The Great Wall

We had a wake-up call for 6:30 but didn’t need it. I was up at 4 and Brad was awake not much later. We were dressed and heading down to the lobby to send an e-mail to the kids when we met Jon and Karen in the elevator. We decided to get breakfast first, but because it was only 6:20 and the dining room didn’t open until 6:30 they wouldn’t let us. The four of us wandered down the spiral staircase to the lobby, chatted a bit, and sent e-mails to our respective kids. Both retired teachers, they soon became honorary members of the Conestoga gang.

Breakfast was interesting, to say the least. Buffet style, they served everything from garlic-flavoured Chex (glad I didn’t put them in my yogurt!), “beef intestinal” something (sausage), noodles, spring rolls, eggs, shrimp, and many other things that rarely find their way onto the breakfast plate of a North American. The four of us all had pretty simple meals, although some of our travel mates were daring enough to sample some of the traditional Chinese options.

It was a beautiful day as we headed to the Great Wall.  We were supposed to visit the Imperial Palace and Tiananmen Square, but it turns out that museums are closed on Mondays, and since the Imperial Palace is classified as a museum the schedule had to be rearranged a bit. It seemed like a lot of other tour companies switched their schedules too, because the closer we got to the Badaling section of Great Wall the slower the traffic moved. After sitting in this roundabout for almost an hour, we all got off the bus and walked up the road a bit to a shuttle bus.

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The traffic delay really limited our time to explore the Great Wall so we wasted no time once we got there.The wall itself is amazing. It went as far as we could see in both directions. We chose to do the less traveled path … a little less scenic, but steeper and much less crowded. The position of the late morning sun also made for better pictures from that side! As we started up, the incline combined with the unevenness of the rocks had a bit of a dizzying effect on a few of us. That quickly passed and up we headed.

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Barb and Carol were with us, and after many pauses for picture taking and breathers, the four of us made it to the top. At one point Brad stopped to sit down for a few minutes and found himself surrounded by four teenage Chinese girls who wanted to take pictures with him. Who knows whose Facebook pages he’s on now with their memories of the Great Wall.

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Jon and Karen joined us on the way down. The downward slope was a bit challenging, and we all appreciated that there were handrails and that we had shoes with good tread. We hadn’t realized the steepness of parts of the climb, although the need for frequent breathers on the way up should have been a clue!

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Jon, with his Phys Ed background, reminded us that “knees bent and legs apart” would help keep us in control. It really did make a difference. Safely back at the bottom we can now say “We’ve climbed the Great Wall”!

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Getting out of the area was much easier than getting in. All the traffic had dissipated and we were at our Dim Sum lunch in no time. This one was above a Cloisonn√© factory that makes the enameled pottery often associated with Chinese statues. We watched the young women working on various stages of the process … gluing on small copper wires, filling the spaces with enamel paint, smoothing the surface, and then adding the final finish. It was delicate work, very painstakingly done.

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The meal was much the same as last night, and our Table 1 companions were great. I didn’t tell anyone, but I swear that one of the ‘tidbits’ that I ate was a very crunchy cricket. I didn’t ask, so I’ll never know for sure! From that point on, any meat that we sampled but weren’t sure of its origin had to be “chicken”! It made it much easier for us to enjoy our dining experiences.

From there we went to the Ming Tombs. Jack our tour guide chatted on about more details than I was able to process at the moment. I guess the jet lag was finally catching up with me. We toured the tombs first and then were given a bit of time outside. The grounds were beautiful and I’d have much rather just wandered around the area and found a quiet spot in the shade to sit and take it all in.

IMG_3349The back of the bus people (Fran and Doug, Jon and Karen, and us) all decided to have a late afternoon ‘bus’ pejeho to help cool down after a hot afternoon in the sun. Imagine that … being allowed to drink a driver-sold beer at the back of the bus while your tour guide regales you with a sales pitch for little jade-handled Chinese zodiac ink stamps that we could take home to our families. (Jean told us later that this sales pitch has been a part of these tours for years … friends of hers experienced it three or four years ago.)

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After another Dim Sum dinner, this one better than any of the others so far, we boarded Bus 1 for another traffic clogged ride back to the hotel. It had been a long day … about 12 hours that we were out and about. It turned out that most days once we left the hotel in the morning, we were not brought back until all the activities of the day were complete … no chance to shower and change before dinner. It made that late afternoon ‘back of the bus pejeho’ that much more tempting!

We stopped in at Jean and Kathy’s room for a nightcap. A bit of Drambuie and pleasant conversation is always a great way to end the day.

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