Karen’s Great China Adventure – Getting Around Beijing & Shanghai

The key to a great holiday in both Beijing and Shanghai is the location of your hotel. You want to choose a location where you are within walking distance to at least one main attraction as well as a subway stop. The subway here is super easy to use. Now you might think that it is easy for me as I travel a lot. Yes, I do travel a lot, but anyone who knows me knows that I don’t usually take public transportation. One big tip before coming is to have a map of the stations either in print or on your phone. Figure out which stop is by your hotel and which stops are at the places you want to see. When purchasing tickets they have the language barrier solved. There are automatic ticket stations which you can change to English. You then pick which stop you want to go to and it will then tell you how much. I never paid more than a dollar to get anywhere and it was quick and efficient.

Cabs can also be a great option. I chose cabs when I had my luggage in tow. The biggest hint for cabs is that the drivers do not speak or read English. You must have your destination address translated for them. When you arrive at your first hotel they are more than happy to help with this. Cabs are also inexpensive. A 45 minute cab ride only cost me about 20 dollars. Now be careful when trying to catch a cab outside of the designated taxi stations or from your hotel. There are still a lot of unregistered cabs. Look for their credentials on the dash and look to make sure they have a meter.

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Now, I’m off to catch the subway and do more exploring here in Shanghai!   Check out our Instagram page for more photos from my adventure as well as others from our team.

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Karen’s Great China Adventure – Solo Travel Doesn’t Have To Be Lonely

In my last blog I spoke of how important a travel agent is when it comes to your vacation planning and problem solving. I am now going to talk about another person who I find just as important, a tour guide. Solo travel has become a very popular, and for good reason – it’s a great way to get to know yourself.

 

This is my very first big solo trip and I still made sure to book a day in with a tour guide. This time I used Urban Adventures with Intrepid. They provide local tour guides to give you a better experience. I booked a tour to the Great Wall of China. Now I know that everything I read says you do not need a tour guide for this but I felt like I did. Being here in a place where no one speaks English can be a little lonely and instead of walking around blindly I wanted an expert to tell me more. It was approximately an hour drive to where we wanted to get to and in that hour I learned so many things I did not know from my pre-trip research. To me this is priceless. I also learned some of the legends surrounding the history of the wall. You can’t get this from a book. While we were joking I learned more things like about their school system and traditions.

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Once we were done we went for a Chinese meal off the beaten path so not where the tourists are. There, I also learned a few more things about what I was eating which is a must in my world. Even if you travel solo, I encourage you to take one guided tour every trip and see what you can learn!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 11

October 24/25, 2018 – Beijing, China

PART 2

The Great Wall!  “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” – Mao Zedong.  I am now a true man!

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China’s greatest engineering triumph is not one continuous entity but in reality, it exists in chunks interspersed with natural defenses (such as precipitous mountains) that need no additional fortifications.

We were very lucky that there were not as many people on the Great Wall as can be however, it was very smoggy that day and so pictures are not as clear as I had hoped they would be.

We had 1½ hours at the Great Wall and so I was determined to climb as far as I can.  As you can see from the picture above, there are no people in the photo but compare it to the photos below and you can see that I got above the “people” line.  Climbing all the stairs on the ship was good training for the hike up the wall.

There were some incredible views from the wall and being fall time, the colours were stunning, albeit muted by the smog.

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Our final stop in the Beijing area was the Ming Tombs.  This is the final resting place of 13 of the 16 Ming emperors.  The Ming Tombs follow a standard imperial layout.  In each tomb the plan consists of a main gate, leading to the first of a series of courtyards and the main hall.  Beyond this lie gates or archways leading to the Soul Tower, behind which rises the burial mound.  Three tombs have been opened to the public and we only saw one…Chang Ling.

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Our final stop before heading back to the ship was lunch at a jade factory.  While I was not initially impressed with the obligatory factory setting, it was much better than expected.  Firstly, the meal was excellent, again in a traditional Chinese family style setting where they just continue to bring out food, one dish at a time.

After the lunch, we had time to stroll around and look at the jade and yes, a salesperson followed you around happy to show you anything you were interested in.  It was all very expensive but what made it more interesting were all the larger piece costing thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars.  In fact, it was as much a museum to me as a sales opportunity for them and I enjoyed the artistry and precision that went into these pieces.

That’s it for Beijing!  It was an incredible 2 days in port with so much to see and do.  Next stop…Shanghai!  Stay tuned for more wonderful pictures!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 10

October 24/25, 2018 – Beijing, China

Our ship docked at Tianjin Port, the largest man-made sea port in mainland China.  The distance is 160 km to Beijing.  A short 1.5 hour drive right?  Wrong!  We have to plan for a 3 hour drive each way.  As a result, we opted for an overnight tour provided by the ship.  This includes return transfers from the port, the entrance fees for the sights, meals and overnight accommodation.  The cost is $900USD each.  Yikes!  We only decided to bite the bullet on this after our guide spoke on Beijing and the difficulties of going to Beijing on your own.  The bottom line was with the frightful traffic in Beijing, we did not want to risk the possibility of missing the ship on our second day.

The mistake we made was leaving this for the last minute and I would urge people to discuss an independent escorted shore excursion with your travel agent, which I know you can get for a lot less money and still have a great experience.  I should know better!

When someone says Beijing, what do you imagine?  A dirty, rundown city full of bicycles that is 50 years behind the times?  Not at all.  Beijing is a fully modernized city with beautiful new buildings and all the amenities.  Large shopping malls with all the high end stores.  The streets are clogged, not with bicycles, but with high end cars like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguars, etc.  The more common cars were VW, Buicks and Hyundai.  Not a lot of Japanese cars perhaps an indication of the relationship between the 2 countries.  This is Communist China? It is a dichotomy of the old and the new.

Beijing 2Our first stop is the Temple of Heaven.  It originally served as a vast stage for solemn rites performed by the Emperor of the time (known as the Son of Heaven) who prayed here for good harvests and sought divine clearance and atonement.  It’s really an altar rather than a temple.

Seen from above, the temple hall is round and the base square, in accordance with the notion “Heaven is Round, Earth is Square”.  The northern rim of the park is semicircular, while the southern end is square.

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The highlight of the park is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, an astonishing structure with a triple-eaved purplish-blue umbrella roof mounted on a three tiered marble terrace.  The wooden pillars (made with fir) support the ceiling without nails or cement.  For a building 38m high and 30m in diameter, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Embedded in the ceiling is a carved dragon, a symbol of the Emperor.  Built in 1420, the hall was struck by lightening and burned to the ground in 1889.  A faithful reproduction based on Ming architectural methods was erected the following year.

Stretching out runs a long corridor, where locals sit and deal cards or just hang out.

After a lovely lunch, Chinese of course, we headed off to the Forbidden City…a place I have always wanted to see.  I would highly recommend watching The Last Emperor to get a good idea of the enormity of the Forbidden City.

This is China’s largest and best preserved collection of ancient buildings and the largest palace complex in the world.  This was the reclusive home to two dynasties of imperial rule, sharing 900+ buildings with retinue of eunuchs, servants and concubines, until the Republic overthrew the last Qing emperor in 1911.Beijing 17

In former ages, the penalty for uninvited admission was severe, although commoners wouldn’t have gotten even close.  Today, tourists enter through the Meridian Gate, which in former times was reserved for the use of the emperor.  Gongs and bells would sound imperial comings and goings, while lesser mortals used lesser gates.  The Emperor reviewed armies from here, passed judgement on prisoners, announced the new year’s calendar and oversaw the flogging of troublesome ministers.

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Through the Meridian Gate, you pass into a vast courtyard to the Gate of Supreme Harmony.  This space could hold an imperial audience of 100,000.  I’m glad there weren’t that many tourists there at the time.  As it was, there were enough!

Raised on a three-tier marble terrace are the Three Great Halls, the glorious heart of the Forbidden City.  The recently restored Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City.  Built in the 15th century and restored first in the 17th century, it was used for ceremonial occasions, such as the Emperor’s birthday.  Inside is a richly decorated Dragon Throne from which the Emperor would preside over trembling officials.  The entire court had to touch the floor nine times with their foreheads in the Emperor’s presence (kowtowing).

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the smaller Hall of Central Harmony which was used as the Emperor’s transit lounge.  Here he would make last-minute preparations, rehearse speeches and receive close ministers.

The third of the Great Halls is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, used for banquets and later imperial examinations.  A string of halls flanks the Three Great Halls not open to the public when we were there but can be used for exhibitions.

The area of where the concubines lived was interesting.  Apparently, the Emperor could have as many concubines as he wanted or needed.

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Finally, we exit the Forbidden City through a beautiful garden area.

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Our last stop before supper was supposed to be Tian’anmen Square.  Unfortunately, the Japanese Prime Minister was visiting Beijing and the Square was blocked off.  The closest we got was about ½ block away.  By that time too, it was already quite dark.  The traffic was horrendous and what was usually a 15 minute drive would take as much as an hour, so we were running late.  So, here are some rather poor pictures of Tian’anmen Square and I’m sad to say that we were not able to walk around the square at all.

Off to supper for a Peking Duck special meal.  Way too much food (very exceptional Chinese food) with the specialty being Peking Duck which the chef’s carved at the table.

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Finally, checked into the Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido Hotel which was exceptional.  After a very long and tiring day, it was an early night.  Tomorrow, the Great Wall of China and Ming Tombs!