Climbing the Great Wall
What a day to visit the Great Wall of China! We headed out early to the Badaling section from the Ming Dynasty, which is the most restored portion of the Wall. Going early helped beat the crowds and they were substantial on this beautiful day. Crowds notwithstanding, it was everything I thought it would be and more.
It’s hard to visualize the experience – in words or photos.
The mountains are beautiful and because it’s early spring, the trees are still leafless and the slopes are filled with peach trees in white bloom. When you see the PR pictures of the Wall it is usually against a rich green tree line, but our view was more monotone with layered shades of distinction. In person, it was beautiful; in the photos it loses much of its contrasts and looks almost like frost in the surrounding hills. Speaking of frost, there were still some piles of dirty snow pressed up against the rock walls outside the Wall entrance; it has been a cold winter here. The early morning light and brown/beige palette was not conducive to great photos, but did improve as the morning went on and the blue sky got brighter.
The best thing we did was break from the masses and take the long hike straight up the South side. We climbed and rested, climbed and rested, then climbed some more; shedding layers of clothing along the way. I was proud of us for being one of only a few to make it up to the highest watchtower – about a mile away. Part of the walkway is sloped and parts are uneven steps of various heights (the better to thwart nighttime invaders). Breathing was compromised on the way up, and coming down had the fear factor going for it. I’m sure I will feel the consequences tomorrow. But the view was nothing less than majestic and the feeling exhilarating.
On the way back to Beijing, we stopped to see the much quieter Juyong Guan portion and enjoy a excellent and substantial Chinese lunch at the Commune by the Great Wall, a boutique hotel located near an un-restored area of the Wall. We both tasted everything (and consequently probably had way too much). The eggplant was incredibly good and our favorite, but the dumplings and sweet/sour chicken were close runners-up.
As predicted, we are being stopped for pictures with Chinese tourists who seem to enjoy getting Americans to pose with them (often while they pose making peace signs). It’s all in good fun, and we don’t mind, even though it does make one feel a bit like a circus freak or better yet a Hollywood star without the autograph.
In the afternoon we toured the expansive Summer Palace and picturesque grounds. The wind picked up over the lake and a haze seemed to have settled in. We started with a ride on a colorful dragon ferry boat around Lake Kunming and saw all the famous spots such as the Marble Boat, Longevity Hill, and the beautifully painted (and now restored) Long Corridor reputed to be the world’s longest covered walkway. The colors here are so rich and the artwork painted along the corridor and in the buildings is charming. Along the way our local Tauck guide explained the history, excesses and intrigue surrounding the Empress Dowager Cixi. She sure was a nasty piece of work.
We were pretty exhausted as our driver fought the late Friday afternoon traffic back to our downtown hotel. My husband and I decided to stay close to home for a light dinner, so we went across the street to the Peninsula Hotel’s lovely Chinese restaurant Huang Ting where we shared some wok-fried shrimp and vegetables, along with some fried noodles with chicken. Delicious.
Tip of the day- train on a max elevated treadmill setting before climbing the Great Wall.