The Great Wall of China is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Wall runs 8,851.8 km in length (5,500 miles!!!) and was completed during the Ming Dynasty in 1644 after nearly 2,000 years of construction. It was built mainly as protection against invasion*. Seeing the Great Wall was our main purpose in traveling to Beijing, so Michael and I decided to splurge on this last tourist activity of our time overseas. We booked a Beijing Sideways tour, one that I had seen in an Expat Living magazine when we first moved to Singapore.
Our personal guide, an Italian expat named Riccardo, picked us up from our hotel bright and early along with another driver. Michael and I applied a few additional layers (Riccardo had extra jackets, gloves, and scarves) to protect us from the chilly winter air and we got situated in our respective sidecars. Our first stop was in the city, to pick up fresh French bread for our lunch on the Great Wall. Stop #2 was at this bizarre replica of a French Castle that was built just outside of the city. Stop #3 was at the Ruins of Fu Hua, a forest filled with pagodas that had been built in the 1400’s. Stop #4 was what we had been waiting for – The Great Wall.
There are several high-traffic, easy-access segments of the wall that are visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Beijing Sideways let’s you enjoy your ride in the sidecar and takes you further afield to a little-visited section near the village of Zhuangdaokou. Because of the remote location and the fact that it was off-season, we saw a grand total of THREE other people on the wall during our half-day spent there. Three!
After a short trek on a rocky hill, we were upon the Great Wall. I was amazed at the way it seemingly went on forever, climbing and descending the mountains before it disappeared in the distance. Since the wall follows the land’s natural shape, it’s mostly steep and winding, making our “hike” along the wall actually a climb. We climbed for about 45 minutes before stopping just outside a lookout tower to eat lunch. Our guide Riccardo had previously been a professional chef and we were spoiled by the spread. He had carried a camping grill along in his backpack and heated up homemade pork tenderloin, pasta Bolognese, and roasted potatoes to go with the fresh French bread we had picked up along the way. Lunch was served with a bottle of red wine, and after we were done eating we had sips of his homemade limoncello.
The hike continued for another hour or so, with a stop near the end for a steep wall photo shoot. This portion of the wall declined so sharply that we had to shuffle down slowly so we didn’t tumble down. With a clever turn of the camera, Riccardo set the wall even with the horizon line, making it look like Michael and I were defying gravity. Having led many tour groups to this same spot, Riccardo was an expert and placed us in his favorite poses. These are some of our favorite shots!
Our climb concluded and we returned to the motorcycles in a nearby village. On our way back into the city we made a stop to see the famed ‘bird’s nest’ and ‘water cube’ from the 2008 Summer Olympics. According to our guide, the ‘bird’s nest’ (the Beijing National Stadium which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build) is a point of pride to the Chinese and is rarely used except for very important events. Although it would make a great concert or sports venue, these events aren’t worthy to be held inside, so there it sits, empty nearly all of the time.
Sitting atop the Great Wall enjoying a gourmet lunch and wine is one experience I wont soon forget. Having had lived in Singapore for more than 8 months and visiting mostly busy tourist hubs in that time, it just felt so… quiet. It was a remarkable experience with a remarkable view, and I loved every second of it. Anyone traveling to Beijing to see the Great Wall should see it on a Beijing Sideways tour. It’s worth every penny!
*This time my facts were from a much more reliable source: travelchinaguide.com