We’re up early on a very cold -3degree morning. Brr. Once again the sun rises to reveal a clear blue sky. We watch the early sun angle along the wall above our hotel and light it up like a yellow ribbon across the steep hillside. Lovely.
Steed picks us up and we’re very soon climbing out of the car in a nearly empty parking lot! Very few people! Tickets acquired, we walk up towards the various options for ascending the wall. I choose a long series of steps through the forest and set off. Pretty soon hat and coat are off. Through the nearly bare branches of winter ready trees I can see small glimpses of the wall above but it doesn’t get closer too easily as the way is steep. Dad and Steed meanwhile are riding a gondola up to tower 14 which is a high point of this section of the wall.
I emerge from the forest under the wall at tower seven. After ducking through a small portal and ascending a flight of narrow steep steps to the top of the wall, I continue my climb much less steeply and with glorious views down into the valleys on either side. There is hardly another soul around. This is how I’d hoped to experience this place. The wind makes odd music as it plays around the battlements, and whistles plaintively within the towers. I don’t rush, I want this to last but fairly soon I’m closing in on tower 14 and there’s Dad and Steed. Dad is also relishing the lack of crowds. Although, because we are now where the gondola disgorges those unable or unwilling to make the climb, there are greater numbers. Strategic selfie-stick and ladies with sharp edged purses (weapons both) avoidance techniques come into play.
Dad and Steed make their way back down to a large viewing area and I continue for six more towers before returning to meet them for the ride back down. Yes, I consent to taking the gondola as we have more places to go and things to see! The timing has been perfect, as by the time I return to the viewing area the “mosh pit” is forming up. The crowd density is not helped by the Young Communists League having a graduation rally. (Upon graduation these young people can join the party.) Banners, flags and chanting is added to the congested mayhem of a popular tourist spot on a lovely day in China.
I have found this section of the Great Wall more dramatic and scenic than the Badaling section we visited with Viking. Badaling is easy to access from Beijing and as such is really over crowded. This section is also very touristy. If a person wants a more “authentic” experience, there are numerous places that are less developed, further off the tourist path, with less or no facilities. Some of these areas need to walked with considerable caution due to rugged mountainous hiking to gain access to the wall and less wall maintenance once on it.
After lunch – which is many dishes of too much food – we get on a nearly empty, beautifully engineered, toll road and head north east to Chengde. The highway is quite new, as are many in this country. The scenery becomes ever more mountainous and wild. It is very pleasant to not see one building, especially to not see any “herds” of tall skyscrapers! After the past week of virtual canyoning in the smoggy urban jungle, this day of fresh air and natural scenery is a treat.
It is growing dark by the time we descend into a large valley and the sprawling city of Chengde. As Chinese cities go, Chengde is very small. Somewhere around a million people. There is some heavy industry on the outskirts, with smoke stacks spewing vapour and lord knows what chemicals into the air. We feel we’ve driven right through the city when the road suddenly plunges into a long tunnel through a mountain. But no – the metropolis continues unabated on the other side.
Our accommodation at Qi Wang Lou Hotel seems very upscale. Built along the lines of an ancient Chinese palace, it commands a hill top location. Checkin takes forever. For such a fancy place, the staff seem very inefficient. Steed finally says something to them and comes with us to help us find our room. There are several buildings built around a couple of large dark tree and rockery studded courtyards. Paths wind this way and that. The morning reveals lovely landscaping. A bit more lighting would be helpful but we eventually find the right building. The room is large and beautiful. The shower door and the bathroom door are one and the same. Seriously. Either the shower door is closed or the bathroom door is closed while the other is open. How odd.
Refreshed from our day, Dad and I set off to find the dining room, in another building off another courtyard, accessed by numerous little paths. We are smart and take our flashlights or we’d never have found our way and likely would have come unstuck among the mountainous rockeries.
Dinner. What to say? So this is China. We had already encountered fried dog meat on a menu on our first night. Clearly we had been coddled and insulated by Viking. Still this menu pretty much horrifies us. I’m going to say no more. In the next blog I will post some pictures to illustrate and preface them by saying that shark fin harvesting has been banned. It is illegal. To give you an idea of prices. 100¥ = Cdn$20.00.
We find some edible items called “staple foods” on the back page of the menu. What we receive is not very good, but we are hungry and tired so we eat up, and enjoy a beer. Time to pay and they start fussing about wanting us to use our credit card and are very reluctant to take cash. We pay cash anyway, but despite the tip, the staff seem discontent with this choice. Background – we are not paying for the hotel ourselves, the tour company is paying. We are paying for our dinners ourselves.