Getting a Chinese Visa
Honestly, I think that I would have skipped China if I’d realized what a hassle getting a visa would be while living in France (or even the US). You have to show up in person TWICE to complete the process and retrieve your passport with the visa . . . OR you can pay an agent to do it for you, which wasn’t exactly cheap. Fortunately, PB connected me with an English-speaking agent in France (vsi-visa.com) and that helped things move along. And, of course, once I made it to China, I was happy that I put in the effort and actually went.
Given the nightmare that the CDG airport can be, I arrived three hours early. Fortunately, I checked my bag, was through security AND had lunch in about an hour! KLM Airlines for the win! Unfortunately, it was the most uncomfortable international flight I’ve had in awhile. The seats on the KLM plane were awful!
Outside of posts about French culture from an American perspective, my travel posts are geared towards other “mid-range” travelers, like me. I’m not really into the “shared room, hostel” thing anymore, but I’m still not interested in spending a lot of money – my ideal finds lately were a budget hotel in Brussels and one near CDG, which were clean, comfortable and in a good location. My Beijing hotel was in this group as well – historical, comfortable & centrally-located.
One thing that is unusual lately is that I’ve leaned towards tour groups (outside of Europe) and found myself reluctant to go out by myself on my first day in Beijing until I realized I was either going out or not eating all day! Confession Time: I’d actually considered not going to China at all. After nearly missing my flight home from Japan due to language barriers, an eventful first trip to Guatemala, getting very ill in both Egypt and the Philippines . . . I was feeling less than confident in my abilities to navigate a REALLY foreign country.
If you also find yourself feeling this way, I recommend that you still go and push your comfort level (safely). After confirming that “white girl walking” wasn’t a problem in the area, I headed to the main street the hotel directed me to. I looked inside a few places until I found one that was nearly full of locals and no English to be found (I can point at pictures with the best of them). The man did kindly offer an English menu though and I had my first authentic Chinese dish. Delish!
I then proceeded to take a bus, get off in the correct place, as indicated by Google maps, and locate the blue dot. Admittedly, a strange place for the Ming Tombs, which is probably why they weren’t actually there. When I learned where they really were, it was too far. Off to a different heritage site, the Grand Canal!
This involved taking two subways, then pointing at the Chinese letters for the bus driver because the stop name was only in Chinese and, after seeing drivers honk as they passed a stop labeled for their bus, I wasn’t certain just counting stops would work. Speaking of bus drivers, they can do this here:
The driver safely deposited me at the correct stop and I enjoyed a lovely walk by the canal and across the bridge. They’ve clearly put work into making that section beautiful and even have dragons carved into the bridge.
*People are friendly (unless their supposed to be queuing – then they push, shove and cut like crazy. Being bigger than most of them helps)!
*Bikes are everywhere here, with designated, wide lanes; you can rent bikes by the hour with a smart phone app (Mobike or OFO) when you see them sitting around – just scan the bar code into your account and it unlocks a tire lock.
*Electric scooters/bikes are also everywhere. They share lanes with bikes, cars and sometimes ride on the sidewalk. They also largely drive like homicidal maniacs, which isn’t helped by how quiet they are. You rapidly learn to look in all directions frequently.
*Even though everyone is supposed to yield to pedestrians, nobody does. Even the public buses will try to turn right & honk if you don’t jump out of the way. You can glare and hold a hand up if you want to insist on crossing – people do seem a little less reluctant to nearly mow down a foreigner I’ve noticed.