Vacation Update #3

Hello All:

Here, at long last, is Vacation Update #3. This one deals only with the overnight shore excursion to Beijing. I suspect that if I tried to include any more it would get too big.

The ship docked at Xingang or Tianjin depending on who you hear it from at approximately 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning April 16th after a 2 day sail from Shanghai. This was a voyage of 645 nautical miles. The weather during most of this was overcast with slight to moder ate seas.

The weather in China was not bad but the pollution can kill. You will see in some of the pictures the haze hanging in the air. This is not just haze it is smog of major proportions. I do not think my respiratory system handled it to well but things are improving now.

The excursion, comprising 6 buses with approximately 240 passengers, left at approximately 8:00 a.m. for the 3.0 to 3.5 hour drive to Beijing. I was on Bus 6.

The first stop was the Imperial Hall of Prayer For A Good Harvest. I think there may be a better known name for it but that is all I can verify right now. (I remember now, it is the Temple of Heaven.) I will not go into much detail about these as all of them I have been to before and you can look at the web site of my 2001 vacation for additional information.  Here are some pictures from this year’s trip.

Here is the Hall from a distance.

Here it is up close. Notice the difference in the colour. That is caused by the haze/smog. Yes, it is that bad!

The inside of the hall.

This is called the long hall. It is a decorative covered walkway to the hall above.

After this, a stop was made at a high class hotel for a Chinese lunch. Apparently it was good but my stomach said, no thanks.

Next stop was the Forbidden City. Much of it is being restored. The Chinese think they will be finished the restoration sometime around the year 2020. Here are some pictures.

This, if I remember correctly, is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It is likely the best known one and is under restoration. It does not look like it will be ready for the visitors coming during the Olympics.

This is how it will all look whenever they complete all of the restorations.

This throne is in one of the halls not yet under restoration. Sorry, I cannot remember at the moment which hall it is.

The only garden in the Forbidden City. This is a rock garden of major proportions. The garden itself is not too big but the rocks sure are.

One of the things you discover when traveling in foreign countries is issues with washroom facilities. It generally does affect the male too much but it sure can affect the female.  I will not go into all the details as I am sure you really do not want to hear them. This has been such a problem for the Chinese with the Olympics coming that they have decided to rate washrooms or as they call them toilets. I do not know exactly how the rating works but it seems to be based on North American standards. See the picture below:

If the toilet you are using is rated with 4 stars, as this one in the Forbidden City is, then that is the best you can get. The ratings are done by the Beijing Tourism Administration. A 3 star is apparently not too bad but you definitely do not want to go below that. I will just say that generally the toilets are not much more than ceramic holes in the floor or ground. For those of you who know the European style, they are much like that.

After about an hour and a half in the Forbidden City we next went to Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest (and probably most famous but do not mention that in Beijing) public square. Traffic in Beijing is atrocious and it takes forever just to go a fairly short distance, in this case just a couple of kilometers. The police presence is obvious in the square as is the Peoples Liberation Army (no pictures please). Here are a few pictures from here.

From as far back as I could get.

Mao’s Mausoleum from the same spot as the left picture. He is still revered here. Many people line up to visit this every day.

This is probably the best known view of the buildings around the square.

The square itself is on the left across the road.

We ate dinner/supper at a restaurant (Chinese of course, causing the same problem as at lunch for me) that was a block or two down the street (to the left and behind me) in the picture above. The buses were also parked here. When we returned from dinner we saw this:

This is from almost the same place as the one above.

Mao’s Mausoleum from the same spot.

The square is closed and closely guarded after a ceremonial flag lowering is done at sunset. That is why these pictures had to be taken from where they were.

From here it was to the hotel. We arrived at about 9:00 p.m. It has been over 12 hours since we left the ship in Xingang. Five of the six buses were put up in one hotel and bus six was in a neighboring hotel. Here is a picture taken earlier in the day from the bus of the two hotels used:

Bus six was in the hotel to the far left all the rest were in the far right one.

This completed day one. On to day 2……..

The buses had to leave the hotels at 6:45 a.m. due to traffic and expressway construction issues. The hotel restaurants did not open until 6:30. They were coerced to open at 6:15 but that was the best they would do. One other thing to note here. This was a North American style breakfast buffet. No Chinese food here. Hurray!!! It was a mad rush for the 150 or so other people in the other hotel but not to bad for the 42 of us in our hotel. The departure was basically on time, amazingly enough.

First stop today, was the Sacred Way which is a statue lined landscaped walk that if you went all the way took you to the Ming Tombs. It took about 90 minutes to get there. Here are some pictures:

This is at the start of the Sacred Walk and houses several important writings.

The walk with its stone statues.

A close up of the statues. Note that the one in the background is standing. The one sitting is resting while the one standing is guarding the way.

I liked this one so I took its picture. The statues are on both sides of the walk. The one on the right (like this one) looked meaner than the ones on the left.

It was several kilometers to the tombs so we boarded the busses and headed there, along with thousands of others. Here are some pictures from there:

Just inside the entrance to the Ming tombs. I was told those are cherry blossoms on either side.

Taken looking back the other way from a shrine to the emperor Zhu Di.

Zhu Di is the most revered of the Ming Dynasty emperors.

He apparently did many good things for China during his 20 or so years in power.

After here we went further up the road and came to the Great Wall. This is a different location than the one I visited in 2001 and could not see anything. Things were better here, as you will see below.

This is slightly above where you start up.

Most people only do this section.

So did I.
I may never be the same again!!!
(especially my knees)

I started up from the building at the top of the straight section in the centre of the picture (where all the busses are parked.

Just to prove it, here I am. It would have been better if the picture was taken downward instead of upward but that is perfect 20/20 hindsight unfortunately.

So, I have finally seen the Great Wall, and climbed it as far as most people do. My knees would not have allowed any further climbing. After all, I still had to get down from there, which is none too easy with the twisty turvy steps and the uneven height of the steps. Obviously I was successful as I am here to write this.

Two older ladies were “temporarily misplaced” here which delayed our departure for almost half an hour and delayed everything else afterwards as well.

After almost 120 minutes which should have only been 90 minutes here we went to lunch, another Chinese meal with the same problems as the others. This took us until about 1:30 in the afternoon and we had to be back to the ship by 5:30. The mad rush was on. A different route was required due to construction. Our bus arrived at 5:29 followed about 2 minutes later by the last one which for some unknown reason was group 2.

Here is what the traffic looked like about a half hour before arriving at the ship.

We sailed that night at 7:16 p.m. for Dalian, China arriving there, at 9:36 the next morning.

Well that completes the Beijing part of the trip. As I have been writing this the ship has just docked in Kobe\Osaka Japan and completed the first of the two cruises. There are 800 people getting off and another 800 getting on and the ship sails tomorrow (Wednesday) evening at 5:00 for Tokyo, with a full complement of 1200 passengers, arriving there Friday morning my time or Thursday evening your time. Of course the final destination of this cruise is Vancouver.

Update 4 will contain Dalian, China and maybe Pusan, South Korea. I will see how big it gets. I hope to have it to you within the next day or two.

Les A.