Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Cultural Experiences

5 Days in Beijing: Day 1 – Our First 24 Hours in the Chinese Capital

After a very long 12 hours in the air, our flight from Seattle finally touched down in China’s capital (SEE: Delta 767 economy class review: Seattle to Beijing). The kids and I were all very tired. It was 7:30 p.m. local time, but we were feeling the current 3:30 a.m. back in California. Deplaning was smooth, as was our transit through immigration and customs. I’d had a bit of apprehension about our transit-without-visa (TWOV) plan, but it worked just like I’d read about. We’d made it into China!

First stop, bed

Given that Beijing is quite safe, braving the subway seemed an easier proposition that trying to communicate with a taxi driver to get us to our hotel at night. We paid a total of 84 yuan (~$13) to get to the Hilton Beijing, including the airport express train and one more stop on the subway. The hotel is maybe a 500-foot walk from the Liangmaqiao station along a busy, well-lit road.

The Hilton Beijing was a most welcome sight. The complaining that had started on the plane had increased substantially. They were tired. I was tired. I was tired of hearing about being tired. It was a long 2 hours since we touched down at Beijing Capital Airport, but the whole process had actually gone quicker than I thought it might.

The lady at the front desk was friendly and addressed us in English, but her accent was thick and my tired brain struggled to understand her. I figured whatever she told me about breakfast could be figured out in the morning. Finally, key in hand, we made our way to our room and collapsed into bed half an hour later. Travel day status: complete. It’d been a long one.

View from our Hilton Beijing room the next morning

A day in Chaoyang

Morning came far too early for me. I slept well the first few hours, but it got more and more difficult as the night progressed. Back home it was the middle of the day, when we’d normally be up and moving. I finally called it quits at 7:00, about half an hour before my alarm would have gone off.

The kids got up an hour later, and we all made it down to breakfast about 8:30. The kids and I had a safety discussion, and then we handed our bags to the front desk when we checked. We’d pick them up after spending the day in the Chaoyang District, to the east of the central Beijing.

We meandered our way toward Chaoyang Park, taking in the sights and smells of the city along the way. Amazingly, the poor Chinese air quality I’d heard so much about didn’t seem to be an issue. Fall is supposed to be a better time in general, but maybe they are cleaning up their act a bit more. None of us experienced the stinging eyes I’d heard about.

The walk took us past a canal and along streets lined with apartment buildings, small shops, and restaurants. We found the place I’d identified for lunch: the Bao Yuan Dumpling Restaurant. It was maybe 10 minutes from the park and would be right along the route back to the hotel.

Now on to the park!

Chaoyang Park

The entry cost of Chaoyang Park is 5 yuan for adults and 2.5 yuan for kids. The grand total of 10 yuan (~$1.45) was totally reasonable for a visit. If this is how they pay to upkeep the park, I’m all for it. I tend to think of parks as one of those free places, but if a minimal entry fee can help pay for it, I think that is a perfectly fine way to manage it.

Chaoyang Park is fairly large. I perused the map for a bit while the kids “exercised” on the equipment nearby. We saw a number of these exercise areas, but I’m really not sure if the equipment will really help you all that much. It was more of an amusement to them.

Even though it is November and getting quite chilly in Beijing, we did catch a little bit of fall color. Mostly yellow.

We wandered through the park, slowly making our way toward the lake and the amusement area further to the south. Even in fall, it was quite a nice green space in the middle of a bustling city of 21 million people.

It might not be the nicest park in Beijing, but it is the largest at 713 acres. This structure in front of which the kids wanted a photo is the China-Thailand friendship pavilion (if I recall correctly), a bit in need of repair.

Further in we meandered along the lake, which dominates Chaoyang Park. It occupies almost a quarter of the area.

An abandoned amusement park

Soon we came to the amusement area near the southern end of Chaoyang Park. The rides are all priced individually, and very few were open, probably because we were there on a chilly, fall Tuesday. The kids were able able to enjoy two. The amusements set us back 160 yuan (~$23).  I’d be looking into a pass of some sort if we ever came back. This place could get expensive quickly if you’re not careful. Or the folks operating the rides were simply taking advantage of the unsuspecting American tourists (more likely the case).

Communication was obviously hard. I know enough Chinese to mostly understand and communicate numbers and prices. But I pretty much fail beyond that. Turns out 10 minutes of Duolingo Mandarin a day for a month doesn’t really help a whole lot.

I’m sure the place would be bustling on a summer afternoon. It was eerie being three of maybe a couple dozen people (at most) that we saw in the amusement park. The place felt essentially abandoned.

Out on the water

It took us until near the end of our visit to find a boat kiosk that was open. The kids had asked if we could rent a boat the first time they saw a rental kiosk. But no one was there to rent us one! Seems that demand is down a bit in November. It was quite chilly out. But we weren’t alone in our interest. There were a few other boats on the water.

To rent a boat in Chaoyang Park, you have to pay a deposit fee of 200 (or maybe 300?) yuan, from which the rental cost is deducted once you’re done. I think it was either 60 or 80 yuan ($8.60 or $11.50) for one hour. Pretty reasonable, if you ask me. This wasn’t even a boat you had to pedal!

We puttered around from one of of the lake to the other, enjoying the lovely views. The two dark to towers in the center-right of the panorama below were especially cool. The architecture

Happy faces, but cold kids. We found that 50 minutes out on the water was plenty. Plus, we were all hungry and ready to head back for a bite to eat.

Dumplings, a delightful lunch

We headed back to the Bao Yuan Dumpling Restaurant for an enjoyable introduction to some truly authentic Chinese cuisine. This was our first time having traditional Chinese jiǎozi, dumplings made with minced meat and vegetables, wrapped with an elastic dough, and boiled or steamed (in the case of what we ordered). We picked four different types to try.

One of the features of the Bao Yuam Dumpling Restaurant is that they dye some of their dumplings with vegetable dyes, so you may end up with a rainbow on your plate. They also all come on one plate, which makes for some surprises when you’re trying to figure out which ones are which. The kids enjoyed a couple of the “simpler” types with pork or shrimp (I think the one they gravitated to was simply cabbage, pork and scallions). I, on the other hand, was a bit more adventurous in my selections. Everything was delicious!

The Baoyuan Dumpling Restaurant has an English picture menu for the foreign traveler. There was also one staff who spoke a little English, although I wouldn’t really count on a significant understanding. I had trouble asking for a fork. Generally, you can just point at what you want and they will write (or type) your order down.

Hotel hopping and dinner

After our late lunch I had one more thing on the agenda: pay a quick visit to the China Central Television building. It is also in the Chaoyang District, albeit a bit south of the park and the Hilton Beijing. We took the subway a couple stops to get there. I mainly wanted to see it since I’d seen pictures of it and loved the cool architecture. It would be weird to work in the corner of the upper part of the building with nothing below you.

We made it back to the Hilton Beijing right around 4:00 p.m., fetched our bags, and had the concierge request a taxi. It was a bit awkward asking him to hail us one to another hotel, but that was simply what we had to do. We could have taken the metro, but with one, possibly two, transfers and a decent walk at the other end, a taxi seemed the best choice. Plus, it wasn’t all that expensive. I think I paid like $5 USD. The subway would have only been about $1.75 USD.

The taxi ride to the Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing, our next hotel, took maybe half an hour. This is where’d we be for the remainder of our visit to Beijing, and it turned out to be a fantastic choice (review to be posted at Points with a Crew). If I’d have known that “happy hour” at the hotel consisted of a full dinner spread, we would have eaten there the first night. Instead, we wandered down the street to another (cheaper) hotel restaurant called Laohuji.

The kids barely avoided falling asleep at dinner. It had been a fun day out, but we were still experiencing jetlag. At least it comes late in the East as opposed to the mornings that drag on during your first couple days in Europe.

Conclusion

Our first 24 hours came to a close at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night. With two kids starting to snooze on either side of me, I’d say our “easygoing” day was full enough. I can’t seem to keep my eyes open to finish this post. It’ll have to wait for another day (note: it took me until today, November 25, to finally add the final details).

3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights

It figures we’d sleep in a bit after going 31 hours without so much as a real nap. Our first day had brought me to the most exhausted state I’ve felt in years (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag). I still got up fairly early, but actually felt quite rested.

While the kids continued their unbroken slumber, I showered and did some research for the day. I had a general idea of what we should see but still needed to finalize a more concrete plan. It quickly formed around some of the biggest highlights the French capital has to offer.  But the first order of business was breakfast. Time to get the kids up.

Le Petit Déjeuner Parisien

Since IHG has a pretty lousy elite program, the hotel breakfast wasn’t free. And we absolutely weren’t going to pay somewhere around €60 for the three of us.

To our delight there was a wonderful little bakery just around the corner from our hotel. Aux Péchés Normands offers a delectable array of pastries, plus fresh juices, coffee and a few other items. Ordering was a bit awkward, as my attempt at French lapsed into Spanish at a couple points. How I wish I had the time to study a few more languages. Someday, I keep telling myself.

Fortunately the lady helping us was both patient and kind as I butchered her native tongue, plus took twice as long as everyone else to order. Man, could their staff work. The place was hopping and the the handful of employees were giving it their all.

With some croissants, a juice, and a café au lait in hand, we headed to a little park along a canal to the northeast of our hotel. It was the perfect place to enjoy an utterly Parisian first breakfast in Paris.

Except for the coffee. Standard French coffee is an espresso, which is simply too strong for me.

Walking the Louvre and Tuileries

Stomachs full of delicious pastry, we started our adventure with a metro ride to Châtelet once again. But this time we transferred and traveled one more station to the Louvre. I figured that even though we weren’t going to tour this most famous of art museums, we at least needed to see the beautiful Louvre Palace and walk the Tuileries Gardens.

This is also where we met a German mother an her adult daughter who asked us to take a photo of them. We chatted for a few minutes. They were surprised I was traveling with kids and also surprised we had come all the way to Europe for a week. We had a great discussion on the amazing-ness of travel, and I encouraged them to pay the U.S. a visit. They kindly took a photo of us as well.

From the Louvre we meandered leisurely through Les Jardins des Tuileries until we came to the next destination on the list: Musée l’Orangerie.

Marveling at the Water Lilies

If you’re an art connoisseur, you could probably spent a week at the Louvre and not appreciate everything. We could spend all day there, and I’d barely scratch the surface and end up with two unhappy kids. But I still wanted to get in a little art while in Paris. So we settled for the Musée l’Orangerie.

Located at the opposite end of Tuileries Gardens from the Louvre, the Musée l’Orangerie is substantially smaller than its more famous neighbor. But this trove of impressionist art contains one very iconic piece: full wall displays of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies).

We spent a while marveling at the walls of horizonless, shifting mix of pond and plants arrayed around us on all sides.

Even I could enjoy such a moment. I’m not much into paintings, especially impressionist paintings, but I find the works of the early impressionists are substantially better than the later, abstract ones.

Most of another hour was spent on the lower floor as we examined a number of other works in the museum collection. Some were quite skillful masterpieces, such as this one.

Apparently I missed an easy career as an artist, if this is all it takes to get you into a famous museum. Maybe I could still switch? I’d have to kick the eccentricity up a few notches.

Eventually all three of us had had enough art for the day and ventured back outside to the banks of the Seine.

The highlight of the trip

It was finally time. I’d told the kids I didn’t want the Eiffel Tower to be a tale of misery, so I made sure it wasn’t on the agenda for the first day. Instead, this most iconic of Parisian structures was slated for lunchtime and early afternoon.

We’d already had some glimpses. Le Tour Eiffel often peeks at you from various corners of the city, reminding you that it is always there, always watching. When we left the Musée l’Orangerie, our view was the best we’d had so far. But a short train ride later, and we were standing underneath it.

Unfortunately, one of the entrances to the Eiffel Tower was closed, and we’d managed to pick the longest security line of them all. Ask my wife sometime how I feel about lines.

Luckily, once inside, the wait wasn’t as bad. This was mainly because I’d elected to go with the cheap and character-building Eiffel Tower experience, to the dismay of my children: the Snyders were taking the stairs up the tower! It was definitely for the best. Instead of waiting in a giant line for an elevator, we started up the metal stairs after a mere 10 minutes in the queue. Here are my two troopers starting out:

I had a blast. In the end, the kids did, too. But the adventure wasn’t without its share of whining and complaining about hiking up the Eiffel Tower when there was an functioning elevator available. But once we’d scaled the first floor, the smiles came back.

The views from the first floor were lovely.

But the views from the second level are even more stunning.

I’d read that this was the best level from which to view Paris, as you’re high enough to have a sweeping view of the city, yet close enough to pick out landmarks. I considered going to the top, but given the cost and time,  we’d be happily content with the second level.

Lunch was had at the tiny cafe, which to my shock had prices within the realm of reason. The baguette sandwich was delicious. Nothing beats French bread.

Once we were all satisfied that we’d soaked in enough of the view, we headed down, taking the elevator this time. Turns out you don’t need a ticket to go that direction. Just up.

I’ll have more on the Eiffel Tower later, including a rundown on why I consider the stairs to be the better experience, even with kids. On with our adventure!

Triomphe!

After conquering the Eiffel Tower by foot, it makes sense that our next stop was a monument to victory. Napoleon’s victories, to be exact.

We took our time getting there, though. Across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower is a grand set of fountains and park called the Jardins du Trocadéro. From here you can get some great shots of the Eiffel Tower.

After walking a little further an up the stairs, we headed down to the metro and rode it three stops to the Arc de Triomphe.

Although the Arc de Triomphe isn’t especially tall, the views from the top are great. The Eiffel Tower is still fairly close, and being at the center of 12(!) different avenues makes for some unique photos.

Like many other places in Paris, the kids got in for free. And “child” prices typically last until they turn 18. This is one reason I would suggest visiting Paris as a family before the kids are grown, especially if you can travel hack the flights and hotel. The former is fairly easy. The latter is a pain.

The Arc de Triomphe involved more stairs, to the kids’ dismay. They asked why they didn’t install an elevator. I had to tell them they weren’t exactly common in the early 1800s. Not to mention electricity as we know it wasn’t a thing. And renovating an stone monument like this wasn’t exactly…eh…simple.

My last comment is to avoid the Arc de Triomphe if driving in Paris. Unless you relish a challenge. The giant circle is an utter free for all.

After our stop at the Arc de Triomphe, we found a cheap restaurant on a side street to grab dinner. There was still one more stop on our itinerary.

A Montmartre Evening

Montmartre is a neighborhood of Paris that I never knew existed prior to our trip, or that it is a favorite for many people visiting the city. When I was searching hotel award options (which is pretty difficult for a party of 3+, let me tell you!), one of the hotels I examined was the Holiday Inn Montmartre. It just seemed too far away from everything else, and the metro wasn’t all that convenient, so I quickly decided it wasn’t a good fit.

But it definitely may be on the table for consideration if we ever visit Paris again. The Montmartre area is charming. It consists of a mix of narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and a lovely hill to climb from where you can enjoy a view of the rest of Paris.

And atop the hill is the stunning Sacre-Couer Cathedral.

You can access Montmartre via the metro, but it is a bit of a walk up the hill. We rode the metro to the Anvers stop and then walked the streets to Square Louise Michel from where we took the funicular for the final stretch. I have an obsession with funiculars. My wife and I enjoyed the one in Quebec City when we visited in the winter of 2016 (SEE: Canadian Adventures in 16 Pictures).

The kids and I spent some time sitting on the hill enjoying the view. There was quite the crowd who all had the same idea. I don’t blame them; it was a lovely evening.

Even though there was a good amount of daylight left, I figured being out much past 8:00 was going to be too much for the kids. We’d seen a lot and walked a lot, and they needed to turn in early enough to be rested for the next day’s adventures.

Exhausted again

We finally arrived back at the hotel around 8:30. It wasn’t long before the kids were asleep, hopefully dreaming about the fun we’d have the following day, our last full day  in Paris.

I drove the two of them hard on our second day. They were troopers, and definitely enjoyed exploring Paris. But they were quite tired. I probably wouldn’t recommend an itinerary as full as ours, especially if your kids are younger. I was already planning on taking things easier on our last full day, and this just confirmed it.