Friday, March 20, 2009

Travelling to Beijing and Day One of Touring

Hi everyone! Being in Beijing has been a blast so far, but getting to Beijing -- not so much fun. Nothing went wrong but 30 or so hours of travel makes for a couple of very tired, cranky parents to be. We arrived at the airport in St. Louis for our 5pm flight to LA and arrived there at 7:15pm. Imagine my surprise to hear someone yelling my name as we walked into the international terminal there. It was M., a mom-to-be in our travel group and her husband H. They live in California and were just starting their trip. We were pretty much instant friends and we travelled the rest of the way to Beijing together. They are funny and warm so darn cute I just want to tuck them in a pocket and bring them home with me. We left LA at midnight and arrived in Guangzhou almost 16 hours later. There's no way to sugar coat it, that was one long, tough plane ride. Even in the "good seats." If we had travelled in economy seating, I'm pretty sure there would have been bloodshed. For those waiting to travel, here's tip #1 - Spring for premium economy if at all possible. It made the ride bearable, just barely. Tip #2 - do whatever it takes to sleep through most of the trip. Make friends with Mr. Xanax or Benedryl. We arrived in Guangzhou about 6:30am local time and had although we had to scurry to catch our connecting flight to Beijing, we made it. Our guide Elsie was waiting for us at the airport and shuffled us off the to hotel right away.

We were determined not to sleep right away so as to try and adjust to the time change, so we freshened up a bit and headed off to the local Carrefours (think Super Mega Walmart on steroids) and browsed their overwhelming array of everything. We picked up some potables and snacks before heading to the hotel health club for a full body massage. Tip #3- do this. Being pummeled into bonelessness for 45 minutes was just what we needed to relieve the travel knots and went a long way towards making us feel human again. After a quick drink in the hotel bar, we joined M. and H. for a lovely meal and then headed up to our rooms...

Where I promptly freaked out because I realized I hadn't packed a two dollar piece of plastic that was supposed to allow me to connect to the rest of the world during this trip. Once that problem was solved (the plastic bit turned out not to even be necessary) I made a couple of quick calls home, and we fell into bed, utterly exhausted, but excited about the days to come.

I have no idea why we woke up at 4:30, but I popped out of bed bright-eyed and raring to go. For those of you who know me personally, try to pick your jaws up off the floor. After a nice breakfast with M. and H. we met with our local guide, Cindy and one other family, D. and D., and headed out into the big city (17M people). Tip #4 - Beijing traffic is every bit as crazy as everyone says it is. See example A below which was taken just outside our hotel, on a not typically busy intersection.

We headed straight for the Temple of Heaven, which is located in a large park full of folks dancing, practicing tai chi and sidewalk calligraphy. The temple and surrounding buildings had some of the most beautiful architecture and porcelain tiles I've ever seen. The colors were especially vibrant as this area was recently restored in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics.

After the temple, our guide Cindy, took us to a restaurant for a delicious lunch. It was served family style on a lazy susan and the staff just kept bringing dish after tasty dish. Everything was good and I even ate and enjoyed the fish! After lunch it was off the the bell tower, which apparently is the training ground for the Great Wall. Then a new guide and a brave rickshaw driver took us on a tour of a local neighborhood called a hutong. We learned about this type of traditional community, visited with a family, and pet their sweet dogs. (Hi Ollie and Greta. We miss you!) Next, we visited a local kindergarten and played with the kids, who were mostly a little shy because they had just woken up from a nap. After dinner (Tip #5 - skip the KFC), we ended the evening with the Chinese Acrobats show. It was loud, colorful and amazing. I had no ideas bodies could bend those ways.

Blogger is giving me trouble uploading photos but you should be able to see the whole day's worth here.

More later tonight!