Thursday, April 25, 2013

The GREAT Great Wall

What a wonderful day we had today!  Unlike yesterday’s visit to The Forbidden City, this was one of those Travelin’ Lundburys “BEST Travel Days Ever!”

We had arranged for a local guide Joe Qiao to take us to the the Great Wall and the Summer Palace today.  He picked us up at our hotel right at 8 a.m. for the 1 1/2 hour drive to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.  It was a nice drive out of the very smoggy city into the countryside, and Joe pointed out several interesting sights along the way.  He’s a great guide--wonderful personality, very good English, full of knowledge, and kind and thoughtful to boot.   

Our first sight of the Great Wall off in the distance was so exciting!  Joe parked the car, and we walked to the ticket area and bought our tickets for the wall and the tram ride up.  The tram ride up gave us some good views of the wall snaking over the mountains in each directions.  It’s very pretty countryside--steep mountains covered with pine trees and flowering wild peach trees.

Our first view of The Great Wall of China:

View from the tram on the way up:

View from the tram terminus:

We were very glad that Joe wisely suggested an early start from Beijing, as we almost had the wall to ourselves for the first hour.  We LOVED it--we could hardly believe that we were really walking on The Great Wall of China.  Joe walked along with us for about half an hour, explaining the history of the wall and giving us some fascinating little tidbits of information--he is a wealth of knowledge! 

Walking along the wall towards the steps up:

Close up of construction of the wall:

David on the wall!

Walking on the top of the wall--looking into the distance

The wall doesn't follow this ridge--but there are lookout towers built on the ridge

The wall, snaking off into the distance:

Here we are!  

Soon Joe returned to his car and David and I continued on along the wall, stopping many times to take pictures and enjoy the amazing views in every direction.  We walked for a couple of hours, up steep stairs and hills, past several guard towers.  The guard towers were interesting--they were also used as a sleeping area for the guards when not on duty.  For us, they were a nice, cool respite from the hot sun!   At one guard tower we took the steep, worn stairs to the top--what a breathtaking view!

Here are several views along the wall:

We turned around after an hour or so, taking our time on the way back, soaking up every minute of our wonderful walk on the amazing, incredible Great Wall.  We are so lucky!

After our ride back down the tram, we walked the usual “gauntlet” of vendors, stopping to buy the absolutely required “I Walked the Great Wall t-shirts!  The vendors here were VERY aggressive--grabbing our arms, blocking our way and following us down the hill.  It’s all part of the experience, and we had great fun bargaining for some treasures!

Joe was right there waiting for us with a big smile on his face--what a nice guy he is.  We drove back towards Beijing, stopping at a local restaurant for a delicious lunch.  After lunch we drove the short distance to The Summer Palace, where Joe thoughtfully let us off right at the entrance gate, then went to park the car before joining us.

Construction on the Summer palace began during the Jin Dynasty (1120’s) and continued through many succesive dynasties.  The present day configuration of gardens, palace and courtyards were finished in the Qing Dynasty (1700’s).  There have been many restorations since, with major restorations taking place after invasion and ransacking by French and British armies in the mid 1800‘s. 

Here we are, enjoying a short break in a pretty pagoda:

We wandered the paths through the park, walking towards the palace compound.  It was VERY windy today, and the large lake was very choppy and the willow tree branches were really whipping around!  Along the way to the palace Joe once again gave us great information about the history and building of the palace.  We were a little short on time, so we couldn’t wander the whole area (and my legs probably would have complained anyway!)

The Summer Palace compound is much like others we have visited--but the decorations were a bit “grander”.  The most impressive feature is the long corridor--the longest covered corridor in the world.  Built in the mid 1700’s,  the corridor is 728 meters(or 2388.5 feet!) in length!--that’s over 7 football fields!  It is beautifully painted, and each of its main support beams it painted with a different scene--over 1400 in total.  We walked along the full length, listening to Joe’s stories about palace history and enjoying the pretty views over the lake and gardens.

Beautiful long corridor--the longest in the world:

Detail of the beautiful decorative painting along the corridor:

David and Joe touching a big incense burner for good luck!

Scenes from around the park and palace:

Tall pagoda in the distance:

A temple on the palace grounds:

Pretty and ornate entrance (and exit) gate:

We were now near the exit gate, and Joe explained that normally we he would hire a boat to take us back to the entrance where his car was parked.  Not today--the lake was too rough for boats.  So dear Joe showed us the short path to the exit gate and suggested we sit, relax and enjoy a cup of coffee while he walked the 45 minutes back to get the car.  We didn’t sit and relax, but we did explore along the path a bit more, then wandered out of the park to meet Joe.  Perfect timing--Joe was right there!

It was a long drive in rush hour traffic back to our hotel, but Joe is a good driver, so we just sat back and relaxed!  We asked Joe for some dinner suggestions for good Peking Duck, and he drove us right to the restaurant fairly near our hotel.  He said this restaurant is one preferred by locals--and that’s a good recommendation for us!  We said a quick goodbye to Joe, we’ll see him again on Saturday when he takes us to the Peking Acrobat Show.

We were greeted by two lovely young hostesses, and we had a small wait for a table--this place--it was very busy!  While we were waiting a woman next to me started a conversation--she was born in China, but moved to the US 40 years ago, and just recently moved back to Beijing.  She was very interesting to talk to and had some great suggestions for us.

Finally we were shown to our table, and we ordered our dinner--Roast Duck (their specialty), stir fried spring pea shoots and soy fried rice.  Our dinner started with a small “amuse-bouche” of fresh strawberries set on a bed of crushed ice with dry ice underneath, so it was gently “smoking”.  They were refreshing, delicious--and very pretty!

Our pea shoots arrived first--they were very good.  Next came our duck--presented to us for approval by a “carver” in a tall white hat.  He then took it to a small cart nearby and started carving--it’s quite a show!  The roast duck is accompanied by a small tray of assorted condiments and two steamer baskets of thin crepes.  Our sweet waitress showed us just how to assemble these tasty little morsels--with chopsticks, of course.  Not surprisingly, she was a little better at it than we were!

The verdict on dinner?  The pea shoots were delicious, the rice was the best we’ve had.  The duck was moist and had a great flavor; but the skin, which is considered the best part, was a little too fatty for us.  The service was impeccable, and we really enjoyed the entire dinner.  It was a wonderful dining experience for less than $45--a real bargain even for these frugal travelers.

We decided we were just tooooo tired to walk the several blocks back to the hotel, so asked the hostess to call us a taxi, thinking she would just pick up the phone.  Nope!  She walked us to the street, down two long blocks (gently holding my arm the entire way), all the while looking for a taxi.  Finally she spotted one, flagged it down, and made sure we were safely tucked in.  Is that great service or what?!  She refused the tip I gratefully offered, and in her cute accent thanked us for dining with them.  What a nice ending to our perfectly wonderful day in Beijing.

It had been a truly memorable day, and we both know how lucky and blessed we are to see and experience such wonders.  This day will be hard to top!


Deb Special day from beginning to end.....
Brenda Lewis Oh my goodness, the Great Wall of China. I loved hearing about your experience and your dinner of duck, strawberries and peas. Might I mention I really enjoyed that one picture of you and David. He has his hat on backwards and your peeking around his shoulder..priceless. I like the one of you at the great wall too. Joe is wonderful and the tee shirt experience. Interesting about the palace too Di....

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