Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Day 70 - Beijing, China

Forbidden City

For the first time in 66 days, we will not be sleeping on a ship tonight.  We checked out about 9am and boarded a tour bus for our post-cruise excursion to Beijing.  There are 32 people in our group, led by a Chinese guide named Ben. It took about 2.5 hours to go from the port to a hotel in Beijing for lunch.

Gold Lion with Paw on Ball = Power
Part of that was a stop at a highway rest stop.  This was a challenge for most of the women in the group.  I don't want to be crude, but feel this is worth explaining for my friends who have never encountered this situation.  Asian toilets are not the same as in most other areas of the world.  They are not a seat, but instead consist of a porcelain hole in the floor.  It takes a little practice and balance to squat instead of sitting, especially when you are wearing slacks.  I have gotten fairly adept at it, having encountered these on a number of tours this trip, but most American women are reluctant to try, especially older women.  There is usually only one western style toilet in a women's restroom, designated for handicapped.  Consider 16 women per bus and 3-6 buses in the rest area at the same time, and it is typical for a long line of women to form waiting for that one stall.   You can tell who is brave and who is not by how long it takes a woman to get back to the bus.

Lioness with Paw on cub
Carving in Center of Emperors Staircase

The scenery on the ride to Beijing interested me.  In the area near the port they are working to reclaim swamp land and build a technology center.  Beyond that were farms and large fields where trees were planted in neat rows.  I didn't see any natural forests, only planted ones.  Either the natural growth was cleared for the entire distance from the port to Bwijing or this may also be reclaimed land.

I was apprehensive about lunch after my experience in Foshan, but today's lunch was a pleasant experience.  The serving style was the same, but the food was much better.  Chinese restaurants have round tables set for about 10 people, with a lazy susan in the center of the table.  One by one, various dishes are brought out and placed on the lazy susan for everyone at the table to help themselves.  There were cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and cold chicken & ham to start.  Then they brought out a pork, green bean & mushroom dish; a sausage dish; kung pao chicken; sticky rice; some fried vegetables; corn/egg soup; and of course, tea.  For dessert they brought out a dish of little oranges.  It really was quite good.

After lunch we got back on the bus and drove to the Forbidden City.  The bus couldn't get close, so we were dropped off a few blocks away and had to walk in.  Once inside, we continued to walk through this massive complex for the next several hours.  Our guide said our walk was about 2 miles all together.  This is a fascinating place and I wouldn't have missed it, but we are both aching tonight.  At least our group was good at keeping up.  We had instructions on what to do if we lost our guide, but everyone stayed together.  Our guide actually helped 4 couples from other groups get back with their guides along the way, so other groups were not as lucky.

The tour company arranged our hotel check-in while we were touring and our guide had our room keys when we got back on the bus.  He handed them out on the ride to the hotel, so when we arrived we were able to go straight to our room without stopping at the desk.  When we got to our room, all our luggage was there waiting for us.  It had been sent by truck directly from the ship to the hotel.  Three agents were set up in a conference room a little later in the evening to get our credit cards for incidentals and that only took a minute.  What a great way to handle check-in. 

There are 3 restaurants in the hotel.  We picked the steak & seafood restaurant for some familiar fare.  It turned out to be gourmet and we had a fabulous (if a bit expensive) steak dinner.  Now we are full as well as really exhausted.  We need a good night's sleep before another full day tomorrow.

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