In very early May 2008, I spent about 10 days in China. I'm sure you're wondering why on earth would a person go to China? Well, it was more of a fluke than anything. I was browsing various travel sites on the web that I had seen in the magazine "Budget Travel". I was basically trying to find a trip to go on that wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg. I also knew that I wanted to go on a group tour, since I'm not THAT brave to try and go to a foreign country completely by myself! Anyway, I ran across a company based in Seattle called China Spree. I knew absolutely nothing about them, but they seemed to have overwhelmingly positive reviews from people who had taken their trips. They included airfare, hotels, full-time guides, and ALL meals in the cost of their trips. So after finding a relatively short ten day trip, I took the plunge and booked a trip. This was before the 2008 Summer Olympics, which took place in Beijing. At the time, I knew NOTHING about China, and I was basically only going because the trip was affordable! (Yep, since marrying DH, I've become amazingly thrifty with my money. Hard to believe, but true.)
It was a grueling 13 hour trip to Beijing, but somehow I managed to get a row of 3 seats all to myself. Anyone who has traveled in the last 15 years knows how rare that is! However, I was kind enough to agree to share my three seats with a nice gentleman who was traveling with several other people and was a bit more cramped.
Arriving in Beijing was pretty overwhelming for someone who has lived most of the last 15 years or so in very small towns. Beijing as a population of about 12 or 13 MILLION people. I don't know that they have any air quality standards, because the sky there was literally brown.
Oops! That's not Beijing! *giggle* Let's try that again.
Now, if I did that right, you see how brown the sky is in Beijing. Not all of Beijing is as poor looking as this, however. This is one of the very old neighborhoods called "hutongs". Most of Beijing is very modern, high rise skyscrapers. The other main parts of Beijing are Soviet-era cement buildings that are pretty ugly. I don't think I took any pictures of them, because believe me, they are not much to look at.
Just as a side note: Another good think about the company I took the tour through is that they cater to very small groups. I think our group had 18 people total. This is very unusual for group travel. Most companies drag around groups of 40 or more.
I will admit that while in China I did a very American tourist-type thing. I went to McDonald's! Hey, you have to see how cultures are different, right? The menu in China is mainly centered on fish and chicken, but they did have Big Macs if I remember correctly. It's also very difficult to find diet soda in China; I think I had one diet soda the whole time I was there. And if you like ice in your soda, don't plan on getting it. It just isn't served that way there!
The highlight of the trip, though, was the visit to the Great Wall. There are portions of the wall all over China, in varying degrees of upkeep. Of course the sections near large cities are very well restored for visiting tourists.(Especially at that time, just before the Olympics) Here is a (the only) picture of me that was taken on the entire trip.
I can't stand to see myself in photos; sue me. *sigh*
Rather than turn into that annoying relative or friend who bores you with their 500 photos of their vacation, I'm going to stop there. Suffice it to say, visiting China was a once-a-lifetime experience. I'd recommend it to anyone. It's also one of those things that would be next to impossible to arrange on you own; I strongly advise you to go through a tour company. The language barrier alone makes a tour company worth their weight in gold (or yuan, as the case may be). It may take you a few days to get used to the food. Chinese food in China is NOTHING like Chinese food here in the states. But I guarantee that even with the stress of the travel, the changes in culture, the squat toilets (thankfully not in the tourist hotels), and even the food, you'll be glad you visited China!