We arrived back in Shanghai at the end of July, with my dad and brother following shortly after. They had planned a trip to China for three weeks, one of which we had left for summer vacation. My father Dennis and brother Eric arrived on July 31 and stayed with us until August 17.
Since we were all jet-lagged the first few days back were a bit of a blur. We managed to show them our old neighborhood and school, as well as the happy hour at Morton’s Steakhouse on the Pudong side of the river. Thankfully the pollution was low and the views were great. After a few drinks and steak sandwiches we checked out the Bund and Pudong skyline. The next day, we were off to Beijing, where the pollution was high and the weather was humid and hot.
We took the high speed G class train from Shanghai to Beijing, which took about five hours. Angela thought ahead and packed us a few sandwiches and snacks for the train ride, which was a much better alternative to Haagen Dazs ice cream and popcorn. Once we arrived in Beijing we chose to take the subway to our hostel because on the map it seemed awfully close, and it probably was. However, the metro in Beijing seemed and probably was about 100% more crowded than in Shanghai. After arriving at our metro stop, we were left to navigate the Hutongs of Beijing to find our hostel.
Angela booked our stay in Beijing at the Dragon King Hostel. This is a place that I would highly recommend to anyone who might be planning a Beijing trip. We each had our own room and bathroom, so it was basically a hotel (but more fun). The hostel was located right by the metro and there were nearby shops and restaurants. Soon after checking in, we went to the hostel bar to have a drink where we were asked (more like told) to participate in a tug-of-war challenge against the staff. We all said no thanks, but then they offered us free beer, which really sweetened the deal. We had two strapping young Australian men on our team, which helped even the odds. After two strenuous rounds versus the work staff (we did win once) we went back for our well deserved free beer and conversation with our newly met team members.
Before arriving in Beijing, we had booked two bike tours with Bike Beijing. Our first bike adventure included riding through the Hutongs of Beijing, a stop and tour of the Forbidden City, and a walk to the Temple of Heaven. After getting incredibly lost on the way to Bike Beijing’s shop, our guide finally told us to stay put and he came and collected us. I was worried that we would hold up a whole tour group, but our guide Frank informed us that we were the only ones. We had a great ride, although the temps were over 100 with 80-90% humidity and the air pollution was over 200 particles per million. Not the best day for riding, but we had an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
Our bike adventure started with us touring the narrow Hutongs of Beijing. After about two hours we stopped at the Forbidden City, where Frank took us on a guided tour. We were very popular with the Chinese tourists and were frequently asked to stop for a photo opportunity.
After the Forbidden City we rode through some more hutongs (including the most narrow hutong in Beijing) on our way to lunch. Our lunch stop was air-conditioned and they served cold beer. Frank decided that we needed dessert so he ran out and brought us a whole watermelon. It was too much, but we did our best to eat as much as we could. After lunch we biked to the Temple of Heaven. The grounds were beautiful, and the crowds were manageable. Several of the trees were marked as being 500 years or older.
After a long day of biking we went back to the hostel to rest up and relax. That night we went to a local restaurant, recommended by our hostel, for Peking Duck. The restaurant was located in a hotel around the corner and the place was packed with people, ourselves being the only foreigners. We ordered a few small dishes before getting the whole duck. It was delicious.
The next day we did not have a bike tour scheduled, so we decided to visit Tiananmen Square. This was a challenging part of our trip. The heat and humidity were almost unbearable, and we were not on bicycles, so were without a nice breeze in our faces. There were hordes of people trying to get to Tiananmen Square (or so I thought), and we packed ourselves in tightly with the masses to get to it. Tiananmen Square is directly south of the Forbidden City (which we had seen the previous day), and I thought we would visit the most northern part of the square before heading to the official Tiananmen Square. As it turns out, we were entering the first gate into the Forbidden City, and it is a one way the whole way. After desperately trying to exit and being turned around by the guards, we had to walk all the way to the Forbidden City before we were able to exit and walk back to the square. Everybody was fairly quiet at this point of the journey, but I think it is safe to say that we were all a little disgruntled about it. We did finally make it to Tiananmen Suare though.
After our visit to Tiananmen Square, we had a lunch at a nearby cafe and went to explore the Lama Temple. I love temples, and the exceptional feature of the Lama temple was the buddha statue that stood at 26 meters tall and was carved from a single piece of wood.
The highlight of our trip was the next day when we went on our Great Wall bike tour and hike. We were picked up on Monday morning by our beloved and knowledgeable tour guide Frank and then traveled many miles north of Beijing by van. Frank told us that we would be visiting the Yellow Flower portion of the wall. It rained all day in Beijing, but outside of the city we were only sprinkled on a few times. The temperature dropped and the pollution cleared, so we had picture perfect weather for our trip to the Great Wall.
Our driver dropped us off a few miles from the section of Great Wall that we were to visit, and we biked the remaining distance (probably around 8-10 miles).
Once we arrived near the wall, we stopped for a delicious Chinese lunch and a good view of the wall. Then we hiked to the wall.
As you can see from the photo of Eric above, the section of wall that we visited was what I am going to call ‘rustic’ and very ‘secluded’. I don’t want to say that we shouldn’t have been hiking on the wall, but this sign might suggest something different. Frank told us that the section of wall we were hiking had not been restored ever, so it was all original wall. That blew me away, because it was still in such good shape. Hiking along the top of the wall was probably one of the most strenuous hikes I have ever been on. We had it in our minds to hike to the highest point, but after hiking for an hour we were too beat. The sights were breathtaking.
We returned to our hostel completely exhausted, and were ready to take it easy for the night. The next morning we took the train back to Shanghai, and Angela and I started our back to school meetings on Thursday. While we returned to the working stiff routine, Eric and Dennis explored Shanghai on their own and would accompany us out each night to explore the fine dining that Shanghai has to offer. It was a great way to begin another year living abroad in China. All for now.