It was a 3-hour flight on China Air from Hong Kong to Beijing. The six nights in Beijing was the crux of the Marathon Tours package. The rest of the places we visited during our time in China (Hong Kong, Xi’an, river cruise, and Shanghai) were all optional extension packages. It was during this Beijing leg that the main reason for the trip took place - The Great Wall Marathon. There were 140 of us doing the Beijing portion of the Marathon Tours package.
I gazed out of the motorcoach window as we were being driven on the highway leading to downtown. Unlike Hong Kong, I saw almost no signage in English. I truly felt like I was in a foreign land. It was a hazy, hot, and humid day. Much of the haze was from the smog. It reminded me of looking at an old photograph that had acquired a yellow tint due to fading. As a precaution, I took a 24-hour Claritin pill each day for the remainder of the trip.
The ride on the highway was pretty civilized. However, when we reached the city, we got our first taste of Beijing traffic. Not only were there cars, trucks, and buses everywhere but there were mopeds, bicycles, rickshaws, and pedestrians all thrown in the mix. Vehicles cutting off other vehicles was almost expected behavior. Pedestrians need to be really brave to cross the streets. Despite all the aggressive driving, I saw no incidents of road rage and no accidents.
I was amazed by all the skyscrapers I saw. They seemed to extend infinitely. There were some interesting shapes as well. Some looked like something from the Jetsons while others looked like abstract art. The CCTV (China Central Television) headquarters building was one of those eclectic buildings.
No matter where we went in Beijing and in other Chinese cities, you could always see someone cleaning something, applying a coat of paint, sweeping with a large straw-bundled broom, or pruning. Great effort was made to keep the cities looking neat.
Our stay at the Beijing Renaissance Capital Hotel was wonderful. The staff was friendly and always willing to help. We had a room on the 6th floor with a nice view of the city. What I found odd about the room was that the bathroom was surrounded by glass like a large fish tank. It took us a while to find the button for lowering the bathroom shades for times when privacy is needed.
The Renaissance hotel is a member of the Marriott family. Traci and I are gold members of the Marriott Rewards loyalty program. As a result, we were able to use the Club Lounge on the 24th floor where complimentary food and beverages were available. We were fortunate because we would find out later that others in our group were told that they could not use their loyalty points because they did not make the reservation - Marathon Tours did. Marathon Tours had made ours too but for some reason we were allowed to use the lounge.
The Club Lounge was very nice. It had a magnificent view of the city. There seemed to be mainly business discussions at the tables around us - some by means of a translator. There was a buffet that allowed us to try some new foods as well as items that were familiar to us. We would visit the lounge a few times during our 6-night stay.
The rest of our first evening in Beijing was quite festive. Marathon Tours held a welcome cocktail at the hotel. We met some of our fellow travelers. They were runners of all experience levels from beginners like myself to experienced runners like Traci. A majority were from the U.S. but there were a few Canadians and at least one person from the Netherlands. Besides the people we met during the Hong Kong leg of the trip, Traci and I already knew a handful of people thanks to her membership in the NBMA (National Black Marathoners Association). The group gets together for an international race every two years. There were about 16 NBMA members doing the Great Wall Marathon via Marathon Tours.
As the cocktail was winding down, word was spreading that there was another party on the fourth floor to which everyone was invited. This one appeared to be organized by the hotel. There was a DJ, food stations, an open bar, and performers in traditional Chinese costumes. It was a lively event at which we continued to meet more of our fellow travelers. I took a moment to try to take in all that was going on around me – the music, the people, food, etc. This was the first of several pinch yourself moments that I would experience throughout our trip. I thought to myself, “Wow, I am actually in Beijing, China. I never imagined myself being here.” Continue...
No clue - tastes like a very earthy fruit drink