Day 1 - Beijing - Mutianyu and the Summer Palace
We arrived in Beijing at about 9 pm on Friday night after an extremely pampered and relatively easy day of travelling. All that hard work saving up frequent flyer miles paid off as our first class seats on American were extremely comfortable. By 11 we were in bed ready for sleep which was not ready for us.
We hit the gym at 4:30 am, had a delicious breakfast, and met our guide, John to start our first real day here climbing the Great Wall at Mutianyu, about 1 1/2 hours from Beijing.
The chair lift was a great way to get to the top, enjoying scenic views along the way.
Mutianyu is much less touristy than Badaling, where we will go with our tour group early next week. On the advice of John, we climbed the shorter, but much more difficult part in order to see the original old wall from the very top. I'm sure my estimate of 2000 steps is a bit off, but suffice to say, it took us 45 minutes to climb up, and another half an hour to get back down to the tobbogan where we enjoyed an exhilarating ride down the mountain.
We stopped for a welcome sit-down quick lunch at a local restaurant, and then proceeded through tiny villages, back to the traffic-jammed highway to Beijing. It was a Saturday afternoon and we went, with thousands of Chinese families to the Summer Palace- a 7000 hectare park with a huge man-made lake, many pagodas, decadent 3 sided buildings around courtyards where many emperor's families enjoyed a respite from the heat of summer (although by this time it was about 90 degrees out). It made me think of "Sunday in the Park with George", in a slightly different setting!
John guided us through several of these as well as the Dowager Empress Cici's "longest hall in the world" an open corridor filled with paintings above, over 800 and none exactly the same.
By this time, the heat of the day, walking over 5 miles of the Great Wall and the Summer Palace had taken it's toll. We travelled back across the lake on a "dragon boat", and left for the hour commute back to our hotel. A wonderful guide, from China tourist.com, John was extremely knowledgeable and taught us much about the history, culture, and his take on the politics and nuances of Chinese life.
Finally back in the comfort of our room, we took a brief swim (and whirlpool!) and made plans to find a local restaurant.
Dinner was a bit surreal--the Haidado restaurant, fairly near our hotel came well recommended. We got a bit lost trying to walk there, and a very helpful local impressed Jim with his use of "Baidu", an all purpose app that uses a mixture of pinyon (Chinese words written using our alphabet), converting it into characters through an interesting process, then using the map to show us where it was.
No one at the restaurant (hot pot style) spoke English, although one giggling girl was brought over to try her school English- would have been hilarious in a movie). We ended up picking a few dishes from an Ipad menu with pictures. A delicious, cold Chinese beer, a few choices which we kind of guessed at, and a not totally satisfying, but nonetheless delicious meal later, we made our way home.
As we walked home, not quite sure of what to make of this experience, we were glad we had not made this choice however!
All in all, a wonderful, exhausting yet satisfying first day in our new China adventure.