Why Adventures by Disney? The easy answer is Disney knows how to do logistics better than almost anyone else, and that I trusted the Mouse to get me into and out of China safely. I loved their itinerary - the tour included five internal flights spanning a huge hunk of China. There is no way, absolutely none, we could have done everything we did in the same amount of time if we'd gone on our own. I also liked that they offered a tour in October. October is the off-season for China tourism, but all of my research indicated it was likely the best season in terms of heat, rain, and air quality. Finally, neither Joe nor I had ever gone on a group travel tour previously, but we had high hopes for the type of travelers a Disney tour might attract. The tour met every one of our expectations and more!
|Touring cards make taxi rides much simpler
Very few taxi drivers speak any English. We learned that before you get into a cab you need to have someone translate the destination into Chinese. All of the hotels we stayed at had special cards with the name of the hotel written in Chinese and English on one side and a list of popular tourist destinations on the other. These were essential, and made getting around on our own so much easier. Fred, one of our Adventure Guides who happened to be from Beijing, also wrote a special card warning of my food allergy, in case I decided to eat out on my own.
The Temple of Heaven was the imperial religious complex, where the emporer and his entourage would come to pray (and sacrifice) for beneficence for the coming year - good harvests, good weather, good fortune from the heavens. Today, it's both a tourist complex, and used as a community park by local residents.
|Entry gates to the courtyard surround the main altar
|The altar is several stories tall
Something I had trouble with was the sense of perspective. Standing at the entrance to the altar's courtyard, the altar seemed fairly squat - not too tall. But appearances are deceiving in China. The courtyard was so large, it made the altar feel small. As we walked up to it, it grew larger and larger. I had this same experience over and over during our tour through China, most notably in the Forbidden City.
|Fantastic dragon rain-spouts ring the outer edge of the altar at eye level
|The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest combined the altar structure with a temple
|Sidesteps leading up to the central Temple of Good Harvest
|peering into the Temple of Good Harvest
We exited the temple courtyard into another stone-paved, stone-walled courtyard with magnificent, carefully-tended cypress trees regularly spaced along its length. Then we spied a round portal in one of the walls, an ancient cypress standing sentinel.
|This portal sentinel is as carefully tended as any bonsai
Walking under the arch of tree's branches and through the gate, we found ourselves in a carefully tended 'wild' space filled with trees, grasses and hundreds of little birds. It felt a little like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia. Watching the little birds flitting between the groundcover and the lower limbs of the trees made me think of traditional Chinese paintings that capture a wren or chickadee with a few brush strokes.
|the other side of the wall
|The tiny Temple of a Hundred Flowers
|Interior ceiling of the Temple of Flowers, 'hidden' among the gardens
That evening, we got to meet our fellow adventurers over dinner back at our hotel. During desert, a small troupe of acrobats ran into the room and performed for us, flipping and tumbling through the air. We then got a chance to take pictures with the Monkey King and his followers.
And that was our first full day in China!