The Great Wall of China



The flight to Beijing was relatively smooth although we landed one hour late. Our only major concern at that point was the driver waiting for us and the fact that this meant visiting the Forbidden City would be compromised.

Got off the plane and was a little concerned about whether the air would be purer on or off the plane. I'd been following reports of the [insane] pollution levels in Beijing a month up to departure.

The airport in Beijing is spanking new (as was the one in Kunming) but it suffered of what I call the "North Korean Complex" - a serious disconnect between the imposing structure itself and what was going on inside. It was new, but already felt abandoned. The group of passengers we belonged to were dwarfed by the size and emptiness of the airport. Despite the fact that it was 1 or 2 pm, we were the only people there.

There was a faint smell of burning rubber or plastic in the airport and I wondered if that was an omen of things to come. I had wanted to buy a couple of face masks at the airport before leaving but completely forgot, so I thought I might have to resort to using a wet towel under my scarf.

Immigration was surprisingly smooth, considering the trouble I went through to get my visa. And then finally, I was truly and honestly in China! We found our driver easily and headed towards the Great Wall. 
There is a surprising lack of ATMs at the airport, 
it's always best to bring some ready cash with you.
We drove down huge 6- or 8-lane roads, passed towering highrises and sets of identical apartment complexes, one of which could probably house my entire hometown. Just as these thoughts were going through my mind, our driver said: "no city people here, just farmers."
...!! I guess the scale of things really is different in China!

After a 40-minute drive, we arrived at the Great Wall. I had caught a glimpse of it snaking its way along the mountain ridge, so I was well excited to get on with it! The entrance fee for the wall is 45RMB. You can trek up the mountain to the Wall (you don't start from the foot of the mountain, but still...) or you can take a cable car. Three guesses what we did. Yup. The cable car will set you back 80RMB and takes just a couple of minutes. But what a beautiful sight!

There are several sections of the Great Wall (8 in total) which have been restored and are open to the public. We went to the Mutianyu section - reputed for the breathtaking views of nature - which, not being the most popular (that would be Badaling) was almost empty. This meant: no jostling or waiting and magnificent, uninterrupted panoramas. All this in complete silence, with only the sound of the wing blowing through the grass. Mind blown.

mutianyu great wall of china views

panoramic view of great wall of china mutianyu

 And look at that sun and clear, bue sky! No smog and pollution here!
Best place to view the Great Wall of China
(Yes, the boots look like overkill but the weather forecast for the week previous to our trip said snow all week and temperatures of -9C/15F... and there is still some snow on the floor!). The Wall is well-paved which makes it easy to walk on but some parts can be quite steep. It may have been because of the flight or the cold (or the fact that I'm really not fit) but I was a tad out of breath climbing up from the parking lot to the ticket booth and from the cable car station to the Wall itself.
Although there are numerous shops and stalls on the way, we weren't pushed into buying anything at all. Actually, barely anyone even talked to us.
The Wall closes at 5PM with the last cable car being at 4:30. Make sure to catch it!

From there, we went back to the city to at least try to see Tienanmen Square. The Forbidden City closes at 5PM making impossible to get there in time. We arrived at around 5:30-6PM, and as expected, the Forbidden City was closed, but even the Square was also blocked off and kept off-limits by guards (in long dark green overcoats and fur hats with red stars - exactly like in movies). I'm not sure if the Square 'closes' at 5PM, too, or if there was some special event going on.

Tienanmen Square

After walking around a bit, we went to get some dinner. We wanted to get something 'local' and the driver took us to a restaurant he said was popular among locals. It lacked a bit of charm, but it was full of locals. Not a foreigner in sight. And the result of that was that the menu and the staff were 100% Chinese. Luckily there were pictures so we managed to get our order through, but somethings weren't quite what we expected. Mainly the portion sizes: huge!
We paid 65RMB ($10) for a fish the size of 2 dinner plates and 45RMB ($7) for a mountain of sweet and sour fried pork as well as 20-25RMB($3-4) for fields of vegetables. And at the end of the meal we were 1RMB short. That's $0.16.... It took about 5 minutes to try to explain it in hand gestures and to then understand what she was trying to tell us. Finally, we understood that it was ok, and that we could leave

Good bye, Beijing! That was fun!

Check out the outfit of the day for Beijing!                                      

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