I have had three extremely busy days and so I have sat down outside my new little hostel in Guilin to try to catch up. With a Jamisons and a bottle of local beer at my side I am sitting next to a beautifully lit up lake enjoying the evening. But I digress...back to Beijing.
One of the must visit places on my list for China was the Great Wall. Now the Wall is several thousand kilometers in length but only portions of it have been restored for visitors such as myself. The wall was built in mainly two stages, if I have my facts straight, in order to protect the loosely unified kingdoms of China from the Mongols to the north. It almost reminds me of the Wall in The Game of Thrones! I could go on about the history but I am sure there are more scholarly people out there that would be more accurate in their factual information.
There are five sections of the wall which are open to the public in the vicinity of Beijing. I opted to visit it at Mutianyu since this is further from Beijing and not quite as busy. I joined a small group of other travellers from my hostel (3 Americans, a family of 4 from England, and 2 others who did not speak English or socialize with the rest of the group). Generally, I abhor organized tours but finding transportation on my own to this particular section of the wall would have been a formidable task so I opted to put my biases to rest on this occasion. As usual, they couldn't just take us to the Wall but had to make several stops along the way...basically, to try to get us to buy products. Our first stop was a Jade factory which was actually a bit interesting and I even lost all my resolve and purchased a Happiness Ball!
The Brits and I waited patiently for the others to complete their shopping expedition and finally we were on our way. Next stop was the Ming Tomb. Lovely gardens but slightly underwhelming otherwise. Basically you walk down several flights of stone stairs to four underground chambers where one of the Ming Emperors was laid to rest along with the Empress and later his favourite concubines. This was rather unique since concubines were always laid to rest in an outside chamber but apparently this concubine had actually been the mother of the next reigning Emperor and he decided to upgrade his mother's final resting place!
Next stop, lunch! The young American gentleman has lived in China for three years and spoke Chinese so after he had had a brief conversation with a staff person he informed the rest of us that we had been asked if we would like local beer with our meal but he had taken it upon himself to say no for the whole group since he felt that we shouldn't drink beer before attempting the Great Wall. Being rather thirsty, I ignored his suggestion and went to get a bottle of beer! The beer I have had in China is possibly even weaker than American beer so I was pretty confident my Canadian constitution could handle it!
We finally made it to the Wall! Now
|Stairs, stairs and more stairs!|
The English mom, her sons, and I snapped several pictures and walked back together. This wasn't as difficult but it was undignified in parts since I was forced to descend some of the steps on my butt!
The quickest, and most enjoyable way to get down from the peak is by toboggan. This was a great end to my excursion. As I walked through the market to our van, I was very proud of myself as I was able to ask a vendor "How much?" in Chinese and was able to negotiate the purchase of a wall ornament!
The Wall was an exhausting experience but well worth the effort. Just as I had dreaded, the tour bus did not head to our hotels and instead stopped at a "silk factory" which basically turned out to be a large bedding and clothing store. I was about to ditch the tour at this point since we were now back in Beijing and I was quite confident in my ability to use the metro system but Ping, our guide, assured me that this stop would be no more than twenty minutes and the nearest subway station was at least a thirty minute walk. An hour later the Brits and I sat fuming as the American women went on a shopping expedition for what seemed like a whole new wardrobe. Shopping should never be a group event!
|Part of the Wall where tourists aren't allowed!|
|My new friends at a stall near my hostel in the Hutong.|