Things improved somewhat yesterday evening when we came down at 6 p.m. after a much needed rest. We were met by “Terry” (Chen Tsiaochen) our guide, and it looks like we’re the only ones on the tour. He’s very friendly with good English, unlike the hotel staff. That said, the rooms are clean and comfortable, with good air conditioning, and breakfast this morning was fine, with a wide selection of food on offer.
We set off around 8.45 to see the Great Wall, which lies to the north of Beijing. The section of the 6,700km long wall we were brought to runs along the top of a series of hills. We took the easy way up via cable-car and ascended into the misty hilltops.
It was remarkable there. You see images of the Wall on TV and in books and magazines, but the reality of this solid stone structure stretching away as far as you can see cannot be truly captured that way. We walked about two thirds of the section that’s open to the public, both Adam and Cora doing really well with the often uneven and steep steps and walkways. We descended by foot through pine trees and a stone garden full of strangely shaped rocks. My legs were getting shaky by the end – not enough exercise no doubt to blame 🙂
We continued on to have lunch at a Friendship store, a state-run souvenir shop, though emporium might better describe it 🙂 We had a fixed menu lunch which had more than enough “normal” Chinese food dishes to fill us up. We then wandered among the silks, paintings, jade carvings, and other assorted wares, though we left empty-handed.
Our next stop was the Ming Tomb area, where 13 emperors of the Ming dynasty built their tombs. It’s a huge area, but there’s only one tomb that has been excavated and is open to the public – the Ding Ling tomb. There are three surrounding courtyards planted with pines and cypresses leading up to the Soul Tower and the tomb itself – a palace buried beneath the hill. The exact entrance wasn’t discovered until the 1950’s, when a stone tablet was found that gave the exact direction and distance to the entrance. Archaeologists excavated according to these directions, and found a thick wall, behind which was the underground palace with several chambers. These held the coffins and thrones of the Emperor and his two Empresses, as well as precious artefacts.
On our trip back to the hotel we had a brief stop at a jade factory, where we discovered how to differentiate between jade, glass, and marble. After wandering around another large shop full of jade items, where we again bought nothing, we headed back to the hotel.
Despite the 32 degree heat and high humidity we had a great day. We were pretty tired, so we just chilled out before heading down for dinner in the hotel restaurant, which was fine. A brief trip out to find a working ATM was followed by a relaxing drink in the front courtyard of the hotel, while Adam & Cora played with the sprinklers 🙂 Tomorrow, Tianemen Square and the Forbidden City!