Forbidden City

Nicholas Quirke was looking forward to immersing himself in the past on February 28th. Few places loomed as large in his imagination as China which he’d been fascinated with since seeing Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward in Inn of The Sixth Happiness as a child. It was a fascination fuelled not only by ‘The Last Emperor but also by his days as a film reviewer, with the explosion in the 80’s of the 5th Generation of Chinese film makers;  Yellow Earth, The Big Parade, Raise the Red Lantern, The Blue Kite and Farewell to my Concubine to name a few. He had breakfast in a very stylish cafe with a tree in it and his guide, Alex, was waiting for him at the hotel. Their first stop was Tiananman Square, but typically it was largely shut as there was a meeting of Congress and the Police and Military were out in force to prevent people from using it. He got a sense of the size and scale of the square and they moved onto the forbidden City that borders it. This again was immense in scale and he was awed by the fact that this city had been built entirely for the protection and pleasure of one man, well 22 Emperors in the end. It was extraordinary to know that all the central entrances and stairs were only ever trod by by the Emperor, and walking in these footsteps, standing out and looking at the square as only he could, surveying his court imbued him with a remarkable sense of power.  9,999 rooms in the city and impossible to see all,  though he captured over 200 photographs and came away with a lot of knowledge thanks to Alex. They stopped for tea which included a tasting session before going onto climb many steps up to a temple in the Imperial Gardens from which one had a view of the entire Forbidden City. They Visited the Bell and Drum Tower, before Nicholas was treated to an impromptu Rickshaw ride through the Hutong and a late lunch in a family home. The remainder of the day was spent at the breath taking Temple of Heaven where the Emperors prayed and made animal sacrifices to the gods. He was particularly interested in the 7 meteorites which occupied part of the grounds and the groups of gamblers he saw as they left the Temple compound. Nicholas had a look at a Tailors but decided he did not need a suit and went back to his hotel. Wei had discovered for him a vegan restaurant to eat at and accompanied him for dinner. Nicholas was delighted to have found a friend and translator, though he was not quite sure how he allowed himself to think going to the cinema again, to see the bizarre Monster Hunt 2 was a good idea. He was alerted by reception that he needed to meet Alex in the foyer at 7.15 in the morning to start the next days trek, so it was straight when he got to his room.





  1. Hi Nicholas – sounds wonderful – have you managed to find a new blue jacket ? I feel the burden of Swingin Safari every day !

Leave a Reply