Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Great Wall of China

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It was one of those perfect crisp fall days with a light breeze passing through the bright red and yellow leaves of the fall foliage. I felt like I was in Vermont or Massachusetts, but I wasn’t in New England- I was just two hours outside of Beijing at one of the coolest ancient sites I have ever visited: The Great Wall of China. It was a weekday in mid fall and there were hardly any other tourists around. I have heard so many stories of people’s experiences on the Great Wall both good and bad. While I may have certain qualms about other ancient historical sites I visited in China, this one was perfect.
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When visiting the great wall there are a few spots you can pick to visit from Beijing. I chose Mutianyu and would highly recommend it to others. It is a little farther from the city, but so worth it because it is not too crowded and the scenery is stunning. Mutianyu has to cable car rides, one enclosed, one open, much like a ski lift, that you can take to get up and down the hill to the wall. There is also a toboggan slide that you can take down the hill at the same point as the open gondola. The distance between the two gondolas is about 3.5 meters so a very nice walk (which is what I did) is to go up the open gondola, walk to the closed one, which is at a high point giving a good panorama and then walk back and take the toboggan down, a 7 meter trip in total (about 4.4 miles). It is hard to measure the exact distance because the wall is almost all steep stairs leading up then down and zigzagging back and forth. If this is the path you choose to take I would suggest budgeting the entire day for it including driving time to and from the wall. A little tip- there are bathrooms up on top the mountain at the wall, but of course they are not western toilets and have no toilet paper so to all my girls out there- don’t forget some tissues in your purse and I would also suggest some hand sanitizer.
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Walking the wall was amazing, but definitely a hike- I would suggest comfortable shoes and checking the weather to make sure you are dressed for the cold or heat depending on when you go, because it can snow in the winter and be sweltering in the summer. My guide gave up our trek on last stretch of the wall, which consisted entirely of really steep stairs going up and waited for me on the steps below while I went up alone. It was exhausting, but it was really beautiful from the top and it was a great sense of accomplishment! I felt like Rocky when he finally runs up the stairs and I did the double fist pump in the air to celebrate.
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Then I walked back exhausted, but pleased and went down the mountain on the toboggan. You control how fast you go by pulling on a brake so I didn't go too fast because I was petrified of flipping over, but I did go fast around a few straight bits, which was really fun. If you read my posts about my safari in Africa you know that I spent most of my time humming the Lion King soundtrack and you can bet I walked around the wall humming I’ll Make a Man Out of You from Mulan, which I then went back to my hotel and watched on itunes. Overall a perfect day!
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