This past January, we spent a week in Beijing (and then a week in Japan). It was one of the coldest vacations we've ever taken, and we are not cold weather loving people :( so it was quite an ordeal, but definitely a memorable trip.

We stayed at the beautiful Park Plaza Wangfujing, which was rated #2 on TripAdvisor. This hotel was gorgeous and totally comparable to all the other big names (Hyatt, Marriott, Westin) and located in a much more convenient area. It was literally an 8 minute walk from the shopping area of Wangfujing and a 15 minute walk from Forbidden City. Yep, we were that close! The hotel rate varied, depending on when it was booked, but we were lucky and booked it for 80USD a night. The staff spoke terrific English and the concierge was extremely helpful when we wanted to go to certain places. Definitely a recommended stay.

I did a little "stalking" on TripAdvisor, and decided to hire a guide that would take us around. I made my choice based on 1, reviews; 2, price; and 3, it had to be a SHE. I don't know; I just feel safer with a female guide, hah. But little did I know that this was not a good choice.

We chose a girl named Violet. Her rates were very reasonable and she seemed intelligent and had good grasp of English (as per her e-mails). She was punctual on the first day, but once she found out we understood Mandarin, we found out just how bad she had to struggle with her English. Most of the "speeches" she made were memorized from guide books, and there were times when we had to correct her facts. She recommended expensive restaurants (by American standards, which meant that it was probably super expensive by Chinese standards) where she even knew some of the staff at the restaurants. All in all, it wasn't a great experience, and I wish that I had done just a little more research instead of being lazy and taking the easy way out. It was definitely money wasted; we would've been better off hiring someone a little more expensive. But I digress.

We visited the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, TianAnMen, the Olympic stadiums as well as the markets of PanJiaYuan and Silk Market.

January in Beijing is extremely COLD. There is no other way to describe it. We wore so much clothes that sometimes it was hard to move... I even utilized those little warming packs that skiers use on the slopes. Yes, it was that cold. But you know what's good about going in the winter? There are hardly any other tourists. As you can see, we were alone on the Great Wall. Now, that is something that would not happen during peak tourist season. So, you take what you can get.

Before we left for our trip, I made last minute trip arrangements for Xi'an. Most people think that Xi'an = Terracotta Warriors, but it is a city that is so much more. It was the first capital of China, where Qin Shi Huang presided as the first emperor. It has the most complete original city wall, where you can walk or bike around the city. It was also the birthplace of the dumpling banquet, where you can get dumpling fillings of chicken to shrimp to deer to rabbit.

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