The day after I got back to Shanghai my parents arrived. They decided to come visit me while I had such a long break and take the opportunity to visit Asia for the first time. It was really great that they could come because by this point I was a bit homesick, but I was missing family and friends more then anything else. That afternoon I went to meet them at the airport, and from there we got a taxi to their hotel, which was right across the road from my apartment complex. We had a small hiccup at the hotel when we discovered that their reservation had been cancelled without my parent’s knowledge. But we eventually got it all worked out with a bit of help from my roommate Becky acting as translator over the phone for us. My Mom and Dad dealt with the time change much better then I had back in September and we were able to go out for dinner the first night at a Chinese restaurant near by. After that we went back to the hotel so we could talk and they could unpack a bit, relax and go to bed. We spent the next few days touring around Shanghai. We did most of the tourist attractions, including things I hadn’t done yet and they got to see my apartment and neighbourhood etc. It was great to show them the city I’ve come to love and where I will have spent a year of my life.
From Shanghai we took a high – speed train to Beijing. We met Katharina at the train station as she was travelling with us for our time in Beijing before she headed to Korea and we went to Xian. We arrived at our hotel in the early evening so we went out for dinner at a place near by and relaxed that night. In the morning we went to the Forbidden City, which was a few blocks away. Once going through security checkpoints we got into the museum and decided on audio guides. Which ended up being a great decision, even though we had a few technical glitches at one point. The Forbidden City is huge, and had very little in the way of signage in English to inform us what we were looking at, so the audio guides were very helpful. During our visit I had the thought (not for the first time since coming and certainly not the last) I need to learn more about Chinese history. After spending a few hours walking around and looking at the building complexes and some of the gardens we decided to go get lunch. So we started in the direction of our hotel and stopped at a place along the way. After lunch we decided to go back to the hotel for a bit to rest before going back to see Tiananmen Square. But we ended up napping for longer then planned and it wasn’t until after 6 that we woke up, by which point we weren’t feeling like going anywhere and we weren’t really hungry since we’d had a late lunch so we just decided to stay in and relax. Katharina and I ended up watching movies on HBO.
The next morning we had to be up early as we were going to the Great Wall and our tour guide was picking us up at 9am. Our tour guide’s name was Nancy, she was great, a real character. We visited the Mutianyu section of the Wall as advised by the tour company because it is less touristy but still a good section to walk and not overly difficult. It took over an hour to drive there and I fell asleep for most of the ride (which won’t surprise those of you who have ever been in a car with me for a trip longer then 30 minutes) but Mom and Dad said Nancy was very informative. Once we arrived at the Wall we got our tickets and had to get a shuttle bus up to a point then a chairlift up to the Wall. We were very lucky with the weather that day, it was the warmest of our days in Beijing and we had clear blue skies, which was great. The Mutianyu section of the Wall has been completely restored and open to the public since the 90’s so it was in great shape. But it is still the original design and very steep in some places, so we stuck to the easier portion due to mom’s knee problems and our general lack of fitness at the moment (my dad excluded). We walked a few portions of the wall and went up a few watchtowers. The views were amazing! It was a great experience. Leaving the Wall we took a toboggan down. It was like a dry, metal bobsled track, we rode on these these little sleds that looked a lot like bobsleds except they had a hand brake between your legs. Dad and I went first (because we like speed more then mom and Katharina and we wanted to go fast) I had some troubles gaining speed at the start but I eventually got going and it was great! We all had fun, even mom and Katharina ended up really enjoying it. We got the shuttle bus back down to where the van was waiting for us and we went to a restaurant near by for lunch. Lunch was good, we had a variety of dishes that we all shared. After lunch we drove to the Summer Palace, I again (predictably) fell asleep. The Summer Palace was beautiful, it wasn’t as busy as the Forbidden City had been but it looked similar as it served the same purpose, (as the home of the court and the Emperor during the summer months when it got hot in the city). It was a bit chillier at the Summer Palace then it had been at the wall because it is next to a lake. While there we learned lots about a particular empress nicknamed the ‘Dragon Lady” who was a very interesting person. We walked a bit through a garden, then we went to the Marble Boat instead of up the hill to the temple as we were all a bit tired. Overall it was beautiful and I’m sure it would be stunning in the spring with all the flowers in bloom. From there we drove back to the hotel (I didn’t fall asleep this time), but we got stuck in rush hour traffic and it was a bit slower getting back. However Nancy kept us entertained telling us stories about herself, Beijing and China in general. That night we tried a few different street foods for dinner from a market street near by. Then we went back to the hotel and had another night relaxing and watching TV. (TV in English was a luxury because I hadn’t just watched TV since leaving Canada)
The next was our final day in Beijing. Katharina wasn’t feeling great so she slept in and it was just Mom, Dad and I that morning. We started off the day by doing some research on Xian, as that’s where we were headed the next day. Then we went to Tiananmen Square and the mausoleum of Chairman Mao. We had to go through 2 security checks with metal detectors and bag x-rays to get in to the square and then an ID check, another metal detector to get into the building. We weren’t allowed to bring our bags inside so mom and I went in first while dad waited outside. Once we were in the building there was a large lobby with a statue of Mao with flowers all around. Then the next room is where Chairman Mao is lying in state and we were rushed through, we were out of the building in less time then it took to get through security before hand. From there we met back up with dad, he decided he didn’t want to go in so we took some pictures around the square then went to the metro. Next we went to the Temple of Heaven, it is in a large park with a few other buildings but the main one is the famous round temple on the hill. It was beautiful but we couldn’t go inside and it was very cold with the wind that day so we didn’t spend too long walking around. Afterwards we were hungry and went in search of food before getting to the subway back to the hotel. While walking towards a mall where we could see signs for fast food Mom tripped on a step and fell hard going over on her ankle and falling on her bad knee. So I grabbed some food while dad hailed a taxi so we could get back to the hotel. Mom stayed at the hotel icing her ankle and knee that evening while Katharina, Dad and I went out for Hot Pot for dinner. It was my first time going to Hot Pot but thankfully Katharina had gone before and knew what to do which was good since our waitress didn’t speak English. The food was good and it was a fun experience, but it was too bad mom missed it. After dinner we walked back down the same market street we’d eaten at the night before to get mom something for dinner and some dessert for us. Back at the hotel we packed up since we were leaving in the morning and we relaxed and watched more TV.
The next morning Dad, Mom and I checked out of the hotel at 8:30 and got a taxi to the train station (Katharina stayed later and slept in as her flight to Korea wasn’t until the evening so she wasn’t in a rush). Our train for Xian left Beijing at 10:30, so once we got through security we had some time so we got coffee and sandwiches for the train ride. We had very nice first class seats for the trip to Xian, which meant spacious seats, free water and snack boxes which was great. We arrived in Xian at 3:30 and got a taxi to our hotel. We had dinner at a place near our hotel that night as we were getting up early the next day for our tour.
We had booked a tour guide and car for the day through a recommendation Nancy (our tour guide in Beijing) had given us. Since we only had one day in Xian we needed to get it all done and hiring a car for the day was our best way to do it. We met Tracy, our tour guide, at 8:30 in the hotel lobby in the morning. We first drove to the Terracotta Warriors Museum since it was an hour from the city centre. The Terracotta Warriors were amazing! It was incredible walking into the first building called Pit 1 (It is the most famous of the 3 Pit’s) I was overwhelmed. We learned lots, about how they were all in pieces when they were discovered and archeologists put them back together. In some areas they left the pieces exposed to show what it looked like when they were first uncovered. We learned about how the warrior’s ranks are distinguishable based on their hairstyles, and how each warrior has distinct facial features with no two exactly the same. It was amazing and it is crazy to think that there is no way of knowing if there are more pits that have not yet been found. I could go on and on but I think you get it; the history nerd in me was in heaven. After spending a few hours looking at it all we left to get lunch. We ate at a teashop near by and tried a few types of tea along with our lunch. After that we headed back into the city centre, and I (unsurprisingly) fell asleep in the car. The next place we went was the Wild Goose Pagoda. We walked around the temples and grounds for a bit but we didn’t go up the Pagoda, it was nice but similar to other temples I have visited. Our next stop was the Old City Wall, we were told it is one of the most intact city walls left in China. The wall itself was cool but it was also beautifully decorated for the upcoming lantern festival with colourful animals and scenes. We didn’t get to ride bikes on the wall (something I had wanted to do) because the rentals were closed by the time we arrived. Instead we walked a section of the wall, which still gave us some nice views of the city. Our last stop of the day was the Muslim Quarter, and the Great Mosque. There were many different street foods I hadn’t seen before as well as people selling souvenirs and trinkets, if you didn’t know where you were going it would be easy to get lost in all the stalls. The Mosque was done in the Chinese style from the Tung dynasty and is very old, but not as well kept as other buildings we had seen from the same period. After that we walked along the main street and tried a few different street foods. Then we went for dinner at a local place suggested by Tracy. She took us to this restaurant with a Xian specialty soup, we were given a dense bread/ pancake to rip up into tiny pieces then after we’d finished they took our bowls and poured in the soup so the bread absorbed some of the liquid. It was good and very filling. We had a funny experience while there with this older Chinese gentleman who was watching us for a long while before he decided to come talk to us, but since we can’t speak mandarin he was using gestures to tell dad that he was doing a good job ripping up his bread and me that mine was too big. After dinner we said goodbye to Tracy and headed back to the hotel. We relaxed and bit and packed our bags as we were flying to Manila, Philippines the next day.