China Peony Festival Tour 2015
April 10th - 23rd, 2015


April 10 & 11, 2015

If you have not been to China before, I hope you will consider this tour. I don’t do it very often and each time it sells out. I have had the pleasure of seeing China many times and am always humbled by the people. They are so happy to meet us and have their pictures taken with us. China is an incredible country and the more you visit it, the more you want to see. This tour enjoys many of the highlights you have heard about in China, plus some of the most breathtaking gardens, a wonderful first timers glimpse of China .. do come along and see it for yourself. You will come home with some unforgettable memories.

‘Perhaps the best place to begin the story of peonies in the garden is in China. Peonies were known in China as far back as perhaps 1000 BCE. It was not however until the seventh century, during the reign of the Emperor Yang (605-617) of the Sui dynasty, that peonies were thought to have been grown as ornamental plants.’

Besides seeing some of the country’s greatest sights such as the Terra Cotta Warriors and Great Wall, we’ll pay a special visit to the International Peony Festival, the largest event of its type in the world. Luoyang, where the festival occurs, was China’s capital in ancient times.

Arrived into Beijing airport at 3:15 p.m. April 9th. It was a great flight from Chicago but my arriving flight into Chicago and departing flight to Beijing was too short for my bag to make the flight so I wait. It is supposed to arrive on the 10th when the next Chicago flight arrives. So not much to unpack and thankfully I was smart enough to pack all my electronics and necessary chargers in my carry on along with needed toiletries and a change of clothes. I have gotten into the habit of doing this because….well you see why. I must admit though that with as many miles that I travel, the many flights I have been on, that I have only had this happen one other time. I have been fortunate. Today I wait and hope that it arrives so I can prepare for the tour starting tomorrow morning. Half the group arrived on the 9th and the rest arrive today. Outside the baggage area I was met by my guide and surprise, it was the same guide I had on the last tour…wonderful to work with Zhao again.

Our group is staying at the Four Points by Sheraton and while I like the hotel I am dismayed at the blocks that are on the internet - Facebook, Google even a local China newspaper are not available - goodness knows what else but it just makes me appreciate the hotels where I do have this available even more. We will see what the other hotels are like as we progress through the tour. Other than that this hotel is very nice. Lovely beds, big bright rooms with lots of window and lighting. Rooms are quiet except if you open a window. A nice settee and coffee table by the window to enjoy reading the paper (there are English papers here). Plugs a plenty too and even ones that do not require adaptors. Internet access is good and so is the connection for Skype which made my husband happy. Coffee/tea and hot water boiler, bar fridge, comp. water to drink and brush my teeth with because you don’t drink the water in China. Bathroom has tub, separate rainshower that is well lit, lots of counter space and great lighting. Big fluffy towels and yes even faceclothes, Lemon Fresh bath amenities plus the extras which are nice to have like a razor, toothbrushes, comb, cotton buds and sewing kit. Closet has iron and board and safe along with bathrobes and slippers. Big tv on the wall with a few English channels like CNN, BBC and a good China news site that is all in English. Also a nice desk to work at with good lighting as well as plugs for charging those batteries. One thing they got right here were the doors…never do you hear a door slamming. It drives me nuts when I hear doors being slammed shut at all hours of the night. Breakfast is fine, lots of variety including fresh juices like carrot, celery and others.

I didn’t do a whole lot on the 10th, once up I went down to breakfast then decided to walk over to the mall a short two blocks from the hotel. It is a huge mall with about five stories full of everything from Chinese tea shops to furniture stores. I think I walked every floor but especially enjoyed the Chinese floor that had shops like tea, sweets, Chinese ladies fancy dresses, pharmacies, makeup and many more. I loved the smell of this floor, quite herbal and most of that was coming from the Chinese pharmacies. I then went to the food floor to get a drink and ended up with a cold milk tea called Spring is in the Air, filled with fruit jellies and red beans. It was very good and not sweet at all. Then down to the grocery store to pick up some fresh baby mangos and tiny sweet bananas, a really nice little spong cake and a few other things. Wow, I could have brought so much in this store..amazing variety of pre packaged packs of seeds, nuts and dried fruit. Row upon row of all kinds of foods. I do like wandering this type of store. Then back to hotel for a nap. Then call everyone to make sure they were ok.

Wondering about my bag? Well it finally did arrive at 9:30 p.m. All guests are now here and bag is here…ready to rock!

April 10 Official Day of Arrival

Arrival into Beijing, met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure to get acclimated and refreshed.

April 11
We meet Zhao, our national guide, and off we go…I have worked with him before and he is a jewel…he even had the red hand that we had given him two years ago!

We all met in the lobby of the hotel right on that about my groups, they are always on time. Great to see so many repeat guests, now friends, coming along with me on another adventure. Goodies handed out, badges on and off we set for our first visit. Tian Anmen Square, then the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden, Lunch, Yuyuantan Cherry Blossom Park and finally Peking Duck Dinner.

I must admit this is always the hardest day as there are just so many visitors to the square and Forbidden City. Each time we come here I am amazed but should not really be as Beijing alone has 21 million people living here. We are just not used to so many people but after a bit we blend in just like the rest – although skin colour and hair colour does set us apart – and enjoy just being there and watching people maze through lines so long to see Chairman Mau’s final resting place…it takes at least two hours to queue up and finally see him. Nothing can be taken inside the building so people sit outside on the square minding bags, purses and backpacks until the people have visited and come out. Each morning he is raised on an elevated platform from the basement to the ground level where thousands view him through a crystal viewing container and each evening he is lowered until it begins again the next day. There have always been huge lines to see him. His resting place faces the Forbidden City and his photo is above the entrance. Again, so many walk through this entrance to enter a huge labyrinth of buildings, rooms and passageways to wonderful hidden places with most unusual names. We wind our way through a lot but certainly not all of these beautiful areas to finally the private areas where the Emperor lived with his hundreds of eunuchs and concubines and end up in the Imperial Garden.

Spring is just beginning here and you can see peony buds starting to open and some of the most beautiful trees starting to leaf. Right before you is the most serene looking Sophora japonica tree just leafing out. Knarled branches that look ancient in themselves hold the promise of another year as each tip has new leaves just opening…it will indeed be a most glorious tree when in bloom. As will all the peonies and lo and behold we see green peonies! Yes, they are here and more open that I remember seeing in Luoyang. It is amazing really as they are late season so why are they opening now when the other early peonies have not opened? We are struck by this…we see cherry blossoms and magnolias in bloom but the early blooming peonies have not opened and yet the late season are…maybe that was a gift to us who love peonies…a glimpse in time.

We leave though passages moving with people, thankful we all made it out together! Then off to lunch where afterwards we got to enjoy the gardens…it once was a home for one of the princes…when they reached a certain age they were each given a house to live in as they could not live at the Forbidden City any more. It was so serene in this garden filled with bamboo, blossoms and gingko trees. It is now a restaurant and hotel and I am happy about this as it is preserving history. With so many hutongs being demolished to make way for better and more efficient housing it is nice to see what once was being kept alive.

We then set off to visit the Yuyuantan Cherry Blossom Park. Again a lot of people but once you began walking you found that it was much quieter and very peaceful to just walk along the paths through the trees or around the lake. People selling garlands of cherry blossoms that the girls are wearing on their heads – they look beautiful against that dark hair. Children happily running around the trees with parents taking photos of them. The lake is full of boats being paddled around by young couples in love…so sweet and happy and as they pass by they wave at us. The young people have no problem with tourists, the older ones look a lot and rarely smile but when they do their faces light up. You see their faces light up as they look at their grandchildren. Kids painting under the cherry blossoms, Young girls primping themselves before a photo…this is a real spot to people watch. Everyone is happy here. The trees are beautiful. All in that spring green. The weeping willow is such a tree of splendor and reminder of love to the Chinese. Blossoms in white, pale pink, rose and even a chartreuse shade are here. Single and multi blooms are here and all these mixed with the blooms of forsythia make this a memorable visit for us. We are happy as we leave and now to our Peking Duck Dinner. This place is one of the top 10 in Beijing to enjoy Peking Duck and we do enjoy that and all the other dishes presented and cap it off with a yummy fruit filled birthday cake to celebrate one the guests birthday.


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