Yesterday was an awesome “weather” day, with blue skies, and slightly cooler temperatures in the shade. (note, I said, in the shade…) We had Mr. Shi pick us up at 8am to head downtown. During the ride, Sophie and I read up on the history of the Forbidden City, which was built between 1406 and 1420. Its location is the exact center of Beijing. Along the way, we drove by many government buildings and with gorgeous fountains and greenery. As you approach Tian’anmen Square and the Meridian Gate (southern) to the Forbidden City, the throngs of tourists carrying parasols increase. For a moment I was a bit overwhelmed thinking of seeing these sites with a 3 year old in a stroller and an 8 year old, but the sites are so amazing that you just have to go. Once we got into the crowds, I realized that getting through them is similar to the ocean’s riptide. You have to find an opening and take it. Tian’anmen Square was impressive in its size, but there really isn’t much to see besides the the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the guards.
We walked onward to the Forbidden City. You enter under the huge picture of Chairman Mao, walk further into a courtyard to buy tickets and then onward into another gate. The City is a series of courtyards and stairways. There is a huge moat surrounding the entire city and a smaller one inside the Meridian Gate. There are huge statues of lions guarding the important buildings. We stayed to the western side of the complex, which housed the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Due to the crowds, it was really hard to see inside the hall, so I’m really glad I purchased postcards so we could examine the details more closely. The vast size and age of the palace is just amazing. Each courtyard had an enormous doorway with big red doors and ornately carved designs surrounding it. I really liked the Imperial Garden with rock structures, pools, flowering plants and cypress trees. We spent two hours touring just 1/3 of the palace, but that was enough for our first visit. We plan to come back in cooler temperatures…We really liked the walk back to the car, through shady streets with locals going about their daily routines. I have to give credit to my children, especially Sophie, who walked for four hours in the heat and didn’t complain once.
Our next stop was Temple Restaurant Beijing. Brian had found this online at Trip Advisor. Our driver took us to a questionable looking street and parked. Hmmm…we weren’t sure we were in the right place. There was a “western grocery store”, but no sign of a restaurant. Mr. Shi took off to talk to someone. When he returned he said we could walk to the restaurant from here. He led us down a one lane street with little corner grocery stores and tiny shops. Eggs were for sale in crates on the street. Corn was piled up on the sidewalk. Handmade straw brooms were for sale alongside hangers and electric kettles. (We did buy a broom to use in our courtyard patio.) Finally we reached some men in suits who approached us and asked if we were looking for Temple. Yes!! Success! We found it just in time, because we were all hot, tired, hungry and sweaty. In the courtyard of the restaurant were six squatting monk statues. This restaurant was built in a 600 year old temple. The host brought the girls some croissants and water and within 25 minutes we had a table. The service and food were excellent, although Sophie quipped, “I think this is just a snack restaurant!” when our food arrived. For Saturday brunch they offered western/French style brunch food. I had the Butterfish with Pumpkin Seed Relish, Eggplant, and Raisins. It was a delicious respite in the middle of downtown. Afterwards, we explored the Temple garden, which was gorgeous and fun for the girls. I highly recommend the restaurant…if you can find it!