Travel

Beijing + Qingdao, China

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the view from our Qingdao hotel – on the 34th floor!

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look familiar? I look almost exactly the same as I did on our trip to Ireland!

First off, I’d like to totally apologize for taking soooooo to get this up. We were in China back in late February – I was six months pregnant at the time and now we have a two month old. What?! Absolutely embarrassed.

China. Where do I even start?
We spent eight days in China – one of those was unplanned and extremely trying – split up between Beijing and Qingdao. Although I cannot honestly say I loved China, I can say that the parts I enjoyed were incredible. On the other hand, the parts that were not so fun were really difficult to deal with and left a lasting mark on my travel heart.

The Good.
No doubt about it, China is historically incredible and rich. This is one of the best parts of the country. The second best? Food. There was so much variety and so many opportunities to try new things and most of it was incredibly tasty.

The Bad.
I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing or that we are just not used being around so many people, but most everyone just seemed so rude. We were constantly pointed at, stared at and taken pictures of without our permission and people seemed to have no concept of personal space – which is extremely unnerving when you have a pregnant belly to protect in the midst of literally millions of bodies.

We did catch a break here and there. An older gentleman on a bus decided he needed to practice his English on us and told us all about how he was studying “Latinese” – he also insisted that I sit down on the bus or my baby would be ugly 😯 – and a young man at the airport who gave up his bench so I could sleep there. But I’m also pretty sure he only did because I was pregnant, so, not sure that’s 100% polite, but we’ll give it to him. Haha.

The Ugly.
We had to endure our very first travel nightmare. I was going to add it into this blog post, but it was just too much to fit here; be on the lookout for that post coming up. (Hopefully it won’t take me another five months to get that one up. 🙂 )

Beijing

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our room at the Bamboo Garden Hotel – we loved the traditional feel!

Bamboo Garden Hotel
This hotel was an interesting mix of a super cool atmosphere and a not so cool couple of bumps. The hotel was once the home of Sheng Xuanhuai, a Qing Dynasty official and is definitely what most Americans think of when they think of a traditional Chinese home. The courtyard was incredibly beautiful, although I’m sure it would have been more so in the summer.

The bumps we ran into were slightly frustrating and although my husband and I are not sure how common they are in China, my husbands’ brother was so upset by them that he said he would never stay there again. Our first night, reception told us they needed the equivalent of about $500 as a deposit for the rooms – my husbands’ brother was absolutely appalled because the deposit was more than we paid for two rooms for three nights. He got it back, but it was extremely excessive. The second thing that happened on the first night was that reception also made my husband and I open our luggage in the middle of the lobby to be metal detected and inspected. Needless to say, my brother in law was unhappy about that as well. In addition, the password to our wifi connection was our passport numbers and breakfast was not included; if you want it, it was buffet style, pretty good and 60 ¥ each.

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Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square + the Forbidden City
Our first full day in China we attempted to see the Forbidden City. We made it as far as Tiananmen Square. Unknown to us and my husbands’ brother, you have to have your passport (or a copy of it) in order to purchase a ticket to enter the city. Oops. In hindsight, we really should have had our passports on us at all times regardless, but it was our first day, we were jet lagged and really not even thinking about it.

Tiananmen Square itself is literally a big open square in the center of Beijing. If you don’t like being around tons of people, you won’t enjoy it. Matter of fact, if you don’t like being around tons of people, you mostly likely won’t enjoy most of China.

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Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven
Apparently, the Forbidden City is the only major attraction that requires a passport for entry. Don’t quote me on that and definitely keep your passport or a copy of it on you in case, but that’s how it seemed and it really didn’t make any sense as to why. We were, however, able to enter the Temple of Heaven without even a mention of passports so that perked us up a bit.

The buildings and the gardens are beautiful; the stairs, the construction, all the attention to detail is just incredible. That being said, each building only had a small sign in English and Chinese explaining the history and what it was used for. I felt that there really could’ve been more information and it could have been presented differently for a better experience, but that’s what we got, so that’s what we worked with.

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Summer Palace

Summer Palace
Other than the Great Wall, this was our favorite part of Beijing. First of all, the palace is MASSIVE. You definitely want comfortable walking shoes; although we did see multiple Chinese women in four inch heels trekking up the uneven stairs that were literally cut from the side of the hill, I cannot honestly recommend that.

The palace is compromised of a network of temples and buildings dedicated to lounging or dressing as well as a multitude of buildings we could not really figure out; there was even an island in the middle of a lake that was part of the palace. Just massive. As with the Temple of Heaven, the attention to detail on the palace grounds was just incredible – every inch of space was painted or decorated and the grounds were groomed impeccably. I’m sure it would have been even more beautiful if we had visited in the summer when the grounds would’ve been lush.

The history of the palace was displayed on the same type of signs as at the Temple of Heaven, so again I felt that I would’ve gotten more out of it if the information had been more extensive and presented better, but still a really enjoyable stop.

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Great Wall

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baby was a trooper! 🙂

Great Wall of China
Or as Karl Pilkington calls it, the OK Wall. 🙂 (If you’ve never watched An Idiot Abroad, I highly recommend it.)

Honestly, it is a great wall. I mean, it’s one of the seven wonders; there’s a reason it’s on that list. I believe the portion of the wall we were on was rebuilt, but it was still an amazing experience. We hiked the Mutianyu portion of the wall, from tower 14 to tower 20. We would have really loved to have seen a ruined portion of the wall beyond tower 20, but our tour only included three hours of wall time and we were exhausted by the time we got to the top of tower 20.

I did get a lot of stares, of which I’m absolutely sure all of them were because women who are six months pregnant do not typically hike the Great Wall of China. And if they do, they do not literally crawl up the final set of what I can only describe as the stairs of death. In case you’re wondering, stairs of death are super steep stairs where each step is uneven to the next and has a maximum depth of maybe seven inches. Not people friendly and definitely not pregnant friendly.

The day we went to the Great Wall, the pollution was sort of bad so we didn’t have a great view from the top of tower 20, but we could get a sense of the immensity of the area. Tips: go on a weekday so there are less people, try to go on a low pollution day and definitely pay to take the cable car to the top – your time is better spent on the wall than trying to hike up to it.

Word of advice. Do not eat at the Great Wall. Literally the WORST Chinese food I have ever had in my life.

Mr. Shi’s Dumplings
Most of our meals in China were eaten in random restaurants we just happened to run into while out and about. But while we were in Beijing we did seek out this pretty famous little dumpling spot. When I say little, I mean there were literally five tables, seating four people each. The menu, however, is not so little. There were pages and pages of dumplings, probably close to 200 options including vegetarian, pork, cheese and even dessert varieties with the choice of boiled or fried. And that’s just dumplings; there were several more pages of other dishes. If you dig dumplings, this is your spot.

Qingdao

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our room at the Farglory – had to include a picture of our incredible bathroom!

Farglory Residence Hotel
This has got to be one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. The rooms are huge, the bathroom was insane, the bed was super comfy and the hotels’ cafe had some really great coffee. The view from our room was incredible on low pollution days; we could even see part of the beach in our city view room. One huge plus of this hotel is that it’s extremely easy to see while wandering around the immediate area so you really can’t get too lost. The hotel is within walking distance of May Fourth Square, the biggest mall in Qingdao and a bunch of convenience stores and restaurants including a French bakery, a nice western style restaurant and a McDonald’s – when the homesickness hits, you’ll thank me. 🙂

Not too many complaints here. The staff knew a decent amount of English and were very polite and helpful, although they were not proficient enough to help us make an international call to our bank when our debit card got locked. (Luckily we were able to use WeChat to contact my husbands’ mother to help us get it sorted out.) The only other complaint I have is the wifi was extremely unreliable in our room, maybe it was because we were on the 35th floor, but we ended up having to go to the lobby most times we needed it.

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two story arcade at the mall!

MIXC Shopping Mall
One mall to rule them all. This mall is like eight or so levels – the first four all being designer shops, the top floor is nothing but restaurants and has access to an outdoor park on top of the mall, an entire floor dedicated to kids items and a play zone and the rest of the floors are a mash of department stores, restaurants, a supermarket, an ice rink, a movie theater and an arcade. Spoiler alert: we spent most of our time at the arcade. 🙂

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vendors at cultural street – so much better than the mall!

Cultural Street
As huge as the mall was, it left us wanting; we were on the lookout for one of a kind souvenirs and the mall offered little more than clothing and dining options. Luckily, my husbands’ brother knew of a spot we could get our hands on some much better souvenirs and even try our hand at the haggling we had heard so much about. Although I can’t say we were the best at haggling – and of the three of us, I was probably the one who tried the most 🙂 – we did come home with some treasures for ourselves and family members. As far as where exactly this is or how to get there – there’s not really an easy explanation – your best bet is to find an English speaking local to help you get there.

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not part of the bathing beach, but along the coast as we were walking toward it

Bathing Beach No. 1
Definitely not the time of year for swimming – although we did see some locals taking a dip – so I can’t say anything as to that part, but we did stroll along the boardwalk that goes past a couple beaches in the area. It is definitely the most peaceful part of the city and was a welcome relief to be away from the crowds. We were even able to see a couple brides and their grooms taking photos on the rocky parts of the beaches – apparently it’s a very common practice for a lot of couples to have their wedding photos done on the Qingdao beaches.

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St. Michael’s Catholic Church

St. Michael’s Catholic Church
After just coming back from Ireland less than five months ago, this church felt a little plain. However, considering where it’s located and the fact that it was built by the Germans, it does stand out among all the Asian buildings and offers a unique contrast. Again, we were able to see a bunch of couples taking their wedding photos on the grounds.

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May Fourth Square – our hotel is the tallest building in the background!

May Fourth Square
Our hotel was literally a street or two over from the square so that’s where we ended up when we needed to kill some time. The square itself was a little lackluster to me (just a big open space with a sculpture), but there is a cute boardwalk with some touristy beach shops connected to it.

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view from the top of the pagoda at Little Fish Hill Park

XiaoYuShan (Little Fish Hill) Park
Although I wouldn’t call it a “park”, it is a cute little pagoda with a fantastic view of the city and beach. For 15 ¥, it’s worth a short stop if you’re already in the area.

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Bara pastries – homesickness be gone! 😀

Bara
We were a little skeptical about trying this French bakery because we were told that bakeries in China were a little weird and that the French bakery may not actually be French. However, we took a little chance and were so relieved to walk in to a “hello” instead of a “ni hao”. The people who own and run the shop are actually French, which was made to sound rather rare in that it is difficult for foreigners to open a business in China. Regardless, the food and drinks were fantastic; so much so, that we ate here two days in a row and picked up a bag of day old pastries for a measly 15 ¥ (or about $2.50) for the third day. If you’re looking for a special indulgence in China, order the Nutella crepe. Holy. Crepe. 🙂

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burgers at The Diner

The Diner
The Diner is a western style restaurant that serves dishes like burgers, salads and pastas. We both got burgers – I got a classic and my husband ordered a mexican – and although my husband really loved his, mine was just alright. My best guess is that the burger was advertised as made with lean beef. It’s called 80/20 people, listen to Alton Brown and don’t make a burger with anything else. 🙂

The Wood Room
As with most of the places we ate, we pretty much followed my husbands’ brother around, not really knowing the name or the area we were eating in. This was a Korean Barbecue place and one of our favorite of the entire trip. The meat is brought to your table and you can either cook it yourself or have the staff cook it right there. Super fast, super simple and super tasty. Again, the only tidbit of information I have about this restaurant is the English name. I’ll have to take notes next time we’re in this situation.

So there you have it. I’m sure I didn’t cover even half of all the amazing things to do and eat in Beijing and Qingdao, but we were two (and a half!) people in a very large country. Honestly, I’m 100% sure I didn’t even cover all the things we did or ate; I’m also 100% sure I couldn’t because there was just so much we packed into every day and quite honestly, culture shock kind of, well, shocks the memory right out of you. 🙂

All in all, it was a great experience and I’ll leave you with three pieces of China advice: 1) find an English speaking local and kidnap them for the duration of your trip 2) be prepared to wing it 3) no matter what happens, enjoy it.

Fourth piece of advice: buy a SheWee. Probably would have saved me a lot of anxiety in the long run. Even if you’re not pregnant, do yourself a solid and venture forth prepared.

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