A clean, air- conditioned car with driver waited at the car park. We set off through the busy streets of Beijing. We didn't spot nine million bicycles. Powered mopeds seem to be the trend with more than one family member perched neatly on the front, back or middle. I even saw a baby in a basket.
S1 gave an excellent commentary as we drove along. As we approached the Hutong district, I asked if she knew our hotel. Something in her tone alerted me that all may not be well. That and the fact that we should not go out after seven!!
The taxi turned off the main roads into a maze of tiny streets. There was just enough room for two rickshaws to pass side by side. As well as the hundreds of rickshaws, many thousands of tourists scurried around like ants on speed, following the chief ant carrying a beribboned pole.
The one storey grey courtyard houses were entered through wooden gates with Chinese symbols at the side. The alley leading to our courtyard was far too small for our car, so we walked the last two hundred metres. We received a few odd stares from the local people.
As we stepped through the gates of The Courtyard Hotel, thirty Chinese tourists were sitting on stools and another thirty were standing. All were listening intently to their tour guide's lecture about the 200 year old courtyard.
We were shown to our small room by S1. The owner was preoccupied with the tourist group. Nothing grand but we had expected that. I was shown along the path and up some steps to our bathroom. It had a padlock. I was told to leave the padlock in situ but not to lock it. That way the tourists MIGHT not use it. Alarm bells started to ring.
More groups were coming through the gates. We asked S1 what was happening. She explained that this was not just a famy hotel, it was also a major tourist attraction. Visitors started arriving at 8am and did not stop until after 8pm.
We felt very uneasy about the situation, especially as we would have to leave our belongings here. The door looked none too secure and there was no safe. We asked S1 if we could move elsewhere. She went away to find a signal for her phone.
All this time, tourists had been peering at us through the window and the open door. Now they got a little bolder, taking photographs. One girl came into the room and asked to have her photo with us. She obviously thought we were part of the ancient relics. The flood gates opened. More pictures were taken. A little old man came in, asked where we came from and then sat on the bed, waiting to hear more. We were struggling to hold back hysterical laughter.
Just when total chaos was about to erupt, with more tourists arriving, S1 came back with an option of a different hotel. Our prayers were answered. One minor problem, we had to pay an additional charge. Perhaps we should have charged the tourists for taking our photos.
Our car was long gone, so we learned the art of summoning a taxi. S1 left us by the side of the road. Dicing with death, she leapt out waving her arm high. Taxi after taxi drove past. It was rush hour. At last, one ground to a halt. As fast as our legs could take us, we fell into the taxi.
Relief. Our new hotel was wonderful. All mod cons and free slippers to replace our really grotty old ones.
We had wifi so we emailed our London contact S2. We didn't expect it, but we were delighted to hear that the company were going to reimburse the difference. Brilliant. S and S saved the day!!!!!!