My first time in Asia. Everything was so different! The crowds, the sounds, the smells, the liveliness. Navigating the traffic was my first big adventure: a green light at a pedestrian crossing did not mean "go", you still had to let turning cars, motorcycles, and bicycles go by first. I quickly learned to pick a local as my "leader" and follow them closely.
William, then a UVIC student from China, and I had become friends. He and his parents went out of their way to make this an incredible experience for me. Right away they equipped me with a convenient subway card, a local phone and helped me with hotel reservations. I only later realized how valuable that was – after all, it was EXPO time in Shanghai, and everything was booked and awfully expensive unless one had convenient connections!
Visited: Maglev train – Madame Tussauds – Site of the First National Congress of CPC – Expo 2010 – The Bund - Old City - Ocean Aquarium – Zhongshang Park - Jing'an Temple - People's Park - World Financial Center (9 days)
Expo in Shanghai – what a spectacle! I've never seen so many people in one place! I went several times and still only saw part of it. Monitors on the subway announced the number of visitors on that day – on Saturday evening the daily number had exceeded one million.
Countries presented themselves in very unique and creative ways. The UK building was one of the most outstanding. If you wanted to get inside you had to line up for two or more hours. I got this shot from a neighbouring, less popular, building.
The "Old City" at Yuyuan Gardens isn't old anymore. It's a pretty "touristy" place selling all kinds of snacks and trinkets. It was my first time, and I didn't mind it then. Pretty much every city now has such a new old-style quarter, so it has lost its WOW-effect for me.
Haze and pollution were omnipresent. I went to the famous Bund a few times but never in clear weather. Movies staged in Shanghai regularly show the Oriental Pearl Tower, one of Shanghai's most outstanding landmarks. It always makes me sigh: I wish I had seen it on a clear day!
Even in the most hectic cities you'll find tranquil places like this park in the middle of the city. A great escape and a perfect place for people watching!
The Financial Center on a clear day. I started to appreciate the modern architecture. Shanghai has plenty of it!
View from the Shanghai World Financial Center (492m / 1,614ft, 101 floors)
As much as I had soaked up the vibes of the big city Shanghai, after a while I missed some tranquility and laid-back familiarity. Two days in Ningbo offered just that. Here I finally met William's parents and so began a very special friendship that has lasted 10 years already.
The train ride from Shanghai to Ningbo took about 2 ½ hours.
Visited: : TianYi Pavilion – Old Bund - Jiangbei Catholic Church (2 days)
View from my hotel room overlooking a side stream of the Fenghua River. It's a great place for a stroll with plenty of statues and art along the shoreline.
Tianyi Ge, founded in 1561 is the oldest library in Asia and among the oldest in the world.
Tianyi Ge currently houses about 30,000 volumes, mostly rare antique Ming dynasty printed and hand copied works.
I've always been a lover of antique furniture – these pieces were just gorgeous!
Later, I found reliefs everywhere, but I never get tired of them, even more so if they tell the story of days long gone.
Jiangbei Catholic Church, built in 1702 by a French missionary.
I took the overnight train from Ningbo to Beijing to start my first solo China excursion without my friends from Shanghai/Ningbo watching out for me. O yes, I was more than a little nervous! But all went well; there was always somebody to help me out when needed. I stayed at the Holiday Inn close to Temple of Heaven, loved the location in this everyday-people neighbourhood, and reached all my destinations by subway and on foot.
Subways in China are intuitive and easy to navigate. Signs and announcements are in Chinese and clear English. Master one word in Mandarin, dì tiě = subway, and any local can point you to the next station. This trick doesn't necessarily work with other landmarks. In another city I asked for directions to Walmart and ended up at one of the other six Walmart locations.
Temple of Heaven is one of my favorite Beijing destinations. Read the full story on this blog.
Visited: Temple of Heaven – Forbidden City – Tiananmen Square – Qianmen Street – Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao – Beijing Zoo – Yonghe Temple (Lama Temple) – Drum Tower – Bell Tower - Jingshan Park – Behai Park – Shichahai – Hutongs (6 days)
Back in the days, there were no high-speed trains, so travelling from Shanghai to Beijing usually meant taking the 12-hour overnight train. Nowadays it only takes about 4 ½ hours to cover the 1300 km distance.
Temple of Heaven, just a twenty-minute walk from my hotel.
Forbidden City. Impressive, beautiful architecture. I was surprised that most buildings were completely empty. One short answer is: The most valuable treasures are at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. But what a story about the journey! Don't miss SCMP's multimedia infographic – a most entertaining way to explore history.
When it rains it pours…
Almost ALL the buildings are in excellent condition – as if it was just yesterday that the painters put down the brush.
Always tempted to wander off the beaten path, I eventually found a corner that hasn't been touched in a while. It made me admire the artists who maintain these buildings even more (not just in the Forbidden City or Beijing, but all over the country).
Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao. I had to go and have a look! No entrance fee but we had to leave ALL our belongings behind at security: purse, camera, wallet, passport… Made me a bit uncomfortable to say the least. Inside, you have to keep moving at a slow pace: no stopping, no closer looks. Here's an interesting short read from The Guardian.
View from my hotel room. As soon as it got dark, food stalls popped up everywhere on the sidewalks where everyone could fill their belly for just a few yuan while soaking in the lively atmosphere and happy chatter. This night market certainly was one of reasons I enjoyed Beijing and this location so much!
Entrance to Yonghe Temple. I posted this picture to show that sometimes, not very often, you can see blue skies in Beijing. While I've cropped and edited some pictures slightly, I assure you this is a photo without ANY edits.
Where there is a drum tower, there's also a bell tower not far away. In ancient times, they had a similar time telling function as the striking clocks in the west.
View from Jingshan Park overlooking the Forbidden City. The park was built on a 45 m high artificial hill, almost a thousand years ago, to ensure the most favorable feng shui for the Imperial City.
I almost missed the train from Beijing to Xi'an. A torrential downpour had flooded the main road and I was stuck in the taxi for over two hours. From entering the station to boarding the train, I had less than 10 minutes. No time to decipher the timetables, I just randomly asked "Xi'an Xi'an?" I made it! I shared the compartment with four other travellers. The absence of a common language reduced our conversation to hi and bye and a few smiles, but the events that followed upon arrival made it one of the most memorable encounters of all my travels. Full story here.
Xi'an is famous for the Terracotta Army – a must-see. The almost 14 km long city wall is another highlight, ideal for walking or bicycling on top and for strolling through the many parks built around it.
I stayed at the Ibis Hotel, cheaper, but still an international chain with English speaking staff, in walking distance to city center and city wall. The beds were famously hard, my back was happy.
Visited: City Wall – Muslim quarter – Downtown – Terracotta Army (4 days)
The famous city wall built in 1370. It was hot! Other than inside the few buildings, no shade to be found – but worth every drop of sweat.
Small exhibitions in the gate towers and outside
Along the outside of the wall are many beautifully landscaped parks. While there is a fee for entering the wall, the parks are all free. I had more time to explore at my next visit in 2011.
Built in the late third century BCE, the terracotta army is a mindboggling example of human creativity and ability. When uncovered, the figures were all crushed as seen in the back of the rows.
Archeologists and helpers are now painstakingly re-assembling the figures. Work for generations?
This is the largest of the four pits that have been excavated. As soon as the shards are exposed to air, the lacquer covering the paint flakes and the colors fade. Therefore the 100 x 75 m large tomb and other pits remain unopened until a preservation method has been found.
How were people able to create these more than 8,000 soldiers, along with chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, and many others? The figures are said to be life size. They were all noticeably taller than me (1.70 m). I always thought that people back then were much shorter? Notice how different they are: mustaches, eyebrows, ears, shape of their faces, hands – every little detail is different from the other figure's.
Some color is still preserved in this figure.