We left Shanghai early Tuesday morning on the metro to the railway station for our 4.5-hour journey to Beijing on the 2nd fastest train in the world. We watched the speed creep up on the display screen to 350km per hour, that's fast. We arrived on schedule and our driver was waiting for us at the other end to take us to Jinshanling, a 3-hour drive outside of Beijing. Heather had found a new hotel that was offering introductory rates and was right next door to the mid-gate entrance of this section of the Great Wall. We were greeted by the concierge which was actually a robot and the hotel had lots of very modern twists. This part of the wall was constructed in 1368 and is situated in the small and large Jinshanling mountains, hence its name. The length of this part is 6.5 miles and has 67 watchtowers, 3 beacon towers and 5 passes - The official length of the entire "Great Wall" is a massive 13,170 miles
After checking in, eating a late lunch we decided to have a quick walk on the wall before the gates closed at 7.00pm. A steep walk up to the wall, we managed to get an hour of exploration and apart from a few people who appeared to be doing some filming we were the only people there. As it got darker we wandered back to our hotel and had dinner, couple of drinks in the bar and an early night. We planned to get up early tomorrow to do the 8km walk from the mid-gate to the west gate and wanted to beat the tourist crowds who we anticipated would arrive when the cable car opened at 09.00am.
We had an early breakfast and what an amazing spread that was. It seemed as though we were the only people in the hotel and wondered just what they were going to do with all this food. Completely full we made our way back up hill and started our walk wondering when we would bump in to the expected hordes of tourists. It never happened and apart from a few people selling trinkets and drinks, we were the only 4 people on the wall. What an amazing experience it was to have it all to ourselves on a cold but sunny day - The wall itself was awesome, the pure scale of the structure combined with the snaking form of the wall stretching into infinity, all set into the beautiful mountain scenery.
Our driver returned at 3.00pm to take us back to Beijing where Heather had booked a guest-house we had previously stayed in back in 2012 situated in the Hutongs. After checking in, Adam had found a restaurant renowned for its dumplings so off we went on our quest to find said restaurant - it wasn't where it should have been but luckily had moved just a short distance further down the road. It was very basic but really busy and we had to wait for a table, the food was great and extremely cheap.
The next day we did the highlight must sees of Beijing, The Forbidden Palace which served as the home of emperors for 500 years. Next stop was the park opposite where there are great views from the top looking over the roofs of The Forbidden Palace. We then walked to the huge space that is Tiananmen Square which is one of the top 10 largest squares in the world. It has in the centre, on a marble terrace, The Monument to the People's Heroes and also Mao Zedong's Mausoleum which we tried twice to visit but got the timing wrong both times and it was closed!
That evening we went for dinner to a restaurant called the Black Sesame Kitchen for their wine and dine 10 course communal dinner. With a mixture of guests from all over the world and our food being cooked in an open kitchen with a strategically placed mirror so we could see the chef at work, free flowing wine and beer - we had a great night. After dinner we went for a nightcap, or two, at a bar around the corner which served craft beer and distilled their own gin.
Our last day in Beijing started with a late breakfast after sleeping off the excess of the previous night. We went back to Tiananmen Square with a view to visiting the Mausoleum but once again we got there after it closed, we missed it by 5 minutes. We then made our way across the city to an ancient observatory built in 1442, 2 centuries ahead of Greenwich in the UK. After plenty of walking we went for lunch at a restaurant Adam had found which served really good food. We were the only customers and ordered a wide selection of different dishes to share. Adam seemed to have a knack for picking good lunch spots.
That evening we made our way to the train station for our sleeper train to Xian where Heather had booked us a 4-berth carriage. Armed with snacks and a few beers we were ready for the 11-hour journey ahead to Xian ……….