Here I leave the comfort of the Western world and embark on a tour of China with Exodus. A change of both holiday style and location makes this a leap into the unknown. First stop: Beijing!
Day 0: The Journey to China Begins
Friday 2nd August 2013
Today I leave the UK for my next great adventure…China. Difficult to describe how I feel at the moment. I guess it is mainly anxious of the unknown. Having never been outside Europe and America it is difficult to know how I will get on. Plus I am travelling with Exodus – what will this be like? I guess I will just have to wait and see. Plus if I really want to travel then I can’t stick to the familiarity of Europe and the USA forever. So here I go.
Left my friend Jade’s flat at 8:45 am as I have been staying for a few nights before she has her baby(!) and went via Earlsfield Overground and the Victoria line to get the Gatwick Express. During the 30 minute journey from Victoria to the airport I had a free download from Gatwick to listen to = Benga Mix. It was made specifically for the journey – a piece of contemporary art and I enjoyed it. Took the shuttle form the South to the North Terminal and arrived at check in, all in good time. Thought I spotted David and Judith (others going on my trip who chatted with me on the Exodus forum) as I saw Exodus luggage labels. It later turned out that it was them – small world to spot them exactly as I arrived too. Anyway, I got held up as my passport has got quite severe water damage (this has been a regular problem with trying to visit China) and I had to sign a form to ensure that the airline was not held liable. I was warned I may not be let into China (even though I had a visa) and I was worried!! 🙁
No issues through security and then I just wandered around waiting for a gate number. Arriving at the gate I saw the Air China plane and it was smaller than I had expected. It was still normal size I guess – just the last long haul flight I had been on was to USA and that was huge. Saying goodbye to family, I turned off my phone and boarded the plane. All the staff were Chinese, as were the announcements, the magazine, TV controls, signs and, well everything else. I know this seems a little obvious but it was the first time it really sunk in…I am going to China! (luckily English accompanied most, if not all, of the information I required).
It ended up I was sitting next to a lady called Kathy who after several minutes of conversation I found out was also going on my trip. I felt a little less nervous and settled down. First meal I opted for – the western choice of cottage pie. I figured I was still closer to the UK than China but from then on I would try to always go for Chinese. Found out how to work the TV and film that (1) I wanted to watch and (2) was in English: Cirque du Soleil World’s Away. Now I was extremely happy as it had been on my trip to USA last year that I had seen them for the first (and second) time. It was an excellent production about a girl looking for the guy she had fallen in love with. She had to go into different “tent worlds” which it turned out were each different Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil shows. There was a huge scene from KA which I had seen at the MGM as well as sections I recognised from adverts from O (Bellagio) and the Beatles Show.
Really couldn’t sleep (as only early evening as well as cramped) so finished my book: “A tree grows in Brooklyn” which I had first started in the USA when Graeme lent it to me (my sister brought me a copy).
Day 1: Waking up in Beijing
Saturday 3rd August 2013
It would be wrong to say I actually woke up as this would imply I had been to sleep. However, it was morning and the plane wasn’t far away from its destination – Beijing. However, first was breakfast and I went for Chicken Congee. It was chicken so how bad could it be? It basically involved rice floating in water with bits of broccoli and chicken in it. I think it would have been better if it hadn’t of been breakfast – it seemed odd but apparently it is traditional and common.
Messed up by not getting an Arrival Form and having to go to the back of the queue. I tried to join a queue with the nicest looking immigration officer on account of my water damaged passport. She did get out a special magnifying glass before begrudgingly stamping my passport and letting me through – I smiled sweetly.
Beijing Airport is so large that I had to get a shuttle to the Baggage Claim area and then I went in search for our Tour Guide who turned out to be the very smiley Suzie. Once we were all there we boarded our coach to our hotel: Dong Fang Hotel. As it was so early – 9am, we did breakfast round two. This was much more western but I did have baked beans and noodles on the same plate, an odd combination but I was hungry and happy to see no congee in sight.
After a quick change we went out for a wander and I saw my first true glimpse of real China. As we walked through the nearby streets we saw where the Chinese people lived and worked. The conditions weren’t great with people washing themselves and clothes in the street, children doing homework on the steps etc.
Got the Metro for 2 Yuan which is less then 20p to Beijing Bell and Drum Towers. Extremely steep steps but excellent views, the Bell Tower (as the name suggests) holds a massive bell, 47.9 meters high. It was rung in the morning and used as a way to help people with their time keeping.
Included in our ticket was an introduction to Chinese Tea. We were taken into a little room and a lady explained the different teas in turn giving us time to smell and taste them. We had to slurp the tea because it was hot but ‘had’ to be drunk in three sips. Although not a tea drinker and some were not to my liking it was a fantastic experience and not something I would normally have done.
We climbed to the top of the Drum Tower and were just in time for a quick demo. A group of lads ‘played’ these huge drums. The effort needed to strike them must have been immense.
Back at the hotel I had a shower, snooze, contacted family on free wifi and then went out for the welcome meal and ate (amongst other things) Peking Duck and had a massive beer (they don’t do small bottles). It was amazing and the whole thing was only 40 Yuan each! Plus I ate with chopsticks!!
Got snacks from a 24hr supermarket including 12 bottles of water for 12 Yuan = less than 10p a bottle! (surely the bottles cost more in plastic alone?!)
Got the safe working with the family code lol! Time to sleep I think.
Photos from Beijing – Day 1
This tour is a 20 day tour provided by Exodus and you can click on the China link in the menu to read more about my adventure. If you are interested in or already booked on this trip and would like to know more than please feel free to contact me directly.