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Day 5: Beijing, China and Flight to Shanghai, China

Beijing, China


Day 5: Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Beijing and flight to Shanghai, China

Today we finally slowed down our pace as we were exhausted from our first two busy days and are both fighting head colds. Luckily I packed a whole pharmacy with us, so we have plenty of medications to help us feel better. We also slowed down because it was the coldest day so far in Beijing, starting out at 18 degrees F and capping out at only 27 degrees. Brr! The wind is light, which helps, but 27 is still cold!

We started off the day with mini pancakes and pastries in the concierge lounge and then packed up our suitcases. The vacuum sealed bags work really well to squish our heavy clothing down to a manageable size, even through hand-rolling (in lieu of a vacuum). We are still wearing our same heavy clothes, so all our pictures will look like they were taken in one day. At least we'll know any photos in our warm-up pants were taken in Beijing!

First on our list was braving the famous touristy Pearl Market where I got my game on and hassled down the vendors to reasonable prices. We bought a 800 GB thumb drive (which is probably only 4 GB), a (most likely fake) cashmere shawl and some other clothes. We think we got a good deal although nothing is dirt cheap here in China. We bargained down to what we wanted to pay and then walked away. It was a welcome break from the cold as all other sight-seeing spots in Beijing are outdoors!

Across the street from the market was the famous Temple of Heaven, an all-wooden spherical temple that was constructed without even one nail. The temple was in the middle of another huge park, which was beautiful and would have been a nice afternoon stroll in the spring or fall. We weren't prepared for all the festivities in the park. There were huge groups of locals dancing to music, singing songs with their portable microphones and amplifiers, and older men and women playing cards and mahjong and dominos. It was a like a huge festival was going on, but we think this is standard activity in the park. Some women wore thick belts with bells on it so they could jingle as they swayed their hips, other couples were waltzing, and another group dressed up in Renaissance-like outfits with fake Groucho Marx mustaches. It was very bizarre! The architecture is the same coloring and style as the Summer Palace and Forbidden City. We had a nice walk with the audio guide and we lasted a good hour and a half before taking the metro back to the hotel.

We have definitely mastered the subway and recommend it to all future visitors. There is a stop right next to our hotel and the lines are clearly labeled. Our guide yesterday said by 2012 there will be subway lines all over the city. One more thing about the cleanliness. Line 5 is the nicest, but we noticed a lot of people employed as street/subway cleaners, so probably the Chinese lack of hygiene keeps many employed in cleaning type jobs! Also, the subway stops all have security baggage screeners, so you have to put your bags through the x-ray machine before you can walk through the turnstile. We need that in NYC, although we can only imagine the congestion it would cause in NY! Not many people here seemed to have bags on the subway, so we never had to wait for the machine. We found the metro much easier than taxis because many taxi drivers didn't know how to get to our hotel – as I previously wrote, one dropped us off at the Pearl Market and it was only due to Hunter's great sense of direction that he recognized a way from there to a major store near our hotel and the taxi driver knew the store location.

Another note about China – we felt very, very safe here and never once felt like we could be pick-pocketed or robbed. We also didn't see any indication that the country is not a democracy – it feels like a bustling, thriving capitalist society. Even though there is a military presence in the street and at the attractions, it feels more like the NYPD presence in NYC than military oversight. This is a big difference to how we felt in St. Petersburg, where we wouldn't walk around by ourselves. In Beijing, we were contented walking around not talking to anyone and feeing safe. We probably didn't even need money belts.

Actually – I may need to retract that safety comment as the taxi ride to the airport was quite scary! There are traffic lanes on the highways but many cars choose to ignore the lanes and just drive wherever they want on the road – two cars per lane, one car straddling two lanes, it doesn't matter to these drivers. And there are rarely any police cars on the highway, so traffic accidents cause huge traffic delays until a policeman can come to fill out a report for the insurance. The drivers in Beijing make NYC taxi drivers look good!

We left ourselves a good hour to get back to the airport, and it took only about 45 min this time as we left early enough before the rush hour began. The airport is huge and very clean and the information booth was helpful as we didn't know where to check in for our domestic flight. We ate dinner at a Kenny Rogers restaurant in the airport (spaghetti and meat sauce a la carte) and cleared security very quickly as we didn't need to take out any liquids or cameras, and then waited for our flight. Of course, our flight was the ONLY one in the whole terminal that was delayed! But all else went well in the airport – we didn't have to pay for any of our luggage as all was well under the weight limit and we were actually allowed 2 carry-on bags per person and 2 checked bags for free. There was also a China Construction Bank in the airport, which is a partner bank to Bank of America, so we were able to use a fee-free ATM to withdraw money. We had started the trip with a lot of Chinese Yuan, but no where except sit-down restaurants and mall-based shopping stores take credit cards, so we were eating through our money quickly. All of the tourist sights only took cash – even McDonalds turned away my credit card! (Yes – we finally mastered McDonalds as Hunter wanted a big lunch and ordered a #3 combo meal by pointing to the board. But he couldn't communicate his drink selection so he got whatever soda flavor they put in the cup! The whole meal was only $3 USD).

The plane to Shanghai wound up leaving an hour and a half late, by the time they loaded all the people and luggage, but we made up time in the air and were only 1 hour delayed arriving. We loved the plane. It was an old 767, and it reminded us of how nice air travel in the US used to be – there was so much leg room in coach, we thought we were in first class, and they served a full meal and two rounds of drinks! We slept most of the flight and easily collected our bags and got a taxi. We handed the directions to the taxi driver and he nodded silently and took us straight to the hotel. Taxis are much cheaper here than in Beijing. It took only about 30 minutes to get to the hotel and we were amazed at the beautiful skyline we could see from the road.

The hotel is GORGEOUS! It is the 3rd nicest hotel Meredith ever stayed in, and Hunter's nicest hotel. There are 60 floors, with the Executive Lounge (free WiFi) on the 59th floor, our room on the 51st floor, and the lobby on the 38th floor. Our platinum status upgraded us to a mini-suite which is very cool – BEAUTIFUL marble tile bathroom and a large separate sitting room, free slippers and robes and chocolates, etc. We are going to get spoiled – how can we go back to the Courtyards after experiencing this? We were in bed by 11:30pm and unfortunately didn't sleep well as we weren't very tired.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 16, 2009 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged China, Shanghai, Beijing and Asia

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I love your blog! I feel like we are following in your footsteps. We are about to go to Beijing and Shanghai. We love cruises too!

permalink written by  JW on February 7, 2010

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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