So, our journey began at 2:30 am on Tuesday. Michael & I were excited and anxious and actually got up a few minutes before the alarm went off (quite an accomplishment at 2:30 am!) We got ourselves ready and it wasn’t until 3:15 that we woke up CackieDoodle. She was a little cautious at first, but quickly figured out what was going on and started giving out high-fives to all of us! She dressed quickly and was excited to be leaving.
Dad & Michael got all the luggage piled in the 2 cars and we headed off to the airport just before 4 am. When we arrived in the terminal it was absolutely packed with what looked to be some sort of high school group, I immediately started praying that they were waiting on the AirTran check in to open and not United (my prayers were answered thankfully!)
Now, I had searched the United website to try and find out what time the check in at Memphis opened and couldn’t find it anywhere. The only thing I could find was that you had to check-in 2 hours prior to an international flight. So, that meant we needed to check-in at 4 am. Turns out that the check-in counter doesn’t open until 4:30, ggrrrr. But, hey we were the first in line!
Caryn, Michael & I stood with our luggage at the check-in counter, not willing to give up our precious spot and watched the TSA staff prepping the security machines for the day. That was a TON of fun, lol! We all joked that at4:29 a door would finally open and a United employee would appear to start helping us. It was hilarious when this guy who looked like Morgan Freeman (remember this, it comes up again later) wearing a United sweater opened the door and walked toward us. Caryn described it as an “aaahhhh” (insert angels singing) moment! He took care of us and got us checked in all the way to Beijing. We scored a minor victory when he weighed our luggage and each of the 4 pieces was under 44 lbs! (the weight limit for in-China flights is 44 lbs per bag and we wanted to be prepared for that when we fly from Tianjin to Guangzhou).
After we were successfully checked-in we stood and hung out with Mom & Dad while we eyed the security line to make sure it wasn’t getting too long (we wanted to beat that school group through security). After a while it was time to go and fight the security mess. That was quite the ordeal, I have no idea how we would have done it without Caryn being there! After we got into the concourse we spotted the wonderful oasis of Starbucks and quickly got in line for a much needed caffeine boost.
When we arrived at the gate and got settled, Michael pointed out that we needed to get a gate check tag for the monster stroller. I spotted a girl at the counter and started to head that way, but got distracted watching a story on CNN. A few minutes later I headed to the counter and there was “Morgan Freeman” waiting to help me out. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that it was like the movie “Evan Almighty” where Morgan Freeman, “God”, is everywhere and everyone at the same time.
We actually went outside to board the plane in Memphis, after having to navigate down a flight of stairs while carrying our multitude of bags AND the double stroller, that was a lot of fun, NOT! Our flight to Chicago was uneventful, just as we wanted it to be. When we arrived in Chicago it took some navigating but we were finally able to make it outside the security gates to meet up with Uncle Donald. They weren’t very accommodating to passengers spending time with non passengers, so we basically sat on benches outside of the check-in/security areas and had coffee and bagels.
We were able to spend a couple of hours with Uncle Donald and let Cackie blow off some steam. She loved seeing Donald and would just run over to him and give him big hugs! I’ve got some great video of Cackie & Caryn acting silly that I might just sell to the highest bidder, lol!
About an hour and a half before our flight we said our goodbyes to Uncle Donald and headed through the security maze again. It went a little easier that time, but not much. When we finally arrived at the gate there was a sign stating that they would check-in each person and verify that they had a valid visa before you could board the plane. When we did this we took advantage of the opportunity and asked about getting our seats moved around (when our seats had been assigned in Memphis, Cackie & I were together, but Michael was a couple seats down the row and Caryn was behind us.) At first the lady told us that the flight was overbooked and there was nothing she could do. She suggested boarding and then seeing if others around us were willing to switch. But, thankfully another lady at the counter overheard what we were asking and said she would take care of it. She did some searching, reseated 4 others and was able to get us 4 seats together in the center section of the plane quite close to the boarding door and directly in front of the bathroom area. This ended up working out great because we didn’t have anyone behind us banging on our seats and since we were near the front of the plane most of the foot traffic came from behind us. (Kudos for United on this one!)
By the time we boarded the flight Cackie was doing anything she could to fight off sleep. Poor girl was going on adrenaline and was starting to get out of control. Michael, Caryn & I were all pooped and couldn’t wait to get off the ground to get some sleep. The plane was loaded, we pushed off from the gate and taxied down the runway for a while before the Captain came on and said that we were headed back to the gate. There was some sort of electrical problem that needed attention.
At first they thought it was a “backup” system for the plane, but they later found out that it was a necessity and a crew had to be sent over to the international terminal to swipe the necessary part from another plane there. This ended up taking nearly two hours, the whole time which the plane got a little warm and we all struggled with not falling asleep. Thankfully Cackie had conked out by this time and we all dozed off and on for a while.
Finally, about 2 hours late we took off and they rushed meal service to us. Cackie had been complaining that she was hungry, so we woke her up and tried to get her to eat. She was NOT happy with us, but did eat a little when we promised her that she could watch a movie.
The flight itself was uneventful, just VERY LONG! Cackie did really well overall. She watched most of “Finding Nemo” with Caryn and did some coloring and practicing on her writing. I could tell that she was missing her friends already when I gave her a little notepad and she would tear off pages, color on them a bit and then say “this is for Alex, this is for Jessyln, this is for Jackson”, etc. By the time we left the plane there were lots of notebook pages scattered around our seating area, lol!
It wasn’t until the last couple hours of the flight that Cackie finally crashed hard. We tried to wake her up for the final meal service because she kept saying she was hungry, but she would have nothing to do with it. She was soo zonked out that Michael had to carry her off the plane while Caryn & I schlepped the majority of our misc baggage. Thankfully they had the stroller waiting for us, so he was able to settle her down in that. We made it through Customs with no problem, took a “train” to the luggage terminal and found that all 4 bags arrived safely!
We found our heavenly guide, Helen, easily as we were exiting the terminal and she guided us through the maze of the masses of people. Lines and waiting order do not apply in China, it’s everyone for themselves when in big groups, so it wasn’t easy to get us all onto the same elevator. We got a nice tour of each floor of the terminal, since someone had pushed the wrong button and we went down instead of up, so we were especially glad to have Helen with us! She took us to our waiting van and we all piled in. Then the real adventure of the day began… I turned in my seat to look towards Caryn & Helen and couldn’t help but laugh at the expressions on Caryn’s face. Driving in China is like nothing I have ever experienced and Caryn was getting a really nice introduction to it. We spent most of the trip riding on the shoulder of the road, dodging in and out of other cars! I couldn’t watch most of it, too stressful, so mostly gave Helen my full attention. Caryn later said that she could no longer complain about Dad’s driving, that compared to this it wasn’t soo bad after all!
Helen is awesome! She had an itinerary planned out for us listing all the sights we will be seeing on Friday and Saturday. There is another family from Orange Park, FL arriving on Thursday and we will be touring Beijing with them. She told us about some of the things that we will be seeing and really scored with us when she said that she likes to take families to eat at places that are not touristy, but where the local “real” people go. We LOVED that and are all excited about experiencing more of the “real” China. The only downside was when she warned Michael against drying the different foods from the street vendors. He has hoped to be adventurous, but she strongly warned that those vendors are not very sanitary. Helen tried real hard to win Cackie over, but Cackie was being especially grumpy and didn’t warm up much. We warned Helen that she is not normally like that and to be prepared for her to be a bundle of energy after getting some sleep! Grumpy Cackie after arriving in Beijing.
We didn’t really have anything official scheduled for today (Thursday) because we wanted to adjust to the time change, but Helen really wanted to take us out and make sure we got to see something, so we planned that she will take us to see the Temple of Heaven this morning. A really nice bonus to our trip! That will take a few hours and then we can come back to the hotel to rest and maybe do some exploring on our own.
We finally arrived at our beautiful hotel, Helen got us checked in and she & Michael went around to a grocery store to get us some water while Caryn, Cackie & I headed up to the room. Only trouble was that our room number is 2405 and the elevator only went to 19! So we rode around a few minutes trying to figure it out when we ran into Michael back down in the lobby. We just couldn’t get enough elevator riding, so we went on the same adventure again. I’m sure that we looked like the 4 Stooges to anyone who was watching us! We were just soo beat, nothing was making sense to us. Finally with the help of someone from the front desk we found our separate wing of the hotel and caught up with the bellboy who had been searching for us to let him in our rooms, lol!
It was about 7:30 pm by the time we finally got into our room and we quickly unloaded what was needed to feel like humans again. We each took showers and that helped our outlook on things a whole bunch (in the van on the way to the hotel Cackie actually would not sit in BaBa’s lap because she said that he didn’t smell good!). Around 8:30 we ordered room service (prawn & pepper stir fry, prawn dumplings, vegetable dumplings and fried rice). It was YUMMY! Nothing special, but it hit the spot for us. After that we tucked Cackie into bed across the hall and within minutes Michael & I were asleep ourselves, even despite the fact that the beds are like bricks with sheets, lol!
He slept well most of the night, I did a bit of tossing and turning, but I think a lot of that is due to the sinus funk that I have developed. I honestly haven’t felt this bad since my surgery, so I think I’m going to start taking my antibiotics this morning to ward off any problems.
So, that brings us to now… I got up at 3:45 am and started writing this. Michael was up about 30 minutes later and now it’s almost 5:30 am and I’m sitting on my bed next to the window watching the sun rise over Beijing. Pretty cool! The view outside of our hotel room
The city so far doesn’t seem to have as many large buildings as Hong Kong, it seems to be more spread out. I think some of that is because they are trying to preserve Beijing as a more “asian” look and feel, not just big skyscrapers. Most of the buildings I can see from here have the curved ceramic tile rooftops, and there is a beautiful flowering tree just across the street. This area definitely caters to tourists and the very wealthy. On the way here we passed a Rolls Royce dealership, a Ferrari dealership and lots of high end shopping stores. That should provide for some cool walking and window shopping later!
I’ll try to update again later after we do our touring. I’m excited to meet the other family coming in today and we can’t wait to see what Helen recommends for lunch and dinner dining!
Love to everyone!