China Trip Day Two: The Great Wall and Beyond

 

On our second day in China we had planned to visit the Great Wall on a Friday rather than fight the crowds on a weekend.  This was also the only time we decided that going with an organized tour group would be better than going out on our own.  After checking out several different tour companies we picked China Tour Design.  We made reservations about a week before the trip and received an email confirmation from the company before we left on our trip.  Given the $25 USD price per person we weren’t sure how good the tour would be but at the end of the day we decided we got a really good deal. 

We were picked up at our hotel by the tour guide, “Patrick.”  Some Chinese take western names when dealing with western clients.  Patrick was certainly a talkative guide and he did give us plenty of insight into being a young Chinese male (more on that in a separate post) and how to fend off aggressive vendors when you are a tourist.  The small bus/van carried 8 others so it was a relatively small group which was nice.  There were 3 people from Canada, 3 from Italy, 1 Indian gentleman who was living in Dubai and a gentleman from France and we all got the chance to talk to each other during the course of the day, which, I think, adds to the value of the tour.

Gate near Entrance to Ming Tombs

Of course, a tour with a cheap price has to be funded with some other revenue source and it appears many China tours make mandatory stops at places that offer “opportunities” to buy items made in China.  So the tour started with a stop at a Jade carving “musuem” and store.  We were given a demonstration on how to tell the difference between fake and real jade based on the sound when it is tapped.  Then we were sped through the rest of the museum and the jade carving demonstrations to the store and were given ample time to peruse everything and buy something.  We didn’t – mainly because I own plenty of items that are made in China, including Jade jewelry.

Back on the van, we took in the scenic drive to the Dingling Tomb, one of the few Ming Tombs that has actually been excavated.  The attraction is a popular one and lots of other tour groups (mostly Chinese tourists) were there.  This tomb was located quite deep into the earth and after lots of steps down to the bottom we were able to view the burial site of an Emperor and his wives.  This wasn’t a lavishly laid out tomb but a fairly austere place.  And then we climbed back up the stairs and out of  the  tomb.   No elevators and about a 4-story climb.   The grounds of the Dingling Tomb are very nicely laid out and walking around the area was like walking through a well designed park.  And, in the distance you could see some of the other Ming tombs that are located several miles away.

Back on the bus, we were driven on some very winding roads through very beautiful countryside and where the towns are a far cry from bustling Beijing.  It was refreshing to see bucolic areas outside of the city.  We stopped for lunch at Mr. Tang’s, a small restaurant near the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.  Lunch was included in the tour price and it was served family style on a lazy susan for all of us to partake.  The food was quite good with a mix of meat, chicken, vegetables and rice dishes to pick from.  We definitely felt satisfied.

Mr Tang's Restaurant

Then it was on to the highlight of the trip, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.  We purposely picked this tour because it is at a less crowded section of the Wall than the Badaling area.  Just getting to the Wall from the bus to the top of the Wall takes some serious exercise.  First there is a steep climb up a cobblestoned walkway, past a series of vendor stalls, to buy a ticket to the Cable Car to Great Wall.  The cost of the cable car was not included in the price of the tour (though admission to the Great Wall was) and all of us were told we had to take it because hiking to the entrance would take too long.  Considering the steepness of our initial climb we were not going to debate that point.  After looking down at the dirt trail we would have had to climb from the comfort of our cable car we definitely felt the extra few bucks were worth it.

We were rewarded with a once in a lifetime opportunity to walk atop one of the wonders of the world.  The air was clear and the breadth of the wall from our vantage point was awe inspiring.   The Wall was also a backdrop for a wedding photo session with a bride and groom garbed in western-style bridal wear.   We were able to stay up there for about an hour before getting back on the cable car for the ride back down.

View of Great Wall

But that was just the first half of the day.  More adventures awaited us later.

Priscilla (one half of the Travel2some)

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Orange County Regional History Museum – well worth the trip.

Ted Bundy's Name carved into Defendant's Table

The Orange County Regional History Center is a fascinating museum right in the heart of downtown Orlando.  A trip up the elevator to the 4th floor brings one back to the very early days of Florida. Tattooed, pierced and adorned with shells the Timucuan Indians were the first the Europeans  came in contact with.  Today one can find Floridians who are tattooed, pierced and adorned with shells. Sometimes it seems as much as things change they stay the same. 

 The 4th floor has interesting exhibits on the First Peoples, the European First Contact, Florida Seminoles, Pioneers, and Citrus and Cattle industries.  I learned some interesting facts. That no spot in Florida is more than 60 miles from the Gulf of  Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. That many of Florida’s 7,800 lakes are water filled sinkholes such as Lake Eola, Lake Apopka and Lake Conway. And to reduce the mosquito population, hang a dry hallowed gourd to attract mosquito eating Purple Martin birds. Who knew that late 19th century Kissimmee had the Country’s first “Ride-Up” drive through saloon where thirsty cowmen didn’t even have to dismount their horses to buy a drink.

The third floor includes Orange County’s old courtroom (the museum is housed in what was the old court-house).  It was educational to see the old style courthouse and see Ted Bundy’s name scratched into the defense table.  On this floor there is a transportation section with old train and steamboat exhibits, tourism before Disney, Central Florida through the wars, then Aviation and finally Disney: The Day We Changed. 

The second floor had a Road To Modern Orlando Timeline, an extensive African-American Heritage section, and houses the special exhibits gallery and changing exhibits gallery. There were “old school” video games. Pinball machines, Pac -Man and others that were enjoyed by all.  Exhibits on Jack Kerouac the famous writer and poet, Orlando Magic, Military, Disney and Tourism.

The museum is easy to reach, right off the I-4 highway, and parking is available in a public parking garage a block away and across the street from the Orlando Public Library. The museum is open Monday – Saturday, 10am -5 pm. and Sunday, noon to 5pm. Admission is $9.00 , seniors (60+), AAA, military and students $7.00, $6.00 for ages 5-12, and free ages 4 and under.  It is well worth the trip and all ages will enjoy it.

Art (one half of Travel2some)

Museum of Seminole County History

Lunch time at jury duty found me visiting the  Seminole County Museum that was close by to the Seminole County Courthouse.  I entered with low expectations and was pleased to see that the museum was very interesting. Packed in this small museum are  historical photos, artifacts, maps, documents and exhibits of early Central Florida. The St John’s River was the gateway to Central Florida from the Atlantic Ocean.  Included were exhibits on Native American artifacts, railroads, steamships, early settlements, agriculture and other industries and decorative arts.
 
The museum is at 300 Bush Blvd Sanford FL ( US 17-92 ) and is open   Tuesday – Friday  from 1pm-5pm  and Saturday  from 9am – 1pm.
Admission is only $3.00 and $1.00 for children 4-18 and students.
Art ( one half of  Travel2some)

Mennello Museum of American Art, Orlando, Florida

We like museums and here is another one located in the Orlando, Florida area that we have visited.

Location: 900 East Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803

Telephone: 407.246.4278   www.mennellomuseum.org

Hours of Operation:  Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 am – 4:30 pm, Sunday, noon – 4:30 pm, Closed Mondays and major holidays.

Admission: Adults: $4.00 + tax; Seniors (60+): $3.00 + tax; Students with valid ID: $1.00 + tax;

Children under 12: Free; Members always admitted free.

Focus:  This small museum, run by the city of Orlando, is focused on showcasing works by American artists.

Permanent exhibit is devoted to the paintings of Earl Cunningham (1893-1977).  True examples of American Folk Art, many painted on board vs. canvas, these bright paintings mostly all have a link to the water.

Typical Amount of Time to Go Through the Museum;  Even if you read all the little white cards, this small museum should only take about 1 hour to an hour and half to cover.  All exhibits are located on one floor.

Children’s Activities: None really observed but some special events may include children’s activities.

Café or Food on-site?  No.

Gift Store?  Yes, very limited but interesting collection of American Folk Art items that change with the seasons. 

Although the museum is somewhat small, the Cunningham collection was strikingly colorful, setting a tropical tone, even though not all scenes are of tropical locations. Many scenes feature some link to the water whether on a dock, in a marsh, on a river or a sunset on the Gulf. The museum also does a very good job of educating the viewer about Mr. Cunninghams life and motivation behind his work.

The special exhibits change throughout the year.

Overall this museum is worth a short Sunday afternoon visit. A walk around the grounds, which abuts a small lake, can also be a peaceful diversion. On a down note some of the outdoor sculpture seemed to be in need of a cleaning. I dont think the artists really intended for any of their works to become laden with moss or mildew.

Priscilla (one half of the Travel2some)

Travel via alternate airports

Sometimes a  cheaper way to travel isn’t from your local airport or to the airport of your destination. When we went to Toronto we flew Southwest to Buffalo instead. Airfare was cheap and renting a car and seeing Niagara Falls and then driving to Toronto was a great way to travel.  Traveling to Montreal one can fly Jet Blue to Burlington VT. Airfare is cheaper and you can drive from there to Montreal. Flying to St Thomas from Orlando International Airport was hundreds of dollars more than flying from Ft Lauderdale airport. So we hopped in our car and drove to Ft Lauderdale.

We flew to Europe by flying out of Sanford International Airport via  Icelandair to Iceland and then on to Amsterdam. This was a lower cost way to travel and less stressful at this smaller airport. Leaving and arriving back from our trip was a piece of cake and the low stress airport in Iceland was a pleasant surprise too.  So when traveling look at other airports as an alternate to your home airport and as an alternate to your destination.

Art ( One half of the travel2some)

Winter Park a delight all year round

Winter Park Florida is a must see when traveling to Central Florida.  You can arrive by car but can also arrive via Amtrak as the train stops right in the middle of town. Smack in the center of town is a lovely park with wonderful local shrubbery, plants and trees. Stroll down its Park Ave  lined with  fantastic restaurants, bars, wine bars, al fresco dining  and eclectic shops. At the bottom of Park Ave is the famous Rollins College campus and located there  you’ll find the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.  Photo exhibits and art exhibits change throughout the year.  Admission is only five dollars and is open Tuesday through Friday 10am -4pm and Saturday and Sunday 12pm -5pm.

Art ( one half of the Travel2some)

 

 

China Trip – First Stop Beijing

Hilton Beijing Wangfujing Suite

Traveling in China can be both fascinating and frustrating.  That’s what Art and I were told on the outset of planning our 16-18-day sojourn, so we were armed with the knowledge that we would have to be flexible and aware along the way.  We didn’t go the organized packaged tour route so this would be even more interesting.  At the same time, by patching together a few free flights and hotel stays using frequent traveler points we saved quite a bit of money while providing more flexibility to spend more time in the places we wanted to see.

Our first leg was to fly into Beijing via Air Canada – a flight segment we paid for.  And, at about $780 per person wasn’t too bad compared with some of the fares we were presented with when setting up the trip.  The flight itself was not all that bad as economy class goes.  The Boeing 777 was pretty comfortable and there was a large selection of movies to watch.  My own “warmer” carryon blanket that I brought with me and the white wine provided extra comfort on the 12-13 hour flight from Toronto.  Getting in some sleep on the flight was a little problematic.  The Chinese are naturally loud communicators and I could hear them talking even with ear plugs on.  Either way both Art and I got some shut-eye along the way.

Getting through immigration wasn’t difficult but it was tedious since each individual coming into the country has to be photographed.  But even after taking quite a while to get through the immigration line we still had to wait for our baggage to arrive.

The taxi line was pretty organized but slow. And the taxi ride to the hotel was an adventure.  Apparently Chinese drivers treat highway lanes as guidelines – cars are driving scattershot all over the place.  And NASCAR has nothing on Chinese cab drivers.  They zip in and out of traffic at speeds that will make your hair stand on end.

Our driver, unfortunately, still managed to get lost even though we had written directions for him in Mandarin Chinese (we had been warned that this could happen).  And, even though we could see the sign for the hotel he couldn’t figure out where the entrance was (even other Chinese cab drivers made it clear several times exactly where it was).  Beijing rush hour traffic was terrible but we expected that.  Even so, the fare was about $20 USD, give or take a couple of bucks.  That type of ride would have cost about $50 in New York City.

This stay at the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing was reserved using frequent stay points so it was basically free except for incidental expenses.  We were upgraded to a suite and it was big and modern.  It took a better portion of the night to figure out how to use all the switches and controls to the place.  It had a huge shower and a claw foot tub, double sinks and bathrobes and slippers in the bathroom.  The king sized bed was super comfortable and the small living area was nice to have – overall a beautiful room.

We were hungry and immediately went on the hunt for some Peking Duck.  The concierge tried to get us a reservation at two of the more popular places in town but no luck – too crowded.  So he made reservations for a place right down the street from the hotel.  After some meandering through several levels of shopping stalls we finally found the place.  The Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant turned out to be great.  We later found out this is one of the oldest Peking Duck Restaurants in the city and is listed in “1000 Places to See Before You Die.”  The service was good, the duck was well presented and delicious and our sides were very good too.

Communication can sometimes be a challenge depending on the server you get.  This turned out to be the case here.  When I asked the server if the restaurant took credit cards, she immediately said, “No.”  Yet, we were sitting not too far away from the cash register and they appeared to be doing just that.  So I got up went to the cashier and they gladly accepted my card.  All told dinner for two of a whole duck with some shrimp, vegetables and sodas cost about $54 USD including tax and service charge.

Food choices would get much more interesting as the trip progressed but we’ll describe those in another post.

Priscilla