Reporting from Jinqiao
12.01.2013 - 12.01.2013 -8 °C
So about 6am, I stirred when someone was trying to enter our hotel room, phew - it was just Mike, fresh off the redeye flight from Bangkok, freezing after enjoying a week of 30 degree days only to plummet to -10 degrees getting off the plane in Beijing. I'm not sure enjoying Bangkok was quite the right word, as he had been looking for a new job and subject to a number of interviews from schools all around the world! Fortunately he arrived with a job offer in hand, from a school in Düsseldorf. So lots to chat about!!
We went down for a quick breakfast when the kids woke up, and then back up to the room to rug up for our trip out of Beijing to the Great Wall of China. Yes, The Great Wall of China. The driver was waiting for us at 9am, and we started out to the country, interesting as not far out of Beijing there were quite a lot of snow drifts. Walking around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City yesterday, there was lots of snow which had turned to ice piles around trees and in shady corners, but clearly hadn't snowed for some time.
Finally we got to the Wall, at the Mutianyu section. We parked the car, and bought our tickets for the chirlift up, and then had the option of either coming down on the chairlift or riding down on a toboggan chute ride. As per usual in China, there were a number of stalls selling dongxi - souvenir stuff like T-shirts, plates, terracotta warriors, certificates stating 'I've climbed the Great Wall' and lots of dried fruit and nuts. We weren't quite in the purchasing state of mind as we hadn't yet made it to the top anyway, so apart from a cursory look we headed straight to the chairlift.
It was beautiful. The scenery was gorgeous and we could see the wall snaking around the mountainside as we climbed higher and higher. Then suddenly, we were there, the wall was within reach. As is always the way, we took dozens of photos and looked around right at the top of the chairlift, but really we needed to climb a flight of stairs and there we were, on top of a very fine wall. There were patches of ice and crusty old snow wedged into the edges between the pathway and the battlements, and also in some shady sections of the wall. We started out to try and reach one of the distant watch towers, but quickly realised with all the uneven steps and ups and downs it was really a bit too hard and far. What was also amazing was the distinct lack of crowds, I'm not in any way saying we were the only ones there, but we had space and were able to roam at our own pace.
The weather couldn't have been more perfect, we had a clear blue sky, the sun was shining, and despite the extreme pollution in Beijing on that day, it was clean and fresh out at Mutianyu. We were up there for almost 2 hours, just taking our time, admiring the view, and climbing up one watchtower. We were fortunate as well to be the only ones on the top for a few minutes, so with our trusty self timer, we took a group photo of just us!!
Then when we had done what we could, and were ready to get out of the cold, we rode the toboggan down, I went with Jie Jie and Mike took Didi down. It was good fun, and we got some speed up. We looked at the dongxi and bought a few little souvenirs, and then found our driver and went to the Schoolhouse for lunch. I was a bit disappointed with this highly acclaimed cafe, as I expected homestyle Chinese cooking, but it was western food, and posh cafe at that - you know, goats cheese tartlet type food. After lunch we got back into the car to head back to Beijing, and all fell asleep for a good section of the drive.
What struck us when we got back into Beijing was the lack of visibility... the pollution levels had gone off the charts, you could feel the grit in your eyes and mouth and it was filthy. Going into a shopping centre, the grit came too, shop assistants were wearing masks, street lights reflected in an aura of the particles in the air, my cough worsened immediately, and my hands felt dirty.
But we felt we had conquered something great for the day, and were glad to be back in our hotel and relaxing for the night!