First I must conclude Day 1; we finished with a special “Beijing Chinese meal" featuring of course “Peking Duck”. 8 or 10 people on a round table with the turntable in the middle for the food. A really good idea for a meal like this is to bring out 8 or 9 other dishes first, then when people are really getting quite full, bring out the pancakes, shredded duck etc and wonder why quite half of it gets left. The little pancakes were very thin (good) and totally tasteless (not so good) and also stone cold due to some poor soul in the kitchen having to make enough small pancakes for 300+ people. And the crispy duck skin was not, due to being kept waiting so long while they cooked and shredded enough ducks for 300+ people. After this, when everyone is now sat back going oof, is obviously the time to bring out the soup (?). Our guide Phyllis explained that this is the Chinese way, to have the soup last in a meal, but it just makes a lot of leftovers.
Also, I totally enjoyed how some of our 10 on the table took such a liberal view of “one glass of wine per head” and managed by dint of wangling and persuasion to secure approx. one bottle per head……having had one sip out of one small glass I would gladly have handed it over. Yes, they grow grapes up at the Great Wall; this does not mean you can make wine with them.
We rolled back to bed in the hotel, (due to too much food, not the not-wine), and had an early night ready for Day 2.
First, the Forbidden City. Frankly, someone should Forbid it to a few more people, I reckon. Apparently it is quite normal at this time of year for 30,000 – 40,000 people per day to visit – at a “busy” time this can be 120,000. We arrived on the doorstep as the gates opened at 8.30am, but had to fight our way past 29,998 other people who were already queueing. Things were made worse by the fact that the largest central courtyards were cordoned off for the visit of some German dignitary (President ? PM?) so the 30,000 people had a lot less space than usual. Following Phyllis got quite tricky at times; not helped by groups of Chinese tourists wanting to take selfies with any Brit who stood still for 10 seconds. And wanting to see everything first. And needing to stay in their clumps just as we were trying to keep together too and being prepared (them, not us) to do anything to achieve this. But it was awesome, and if we had a whole day and 29,998 people less to negotiate round, would have been a lot less tiring !
Next stop Tiananmen Square. Main site one MASSIVE queue, see also video and pics as/when we can upload, but seriously THOUSANDS of people, all waiting to pay their respects to Chairman Mao (or, as someone in our party put it, go and look at an old pickled man). A large part of the Square was cordoned off for the visit of some German dignitary etc etc, which actually helped make it look bigger as it emphasised the huge space in the centre.
After lunch we went to the “hutongs” – the old part of the city, diplomatically quite sensitive as it was large areas of these lanes and courtyards that got bulldozed for the new Olympic stadiums; still, we had a rickshaw ride (coaches and even cars just can’t get in) and a visit to the courtyard home of one family and acquired a few souvenirs. The family runs a calligraphy and art studio in one of their rooms.
We returned to the ship by bullet train – 300+km/hr, and finally rejoined the ship around 7pm after a long bus ride from the station to the port.
For dinner most evenings we wander down to the restaurant and they ask if we will share a table, which means you get to meet new people each night. They basically fill the tables as people arrive so the waiters treat it as a table of 6 or 8 and serve everyone together – you don’t get to sit down to your starter just as someone else is downing the port and stilton. However, after our 2 days in Beijing, we were so tired, we said we would rather just have a table for 2, as we felt we simply could not summon up enough energy to fulfil the social obligations of sharing !