The Great (and frozen) Wall, Plus Beijing Sights.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Ladies and Gentlemen we have just landed in Tianjin and the temperature is currently 0 degrees". Wow! We knew Beijing got cold in Winter, but it was now Spring – this wasn't supposed to happen! We donned our hopelessly inadequate coats and found our guide Jane waiting for us to take us from the city of Tianjin some two hours south east of the capital, to the city centre of Beijing. (Tiajin serves as the Air Asia low cost airport for Beijing).  As we drove along we saw ice on rivers and pools of water and it looked just so bleakly cold.  After being delivered to our hotel, the lovely named "Temple of Heaven", we donned our thermals and began to realize that they were going to be essential wear for the next few days, along with every layer of clothes we could put on. On the upside, we found our hotel had a "laundry corner" with coin op self service machines so we could wear lots of layers of our meagre supply of clothes and wash them each night of our three day stay.

This cold unseasonable snap though, gave us a wonderful and unique experience that we wouldn’t change for the world – to walk on the wall without all the tourists and in falling snow -  but more of this later.  

Our first full day in Beijing saw us head off to the famous (infamous?) Tiananmen Square only to find it completely closed off, due to the very important five year Chinese Congress. We then went to the awe inspiring Forbidden City, where we had a full morning tour. Jane our guide was exceptionally good at explaining what we were seeing and putting it all into context. Despite our thermals and jackets we were very cold, however after lunch Avan spotted a little shop selling sox so we each bought another pair and put them on. A tour of the Summer Palace followed, and this was some 20 kms out of the city in the mountains, it was even colder. As we headed back into the city for our a special dinner of Peking Duck, a few stray snowflakes gently landed on the windscreen of the car. Jane the informed us that the weather forecast for the next day for our tour to the Great Wall, was to be between minus nine and minus one - Yikes!

We awoke to a winter wonderland straight out of a picture postcard. We could not believe our eyes! The world outside our window was white and snow was still falling, as it must have done right through the night. Our next thought was that our tour to the wall was probably going to be cancelled. Jane arrived at 9.00am saying the traffic had been shocking and she handed me an extra coat and told Avan the driver had one for him too. Once in the car we began to discuss whether it was even going to be possible to get to the wall as the roads were icy and covered in snow. Our original plan had been to go to the Simatai section of the wall which is less touristy and the climbing/hiking more ambitious. Jane discussed with the driver who thought there would be no chance, as it involved windy mountain roads. I suggested that we would be willing to change to another part of the wall closer to the city, if it was at all possible to get there instead. Our driver said he was willing to try for us. We set off on an exciting adventure that saw the car have a few slides on ice, (deftly corrected without crashing by our excellent driver), our car getting stuck in snow and having to get pushed out, and observing lots of traffic including tour buses turning around and getting stuck in the almost blizzard condition.

A journey that would normally have been easy and relatively short became a real mission and Jane was concerned that even if we got through, the cable car that took tourists up to the wall may have been cancelled due to the weather. Finally we arrived and everything was perfect. The cable car was working, there was hardly a tourist in sight, the snow eased up to a few gentle snowflakes and the view of the wall became visible. We rugged up in our extra borrowed coats and climbed a section of the wall extremely cautiously, as under the snow, it was covered in hard ice as slippery as glass. It was one of those destinations that is made all the more memorable due to out of the ordinary circumstances. We were so lucky!

The next day the snow had mostly melted and a weak sun tried to come out and warm us as we did a morning tour of the real Temple of Heaven (namesake of our hotel). Retired Chinese folk were out in force trying to get some warmth from the sun and dancing, playing badminton, ma jong and dominoes, in patches of sun at the temple. We were still freezing cold in our still borrowed coats, but then it was off to the airport in a warm car with promises of a bit higher temperatures as we flew south to Xian for our next adventure.  

Footnote: Great Wall of China, People's Republic of China is one of the New Seven Wonders of The World Winners. The Great Wall, Imperial Palace of Beijing (Forbidden City), the Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing and the Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Alter in Beijing are all UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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