So today is the day that I can finally say I've been to China, I have climbed the great wall. And its also the day that I can start dreading the 9 Feb as the day I'llnot only have to do it again but for 10km over four hours...
As usual with Nikki and Tonyplanning things, the day did not start smoothly. They had been told by the mob they'd booked the tour with (even making this decision had taken quite some time and phone calls yesterday) that wewould be picked up at 6:30 am but the bus driver would also provide a wake up call.
At 6:20am as I was almost ready Nikki knocked on my door to tell me that there was a change of plans. The tour mob had called them at 4:30am saying they were up the road and would be around in 20minutes and this was of coursenot what they had promised so Nikki and tTony said no thanks, contacted the guy whos business card had prompted them to book this company (waking him as well I presume) and then decided the company must be dodgy so we wouldn't go with them
They then couldn't get back to sleep and waited until 6:20 to tell me. And then started to decide how we would get out there. I would have thought we'd go back to plan B which was a tour company at Tiananmen square that had buses leaving regularly from 6:30am to 10am and would also include the Ming Tombs. But by now tony had decided he wanted breakfast and got a hold of one of our taxi drivers from yesterday who hadoffered a price to be our driver for the day and we would be picked up at 8am.
So we set off down the road to MacDonalds forbreakfast and stopped in at"our" bakery to grab some stuff for lunch as well. After breakfast we walked back to the hotel to wait for the driver. I spotted some white (not chinese) ladies in the hotel foyer so while Nikki went to the bathroom I sat up inthe foyer and waited for the chance to have a conversation with some new people... As expected theopportunity came while this mother and daughter were waiting to get checked in and were finding the staff as competent and willing to please (not) as we had when wechecked in.
They were from Colorado although the daughter was working in Shanghai (though not as an english teacher as Nikki and I bother separately asked) but for an international shipping company. So I chatted to them for a while and then their room was ready (or so they thought - turns out it was actually someone elses...I think they were regretting their hotel choice by this point)
Then our driver arrived and we were (finally) off to the Great Wall...
Its about an hour or so's drive out to the section of wall we decided to visit. We knew that this particular section is the most visited by turists and may be busy but because we also wanted to see the Ming Tombs it was the best option.
When we arrived at the wall, before we even had time to get out of the cab we were surrounded by people selling gloves, hats and of course olympic memorabilia (i think thats fake unless you get it from the shop)
We tried to explain that we were all rugges up and ready to go and of course had to makle a detour for poor old Nikkis bladder. Although in retrosepct she did quite weel to not have to g again until we came down.
We had already seen the wall as we drove in and pictures just don't do it justice. It truly is amazing and at the same time quite stupid as it seems to just ramble round in circles before heading back in another direction... I admire Olivia Newton John and the rest of her party as they head to walk the entire length of the wall in April. I am also already dreading my 4 hour hike looming later this week.
Despite the clearly sign posted cable car option only 200m away and Nicoles earlier intention that this was how we would head up Tony had spoken to her about a quote (whcih for the record I think he may have misinterpreted) that referred to a visit to the wall doesn't count unless you climb to it. I think he added the "to" part and the quote refers to walking on the wall.
But anyway, off we headed about 600m back up the road we just came up, past the token starbucks, paid for our tickets and took our first steps on to the Great Wall of China (side note - the story that the wal can be seen from space is actually an old wives tale as Nikkis students told her and I later confirmed in my Lonely Planet... kropfact for today :P)
Once we were on the wall we had to decide whether to go left or right whcih of course led to a philosophical discussion about the merits of both options :P Eventually I won paper rock and scissors and decided we would go right as it looked as though the cable car station was that way and I for one wanted a lift down.
Off we set and within minutes my gloves were off and I was glad that I only decided to wear thermal leggings and one shirt... It was still freezing of course as I discovered later when I'd put my gloves away and needed to use the handrail - metal and cold wind = very cold metal.
As we headed along the wall we kept passing people wantin to sell us high quality jumpers with simple black stencils "I climbed the great wall", I'll think about my luggage stuation when I go next time, I now have an idea of what price to ask as we bought jumpers for Mel and Liam who hadn;t been able to grab them when they hiked the wall earlier in the week.
It was definitely a breathtaking experience - both in the view and the freezing cold air particularly once we got up to higher levels and it barrelled through the gaps in one side of the wall or the tunnels you had to go through from tower to the next section of the wall. We also had to walk on the side of the wall with higher bits (holes) as Tony was concerned Nikki would get blown over the edge.
I have to admit I wished for a while there I had a sturdy young male companion there to help me through the steep bits like Nikki (I did feel a bit sorry for Tony though) but in the end the steel guide rail (admittedly at my knee height of course) had to the do the job in the tougher sections.
As we gt higher and higher we could see the cable cars looming closer so knew we had to be on right path. We had been told we needed to get to "level 8" and by about level 6 I was a bit concerned about how far we had to go. In distance it wasn't too far but the wall seemed to be getting steeper and steeper (although I took photos to prove this as I knew people would just say I was a wus, and it turns out I am - the pictures done't look that bad at all). So even though I had to make a few stops along the way, including a couple of piles braving moments where I sat on the cold steps (didn't your mother/grandmother ever tell you sitting on cold cement gives you piles) I MADE IT!!! and of course now I'll have to do it all over again and on ever rugher terrain and for even longer.
So once we rejoiced that we;d made it to the top of level 8 it was time to find the cable car and head back down. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that the entrance was actually at about level 7 just before the worst part of the climb for me. So now not only did I have to brave freezing wind trying to push me off the great wall of china, I had to do it all over again while going down.
Any of you who knew me growing up will remember that stairs and I (flash back to Aunty Jos where theres no hand rail in parts and I still struggled at age 15 to get down them hleaning on the wall) (in fact heights and I) have never been the best of friends so you can imagine what a challenge this was for me, in particular when I tried to maintain my three points of contact and al I had was this guide rail at knee height. But still I made it and am stornger for it and am still having to do it all over again, lets see if Im as happy next time.
Once paid for our cable car ticket we had to walk through a long tunnel which acted like a wind tunnel and was bloody freezing and then had to jump in the car. Nikki and Tony either have never been in one before or don't remember ( I thought we did as a family once maybe too long ago) but neither of them were keen for me to sit in the front side facing part of the car with them so I had to "balance out the weight " and sit in the back. I was also reminded (byNikki) to please sit in the middle. The view on the way down was just as good from up hgh but I am glad that we (tony) decided to walk up rather than takethe chickens option.
After our descent we did some quickfire bargaining to get the jumpers we needed, Tony finally gave in and bought himself a little plaque saying he climbed the Great Wall and of course Nikki headed off for a wee walk while Tony and I headed back to the cab where the driver was having a little rest.
We then headed over to the Ming Tombs, the driver knowing where he was going and the rest of us just happy to be warm and on solid (albeit moving) ground. Once we arrived at the Ming tombs we could see there was more walking involved and I think Nikki and I were tempted to just give up now and head home. Instead we paid our entrance fee and went to look at one of teh tombs which has been excavated, and yes it did involve even more walking and stairs although our legs had somewhat recovered by this point I knew mine were probably not going to be cooperative in the morning.
Nikki tried to get Tony to give her a piggy back but this brilliant idea only lasted about 3 steps before he gave in.
It was defnitely interesting to see the museum and tombs but after the great wall we were all pretty buggered and not as ineterested as we could have been.
We decided to head back to Beijing, after a quick detour to a lake Tony had heard of and thought there may be iceskating on. Turned out it wasn't quite frozen and in summer theres actually a flying fox you can catch to an island in the middle (how do they make sure you don't let go, i hope your roped n) and then you catch a (tonys pronunciation yakt) yacht back to the shore.
On the way back to Beijing Tony asked the driver if he could take them to the bus station so he could purchase their tickets home for the 3rd. The driver wasn't really impressed and so followed about 2 hours of on and off whinging ( i don't know what about but I think it was related to us... It took so long to get back to Beijing although we thought we'd be back well within the time we'd hired him for it was 4 by the time we got back to the hotel so I understand him being upset.
So another side note - the traffic today was horrid, in a word. I shudder to think how the olympic athletes and officials plan to get around in August as I can't see there being much improvement by then. So for any of you knwoing people coming over, make sure they know to allow heaps and heaps of time and try to use the metro or hire a helicopter.
Once we got home we all battled sleep and decided to have an early dinner followed by an early night (unless a call came trhough from Mel and LIam to go out which I was considering despite my fatigue - luckily Liam was sick and an early night happened)
We decided to have hotpot and instead of using the guide book (after the less than favoruable reviews from everyone aboutthe duck place) we decided to try and find somwhere closer to home. After a couple of false starts as Nikki was looking for a specific type f place smilar to what she has in Ningbo, we found one about 200m from the hotel which was great.
Obviously the walk had made us all hungry as we demolished several servings of meat along with about 8 different types of vegetables, definitely a fan of hot pot!!!