This post is being written long after the events described herein took place. We are currently in Arlington Virginia for the month of January.
After another huge hotel breakfast buffet, we joined our fellow Viking Explorers in the hotel lobby to get sorted out into groups.
We then joined our group and boarded our bus. This group of 30 or so (as tall and wide people we love that Viking doesn’t completely fill their buses) would be our companions for the next two days. Most turned out to be great travelers but as always there were a couple of entitled folks who thought everything was about them. “Oh, you meant me when you said to be back to the bus in 15 minutes?” 🤪
After a drive through the city, our first stop of the day was the zoo. Obviously, the pandas were the big draw for us and for hoards of other tourists-it was the third day of the weeklong National Holiday after all.
The zoo appeared to have a lot of other exhibits-would have been great to be able to see some of them also…alas, we (well most of us) were on a tight schedule and followed the timeline. LOL so we only visited the Panda exhibits. Some were inside, others outside. It was great to see these beautiful animals. I was amazed at their size-much larger than I expected. Of course we (along with everyone else) had to take a selfie!
The zoo was the first place where I encountered the first of what would be many interactions with strangers who wanted to have their picture taken with the big tall bearded white man. Sometimes it was children who initiated this but I’m pretty sure their parents may have been pushing them to do so as usually they wanted their picture too! Of course, I made sure I got a picture for my camera too. I will do a post with all these smiling faces at some point, but this should give you an idea!
Shortly after taking the picture above, on the way back to the bus, I tripped over a cobblestone and took a hard fall-skinning my knee & hands and knocking the breath out of me. The number of wonderful Chinese who came immediately to help me up and make sure I was ok was amazing. The first one to help me was the mother of the girl in pink glasses. Luckily, nothing was broken other than my pride and we continued on to the Summer Palace, our next stop.
This palace about an hour outside of Bejing is a beautiful collection of buildings around a beautiful lake. The royals used to come here in the summer to get away from the heat of the city.
Portions of the lake have beds of huge lotus. I can only imagine what it looks like when they are all blooming.
The palace buildings are intricately painted. From what our guide told us, they have to repaint every 7-10 years to maintain the bright colors.
The grounds are beautifully planted and in less crowded times I am sure would be a great place to sit and mediate.
However, this is where we first encountered overwhelming National Holiday crowds. It made visiting here less pleasurable than one would hope for a place designed for relaxation!
We walked along one half of the colonnade that joins two parts of the complex. It’s beautifully painted (the murals are shown a few pictures above) and I’m sure we’re well enjoyed by the Dowager Empress who lived here at one point but as you can see below, during our visit the walk along it was more like an obstacle course!
From the palace, we went to our included lunch. All six buses of Viking guests met here. Four of the buses were the 2 day precruise extension guests, while the other two were folks who had been on the longer (4 day?) extension. They had been to Xi’an as well as somewhere in the mountains before coming to Bejing. The lunch was made up of many many delicious dishes served on lazy Susans on tables for eight in a huge banquet hall. As with all our meals in China, we remained impressed with the food and the huge lunch meant we didn’t have to have much dinner!
After lunch, most aboard were ready for a nap-especially those who had arrived in Bejing just the day before and were jetlagging bad. However we had one more stop on our tour, the Lama Temple.
This complex was originally a royal palace but when the occupant became the emperor in the early 1700s, it was converted into a monastery.
It is very beautiful and we enjoyed seeing visitors washing, lighting incense and praying.
The most incredible sight was the huge carved wood Buddha in one of the temples.
After the temple, we returned to the hotel mid afternoon where we relaxed for a bit after our busy day. I needed some ibuprofen to hopefully ease some back pain and bandages due to my tumble at the zoo and the hotel suggested we go to a store in the next block – Walmart! Who knew???
Walmart was located on the ground and basement floors of a high rise office building. The ground floor was almost entirely groceries while down the moving sidewalk (so you could take your cart) in the basement were clothes, housewares, appliances, etc.
Unlike US Walmarts where most food is prepackaged, in Beijing there were stalls making steamed buns, noodles, and a huge selection of live fish! Also, Peking ducks and huge bins of rice!
Along the long moving sidewalk, they displayed impulse purchase items including “American Prunes”. I wonder if the Chinese don’t eat dried plums?
While we enjoyed visiting the store, we couldn’t find the bandages or the ibuprofen. After asking several clerks (there were hundreds in the store-another difference from US Walmart) and coming up empty, I went to the customer service desk and used google translate to ask. They pointed “over there”. After wandering for a bit, I was still lost, finally one of the customer service folks, took me out of the store proper and down a hallway to the pharmacy section which while in the Walmart was on the other side of the cash registers. There the pharmacist sold me what I needed!
We returned to the hotel and ate our leftover Peking Duck and vegetables from lunch the day before…and some noodles we bought at one of the Walmart booths. Mike was in need of a haircut and we passed two salons the night before on our death march to try to go to Tiananmen Square. So while I relaxed and tried to get my back to stop hurting, Mike went down the street to get a haircut. Using google translate and hand signals, he had the full spa experience-wash, trim, dry, shave, etc. I’m sorry I didn’t go to take pictures as apparently the whole place got into his beauty act. While they trimmed his beard so much that he ended up turning it into a goatee, it still got a thumbs up from the barber and him. And from me when he told me it cost less than $20 including a tip!
So ended our first day with Viking. So far we have been impressed with how they have dealt with the enormous crowds and are happy we decided to splurge somewhat with their pre-cruise extension. Based on some quick math, I think we could have booked similar hotels and tours for the two days and perhaps saves $200 but I think meeting some folks ahead of actually boarding made the cruise itself more enjoyable.
“Tomorrow” we visit Tiananmen Square (finally!), the Forbidden Palace and then will be taken to the ship which is docked in Tianjin about an hour and a half drive from Beijing. So our last act before bed was placing our bags outside the door so that they get moved to the ship.