Saturday, 25 June 2016

Forbidden city

Last week we have seen the Great Wall of China. Today, I will take you to the capital city - Beijing, to visit one of the most famous places in China. We will start next to the Tiananmen Square or the Square of Heavenly Peace.

On one side, you will see buildings belonging to the modern Chinese government.

On the other side, the Tiananmen Gate will allow you to make a journey to the past and visit the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is a palace complex which used to be for almost 500 years (between 1420 and 1911) the house of the Chinese emperors. In total, 24 emperors from Ming and Qing dynasties have lived there. In 1987 it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The Forbidden City, was named so because it could only be accessed by the emperor, his immediate family, his women and thousands of eunuchs and officials. It was difficult for an ordinary male to enter the Forbidden City. Today, it is a museum that can be safely accessed by anybody. Let us enter inside through the Meridian Gate. On top of the Gate, you may recognise Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic of China.

The Forbidden City is organised along the North-South axis that aligns with the pole star, emphasizing the emperor’s position as the son of heaven. It is divided into two parts. The Outer Court, located in the southern part, was used for ceremonial purposes. The Inner Court (located in the northern part) was the residence of the emperor and his family.

Let us come to the Gate of Supreme Harmony.

This is where the emperor was reviewing his troops and made some official appearances. You may notice that there is a special road, paved with stones, that runs through the middle of the courtyards, then through the entrance to each Hall in the Forbidden City. In the old days, only the emperor himself was allowed to use this path.

It will lead us to the biggest and most important building in the Inner court - the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It is located around thirty meters above the surrounding square.

The Hall is surrounded by bronze incense burners.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest building in the Forbidden City, where most of the official dealings took place. Inside, the emperor used to sit on his golden throne, called dragon throne.

You will notice that there are two dominant colours in the Forbidden City. The first is yellow, which is the symbol of the royal family. You can see it in many decorations and even in special yellow bricks.

The second imperial colour is purple. Ancient Chinese Astronomers believed that the Purple Star (Polaris) was in the center of heaven and the Heavenly Emperor lived in the Purple Palace. The Palace for the emperor on earth was so called the Purple City. You can see both main colours when turning back to look at the backside of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

Then comes the Hall of Central Harmony, where the emperor used to rest before or between official ceremonies.

Its central element is, again, a golden throne. A bit more modest than the previous one.

Finally, we arrive in the Hall of Preserving Harmony, the last in the Inner Court. This is where the Chinese officials were passing their exams.

It is guarded by animals with which the emperor wanted to be associated. A golden dragon, being a symbol of prosperity and good fortune ...

... a turtle, symbolizing longevity, power, and tenacity ...

... as well as a crane, standing for immortality. Honestly, I do not know who would really, but like really really, wants to live forever.

Inside of the Hall of Preserving Harmony you will find, yes you guessed it right, another golden throne.

In the Inner Court the buildings are smaller and less spectacular. They are surrounded by cypress trees which are known to be able to live for a few thousand years.

Out of all the buildings in the Inner Court I liked this one best. This is the pavilion in which the emperor was choosing his concubines. To make sure that he has made the right choice, he was helped by this mum. Yes, the mother of the emperor was there when he was choosing his consorts.

Finally, we arrive to the northern gate, called Gate of Divine Might.

If you turn your back to the Forbidden City, you will notice a hill, positioned in the same axis, with a temple on top.

Let me take you there. The climb is not too difficult and trust me, it is worth it. The temple itself is maybe not so amazing. It is also forbidden to take pictures inside.

Still, you need to realise that you are in the very central point of Beijing.

Now, turn back to the temple and take a look at the Forbidden City. It took one million workers to build it, when the emperor Zhu Di decided to move the imperial capital from Nanjing to a place then called Beiping, renaming the city to Beijing or “the northern capital.” And I must say the result of his vision is breathtaking.

In 1911, an uprising forced the 5-year-old emperor Puyi and his Dowager mother to flee the Forbidden City. He formally abdicated the following year and China would never have an emperor again. In 1925 the Forbidden City was turned into the Palace Museum.If you ever pass by Beijing, I strongly recommend you to book half a day for a visit there.

Forbidden City, so named because it could only be accessed by the emperor, his immediate family, his women and thousands of eunuchs (castrated male servants) and officials. - See more at:
Forbidden City, so named because it could only be accessed by the emperor, his immediate family, his women and thousands of eunuchs (castrated male servants) and officials. - See more at:
is a 72-hectare (178 acres) palace complex in Beijing that was used by the emperors of China from A.D. 1420 to 1911. - See more at:
The Forbidden City (also called Zijin Cheng) is a 72-hectare (178 acres) palace complex in Beijing that was used by the emperors of China from A.D. 1420 to 1911. - See more at:
The Forbidden City (also called Zijin Cheng) is a 72-hectare (178 acres) palace complex in Beijing that was used by the emperors of China from A.D. 1420 to 1911. - See more at:
The Forbidden City (also called Zijin Cheng) is a 72-hectare (178 acres) palace complex in Beijing that was used by the emperors of China from A.D. 1420 to 1911. - See more at:

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Great Wall

I am sure that you can all understand my excitement on the day when I will proudly take you to the Great Wall of China! The Great Wall is a series of fortifications, meant to protect the ancient Chinese states from various invaders. The archeologists say its total length can be estimated as 8,850 km, though if all branches would be added, this could be up to 21,196 km, being more than half of the circumference of the Earth. Obviously, we will not walk the entire Great Wall, not only because it would take us months but also because it is largely destroyed. We will visit only its Mutianyu section, which is located around 1.5 hour drive from downtown Beijing.

If you do not speak Chinese, I would recommend you to look for an English-speaking guide. Otherwise, you may get a little bit confused.

Luckily, the most important information is provided as a biligual notice - the Great Wall has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List back in 1986.

The Great Wall winds up on the top of the hills. To get there you can use a hiking trail, a cable car or a lift. This section of the Great Wall is dotted with numerous watchtowers.

I propose that we skip the tiring walk up the hill and jump of the lift. Looks a bit like a ski lift, doesn't it?

The metal pipe below the lift is a tobbogan trail that can be used to go down the hill. To make the descent safe and allow the toboggan to loose distance, the trail is very curvy. It basically goes on the ground ...

... but in some parts it is located on tall, bridge-like, metal structures.

The mountains around us are surprisingly high.

Though we are quite high above the ground as well.

Finally, here it comes - the Great Wall!

We will get out of the lift close to the Zhengguan Terrace or Watchtower No. 6. It is 40 meters long, 30 meters wide, and 20 meters high. You can see from there the Great Wall winding up.

Down in the valley lies a village called as well Mutianyu. As you may judge yourself, over ninety percent of the area is covered with with woods.

And on top of the hills, you can see the Great Wall and its watchtowers. I must say I have no clue how they managed to built it there. Please rememeber that the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall was first built by the Northern Qi Dynasty in (550–577) so over 1,400 years ago. No buldozers, no cranes or heavy lifts. No lorries, no planes. And still, the Great Wall is here.

It is even more impressve once you realise that the Great Wall is not a straight line. It has many branches that cross each other, sometimes meeting on different levels of the same watchtower.

Moreover, it is surprisingly steep. Actually I was not sure if I prefer to take the road down (I hope you are not afraid of heights) ...

... or up. I just cannot imagine how a soldier, even in light armour, could climb these stairs. Definitely, the Great Wall (at least the Mutianyu section) was not designed for horses either.

You probably noticed already those square-shaped structures on the top of both sides of the Great Wall.

The are called parapets and they were designed to allow to protect the soldiers from ennemies. And to attack the ennemies as well, of course.

If you want to have an idea of  what it felt like to guard the Great Wall (and the whole Chinese empire), from one of these parapets, you can stand nxt to me.

If you are succesful, you will be able to keep the red flag high.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Park of Culture in Powsin

Today I invite you to slow down and enjoy with me a lazy afternoon in the Park of Culture in Powsin. There will be no medieval castles or gothic cathedrals in sight but I hope you will appreciate some of the simple pleasures that the park has to offer.

You might rememebr that we have already been in Powsin when I was showing you the magic magnolias in the Botanical Garden. Powsin is a small village close to Warsaw and one of the preferred green areas when families can spend time together in an active way. In the summer rental house you can rent all types of balls but also equipment needed for ringo, badminton or a jump rope (there is obviously also a winter rental house when you can rent skis and sledges).

You can play here tennis ...


... or mini-golf.

In summer it is possible to swim in the swimming pool. The water is quite cold to be honest.


Luckily, it is always possible to warm up in the nice sauna.


Those of you who are too tired to play voleyball or football (there are pitches and courts for both!) can simply take a walk in the woods.

Some of the trees are really impressive, they were classified as "natural monuments".

Finally, those who enjoy sports but do not enjoy moving can enter one of these houses, where it is always possible to find people willing to play contract bridge or chess.

Whole this sporting activity has made me hungry. Let's find some nice meadow.

And now the perfect family picnic food - self-grilled sausages!