Day 28: Simatai / Beijing
Beijing Travel Blog› entry 31 of 34 › view all entries
Beijing is almost always covered in smog, which is so dense that most of the time you can't see the sky, nor much of the surroundings. They say that only after the rain the sky clears. So when it started raining last night we figured that the best day for a visit to the Great Wall would be today - the day with the highest chance of clear weather!
And I was right! Last night's rain had washed away the smog. However, it hadn't really stopped raining... in the morning there was still a steady drizzle coming down the already hot weather. And most people will know the result of the equation of heat + water = steam, i.e. fog!
All of a sudden a trip to the Great Wall didn't seem such a good idea anymore.
We left at 8 for the long drive to the Simatai section of the Great Wall.
During the drive to Simatai the weather got worse and worse, with heavy rains and a fog so thick I wondered if we had better turn around and give up. I had some hopes that we'd be above the clouds as we gradually climbed higher. Beijing is almost at sea level, while Simatai lies at an elevation of 1000 metres. However, this was not the case, in fact, the higher we came, the denser the fog got and by the time we arrived at Simatai we couldn't see more than a couple of metres ahead.
Originally we had planned to walk all the way up the mountains, to the wall, but as the visibility was so bad, and there was a constant drizzle of rain, we opted for the cable car instead.
Tacky? Perhaps yes, but it saved us from climbing a steep track in 28 degrees with rain and no visibility.
Once we arrived at the Great Wall I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. For years I have dreamt of standing here, and now I actually do it is the biggest anticlimax imagineable. There was just barely anything to see.
I wondered about the weather we had so far on this trip, and in fact we have been particularly unlucky this trip. First Baikal, which was obscured by fog (and the day before there had been clear blue skies) then Gobi with snow and rain (and rain on the day we were at one of the most photogenic spots) and now this.
We scrambled around the wall section, walking from Eastern tower 8 to number 12, which is as far as you are allowed to walk, because beyond tower 12 the wall is in such a bad state it is too dangerous to carry on (especially in this weather).
After about an hour on the wall we'd seen enough (or actually hadn't seen enough, but simply had enough) and started our descend. As we were walking down towards the cable car again all of a sudden the weather cleared a bit. All of a sudden I could make out the parking lot down in the valley. I realised that if I could see the parking lot from here, I might be able to see some more of the wall up there as well, so I ran back up to the wall, and for the next ten or so minutes managed to get some sort of idea of the greatness of the wall, as I could see as far as six sentry towers ahead, and could just barely make out a silvery line of wall snaking along the mountains beyond that.
Once back in Beijing our driver, a proud Beijinger I reckon, wanted to show us the Olympic site before dropping us off at our hostel. Naturally we didn't object. We made a short stop at the Olympic stadium, which is a sight in itself with its bird-nest style architecture. We couldn't get very close to the stadium, as the area is already tightly sealed off in preparation of the games, but behind some fences we could see the stadium in the distance. Just as worth seeing as the stadium were the hundreds of Chinese people standing in front of the fence, taking pictures of eachother with the stadium in the background. And everywhere we looked we could still see construction works going on. The work continues around the clock in order to have all the hotels and the Olympic village finished in time for the games.
We also drove along the aquatic centre, with its waterbubble walls, and the strangely cube shaped fencing arena. On the other side of the road tall appartment blocks have been erected which I assume will be used to house the participants during the games.
When passing the Olympic village I realised this is the third time that I travel through an Olympic host country in the year of the Olympics - I was in the US in '96, in Australia in 2000 and now in China... Guess I'll have to schedule a trip around the UK in four year's time...
Once back at the hotel we set off to wander around our neighbourhood for a while. The hutongs were much more lively than yesterday, probably because it was Saturday night (or perhaps because those damn rains had finally stopped).
We had a great wander around the various hútongs, and ended up at the Dong Cheng Nightmarket.
At the nightmarket we had our dinner, buying from the tonnes of different snacks they sell on little wooden sticks here. We sampled some excellent stuff like lamb kebab, beef, fried vegetable dumplings, eel, deep-fried cabbage, octopus, baby squid, scorpion, snake, centipede, larvae, dog and topped it off with a desert of sugar coated fruits - all on a stick of course.
And some of these really sound worse than they actually taste - honest! The centipede and larvae didn't really do it for me, but scorpions are actually quite nice! Tastes like shrimp :-)
We ended the day in a bar near our hostel, where several kittens entertained the customers. This proved to be a winning formula, as many people walked inside and ordered a drink after seeing the kittens play on the tables (and that includes us).