Shanghai

Posted By : Karl/ 40 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Days 23 and 24: Taking the Train to Shanghai and exploring China’s “Gate to the West”.

 

After taking the train from Yichang to Shanghai yesterday morning, we spent the last two days of our trip exploring China’s modern “gate to the west”. It actually took us some time to get used to the sight of white and long-nosed fellows like ourselves again because cycling through the non-tourist Chinese hinterland for more than two weeks we had hardly seen any other foreigners.

Besides enjoying the sight of the famous Bund at the banks of the Huangpu river, and looking up to the giant skyscrapers at Lujiazui, the most interesting bit of sightseeing was the wedding market inside the People’s Park. Despite the modern and western appeal of the city, the picture of parents advertising their sons or daughters on posters pinned to umbrellas inside the alleys of the park made us very well aware that we were still in a culture very much different to the European.

Then at our last joined dinner, it was time to say good-bye and recap everything we had seen during the last three weeks. Walking through Beijing, climbing the Great Wall, and seeing the Terracotta Warriors had experienced the magnificence of the old Chinese Imperial Culture. Climbing Mount Hua, cycling through steep river canyons and through fantastic mountainscapes, we got a glimpse of the great nature and landscape of China. And finally we had experienced the great contrasts within this country, with its terraced fields and low-tech farming on the one side and all the gigantic construction projects and booming cities on the other side. We have eaten a huge diversity of tasty food and have gotten along well with each other. Ganbei and good-bye! Who knows – we might soon see each other again on another trip!

 

Surprises

Posted By : Karl/ 36 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 23: On our way to Yichang, we change routes and go half the distance by car, and half the distance by bike.

 

Today, we made two spontaneous arrangements:

The first one was a complete change of our original route. After cycling 10 km, Xiao Yang brought us the bad news: Due to construction, the whole road ahead of us was blocked for all traffic, even pedestrians were not allowed to pass. We had been warned by the owner of our hotel that it might get difficult for cars to go through, but we had hoped that on our bikes we might be able to somehow make our way past the construction. Now that we were certain that there was no way, plans needed to be rearranged. After a bit of research we decided to try out a new route on the other side of the Yangzi. The alternative route was quite a bit longer, and seemed to include a lot more climbing. No one of us was in the mood to go through that much “suffering” on our last day, so we decided to drive half the distance by car. Since we are only six cyclists, we managed to fit all people, luggage and bicycles into Xiao Yang’s little truck and went up the hills on the other side of the river. The route was pretty, not much trafficked, but with a long ascent and we were happy that today, for a change, could simply sit in the car and let the engine do all the work. After reaching the top, we hopped on our bikes and cycled the last 45 km down into Yichang. We crossed the Yangzi for one last time on a huge bridge, and then it was done! We returned the bicycles to the local GIANT bike store and checked into our hotel, and celebrated the end of our 14-stage cycle tour with a last “dirty beer” in the sunshine outside of the entrance hall. We’ve had great weather overall, merely a handful of punctured tires and, most importantly, no crashes or injuries. Ganbei to our luck!

In the evening it was time to say good-bye to our driver Xiao Yang, who had done a perfect job during the 20 days he stayed with us – in reliably leading us to the best restaurants in town, fetching us cold drinks whenever we needed them and most importantly by always wearing a smile on his face and bonding with all members of our group despite the language barrier.

Tonight, Xiao Yang had yet again found a great restaurant for us. As it happened, my Chinese friend Mingyan recently got married in Yichang to her German boyfriend, and as the two of them were still in the city I had invited them to join us for dinner. For the group it was interesting to talk to an Yichang native who could speak German, and for the newly wed husband it was nice to be among compatriots for a change, after spending two weeks in China surrounded by people who hardly spoke any English let alone German. After dinner, the day’s second surprise caught us when the two of them returned our favour of inviting them for dinner by inviting us to their temporary home for a little karaoke-party. After a little hesitation in the beginning and with the help of a few alcoholic beverages, the evening ended with all of us wholeheartedly singing along to Beatles’ and sixties rock classics.

 

 

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The Three Gorges By Boat

Posted By : Karl/ 56 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Days 21 and 22: A day of Rest in Wushan, and a Boat Ride down the Yangzi from Wushan to Zigui.

Today and yesterday, we discovered the Yangzi by boat: Yesterday we sat out to see the “Little three Gorges” of the Daning River. Cycling to Wuxi, we had already seen the Daning. From Wuxi, the River flows South towards the Yangzi. The Little Three Gorges can be found at the last bit of the Daning before it flows into the “Long River” at Wushan. The boat trip down these narrow Gorges, with massive cliffs towering high above the water was very nice and we completely enjoyed that for a change, we could just sit still and let the pretty scenery pass by. Yesterday afternoon was used for reading, drinking coffee and relaxation.

Today, went downstream on the Yangzi: a small, chartered boat took us all the way from Wushan to the Three Gorges Dam. We experienced the scenery of the second and third Gorge, the Wu Gorge and the Xiling Gorge from the water. The captain was very nice and stopped whenever we asked him to slow down so that we could have a proper look cliffs and take pictures. The boat dropped us of just a few kilometres ahead of the dam and after a rather lousy lunch (so, yes, now we finally found a restaurant offering bad food) we took our time to explore the huge site of the dam in the afternoon.

How time flies! Tomorrow will be our last day of cycling – and after two days of sitting and walking, we are already looking forward to this last bit of exercise.

 

Heat

Posted By : Karl/ 23 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 20: Cycling from Fengjie to Wushan, parallel to the Yangzi.

 

We struggled today! Even though we had already mastered two longer and harder stages during the last couple of days, the combination of the heat and a very long ascent made it hard to maintain the smile on our faces. On the way stopped many times for cool drinks and just a few minutes of rest in the shade, cursed the sun and the mountain, and very slowly made our way up to the top.

This is the good thing about cycling mountains: Once up on the top, all the pain you go through to get there is forgotten instantly. High fives for completing the last big challenge of our journey!

The last 30 km to the hotel were pure pleasure, constantly going downhill on a smooth new road, all the way to our hotel in Wushan, located directly at the bank of the Yangzi.

After a fabulous dinner (Has dinner been anything else than fabulous any time during our trip?), we went for a massage just opposite of our hotel. After the exhaustion of the last days, this seemed to be just the right thing to do. Apart from the obvious benefits of relaxing your muscles, going to a massage parlour in China is always a social event and quite entertaining in most cases. Massage staff are often very talkative and during a massage which usually lasts about one hour, there is plenty of time for a conversation. There were five ladies and one man to massage us, and it didn’t take long until the room was filled with chatter and giggles. One of the ladies had an especially quick mouth and entertained the whole room. At one point during the conversation she learned that one of us was from Switzerland and exclaimed: “Oh, what a marvellous country! Such beautiful landscape!” When we asked: “How do you know Switzerland so well, have you ever been there?”, she replied “Oh yes! I go there every night, in my dreams!”

They went on joking about the shocking amount of white people’s chest hair, complimented us on our strength and willpower to come to their place from Xi’an all the way by bike and told us a little bit about their life as a massagist. We were lucky that all of us fitted into the same room so that I was there to translate the questions they asked us, as well as some of the gossip they shared among themselves. On top of the entertainment, the massage was really good and we left the studio satisfied and happy.

We have more than earned our two days of rest now.

 

 

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What a stage!

Posted By : Karl/ 16 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day The toughest stage of the tour! 90 km,  lots of climbing. Sunny, and breathtaking landscape.

 

We have reached the mighty Yangzi, having a hot, tiring, but most beautiful ride. As opposed to the previous couple of stages when we often cycled impressive rocky river valleys, today we rode on the ridges of the mountains. We went up and down on sometimes steep, but quiet roads and enjoyed stunning views on mountains covered by terraced fields and into the vast Yangzi valley.

Tired as I am tonight, and with another tough stage coming up tomorrow, I will take a little break and simply let the pictures and elevation profile of today’s ride stand for themselves.

Good night!

 

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Right through the Heart of the Chicken

Posted By : Karl/ 19 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 18: A climb in the morning followed by a sweet 25 km downhill ride to Wuxi. Nice weather.

 

Step one:

Take a map of the world, search for China, squeeze your eyes a little and let your imagination flow… now, what do you see? Yes! – A chicken! With it’s beak facing East and Tibet and Xinjiang as its tail, could it be any clearer?

Step two:

Make a cross on the map where you believe the heart of the chicken must be.

This is exactly where we cycled today: We crossed the Chicken Heart Pass right at the border triangle of Shaanxi, Hubei and Chonqing province. I always look forward to passing this point, because one of the tour’s most pleasurable parts follows right afterwards – a smooth and scenic downhill ride of 25 km length! Wide and beautiful views into the valley with close to no traffic on the road – this passage will make every cyclists heart jump with joy. At the foot of the mountain we cycled another 30 km through a steep and rocky river canyon and comfortably reached our hotel in Wuxi at 4 in the afternoon.

For dinner Xiao Yang led us to a great spot beside the river, where we ate a superbly seasoned fish and let today’s impressions sink in with a cool beer at hand. Can a cycle tour get any more enjoyable than this?

 

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Law Enforced Photoshooting

Posted By : Karl/ 18 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 17: A long cycling stage from Pingli to Zhenping. 115 km.

 

Phew, we made it! After 115 beautiful but strenuous kilometres of cycling, we arrived in Zhenping before 5 pm. Tired and happy we sat sipping a well-deserved “dirty beer” in the lobby when the front office lady received a call from the local police office. Someone or something (a CCTV camera?) must have noticed that a suspicious group of six Western cyclists had arrived in the city, and they must have followed the lead up to the hotel where we stayed. In a small place like Zhenping (the municipality has about 50,000 inhabitants), far away from any tourist sights known in the western hemisphere, a group of white travellers stand out like a handful of potatoes in a sack of rice. During the last couple of days, we had already gotten used to the curious looks and murmurs of people we passed, as well as to the obligatory photo-shooting with the whole staff of every store or restaurant we entered. While these encounters are flattering and quite funny most of the time, we had also received a more unpleasant type of attention: A couple of days ago we had been stopped by police and had to undergo a slightly annoying procedure of having all our passports checked and photographed multiple times. When the front desk lady informed us kindly that the police would shortly arrive to ask us some questions we suspected a similar procedure.

We didn’t have to wait long until the police showed up, but we had expected something different altogether: Instead of the usual bossy police officers, in walked a tiny lady in police uniform, with a shy look on her face. She greeted us and warmly welcomed us to stay in the little town of Zhenping. In a most friendly way, she asked where we came from and said that she admired us for our spirit when we told her that we had cycled all the way from Xi’an to this place. We had a nice little conversation and in the end, she shyly enquired if she could ask us for a favour. Of course she could, and with a little blush she asked if we would be willing to take a picture with her so that she could keep some sort of memory from this special encounter. She led us to a place beside the river where flowers had been put up, a pretty spot for a photo-shooting indeed! After some posing and picture taking she happily thanked us and wished us a smooth and safe onward journey.

Today’s morale is the following: Don’t judge a situation before you’ve lived through it. Even a police control in China can end up in a flowery group picture, friendly words and shared laughter.

 

 

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Up for a tea plantation bike race?

Posted By : Karl/ 18 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 16: Cycling from Ankang to Pingli. Nice weather, and quiet roads.

 

After one rather rainy day of rest in Ankang, weather got better again today as we swung back on our bikes to advance further South towards the Yangzi. On a very nice and quiet road we followed a mountain creek upstream and had to climb two passes on very mild ascents. For the first time on our route we saw many tea plantations and could watch the farmers pluck the fresh green leaves.

With a rather short stage of little more than 70 km and relatively few climbing ahead of us, I asked Xiao Yang if he stop at a tea factory so that we could get an idea how the tea was processed. Minutes later Xiao Yang pulled his car over at a local tea plantation and processing station. The friendly staff promised to show us the “factory” – a big room with a tea roasting machine, a tea breaking machine, and one drying machine. We had hoped to experience the processing in action, but the friendly lady told us that while the farmers used the light of day to pluck the leaves in the fields, they would only start their tea processing shift in the factory at 6 pm.

As we tasted some of the freshly fabricated tea, the plantation lady asked us if we had heard of their bicycle race track already? No, we replied, but this does sound interesting!

Not long and we found ourselves cycling a newly built race track through the tea plantation. The local tourism office had come up with the idea and financed it, so the lady explained. The whole thing looked a little bit odd to us, since we were now quite far out in the countryside and we thought it rather improbable that many people would travel far to cycle a 2km long loop cycle-path through the tea plantations. For us, however, it was a welcome change compared to the roads we usually cycle, and we enjoyed the steep little ascents and descents as well as the beautiful scenery.

After arriving in Pingli we went on a stroll through the little city and ended up having dinner in one of the hot-pot-joints. Just like on most other evenings, we went to see the small town night-life on the People’s square before returning to the hotel: What joy it is to watch all the people pursue their hobbies in public: women are dancing, men gather to play cards or whip their huge spinning tops, and the children roam about or drive in crazily blinking fun vehicles around the square.

We are back early in the hotel tonight to get enough rest for the long and hard stage coming up tomorrow.

 

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High Heels Bike Wash

Posted By : Karl/ 37 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 14: Cycling 60 km along the River Han to Xuanyang, then transfer by car for the rest of the way to Ankang.

 

Apart from cycling some pretty 60 km along the Han River from Shuhe to Xuanyang, today’s highlight surely was the bike washing in the morning.

We had started the day with a little sightseeing in the Shuhe old town and had bumped into the opening ceremony of a documentary film which was going to be shot in the newly renovated guild hall of Shuhe. A pretty location for a film, indeed!

Yesterday’s muddy construction sites had left our bicycles covered with a thick layer of dirt, so our first mission of the day was clear: Find a place to wash the dirt off our bikes! Xiao Yang, our experienced driver, didn’t need much time to find out just the right spot: Just outside of Shuhe, he located a small car washing service and persuaded the owner to give our bikes a wash. And so it came: equipped with a high pressure water gun, the lady running the place gave each of our bikes a good cleaning. We sat and watched the little spectacle, musing over the detail that the lady didn’t bother changing into her working clothes: She wore a mini skirt and high heels during the whole procedure, gracefully avoiding any dirty spot on her clothing while still doing an excellent job at removing all the mud from our bikes!

We couldn’t cover the whole distance to Ankang by bicycle because another construction site made it impossible to continue cycling on the road Xuanyang and Ankang. Thus we decided to hop on Xiao Yang’s support truck and drive the rest of the way via the highway.

After dinner we went for a foot massage and pedicure session: It is very common in China to use these services – prices are more than reasonable and the service is always good. Tomorrow we’ll have our deserved day of rest in this city. Ankang means “peaceful and healthy”, just the right combination for a day of relaxation and regeneration!

 

 

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Stop and Go

Posted By : Karl/ 17 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 13: Cycling 97 km from Manchuan to Shuhe.

 

With over 90 km ahead of us we started early on the road to Shuhe, another old Merchant town lying at the banks of River Han, the longest feeder of the Yangzi.

We first cycled a medium size road uphill, passing very typical rural scenery of people ploughing and sowing their small, and often terraced fields. After our daily stop bowl of noodles for lunch (this time we each had a bowl of traditional Lanzhou lamian, Lanzhoustyle handpulled noodles), we started cycling a small road downhill. The scenery here got even prettier, and despite the cloudy weather we enjoyed the ride a lot.

Our driver Xiao Yang had warned us that there might be some road construction ahead, and sure enough – about 25 km before Shuhe we hit the first road blockage. Apparently the road was going to be renewed and widened, which in this part of China means that tons and tons of rock would have to be taken away. A project which would take a couple of years in Europe and would probably take about a year here.

After waiting for about 10 minutes, the road block was removed and we were allowed to cycle on – only to find the next section of construction a couple of kilometres further on. This time, we had to wait another 30 minutes, giving us time to chat up with some of the locals and observe a woman of around 50 years of age, who chopped down trees beside the road for firewood, being equipped with nothing more but a little sickle. She explained us that as the road was planned to be widened anyway, the state had allowed the local residents to chop trees beside it.

The game repeated itself: After being allowed to cycle on through the construction, soon we were held by another road block and forced to wait until the workers moved the big stones out of the way and took a break. Slowly, we made our bumpy way through the sections of construction and were all pretty tired when we reached the little town of Shuhe just before sunset. Still the stage had been one of the prettiest and quietest we had cycled so far and after a nice warm shower and some good dinner, all today’s waiting and cycling through muddy construction was already forgotten.

 

 

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