The next day was time for the most iconic of Chinese sights, the Great Wall of China. Since I had no desire at this point in the trip to spend 6 to 8 hours in a bus, I chose the most accessible area to see the wall- Badaling. One advantage was it was also the cheapest- only about two bucks for the two hour round trip by train. The downside, of course, is the crowd, but going in the offseason and on a weekday saved me from the worst of it.
The allure of this portion of the wall is more a product of geography than engineering, as the sharp mountains prod the wall into a meandering, up and down (at times more than 70 degrees!) course that makes for all sorts of awe-inspiring vistas, especially with the fall foliage still going strong. The experience itself, between the leg-quivering up and down and the mass of people you’re doing it with, is less exciting, but when you’re watching the wall fade behind you through the large train windows, you’re glad you hiked all you could.
Badaling is both close and small enough not to eat your whole day, so I headed back to Tiananmen Square upon returning, and ended up meeting some Chinese folks who were apparently much richer than they appeared, as they thought nothing of dropping 600 yuan (100$) on a pot of tea at the teahouse we stopped at. So, I got to try two very expensive (and excellent teas): first leaf Oolong, picked at the very beginning of tea season when the tea leaves are at their youngest and freshest, and West Lake tea, the former tea of emperors from the famed Hangzhou tea fields, with an incredibly floral feel that made me understand the attraction. The Chinese treat their tea like the French do their wine, and it was a very interesting (if expensive) experience.
My last stop that day was the Donghuamen Night Market- a strip of street catering to tourists with exotic oddities like snake, scorpion, and spider for sale. I didn’t try them all, but crispy fried spider was actually pretty tasty…
My last day was more of a half day with my 6:40 flight, so thankfully I only had a couple more thins I really wanted to do. First thing in the morning I headed for the Temple of Heaven, a symbol of Beijing from Imperial times, now filled with old folks doing Tai Chi, practicing all manner of dances (some with swords!?!) and playing badminton, hacky sack, and something that looked like throwing around a burlap bag with rocks in it.
The Temple itself is beautifully decorated, though small, and of more interest to me was the causeway linking it and its nearby circular mound temple, with a narrow, raised stone lane running down the center only the Emperor was allowed to use. He must have been a short guy.
The last stop of my entire trip was another imperial abode- the Summer Palace. This complex of palaces, temples, and island causeways was built by an Empress with funds earmarked for the Chinese Navy- and she must have spent a good chunk of them as the park is vast, and full of beautiful, ornate architecture. The lakeside atmosphere and feel of Imperial luxury reminded me quite a bit of Hangzhou and West Lake, for good and ill, but regardless it was a fitting end to my Beijing trip, and my trip as a whole. Now, time for some rest…