We booked a tour for today because we'd had enough of amusing ourselves and decided that somebody else should work out an itinerary for us. And what a good move that proved to be. For a tenner ( quid) our whole day was sorted , and what a great day it was. And we got lunch.
First up were the Ming Tombs en route to the Great Wall. A collection of 13 tombs of moderate interest but at least they are now ticked off the list. Then a jade factory where the craftspeople were doing their thing and turning out some pretty cool carving. The balls inside balls were especially good, all being carved from one solid block of jade and apparently representing family unity and strength. Or something.
Then the Great Wall which was just stunning, albeit very touristy. We've all seen the pictures, and heard the rumours about it being visible from space ( it's not) but to see it for real, just there amongst some hills was pretty incredible. Pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming incredible. It just looms up at you; amazingly steep, with uneven steps that you have to scramble up, more like hauling yourself up a ships' ladder than actually walking up stairs on a large structure. As usual, it was also very hot with a scorching fug hanging over the valley, enveloping bits of the Wall and holding in the heat so that even just a few steps raised a drenching sweat Everybody without exception was soaked and heaving for breath. And not just because they were old and fat.
Visibility from the Wall was poor because of both the fug and the hills, which are actually very close and must have been an ace in the builders' favour when the Wall idea was hatched. It was actually a collection of various attempts in several places over a huge time span. It looks almost impossible to top the ridge upon which its built, yet on every tower, there are downward pointing arrow holes just in case anybody tried. Yet both the Mongols and the Manchus succeeded The Wall runs for several thousand kilometres but only some bits are restored; much of it is a line of crumbling old rocks and rubble.
Descending the steps was even worse than going up, particularly as people kept just sitting down whenever they got tired. Right in the middle of the path. Not good. But once again, the many tourist orientated signs did not disappoint! Endless amusement at the translators' expense.
WTF Sign - read bottom line!!
Had a good lunch – included in the ticket price, followed by a dash around a silk factory where they insisted on telling us how silk was made. Sometimes the organised tourist thing is welcome, and this was actually quite interesting, and we now know that for every 1kg of silk, 80,000 double cocoons ( double containing a male and a female lava) are needed. Might win some Trivial Pursuit games now. And they make tea out of silk worm poop; strange but true, and no, we didn't try it.
Stopped by the Olympic Park again on the way back and wandered through assembled Chinese sleeping on park benches, chatting, flying kites and chastising children, just as people do the world over after work. Also discovered that the tall Olympic building that we spotted the other day is now the best hotel in Beijing – 7 stars no less – and is modelled on a dragons head. It took a while but I can see that now – look at the top in profile and then compare it to the stone models that are everywhere, and you'll get it. Possibly.
We washed all of our clothes when we got back – all of them - and then realised we had nothing to go out in. So we had to order room service and stay put. Oh well – we were tired anyway.