Just went to the Great Wall of China today.
The section of the Wall that's closest to Beijing, a place called Badaling, is full of tourists and really busy. Instead, I decided to jump on a local inter-city bus and try a section further out in a place called Mutianyu. From Dongzhimen bus station I took the 916 to Huairou, north of Beijing. Then I put my self-taught Chinese to the test by haggling with a local taxi driver to take me the remaining 40 miles to the wall. I got him down from what sounded like 3 eggs to what sounded like a wine gum in less that 10 minutes! I'm pretty sure this taxi driver went to the same driving school as those I had around south-east Asia: overtaking around uphill bends and only using two of his four wheels for most of the corners. For some reason too he just shouted at me all the way.
At Mutianyu there's a cable car for the way up and a toboggan for the way down! The stretch to get up to the cable car is very steep and full of zealous souvenir vendors. The cable car was not safe at all and climbed at least a million feet up the side of a hill to get to where you could mount the wall.
Even with my literary prowess I'd struggle to describe properly how brilliant the Wall is. It winds for as far as you can see and the look-out posts fade off into the distance. The height of it is nothing short of plain scary: it ranges from 15 to 25 feet high and it's atop a tall hill too. Also, the air up there is really thin so you get really giddy and really tired very quickly.
The Dutch folks I'm sharing a dorm room with went up to a different part of the Wall and trekked for 10km across it. When they got back they were a little worse for wear.
I spent a few hours up there: it's really something else. Then I braved the taxi drive back and was dropped off at a random bus stop and shouted at some more. You'd think that at most there'd be two 916 buses - one there and one back. No. There's three 916 buses. I managed to get on the wrong one twice.
As if this day couldn't have gotten any better, on the bus back I was sat next to a lovely old Chinese lady who kept piling chestnuts onto my lap and laughing as she made me eat them.
PS Happy birthday, Ella!