Trans-Siberian Railway Official Start: Beijing (Part 2-The Great Wall)

All of us at the Mutianyu Great Wall

Our trip to the Great Wall started with an early morning pick up from our drivers. Unfortunately, they turned a 45-minute ride to the wall into a 2-hour tour of the outskirts of Beijing. I was under the assumption that since the Great Wall stretches for thousands of miles, you could just drive north and you would eventually hit it. Apparently these guys didn't get that, and they had quite a time locating it. Once we got there, though, it was about as incredible as I had imagined it would be. The Wall itself is built along the top of a mountain range, so not only did the ancients build a really long wall, they hauled all of the materials to the top of a mountain to do it.

Charles & Vina at the Great Wall

According to a survey in 2009, the Great Wall was announced to be approximately 5,500 miles long. To help fully comprehend this, the distance from San Diego, CA to New York, NY is 2,432 miles. Although the exact history  is not known, it is commonly understood that the Wall started sometime before 200 BC as a series of walls to keep out foreign invaders. It was eventually unified under the Emperor Qin and then extended or repaired by each succeeding dynasty up through the Ming in the 1600's. Contrary to popular opinion, the Great Wall is not visible from space (under favorable conditions it might be seen from low-Earth orbit), and from the Moon it is the equivalent of spying a human hair from two miles distance.

Vina & Charles on the toboggans

The section of the Wall that we chose to visit was Mutianyu.  We rode a cable car to Tower 14 and were nearly alone on the Wall. The pollution was a bit lighter here, so the view was good, but not incredible. The real thrill came with the imagination that at one time soldiers manned these walls to defend their country against the barbarians from distant lands. About mid-way through the walk, we said farewell to Sophia, her husband, Daniel and their son, Charlie. They had to return to Shanghai and we were officially on our own.

Scorpion shish kabobs at the night market

We walked the rest of the short distance to Tower 6 and made our way to the toboggan. The toboggan is a slide that takes you back to the entrance to the park and is well worth trying out. Each person climbs on to their own sled and then slides down a concrete path, using a hand brake to maintain control. The ride is at least five minutes and is quite fun and can be very fast if no one is in front of you.

You can buy a delicious centipede at the night market

As night fell, we had a few hours before boarding our train. We decided to hit the local night market which we had heard had some fairly exotic food. We were rewarded with a chance to try such fun things as starfish, snakes (with or without skin), sea horses, beetles, pigeons, crickets, centipedes (small or large) and scorpions. We watched a girl eat a scorpion and then went to KFC for some ice cream.

A very brave girl eating scorpions

At last, nine days into our trip, it was time to embark on the Trans-Siberian Railway route. Only, it wasn't the Trans-Siberian Railway. Our first stop was going to be Datong, which was only an overnight ride, and it made more sense to just take a local train to get there rather than the more expensive K3 Trans-Sib train. We boarded a very local, very run-down train, climbed in our bunks for the night, and went to sleep knowing we had officially begun our Trans-Siberian journey.  
  • RJ Nelson

    Hello Phil and Sara,
    This is way cool that you are doing this for us grounded folks.  You tell a real good narative and it is great fun to read.
    Keep on Trucking.
    RJ from Ricoh

    • Thanks, RJ. Glad you are enjoying it and thanks for reading!

  • Http://

    Is there stuff the Chinese don’t eat ?

    • Funny you ask. The Chinese people in general are not really into cheese.  Even I, after 23 years living in the US, don’t really care for cheese.  But, cats, dogs, pigeons, scorpions & centipedes are all fair game.  🙂

  • The centipedes really freak me out! How do people eat this?!  

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