Because we were travelling with Abercrombie and Kent hereafter to be known as A & K, who provide very luxurious tours indeed, there was an assumption made that we were all 13 of us extremely wealthy. Our retail ‘opportunities’ offered as part of the trip included visits to pearl markets and silk factories where it would have been nice if there was a single item for sale that we could actually afford. My guide book warned to be alert for trips to the Great Wall that could include unwanted diversions to cloisonné workshops and jade factories. Ours managed to include both of these, the first of them cunningly disguised as a toilet stop.
As I mentioned before we left, the thought of the toilets in China filled me with horror, but in fact all facilities that the clients of A & K were confronted with were better than anything we encounter in England. On this particular morning though our guide said we would stop for the toilet break at this spot because they were much cleaner than those by the Wall itself. They just happened to be at a cloisonné workshop.
This is a multi-step enamel process used to produce jewellery, vases etc. Hummm- all very nice stuff, but rather on the pricey side. I was just about to buy a Christmas decoration for the tree when my son pointed out to me it actually cost £12.00 rather than the £1.20 I had calculated. If only he had been there to save me from buying the fridge magnet which cost me a bloody fiver. A rather expensive toilet stop – it cost one of our party over 200 quid!
Small diversion here on the subject of fridge magnets. As Reidski well knows (he has a fridge covered with magnets from my various trips) I do like to get fridge magnets when I am away. The one in this story cost me a fiver. They wanted £12 for one at the Terracotta Warriors museum (they didn’t get it though as thankfully I had sussed the exchange rate by then). £1.50 for the exact same magnet in Xian itself – and £1.00 in a village outside Shanghai. So shop around for your fridge magnets in China people!
So onwards to see The Great Wall. We went to Mutianyu (90 kilometers northeast of Beijing) which opened in 1986, which was designated by the Beijing Government in 1987 as one of the 16 most scenic spots in China. This section of the Wall was begun in A.D. 600 and reconstructed 1,000 years later. The main section stretches for 2.5 kilometers, and is punctuated by 22 watchtowers, including three connected bastions to the lowest part of the pass. We were very lucky to be there on a beautiful clear day and we could literally see mile after mile of the Wall wending its way over the mountain tops.
Now I appreciate that 2.5 kilometers doesn’t sound like far, and that the following risks making me sound like a right out of condition slob, but I did get to the end of the section that is open to visitors, along with three others from our group of 13, and if I have done anything more strenuous in my entire life, then the pain of that particular exercise what ever it may have been must have been so dreadful I have managed to get rid of that memory completely. I wish these photos could show exactly how steep it was – especially in the last part which is the last bit of Wall you can see in the middle picture – because I can’t describe how tough the going was. It was also extremely hot and humid. It also took simply ages. In fact we were supposed to have been back at our coach when we still weren’t quite at the end. Being a law abiding sort of person myself I was worried that we should turn back but as one of the other four said we weren’t ever going to get the chance to make this walk again, and anyway – “The coach won’t leave without us.” So we did make it....a triumphant moment, only slightly marred by the realisation that we now had to get all the way back.
The coach did not in point of fact wait for us. (Although our guide did, and we caught up with the others eventually via a taxi ride.) Our guide told us that it is very rare for his clients to walk the entire stretch of Wall - especially rare for clients of A & K who generally just take the chair lift up, take a few photos, and go back down again. I am so very glad I did it. My h ours spent at the gym have not been in vain.
After a wonderful lunch in which I must have consumed about a million calories at least, we went on to visit the Ming Tombs, which comprise the burial chambers of 13 Ming Emperors plus countless wives, concubines and assorted high ranking eunuchs (complete with their precious parts we hope).
The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs , which is stunningly beautiful, was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui principles, which are still taken very seriously in China today (more on that when I get to our trip to Shanghai).
A seven kilometer road named the "Spirit Way" (Shen dao) leads into the complex, lined with statues of guardian animals and officials.
This is me with My Little Pony. Thankfully we did not have to walk all the 7 kilometers – some of us still hadn’t dried out from our earlier walk.
The day was rounded off with the aforementioned visit to the jade factory. “Oh lovely – the finest quality apple green jade used for this necklace. A mere £90,000 too. Moving swiftly on....” As I say, the expectation was that we could afford this stuff. I don’t even think I like jade very much myself.
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