The Great wall, Tiananmen square and a dance routine
We’ve never had to pass through so many security checks before Beijing. Before entering the train station, the museums and even just to cross under the subway you have to have your bags scanned. We even have to take a swig of our water each time to prove it’s nothing dangerous. It’s time consuming and annoying (particularly when your suncream is checked as a weapon and you have to mime what it actually is) but unfortunately it’s got to be done.
Before you wonder, we did get up to other stuff in Beijing other than being searched although our first day was spent huddled in the corner trying to deal with our awful train journey the night before (The train ride from hell). We managed to recover enough to meet our tour group that we’d be with for the next eighteen days. It’s a real mix of nationalities with English, Welsh, American, Canadian, Swiss, Dutch and Russian. We introduced ourselves then headed out for a welcome meal to get to know each other a bit better. A few hours later Rach and the boys went for a late night stroll around the area before heading back.
We’d agreed last night with two guys on the tour, Erik and Ben, to get up at 5.30am to see the Changing of the Guard at Tiananmen Square. Bleary eyed, yawning and cold we got there and awaited dawn. At around 6.45 music suddenly emitted from the lamp-post speakers and we watched what turned out to be more of a flag-raising ceremony than a changing of the guard. It was interesting to watch but was over very quickly and we had a bad experience of a Chinese woman shoving her camera into Alex’s face. We put our hands up in front of the camera and she apologised but it does happen and we are still trying to get used to it!
Sadly we didn’t have time for a nap as we met with the rest of the group for our trip to see the Great Wall. Joy, our guide, had organised a private bus for us and all of our active, excited, raring to go group fell promptly asleep. We reached the Mùtiānyù section, which is two hours from Beijing, an area chosen by Joy for its beauty and the fact that it wouldn’t be crowded by pesky tourists (oh the irony!).
In our naivety we assumed we’d just pull up and the wall would be right there in front of us but no. It turned out there was a gauntlet of souvenir stalls (one dollar, one dollar!) then the 1,103 steps (yes we counted) to get on to the wall. 1,103 doesn’t sound like too many but trust us it is exhausting! They are quite steep and the sun was out so we were sweating but thanks to our many treks in New Zealand we’re pretty fit and we were some of the first to make it up.
After we’d picked ourselves up off the floor we had a quick look around, admiring the beautiful views, Joy found a large space for us to dance in. She’s given herself a mission to get the tour group to do the Gangnam style dance in various locations in China and she’s going to record them and create a video. After teaching us the moves we gave an embarrassed performance in front of a growing crowd.
We then had free time to go explore, which was code for Alex to take hundreds and hundreds of “arty” pictures of the same section of wall. When Rach finally dragged him away we walked as far along the wall as we physically could and it was brilliant. The wall crowned the hills for as far as the eye could see, snaking its way down into the valleys and scaling the slopes. It was incredible to see in autumn as the trees all around had started to change their colours giving the forest the look of a multicoloured carpet with browns, oranges, yellows and gold of every hue imaginable. Every corner made for a great photo opportunity and at various points you could go up the watch towers for an even more spectacular view. Most of the walk was easy going, however the further on we got the steeper it became and one set of stairs nearly defeated us as we were reduced to scrambling up on our hands and knees. The view from the top made it worth it and it was stunning looking down on to the wall.
We made a speedy return as Rach wanted, in classic cheesy style, an ‘I climbed the Great Wall’ t-shirt. It took a few stalls, with some vendors chasing us down the street and much haggling from Alex but she finally got one! After Joy had rounded up the group we had a brilliant drive back (aka slept) and relaxed for the evening by lying down and refusing to move our legs.
Rex’s Rules of the Road
- Be prepared to be checked by security- a lot!
- Tiananmen Square had two ceremonies, the flag raising at dawn and flag lowering at dusk. It’s cool to see but not a must-do.
- The Mùtiānyù section is less touristy but no less beautiful- a great place to go.
- If you see blonde kids, follow them. They’ll divert attention away from you and means they’ll be asked for photos instead.