The Great Wall
We arrived in Beijing early on the night train, so we had some time to relax at the hostel and buy snacks before heading out to camp at the Great Wall. Our guide here was Luna, and she had her hands full with Steven, who had saved up all his catastrophes for our last stop it seemed.
We had about four hours to get ready to head to the wall, but somehow Steven managed to lose a contact lens right as we were about to leave. Unfortunately at this point all out bags were piled into the luggage storage room at the hostel. While rummaging around and trying to find his contacts he broke the zipper on his bag and spent a bunch of time trying to pin it closed again. When we were finally able to leave, we made it about halfway down the street before he realized he had forgotten his phone and had to go back to the hostel. We eventually made it onto the bus, and had started driving out of the city when he then realized he forgot the bag of snacks he had just purchased back at the hostel. This was important as we were all supposed to bring our own food for the camping trip, which was doubly crucial for Steven since he was also diabetic. Luna offered to share her snacks with him and also called the hostel to see if they could keep an eye on his stuff until he got back, but unfortunately he couldn’t remember where he put it.
Anyways, we eventually made it out to the wall. We would be camping at an unrestored, restricted section, which we would gain access to by eating at a local farmhouse. The food was good, though the facilities rustic, and those of us who ate Chinese food stuffed our faces since it would be our last real meal until the next afternoon.
Next we picked up our camping stuff and started our hike out to the wall. It wasn’t too long, and Chris and I powered up so we would get first pick of the campsites.
Once we reached the campsite we had some time to explore before sunset. Unfortunately it was cloudy, but the view was still impressive. There were three watchtowers we could safely hike to, the third of which was quite the trek but had the craziest view.
Back at camp we had a campfire and roasted some marshmallows before heading to bed. We got up super early the next morning to see the sunrise.
We watched from the first watchtower due to laziness, then took a trek out to the other towers for some nice pictures in the morning light.
It was super cool to be on this section of the wall because there was literally no one else in sight for miles. The Great Wall was originally a series of smaller walls, that were joined together over time as a means of defence again nomadic invaders (not, as that stupid Matt Damon movie would have you believe, giant monsters). Some parts have been extensively restored, while others have basically been eroded/looted away. The part we were at was a nice compromise between the two, i.e. mainly intact but not artificially so. Once we had finished taking photos and made it back to camp, it was time to head back to Beijing.
On our way back into the city we stopped to visit Olympic Park, where the iconic Water Cube and Bird’s Nest are. It’s a bit of a weird place to visit, since the grounds are obviously meant to hold thousands of people but nowadays are almost empty.
The Water Cube is still in use as a public pool, but the Bird’s Nest goes unused 99% of the time, save for a McDonalds on the lower level. Apparently it’s so expensive to hold an event in that it’s only used a couple times a year, which seems like a huge waste. I guess Beijing will get a chance to turn it into something for the 2022 Winter Olympics, although apparently the locals don’t actually want the Olympics again since they are so expensive. Our guide also told us that during one of the few events held in the Bird’s Nest (an exhibition soccer match) the smog was so bad that no one could see the players.
We spent the afternoon browsing the little boutique shops in Nanluoguxiang, before going out for Peking Duck with the rest of the group. Chris was very excited about this because usually Peking Duck is too expensive, but it’s obviously much more affordable when shared amongst a big group.
The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong
Our last day in Beijing we decided to get up super early and try to visit Mao again. We were successful this time (now knowing how long it takes to get into the square) and only had a short wait before joining the procession into the mausoleum. Lots of people bought flowers and left them at the Mao statue inside, at a rate that must mean they bring the flowers back outside and resell them multiple times a day. The guard seemed particularly excited to see a non-Chinese person coming to see Mao; maybe he had a bet with one of this friends. Anyways, we couldn’t bring anything inside or take pictures obviously, but Mao looked pretty waxy to me. On the way out you could buy all sorts of Mao paraphernalia.
After leaving the mausoleum we noticed that soldiers were slowly clearing Tiananmen Square. It turns out that this was because it was the day of Justin Trudeau’s big meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping! I tried to look for them but they fenced off such a big radius that all I could see were specks walking in and out of the Great Hall of the People.
We spent the rest of the day exploring Jingshan Park and Beihai Park, as well as looking at the art along Liulichang Street.
Then, it was time to catch our flight to Italy!