Early flights are not my favourite! Too tired to stay awake, but too worried about missing the 4 a.m. alarm, we both had a very restless sleep. After a quick breakfast and a few farewell e-mails we were off. Barb and Carol were already in our pseudo-limo van when it picked us up at the front door. Nothing like door-to-door airport service!
We arrived at the airport about 6:45 and proceeded to the Air Canada area to print our baggage tags. Unfortunately the kiosks wouldn’t print them so a surprisingly pleasant Air Canada agent directed us to Customer Service. Even those agents were quite chatty and wished us well on our travels.
We got through security pretty quickly even though one of the x-ray scanning machines malfunctioned for a few minutes. This time we didn’t even have to take off our shoes, or take liquids out of our carry-on bags. Even better, none of us got pulled aside for the special ‘random’ inspections that Robert often experiences when we travel as a family.
We stopped for coffee at Tim’s (made famous by Brad and Robert a few years back) just inside the security check figuring it would be just as comfortable there as sitting in the seats at the gate. Finally we headed to the gate arriving about 10 minutes before boarding began. The rest of our college travel group was there, many of them playing canasta. Because they had all retired already, it had been a while since we’d seen some of them. Before long we had been introduced to their spouses and travel companions who soon became fast friends.
Air Canada has changed their method of boarding since the last time we flew with them. Instead of business class and economy they now board by “zone” … 1 for first class, 2 for business class, and 3, 4 and maybe 5 for the rest of us back in economy. When they called our zone (3) everyone rushed (as usual) to the line. Because people came at the line from two directions it ended up in a split line … no-one really knew which was the correct line so most of the people from our group scurried over and “merged” with the other line. Brad, Barb, Carol, and I stayed in the same place, which turned out to be a good thing!
As we waited, one of the Air Canada agents came over and asked if there were any zone 3 people still in line. I said that we were and he told the four of us to follow him. He took our boarding passes, fumbled a bit with them (talking to the computer as he did) and handed us new boarding passes. Turns out we were now travelling first class … the plane was overbooked and we were the lucky ones who got bumped up. What a wonderful way to travel!
Our brief experience travelling the way the 1%ers changed our view of airplane travel. We were called by name, served a multi-course breakfast on real china, and even given real cutlery. Then came the hot towels. Our wonderfully spacious seats reclined into beds made comfortable by the blankets and pillows. Oh how nice it would be to travel this way all the time!
We had no problem making our connection in Vancouver. Unfortunately we were back to the world of economy flight and ‘suffered’ the 11 hour flight to Beijing with the rest of our travel mates. We crossed the International Date Line about midway through the flight and most of us did our time adjustment forward 12 hours (of home time) to China time. If it’s 7 p.m. in China, it’s 7 a.m. the same day at home.
We arrived in China on schedule about 2:30 p.m. local time. We encountered our first squatting toilet in the airport … we were all so tired that Kathy was the only one daring enough to try it (we did get used to them as the trip progressed!) Fortunately there was a western-style toilet that the rest of us patiently waited in line for.
Getting through Immigration was smooth for all of us. We took a mini-train to the baggage claim area and arrived just as my suitcase swung around the carousel. Both of our bags (and everyone else’s) arrived safely!
For the first of many times we were herded onto Bus 1. We wove through traffic clogged streets to our first hotel, the Beijing Lijingwan International Hotel. We were assigned a very comfortable room on the 8th floor with a nice view of row upon row of ‘flights’ of apartments where the 23 million people of Beijing make their homes.
It seemed like each of the six million cars owned by ‘Beijingites’ were all on the road that Sunday afternoon! To us it looked like they drove wherever they wanted … buses, cars, tuk-tuks, bicycles, and pedestrians all seeming to get where they wanted in a very odd chaotic way. There was a lot of ‘speaking with horns’ although the honks appeared to be saying “I’m here” instead of “you’re in my way” like they would at home. Helene, our tour guide, said pedestrians beware … unlike what we are used to, walkers are lowest in the pecking order on these streets!
We took the time to take much needed showers before we headed off to the Welcome Dinner. A a short bus ride later, about three-quarters of our two busloads of travel companions piled out and took a short walk to our restaurant. We were served the first of many Dim Sum style meals … rice, a few meat dishes and a few veggie dishes. We can’t forget that we sampled our first taste of pejeho (Chinese beer) that was to become the drink of choice for Table 1!
Traffic has subsided a bit for our drive back through the now neon-lit city to our hotel … I guess most people were home getting ready for another work week.
This isn’t our hotel, but everything along the way was lit up like this!
After a long two days of travelling with very little sleep, we all headed to bed early