Published: September 7th 2010September 2nd 2010
Date Thursday 2nd September 2010
Climate low 21c - high 32c
An action packed day today, with a visit to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, a visit to the Summer Palace and a close up look at the Olympic buildings. We had decided to organise a private car for the day as there was no other way to fit it all in. Our driver, John Guo, was put on to us by a friend working at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing who has used him as well. He charges 600 Yuan for a full day. We drove through some awesome countryside and it was evident that a lot of money had been spent preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games. A fair distance out of Beijing, in what felt like the middle of nowhere, we stumbled across a 4 lane highway with manicured lawns and trees planted with military precision. This turned out to be the access road to the Olympic rowing lake, which had not been used since!
Continuing through some small villages we arrived at Mutianyu, about 1½ hours from Beijing. This was recommended to us as having far less tourists. And I would
have to say it was a great choice. We didn’t want our experience of the Wall interrupted by hundreds of people jostling for position. John dropped us pretty much right at the gate and told us that he would be waiting when we were ready. We had a couple of options to get up to the Wall- 1400 steps over rugged and steep terrain in 29’C heat, or catch an enclosed cable car and enjoy the scenery on the relaxed ride up, saving our energy and legs for all the steps on the wall. Yep, you guessed it- we took the cable car! All up the entry and return cable car ride cost 230 Yuan (25 Y each for entry and 90 Y each for return cable car trip).
As we went up the relatively short cable car ride and emerged from the foliage we had our first glimpse of the Wall perched proudly atop the ridge. My first thought was of the ageless beauty the Wall exuded, as it stood majestically overlooking its subjects like a silent sentinel.
This section of wall that was open to the public stretches for approximately 4 kms with towers positioned at frequent intervals
as the Wall dipped and dived along the contours and hugged the ridgeline. The cable car disembarks close to tower 14 and we headed left towards the steep section since we were fresh. The wall was in very good repair on a whole, even though Shaun has to admit he broke a step as he climbed down a steep section later! We meandered along its back and took lots of photos as every angle gave you a different perspective and a perfect shot. We were lucky to have so few people on this section that it felt like we were almost alone up there. We made it to tower 20 after climbing a near vertical 420 steps and soaked in the views while our heart rate slowed back down to a semblance of normal. We could see the Wall continuing its protective embrace up the ridgeline but we turned around and headed back for the other section to explore. We ate our lunch with the wall as our backdrop and headed back down to find John.
Back in the John-mobile we made tracks for the Summer Palace, about a 2 hour trip from Mutianyu on the other side of Beijing.
This was the imperial retreat from Beijing’s summer heat, with gardens, lakes, hills and a 728 metre long elaborately painted corridor following the edge of the lake. We were dropped off at the East Palace Gate and followed the route that John recommnded through the Palace to the North Ruyi Gate. On the way we were only able to explore the Palace briefly due to our limited time. There are many things to see - such as the Hall of Jade Ripples, Long Corridor, Sea of Wisdom Temple, Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Garden of Virtue and Harmony - among others. The palace was positioned in a very tranquil setting, with temples hop-scotching their way up to the top of the hill and all overlooking the lake, with row boats sending ripples through the oversize water lilies. Empresses Cixi’s marble boat didn’t look very seaworthy but I guess it’s the thought that counts. We spent a quick 2 hours looking around the palace but could have easily spent a good half day exploring all the different gardens, temples, halls, galleries, towers and chambers.
Next stop was the 2008 Olympic stadiums, all conveniently located within one huge block. The buildings included
the ‘Birds nest’ stadium and the translucent blue swimming cube. These were amazing to look at close-up. John was saying these don’t get a lot of use since the Olympics- in fact the birds nest next use was for a chocolate convention! After a full day John dropped us back at the hotel happy little campers and he started his 1½ drive for home. As we needed to pack for our journey to London the next day - we opted for a meal in the hotel. Quite good value for sweet and sour pork and a spicy chicken dish - washed down with some sprite (added to our left over duty free!). Interesting to note that almost everything in China is cheaper than at home. We actually found a “junk mail” supermarket flyer in the back of a cab and found that although we have found restaurant prices very reasonable - the raw products are even cheaper - as you would expect. Some examples are -( in $NZ).
Tomatoes - 75c /kg
Sweet corn cobs - 40c/kg
Lettuces - 10c/kg
Chicken pieces - $1.75/kg
Grapes - $3.25/kg
Olive oil - $10/litre
Toilet rolls - $4.20 pkt of 10
stick - $10/4 GB
There are more photos below