Started this morning with breakfast at the hotel. After learning from last night’s overpriced buffet situation, I decided to order off the menu. I have tea and oatmeal and it still cost almost $20. I still had a little time before the day’s sightseeing started, so I wandered out to the hotel garden and took some pictures.
About 8:30 I met Graham and David (the 2 MSFT UK guys) in the lobby. Our tour guide found us and took us out to our car driver. Our tour guide’s name is Amanda (go figure, what are the odds?) She explained that we will head out to the section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. She says that it is less commercial than closer sections in Beijing. On the way out of the city we passed the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube venues from the 2008 Olympics. I continue to be amazed at how clean and modern the city we have seen so far is. Today the weather is Beijing is much clearer and sunnier than it was yesterday. On our way out, Amanda explained how the ring road we are travelling is built where the old city walls once stood. There were several sets of walls in Beijing to separate the Forbidden City, Royal City, etc. About half an hour out of town, we got off the expressway and headed toward the mountains. On the way we passed many local families have picnics next to fishing ponds.
The Great Wall
We arrived at the car park and out driver let us out. We gave Amanda our money and she went and got tickets for both the Great Wall and the cable car to the top (we didn’t have time to hike it, at least that was our excuse). We walked up a narrow steep incline lined on both sides with vendors selling souvenirs. I had been warned about these in my reading online and carefully didn’t make eye contact and wasn’t hassled too bad.
We got on a cable car and headed to the top.
At the top, Amanda told us we had about an hour and fifteen minutes to wander and that she would meet us at the Cable cars. She does this 2-3 times a week and wasn’t interested in walking it. David, Graham and I began to understand why as we headed down a steep section of wall and steps. We had one thought in our heads…wait a minute, we’re going to have to come back up these steps.
The Great Wall was simply spectacular and I can’t believe I stood on something manmade that can actually be seen from outer space.
We walked for about 3/4 of a mile down the wall before turning and beginning the trek back up. Lots of steps and climbing later, we were back where we started albeit hot and tired. We still had about 30 minutes so we found a spot on the steps and contemplated the view.
We came back down on a cable car used by the Dali Lama.
Tired and starting to feel a little “peckish” as David said, we were picked up by our driver and headed back to Beijing. Amanda took us to a restaurant near Tiananmen Square. We feasted on sliced pork, fried lotus root, sautéed asparagus with mushroom and steamed rice while watching a Peking Opera puppet show. The entire meal for 4 cost about $20.
After lunch, we headed over to Tiananmen Square. It is huge and can hold about half a million people. It is also where Chairman Mao’s body is on exhibit but that was over for the day when we got there.
After walking across the square, we headed through the gates into the Forbidden City. Over a hundred years ago the emperor would have had anyone entering unauthorized put to death. As a matter of fact, he would also kill the offender’s wife, kids, parents, neighbors, etc. After hearing that, I doubt he had a lot of trouble with unexpected visitors.
The Forbidden City was absolutely spectacular. Almost impossible to describe in beauty and size. We not only toured the grounds but paid extra to see the Palace Treasures exhibit. There was much priceless gold, jade and other art objects and jewelry.
At one point, we passed the following and couldn’t resist taking a picture. Notice that it is NOT a blue screen!
By this point, tired but impressed by all we’d seen, we piled back into the car for the last time and headed back to the hotel. The driver pointed out a good restaurant near our hotel that we plan to try for dinner. Once at the hotel, we settled with Amanda for her fee and the car and driver. It came to 1200 RMB for the day (about $175). All in all, split 3 ways and adding the total cost for food and entrance fees, the day came to about $100 per person. I can highly recommend hiring a guide and driver as a way to see Beijing. If nothing else, having someone drop you off and pick you up at the attractions saves time. It’s also nice to have someone else help you make the decisions and buy the tickets.
Not sure what is in store for tomorrow. I’m planning to tag along with Graham and David to a meeting with one of the Chinese Banks. Other than that, I might have to hit the Silk Market for some shopping. Me shopping, I know you are shocked. Stay tuned.