Beijing With Pops: The Great Wall Edition

You would think that we would have learned our lesson the day before about leaving the hostel without eating but it wasn’t our fault this time. The kitchen wouldn’t open in enough time to order and eat because the tour to the Great Wall starts early. It was a national holiday and the roads would be packed with tourists heading to the section of the Great wall at Badaling. I should know because that was our first stop. I found a tour that would take us to two sections. I had to ask for a special tour and they were more than willing to make it happen. Most of the tours take you to one section and then on to some other amazing national monument but I wanted to soak up some of the Great Wall. It is weird how many people ask me why I would want to spend a whole day at the Great Wall. First of all people it has Great in the title! It’s not the mediocre wall or the less than stellar wall; it’s the GREAT WALL! I think the case is made there but I always add this. The wall actually looks very different depending on where you view it from. I happened to like one better than the other but both were amazing. Vince stayed overnight so he could see a third section and his pictures of that section include a lake!

Either way when our guide arrived we told her that we were hungry. Well my dad and I were hungry Vince told us all that he was fine not eating but would eat if we stopped. The lady assured us we could eat at Badaling and hustled us in the van. The drive took us about an hour and she took us to the cable car where we handed her money and she bought us tickets. This was shortly after convincing us to wait until we had been to the Great Wall to eat. I am not sure how all tours work everywhere and I am not even sure how they all work for a trip to the Great Wall but it seems our tour cost was pretty much a van ride with a terrible lunch. Our guide was friendly but she was not the best at conversation in English and I felt that we did not get much history or interesting facts from her; so that was not part of the tour price either. So we got in line with our tickets and we rode to the top and were greeted by a magnificent sight…. a tunnel. And once we got out of the Tunnel we saw the Great Wall and it is pretty amazing seen from just below it but when you get on top and see the long view you really get to see how amazing it is.

The stairs up are steep and there are some not so friendly incline/decline areas and I could see a less ambulatory person having issues exploring the wall. Luckily we were all doing fine with the exception of my dad having a little issue going down stairs. The worry is founded because there are no hand rails that I saw anywhere along the wall. Also the stair wells are not lit and there is a constant stream of people going both in and out (at least there is at Badaling). Either way we spent the hour marveling at the sheer massive scale of the wall and I also marveled at the mass of people exploring this section of the wall.

When I got down I was ready to eat but our tour guide convinced us to eat at the “much better” lunch spot an hour away. So we loaded in the van and Vince tried to convince them to take us somewhere besides the jade factory. It was something I was supposed to email about when I booked the tour but I got busy and dropped the ball. It seems that tours have to take people to certain places that are run by the government. Most of the tours I had looked at took us to a jade factory. In the jade factory you can have a “typical Chinese lunch” consisting of super bland food they think Westerners like. I was irritated with myself for not remembering to email but in reality I was irritated that the tour would take us to a crappy place to eat and at the jade factory for serving me a sucktastic meal. We had to spend some time in the jade factory after we ate for some reason and in that time Vince found some things he liked enough to buy for souvenirs for friends of his. Our driver told us all about the great meal she had with the driver while we loaded back into the van and head to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

As we got closer to Mutianyu the guide asked us if we wanted to take the ski lift up and I said no. I was thinking, because I had misunderstood my reading that the ski lift took you from one point of the wall to another point. When we parked at the base of the mountain and looked up at the top where the Great Wall was we all immediately realized I had made a mistake. Luckily she was more than happy to take our money and arrange the tickets. This ticket could be used to take you up and down the mountain on the ski lift or you could take the toboggan down. I put the thought that the toboggan was where it was at out in the ether and decided to revisit it later.

I was thirsty when we arrived and I walked over to a snack shack where they tried to get me to pay 50 kuai for a bottle of water. That is like 8 dollars and I had never paid more than 3 kuai for the very bottle they were selling. I told them that was too much and they started telling me a sad story about having to get the water all the way up here and I pointed at the ski lift and said you could probably just use that and then you wouldn’t have to carry anything up a mountain. They grumbled and told me 40 and I walked off while they dropped it to 20 kuai. I would have totally paid 10 kuai for the water had that been the first sales pitch or even the second but don’t start nearly 20 times higher than the actual price of the water. I walked away feeling irritated and was just done with them trying to rip off the foreigner. Then I walked up to the top of the wall and all irritation was forgotten along with my thirst.

Mutianyu is beautiful, even pre-Spring when we saw it. It has fewer people crawling along the top and this allows you to get some amazing shots of the wall itself. I was astounded and I wanted to stay up here the rest of the day. We only had an hour and a half and we used every second of it. We walked quite a bit and snapped hundreds of pictures. We even went to the top of a guard tower. It was amazing and the day was beautiful and we could see for miles. This was exactly what I had come to see and I was so glad I had insisted on two Great Wall spots because I would have only been mostly satisfied instead of completely satisfied. It is an amazing piece of engineering.

Vince and I decided to take the toboggan down but my dad felt a little nervous about it so he took the ski lift down. Vince and I stood in line and as luck would have it we headed slowly down the hill because we had a very slow woman in front of me. There was a line of 12 people behind her and that included me. At all the stops where they usually yell at you to slow down the employees yelled at her to hurry up. It was crazy but I still loved riding in a toboggan down from the Great Wall even if we were slower than the ski lift. We met up with my dad at the bottom and complained loudly about the lady even though she was probably within listening range. Then we headed to the Subway restaurant we passed on the way to the ski lift. We sat down and ate a sub at the base of the Great Wall. It was surreal and was a way more tasty and satisfying meal then the one we had at the jade factory.

We met up with the tour guide after we ate and Vince split off to spend the night in the town and had plans to see the wall in the morning. As I mentioned before he saw an amazing piece of the wall, the Great Wall at Lakeside, and I would like to see it next time I am in Beijing.

We headed back to the city and along the way, while we were stuck in traffic, the tour guide offered a stop at a tea factory. I was excited to go, even knowing it was a tourist trap like the jade factory. When we got there we had a tea ceremony that was free and then we were shown the tea and I asked a bunch of questions because I wanted to buy tea. So I ended up dropping mad money on tea and I still dn’t feel guilty about it. I am enjoying the tea as I write this.

My dad and I were on our own and we decided to try hot-pot and we looked in his Lonely Planet Beijing guide for a place to go. It was an amazing choice and we were very happy with it. We ate beef, lamb, potatoes, cabbage, spinach, and mushrooms in our hot pot and dipped it in a sesame sauce. It was very tasty. We washed it down with a Yanjng beer, which is the beer Beijingers drink. I also decided to have a Beijing yogurt while my dad was indisposed. You drink the yogurt through the straw and it was quite nicely flavored. We headed back toward the subway and decided to wander a festive looking street and found a cavalcade of bars. I was interested in having a beer in one until the bar workers all came out imploring us to come in. My interest evaporated and we retraced our steps and headed back to the hostel. I wish I could tell you where that place was because it seemed festive. The bars were along a lake or river and there was live music. That’s all I got for you.

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