Armand Trippaers, President of the Netherlands Federation invited us to go to the Great Wall to do some sightseeing. Christine didn't want to come, but once he had asked "the boss" if he could take us, Carol and I were delighted to accept. It was agreed that we should leave early in order to be back in time to do some work in the afternoon, so our alarms duly buzzed at 06.30 (mmm ...) and at 7.30 we boarded the minibus and started on our way. We were all delighted to note that it was obviously going to be a "blue sky day" ... there was a little mist, but it was clearing and it looked as though it was going to be glorious, as indeed it turned out to be.
It was a very interested journey - abut 2.5 hours, first of all out of modern Beijing, heading North on the toll road - an excellent road if a little alarming as you can overtake on either side, something that we don't get happening (legally) in England.
After about 3/4 of an hour we reached the end of the motorway and headed out into the country, and this was China much more as I remember it from 1995 when I was last here. The road was dusty and bumpy, the overtaking was (frankly) terrifying, and the lorries were heavy haulage and VERY old! Alongside the road there were vendors selling fruit on the hard shoulder, something I certainly wouldn't have wanted to do, as occasional cars "overtook" lorries on that side! Some of the vendors just had hand carts, but there were also donkey carts and a few with the small three-wheeler flatbed carts. I was surprised at how dusty it was, and the rivers were very low. We passed by one big town, where there is masses of construction going on, and past a massive school where the children were in the playground in straight lines, looking very disciplined then past an area with row upon row upon row of aspen trees at various stages of development - miles and miles of them.
Then we came to a gateway over the road, guarded by two of the dogs of Fo, onto a smaller road that led through "the Jing Herb Art Park" and the "Purple Park" where they grow herbs, and there were swathes of purple flowers - I don't think it was lavendar, the leaves looked wrong, but it was beautiful. We started climbing up into the mountains, and the Virginia Creeper was tumbling down the rocks in rivers of scarlet leaves.
Then finally we came round a corner and there on the top of the mountain was the wall ... wow! It was just fantastic.
We all piled out of the bus, and went to the cable car - two people in an open car and we swung slowly up the mountain, with the views changing and the wall getting ever nearer. Out of the car, and up some steps to the small railway which hauled us up the next bit ... looking down was a bit like looking down one of those terrifying water chute rides at fair grounds!
Then - oh my god then ... I think it was 9 LONG flights of steps, carved out of the rock face, with a chain for a "hand rail" and the roughest climb I have ever done. And I didn't take my trainers to Beijing so was wearing leather soled shoes. My poor knees hated it but I made it .. and the view from the top was ... unbelievable. You could seek the wall stretching for MILES - 6,500 kilometers I am told though obviously we couldn't see that far ! We were at the bit called Simatai, which I was informed is the highest point that tourists can get to (after that climb I can well believe it!).
We sat in the sun and drank in the beauty. There were some wonderful little leaf bugs crawling around, but very few birds. The leaves on the shrubs (too high for trees I guess) were turning to the golds and reds of autumn and far below we could see a small village, with a farm carved out of the mountainside in steppes. On the other side, the cable car looked like tiny flags swinging across the valleys and away and away in the distance were more and more mountains.
Then it was time for the descent, down those rough steps, down the scary little train and swing our way across the terrain in the cable car. Back to the bus, where Armand had thoughtfully arranged an excellent packed lunch for us to enjoy on the way home.
Pictures are here
We arrived back at the Convention Centre to find that no one had really missed us, but we both had a pile of papers to deal with and things to type, but it didn't take too long. Now it is 7.45 and - well ! What a great evening for the English Teams! Not only did our U-21 team win silver a couple of days ago, but tonight both the Open and the Women's teams qualified for the Finals, so are guaranteed medals as well. I have seen some of the players and obviously they are delighted, as am I. Details of the team can be found on the EBU Website ...