.
Another magnificent building made entirely from wood, somewhere the Emperor came to fast and pray for a good harvest.
Peeking through the doors you can see the beautiful decoration and furnishings inside.
The locals enjoying the surrounding park land were more interested in enjoying some open space and a game of cards.
My kind of people the Chinese.
The highlight of my wildlife day was that so far I had three bird species on my list. House Sparrow, Eurasian Magpie and this one which I managed a snap of using my 105 mm zoom.
They were very common , well there were quite a few about and for me my first "lifer" of the trip.
The afternoon was completed with a visit to the Summer Palace which is actually more a large park with a huge lake in it.My hopes of wildlife were soon extinguished, nothing to be seen on the water other than people taking boat trips and soon the sun was setting on an interesting and eye opening first day.
I was on information overload,just give me a nice bird to photograph and I'm happy. Desperate there was nothing else to do but improvise.
Ah well, with my tick list still firmly on three we headed back to the hotel, me clutching my little bag of herbal remedy.