The hard beds everyone seems to always mention when it comes to China did not make any difference to us last night. Funny thing about waking up though, there was snow! We asked Jenny about snow last night and she said that it has only snowed twice this winter in Beijing so we probably wont have to worry about it. How come every trip Chris and I have taken has involved snow? Okay so we knew what we were getting ourselves into with Hokkaido and the winter festival but not Nikko or here.
Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven. The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor. The complex was frequented by the emperors of the Ming (1368-1644) and Quing (1644-1912) dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest.
There are three main parts to the Temple of Heaven: The Circular Mound Altar, The Imperial Vault of Heaven, and The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.
The Circular Mound Altar
An empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones, each decorated by extravagantly carved dragons. The numbers of various elements of the Altar, including its balusters and steps, are either the sacred number nine or its nonuples. The center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven and is where the Emperor prayed for favorable weather. Because of the design of the altar, the sound of the prayer would be reflected by the guard rail, creating significant resonance, this helped the prayer communicate with the Heaven. The Altar was built in 1530 by the Jiajing Emperor and rebuilt in 1740.
Visitors would stand on round slate and yell to hear the echo, but considering all the attention I was already receiving I decided to just pose for Christopher to take a picture.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven
A single-gabled circular building, built on a single level of marble stone base. The structure is surrounded by a smooth circular wall, the Echo Wall, that can transmit sounds over large distances.
This is something Chris and I did do! We stood on opposite sides of Echo Wall and talked towards it, we actually heard each other! Neither of us were yelling, just an indoor voice. Our tour guide Jenny said no one could whisper within the circular wall without being heard.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest
A brilliant triple-gabled circular building, 118.1 ft in diameter and 124.7 ft tall, built on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, with no nails. A fire caused by lightning in 1889 burned down the original building. The current building was re-built several years after the incident.
The Temple of Heaven was a good introduction to how the rest of our time in China was going to be like, everyone badgering us to buy things, people staring very blatantly at me, while others took pictures of us…
After the Temple of Heaven we drove up behind a shop that had a sign that read, “Arts and Crafts.” That made me pretty excited since this was a stop not listed on our itinerary. However when we got inside we found ourselves not in a craft store but a large pearl jewelry store! Pearls are one of my favorites if you didn’t know. Before we could even grab a look inside we were brought over to an aquarium filled with clams. A sales woman told me to fish one out and then guess how man pearls were inside. I don’t know about you but I’ve always assumed that a clam only produces one or two pearls… If we guessed close to how many there were she said we got to keep the biggest pear inside! I guessed three and Chris said five, well there was more like twenty. No worries though, I still got two of the clam’s pearls!
This was a wonderful surprise! I’m so lucky to have a husband who finds joy in seeing how excited I get to simply window shop. He was blown away by the low prices being asked and then remembered that China has open markets, bartering!We’re very familiar to the pricing on pearls, we’ve spent far more time looking at pearls than anyone could imagine. Christopher being who he is couldn’t pass up taking this opportunity to spoil me. That boy is so sweet on me.
After all that pearl shopping we gained back some energy with lunch! The tour was all inclusive, this means not only were the restaurants all scheduled ahead of time but so was the food.
The highlight of lunch was seeing a group of pandas walk in to eat…
… oh, and this cake we saw on display…
Next up was The Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 26 ft high city wall and a 20 ft deep by 171 ft wide moat.
(When Jenny took a picture of us outside the Forbidden City a few other people stopped and took a picture of us too. One of the men flagged Chris down to show him our picture and gave him a thumbs up. What does a stranger do with a picture of a couple he doesn’t know?….)
(There was a sign near the tree that read: The branch-interlocked cypresses symbolize loyal love. It is said that Puyi and Wanrong, the last emperor and empress of the Qing dynasty, had their photograph taken in front of the trees after their wedding ceremony to show that “we wish to fly in heaven, two birds with one pair of wings, and to grow together on earth, two trees with branches interlaced.”
Yet another surprise addition to our itinerary, a silk factory! I knew silk came from silk worms but I wasn’t knowledgeable about the process until this trip!
It was a quick trip because we weren’t interested in buying anything. Apparently we were expect to take over an hour and a half at this stop, but that was also the estimated time based off of a whole tour group, not a tour group consisting of 2 people. We were beyond early for dinner and the first showing of an acrobat show we were going to see after dinner still was far off. Jenny asked us what else we wanted to do, Chris mentioned a building he desired to see so we drove off to find it. Unfortunately a building next to the one we wanted to see was burned down so the view of the building was blocked off. Poor Chris, he had to settle for a postcard. We caught a few glimpses but it wasn’t what I had hoped he would have seen.
I have never been to an acrobatic show! Chris went to one the last time he went to China but this was a new experience for me!
For dinner we didn’t have Chinese food but instead Japanese food. Jenny said that we were given the Japanese tour since we booked from Japan. She thought this was funny and tried to inform the agency that we’re Americans, not Japanese, but they told her to stick to the itinerary. There was only one issue with dinner and that was smokers… I couldn’t count how many ‘no smoking’ signs were around the room yet there was a man smoking at the table next to us. Both Chris and I are very sensitive to cigarette smoke so we requested a change of table. I’m not sure the waiters were too thrilled to move us but we wouldn’t have been about to eat if they hadn’t.
We were zonked after dinner. Came back to the hotel and tried to stay a wake a little longer because it was too early to head to bed.
Tomorrow is the Great Wall! Yahoo! I don’t believe it yet.