You know you are a long way from home when strangers stop you in a public toilet and ask for photographs. Small children stared open-mouthed on the subway while their parents pointed and talked about us unashamedly. Beijing is an intimidatingly big city and we got our first real taste of cold weather at -10 but the subway system is brilliant and free dumpling Friday at the Chinese Box Courtyard Hostel was an absolute winner. We befriended several Australians (the first of many) and embarked on a 3 hour bus trip to the Mutianyu section of The Great Wall. The guide insisted we go up in the cable car like everyone else but being cheap and stubborn we defiantly chose to trek up the hill to tower 10 of the structure instead. Although this part has been heavily restored, it still gave incredible views over the mountains and a gut busting 1 hour climb to tower 23. The new wall meets the 600 year old original at this point and it remains in impressively good condition. We scrambled along this section for another tower before boosting back to the bottom for a traditional lunch of food that I could not name but tasted quite good. Exploring the area was definitely the highlight of the trip so far. We also visited the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in the days leading up to Vodkatrain starting. I practiced my chopstick skills on slippery dumplings and we drank the local brew with our Aussie roommates until it was time to relocate to the new hotel and the real trip. I may or may not have gotten the hotel completely wrong and caused a three hour detour with all of our gear on our backs to wind up only six blocks from our previous hostel - but we got there in time for the five o'clock briefing. Our whole group consisted of three other people (all from across the ditch and great value) and we immediately set to swapping stories of our struggles with the local culture - the spitting takes some getting used to. With two more days in Beijing, we split up to cover the attractions still left on our individual lists and snuck in a Chinese acrobatic show. I'm still not sure how I feel about what we saw, but the eight guys on motorbikes all inside the crazy circular cage thing was awesome. Next stage, Mongolia.
Rachael and Jeremy