I’m  trying to find the exact words to describe the Great Wall, but frankly, I’m lost.

It’s sheer power and majestic views overwhelmed me. In the best way possible.

I was dog-tired after our whirlwind train trip from Moscow to Beijing, and frankly, the last thing I wanted to see was a monument. Even the Great Wall.

This is how bad it got.

On our sixth day, Nora turned to me.

“Guess what we get to do tomorrow?”

“See the Great Wall?”

“No!  Have a shower!”

We just spent six days without a full square meal or a real shower. Priorities, people, priorities.

I soon changed my mind.

Enticing over a shower!

We arrived in Beijing in the early hours of the morning and was greeted by our China Odyssey guide, Li Peng, or for North American tongues, he also likes to be called Andy.

The train station was already strewn with people at such an early hour. The first few things I noticed about Beijing was the modernity. Import cars of varying degrees traversed the roads, glass and concrete buildings hogged the skyline, right among the old of motorbikes and bicycles. A city of nearly 20 million would not boast less, I suppose.

Andy was cheerful, talking about his love of Beijing. He grew up here, cultivating fond memories of playing near the Forbidden City, for at one time, it was public space. It was pleasurable to be greeted by such loyalty at that hour in the morning.

One thing that wasn’t pleasurable was the smog. I read about Beijing’s pollution challenges before, but to experience it firsthand was something else altogether.

I felt the weight of pollution in my throat and had a constant urge to cough. When I gazed towards the sky, the sun was but a blur. The impact of the dense smog had hit me.

China is on the rise, ranking as the second largest economy in the world. With such mammoth growth, comes a whole set of milestones: housing, free market economy principles, environmental impact, consumerism and cultural changes, just to name a few.

We saw evidence of this growth, as construction site after construction site was our scenery on the final run into Beijing.

China swells

I’ve never seen so many excavators in my tender life.

Back to the Great Wall, because that’s why you’re reading this.

Andy was the man of solid suggestions; one was proposing that we see the Great Wall before settling into our hostel to beat the crowds.

Our capable driver took the wheel and the highway to drive the 80 km to Badaling, our entry point for the Wall. As the van made its way out of Beijing, the second thing I noticed were gardens. Green, giving and lush, with mini-bridges or pagodas, we saw the elderly as well as the young exercising, rolling their arms or practicing Tai Chi to greet their day.

I smiled at the sight. Of course, silly girl, this is China, gardens are those little treasures to be found in every city. Especially Beijing.

I soon forgot the soiled clothes on my back, relishing the change in air, feeling excitement build towards stepping onto the brick walkways.

The red sea: we weren’t the only ones enthusiastic

Once we arrived, Andy’s second suggestion was that we avoid crowds by heading towards the North side of the Wall.

Oh, how right he was. At a perky 8 am, we were the only foreigners on that section of the Wall.

Enough words. I’ll let pictures speak.

The beginning of our ascent

Taking a break and goofing. Michael Hodson is in background

Sitting on the Wall

Twists and turns

Where I’m headed: that tower

How many steps is that? 1,054 to be exact

We reach the tower

Despite the warning sign, people want to leave thier mark on history

I reached the peak of this trip, standing on the Great Wall. That peak was gratefulness. I am privileged to be experiencing a structure that existed thousands of years before me, and still will be thousands of years after I gulp my last breath.

I was hushed. I’ve only felt this way once before, when I stepped into Hagia Sophia. It was one of the few times when I realized I am a small speck in this grand universe. In all its wackiness, beauty, unfairness and dumb luck.

Maybe these feelings are wrapped up in goals, but experiencing this place is not about ticking off a bucket list.

I realize how finite everything is, which is one of the things I wanted to learn from my journey.

I made it!

I am one lucky woman.

Here’s a short, but cute video on my first reactions to the Wall:

Big thanks to to China Odyssey Tours for arranging our Chinese tours, transport and train tickets. We were ecstatic to have the opportunity to take the world’s fastest train from Beijing to Shanghai.  A secondary thanks goes to HostelBookers for arranging our stay at  Happy Dragon Courtyard Hostel. Our visit through China was a pleasure because of your hospitality!

Map courtesy of China Odyssey Tours