By Christine Krzyszton
A couple of months before the Olympic games were held in Beijing in 2008, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I was sitting on the steps of The Great Wall of China. I hadn’t planned to be there, but through a twist of fate, a sale fare, and the fact that I needed to use up an airline voucher expiring at the end of July, there I was. Hearing about the pre-Olympic deals in Beijing, I decided to make this my weekend destination.
Beijing was getting ready for the Olympics. The night I arrived, the Olympic greeters were in full force at the airport and most were willing to practice their hospitality skills on us non-Olympic folks. They were a kind lot and certainly eager to please, but their understanding of simple questions like “Where can I get a taxi?” or “Where is the exit?” was lacking. But then, I didn’t take the time to learn any Chinese before I came here, either. Patience, Christine.
My day in Beijing began by arranging transportation to The Great Wall. Options are limited so I signed up for a tour. Then I went to breakfast, which consisted of shrimp and cabbage dumplings, wonderful coffee, bacon, brie, Gouda, a salad of fresh greens and figs — just like breakfast at home. (Right!)
Prior to the tour departure I had a couple hours to explore the area around the hotel, where I discovered a flower, fish, and decor market. What a delightful find. I wandered the stalls and selected a few unique items I couldn’t buy at home: a fish-shaped business card holder, a colorful apron, and fake dragon flies. (You can never have enough fake dragon flies.) There were hundreds of orchids, exotic plants, bonsai, and an assortment of colorful fish.
On my way back to the hotel I walked past the U.S. Embassy. It was being completed remodeled. Since it appeared to be such a fortified compound, I decided not to linger but I did manage to snap a couple pictures when the guards weren’t looking.
Back at the hotel, I caught a bus and I took off for The Great Wall. I chose the Mutianyu section because it’s less touristy and it offers cable car transportation to the top. It was 95 degrees that day and I wanted to spend my energy walking up and down The Great Wall, not just reaching it. (Many people become weak and overheated just hiking to the cable car station.) The sun was blistering but I counted my blessings as I was told that the past week had been foggy. This was the first clear day.
Another stroke of luck: The cable car I took to the top was the same exact car that President Clinton took to the top when he came to The Great Wall. I knew this because this information was posted inside the car!
The Wall is an amazing sight as it meanders through the mountains. You can even see Mongolia from there. I took many pictures, hiked up and down the endless steps, then rested to write part of this article and to enjoy my time on The Wall. I reflected in awe as to how such a structure could be built by human hands. Well, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
My precious hours on The Great Wall eventually came to an end. After a lovely bus ride through the forests and agricultural areas, I was back in the city, where I enjoyed a lovely dinner of local
cuisine then got a good night’s sleep before I had to head back to the airport.
This visit was short, but I know I will return to Beijing. It’s a great value for your travel dollar and it delivers a unique and positive cultural experience.
Have you been to The Great Wall? Tell us about your experience in the Comments section.