On April 2, we were back at sea, on the way to Beijimg. Only one couple came to the desk, the Silversteins. They liked my idea of the “World Wine Tour” on board, for a discount for our group. I signed them up. Then I got out a letter about that and our Shore Excursion, emailed Claire the count and request for my not too handicapped guests to come along. I also picked up two more waivers that had been handed to the Front Desk, called the two cabins I hadn’t heard back from and got one of them. I went to the gym, had dinner with some new friends, saw the show, Andrew Derbyshire, just OK, packed for Beijing and called it a night.
On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, we docked at Tienjen, port for Beijing. The Conrad Beijing picked us up in a 19-seated van. I have learned to ask for a big enough vehicle. We don’t look like swells, but we are very comfortable. We had a nice surprise waiting for us at the hotel, a lovely room upgrade. We got promoted to the 23rd floor and the view is outstanding.
By the time we were settled, it was time to meet our A & K guide, Juliet Yu. As expected in Beijing, she wasn’t as open as Mira and she made a point of telling us how much everyone still loves Mao. When his mausoleum is open, the lineup is hundreds of people. He’s preserved in a glass casket. You can still see his face. I’m glad it was closed. I wouldn’t line up for that. Tiananmen Square is the largest in the world. Juliet said we would hear “largest” from her a lot, and we did. You start at the South end of the square and walk through to and through The Forbidden City. We walked about four miles from one end to the other. Tiananmen Square is just a huge gathering place. It can hold a million people standing up. I’m glad they weren’t all there today. We could do it at a comfortable pace. We walked the length of it and Juliet took our picture with the enormous painting of Mao in the background. They change this picture every year, so it is always fresh.
Then we crossed the street underground and came up in The Forbidden City, the largest palace in the world. The outer part is the worldly area, where people could come to do business with the Emperor, only male people, mind you. The middle part is home to family members and the inner part is off limits to all but the Emperor, his wives and concubines and the palace eunuchs. Of course, all of this is guarded by the largest bronze lions in China.
Even though we stopped to rest a number of times in the seats provided for the purpose, we were all pretty bushed at the end of the experiment. Steve and Trish went straight into the hotel restaurant, with the idea of eating and crashing. Scott decided to skip dinner and Roz, Donna and I opted for a bath and a cheap restaurant on the street. Juliet said there was one just around the corner, called Yu Yue, where I had had the best 2-minute pancake at the beginning of the tour.
We reconvened at 7:00 pm and went to talk to the concierge. After reconfirming Juliet’s directions, and discussing how we were going to order, Jack Bao, our fabulous concierge, walked us to the restaurant himself, and ordered for us. No one has ever served me that well before, and I travel a lot. Gold stars for Jack. What made it more remarkable is that he wouldn’t let us tip him, not when we made the plan, nor when he left us happy at the restaurant, nor later. And, believe me, I tried. I’ll make sure his manager finds out. Dinner, by the way was delicious. We ended up eating it alone in a back room, through the kitchen and washing up area. The restaurant itself was way too smoky for our tastes. We have been spoiled since smoking was outlawed in North American establishments, probably 40 years ago. We walked back to the hotel, thanked Jack again, tried to tip him, again, had a nightcap in the bar, and went to bed.
I decided to skip the Great Wall the next day, as I have seen it, and I wanted to write my blog. My room on the 23rd floor of the Conrad was spacious, had a large comfortable desk and chair, and a lovely view of the city. After a delicious breakfast of fresh orange juice and Eggs Benedict, I settled in to write. After about three hours, I broke and went to the gym. I had it to myself, with about three attendants. Workout done I went back to work for three more hours. You don’t think this thing writes itself, do you?
The rest of the group had a wonderful time at The Great Wall and in pedicabs through the Hutongs. Juliet, out A & K guide, still lives in one of these alley houses, just the way Mira described hers in Shanghai. Juliet and her husband, however, come from a small town outside Beijing and plan to go back there, after they have made enough money.
Steve, Trish and I had dinner at Da Dong Duck, the most famous Peking duck chain. It was all it should have been, just delicious. They took a credit card, but wouldn’t call a taxi for us, so I called the Conrad concierge and had him do it. On our way out, we met Harald, the General Manager of the Conrad. He’s absolutely charming and knows Thomas, the GM in Hong Kong, who treated us all so well in March. I took the opportunity to commend Jack, the concierge and his Front Desk and Guest Relations Managers, all of whom have been very wonderful to us. We had a nightcap in the Lobby Lounge and off to sleep.
On the morning of April 5, we checked out without incident and had the Conrad’s wonderful breakfast again. Harald stopped by our table and gave us a few pointers on bargaining at the Pearl Market. We were not to pay more than 20% of the asking price. Even I couldn’t go that low, so I probably paid 40% of asking, but we got cashmere shawls, black baroque pearls and I got a $15 FitBit knock-off that syncs to my phone, just like a real one. I should have bought more of those. I probably won’t see that price in Japan. It took about three hours again, to get to the ship. We had the same driver as on the way in. He never wants to take the tip, but then his eyes light up and he takes it happily. I guess we are ruining China, too, now.
We saw the show before dinner. It was Steve Carte and a bit silly.