The Great Wall of China, The Summer Palace, and the Olympic Village
08.08.2012 - 08.08.2012 90 °F
The typhoons in Shanghai gave Beijing an 80% chance of rain for today, but given our luck in Tokyo (knock on wood!), we decided to go forward with our plans. We had a private tour of the Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, and the Olympic Village lined up, and all three turned out great (and dry)!
Echo, our personal tour guide, showed up in our hotel lobby at 8am, and brought us to our driver, who drove the three of us 1.5 hours to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. Despite our tour guide offering (read: begging) the cable car, we decided to hike up to the Great Wall. The smile below is because he didn't actually realize how many stairs would be involved!
After many, many stairs, we arrived at the Great Wall, and it was just as incredible as we had imagined. The Wall, which was started as early as the 7th century BC and finished around 600 years ago, stretches between 8,850 and 21,196 km (estimates vary because so much of it is in poor condition). It was used to protect Beijing against Mongolian invaders, who according to Echo wanted the silk, spices, and other treasures.
We hiked around the Great Wall for a while, exploring the watchtowers, climbing more stairs, and pretty much standing in awe of our first of the 7 Wonders of the World! (OK, after I Googled "7 Wonders of the World," I now realize that there are dozens of lists of 7 Wonders, but we still consider this a biggie!)
After descending and leaving the Wall, we headed to a tour-company-operated restaurant attached to a cloisonne (French ceramic shop). We got a tour of the very in-depth ceramic making process, and then got to explore the showroom, which contained a few items worth over $10K (US dollars)! This is my "I think this is cool, but I'm really hot, sweaty, and hungry, and I feel kind of awkward taking a picture with this guy" face .
The lunch they served us was amazing, but tons of food. They swear it is normal to have 3 dishes (chicken with peanuts, sweet and sour pork, vegetables) plus sides (rice, soup, tea, watermelon) for 2 people - but it was far more than we could handle!
After lunch, we drove to the Summer Palace, which was used mainly by the Qing Dynasty as a place for the Emperor to get away during the summer months (1750-early 1900s). Like the other Chinese palaces, this was more like a village of smaller buildings, which each had different purposes (reading, relaxing, praying, receiving visitors). Kevin is standing in front of the Emperor's mother's quarters, and we learned that she actually had all the power, but the Emperor was the "puppet" or figurehead.
We passed through the Long Corridor, which has more than 8,000 of these gorgeous paintings and overlooks the water - the Emperor had a huge private lake as well, which the temple on Longevity Hill (also pictured) overlooks!
The first "boat" below is made entirely of marble, and is immobile but was constructed to show the strength and power of the Dynasty. We rode on the second boat across the lake, which was very relaxing!
Finally, we drove to the Olympic Village, which we had requested be added to our visit. It was so fun to see the Bird's Nest, the swimming building, and the whole area which was constructed just for the Olympics - Echo said that it cost Beijing 18 billion yuan (~$2.8 billion US), which seemed high to us, but after a bit of non-scientific research, it looks like estimates go all the way up to $43 billion, when all is said and done - WOW! (Yes, we each got our obligatory Usain Bolt photo, and by the way, Echo mentioned that she "only" got to go to one event during the 2008 Olympics, which happened to be the men's 100m!!!! She had no idea who Usain Bolt was, though ... ). That is Echo in the photo below, although we were stopped for a few photos with random people as well, who may not have ever seen foreigners according to Echo!
After an exhausting day, we came back to relax, work out, and head to dinner (the same place as last night because it was so good!) I again ordered the tofu and vegetable hot pot again, and Kev got shrimp and cashews. Delicious!
Our 4:30am wake up call is going to come quickly, but relaxation in Thailand awaits ... !
-Megan and Kevin