21 November, 2019

Adventures in Mazatlán: China Edition

When the opportunity arises to visit Beijing for 10 days, and the round trip airfare is only $305 usd from Los Angeles, well …. sometimes you just can’t say no. A little Google searching, and I found a hostel smack dab in the middle of town, only a few blocks from Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and a subway station. Not the best of reviews, but it was fairly cheap with many tourist attractions within a 10 minute walk.

After arriving in Beijing, the hardest thing I had to do was find the train from the airport to the city. It’s on level B2, and you can wander forever if you miss the sign pointing the way (I didn’t miss it)! After finding an ATM, then buying a 15 day sim card for my phone, I made my way down to the train. Thankfully almost all signs in the public areas of Beijing are in both Chinese and English, so navigating is a breeze. At the train I bought my transportation pass and loaded some $$$ on it, then spent the next 45 minutes riding comfortably into the city. I’d downloaded a subway app, so when the train arrived, it was easy to change to subway line 2 and travel to the stop closest to my hostel. Of course, by this time it was dark and I realized that China not only blocks Facebook, but ALL things Google. ALL things Google includes Google Maps. Ok. Pull out the printed map to the hostel and ask people on the street! The third person I asked told me to look directly across the street! Woo! Check-in was easy and then I was out the door to grab a bite to eat.

The hostel really is located smack dab in the middle of all things touristy. That includes food. And not just strange food (duck intestines on a stick – even I will pass on that one), but some pretty tasty dumplings and bao’s. LOTS of hotpot as well, but that’s more a 2+ person dinner. I tried to visit different restaurants every day, but there was one I went back to twice, and another had three visits. Two times were for mutton shaomai – they were excellent – lots of filling and perfectly steamed. The three times place had a great sliced lamb and onion dish that was like fajitas. It was served on a very hot cast iron plate. I like lamb. I like onion. I like the beer I had with them 🙂

I purposely didn’t schedule anything for the day I arrived, or the day after. I knew jet lag would wipe me out. I did a lot of walking around the neighborhood, but no scheduled tours. Afterwards I had five tours booked. 1. Great Wall of China; 2. Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City; 3. Forbidden City/Temple of Heaven; 4. Beijing’s modern food tour; and 5. Local food tour. The Great Wall was supposed to include a fireworks display, but they’d stopped doing it for some reason so the guide added a trip to the Badaling Wildlife Park, and later in the week we went to the military museum. After the tours this left me two entire days to relax and do a little wandering on my own. It was nice to be able to slow down a little!

Let me make a few observations on my trip that may help future travelers. First, China blocks internet sites that don’t cooperate with the Chinese government. Facebook and Google are the two big ones. If you want to use them, you need to find a VPN that will work in China. Second, Security – there are cameras everywhere, and checkpoints at every tourist attraction. China may not be watching you specifically, but they could. Easily. This made me both uncomfortable and gave me a sense of security as it keeps crime way down. I felt perfectly safe going out later at night and wandering around neighborhoods I wasn’t familiar with. Third, the subway system is great! There are stops all around the city and lines cross each other making transferring from line to line a breeze. I also recommend the phone app “Metro Man”. It doesn’t always tell you what side of the platform you need to be on, but otherwise it’s great. If you use it, the old airport (PEK) is listed as “Terminal 2” and “Terminal 3” – not “Airport” 🙂 Fourth, it’s COLD in Beijing in the Fall. REALLY cold. It was frequently in the 40’s during the day and below freezing at night. COLD. My weather app failed totally with it’s 10 day forecast before I left! I had to buy a coat at Beijing Walmart! Fifth, ten days was too much for me. Pollution was bad more days than not, and at the airport it was so thick it looked like dense fog. I came down with a cold the last day and the combo wasn’t fun. Five or six days would have been perfect, but I was going with a discounted ticket so I was at the mercy of the the terms of the trip. Six; duck intestines on a stick = no, but sausages on a stick = yes. Lamb spine hot pot was a hit too. Peking duck is very fatty so make sure you don’t go too crazy or it’ll go crazy on you later! Lol. Seven; prepare yourself for jet lag hell when you go home. If you’re traveling to the West coast, you’ll have a 16 hour time difference. That makes the day you go home have not 24 hours, but 40. FORTY hours in ONE day. And you’ll be up and around for plenty of those hours. Losing the hours on the way to Beijing is easy, gaining them not easy at all. Especially if you have a cold!

Trip was fun. Glad I went. Saw some fun stuff. Met some nice people. Ate some tasty food. Would do it again! Have lots of photos to jog my future-self’s memory … here are a few!

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