8:30 a.m. pickup to head out to the Great Wall. Partly cloudy with some haze, or is it pollution? Hot and humid again. First stop is the Olympic Center to see the Bird’s Nest (the main venue). When you watch the Olympics in August, you’ll see why it is called that. We could not get very close as there is still a lot of construction going on. It is hard to imagine that they will be ready in less than month!
On to a jade showroom, where we found some interesting things, including a jade bangle for Maryann - something that is customary for women in China to wear on their left side - close to your heart. Then another hour drive to the section of the Great Wall through very beautiful countryside populated with farms and fruit groves. There are 3 different sites near Beijing, but this was the best view of a large segment of the Wall, although the furthest away. The good news is that is was not very crowded. The bad news was that it entailed a major hike just to get to the gondola that would take us up to the wall. The gondola looked exactly like the one we use at Keystone when skiing. The wall here is on ridge lines that run across the mountainous region, so we have to go up a steep section to get to the wall, which is why we had to do the gondola. The walk up to the gondola was steep, but the most annoying part was the myriad of aggressive goods hawkers selling t-shirts for $1, postcards, and assorted other junk. Unlike what you might expect in the US at a major historical sight, there are no people to provide tours or historical perspectives or construction insights. You are on your own: take a look and be awed, which we were. The wall goes on for many miles in either direction, up and down, curving, turning, as far as your eyes can see - just like you’ve probably seen in pictures. It was an astounding sight and maintained in good condtion, given its antiquity.
We then headed to a restaurant nearby for lunch. The tour provided the menu, which turned out to be a large variety of often unknown foods that could have fed 10. Not sure what they were thinking. After a several hour drive back to our hotel in central Beijing, we rest, shop, then try to find a restaurant that we could actually determine what we are eating (without a guide, this time). Most have English subtitles so we know the basic food we are getting, but what we would get are parts of the animal that we don’t really want to eat. We settle on 3 dishes, one beef, one shrimp and one fried rice. Turns out to be way too much food – more six, but the total bill with a couple of beers and tip is only about $45.
Tonight, we are packing up for an early flight to Guilin in Southern China and our NEXT advenure.