Our trip to China took us through Korea with a short layover in Seoul.
One thing that I think surprised many people traveling with us was that they were served a meal on a short flight. More commonly in the US, I think, we see short flights that are just domestic and many US airlines have done away with meals on these flights. Typically international flights will have a meal included, even for a very short flight. The other bonus is the complimentary beer and wine in economy class! I was lucky and they found me a vegetarian meal for the flight. It was pretty good and I was glad to see some vegetables and fruit.
I have been to Incheon airport before but I didn't get to see all of the nice cultural displays they had set up. There were these culture centers at various spots spread throughout the airport and they included crafts and cultural performances. The marketing idea was excellent. They were displaying their country very nicely and encouraging people to create good memories of South Korea even if they were just passing through. This was great because it really showcased the country and was very encouraging for people to come back for longer stays. It was very nicely done.
When we passed by this musical performance the ladies were playing "Let it go", so of course we stopped to listen. They played a few other pop tunes. It was a great way to kill some time on a layover.
Since we had more time, Ryan and I decided to try out some traditional Korean crafts. For this specific craft we had a pattern that was on a raised block and we used a wet brush to make the pattern behind show through.
Then we used black ink dotted on top to create a permanent version of the picture. Ryan and I took turns working on the same painting.
It was definitely fun!
After it was done we let it dry and then they wrapped it up for us with a card that would tell us the story about the craft and the significance of the design.
Then it was time to board the flight for Beijing. Another short flight, and another meal served. It was identical to my first meal so I didn't bother with a picture. I also didn't eat much other than fruit because I wasn't hungry and I really didn't want to eat the same thing again unless I was really hungry. Oh, and if I failed to mention this earlier, this is my second trip to China, but the first for my husband. I traveled to China 9 years ago for a continuing education program for dietetics. Although I had been there once before I was excited to visit again and have the chance to compare the changes that took place from pre-Olympic times to post Beijing Olympics.
We got into Beijing late in the evening and went right to the hotel to check in. We were staying at the Crowne Plaza Beijing, which is part of the Holiday Inn chain. It was the hotel chosen by the group tour planners, and while it wouldn't have been my first choice (it's listed as a 5 star hotel in China, but that doesn't indicate much about the quality inside the room- the chair was dirty, paint was peeling, and the carpet was dingy), but I will admit the location was excellent. It was also a decent size room.
The next morning we headed to check out the breakfast before a day of sightseeing. The buffet was pretty nice with lots of options.
Lots of options, but not always fully stocked! At least there were choices between Asian fare and Western choices.
They had a nice noodle station, which I will confess looked awesome, but I never tried. In the middle are fried dough sticks, which were obviously a popular Chinese breakfast option because every hotel we stayed at on the rest of the trip also had these. I did not try out the funny jellied eggs, although I admit I was curious.
Here is a close up of the fried dough sticks.
Here is what I ended up with on my plate. I gave the dough stick a try, but it wasn't really good enough to go ahead and eat the whole thing. I am glad I tried it though. I also got some dragon fruit, which I think I ended up eating at almost every breakfast we were in China.
The small dish is baingan bharta, which is an Indian eggplant dish. I liked that this hotel offered a few Indian choices for breakfast. The white stuff in the while bowl was plain congee. It was not as salty as the Japanese hotel's version and I was glad to be able to enjoy this one a little more. The first time I had congee was when I was in China 9 years and I really liked it. It's sort of like cream of rice breakfast cereal but the rice is more intact.
Our first stop on the first day was a drive outside the city to climb the Great Wall of China. Yes, I had done this before, and yes it was the same section, but I was still excited all the same. There was a bit of a haze at this hour, but it was also very windy and as the day progressed most of the haze disappeared.
The area here is mountainous and very lush green. If you look closely in the distance you can start to see stretches of the wall.
Great Wall ahead!
Like I said, it is very green in this area. This is the nice view as we were approaching the Badaling section of the Wall.
By now we were able to see the wall much better, although to get this shot I did need to zoom.
I definitely do not remember this part outside the wall near the parking area. In fact, there were many more stores and restaurants nearby.
I think this is one of the signs designating this as a place of culture heritage, either from China or the UNESCO sign. I can't tell from the picture now, but I know there were a few signs around with these designations.
Here is the entrance into the area to start climbing at the Badaling section. This is one of the more preserved/restored sections of the wall, which is why it is also packed with tourists.
As you can see, some of the haze has now lifted and we are starting to see blue skies.
Not sure, but I'm guessing something happened once that warrants this sign being placed here. If there were a thunderstorm, I am not sure hanging out on the Great Wall and talking on my phone is the first place I would think to be, but I guess for some, that may be a possibility!
I took a ton of pictures. I know that I am lucky to be here a second time as many people (not from China) think of a visit to the Great Wall of China as a once in a lifetime experience. I am pretty sure I will not be visiting a third time, but you never know! It is definitely beautiful and makes you appreciate history and nature so much more when you can see the wall just travel on and on for miles.
Here I am taking a short break before going up some of the steeper areas. We selected the harder path at this section. There is one that is shorter but steeper and another that is longer but less incline. The easier part is much more packed. I climbed the same section last time.
Here we are just making our way along the wall. As you can see it is crowded but not packed with people.
Good advice, for sure!
Here I am with Ryan. It was nice to have a bit of a breeze along the way. Of course that makes for crazy hair for me!
Looking back down at one of the steeper parts.
The Wall snaking through the green trees.
I know it's dark, but this is me at the highest part we climbed to.
Here I am with Ryan just before the path heads down hill for a little bit after the official highest point we reached. Not sure what is going on with the lady in the background in the orange, but it looks like she is being pulled out!
Another view of the wall.
As we were heading back down we noticed some mules or possibly horses carrying some supplies up along the side of the wall. This was very interesting and I am glad we got to watch. I don't think many people think about the transport of supplies along the wall but the use of animals makes a lot of sense.
Here is a closer shot of the animals. It was hard to really tell, but they may have been horses.
Wear and tear makes for a fun sign. Yes, this now reads "Sleep slop slow down" which we feel should be the slogan of a new movie about the life of a pig. Not sure why, but this sign had us rolling on the floor with laughter. It must have been the exhaustion from having completed a pretty intense uphill climb in some areas.
Once back down we stopped to see the crowds still rolling in to get their chance at climbing some of the wall.
Lunch was on the way to our next sightseeing adventure. It was at a very large restaurant where there were some weddings taking place.
The inside was very nicely decorated.
Since you can't drink the water in China and always have to have bottled, sometimes it is cheaper to go with the beer. Honestly, some times on vacation it is just nice to have a little beer with lunch or dinner, just because you can. I don't normally drink at lunch, not really even when on vacation, but this just seemed to make sense in China. Plus, here we got 1 free beverage with the meal and I already had bottled water on me.
Lunch was served family style, which is pretty common in China. I sat with the other vegetarians but there were just 3 of us so we also had some meat eaters with us. This was perfect because we ended up with extra dishes at the table and out meat eating friends were happy to have some extra vegetables.
First up was a sticky rice dish wrapped in a lotus root. I had something similar in Korea and it was really good. This was served first but we were told it was more like our dessert. These are popular treats for the Dragon Boat festival and that holiday was fast approaching. Here you can see the lotus root wrapped "packages".
Inside they were all different, but all of them were sweet. Mine had dates inside. Yum!
Here is one of the meat dishes. I believe this was duck. You can see the glass behind this plate. That is a lazy Susan. If you have ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant with a large group you may be familiar with this style of service. The table spins around and you can take what you want as it goes by.
Peanuts and veggies, and I believe this was a chicken dish.
Here is a chicken dish, or perhaps it was pork.
I was more concerned with the veggie dishes, but I did make sure to take pictures of everything. This was a nice salad dish with peanuts.
Here is another vegetable dish. This had green veggies and mushrooms. I believe those were soy beans. This also had walnuts in it, which I thought I hated, but it turns out I actually like them when they are cooked.
Here was some sort of meat stew.
Shrimp! I actually passed on these. Looked like too much work. And they were kind of scary looking.
Some more veggies. I was very glad to have so many vegetable dishes served. You can see some red peppers in this dish and it definitely had a kick to it compared to the others.
Here is a fish dish. This presentation is very common for fish in China. It was actually very easy to get the pieces of fish off even though it looks a little like a mess.
Here is another vegetable dish.
This was our vegetarian soup. It was delicious! Not a lot of overwhelming flavor, but very tasty and packed with green veggies.
Can you believe they were still bringing more food out?!?! It is a lot because we were served double at our table. Here are more greens. They definitely do not lack green vegetables in their diet.
This was some sort of fried bread.
This was a pork dish. The pork is used to fill those little steamed rolls on the plate.
Last came the hot and sour soup which my husband said was delicious, but they were all so stuffed by this point that it was hard to eat as much as they wanted.
After a very large and delicious meal we headed to a jade factory. Here you can see some of the workers demonstrating their skills at carving the jade.
This is a giant jade dragon boat. I believe it was made from all one piece and the largest piece they had that was done that way.
The halls were lined with silk paintings. It was very intricate.
Here we were given a presentation about jade.
These are family balls. They have multiple layers inside that represent each generation. I think what surprised me the most here was the price. When I was in China 9 years ago I bought my sister a jade bracelet from a factory just like this (also coming back from the Great Wall) and I paid about $100 for a decent bracelet. It wasn't the highest quality, but it wasn't the lowest. The price for something similar on this trip was around $500. I couldn't even believe how much the price had increased. Things that were small and "cheap" before were now out of my price range for a "little" gift. What I paid $25 for the last time was now around $100. It was crazy! Needless to say, we did not come home with any jade.
Our next stop for the day was to the Summer Palace. This is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I was here before 9 years ago and I don't think a lot had changed since then. As you can see in the sky, we had great weather.
It was great weather so it was nice to just stroll the grounds on our way to the far end. Last time we went on the dragon boat to get back to the entrance but on this day it was too late and there were no more boats running.
In the distance you can see a building. I definitely enjoyed the scenery here.
In the far, far distance here you can see a pagoda sticking up.
Here is a better view of the building in the distance.
Of course when I zoomed in I could get a much better shot.
Inside there were many garden areas, which often contain rocks like this.
This palace is known for the long corridor, which is the longest in the world.
It is an outdoor corridor and painted with very intricate details. This painting reminds me of the Korean temples, although now that I think about it, I wonder if this painting/pattern comes from China originally and was adopted in the Buddhist temples in Korea.
You can see the corridor just keeps going and going.
The large layout of the palace include gardens and the lake. All of it makes for great photo ops.
Here I am with Ryan in the long corridor.
This is the stone dragon boat. Obviously it isn't going to sail anywhere!
Here you can see the dragon boats that you can actually take out on the water. The last time I was here I was able to go for a ride.
Here are some more scenic shots.
After the Summer Palace we headed to a silk factory since some people wanted to purchase a silk quilt. I have one from last time but it was for a full size bed and it is still in storage in Las Vegas. I took a picture of this over the road because it looked so traditional, but in reality I think it was new and part of a very Chinese looking shopping center for tourists. This particular shop is very close to the Olympic stadium.
Here are the silk "pods" on display.
This is the silk thread.
Here you can see the silk balls in the water and this is then pulled open to get the strand out. One cocoon is just 1 thread and it is very long. I think the most impressive thing is that it just makes one very long thread.
For the silk quilts they stretch out the cocoon to make a stretched piece, sort of cotton looking.
Each cocoon is pulled out into one layer and then multiple layers are piled up to make the quilt filling.
Here is our group trying it out. The started with one of those cocoons and pulled it out.
Not a bad job! It gets really thin, as you can see. The ladies there did a much better job than we did, but that's why they are the professionals.
Next we went to take some pictures of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, which are the names for the Olympic facilities from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
This building looked interesting so I took a picture of it too. It is actually an IBM building. It was just behind the bridge we were standing on to take pictures of the Olympic facility.
The rest of the evening we were on our own. I tried to get this picture to flip around, but it is being stubborn. This is the sign for the steamed bun restaurant we ate at for dinner. It was quite an interesting experience. We were definitely the only Americans in there and we had no idea what we were doing. The good news was that they had the menu items in English so we knew there were vegetable steamed buns.
The only thing we didn't realize was that when we both ordered the veggie steamed buns we were both ordering a complete order of 8. Oops! We should have known when the total dinner cost was nearly $20. That's pretty pricey for Chinese food, especially in a place like this. That's ok, they were tasty and we ate as many as we could.
We watched the locals in there mix up some dipping sauce and then gave it a try ourselves. It was pretty good. It was a mix (I think) of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili paste.
They were filled with green veggies and mushrooms. These were delicious! Yum!
After dinner, as we were walking along the pedestrian street, we stumbled upon this fro yo place. This is exciting because we rarely get to have any frozen yogurt. The nearest place is in Tokyo and we only just discovered those locations. This place is called Moon Papa.
Ryan had his with mango and kiwi, which looks awesome.
I had a small chocolate craving so I tried this out. Cookies with coconut. It was tasty, but I definitely didn't need all of those cookies. Seeing as I climbed the Great Wall for a little bit earlier in the day I didn't really question my craving for chocolate.
Then we made the short walk back to the hotel. Along the way we passed by this church, very Western looking, and well lit at night. It seemed to be the spot to hang out at in the evening. It was packed with people dancing and socializing. It was truly like a town square and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Although not the official total count on my fitbit for the day, as I was getting ready for bed I checked my totals. I was at 70 flights of stairs and 21141 steps. My fitbit didn't connect to my computer while in China (I tried though, it just didn't work!) so I took these pictures, although now I do have the official count on my phone. This works just as well.
QUESTIONS: Have you ever climbed the Great Wall of China? Do you have any Asian silk products? Have you ever had steamed buns?