Hotel Kapok Hotel.
We were able to check into a room at 7:30 am. Room was roomy with a king size bed and good ensuite. The hotel is very close to the forbidden city and close to a convenience store. Restaurant for breakfast expensive at CNY100 but good, both European and Chinese. However for lunch and dinner has strange food. Duck blood, bulfrog. Chose mushrooms with pork and pepper. But the pork was thinly sliced pork fat- no meat. This is a problem and will have to find another hotel restaurant for daily meals.
The Forbidden city.
The hotel is within 300m along Donghuanan st from the east gate of the forbidden city although one cannot enter from this gate. Must walk another 400m along the outer wall to the south gate. There is 20 person electric open bus from the east gate that will transport you to near the south gate for 1CNY per person each way. We took the bus on Sunday and visited the area around the south gate and Tianemen square. The area was totally packed with chinese tourist groups ranging from 5 to 100 persons led by a guide with a small flag on a pole. It must have been absolutely chockers inside the forbidden city, so Sunday is certainly not a good day to visit the city particularly if you want some peace and harmony.
Monday turned out much better. We got to the south gate at 8:45am with few people and few groups in the courtyard. It was quick to get 2 entry tickets at 100CNY each, then just before the entrance picked up two audio guides in english, at 40CNY each. These will turn on automatically using GPS and will play automatically only once without repeat.
The distance along the central spine from south to north entrance is about 1.5Km and consists of a number of formal, ceremonial buildings. All of these do not allow access inside to the tourist, although one can peer into them from a barrier. Still the buildings and their expansive courtyards are truly impressive. Most tours seem to confine themselves to the central spine and take about 2-3 hours to cover the distance. There are a few places on the northern side of the temples that have seats where older people like us can rest. In the northern section, two living sections occur one on the left and the other on the right of the central spur. We took the right hand region which consists of the treasure exhibits. This included the large garden mural of the nine dragons made from fired ceramic tiles, the jade, silver, gold and jewellery exhibits and a theatre.
I found the courtyards and the architecture of the buildings truly impressive. But felt that the quality of the artefacts on display were well below the quality of buildings and although interesting from a cultural perspective. It is hard not to believe that the imperial court did not have magnificent and extreme samples of the best artisans that china could produce. But they are not here. They probably are contained in the treasures of the court that were transported to Taiwan by the nationals when they fled China.
After leaving the Forbidden City through the north gate, we had to walk some 200m to the Beichzi Dajie rd to hail a taxi as no licensed taxis are permitted to park along the north gate road.
Well we had to try Peking duck, but at which restaurant. I read all the reviews and the extreme methods that had to be employed in particular roasting the duck over apple shards. But the overallconcern was that the duck would be fatty or oily, and I wanted to avoid that. So we settled for the Hilton hotel in Wainfujing area (some 10 min walk from the Kapok hotel) that offered healthy Peking duck for 238CNY. The restaurant had an atmosphere of elegance and presence that was heightened by the bird being carved at the table by a chef. The skin was golden brown with no attached fat, and the duck meat was tender, lean with no fat but a little dry. It covered a whole plate, with an additional plate of slices of meat from the reaming bird. There was an ample number of two types of thin pancakes, cucumber, sliced shallots, served with side dishes of sugar and bean sauce. We chose to have the second course of the duck deep fried with spices. Add a plate of fresh asparagus, lilies and wolfberries and the lunch turned out to be quite a memorable occasion.