We took Air Canada on our last trip to China and liked it so much (comfy, good food, GREAT on-demand entertainment system which really helps make those 14 hours “fly” by, and of course good price) we took it again. Either their mapping system is different, or the route really is different Beijing vs. Shanghai, but this time our map line went EAST over the arctic ice (there’s still ice up there in August!), instead of west before dropping in over Siberia crossing over the Chinese northern boarder before landing in the haze that blanketed the City today.
We’re not sure if it was an actually *foggy* day in Beijing, or if this is the infamous Northern Chinese smog…?
Although the subway system does go straight to the Beijing Airport, I was not sure how beat up we would be after the flight so I had ordered a taxi to pick us up and drop us at the hotel directly, and we were happily greeted outside the International exit by a fellow holding a sign clearly reading “Eric Rector.” What a relief NOT to have to negotiate a phalanx of aggressive (and possibly shady) taxi drivers with all our bags right after landing. Instead we just followed this fellow out to the parking lot where all the drivers used the short-term parking for pick-ups, hop in the back of the Honda Odyssey, and enjoy the A/C while he drove us west across five ring roads (approximately 20Km), into the back alleys that make up the sliver of preserved medieval architecture in the city (ALL the rest having disappeared since the 1950’s, and most since the 1980s) to meet with our hotel host waiting for us at a tortuously busy intersection pedestrians and bicycles. He took Alison’s bag and walked is half a block into the hotel gate, which leads into a quite set of courtyards containing big leafy trees and Chinese decorations and blocked from the outside world by high masonry walls.
Inside the walls:
Inside the room:
We landed around 4:00pm (4:00am Eastern US time), and by the time we checked in, changed, freshened up, and looked at the maps, it was only around 6:00pm. We had both managed to sleep some on the plane, so we felt fine — great, actually, given our long flight over. Our plan was to look for a Big Bank’s ATM machine to stock up on cash, then purchase a China SIM card so that I could communicate with our various tour guides by TXT over the next two weeks, and while we did that we would stretch our legs, get our bearings, and scout for various dinner options.
Check, check, and check, although it took a surprisingly long time to find ANY ATM, let alone one from a big recognizable bank, where as in Shanghai it seemed like there were three choices on every street corner. Granted, we are staying in the “Fisherman’s Wharf” area of Beijing — not where the big spending business men stay — but still, the place was mobbed with Chinese and tourists alike on a Thursday night, and they all had to get their cash from somewhere…! The long walk to an ATM (naturally we later discovered a closer one in the opposite direction…) gave us a chance to get a feel for our part of the City and orient ourselves at least on foot. Tomorrow we will try to orient ourselves by bike as we explore beyond our little slice of the Middle Kingdom from the middle ages. (I think the sign on the wall says that buildings around our hotel were first build 800 years ago!)
My goal for dinner was for less than half the diners to be “Big Noses” (European tourists). We settled on a small restaurant specializing in fish head soup that had NO Big Noses! The menu was on a iPad in pictures as well as Chinese characters (no western letters), but my rudimentary knowledge of Sichuanese cooking plus Alison’s bravery in asking a large table full of LOUD young people which of the dishes on their big lazy susan was BEST got us to order a MaPo Dofu that was very good, a pile of stirfried salted peanuts, and some breaded and fried mushrooms that came with a crazy hot/numbing spice mixture that you sprinkled over it at your peril. It was extra hot on the second floor, where we were seated, so the spicy dishes plus the big bottles of ice cold pi ju (beer) helped combat the heat a bit.
All in all a very good start to the trip.