Our first Beijing Christmas & New Year

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year to you all from Beijing!

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas & New Year. We've had a really lovely time, even though we’ve been so far from home.

We left you last on Christmas Eve, which seems ages ago now, where we’d won tickets to a grand Winter Wonderland Gala dinner at a very posh hotel. Well, we got all dressed up and arrived around 6.30, and were taken into a very grand ballroom decorated beautifully in white & blue, very Christmassy and very pretty. Turns out we were the only foreigners there, apart from the hotel manager & head chef! It was free flow wine, which wasn’t very flowing, so we kept pestering the waiter, hardly anyone seemed to be drinking, despite the cost of the tickets being around 550 pds each…… It was a buffet, so we went out into the next room for food, which was amazing, particularly the seafood table which Andy very much enjoyed, lobster, crab etc. A roast dinner table, deserts, and everything else in between it really was lovely. There was entertainment, a girl singing Christmas songs, a jazz band, and an acrobatic guy etc. so it was fun, but really did lack any sort of atmosphere. There was no feeling of excitement in the room like there would be anywhere else, it was really strange. Only a few people had bothered to dress up too (common in China unless there is a dress code stated which there wasn’t), people were in trainers, jeans, sweatshirts etc. The event was supposed to last until 11pm or so, but after the prize draw at 9.30pm (we didn’t win anything, guess that would have been cheeky having won the tickets in the first place!!), everyone put their coats on & left!! We just sat there wondering what to do, and trying to get a few more wine refills, before leaving as well & sitting in the hotel lounge instead! We then headed home still struggling to work out how something could have cost that much money, and had more fun back here at home!! We got into comfy clothes, poured a large Bailey’s & a whisky, and put the Christmas tunes on, and spoke to Ian & Sam on Skype for an hour, singing together & being really stupid, best fun of the night!!!

Waking up on Christmas day was odd thinking that the UK were just about to go to bed on Christmas Eve. Andy got up & made me eggs Benedict, well – eggs Perry, replacing hollandaise sauce with cheese as we couldn’t find any!! Very scrummy. He’d then booked me into the Four Seasons Hotel for a massage (as paying guests for a change…. with a discount though & extra time added!!). It was heavenly, he’d arranged for me to have a glass of wine too, and a red rose, and a card which the staff brought in after I got ready for my massage, all on a trolley with an ipad playing Christmas music too! Bless them, they all came in really excited, and took my photo too! Made it very special. Meanwhile, Andy enjoyed time in the spa and teahouse, and met me afterwards. Our friend was working so we have a coffee in the lounge with her too afterwards to wish her a happy Christmas, and to give her some flowers & a card for all the amazing treats we’ve had at the hotel!

The afternoon consisted of talking to loads of friends & family on Skype, which made it very special, and a cocktail in Paddy’s bar down the road, before heading out for dinner. A 4 course Christmas meal in the evening at Switch restaurant, with a group of 12 of us which was lovely. A day made very special as I was struggling being away from home, so thank you to my lovely husband! Really has been hard at this time of the year, and have missed everyone more than ever.

Boxing day was a very lazy affair, watching a few films and only venturing out later to have a quiet drink with our friend & neighbour Barry for his Birthday. Andy stayed on to watch some of the Boxing Day football too.

Thursday we ventured to the lakes for a wander, and were amazed by the ice activities, weird & wonderful!! The lakes all freeze over, and are made into playgrounds with all sorts of weird & wonderful vehicles!! From normal ice skating, to dog sledges, to very creepy mechanical dolls pulling along small children in tiny rickshaws, playing dodgy music!! It was fun walking around watching everyone, it’s all cordoned off properly, and lit up at night. Usually in the summer there are loads of boats & pedalos, so quite different to see. We were in need of food, so headed to a great dumpling place we’d heard about with lots of different flavours, we had an amazing meal, delicious dumplings & fried potatoes sizzling in a pot in front of us, very warming, and of course a warming beer! A fun restaurant where the owners little boy was celebrating his birthday & brought us over some cake to share!

Friday evening was a few drinks with some friends at the James Joyce Irish bar, then a pizza at the Tree.

Saturday we went away for the weekend to Tianjin. It’s about 90 miles from Beijing, and the meaning of Tianjin is 'the place where the emperor crossed the river’.  It was once an imperial port, and serves Beijing’s gateway to the sea.  The city was once shared by 9 countries, Italy, Germany, France, Russia, Great Britain, Austria, Japan and Belgium which is clearly evident seeing the different buildings & architecture.  We decided to go by high speed train, which is cheap and very efficient. It took us 40 mins to get to the railway station by subway, and after negotiating ticket sales & queues, it was rather like airport procedures, we went through the gate & down the escalator to the train, allocated first class seats, very comfortable & a lot of space. It cost us just over 6pds, and took 50 minutes so was a semi fast train. We reached a speed of 150 km per hour, and we watched the city & countryside whizz by.

Arriving in Tianjin, we got a taxi which was a short ride to the hotel, the Astor. The hotel was opened in 1963 and restored in 2010, it has a rich history & has hosted prime ministers and presidents. We had a lovely hotel room overlooking the river. After checking in, we went out to explore, enjoying the different feel to the city, less crowded, less crazy, and much prettier! Lovely streets to wander around, and buildings to look at (and photograph, Andy constantly found that he was talking to himself as I’d stopped for a photo opportunity!!). We explored the ‘Five Avenues’ area, which evidence of various countries influence, then had some food before walking through the more modern area & shopping district down towards the river. It was bitterly cold, and the river was frozen, but looked very pretty.

In the evening, we got a taxi to the Italian concession, a very pretty area dating back to 1901, with many restaurants & bars. Andy had been chatting to a British guy who lives in Tianjin via Internations and we’d arranged to meet him & his wife. The talk started over football, him being a Liverpool fan, and clearly the conversation went that way later in the evening!! They were a lovely couple, we had a few beers in a German bar before moving onto a lovely Thai restaurant for dinner. Headed back to the hotel for a few drinks in the bar, O’Hara’s, the oldest bar in Tianjin.

Sunday we checked out & got a cab up to the other end of town & the river, to go on the Tianjin eye, a bit smaller than the London eye, but looking very similar. The big difference is that it’s built across the river instead of alongside it, and is in the middle of the 2 lanes of traffic crossing over the road bridge, weird!! A little less stable than the London eye it wasn’t Andy’s most enjoyable moment, and it had a few wobbles along the way. You really shouldn’t find yourself thinking about the poor quality of things in China at that particular moment, but you couldn’t help it…..!! Anyway, I loved it! Amazing views across the city & the frozen river on a beautiful sunny day, it took around half an hour to go round.

Back on terra firma, we walked along by a Bhuddist Temple, and through some of the streets, before hitting the ancient Cultural street, quite touristy & fun to walk around. Next a walk along the river which was lovely, all frozen so we watched skaters & ice fishing in amazement! Very nice wide promenades and bridge, one of them could have been London! Reaching the Italian concession area again, it was time for a pit stop before heading across the road to the railway station to head home. The communication didn’t go quite so well this time, so we ended up with 2nd class tickets, ok still, like on a plane, 3 to a row, whereas 1st class was more like club class, bigger seats & 2 across. Costing just over 5 pds, we were on the proper high speed train, only taking 30 minutes & reaching a speed of 290 km per hour, wow!! It was so quick, and so smooth. Those of you who know Andy’s passion, or were at the wedding hearing the wedding speech will know that he rather enjoyed the experience! We will definitely get the train again elsewhere as it was so quick & easy. You can get to Shanghai in about 5 hrs. China has in fact just opened the longest high speed rail route, linking Beijing with Guangzhou in the South, cutting the journey time from 22 hrs down to just under 10. Amazing. There, enough about trains.

Went out Sunday evening after getting home to the James Joyce, as Everton were playing at 9.30pm, so were enjoying that until they went 2-1 down to Chelsea L managing to convert one of our American friends to being an Everton supporter!!

New Years Eve….. a wander into town for a late lunch, a manicure for me, then home to chill out before our big party. The Chinese celebrate their own new year which is early February this year, so there isn’t much excitement for the calendar new year like there is elsewhere, however quite a few restaurants & bars still had parties. A group of 12 of us went to a Spanish restaurant called Ole, about a 15 minute walk away for a lovely 4 course dinner & wine pairing. We’d been told about a Spanish tradition of eating grapes at midnight, one for every chime to wish for a good 12 months, whilst avoiding choking.  Dinner finished about 20 minutes before midnight, so chance to employ ‘grape tactics’ which involved anything from trading big grapes for small grapes, peeling and de-seeding, and lining them up ready to go!! Midnight approached so we went to the lower level bar for the countdown joining other party goers, glass of champagne in one hand, a bunch of grapes in the other!! No choking disasters, and lots of cheering in the new year. The rest of the night was free flow drinks, finishing at 7am which was the Spanish NY, UK at 8am. Didn’t quite last that long, drinking & dancing until 6am, the latest I’ve stayed out for a very long time!!  Very impressed though! Had really good fun with a great bunch of people from all over the world, our table included Australian, Canadian, American, Spanish, Scottish, Brits and Swedish.

New years day as you can imagine was a lazy affair, managing to meet up with a few friends late afternoon for carbs & a few drinks before crashing into bed again!!

Expecitng to go back to work on the 2nd, our manager rang us up on NYE, saying that due to the Chinese holiday, we actually have the 2nd & 3rd off too, so we only need to go in tomorrow (Friday) then it’s the weekend again! How lovely having had almost 2 weeks off.

Yesterday we went to see our friend who was in hospital over Christmas, he’s back home now but needed some help with a few things & some shopping, so we did that – good deed for the day! He was a lot brighter than when we saw him before, but is stuck on crutches for 6 months poor thing. Not the easiest city to get around either.

More pub grub, more films, a bit of walking today & that’s it really. We’re totally shattered, think the cold weather just gets to you after a while, and as much as the summer exhausts you, the winter is pretty harsh too.

Happy to discover by email yesterday that we’d won 2 more prizes, a spa / massage, and a champagne brunch for 3 at a posh hotel, how cool! We have won so much, and have been very lucky!

So here’s to 2013, entering 2012 was very exciting what with getting married & planning to come to Beijing, here we’ve entered a brand new year in a brand new country with a complete open book, quite a strange but exciting feeling, and can’t really think too far ahead still. Both still loving it here and enjoying life, ready to hit work again now & get back into it all.

Lots of love to you all, and wishing you all a happy new year – hope it’s a good one.

PS. There are lots of photo's from the last few weeks, if you're not on facebook you can click on these links:


General Beijing

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Sal on

Loved hearing all about your Xmas and New Year festivities. All sounded very special, as Xmas's away from home should always be! 2013? I'm sure it will hold many more surprises (or should that read prizes!) for you both, sit back and enjoy the ride :-D Lots of love to you both xxxx

Mary on

.....wow.....ex pats certainly live it up.....make the most of this fantastic opportunity....2012 has been full of new wonderous things..(wedding included)and 2013...will be......waiting to hear as each event and experience comes online!! My lovely skiing week with Rosie/Steve.....well, not new experiences like yours...BUT some real funny ones....pink washing up gloves included.....will reveal in an e.mail...OR Rosie will...Lots of luv...

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