I woke up to a sore throat this morning – that’s all I need.  Don’t know whether it’s a cold or just all this smog.

Lovely day today – similar to yesterday in that you can see more or less blue skies.

A message had been left in an envelope under our door in our room that we were to meet Mr. Leo in the lobby at 9:30.  We had breakfast, just the two of us.  We were the only non-Asian folks in the place except for 4 others.  I took a gamble and introduced ourselves to Phillip, who introduced us to his wife Sandra, and the other couple, Howard and Pam.

I must say here that our China Spree “Luxury Tour” has certainly been luxurious.  Couldn’t ask for a better hotel, although it’s not near anything, it’s certainly luxurious.  And the fact that there are only going to be six of us for the whole trip is positively amazing.

We met up with Mr. Leo and our van.  The van was a little disappointing.  First issue was there were no seat belts in the back, and later found out the air conditioning didn’t work.  We drove to Tiananmen Square, but more in the middle part of Tiananmen Square than we had been on Monday on our own.  It was more impressive than the last time, when we were only on the edge.  The square is HUGE – much bigger than Red Square in Moscow.  So, now we can say we’ve been on both famous Communist Squares.  A huge line of Chinese folks were standing in a very long queue that snaked all around the square.  They were standing in line to see Chairman Mao in his mausoleum.

Here’s our happy little group of six, from left to right: Pam, her husband Howard, Phillip, his wife Sandra, DH and Elizabeth.

Beijing, Tiananmen Square

Our Happy Group of Six

We walked down a pedestrian underpass under the main, very busy street to get to the Forbidden City.  Nice “clear” day today, clear being a relative term.  Most of the tour was a repeat of our visit, but with better weather and fewer people.  And what a difference blue sky can make to one’s pictures!

Now if we could just do something about the hordes of people…

I still love all the rooflines and guardian animals.

We did go to one different part on the west side of the Forbidden City – it was the residence area of the concubines.  Beautiful green glazed tiles adorned the archways and walls in this area.

We also saw a “study” of the Emperor where he practiced his calligraphy, and gazed at his huge jade disk through several doorways for peaceful inspiration.  The disk was carved with nine dragons – eight being a lucky number and nine being the Emperor himself.   Here’s the ceiling in his study; note the dragon hanging down in the center.  Dragons were clearly important to the Emperor’s propaganda machine.

By now it had gotten pretty crowded.  After we left the Forbidden City we had to walk along the whole back half side along the moat like we had done on Monday.  Feet were hurting – badly.  The van was waiting at the end of the moat to take us away.  Another crazy ride through Beijing traffic (and our aggressive bus driver didn’t help) to get to the Houhai Lake area.

Beijing, Rickshaw

Rickshaw Ride

We got in our little rickshaw ride as promised, but we did have to tip the rickshaw driver $20 yuan.  Felt bad for our driver, as he had to pedal the two heaviest people in the group.

The Houhai Lake area is very pretty.  We were able to get out and stroll around a bit before we were taken to a typical family hutong home.

This was a bit depressing at first until we noticed in corners here and there a very modern shower enclosure and a washing machine as well as solar panels on the roof.  Not to mention the flat screen TV.  They grew all manner of vegetables in pots and on trellises over the courtyard.  Then of course we had to stop by the owner’s workshop to see his paper cutting art for sale.  This was truly amazing (no pictures allowed).  Didn’t buy anything as I had no idea at this point about pricing and whether something better is right around the corner.  At the end of the trip, I can say this is one of the items I regret not buying.

Back to the hotel with a couple hours to rest up before dinner. The van picked us up again out front of the Ritz-Carlton, and as I was getting into the van, my foot slipped off the running board and I fell flat on my ass.  Didn’t hurt that much as I am amply padded in that particular area, but I was mortified!

We went back to the Houhai Lake area (actually Qianhai Lake) for our Peking Duck dinner.  The lake area is very pretty at night with all the twinkling sparkling lights reflected in the water.  Lots of bars and restaurants.  We could tell the area is going to be hopping later on.

Beijing Restaurant, Quan Ju De

Main Floor of Quan Ju De

The restaurant we went to is called Quan Ju De on Lotus Lane.  It’s supposed to be the first Peking Duck restaurant, but is now a chain and may be “famous” but not the “best.”  It gets some pretty lousy reviews on TripAdvisor.   When we got there, we really wondered where we were going when Leo led us down a long institutional hallway.  Then we had to go down a floor in a dingy elevator.  The lobby area of the place was worn down and a bit shabby.  However, this opened up into a two-story large room with a balcony running around the inside 2nd floor.  On the main floor there were lots of big round tables with lots of locals noisily sitting around them, and a small round stage at the front with a lady on a unicycle going round and round on stage.  We ended up having a private room off this balcony, which was nice, but the downside was that you couldn’t really see the show.  The food was good however, and faired pretty well against the Made-in-China experience when you considered the price difference – but the ambiance here was totally lacking.  In retrospect, this was not as good as many of the restaurants we were taken to later on in the tour.  Additionally, everyone (except me of course) had to pay for their beer, and I had to pay 20 yuan for my bottle of water.  We had thought this was supposed to be free with our “Luxury Tour”.  I did however like the way they decorated the shrimp dish, which was pretty tasty as well.

The bathrooms were horrible.  We had to go down a long tiled institutional hall, and pass by a gym / workout place.  Not only were the two stalls both squatty potties, but also they were both filthy.

The van ride back to the hotel was uneventful.  Another late night out at dinner so everyone was totally whipped so we said goodnight and everyone went to bed.  We heard the next day however, that Pam and Sandra went downstairs to the hotel pool and had a swim.  I hate them – how could they have that much energy considering they both just flew into town?