The China Monologues 五 The Great Wall of China

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Another early rise, but after yesterday’s unintended dry run at least we knew exactly what and where we had to go. Arriving at Beijing North station 5 minutes before one train, and a full 40 before the one we had aimed for yesterday, we were sure we must be able to get there today. Quite simply, we had to go their today as we were going home tomorrow!

We bought our tickets and headed into the main atrium of the station: already an enormous queue. That’s ok, we thought, it’s still 5 minutes before the first train so we’ll definitely get onto at least one of them. I don’t know if this is the case for the long distance inter-city trains as well, but at least at this station they didn’t like people waiting on the platforms before the train is actually in the station for some reason. When the second train rolled in about 20 minutes later therefore, after having your ticket checked there was a massive charge for the train. We were quite near the back of the queue, so thankfully we got through and onto the train, but by that time there were no free seats so we had to sit on the floor for the hour journey.

IMG_1025Upon arrival at Badaling, we were faced with two options of actually ascending to the Wall: we could get a cable car, or we could walk. From the bottom, the mountainside looked pretty high and steep, so we went for the cable car choice. In hindsight, it was probably a bad idea as there was a 2 hour wait to get on (didn’t know that when we got the ticket), so by the time we reached the front of the queue we were frozen and pretty fed up. We later came down the other way, and if I went back would take that option over the cable car as it didn’t actually seem too bad.

The cable car ride was a short 5 minute trip. After exiting at the top, we were led straight out onto the wall.

It really is magnificent. My first thought was stupidly “it’s just like in the pictures!”. What a muppet! The feeling though was similar to that of seeing the Tiananmen; the marvel at seeing in real life the famous images that you only ever thought you’d see in photos.

IMG_1045It stretched out into the distance, clinging to the rolling hills; as we were frozen from the wait, we decided to start walking. One thing you don’t get from the photos is just how steep it is in places, it was a proper workout, especially with so many layers! It obviously wasn’t designed for European bodies, as my head was constantly above the side of the walls offering protection from the wind, so I had to do a lot of ducking!

We walked along one side of the Wall and discovered that going much further in that direction would lead to the exit, which we weren’t quite ready for. We could see in the distance the Wall stretched for a long way in the other direction, so we decided to head over that way and see how far we could walk. The section the other side of the cable car exit was the steepest part yet and raised up to a tower on a peak; having struggled to the top we questioned the wisdom of continuing in that direction as the next part seemed even more undulating and we weren’t sure if we fancied the trek back up to this highest point! Instead, we treated ourselves to some Haribo and admired the view.

IMG_1058Near the exit, they’ve installed a little ride, like an electric toboggan, presumably to get back to the bottom in style. Helen had wished to go sledding on the ice at the Summer Palace the day before, but we’d decided against it as it was too expensive for what it was. Because of that, I promised that we could go on the toboggan when we went down. When we were at that side before, there was no queue. On our return however, it seemed the tour groups all had the same idea as us as the queue was enormous! Alas, once again we had to leave disappointed as by this time we had to try to get back to the station as the trains were sporadic, and we wanted to get back to Beijing in time to see some Chinese acrobatics before we left.

The train station at Badaling was even smaller than Beijing North, and rather than a structured queue there again was a free for all. When the train approached, the ticket inspectors came out and started letting people into a little pen, and the bundles began. There were two full blown arguments, and would have led to fights if others hadn’t held the perpetrators apart. Babies were screaming, and Helen drew my attention to a little girl by her wasit who was in danger of being crushed in the melee. It really isn’t a sensible system, and very dangerous. Making it through the rat run we ran for the train, and as luck would have it someone left his seat just as we were walking to it so we were able to ride the hour back to Beijing in relative comfort.

IMG_1063On the way, we checked the guide book to find the best place to catch some evening entertainment. We settled on a place recommended which happened to be just round the corner from our hotel. We headed straight there to buy a ticket for the evening before grabbing some dinner; when we arrived, we were told there were only single seats remaining on separate tables, and that they’d be a whopping 300 yuan each! We’d probably spent only a bit more than that on our whole trip! Sadly for the third time, we had to go away disappointed. We have dual entry visas, so I promised that we see something when we return the second time.

We had a dinner of Peking duck (we had to really) and ate some street food for pudding, and headed back to the hotel for a nightcap before our early rise to get back to the airport the next day.

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