Sunday, 20 April 2014

Beijing and the wheelchair

As the Port of Tianjin was three hours from Beijing,  Di - our wonderful travel agent from Flight Centre Booval - had suggested we do an overnight tour of the city, staying in a hotel for the night.  We agreed on a tour with Beijing Champagne International Travel Services with a stay in Beijing at Sunworld Hotel.  This turned out to be a great idea.

We left the boat around 7.30 and we met our guide Semon and our driver and we transferred into a car and left the port.  It took nearly 3 hours to get to our first stop, which was an enamel factory and shop.  We had quite a bit of time to look around - and shop - and then we were told we were going to have lunch at a restaurant 2 floors up - just one problem, it was only accessed by stairs.  Although Sully was not at all happy, Semon had organised for several of the cooks to come down and carry Sully and the wheelchair up both flights of stairs.  I went to the top, as this was going to be too good a photo opportunity to miss, and after a few minutes I heard a large grunt and up came Sully surrounded by the cooks.  I have a great photo of not only Sully with the cooks, but our wonderful tour guide giving the victory sign behind him.  For the record, Semon ordered all the food for us and the meal was wonderful.  He said they feed around 4000 people a day....but the service was excellent and speedy.
After lunch we headed to the Great Wall.  Although the smog was horrendous, the sight of the Wall was wonderful.  It is certainly a great feat of engineering and you can see why they call it the world's longest graveyard, as many of the workers were killed  while working on the wall.  We managed to be able to park the car right at the top of the Wall  and got out.  Not only is it breathtaking, it is everything you see in the photos and more.  There are millions of steps and many, many steep climbs.  Sully sat at the top and I ventured off with Semon, but after several flights of stairs down, I realised that I had to climb back up, so called it a day and headed back to Sully.  As with all of the sights, it was just us and thousands of others, but there was plenty of room to move around.  While not in any way wheelchair accessible, Sully was able to appreciate the whole experience, just by sitting at the top.

From the Great Wall, we were taken to the Temple of Heaven.  This is where Emperors once prayed for peace and harvest.  It was one of the most holy places for the whole country for more than five centuries.  It was used as a complex of sacrificial buildings for the Ming and Qing emperors.  There were a lot of elderly Chinese who obviously go there for social gatherings.  We saw people playing games, knitting and cross stitching and just gathering to chat and sing and do exercise.  Semon told us that people over 65 are given a seniors card that allows them free entry to parks and free transport so that is why so many of them were there.  The Temple itself was a magnificent building and Sully was able access the lower courtyard of the building - with help from Semon. 

From there, we headed to our Hotel.  The room was small but adequate.  However, the bathroom was normal size, with all the required items added.  This made it very squeezy, and the bath just didn't work without a lot of effort.  Sully decided with all the smog, one unwashed Westerner would not make any difference, so just had a birdbath.  The restaurants were great, however they both had very steep granite ramps, so help from the staff was needed.

On the second day we were collected from the Hotel and taken to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  The Square is huge - can take up to a million people.  Semon explained the history of the Square and we both found this very interesting.  From there we headed to the Forbidden City.  There were lots of ramps and with the help of Semon, we got to most places we wanted to go.  Again he explained the history of the place, which again we found very interesting.  It was somewhere you must see if you go to this city.  We even managed to find a wheelchair accessible toilet.

From there we were taken to a café where the locals eat and we absolutely enjoyed the meal which included dumplings and lots of local delights.  Although my brother-in-law Bruce says that stabbing your food with chopsticks does not count as eating with chopsticks.....I managed to stab enough food to feel like I had certainly had enough to eat.

It turned out that hiring a driver and an English speaking guide was the best way for us to get around this very large city.  We were able to get dropped off very close to all the attractions, to get around most of the attractions with the wheelchair and I felt very comfortable going off with Semon to the parts that Sully could not reach.  It cost us $566.00 each and this included the car, driver and guide, all admissions that we had planned, the overnight stay in Beijing and two lunches and a breakfast.  Our only cost - except for a couple of souvenirs - was dinner.  We were dropped back at the ship in plenty of time.  I would certainly recommend this a great way to tour Beijing.

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