06.07.2015 - 08.07.2015
I was up at the crack of dawn this morning well before my alarm clock and was up and ready to meet the others in the hotel lobby at 7am. We jumped on a minibus for a two hour journey to a stretch of the Great Wall of China called the Mutianu section which we're visiting today. Jackie told us some info about China for the first twenty minutes and then I nodded off waking up just as the bus pulled up.
Off the bus Jackie got our tickets for us and off we set up a path to get us to The Wall - wowsers, the thigh burn took me back a few weeks to the inca trail. The path was steps, hundreds and hundreds of steep steps which felt never ending but we persevered and huffed and puffed our way to the top where we got onto the Great Wall itself - wow what an amazing sight, it was a bit misty but we could see it snaking off over the mountains in the distance. The bit we were walking on is one of the Best preserved parts of he wall, this section was originally built in the sixth century but those foundations were built on in the 15th century to create the wall which is there today. The section we could walk on was lonely a few miles (so only a snippet of the wall considering it's entire length is over 13,000 miles) but it was pretty tricky, the wall is wide but it is very up and down and there are big steps, little steps, steep steps and no steps just slopes to contend with.
It's really amazing that they built this thing all those years ago, I strolled on with Elin and we kept wondering what the workers were thinking as they built it - we were imagining they'd finish what they were doing and say "right boss we're done" and then boss man would say, "well actually guys I want you to do another few hundred miles over that mountain there!" As well as the wall which is a couple of meters wide all the way there are also lots of watch towers, we went through 14 of them just on this stretch and they're not just little shelters, they're big structures with lots of corridors and windows, it was nice walking through the watch towers because it was quite warm as we were walking and we were all a bit hot and sweaty but the watch towers were lovely and cool. At one point me and Elin stopped to have a bit of a brunch picnic on one of the ledges on the wall which was rather pleasant. It took us about 2 n half hours to walk on to the farthest bit we could get to, although we were just strolling and stopping every few minutes to take photographs then we turned round and headed back. There were a few ways to get down to the bus drop off / pick up - either walk, take a cable car, a chair lift or a toboggan - of course I wanted to do the toboggan which was great fun. It wasn't very fast because you could pull on the brakes to slow down and people in front were slowing down to take selfies but it was still an ingenious way yo get down and a fantastic fun way to end a great morning.
We'd not all gone at the same pace so we had to wait at the bottom for a few people, randomly there was a subway (the sarnie shop) and a place next door that sold ice cream so I tucked into a scoop of toffee flavoured ice cream which was just what I needed to cool me down. Back on the bus I snoozed the entire two hour journey back.
Back in Beijing we didn't really have much rest time, we got back at 4.15 and had to be ready to go back out at 5.30 some of us have booked a cultural pack which is three different shows throughout the trip, the one tonight is a king fu show.
We met at 5.30 and headed to the bus - a very jam packed bus and go the four stops to the theatre - the bus fare is the Equivalent of 20p! First of all we head for something to eat at a Chinese restaurant where the others have a selection of stuff again, I had my own dish of lotus root, mange tout and black fungus (a type of mushroom) with boiled rice and it was lovely, we also had a beer - a 500ml bottle cost 50p - wow!! My entire meal cost £2.50 and I was stuffed as a stuffed thing! We called at a shop and bought an ice cream and drink to take into the theatre (my second ice cream of the day - oops, but it was hagan daaz summer berries and cream and was delicious and I needed it to cool down a bit - I happen to have caught the sun a bit today and have a lovely warm glow!!) and off to the theatre we went.
The show was really good, a mixture of kung fu, ballet and acrobatics - the story was about a young monk who was learning try art of king fu but got distracted by his own ego and temptation of a woman (women always get the blame!!) but in the end his perseverance won and he became the best he could. The dancing and the kung fu was fab, there were four very young lads doing it and they were doing backflips and somersaults and bouncing off they heads on the ground - it looked painful. It was a really good show. Afterwards we headed back to try bus and back to the hotel, it was only about 9.30 but we've had a tiring but fun day so all headed to bed.
Back to early morning wake ups, 5.30 this morning but then again I was tucked up early last night. We went to breakfast in the hotel this morning, it's the grandest looking breakfast room I've ever eaten in, it was very Art Deco although me and Elin decided it was all fake after knocking on a few panels. Breakfast was a bit random - tofu and mushrooms, tofu and cabbage, a steamed dumpling and noodles and the most rotten coffee I've ever tasted. We met the rest of the group at 8.30 in the hotel lobby and headed out to the metro. Our first stop of the day was Tiananmen Square, oh my god I've only seen so many people in one place at a stadium pop concert - there were thousands of people there, completely different from when came on Sunday. It took us ages to get through security and once we were in the square it was very crowded with a huge snaking line of people queuing up to see chairman Mao in the mausoleum, I think the reason it was so quiet the other day was because the mausoleum was closed. We walked round and took a few pictures but you couldn't quite see how big the place was with all the people in it, it was funny because the Chinese people kept taking pictures of us as a group and then started asking Ernest, Tammy and Elin for pictures - they were like celebs and at one point there were people queueing up for pictures taking with Ernest and Tammy - it was hilarious! . We stayed in the square for about half an hour and then headed to the Forbidden city across the road. Again there were thousands of people queuing up to get into forbidden city which is a massive palace complex which originally had 9,999 rooms - apparently, there are just over 8,000 rooms now so they've lost a few over the years. The complex was huge and there are six palaces inside and we made our way through to see them all, we couldn't actually get in to any of them but could wander through the court yards, the buildings were massive and very beautiful all painted in red (symbolising luck), blue (vitality), gold (power) and green (longevity)in the first few huge courtyards there was no shade and it was very hot - there aren't any trees because the emperors in the olden days were paranoid about assassination attempts and though that people could hide in trees to carry out such a task! The place was huge and very impressive but after a while you got a bit weary of seeing yet another beautiful red, gold, blue and green building.
It was interesting to hear about the emperor, empress and the concubines though - the emperor could have thousands of concubines and the empress would often help him choose them, she also had to great them all on a daily basis. If the empress did not produce a male heir, the son of the higher ranking concubines would become heir to the throne but would be taken from his mother and have to live with the emperor and empress. There was often trouble between the concubines with them killing each other or killing someone else's son if that child stood in the way of their son possibly becoming emperor.
There was a garden of sorts in the very middle of the complex, a part which was very secure and it was very pretty with lots of very old Cyprus trees, some rock gardens and lots of beautiful paving mosaics made out of tiny pebbles. It had been lovely but because it was so hot it was nice to get out of the place and head to the shade.
We hopped on a lovely air conditioned bus to our next stop which was lunch at a local family house - although there was a pretty big industrial sized cooker for just a normal house. The food was good, the others had a usual meat feast and I had rice with a squash dish and something else (it mustn't have been that memorable). Then we headed to a bell tower which was apparently closed for refurbishment (but open tomorrow if we want to go back!) so carried on the the Hutongs which are lots of narrow streets and was a really pretty little place which lots of little touristy shops and a lovely lake, we had about 45 mins to stroll round but we were absolutely melting so the only thing we actually bought was a frozen yoghurt and fruit and then went to sit in the shade. It was nice just watching the world go by there though.
We headed back to the hotel for a bit of a well earned cooling rest before getting ready to go out for dinner - I had half thought about not bothering and just staying in the hotel but I think that's cos I'd been hot and tired but I changed my mind and am glad I did, we went to a place famous for Peking duck which is what the others had, I had luan vegetables which turned out to be tofu and loads of different types of mushrooms - it was blummin delicious, I thought I'd struggle but I managed to polish the lot off. I had a beer and we also all shared a small bottle of rice wine - 46% proof! We all decided it reminded us of something - I suggested nail polish remover and everyone agreed - it was rancid!
After dinner me, Elin, Mary and Mariead walked to one of the markets which is famous for its weird food - like scorpions and octopus and starfish - giiiiiip!! It wasn't my favourite bit of the trip so far and as we were walking round a cockroach ran over my foot - perhaps he'd escaped certain death of being skewered and deep fried so I hope it ran fast survived!!!
After all that walking so I was glad to get back to the hotel land take the weight off my poor flip flopped feet!
Up well before the alarm again today, we've got a free day today before we head to Shanghai so there were a few options we could do. After I got up, ready and packed me and Elin headed to breakfast, we'd decided against the hotel breakfast this morning and headed round the corner to a bakery we'd seen. It did lovely coffee and I had a garlic bread thing (add that to the garlic on my tea last night - I bet I smell lovely!!) and a tiny little egg custard with blueberry- it was yummy.
We'd arranged to meet the others in the hotel reception at 9 to see what everyone fancied doing. Most of us thought the summer palace would be good so eight of us set off there. It took us about an hour on two tubes to get there and the place when we got in was beautiful and vast (like everything seems to be in Beijing!). We didn't manage our time very well there, we'd paid extra to go in four specific places but only got in two - there were lots of toilet stops and bits where we were just sat around, at one point I very nearly scooted off on my own because There were loads of places I wanted to look at but then thought I'd look like an unsociable bugger so I stopped with the rest of the crowd. The temples and palaces were amazing, particularly the temple of the fragrant Buddha where we had to go up hundreds of steps to get to, the view over the lake was fabulous but it was vey misty which someone said was smog. The temple housed a statue called the Buddha of a thousand hands - it didn't have a thousand hands, more like fifty! It would have been fab to have had a boat ride on the lake - there were some lovely gold dragon boats sailing across but we didn't have enough time. At 3.00 we had to start heading back to our hotel, and eventually found the subway jumped on and made our way back.
We were all a bit hot and sticky when we got back to the hotel, we'd all checked out but came up with the good idea to book a room and share the cost so we could all get in the shower - the hotel wanted the equivalent of £80 for the room but I found it on hotels.com of £53 - they told us to book it online but then the wifi appeared to stop working -luckily Jackie was able to book it for us for the same price so fifteen of us all managed to have a quick shower in the space of an hour - I'm sure that could be a Guinness world record or something! I was one of the first in the shower so afterwards nipped to the shop to get some provisions for the overnight train to shanghai tonight - I didn't really think it through, I bought a twelve pack of beer for us to share between us but didn't think that I'd have to actually carry said beer to the train station along with my case and rucksack - Durr!!
Loadened up we left the hotel and had to get on the tube for one stop - the tube stations are very secure and we have to put all our bags through a security scanner which happens to be on the smallest conveyor belt ever -by the time I'd got all my stuff on the belt my first bag - the bag of provisions had fallen off the other end of the conveyor belt and all the stuff in the bag went rolling over the subway station floor - oops! One stop later we were at Beijing train station which is the biggest station I've ever seen and has guards armed with rifles stood outside. The station was more like a huge shopping mall with loads of shops and restaurants and thousands of people milling about - turned out it seemed that most of them were getting on our train!! There was a bit of a mad rush as soon as the gate opened as everyone dashed to the train. On the train we were all in the same carriage, which was split into little compartments with six bunk beds (2 x triple level) in each, the compartments were open at one end with a corridor running through them. Our tickets said which bed we had - I was in one of the top bunks sharing a compartment with Mary, Elin, Mariead Jackie and Gary (we sound like the waltons!) we got our stuff packed in and got ourselves settled with our snacks and had a good old natter til lights out at 9.30. It was quite pleasant apart from the loos which were pretty grim and smelly - we had found a western loo which apparently was nicer than the hole in the floor in the other direction - yuk!!