Bejing Day 4

This post is being written long after the events described herein took place. We are currently in Arlington Virginia for the month of January.

After another huge hotel breakfast buffet, we joined our fellow Viking Explorers in the hotel lobby to get sorted out into groups.

We then joined our group and boarded our bus. This group of 30 or so (as tall and wide people we love that Viking doesn’t completely fill their buses) would be our companions for the next two days. Most turned out to be great travelers but as always there were a couple of entitled folks who thought everything was about them. “Oh, you meant me when you said to be back to the bus in 15 minutes?” ðŸĪŠ

After a drive through the city, our first stop of the day was the zoo. Obviously, the pandas were the big draw for us and for hoards of other tourists-it was the third day of the weeklong National Holiday after all.

The zoo appeared to have a lot of other exhibits-would have been great to be able to see some of them also…alas, we (well most of us) were on a tight schedule and followed the timeline. LOL so we only visited the Panda exhibits. Some were inside, others outside. It was great to see these beautiful animals. I was amazed at their size-much larger than I expected. Of course we (along with everyone else) had to take a selfie!

The zoo was the first place where I encountered the first of what would be many interactions with strangers who wanted to have their picture taken with the big tall bearded white man. Sometimes it was children who initiated this but I’m pretty sure their parents may have been pushing them to do so as usually they wanted their picture too! Of course, I made sure I got a picture for my camera too. I will do a post with all these smiling faces at some point, but this should give you an idea!

Shortly after taking the picture above, on the way back to the bus, I tripped over a cobblestone and took a hard fall-skinning my knee & hands and knocking the breath out of me. The number of wonderful Chinese who came immediately to help me up and make sure I was ok was amazing. The first one to help me was the mother of the girl in pink glasses. Luckily, nothing was broken other than my pride and we continued on to the Summer Palace, our next stop.

This palace about an hour outside of Bejing is a beautiful collection of buildings around a beautiful lake. The royals used to come here in the summer to get away from the heat of the city.

Portions of the lake have beds of huge lotus. I can only imagine what it looks like when they are all blooming.

The palace buildings are intricately painted. From what our guide told us, they have to repaint every 7-10 years to maintain the bright colors.

The grounds are beautifully planted and in less crowded times I am sure would be a great place to sit and mediate.

However, this is where we first encountered overwhelming National Holiday crowds. It made visiting here less pleasurable than one would hope for a place designed for relaxation!

We walked along one half of the colonnade that joins two parts of the complex. It’s beautifully painted (the murals are shown a few pictures above) and I’m sure we’re well enjoyed by the Dowager Empress who lived here at one point but as you can see below, during our visit the walk along it was more like an obstacle course!

From the palace, we went to our included lunch. All six buses of Viking guests met here. Four of the buses were the 2 day precruise extension guests, while the other two were folks who had been on the longer (4 day?) extension. They had been to Xi’an as well as somewhere in the mountains before coming to Bejing. The lunch was made up of many many delicious dishes served on lazy Susans on tables for eight in a huge banquet hall. As with all our meals in China, we remained impressed with the food and the huge lunch meant we didn’t have to have much dinner!

After lunch, most aboard were ready for a nap-especially those who had arrived in Bejing just the day before and were jetlagging bad. However we had one more stop on our tour, the Lama Temple.

This complex was originally a royal palace but when the occupant became the emperor in the early 1700s, it was converted into a monastery.

It is very beautiful and we enjoyed seeing visitors washing, lighting incense and praying.

The most incredible sight was the huge carved wood Buddha in one of the temples.

After the temple, we returned to the hotel mid afternoon where we relaxed for a bit after our busy day. I needed some ibuprofen to hopefully ease some back pain and bandages due to my tumble at the zoo and the hotel suggested we go to a store in the next block – Walmart! Who knew???

Walmart was located on the ground and basement floors of a high rise office building. The ground floor was almost entirely groceries while down the moving sidewalk (so you could take your cart) in the basement were clothes, housewares, appliances, etc.

Unlike US Walmarts where most food is prepackaged, in Beijing there were stalls making steamed buns, noodles, and a huge selection of live fish! Also, Peking ducks and huge bins of rice!

Along the long moving sidewalk, they displayed impulse purchase items including “American Prunes”. I wonder if the Chinese don’t eat dried plums?

While we enjoyed visiting the store, we couldn’t find the bandages or the ibuprofen. After asking several clerks (there were hundreds in the store-another difference from US Walmart) and coming up empty, I went to the customer service desk and used google translate to ask. They pointed “over there”. After wandering for a bit, I was still lost, finally one of the customer service folks, took me out of the store proper and down a hallway to the pharmacy section which while in the Walmart was on the other side of the cash registers. There the pharmacist sold me what I needed!

We returned to the hotel and ate our leftover Peking Duck and vegetables from lunch the day before…and some noodles we bought at one of the Walmart booths. Mike was in need of a haircut and we passed two salons the night before on our death march to try to go to Tiananmen Square. So while I relaxed and tried to get my back to stop hurting, Mike went down the street to get a haircut. Using google translate and hand signals, he had the full spa experience-wash, trim, dry, shave, etc. I’m sorry I didn’t go to take pictures as apparently the whole place got into his beauty act. While they trimmed his beard so much that he ended up turning it into a goatee, it still got a thumbs up from the barber and him. And from me when he told me it cost less than $20 including a tip!

So ended our first day with Viking. So far we have been impressed with how they have dealt with the enormous crowds and are happy we decided to splurge somewhat with their pre-cruise extension. Based on some quick math, I think we could have booked similar hotels and tours for the two days and perhaps saves $200 but I think meeting some folks ahead of actually boarding made the cruise itself more enjoyable.

“Tomorrow” we visit Tiananmen Square (finally!), the Forbidden Palace and then will be taken to the ship which is docked in Tianjin about an hour and a half drive from Beijing. So our last act before bed was placing our bags outside the door so that they get moved to the ship.

Bejing Day 3

This post is being written in Houston almost two months after the events described below.

Introducing Lois Clara Burton-Clayton! Just kidding, while this lovely girl was sweet enough to adopt and bring home, we didn’t. More about her later.

This is our last day spent independently in China. When we booked our hotels and tours with China Highlights I asked them to suggest a half day experience after which they would drop us off at the hotel where Viking Cruises had us booked. (We looked at trying to stay at the same hotel the entire time but the JW Marriott was much more expensive than the Crown Plaza). It was suggested we take their Life Discovery Walking Tour. We would visit a temple, a market and walk through the traditional housing neighborhood. It turned out to be a great way to spend our morning.

Our first stop was the market. Because it was the day after the holiday, it was not as crowded as usual but we still enjoyed learning about the foods and other foods sold here. It was amazing to see how many bottles of soy sauce there were!

From the market we walked a block to the temple which has the oldest pagoda in Beijing. We had to wait a minute or two for the temple to open. It was so nice to be there early when there were only a few worshippers and no other tourists! This temple was definitely off the beaten path. The last picture below is us with our guide CoCo.

From the temple we walked through a late eighties neighborhood and crossed a canal which was originally the most on the outside of Beijing’s City Wall. Except for one small section, the City Wall was demolished when the Communist took over and wanted to expand the City. Along the walk we saw that the parked cars all had cardboard or wooden squares leaning against their tires-CoCo explained to us that this was to keep dogs from christening the tires! We also saw a number of the three wheeled vehicles Mike is standing beside. We figured if we had one of those apiece we could probably make it work for us!😂

We then continued through a decorated park towards the traditional neighborhood. The park was in the midst of a National Day Festival so we got to see some traditional groups singing and dancing along with LOTS of Chinese families out enjoying their holiday. It was also fun to see older folks practicing Tai Chi and playing hacks sack.

After leaving the beautiful park we stopped on the street to have a Jian Bing. This is the Chinese version of a breakfast taco or crepe. A thin batter is poured on a crepe griddle and swirled using one of those crepe sticks, then an egg is broken and also swirled in top, scallions (and other veggies if you like) are them pushed into the egg. The whole thing is flipped, a bean paste (with chili’s if you like it spicy) is spread on the top, a fried cracker is placed on top (along with a hot dog if you want one) and then the crepe/egg is folded around it. Sounds crazy and we weren’t sure we would like it but OMG it was delicious. We now understood why we saw so many folks having them for breakfast.

We went to a nearby park to sit a bit and eat our Jian Bing’s and this is where we met Lois Clara (makes after Mike and my mom). We watched her and some other kids playing while we ate and as had been the case prior and would become even more so as we visited sights during the National Holiday crowds, many Chinese were fascinated with us-my height, Mike’s gingerish hair, and our beards. Lois Clara started staring and after the smile you seen in the title picture to this post, she came over and started rubbing the hair on my arm and legs and feeling my beard. Soon her brother? (Bobby Jack?) joined her and did the same with Mike. I guess since the Chinese have so little, it was probably the first time they had seen anything other than head hair. We had a good time smiling and taking pictures-even if we didn’t get the little “Mai Ling” we have always said we should adopt to do windows and clean up after us! 😂 of course as they we left they and the other children said “bye bye” which is apparently one of the first English phrases Chinese learn. So adorable. Encounters like this were some of the most memorable parts of our visit.

We then walked through a Hutong-the traditional neighborhood in Beijing. These narrow streets have buildings on each side which have four or six apartments entered through a gate into an even narrower alley-more like a tiny long narrow courtyard. Typically a multigenerational family shares each of the small apartments along this secondary alley. So there might be 16-24 people living off each one. Talk about dense living!

While of course we didn’t go through the gates into the actual alley, we learned the apartments apparently have kitchens and showers but toilets are communal for six or eight of the buildings – so 120 or more share the bathroom down the street. CoCo said lots of people like living in the Hutong as it is very cheap but she said she left as soon as she could as she didn’t like having to walk down the street in the middle of the night if nature called. The Hutong we walked through was obviously one of the poorer ones-we saw others (near Tianmen Square and the Summer Palace) which looked to have been restored historic ones and were quite beautiful (in a SoHo sorta way rather than the one below which was more “Brewster project like”).

The driver picked us at the end of the Hutong and we headed to lunch. We didn’t know it until we arrived, but one of the restaurant’s specialties was Peking Duck. We were excited as we wanted to experience this while in Beijing but it appeared from our research that getting authentic duck was expensive and we didn’t want to spend a lot of it wasn’t what it was supposed to be. CoCo ordered for us and said she thought a half of a duck for us would be plenty. She also helped us order some stir fried veggies to go with it as well as stirfried asparagus and mushrooms. Soon one of the carvers arrived to show us our duck (and we failed to get a picture) and then took it around the corner to carve. They do an incredible job of thinly slicing the duck and it’s fatty crispy glossy skin-traditionally a whole duck is sliced into 120 slices. We didn’t count but 60 slices sounds about right for what came back to the table along with the pancakes and the toppings-dark and light sauces, scallions and cucumbers, our veggie side dishes and a delicious beer. It was a yummy and filling lunch especially after our Jian Bing snack.

After lunch, we were driven to our new hotel and said goodbye to CoCo. The JW was swanky with a beautiful lobby where we saw a Viking banner welcoming us. While I was checking us into the hotel, Mike checked in with Viking and got information on what time we would meet for tour of the Summer Palace the next morning. Our room was huge as was the bathroom-we could get used to living the high life!

After checking our our room and relaxing a bit, we headed out with the intention of walking to Tiananmen Square to see it up close in the evening. Unfortunately after the almost mile and a half hike to get there we discovered long lines to get through security and that a passport was needed (ours were in the safe in our room) so we made the death march back to the hotel. Luckily there were some decorations along the way but by that point we were a bit peckish but didn’t need a full meal so after a frustrating ride up and down five flights of escalators at the mall next door and a little hangry induced meltdown (we are so lucky we rarely argue that when we do it seems catastrophic) we bought that most Chinese of food-a tuna fish sandwich from Subway and ate it in the room. LOL