Sunday, January 07, 2007

Final Thoughts

Today is Monday morning and we are packing for our return trip home. We will be leaving for the airport at 2P. The road trip to the airport will take about 1 hour. We depart at 5:20pm, non stop to Chicago.

Some interesting facts we learned about Communist China:

-The population of Beijing is 13 million people.

- Beijing has 2.85 million vehicles, a figure expected to swell by 35 percent to 3.8 million in 2010. One thousand new cars are on the road every day.

-Fuel for cars is about he same price as the US.

- A couple is allowed to have one baby. Any additional children will cost them approximately $10,000.00.

-During the Olympics, businesses (factories) will close down for two weeks to alleviate some of the congestion. All cars will be allowed into the city every other day, based on their license plate number.

-Most of the Chinese people that we saw shopping in large numbers at the malls are considered to be the wealthy Chinese.

-When shopping in department stores, you select your merchandise and a ticket is written. You take all your tickets to a cashier located throughout the store, pay your bill then return to each department to retrieve your items. During holiday shopping, this could prove to be a major hassle.

-Very few homeless people are visible on the streets. We only saw two one night while walking to dinner. The government has made every effort to have the police take the homeless to shelters.

- During this trip we saw only four people wheelchairs. Handicapped accommodations are almost non-existent.

-The best time to visit Beijing for warmer weather is early spring and fall. The summer is high tourist season.

- All the monuments had a about a 6 inch step over at each doorway. This is to keep out evil spirits.

-On every corner there is either a McDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut.

Heard over and over in China:

-Excuse me sir, where you from?
- Hello.....Sir....
-Smooz Operator
-Watches, Rolex, Gucci, Prada, good price
-Come look
-Special price for you today
-Nice gift for wife
-Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan

Best advice from our tour guide:

Visit the outdoor food area, but don't eat anything.

Food Court - Grasshoppers on a stick

This trip was well planned, thanks to Jim. We covered allot of ground at a relaxed pace. The trip can be done in 2 less days, but you would not have anytime to relax.
Beijing and Shanghai are both beautiful cities to visit and worth the long flight to get here.

When we return home I will post a complete photo link.

Compared to Beijing, we are looking forward to returning to the balmy weather in Chicago.

Finally, Thanks Todd for the hat. It kept me warm.

View Full Photo Album.

Temple of Heaven and Beijing Stroll

We spent our last full day, Sunday at the Temple of Heaven and walking many miles.
The weather today was just brisk. It was nothing compared to the last few days. The sun was out all day, clear skies and minimal wind.
We took a cab to the Temple of Heaven, but decided to take the long walk back to our hotel, soaking up the local sights. We stopped at a few shops along the way and walked through a local food shopping market. The fruit and vegetables looked great, but the meat hanging in the sun did not look like it had a very long shelf life. This place seemed to be where the locals stopped and bought their supplies for the day.
Temple Gardens Entrance

Temple Gardens

Local food market

Crossing near our hotel
We returned to the hotel mid afternoon and had a light lunch. Then we ended our long walking day with a Chinese massage at the hotel. A great bargain and very therapeutic.
Dinner tonight was at Aria, located in the China World Hotel. (This was Jim's other choice if not the Hyatt, where we are staying.)
The hotel is part of the Shangri-la chain of hotels, and is very elegant. The lobby was decorated and furnished in Chinese style. Great dinner, Jim had filet, I had snapper.
Tomorrow morning we pack for our journey home, do some last minute shopping and head to the airport tomorrow at @ 2 p.
I will do one last blog entry with some thoughts and a few pictures before we depart.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Great Wall of China

We began our day meeting our private tour guide and driver in the hotel lobby at 9:00A. Our schedule today was to visit the Ming Tombs and Great Wall.
Our drive to the Ming Tombs was about 50 minutes taking us through the city to mountain regions. Once we arrived at the tombs, we spent about 30 minutes, walking the grounds. We did not go through all the tombs, but just main entrance.

This photo is the inside ceiling of the above building. It is constructed entirely of wood, without the use of any nails or bolts.

We left the tombs for the Great Wall. A pleasant and scenic journey.

As we were nearing the Wall from the highway, you must pass through toll booths. When our driver passed the money to the agent, it was an indication that the winds were fierce. He basically crumpled up the bills and handed them over to the collector, so as not to have them blown from his hand

Once at the wall, we were fortunate to have a short distance walk to the entrance. Most tour buses must park quite a distance away, due to parking limitations at the wall.

You must walk through a small tunnel on the road to the wall. This was a wind tunnel, that made it extremely difficult walk.

Once at the wall, the wind and cold was something we have never experienced or will never forget. (Jim purchased a hat at the last minute from a street vendor as soon as we arrived)

The Great Wall

Portion of climb

The photos below show us with our hands on the wall. This was not done for effect. We were holding on for dear life from the wind that could easily blow you over. The cross winds coupled with the biting cold, made it almost impossible to be out there for more than a few minutes.

I wrapped the strap of my camera around my wrist during the climb. While I was taking a photo, a gust of wind almost blew the camera out of my hands and over the wall.

During the spring or summer most tourists spend about an hour or so here. Climbing at their leisure and then returning. This was not happening today.

Though we were there a short time, it was a remarkable experience to actually be at the Great Wall.

We stayed a short amount of time and headed back down to meet our guide.

The drive from the Wall, brought us past the steel building that is being built for the summer Olympics in 2008. Our driver pulled over so we could take a photo.

Opening ceremonies building for 2008 Olympics

Included in our tour was a stop for lunch at a restaurant designed for tour groups, with a shopping area attatched. Our prearranged was a typical Chinese food. Very good with quite a few different dishes.

Our tour lunch

Dinner was at Jing, which is located in the Peninsula hotel, a short distant from the Hyatt.

Most restaurants are not very crowded because this is off season. Choice of restaurants and availability to get a table has not been problem.

City Stroll to Jingshan Park

Friday morning we began our day destined to Jingshan Park. Our walking journey began behind our hotel through another pedestrian street of shopping.

On the way we ran across a Catholic church that is 100 years old. The church was not open at the time to the public during the day, so we just took a few outdoor photo's.
A young couple arrived with photographers while we we there, to have a few pre-wedding photos taken in front of the church.

Catholic Church

Soon to be married

It took us about 30 minutes to get to Jingshan Park. The weather has been brisk. Today the winds were stronger, making it seem much colder the it was. Hats and scarves are required.

The park is vast in size, with many stairs to climb for better viewing of the city.

Though the pictures can be deceptive, the climate is very cold with the wind chill. It can be at times bone chilling.

Very "cool" picture

After our day out, we returned to the hotel for lunch and a hour warm up in the hotel pool, whirlpool and sauna. We had to defrost from the cold outside air. The pool is something we never imagined. The decor, places you in another world without the outdoor sky.

Hyatt Pool

Our dinner this evening was at the Green T House. It is probably one if not the best restaurants we have ever had the opportunity to visit. The decor was breathtaking and the cuisine superb. Our dinner Tuna/Fried Dumplings (Chinese pierogi), Roasted lamb/Spicey Chicken , Ice Cream for desert. Their decor and meal presentation were next to none.

On Saturday we head to the Great Wall.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

After checking into the hotel and freshening up from our night of travel, we walked over to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The distance is relatively short, about 20 minutes. Because of our dress and look, we always seem to attract everyone trying to give us a private tour of the city, invite us to a school art show or sell us some worthless junk. I have learned to just not even respond. Sometimes they will just walk away. If you respond, they will walk and talk your ear off from blocks. Once they realize they have lost the battle, they will drift away to and seek out another tourist.

Jim declining a private tour

We entered The Forbidden City and were amazed at the size and beauty of the many buildings.

The architecture and vivid colors are astounding. The photos do not do it justice.

Though there were quite a few people, we are sure that the summer months bring much larger crowds.

The grounds were covered with small amounts of snow and the gardens were barren. I can't imagine what the gardens look like in the spring and summer when in full bloom.

We walked through on one side and returned on the opposite side.

As we were walking, the thoughts of being so far away from home, in such a historical place, finally hit you. Planning such a trip becomes such a strange reality once you are here and walk these grounds.

Below are a few photos, to give a brief glimpse of our day. The photos are hazy due to the heavy fog that is present.

Tiananmen Square is located directly across the street from the Forbidden City. The vast size of the square seems to go on for miles.

Below are a few photos, to give a brief glimpse of our day. The photos look as though fog is present, but we believe that it is smog.

Entrance to Forbidden City


View of Tiananmen Square from the Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square

Countdown board for 2008 Olympics

After walking for over 3 hours we returned to the hotel for lunch.

Enroute, as with everytime you are outside, it is common to see people spitting. At first it is surprising, but is quite common. Not just men, but women also participate in this habit. If you click on the highlight above, it will give you an explanation. (When we were in Cairo, we were worried about the camels spitting on you. At least in Cairo, the camels were not walking next to you on the street.)

We had dinner at The Courtyard, which is located on a small street at the east gate of the Forbidden City. Jim had stuffed chicken breast with curry and I had Black Cod (a mild great tasting fish)

The hotel bar is always a great place for us to stop and have a nightcap. Last night an all female band was playing. There sound was unique, and quite fitting for the room. When we were in Shanghai, there also was a female band in the hotel bar. What was odd is that both bands seem to enjoy playing and singing Smooth Operator. Though both bands sing the words with the same pronunciation: SMOOZ Operator.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Train to Beijing

Today, Wednesday, we packed up our luggage to get ready for our train trip to Beijing.

We spent our remaining hours in Shanghai walking for about 3 hours in the area around our hotel. We stopped at local merchants, malls and strolled down small streets lined with food vendors.

One thing we have noticed is , that in China, everybody is constantly eating. Whether it be at their stores, on the street or in restaurants.

Also in Shanghai bikes are everywhere, and in large numbers. People of all ages are using bicycles as their main form of transportation. All of the bikes look like they have been handed down from one generation to another. (I should have brought the three we have in the basement and made some extra spending money.)

Though it was raining all day it did not deter anyone from being out and about.

One of many high end malls
We had a nice long lunch at the hotel and took a taxi to the train station, for our overnight journey to Beijing.
When we arrived at the station and when we exited our taxi, we were greeted by three men, who we assume were porters. They checked our tickets, grabbed our bags and we followed. They took our three bags, walked us to the terminal, waited 60 mins for us to board and then placed our bags in our cabin. The charge was 200 RMB or about $25.00. It was so worth the cost. We would have had much difficulty in locating the proper place to enter and then have to drag our three bags.

The train was a total surprise. We had no idea what to expect and were anticipating the worst. Instead we found the train to be very comfortable and clean. The room was very small, but had bunk beds, a table and private toilet. The general tickets were hard seats for a 12 hour journey.

Our Room

Luggage storage

Our trip was very comfortable. We were served a complimentary dinner, which was similar to a typical US airline hot meal. (Luckily, we ate before we boarded)

After we boarded, we stopped in the club car for a beer. It was odd to be traveling to Beijing, drinking a Corona.

In the bar area we me a mother/daughter from outside Manchester England. They were traveling to Beijing for two days, the end of a five week holiday. Very interesting people, who at the spur of the moment decided to take the train and spend the last two days seeing Beijing.

Dining Car

We arrived at 7AM, and were met by the driver of the car we booked from the hotel. This was a great move, because arriving so early, it would have taken us forever to find transportation to our hotel without any idea of where to go.

The drive to the Grand Hyatt Beijing took about 30 minutes. We were able to have an early check in and get into our room. Fortunately, we were upgraded to a mini-suite, at no extra charge. The cost here is $143 per night. This is a beautiful Five Star hotel at an incredible rate.

Included is a bedroom/bathroom/kitchen and living room.

Living room area
The weather is crisp. We are glad for no rain, but it is cold.
More about the remainer of our day tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Showers in Shanghai

We spent the late morning and afternoon exploring the Xintiandi area, where we had dinner the other evening. Most of the shops are high end, but have unique items. We did more window shopping than buying today.

The weather was rather wet and at times cold but is expected here at this time of year. After wandering the surrounding area, we stopped for lunch at KABB bar & grill. The food was perfect for lunch, Turkey melt / Chicken Parmesan sandwich. Most of the people dining were tourists with some locals and their children.
After lunch we took a cab to the Shanghai Museum. This museum has the country's premier collection of relics and artifacts. There were many exhibits of Chinese artistry in all its forms.

On a way back to the hotel we walked through the very crowded streets lined with every type of shop and business. It is amazing to see the large numbers of local people shopping at all the stores. The prices in this area were not mark downs, but "mall" prices. It is hard to imagine that with the income so low, there are huge numbers of people spending.

Dinner was at Danieli's, and Italian restaurant, located in The St.Regis Hotel. Our table was located near the window with a spectacular view of Shanghai. The menu choices were extensive and the food was excellent.

(View from Danieli's)

(After dinner)

Tonight, Wednesday, we leave for Beijing by train at 7P. The trip is about 14 hours. We have a sleeping room, but understand that it is very small, bunk beds and a small place for your luggage.

I am sure this will be experience.