Our first destination will be Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China.
Our current plan has us flying directly from Toronto to Beijing. The flight will be about thirteen and a half hours and we’re hoping to get business class seats so we’ll be able to stretch out and sleep a bit on the way over.
We will be spending a total of five days in Beijing. Our first two nights will be at the Aman Summer Palace Hotel near the Summer Palace. The hotel provides easy access to the summer palace and is a perfect location for us to start our journey. The Summer Palace dates back to about 1750 when the royal garden was first started. It is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After two nights, we’ll move on to the center of the city of Beijing where we’ll be staying at the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing . While in the city, we’ll be visiting the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Olympic Park. In addition, we’ll be traveling to visit the Great Wall at a spot that is not so heavily congested with tourists.
There are so many places to visit. As I’ve always been interested in the history of the various Chinese Dynasties, the museums will definitely be on our agenda.
The Wangfujing district, besides being centrally located, is the shopping district in Beijing. As you all know how much we both enjoy shopping, I’m guessing that during our walks we’ll be dodging people on the streets and scoping out restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, since we enjoy Chinese cuisine, you know we’ll be seeking out a place for a delicious Peking Duck dinner. There are restaurants for just about any kind of food you would like including French, Italian, Indian and American. We’ve also been told that the markets have some great street food that we’ll need to try, though even the Herkeys will probably avoid the scorpions and other insects.
After our five days in Beijing, we’ll board the bullet train and head to Xian.
Ok, just for the record.. No, we’re not crazy. We are excited though and looking forward to what should be an incredible adventure.
As I mentioned in the last post, we are working with Audley Travel to plan out the details. We are working with their China Specialist, Virginia, and she has been great to work with. In fact, we have already come up with an itinerary that we are super excited about.
Backing up a little, after some discussion about where we would like to go, Sue and I decided that this would be the right time to visit China. We tossed around some ideas about places and things that we were interested in seeing and made a list.
Our list looked like this:
Terra Cotta Warriors
Our next step was to take a look at available options. I love planning out vacations and finding cool hotels and places to go, but there are so many extras with going to China that I thought it would be better if we worked with someone. We knew that we didn’t want to be part of a big structured tour. So, we looked around the web, contacted a couple people who we knew went to China and looked through some tour guides.
I was interested in the offerings from Audley Travel, so I sent an email to request a brochure and call-back. I had included a little info about us, where we wanted to go, the types of things we were interested in and the amount we were thinking of spending. I received a call the next day from Virginia and we talked a little bit about what they could provide. Since we were in the middle of planning for Italy, I asked for a little time to decide what we would do.
We liked Virginia right from the start. Very professional, but also very laid-back. I never felt any pressure to rush our decision. Though I told her we’d decide within the next few weeks, I called back a few days later and said we decided we wanted to work with her and couldn’t wait to start the process.
Armed with a plan to proceed, we started to look more closely at some of the places we wanted to visit and things we’d like to see. We looked at the hotel list that they provided and found most of the hotels that I had looked at were on the list. Documenting our proposed itinerary, we called Virginia back and over the phone in about two hours time, we laid out a preliminary itinerary.
At this point Virginia took over and tossed in some extras to fill in our days based on what we had talked about. A few days later, she sent over a proposed itinerary for us to look at. We were both excited to see things taking shape, but there were a few tweaks that needed to be addressed.
Another telephone conference to discuss the changes was arranged. As some of you know, my back is a problem and I keep looking for bottled water from Lourdes to make it a problem no longer. However, for now we needed to adjust things so hikes became walks or rides. Virginia also suggested a hotel change, since one that we had chosen required a bit of an uphill climb. When we finished, Virginia had an updated itinerary back to us in just a couple of days.
We perused the itinerary and then got back to Virginia with the good news – “Looks great, let’s book it!”
I had been saving my lunch money for a while, so we sent off the deposit and Virginia went to work on her end. Just before we left for Italy, we received an email saying that the hotels were all booked.
With that said, here is the itinerary. Our tour will be for twenty-one days and will take us to Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo, Longji and Shanghai. Everything on our list above is included, plus so much more.
We will have some adventure time on our own, but for the major visits, we will have a driver and an english speaking guide. We will travel from place to place by trains (including the bullet train), planes, boats and car. We’ve included a few fancy dinners, a couple of group dinners at restaurants, and some street food tours.
There will be museums, temples, palaces, monuments, a rice plantation, a tea plantation, a wall – a great one at that, and a visit to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.
Next steps will be to book flights, get our travel visas, check for any needed vaccinations and read, watch and research.
Leading up to the trip, I’ll add some info about each of the locations we will be visiting to peak your interest.
One year from today, we will be traveling to China. There are so many wonderful things that we want to see and experience.
Over the next year, I’ll tell you about the process and our itinerary. We are working with Audley Travel to create a personal itinerary for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will be a self-directed trip with drivers and guides to help us along the way.
Hurry up and wait is the usual pattern on a long travel day and this day would be no different.
Blah, blah, blah……
And with that we were off on our way to Toronto.
The flight was a good one, just a little turbulence and the cabin crew were all very nice. The meal was also very good, as were the wines.
While others in the cabin slept, I watched the two Avenger movies – Avengers: Infinity Wars and Avengers: Endgame. Both were good and the ending of Endgame was a big surprise to me.
When we arrived in Toronto, the process of getting through passport control was an easy one. They have kiosks that let you check through quickly and electronically, with just a review by an agent.
We headed off to get our luggage, which was starting to come down the carousel as we arrived. We watched as all the bags finished coming out of the chute except ours. Since we were tagged priority and had a direct flight we were a little annoyed that our luggage didn’t get there.
However, we walked down towards the end of the belt and there, sitting on the floor, were our bags. Some nitwits had taken it off the carousel and never bothered to put it back on when they discovered the bags weren’t theirs. Since foul language is not appropriate, I just wished a plague upon their home and bedbugs in their underwear as we called to get directions to our shuttle.
The shuttle was right where they told us it would be and our driver, Mark, was waiting to whisk us home. We had a nice conversation along the way as he maneuvered us through the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. It was nice having someone else drive and the time actually passed by quickly. Soon enough we were crossing the Lewiston – Queenston Bridge and then before you knew it he was pulling into our driveway.
I can definitely recommend the Buffalo Airport Shuttle service if you need a ride up to Pearson Airport or to bring you back home. The price was fair, the van was roomy enough and the driver and others we dealt with were all pleasant.
And now the coupe de grace, walking up to our front door, we spotted a package hiding behind the post. It was the first case of wine that we had shipped home. I can’t always get a regular package delivered in four days and here was a case of wine from Piedmont, Italy.
It felt good to get home. We were gone just the right amount of time to appreciate Italy and to keep from having to go through detox.
Prologue: We had a great time in Italy. The Piedmont region is beautiful and for wine lovers, it’s hard to beat. We enjoyed all the wine, ate some fabulous meals, took in the beautiful scenery and met so many wonderful people along the way.
The people we interacted with were kind and reassured us that they appreciated our efforts to speak a little Italian. Sometimes the reassurance came in the form of a smile or a little grammar lesson, but never did we feel we were being laughed at for trying.
We had lots of help in making the trip such a great experience. We worked with Valerie Quintanilla from Girl’s Gotta Drink, who put together the winery visits, cooking class and tours for us. If you’re thinking about going to the Piedmont region, I would highly recommend you contact her.
It’s hard to believe that our time in Alba is over. We had a such a good time and enjoyed sharing that time with Jan and Dave. The mathematical equation is: Good friends + good food + good wine = good times!
While Jan and Dave continue on for a few days in Turin and then Brussels, Sue and I are heading home. Today we traveled to Casorate Sempione, where we will stay overnight before catching our flight home tomorrow.
We’re staying at the Osteria della Pista. We have stayed here before; it’s very close to the airport, so it will be easy to get to our flight. The rooms are nice – very clean and comfortable. We’re on the top floor, so we also have nice high ceilings to make the room feel even roomier. There is a balcony, but it’s a little chilly and buggy to sit outside.
When we checked into the hotel, we had made reservations for dinner at 7:30 pm at the Osteria and also at 10:00 am for the airport shuttle. When 7:30 arrived, we were both hungry and looking forward to dinner.
We started with a glass of prosecco to go along with their homemade potato chips. We ordered a pizza to share as an appetizer and then Sue ordered sea bass and I ordered veal scallopini and a bottle of Arneis. While we were enjoying our prosecco, people were literally pouring in. By 8:00, the restaurant was packed.
We enjoyed our meal and since neither of us had room left for dessert, we offered to finish our wine in the lobby to free up a table since people were waiting in line. I guess that surprised them, but who would have thought it would be so busy on a Thursday evening. Besides, I would have felt rushed watching people waiting while relaxing with a glass of wine.
Once we did finish our wine, we headed up to the room to rest up for tomorrow’s day of travel.
Both couples needed a chill day. David and I both talked about being tuckered out and Jan and Dave still have another eight days to go.
In the early afternoon we met up with Valerie and Martina to pass on the wine that we had purchased. Valerie is going to help us ship the wine back home.
On the way back to the apartment, we decided to stop in the piazza and grab a quick bite to eat. Most of the places were nearing the close of the kitchen for lunch, so we were lucky to snare a quick dish of tajarin with white truffles, a bottle of Barbera D’Alba and a piece of Hazelnut cake. Not bad for a quickie lunch.
We walked back to the apartment and just relaxed for the afternoon. It felt good to just rest my back, while downloading pictures and working on the blog.
Dinner tonight was going to be at the Ape Wine Bar, however they were closed on Wednesdays. Instead, we went to Caffe Umberto, which is the sister restaurant to Enoclub where we ate on Sunday. Caffe Umberto is more casual than Enoclub, but the kitchen is the same.
Jan and Dave were already there and enjoying a glass of wine when we arrived. We walked back to the table admiring the wall of wine with each step.
Our server took our order and our buddy the sommelier came over to check out our wine order. We started with a nice glass of Arneis and then we moved on to a nice Domenico Clerico Nebbiolo for our final meal.
It was a very enjoyable final meal together. We had a chance to talk about the things was did and the wines we tasted, along with just being friends enjoying each other’s company.
Tomorrow we’ll all move on, but we’ll have the memories.
Ok, right off the bat, I promise – no cheap jokes about how our tour was ‘shrouded’ in mystery.
We woke up early to catch the train to Turin, which is known as Torino in Italy. We met Luca at the train station and at 9:07 am we were on our way. Luca lived in Torino for a few years, so he’ll be with us for the day and Valerie will be meeting up with us when we arrive and will be with us through lunch.
The train from Alba to Torino takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s a pleasant journey with nice scenery along the way. The train isn’t as crowded as I expected it to be; people going to work or school must be on an earlier train.
We arrived at the Porta Susa rail station, which is a newer station and easy to maneuver through. The canopied roof is embedded with small solar tiles so they can generate their own electricity – and it looks good too!
We caught up with Valerie and then we set off to visit the daily market. Walking through the streets, the architecture looks very French to us. Luca explained that since the ruling family of the region was the Savoy family, they did bring a French influence.
Our first stop today would be at the market. It’s like a giant outdoor supermarket, clothing outlet and household goods store. Though we enjoyed the market in Alba, this one was a little more intimidating as it was large and tightly packed together. That said, the fresh produce, flowers, cheese and meats all looked great. Across the tramway, there were loads of weather-sheltered shops or stalls with just about anything you could want or need.
After walking through the market, we headed over to the Mercato Building. From there we could get a bird’s eye view of the market, plus they also have a bunker from the World War that was used to hold ice. It really is different and interesting to see the way people go through their daily lives compared to what we have at home.
Located in the central court of the building is the old war bunker. It seems strange seeing it, let alone seeing it in the center of a market building.
After exiting the market area, it was time for a little coffee break, except three out of four of us don’t drink coffee – so it was wine time!
We took a little walk through the streets, checking out the architecture that was definitely in the French style. The marriage of French and Italian architecture and Italian piazzas makes for some very welcoming spaces.
It was nearly lunch time and we were ready to eat and to sit for a little bit. It was really interesting to get to sit and chat with Valerie and Luca. Besides both having helped make our vacation so great, they’re both just nice people to talk with.
Valerie had to leave after lunch, so Luca, Sue and I walked around for a little while before meeting up with our guide. We walked through some of the main piazzas and had a chance to see the palace, the duomo, the Mole Antenelli, the university and the shopping streets of via Roma and via Garibaldi. We even had a chance to stop for a gelato before our tour.
Our guide for the city walk was Savanna. She showed us a few additional things that we hadn’t seen with Luca and provided lots of good information. It was fascinating to see the interiors of magnificent galleries and historical shops still popular today. Savanna pointed out details that really made the history of Torino come alive. Luca’s comments about individual locations also were insightful and very interesting.
As the walk continued, my back was telling me it needed to rest. All the walking and standing on the stones the last couple days had taken its toll. We were nearing the end of our time and needed to catch our train. While it wasn’t too long of a walk, we decided that a taxi would be the preferred method to get to the train station.
The train ride back went pretty quick. This would be the last time we would see Luca before leaving. We really enjoyed traveling around with him and getting the benefit of his wine and regional knowledge. Just in case he happens to read this – Go Juventus!!!
We met up with Jan and Dave for dinner at La Libera Ristorante. We had a nice time sharing details about our day. While I was grumbling a bit about my back, they had climbed the 126 steps to the top of the bell tower and walked through the Science Museum. I decided to have a little wine instead of whining.
Our meal was very good. While they didn’t speak much English, we were able to speak enough Italian to order up a nice meal, good wine and dessert. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
It was a nice night, so the walk home was pleasant and it sure felt good to wash up, change and relax for the rest of the evening.