Ready, set, shop, sight-see, dine and dance!

At 7:59 AM on Tuesday, October 19 the athletes had finished stretching, their muscles tensed, eyes focused awaiting the beginning of the race to the Presidential Suite at Raffles Hotel.  Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit…what I am describing was our anticipation of the beginning of the Virtuoso Shopping Bazaar, a display of unique items procured by Nancy Kim, Managing Director of Imperial Tours, and presented in a boutique setting in the Presidential Suite . Jewelry, clothing, cashmeres, private blend teas, and Tibetan ethnic goods were scooped up with enthusiasm and, as we boarded the motor coaches for our lunch on the Great Wall, we modeled some of our purchases.

An expert in the history and construction of the Great Wall was aboard each of the 4 motor coaches. David Spindler, our Guru of all things Great Wall, shared many details that fascinated me. A “great wall” actually is defined as a non-enclosed wall (like city walls in Xi’an or Dubrovnik) with a minimum defined thickness, height and length. China’s Great Wall is a series of walls joined together. The fired brick construction was see at locations near Beijing are the newest construction. Some of the oldest and still standing parts are actually tamped dirt.

There are certain areas round Beijing where the Wall has been restored and those locales are tourist friendly. This visit to the wall was my 3rd and the takeaway is that where you visit the wall matters. My first time I was in a sea of tourists. The second time, in 2008 with Gerald Hatherly of A&K Hong Kong, we went about an hour outside of the city center to an area that felt quiet and serene. This time, because of the large size of our group, we visited an area that was more populated than visit #2 and much better than my first Great Wall experience. I sound like I’m telling a spin-off of Goldilocks and the three bears, don’t I?

St. Regis Hotels hosted our Great Wall experience, an event that began with champagne on a terrace. Next we watched 7 young women in red, skintight costumes combine drumming and dancing in a chorus line type act. The main wow was our sit-down luncheon  on the Great Wall, highlighted by a menu of delicious courses served by scores of waiters who served all the tables simultaneously. One of our luncheon companions was William Lindsay, noted conservationist and Great Wall advocate. A lovely singer serenaded us with ballads and jazz favorites of the 1930′s.

Greg Nacco, Julie Nacco, and Kimberly Wilson Wetty were brave souls who actually ran a length of the Great Wall. Nancy Stein, of Aldine Travel in St. Louis, had a different Great Wall run, one of bad luck. Reaching the last step of the Wall returning to our motor coaches, Nancy’s foot rolled desiring in a broken bone. I hope your foot heals quickly, Nancy!

We made it back to Raffles in time to rest and change into our “party fashions” and to make the mental shift from the “lure of the past” to “the impact of the future” (the theme of our journey to China) as we made our way to the Water Cube, the 2008 Olympics swimming venue. Shangri-La Hotels hosted our evening, which began with a red carpet walk alongside an outside wall of the cube and led us indoors and up an escalator to what was normally the tennis courts but now transformed into a heavenly room dotted with sprays of blue hydrangeas. Liquid refreshment was served from a magnificently carved circular ice bar. I easy found my way to our assigned table and I had wonderful dinner partners including Priscilla Alexander and Tova Fink of Protravel International, Inc, Marina Linhares and Tomas Perez of Teresa Perez Tours in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Angie Goiricuria,Virtuoso’s Vice President of Alliances; Nancy Kim, Managing Director of Imperial Tours; and, our table host Wolfgang Krueger, GM of the Shangri-La Tokyo.

Needless to say the food was deliciously exquisite! Greg Dogan, President and CEO of Shangril-La Hotels welcomed us and Matthew Upchurch responded with gratitude to Greg’s welcome. If we felt we had overeaten,  we had the opportunity to dance off the calories as Beijing’s most popular DJ and a bevy of 1980′s clad disco dancers entertained us and helped remove any shyness about dancying! Matthew  Upchurch, Virtuoso’s CEO, and dance afficianado, was among the first on the dance floor followed quickly by Valerie Wilson and Rosie Goldberger. A personal highlight was watching the Chinese government officials dancing with the advisors. Proving the “Dancing with the Stars” element of the evening, I took a photo of the Vice Chairman of the Tourism Adminsitration with Kimberly Wilson Wetty and an Elton John wannabe!

What a day–a day of contrasts, elegance, and history. We truly spanned the centuries from the lure of the past to the pulsating contemporary feel of today’s Beijing. Having traveled all those years in one day, I was exhausted and ready for a good night’s rest. Sweet dreams!


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