Original Post: August 7, 2007
Before we left someone told me that a lot of people don’t like Beijing, that it’s ‘too Chinese’ whatever that means. People said, “It’s big it’s dirty, it’s old, a lot of people don’t speak English.” Lots of places are old. Beijing is a huge city, it’s going to be dirty, I mean, have you ever seen a truly clean city? The only clean-ish big cities I’ve ever seen were in Germany and Holland, and I’m sure there were dirty parts I just didn’t notice at the time. As for the not many people speaking English…um… it’s China, why would that be surprising?
After spending a mere 5 days there, I decided that I really liked Beijing as a city. In fact, it is my favorite huge city in China thus far. Shanghai is fine, but it’s very modern and huge and hard to get around. Shanghai looks a bit like New York. I want to see OLD China reflected in at least some parts of an ancient city, and you do get that in many parts of Beijing. There are of course many modern buildings, especially with the preparations for the Olympics, but it still retains a feel of the old world.
We took an overnight train to Beijing from Shanghai, which I highly recommend. We splurged and got the fancy sleeper car, still only about $50 per person. I have always loved to travel by trains and this was no exception. The car was comfortable and came with an electric tea pot and some nice little slippers. It was a restful journey and we were totally refreshed upon arrival in Beijing.
We arranged for a driver to come and meet us at the train station in the morning and he drove us right out to the Great Wall. We went to one of the sections that’s a little further out so it wouldn’t be so crowded. It’s pretty incredible, looks just like you would expect it to. Unfortunately, it was hazy so we couldn’t see for miles and miles like you imagine you will be able to.
We hiked along the wall for about 4 hours though, even on some sections that seemed to be totally overgrown and forgotten. The Wall is set on the tops of the peaks and then dips down with the hills, which means it’s basically a million stairs, and they are steep and uneven.
They have a marathon you can run on the Wall and it’s apparently one of the most difficult marathons in the world, which is not surprising AT ALL. Perhaps the most amusing part of this little escapade is that since the wall is way up on the mountain you can either hike up to it and then back down, or you can take a chair lift up and an alpine slide back down. We opted for the alpine slide considering the crazy heat. It was definitively cheesy, and I thought for sure there was a huge risk of catapulting off the tracks, but it was very much worth it.
Up Next…major tourist sites, nightlife, and shopping!