I never had a huge desire to go to Asia but somehow it worked its way into my brain and I found myself making my reservations with smarTours, the company I went to Israel with last year. The whole thing cost me $1599. That included airfare, four- and five-star hotels and most meals. Geez, how could I not go?
So, I did!
March 25, 2013 - I flew from Chicago to San Francisco, overnight in San Fran and on to Beijing via Air China (a United partner, so lots of miles). Met my friend Susan from Colorado and stayed at the Parc 55 Wyndham in SF, right across the street from a BART stop. Bart is $8.25 in San Fran (CTA is $2.50) but BART cars have carpet and cushy seats. Worth it? You be the judge.
Air China is an interesting airline. When we boarded it was pure chaos; people standing in the aisles elbow to elbow, fighting for overhead bin space, chattering in Chinese and all of a sudden the plane starts backing out of the gate. No announcement, no reprimand to take your seats and fasten your damn seatbelts, just back out and go. Interesting.
It’s not the most customer-involved airline. They served the first meal about an hour into the flight but no wine – flight attendant said that would come later. When, if not with dinner? Breakfast? Contrary to this photo at the right the food was hardly what I’d call gourmet. It was actually pretty ghastly.
Next meal came when we had three hours left of the flight, and we hadn’t seen much of the flight attendants in all that time except for one or two passes with water. The second meal was somewhat less ghastly than the first and TADA…wine. Well, half a glass anyway. They’re not generous in their pours. And you have to eat fast. They serve, then come by about 6-1/2 minutes later to pick up the trays. You have to chow down on Air China so they can get back to their knitting or Mah Jong or whatever the hell else they do in the 11 hours they’re doing nothing for the passengers.
Anyway…on to Beijing.
Our guide, Oscar, was waiting for us at the airport. Lin Bo is his Chinese name but he’s called Oscar for Americans. Fabulous, adorable guide; soft spoken, witty, great English with a charming Chinese accent, accommodating, unflappable. We all loved him. But I’m pretty sure I was the only one who was willing to file adoption papers and bring him home with me (something his wife might possibly have objected to).
Arrived at the Penta Hotel in the evening and probably had dinner but I have no memory of it. I’ll chalk that up to the 12 hour flight, the 15 hour time difference and culture shock. I think that was on Saturday the 30th, but I’m not positive. Whatever day it was it was I’m pretty sure it was tomorrow.
Next morning we were up early (which wasn’t a problem since we were wide awake at midnight and two and four a.m.). For days I had no clue what day of the week it was or what time.