Thursday, January 10, 2013

China - Arrival and Day 1

I am combining our arrival in China and Day 1 in this post because a) neither was very exciting and b) we (the Keating family) arrived in Beijing in the very early hours of Friday morning and the rest of our group (my brother Jim, his wife Jan and their friend Shiv) arrived late Friday evening. Day 1 (Friday, December 28th) was really just the Keating family in Beijing. Day 2 (Saturday, December 29th) was when we all began our adventures together. 

I mentioned in an earlier post that I really didn't focus on this trip because of planning for the kids' birthdays and our family Christmas. In retrospect, this turned out to be not such a good thing. Before any of our overseas trips and/or moves, I have purchased travel guides (usually DK Eyewitness and Fodor's) and study them well in advance. These guides provide me with great information to plan for our visits...what the "must sees" are, what to avoid and tips/advice for getting around the area. I did order guides for this trip (Eyewitness Top 10 Beijing and DK Eyewitness Travel Guide For China); however, I just did not have time to read them before we left and then I forgot to bring them along to read on the plane. Other than knowing we were going to see the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, we went into this trip pretty much blind. I didn't even know where our hotel was relative to the airport and the city. That will not happen again. Ever. I hated not knowing where we were or the history of what we were about to see. By the end of our trip, a request for Jan to do "more extensive research" on a topic or an historical site became a frequent utterance.

We arrived in Beijing at 1:00 am and the airport was, literally, a ghost town. It was really odd because I didn't think, in this day and age, that airports "closed" at night. However, our flight was clearly one of the last flights in for the night as the heat and most of the lights had been turned off and there were very few airport employees around. We opted not to pay the $145 fee charged by the hotel to have a car and driver waiting for us because we really did not think it would be a problem to catch a taxi to the hotel. However, after we collected our bags and walked toward the airport exit, Kevin and I began to get a bit worried. The parking lot was pretty much empty and there were very few taxis in sight - and a lot of people ahead of us in the taxi queue. A man walked up to us and asked, "Taxi?". I'd like to think that it was the late hour and the worry about not having a ride into the city that made us quickly we nod "yes" and follow him out of the airport. He led us to a very dark corner of the very empty parking lot to a big black car that looked like a hearse and that had been in more than a few fender benders. The driver showed Kevin some card (license, id, permit ???). It was in Chinese so we will never know. We weren't all that naive because before he loaded our suitcases into the car, I thought to ask him the cost (450 CYN - China Yan Renminbi) for him to take us to the hotel. Had I read the Top 10 Beijing, I would have known that a) these type of black cars are illegal (but *safe*) taxis and b) the typical fare for a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel is less than 100 CYN. So, not even an hour in Bejing and we were already scammed. Unfortunately, this was not the first time or attempt.

Once we were all in the car, the fear set in. What had we gotten ourselves into? Who was this guy and where was he taking us?!? If I ever read an article in the newspaper about a family visiting a foreign city that willingly got in a car, in the dead of night with a complete stranger and then that family disappeared, I know would think to myself, "how could anyone be so stupid?!?". Yeah, well, that would be us. I will tell you that every horrible scenario that you can possibly imagine this situation ending in ran though my mind. Fortunately, thanks to my generally suspicious nature, I noted that the driver showed some document to the guard at the exit of the airport parking lot so maybe he was somewhat legitimate. In addition, there were cameras EVERYWHERE and I took a small measure of comfort in the thought that if anything bad did happen to us, at least it would be known who did the bad. I was so incredibly nervous the entire ride to our hotel. We did get there safely and I must say that, compared to Bangkok drivers, this driver was very considerate as far as not speeding, using signals, changing lanes, etc. Must be all of those cameras.  

We stayed at the Hilton Wangfujing (website is here) and I would definitely recommend it if you are planning a trip to Beijing. The hotel was a short walking distance from an upscale mall with lots of restaurants and shops. It was a longer walk to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden Palace (more on those in Day 3) but still doable (although not pleasant in winter). There also was a pedestrian mall lined with shops, restaurants and offices nearby. 

Day 1... we didn't even wake up until 11:30 am (love those black-out drapes) and by the time we showered, dressed and ventured out of the hotel into the BITTER cold, it was almost 2 pm. 

Bundled up.
Photos outside of the hotel. 
We were all starving and walked over to the mall for lunch. Christopher chose the restaurant and, no surprise, it was Pizza Hut. For a Pizza Hut in China, it wasn't all that bad. Or maybe we were so hungry we would have eaten almost anything.
After we had lunch, we decided to walk to Tienanmen Square. In the bitter cold. The doorman at the hotel gave us some basic directions and we set off. Note - we did visit Tienanmen Square again on Sunday (not that anything changed other than it was warmer and the sun was out) so I will give you the official "report" then. However, let me just say that after walking 25 minutes in the bitter cold, I was a little disappointed to see that Tienanmen Square is really just that... a square.. flat and concrete covered. 
We were so cold and frozen by the time we got to the Square that we stood there for not even one minute, looked at each other and then turned around to walk back to the hotel. 

Caitlynne and I did a little speed walking on the pedestrian mall. We were cold.
Not a happy camper in the cold.
Christopher was thrilled to see a favorite basketball player and a favorite brand-name advertised in China.
It began to snow right as we returned to the hotel and the kids (both the little ones and the big one) were so excited to go out and experience it! The kids haven't seen snow in at least 8 years so this was a BIG deal. For me, not so much.

And where was Mom, you ask? In the hotel lounge - enjoying a glass of wine, reading a good book in peace & quiet and staying warm! 
The kids and Kevin played a cut-throat game of BS. 
We were beginning to feel the effects of our late night and opted to have dinner in one of the hotel's restaurants and go to bed. Jim, Jan and Shiv arrived much later so we made plans to meet up for breakfast.

This tree was in front of the restaurant where we ate breakfast each morning. It was so pretty and I am already planning how to replicate it next year for our 2nd tree. 
 Caitlynne was a perfect (and unintentional) match to the tree!
End of Beijing Arrival and Day 1 and on to the present...Jim and Jan leave tomorrow morning. Sniff, Sniff. It has been so nice to have them here, especially with Kevin gone. We have done a ton of fun things around Bangkok and Thailand and seen some amazing sights. I spent some time this evening organizing all of our photos and working on blog posts so stay tuned!

Have a great Thursday!

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