Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
92Trip End Aug 27, 2010
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Organisation has not always been our strongest feature on this trip and we had arrived in Beijing without directions to the hotel, but as it had Wanfujing in the title we figured that it would be a safe guess to head for Wanfujing, Beijing’s most popular shopping street. It was a long trek up Wanfujing, though it did at least give Sarah the chance to check out some stores without actually being able to go inside to buy anything because of the backpacks!
Arriving at the hotel, we were delighted to find that we had been upgraded again, and could spend the next four nights relaxing a bit. Our room wasn’t quite ready and so we set out to explore the local area, find some lunch and do a spot of shopping. Our British friends may be amused to hear that we ended up shopping at C&A – they may have gone bust over there, but seem to be doing fine in China!
We returned to the hotel in time for afternoon tea and were shown to our room. This was probably the nicest hotel room that the kids have ever stayed in; three beds (two double, one single), desk, armchair, sofa, 3 flat screen TVs, bar (not minibar), bathroom and luggage/dressing room! We were only just settling in when there was a knock at the door….. a delivery of chocolates, cookies and more as a welcome gift!
As usual, arriving in a new city, we needed to book our onward train tickets and were able to enlist the help of the concierge in finding what we needed
For Derek and Sarah one of the greatest benefits that staying at the Hilton provides is the easy access to the gym, and so we wasted no time in making use of the facilities and also the swimming pool. The gym was rather small, but met the needs, the pool on the other hand was enormous, offering expansive views of the city and surrounded by very luxurious four-poster loungers with nets. We all had fun getting some exercise before heading back to the lounge to replace all of those burned calories (and more, I’m sure).
Next day, after a good breakfast, we set out to discover some of Beijing’s greatest tourist offerings before the public holiday got into full swing. Just a stone’s throw (if you’ve got a good arm) from the hotel, and visible from the lounge is the Forbidden City or “Palace Museum” as it’s officially called. Compared with other Chinese attractions we have been to, the Forbidden City has been well preserved and protected. It’s footprint is enormous, more than one kilometer in length and about nine hundred metres wide. Inside the city walls are numerous temples, halls and living quarters, all resplendent with colour and intricate design, and all extremely important to the Chinese
Notwithstanding the 40 stops, we managed to explore most of the Forbidden City in decent time, and so made our way to the hall of clocks for the two o’clock performance as recommended by Lonely Planet. I have to say that it was quite disappointing as they only demonstrated three clocks, but maybe the disappointment was due to the fact that we had paid twice as much as we should have for it….they gave us the wrong tickets to the wrong building which we didn’t even have time to enjoy as that would’ve meant missing the clocks. Having viewed the many sophisticated clocks (most of which were made in the UK in 18th Century) we made our way out of the Forbidden City and to Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, capable of holding one million people. After the obligatory photos of Mao, we made our way into the main square where yet again the kids became rock stars and posed for photo after photo. But they met some celebrity rivals, and a very rare find indeed ...
With a mere six hours of walking (with one stop for ice-cream) under our belts, we continued with the “rock stars for a day” theme and headed back to the Hilton for a little pampering. There’s something to be said for taking a shower while drinking freshly brewed coffee and watching TV all at the same time.
Being a major holiday weekend, we were prepared for the worst as far as crowds were concerned and decided to make Saturday a day for chilling out. After a large late breakfast we made our way to the Wangfujing shopping street (think Oxford Street) to check out a few stores. First stop the “Foreign Languages Bookstore” where we soon found a huge wall of Lonely Planet guides, close to a Lonely Planet monthly feature on India – perfect as we were looking for L.P. India and either East Africa or Tanzania! Other than the China version (mentioned earlier) they seemed to have every single Lonely Planet in existence, except for the ones we need
Assuming that the tourist attractions would still be very crowded, we headed for the Hung Qiao Pearl market, which seems to be targeted at extracting cash from western tourists! Every aisle is a gauntlet of vendors yelling “you buy, you buy”, looky looky”, “wanna bag/purse/belt/shoes/shirt…?”, “have a look, lady”, “I give you good price”, etc, etc, practically forcing you to move so fast that you really don’t see too many of the goods on display. Before long though we got used to the patter and grabbing and started to browse for the things that we actually wanted. Once you find something of interest the fun really starts and it’s time to bargain hard, and by hard we mean like you’ve never bargained before
Our second destination of the day was across the street from the market at the Temple of Heaven, however we had spent so long at the markets that we weren’t sure we had enough time to do it justice as it was closing in 45 minutes. We were sitting near the turnstile, weighing up our options, when we suddenly realized that we had been cornered by a large group of Chinese tourists. But, luckily, all they wanted was pictures and after a good ten minutes of posing with a seemingly unending string of people, we were able to make our escape to the subway …the Temple of Heaven could wait until another day….
There was a tinge of sadness at leaving the Hilton, having wallowed in luxury for a few days it was back to reality and we trekked our bags about twenty minutes through the “hutongs” (sidestreets) to the Happy Dragon Hostel.