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Tea Ceremony

On our second (and last) day in Beijing we were taken to a place that sells Tea, but also does “Tea Ceremonies” where they describe and let you taste several different kinds of teas. The whole process was very interesting and the establishment was very beautiful, they took a lot of pride in their work and it really was a nice experience. Black Tea is a favorite of mine but this place was more about the Oolong variety, which is by far the most common here in China.  We didn’t buy anything at this place, despite the fact that the girl who was helping us was a little insistent. We took some neat pictures of the “flowering tea” as well, which is a very large “ball” that when dropped in steaming water turns into a beautiful flower and also makes a nice tea for the first 7-8 brewings, then you leave water in there to admire this plant.

Enamel Art Factory

Mostly they made vases and large bowls, but there were also paintings and other things to hang on the wall. The procedure for the tour was just like the rest, we toured the factory – were invited to sit down and eat and then we walked out via the showroom and then off of the premises. The way they made the vases and things were amazing. Bending small pieces of bronze or copper into shapes and then covering the surface of the pottery with these shapes and then adding the coloring to them and then baking them for a long, LONG time. The vases were amazing, and as good little US consumers we bought a few things here that we just couldn’t resist.

Beijing Acrobats

We ended up our last day in Beijing with the Beijing Acrobats who put on an amazingly ornate and dazzling show of skill and pride. The theater was packed full of people (for snacks the concession stands sold bags of microwave popcorn and people were all walking around with popped bags). We met up with a few people from our group once again at this performance, we all ended up on the same row. The only bad thing about this performance was that it was at 6:30 at night and we were still adjusting to the time change. We were all nodding our heads by the end of the show and it wasn’t due to the fact that it was boring, we just couldn’t focus on the spectacle in front of us.  It would have been nice to spread these events out a little more, but we were troopers and just smiled and went on with it. Both nights in Beijing we collapsed into our beds (which you have to be careful about, because the Chinese don’t sleep on cushy American-style beds, they prefer ROCK HARD surfaces). I think I could literally stand on the edge of the bed and the side not show any signs that I was standing there. The beds are literally that hard.

Last Day in Beijing

So we had eaten and slept our way through the town and now was the last day. We were to go see all of the following amazing sites on this last day: Tiananmen Square,  The Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.  Yes, it was going to be a busy day followed up with a trip to the train station where we’d catch our overnight train to Hangzhou.

Our companion and guide in our days around Beijing was a man named Leo. Of course, Leo wasn’t his real name, just the Westernized name he adopted to make it easy for us, I suppose. Leo was very good about telling us how things were going to happen as well as explaining the history of all of the sites we visited.  He explained the rich history of Tiananmen Square as well as the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. I took some pictures of the Square, but I think they’d be hard pressed to really show the scale and the amazing beauty. Plus the cold managed to sap a basically new pair of batteries I had installed in my camera, so I didn’t go super camera-crazy inside of the Temple of Heaven.  (as soon as the Internet connection permits I’m going to post more pictures and put details on the ones already there)

Tiananmen Square led us to an underpass that carried us to the entrance to the Forbidden City. Again, I can’t really find the words to properly convey how amazingly large and monumental this place truly was. The ornamental detail present in the buildings was something I’ve seen very rarely. Plus they were renovating alot of the buildings for the Beijing Olympics which will bring a VERY large flood of foreigners to the city. They are getting prepared, we saw signs of that everywhere – from the airports to the signs. China is very proud to have the Olympic games be held in one of their shining jewels of a city.

And lastly the Temple of Heaven was a place where the Emporer would come to pray. It was also amazing, and sadly Robyn and I both noted how the compressed schedule really made it difficult at times to fully grasp what we were laying our eyes on. One magnificent structure after another, just as quickly as we could walk there. It really got us to the point where we were sort-of taking these beautiful buildings for granted. At one point Robyn noted that she had read the follow line in many a blog about the trip over here: “We saw another temple”. Again, it’s not that they weren’t beautiful we just didn’t have the amount of time we needed to fully admire and appreciate these places. Sad, really.

After the Temple of Heaven we had dinner and were whisked away to the Biejing train station, which was full of people traveling home after the holiday. You see, the week-long celebration of the New Year was soon to be ending and people were going back to their jobs after spending the celebration time at home with their families. So, the train station? Busy! After waiting nearly 30 minutes in traffic (within viewing distance of the train station) our guide hopped out and arranged a private little tram car to take us directly to our train. No fooling around with the train station for these Big-noses! We went through a private security check-in and we taken directly to the door of our train car. It was worth the $12 or so it cost us to do that. We bid Leo a farewell and settled into the train car.

The train was something that I immediately pushed for once I read about it. It sounded like too much of an adventure to miss. We’d save one overnight stay and one plane fare (for 4 people!) by traveling overnight via rail. The train we were on was considered to be one of the nicest out of Beijing. Carrying the “Z” designation. Mostly this train was full of business travelers (and a few other big noses) and was very well maintained.  We had four bunks in the “soft sleeper” class, which meant that we had our own compartment. It swelled up just enough to contain all of us and our enormous piles of luggage. We slept comfortably through the night and awoke (mostly) refreshed the next day. I wouldn’t say it was the most comfortable, but the cots were slightly better than the hotel in Beijing. Also, the other bullet trains speeding by were a little unsettling. You’d be sleeping quietly when you’d hear this giant woosh and then the room would light up from the other train going by in a blink. I should also mention that almost all train announcements were made in multiple languages, including English.

Once we arrived in Hangzhou we exited the train (without a way to transport all of our luggage – aside from lugging it ourselves) and discovered we had to haul all of that stuff up two flights of stairs. And then down two flights. And then? Down two more flights into a sea of people all arriving on their trains. And when I say a sea of people, I mean that word in the truest sense of the word. I’m not describing the Carribean here, or Tampa Bay.  I’m talking about the Atlantic, undulating and covered with masses of people carrying their luggage and bags of rice from home to the work.

And there we were. In the middle of all that.

I told Robyn that it felt like a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Literally ten thousand people or so, in the same hallway with us, all pushing to the security checkpoint before the exit. Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it.  We pushed our way toward the gate with the masses around us and somehow, amazingly, ended up outside. Greeted by Sarah, who was holding our names and smiling. She was a welcome sight – that was for sure. We were taken to our private van which was roomy, warm and solitary. Which we loved!

Sarah then informed us that we wouldn’t have very long at the hotel, maybe 5 minutes, before we’d need to go and be united with our daughter. We thought we’d have three hours or so, and that we could all have showers (no showers on the train – silly Big Nose!). So, we said to hell with it (pardon my french) none of that mattered, we’d just go and get the thing that brought us here to begin with, our daughter. We learned that Ellery had traveled from her Provence that morning at 5am. So, we didn’t want her to wait any longer.

More in my next post about the first time we saw our daughter…

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