My first steps on the Great Wall at Mutianyu were almost my last.
After taking a cable car up to the start of the ancient wall – you can also walk to that point, a climb that takes about 30 minutes — Pat and I started descending some steep brick steps. It was a chilly morning, and there was frost on the trees and a thin coat of ice on the steps. After walking just a few feet, I slipped, stumbled and almost fell flat on my face before regaining my balance.
Soon, however, the sun broke through, the ice melted and we enjoyed a gorgeous day at this 1½-mile stretch of the Great Wall about 55 miles northeast of downtown Beijing. The crowds were sparse, except for a group of 1,000 workers from an Internet company who all wore matching red scarves, and the tourists we did meet were friendly visitors from Sweden, France, South Africa and the Philippines.
It was a much nicer experience than I had in late November, when I visited the Badaling section of the wall on a cold, windy day when the place was packed with tourists.
The Mutianyu section was first built about 1,500 years ago but, like Badaling, it has recently been renovated. It’s a winding path with 22 watchtowers and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. In the distance, near the peak, we could see some Chinese characters etched in stone. Our guide said they were carved a few years ago by local farmers. When I asked what the characters meant, she said, “Loyalty to Chairman Mao.”
I wanted to take the toboggan slide back to the bottom, but it was closed because of the wet conditions. So we rode a chairlift down, soaking in the scenery all the way.
We celebrated our last night in Beijing with a Peking duck dinner at our hotel. The duck was served in slices, along with thin pancakes, plum sauce, and cucumber and leek strips that we used to make wrap sandwiches. For a side dish, we ordered cucumber flowers, which looked like tiny green beans with blossoms at the end.
I’m getting spoiled by the fine food we’re eating on this trip. When I return to Zhengzhou, it’s back to street vendors and instant soup.