After an exhausting day exploring Beijing, it was finally time to check out our new home for the next 3 days. I had never heard of the China World Hotel. In fact, I was disappointed when I first learned we were not staying at the Peninsula (which I HAD heard great things about). ShoreEx told me that I could stay at the Peninsula with the other group of Passengers if I preferred; but they assured me that I would not be disappointed with China World. They were right......
Talk about WOW factor! I’ve never seen such an opulent hotel lobby. It even smelled expensive. We were ushered into a ballroom where James & Jelena were trying to direct each of us to the temporary check in desks set up on each end of the room. There were quite a few of the hotel staff members there to assist us as well. I’m glad we all didn’t arrive at the same time; because it was organized chaos at best at 5:30. Once checked in we were given a dinner voucher that we could use at 3 of the hotel restaurants. Once we checked in & got our room key card, we went to another table to make a dining reservation. Since I was eating alone, I knew I would choose the international buffet (in Scene a Cafe). If you preferred finer dining service, you could make reservations for Aria (more Western cuisine) or Summer Palace (for Chinese cuisine). By 6pm I was putting my key card in the door of Room 625.
My rolling carryon (crammed full of electronic devices) was getting cumbersome; & I was most anxious to unpack. They key card did not open the door. There was another lady down the hall (635) who was having the same problem. I asked her if she wanted to try swapping keys in case they got them mixed up downstairs. No, that didn’t work either. I kept seeing someone (a bellboy possibly) at the other end of the hall; but he was showing no interest in our dilema. Finally a well dressed man in a suit came off the elevator, assisting another guest with her luggage. When he had her safely in her room, I asked if he could help ‘us’ with our key situation. He took our keys & went downstairs. I don’t know exactly what he had to do; but it took him 20 mins. to do it. I was not a happy camper at this point.
The “Scene” restaurant was nearly packed; & I recognized quite a few fellow Passengers. I perused the numerous buffet tables. With the exception of the salad bars & dessert tables, everything was predominantly Cantonese. All fine by me, everything looked delicious & was beautifully presented.
I made several trips to the buffet for sushi & sashimi (which was delicious). I especially enjoyed the spring rolls, dumplings, various stir fries & the roast pork & spare ribs. Yum!
I didn’t dilly dally with dinner; & was back in my room by 8:15. I sat for a while in the dark looking at the scenery outside my window. So many gorgeous buildings illuminated in multi color lights. I tried to work on the computer (especially with free & super fast wifi); but I couldn’t take my eyes off the view. I can’t believe I’m actually sitting here in Beijing..... after I came THIS CLOSE to staying onboard Serenity instead. I am glad I came. I am exhausti-pated! I got in bed, lights out just before 10.
At the end of yesterday’s tour, I mentioned to Joy (our guide) & Rick that I wasn’t sure that I would join the group the next day. That first day had been hard on my hip & knees. The agenda for Friday was packed with activities from 8 am til 9:30 pm. If I wasn’t on the bus at the designated time, I wanted them to know that it was because I’d decided to take the day off.
I set the alarm for 6, with every intention of going with the group. But I had a pretty rotten night. The air conditioner would not get any cooler; & I can’t sleep when it’s too warm. My eyes were swollen, so I suspect that there was some goose down in those pillows. And my knees were still hurting. I took 3 Advil; & got right back in bed. When I woke up again it was a little after 9. In contrast to yesterday, it was gloriously sunny outside. The TV told me it was 2*C, in other words frigid cold.
I parked myself in that comfy chair in front of the window; & contemplated spending the day enjoying the view, working on the photos & blog; & maybe exploring the (underground) Mall. I had a bottle of water & a few snacks from the ship. In my mind I could just hear Celeste fussing at me for NOT going out with the group. As ‘crippled’ up as she is, she doesn’t let that stop her. So, I SHAMED myself into action.
I called the Crystal Hospitality Desk; & asked if it would be possible to find a driver & a guide to take me to the Great Wall & the Olympic Village. With the exception of a rickshaw ride & the group lunch, I could do everything that the rest of the group was doing today (& do it in a lot less time). They called back in about half an hour & asked if I could be ready at 11:30. It would cost $290 USD; & I could charge it to my shipboard account (& pay with all that OBC). Works for me!
I went down to the mall level & got some Chinese Yuan from the ATM; & when I went back up to the lobby level, my guide was waiting for me at the hospitality desk. She was a lovely young woman (part time kindergarten teacher/part time guide) named Susanna. Just outside Mr. Jung (who spoke no English) was waiting in a black sedan.
I asked if we could visit the Great Wall first (preferably the Badaling section, which would be the closest part, about 45 miles outside of the city). Mr. Jung headed toward the north west, speeding through the heavy lunch hour traffic. At times he would use the emergency lane to weave around the slower traffic. It was a little scary; but as long as she wasn’t worried about our safety, I’d try not to be. Susanna began giving facts & figures about this 3,000 year old city. It is huge, occupied by just under 20 million people & has experienced massive growth in the last 50 years.
As we sped across the city, I began to recognize areas that we had traversed a time or two yesterday. And as we got further afield, I was again mesmerized by even more of those unique high rise buildings. Most of these buildings that I find so intriguing were built by foreign architectural firms at the request of the newly wealthy baby boomer entrepreneurs.
I mentioned to her that our guide had covered most of this type of info yesterday; & if she wanted to just chat, that I’d enjoy that even more. So, I asked if she would tell me a little about herself. She moved out of her parents home not too long ago; moving into an apartment with 7 other girls. She says it’s nothing fancy; & that her share of the rent is $1,000 CNY (roughly $156 USD) a month. She just got her guide permit; & hopes that she can juggle her 2 careers for a while longer. She loves teaching; but she will have far greater opportunities for travel if she chooses to be a guide full time.
We very quickly passed through the Changpin suburbs; shortly afterwards the landscape became rather mountainous. There wasn’t a lot of greenery, just unusual rock formations & openings that resembled caves. The road signs were also in English; we were in the Thai Hung Mountains. We entered a tunnel called the Juyong Pass; & once we came out the other side, I caught my first glimpse of the wall. It immediately sent chills down my spine.
Susanna began telling me about the history of the wall. I did not realize that it is not one continuous wall, but a collection of sections. Building started well over 2,000 years ago in various parts of northern China & stretches anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 miles (there are conflicting statistics depending upon which source you believe). Some of the sections were never connected, which sort of defeats the purpose for keeping the conquering barbarians at bay. They did eventually find their way around & through some of the missing sections. But there are watchtowers at certain intervals that made it fairly easy to defend those vulnerable sections.
It is true that the wall is visible from the space shuttle orbiting the earth; but you cannot see it from the space station or from the moon. One certainly has to marvel at the logistics of moving massive amounts of rock & brick over such rugged terrain to create one of the great wonders of the world. The wall is approximately 30’ thick toward the base; & narrows a bit as it rises 25’ in height. When you walk on the wall, the walkway itself is approximately 20’ wide. There are rectangular cutouts & (star shaped) holes at regular intervals along the wall to facilitate shooting arrows or other artillery at the enemy. Those watchtowers (originally called block houses) were also used to build signal fires that could be seen for miles. They were able to communicate to each other, their enemy’s movements by those fires. Mr. Jung pulled into a toll gate & finally to a drop off point under an oriental arch/gate. We left the car there; & he proceeded to a parking area to wait for our call.
There was old snow (maybe 1½’) piled up on either side of the walkway. It was in the low 40’s with high winds; & my layers of clothing were totally inadequate. I was freezing. We started up a very long incline, which lead into a set of stairs, & finally another loonngggg incline through what looked like a small village. There were souvenir shops & restaurants on both sides.
I could see another archway up ahead; & I asked just how much further till we are at the wall. Susanna kept saying ‘it’s not far’. Then there were more steps; & I kept having to stop & rest my knee & catch my breath. One more flight; & I asked ‘please tell me I’m standing on the wall’. She laughed & said I was. I asked her if she was joking with me, because I didn’t want to say I was if I wasn’t. I looked off in each direction; & there were literally hundreds of people trudging up to those watchtowers. Some of them looked ancient! How in the hell can they do that?
I stood there quietly for about 15 minutes, drinking it all in. Another surreal experience that I thought was going to kill me; but was grateful that I had pushed through it (& that it wasn’t 75*). I think she was surprised when I said I’d had enough. I had accomplished what I came for....to actually stand on the Great Wall of China.
Going down was only a little easier than going up. We were walking into that strong wind; & you had to lean into it. If the wind had suddenly stopped, I would have landed flat on my face. On the way down, we ran into another couple from the ship who were on a private tour. Didn’t know their names, but recognized their faces. I had a strong feeling that I was not going to be in the mood to go with the group to the special banquet tonight at the Great Hall of the People. So when I spotted a Subway, I asked Susanna if she would help me order a sandwich to take home. Their menu was almost identical to what we have in the states. I ordered a whole subway melt for $50 CNY (just under $8 USD).
Another one of those adorable kids sitting with his Dad at KFCShe called Mr. Jung to tell him we were just a few minutes away from our meeting spot. He pulled up just as we walked under the oriental gate. It was nice & warm in the car. He put the pedal to the metal again, as we headed towards the Olympic Green (Village). I think Susanna & I both dozed off a few minutes. Forty-five minutes later we were at a scenic spot where we could just pull off the road so I could get some photos.
The three most recognizable structures from the Beijing Olympics were right there together. The Olympic TV transmission tower, the Cube (swimming venue) & the Bird’s Nest (arena). Very impressive pieces of architecture. And they looked right at home as part of the eclectic Beijing skyline.
Satisfied that we had checked off everything on my list, they drove me back to the China World. We arrived about 4 pm. I can’t honestly assess Susanna’s abilities as a guide. I didn’t give her the opportunity to impress me with her knowledge of the city since I had heard most of it yesterday. But she was a very charming & congenial young woman. And Mr. Jung, what can I say.........he drove like a maniac, without incident.
I sat down to check email; but I was still a little chilled & my knees were aching. So, I took some Advil & got under the covers. I have no complaints tonight about the air conditioning. I slept for a few hours; woke up hungry. I dove into my sandwich. I started packing since it will be another early morning tomorrow. Breakfast at 7; bus leaves at 8:30 (with or without you).
The invite, program & menu from the soiree that I missed tonight at the Great HallI was able to do a little photo editing before bedtime. With the 12 hour time difference, I knew it was Saturday morning in FL, so I took a chance & called a few people (I travel internationally with a GSM cell phone). I hadn’t talked with my elderly friend/neighbor, Josephine since Honolulu. When she answered the phone she couldn’t hear me (getting deaf); so she hung up. I tried again, same thing. I called my sister, Jeanie; & talked a little while. And then called Carolyn (my 2nd mommy who is house sitting for me). I must have been on the phone with each of them half an hour. My Mobal Global GSM phone service is expensive (I shudder to think). But I was so excited about Beijing, I just had to share it with somebody.
of the People........Thanks to Celeste for sharing.
of the People........Thanks to Celeste for sharing.
I uploaded some photos. The connection was super fast: & I didn’t want to shut down. But it was already 1 am; & I knew I wouldn’t be a very nice person early in the morning. I wish there were more time to enjoy this beautiful hotel. But I will have one more day to enjoy Beijing.