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The Great Wall of China

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The fourth and final installment of our “Favorite Man-Made Wonders of the World” series. The number four is one of meaning in the Hill household, and to be quite frank, one that conjures up feelings of angst, defeat, and utter frustration. Now, before your imagination starts to run wild, let me explain. Let’s say that we are really into (read: obsessed) Fantasy Football. And let’s say, hypothetically of course, that we often tend to go far in our leagues and typically make the playoffs. And then let’s say, that on some (read: multiple) occasions, we have taken fourth place in our leagues, which is the absolute worst place because even though you’ve made it to the playoffs, you receive nothing. No money. No top 3 win. Absolutely. Nothing. And let’s be honest, no respect from your fellow league members. If anything, you either receive pity (if you’re in a women’s league like your’s truly), or incessant and unrelenting taunting (if you’re T, because that’s what dudes do). So I’m not exaggerating when I say that we pretty much hate (read: despise) the number four. But we’re not bitter. Nope. Not bitter at all.

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So I think it’s fair to equate my disdain for the number four to my utter disappointment in the Great Wall of China. Unlike our incredible experiences visiting Machu Picchu, The Pyramids of Giza, and The Taj Mahal where my high expectations were easily met (if not exceeded), that was sadly not the case with the Great Wall. It’s not that I didn’t like or appreciate visiting the Great Wall; I absolutely did. And before you think I’m an ungrateful little traveling brat, I really do realize just how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to see this incredible ancient wonder. But that smog though. Ugghhh…it’s just the worst. It drapes over the city like a wet blanket, causing everything within its grasp to utterly disappear. Beijing’s crippling air pollution is so pervasive that the city has implemented a “smog alert system” where temporary driving restrictions are put in place to reduce the number of vehicles on the road in hopes of reducing the amount of gas exhaust generated. Of course, there are days when pollution levels are relatively low, and many sites, including the highly-coveted Great Wall, are very visible. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case when I was there. I know. I was/am/always will be sad, too.

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The smoggle is real, friends. Oh, come on. That was funny (if not a bit forced).

My visit to the Great Wall was part of a two-week educational study tour throughout Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. Beijing was my least favorite of the three–I loved both Hangzhou (my favorite, actually,) and Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong, which I visited many years ago during my very first trip to Asia in 2001. To be fair, because I was there for work and part of a large group, I had very little input (read: none) in this trip–but there were so many things I just did not like about Beijing, from that whole air pollution nonsense to the rudeness of the people (sorry–but I have literally never experienced such rudeness in all of my travels), to the primitive and dismal toilet situation, it just wasn’t my favorite. I should note that contrary to what some may think, I can be pretty low maintenance when it comes to travel and have “copped a squat” over many holes in the ground all over the world without (much) complaint. But Beijing, I don’t know. I just had less patience here and got really tired of using disgusting toilets (read: holes in the floor) in otherwise pretty nice establishments and having to constantly carry my own toilet paper/tissue (again, in otherwise pretty nice places). And yes, if I had liked the city more, I would have probably been more forgiving, but I didn’t, so I’m not. 

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Yes. I’m fully aware that I’ve steered off topic and this post is supposed to be about the Great Wall, not toilets. But I also believe that it’s my responsibility to inform my readers as much as possible so it just didn’t seem right not to include a photo for reference. Not trying to be part of that “Fake News” epidemic.  Only cold hard facts here.

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Teachers posing. And sweating. Because summer in Beijing. 

We visited the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which was built during the early Ming Dynasty. Located in the Huairou district about forty miles north of Beijing, Mutianyu is considered one of the Wall’s best preserved sections, is easily accessible from the capital city, and is typically less crowded than other visited sections. Watchtowers are widespread throughout this portion of the mountain and (if you can actually see it) the surrounding natural scenery is lush and verdant. My greatest disappointment was not being able to see the infamous winding paths of the Wall. You know what I’m talking about. Those awe-inspiring paths that meander throughout the stunning rugged countryside that are always featured in photographs. Yeah, I didn’t see any of that. There was so much smog that it was hard to see more than twenty yards ahead. But I’m not bitter. Nope. Not at all.

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Market stalls and friendly locals like my pal featured here line the entrance to the Great Wall.

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The gondola-style cable car makes the journey up to the towers much easier and is very scenic.

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Things To Know When Visiting the Great Wall:

*Go when the smog alert is low and visibility is high: I know, I’m a wealth of wisdom. It’s really no wonder that I’m a travel blogger.

*Best Times to Visit: Spring and Autumn for optimal weather and scenery. And yes, staying in true form, I visited in the summer when it was hot and hazy.

*Choosing the Right Section to Visit: It’s no secret that the Great Wall is extremely long (approximately 5,500 miles!), and crosses nine provinces. There are five sections that are typically recommended due to their close proximity to Beijing, scenic surroundings, and (for the most part) level of ease for walking and hiking. These five sections are: Jinshanling, Simitai, Jiankou (recommended more for serious/advance hikers), Mutianyu (where I visited), and Badaling. For much more detailed information about these five areas and a lot more about tips for visiting the Great Wall, look here.

*Dress Comfortably: I know, I know. Captain Obvious, here. Eeek–that felt uncomfortable when I wrote it and even more awkward when reading it. Yuck. Sorry, guys. But seriously, I know that when you visit sites like the Great Wall where a significant amount of walking is required, you know to wear sturdy and comfortable shoes. That’s why I am always amazed when I see other people in HEELS climbing rocks and scaling hills. That’s right, HEELS. These people really do exist, friends. You know it’s bad when I’m judging uncomfortable footwear. Don’t be that person who wears heels on the Great Wall. Just don’t. Nobody likes that person.

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So is visiting the Great Wall worth it? Of course! Just be prepared that it may not be as incredibly beautiful as many photographs might suggest and know that smog happens. Because, well, China.

Helpful Websites:

http://www.greatwall-of-china.com/

http://english.visitbeijing.com.cn/

 

*Update: As of publication, I am in the championship! Yes, the championship! And so is T (in two of his three leagues)! No fourth place finishes for us this year! Woohoooo! Wish us luck (we need all the luck we can get when in comes to Fantasy, I assure you). 

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