For the next stage of our tour, we all packed up and flew to Shanghai, then got bussed around the triangle of Hangzhou, Suzhou and Wuzhen. At this remove, I’m not sure I can keep straight which city was which, but each had a specific attraction.
First a quick shoutout for the hotel art. We really enjoyed checking the various floors at some of the hotels to see what little sculptures they had out on display.
The highlight of our first city was gardens. This is an interior shot of course!
Outside with framing trees and a reflecting pool.
Gorgeous red foliage on the other side.
Just when we thought maybe we were coming to the end, there was more garden!
A picturesque rock wall.
Same, but in miniature!
A stunning red gate surrounded by flowers.
A few other amusing highlights, with Batman joke, goose friend and a snack.
Next up a boat ride on the canal. These structures have been around for a very long time!
Yet another pavilion.
One of our best finds of the trip. We always enjoy popping into little stores and seeing what convenience foods are like. You would think these would be the equivalent of American gas station sandwiches. The labels were amusing. The taste was excellent. The price was even better. And best of all? The brown one, I kid you not, was cake. …how 2020.
Kentucky Friend Chicken was interestingly very aspirationally middle class, hence the gold suit etc. And by local standards, quite expensive.
I think this new format is working nicely. Easier to edit procedurally, and more emphasis on the photos. So let’s stick with it.
Day 2 of our package took us mainly to the Great Wall, though there’s a little miscellany on either end.
First we stopped by some of the Olympic structures. We were fairly intrigued by this streetlight design, though, and you can still see “The Bird’s Nest” at the base.
We also tried some kind of candied fruit from one of the street vendors. We still don’t know what it is, really. But it was tasty! This one was a little bit frozen from being stored outside, which when we got another in the underground mall the following day, we decided we actually liked better than room temperature.
On the way up to the wall, we were all ushered through a jade factory. Aside from the piece we brought home, this collection of silk embroidery portraits was our favorite thing there.
The part of the wall we saw was a fortress surrounding a valley. So there was a loop there that people could walk if they had the time.
Various members of our group managed different amounts of the ascent.
The views were stunning. I was really pleased with how well the photo captures the color fade over distance. The lone electrical pole feels telling, too.
Another distance shot.
We drove past a frankly terrifying amusement park on the way back.
And took the tour up on the add-on to see a performance that night. We critiqued it heavily on lighting, costumes, plot, choreography and such (with help from one of our fellow tour members regarding acrobatics). It was certainly heavy on spectacle and the incorporation of water onstage (pools and a waterfall) was nothing short of astounding. They had spared no expense.
The following morning, we ditched the optional tour with that same fellow member of the peanut gallery to do some (not vary savvy) haggling for souvenirs at a big outdoor market. At least we were able to navigate the subway very easily!
I suppose I should preface: We took a package tour to China just after Thanksgiving 2017, having found a great deal on LivingSocial. We appreciated the opportunity to have a guide in a country where we wouldn’t be able to read or speak the language. Turns out that wouldn’t necessarily be a big concern for us on a return visit there, as the country was very user friendly. An interesting quirk of the package was that they took us to a lot of souvenir-oriented businesses…so just like the ads before videos, we got a sales pitch in addition to the main event.
When we arrived at the Beijing airport, our main task was to find the meeting point for our tour group, but we couldn’t help but be amused by the meeting point for unaccompanied minors. Good plan! We also wandered a little bit outside the hotel and found a hole in the wall takeout place catering to local college students. We fell in love with the dumplings and brought more tour people back each night.
Our first stop with the tour the next morning was Tiananmen Square. There was certainly an impressive military presence.
From there we went into the Forbidden City. The number of animal carvings on a building’s roof symbolized the importance of its inhabitants.
The restored detailing was absolutely beautiful. We were told it was done when the city hosted the Olympics. It was interesting to see deeper into the complex where they hadn’t yet been able to do so.
Here’s how it looks on a whole pavilion.
Let’s pause here for an itty bitty highlight of the tour group, since we had to bus to the next attraction. Our Beijing guide, Nina, was just adorable. Each family had a number to check in at the end of each stop. She called all of us her babies – which perhaps only once or twice caused a little confusion with the family who had their toddler along and thus typically used the moniker “baby family” rather than their number. We’d rather expected to have to curtail our international travel once we had our own kiddo, so seeing their successful (if occasionally extra burdened) experience was heartening.
Next stop Summer Palace. As noted, we were there in November, so there was not a lot of the verdant garden aspect. We would love to go back to see it in full bloom.
Another lake shot.
This barge was just gorgeous!
A curving covered walkway with more of the restored detailed paint work.
An ornate bridge.
On our next evening excursion, we saw the Olympic towers and construction cranes lit up.