AdventuresInChina PT I: Sunsets from the Great Wall of China & Train-Station Hell

Stop 1: Beijing. The beginning of our 3 week adventure in China.

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View of the Forbidden Palace from the top of Jingshan Park

In Beijing, we stayed near the Forbidden Palace, a quite traditional area. I actually didn’t expect everything to be so old-school, from bicycles attached to giant loads of wood, to rickshaws ditched in the alleyways, to endless amounts of family-owned food shops. What’s more interesting is that the area we stayed in was where some members of the royalty actually lived back in the days. Cool, right?

After stuffing ourselves silly with some of the most delicious 包子 (steamed buns) I’ve ever had, we headed off to our whole day adventure on the Great Wall of China. In short, that hike was spectacular. In fact, I’m not sure any other hike will ever beat the experience I had on the Great Wall.

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At Jinshanling, the start of our hike on the Great Wall of China

Maybe it’s because I had no idea what to expect, but the rolling hills in the background already won over my heart from the get-go. After the unexpected 2hr bush-whacking detour, Henry, our guide from the Great Wall Adventure club, led us to the unrestored section of the Wall called Gubeikou. It was wicked to see wild bushes and weeds growing without a care all along the way. The atmosphere was serene, with no other signs of human life but us. No. Other. Tourists. Did I mention this was also a sunset tour? I saw a flippin’ sunset off one of the Great Wonders of the World. While it wasn’t exactly a cheap tour, the jaw-dropping views we got to see, along with Henry’s sweet and attending manner, made it well worth my money.

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Marching on towards the sunset

The day after, we headed off to the train station to go to our next stop on our itinerary. Little did we know, the train was the official beginning of our struggles. That station was pure hell. We had no idea what to expect and were shoved around like sacks of potatoes in a very, very crowded and chaotic place. In addition to sweltering from the heat with our heavy backpacks, we were frantic having just barely managed to buy tickets for the last train.

Except they were standing tickets.

For a 5 and a half hour train ride.

But there was no way we would have to stand for the whole duration of the trip, right? Surely the system would not have sold us the tickets if that was the case..

As we got kicked out of the empty seats we eagerly nabbed at each stop as people got off and others piled on, our naive optimism faded to slow defeat. Finally, as I slowly sank to a squat on the train, Donna handed me a pamphlet to sit on, to which I laughed, and then accepted. Within an hour, all four of us could be found nodding off on the floor of the train. As I looked at the sight of us, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the situation we had gotten ourselves into.

After our hell-like experience at the Beijing station, we found delight in the ancient little city of Ping Yao that is indeed very well preserved. We feasted off the many food stalls found on every street corner. Meat skewers and walnut pastries galore. Omnomnom. Our accomodation room was also certainly interesting, reminding me of how monks might sleep altogether in a row at a monastery. Donna on the other hand, said our place reminded her of an ancient prostitute house. Same difference, I guess. 😂

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The ancient city of Ping Yao

The following day we left for our next stop, Xi’an. Talk about an aggressive itinerary. This was truly a modern city in comparison to Ping Yao and it was peculiar to experience the two contrasting cities back-to-back. Planning was surprisingly difficult and confusing, and we had to rely heavily on our hostel host, Leo, to plan our day. The poor guy not only stayed up late to wait for us and answer all our questions, but he also was awakened by us, answering more of our questions with puffy eyes and a swollen morning face.

Currently, I write all of this on the top bunk of our overnight train to Chengdu, in a room with two random middle-aged chinese locals, one of whom snored soo loudly that poor Donna desperately used all the tactics in the book to try to shake him out of his deep sleep. Slamming the door in his face didnt seem to work but somehow angrily grabbing a potato chip bag did. She kept it by her pillow that night, bitterly rustling it everytime his snoring started up again. Looking back on it now, I have to admit that it all is fairly amusing.

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