Sunday, October 7, 2012

Great Wall'in

Our last day in the city, we hired a private car "for the day" through our hotel to take us to the great wall, which at 800 RMB was nearly as economical as any of the tours on offer, which were in the 250 RMB range per person and included at least one "shopping" stop. We decided to visit the wall at Mutianyu, which is about an hour and half outside the city. This part of the wall had everything that we were looking for, including sections where we didn’t see any tourists. We awoke to a hazy, smoggy day - surprisingly, our first such day in Beijing, but when we made it out of the city the sky had cleared at least enough to see some blue!

Because we wanted to get up the hill and onto the wall early before it got busy, we took the cable car instead of the 45 minute hike. This proved to be a wise decision as we ended up hiking on the wall for about 4 hours, making a few stops for rest but otherwise just trying to enjoy the views.

Thanks to living on a hill in San Francisco, we were ready to take on the steepest parts of the wall.

The best part was getting to the section that wasn’t restored and seeing how the wall withstood the test of time.

On the furthest section, we met a couple of groups of people that had spent the night on the wall and were heading back. We were a little jealous that we hadn’t done that, but still really enjoyed our visit. The second best part of our visit was seeing Scott and Juli pose gangam style on the wall:

Getting down from the wall was perhaps the most entertaining part of our day. There is a toboggan setup to let you ride/slide down the hill from the wall for 60 RMB (about $10). Unfortunately, the guy in front of Scott went too slow and Scott tried to yell at him to speed up, which only made him more nervous and slow down. It was a lot of fun to put the throttle all the way forward and lean into the turns, just to see how fast you could go - while we had hoped to get some videos we didn't bring our flip camera, so to get an idea of what its like, you'll have to make do with somebody else's:

On our way back to Beijing, we had our driver take us by the Olympic Park so we could see the stadiums from the 2008 Olympics. When we arrived at the Olympic Park, the driver informed us that his 8 hours would be up soon so we would have to head back to the hotel. When the hotel said we had the driver "all day", we forgot to clarify what that we told him to go ahead and we'd make our way back ourselves. At least when we explained the confusion to the hotel, they offered us a free taxi ride to the airport the next day! We spent an hour or so walking around the park and admiring the Birds Nest and Watercube from the outside. Entering the stadiums was an option but seemed a bit too pricey for us (the Watercube is now a waterpark with a funny English name...something like Happy Magic Watercube Waterpark). I assume they'd look better lit up a night with color, during the day they seem a bit drab and dirty in person, though its still a pretty interesting looking stadium.

For our final dinner China, we wanted to get Peking duck. Both before our travels and during, two separate people had recommended a particular restaurant called Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant, so we decided to give it a try. Finding it though was the hard part (at least for us), as it is located in a hutong so our handy google map on our phone was not much help, but at least put us in the right vicinity. After trying about 4 different hutongs, asking random people and getting pretty random directions back, we finally found it. Apparently there is a much easier way to get there, we just happened to approach from the opposite direction. In any case we were warmly received and sat down to a very tasty meal, especially some of the appetizers (spicy eggplant).

Since I don't have anything to compare it to, I can't really rate the Peking Duck other than to say it was pretty tasty and we finished everything. The place did have some unique 'charm' - as it is located in a hutong, if you need to use the restroom you use the public one in the alley, and this particular restroom was unique in that there were four squat toilet holes nicely aligned inside one little room, with no doors or separators between, it was the most public toilet we had encountered to date pretty much anywhere we have ever traveled. I'm not sure Mom & Dad would have been able to handle that one :).

To cap off the evening and our stay in China, we went up to Ho Hei bar street, with several indoor/outdoor bars located around a nice lake, music blaring lots of it acoustic covers of popular songs. While the list prices at these bars are around 4x what you pay for beers elsewhere, with minimal haggling those prices got cut in half, and we enjoyed a few beers outside, listening to music and playing some dice games until it was time for Todd & Juli to turn it in. We met some local folks one of whom spoke some English and Scott stuck around with them until closing and then out for some late-night food, and didn't even wake us when we got back to the hotel.

The next morning we said goodbye to Scott and hopped in our comped taxi towards (literally) the biggest airport we had ever seen in our lives, to make the 11 hour trip from Beijing to SFO and home. And of course waiting for us at the airport was a welcoming party:

Juli's journey was not quite over...our flight from Beijing landed at 8:30am, and Todd's parents had brought Juli's work computer and roller bag to trade for her backpack...she was on a 9:30am flight to Washington DC for a work trip, putting her almost exactly on the opposite side of the world from China on her return!

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