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Friday - 11 May - Up at 0500 - Breakfast again at 0630 in fine restaurant - French Toast, omelet to order. There is fog and light rain outside. Need to find a good book on Beijing history. We sign up for two optional (yet inexpensive) tours for later in Shanghai.
We depart by bus for the Great Wall at 0830 by which time rain has ended. The highway is modern and extends up into the mountain range north of Beijing most likely for not much other traffic than that going to the Great Wall. Sections of the wall become visible out the windows on both sides quite a few miles before we reach it. The bus exits the highway and turns into an old road into town at the outside base of the wall. This is the original road that passes through the fortified gate. There are many tourist shops. Clearly the place exists for tourists - mostly Chinese of course. There are many small shops and open stalls and several larger hotels with restaurants. We walk through one of the double gates through the wall. The defenses are built so that one enters through the outer gate into a fortified enclosure with battlements on all sides, and then would have to pass through another gate to enter into China. At this point the Great Wall is oriented north (outside) - to south (inside) China, in a pass through the hills, but once one is on the wall we see that it trends mostly east and west. This courtyard also has its complement of souvenir shops and a ticket gate. Of course Vantage has pre-purchased all the tickets for the group. Large and orderly crowds, by far mostly Chinese, are walking very far along the wall both east and west of the gate area. If ten thousand Chinese visited the wall every day it is open in season every year they would nevertheless not all be able to visit it as more are born each year. It is very windy and rather cool on a cloudy day. The mist and clouds make the photos dull and unclear. We walk and climb up on both sections - in some places the top of the wall is stairs. The parapet is wide enough for a chariot, but of course not in the staircase sections. There are rooms inside with entrances from above. A visit to the Great Wall is a breath taking experience.
Back at the town we buy more hats and things for half the price asked in many stores. Lunch is another fine buffet in the second-floor restaurant of a hotel. We are the first tourist group to arrive, so have our pick of the buffet table and seating. Another clever plus by our tour director, Kelly. Here the variety of deserts is exceptional. Kelly has arranged ahead of time for a taxi to meet me and two other retired officers and drive us to the Chinese Aviation Museum. The tour group will go by bus to see the Ming Tombs. We depart the Great Wall at 1300 and have an interesting drive back down the steep road built only for downhill traffic with many turnoffs and truck emergency stopping places. Obviously this is a different road than the one we traveled on going uphill to the wall. The two one-way branches meet at a village in the foothills. I am surprised that the mountain range and wall is so close to Beijing - or rather that the Chinese built their capital so close to the dangerous northern frontier. The Aviation museum is in a former under ground hanger built into the side of a mountain as part of a deactivated military airfield. A radar station still exists on the top of this mountain. The interior is lighted, but just barely, making photography very difficult. There are very few other visitors, all Chinese. The museum contains many unusual aircraft and a large number of models of aircraft of many nations. The small gift shop is further evidence that many visitors are not expected. Outside, on the former runways are many more aircraft, especially the larger bombers and transports that would not fit inside. Also there are antiaircraft guns and other displays including a large helicopter park. We depart the museum at 1545 to reach the hotel at 1700. The excellent driver takes the trouble to drive us to the huge Olympic stadiums still under construction. The hotel restaurant provides another huge buffet dinner with many gourmet dishes and many excellent deserts. After such a long day with extensive walking sleep comes fast at 2100.


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