Saturday morning the alarm went off way too early and woke us for our next Beijing adventure. This was the day we were heading out to the Great Wall. Bleary eyed and sore from the rock hard bed we got dressed and ready for the tour we booked with the Grey Line tour desk that was located in our hotel lobby. We grabbed some baked goods and coffee for a breakfast on the bus from a great bakery beside the hotel, Xinqiao Sapporo Bakery. Their croissants were excellent. We rushed to make it to check in just in time to find the bus had not yet arrived. A few minutes late the bus arrived and we loaded onto the coach and waited to leave.
The tour guide informed us we would be getting dropped off at another hotel and going with a different guide. Our first stop on the tour was the Olympic Park. From a raised platform we has some great views of the Water Cube, an interesting building that looks like someone blew a bunch of bubbles. The glass is iridescent and bulges out in small 3 dimensional sections. The way the light plays off the glass really added to the effect. The Bird’s Nest was a tangle of patterns. The few minutes to snap a few photos wasn’t enough to really appreciate the complexes. If we had more time in Beijing this would have been a place to go back to explore at leisure.
Traffic in Beijing like any big city is busy. Saturday there are no restrictions and all cars are allowed access to highways. With today being a warmer, sunny day many people were escaping the city. We crawled along to our next stop which was a tourist trap to show a variety of jade cutting and designs. The short tour ended in a large over priced show room where they sold everything from jewellery, knick knacks and larger statue style pieces. Back on the bus our next destination was the wall. It was creeping up on mid day and the anticipation and reason for the trip was starting to build as I kept thinking “are we there yet?”
Another turn off the highway and the mountains came into view. We strained our eyes wondering if this was the wall… not yet, but we were getting closer. After we went through a small village and started to twist, turn and climb we came to the parking area where we were let off to the entrance of Mutianyu. A steep climb past many vendors selling everything for a ‘dollar’ brought us to the entrance to the cable car. A steep ride up brought the breathtaking views of the wall perched along the ridge finally into view. Jason, our guide, left us at Tower 14 and told us to return in two hours.
Surprisingly out of breath we started the trek on the wall. Uneven and broken stones paved the way to a misty view with dotted towers in the distance. After a narrow climb through the crowds we set off onto the rolling path that stretched out before us. Tower 20 was the goal; a steep climb straight up. Each twist and turn brought in a new view which my 200+ photographs can attest to. Some towers allowed a bird’s eye view from high above that is you could make the awkward and precarious climb. Mutianyu is said to be the most picturesque section of the wall and it certainly lived up to that claim with steep mountains, deep valleys and stepped terraces. The landscape was still dusty brown with spring coming later to this elevation. Small patches of snow clung onto the shade in a few shadows along the wall, more evidence that spring had not yet arrived.
The steps were wide and shallow, not what I expected. It made walking difficult since it didn’t fit your usual stride. Flat sections were welcomed, but slippery and hard on the calves on the way down. The elevation made even the slightest exertion seem difficult. The steep climb kept getting closer. After about tower 16 the crowds thinned and I had the wall mostly to myself. John had run ahead to ensure he had time to reach the top of tower 20 in the short time we had. Looking around it seemed so surreal that I was here, a place of history and where few people may ever have the luxury to visit. I pressed on and started the climb up to tower 20. Low walls on the sides and the elevation started to make me feel light headed and dizzy. I easily could have made it up, but feared the decent with a dizzy head and no railings to help support me for the return. Checking the time I knew I wouldn’t make it to the top gate and I was forced to head back. I made it a quarter or third of the way up. I returned to our meeting place and waited for John. Just in the nick of time John came running back. He made it to gate 23 which, is crumbling away. According to our guide Jason, many parts of the wall are now allowed to crumble since it is not needed for security and too hard to manage and maintain. Enough places are preserved to support the tourists, so the majority of the wall is now off-limits or unsafe for visitors. John made it to this limit which he described as amazing.
Here are some Great Wall Facts:
Chinese Name: 长城/万里长城
Chinese Pinyin: Cháng Chéng/Wàn Lǐ Cháng Chéng
Length: 8,851.8 km (5,500 miles)
Construction Period: About 2,000 years from the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC) to Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) This section is 7-8.5 m high (23-26 ft). From: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/
We really lucked out with great sunny weather. The day before and day after our trip was cold, damp and very smoggy. We certainly would have missed the amazing views and scenery if we had come another day. We headed back to the city tired and worn out. One more stop at a tea factory where they quickly showed us a tea ceremony and then allowed us to taste many teas. Most time was spent encouraging us to buy. We stumbled tired and exhausted back to the bus after a long and most amazing day. We will sleep well tonight —even on the rock hard beds.
Stay tuned for more… next time the Forbidden City.