Newly Built Old Towns

Posted By : Karl/ 17 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 12: Cycling 95 km from Shanyang to Manchuan.


On a slightly misty day, we cycled inside a rather steep valley, following a mountain river downstream. The road was smooth and quiet, and cycling was easy, so we reached Manchuan comfortably early in the afternoon. Just as we arrived, heavy rain started pouring down What perfect timing! Ourselves being safe and dry, we enjoyed our dirty beer on the hotel’s roofed porch to the fullest.

As we set out to explore the Manchuan a little, we bumped into the owner of our favourite restaurant in town. In return to our promise to have dinner at his place later, he offered us a free tour through the pretty old town. Located at an important strategic spot on the routes to pass the central Chinese mountains, Manchuan once was a significant merchant city, today some of the old guild halls still stand and can be visited.

During the last couple of years, Manchuan had been “developed” by the state Tourism and the whole town got a new outfit, matching the style of medieval China. Walking through a narrow alley, where the oldest houses of the town, with massive bent wooden beams and traditional outlook could be seen, we learned that these houses were already designated to be torn down and replaced by more “modern” buildings with an old look. Back in Europe we used to teams of restorers painfully trying to keep all the old structures alive, but here it seems like building something entirely new with an oldish outlook was considered better than preserving the original structures.



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The People’s Square

Posted By : Karl/ 17 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 11: Cycling from Shangluo to Shanyang, 62 km. Nice walk through the hills around Shangluo in the afternoon.


This morning, we had a very straight-forward mountain stage ahead of us: 28 km up, 34 km down, finito. Despite the easy stage we decided to start early enough to have the afternoon to spend in Shanyang. On an almost car-free road, riding along a mountain creek and through peaceful villages we reached the pass before noon and easily rode downwards into Shanyang.

We didn’t regret our decision to get there early: In the afternoon, we explored a newly built park in proximity of our hotel. The park had been built just a year ago along the ridges of some hills outside of the city and it proved to be a joy to wander along the freshly planted flowers, overlooking the city and its surroundings. By the pace China changes, even if I a visit certain cities as a guide rather frequently, there will always be something new to discover. Urbanisation happens at an incredible pace, and this is best observed in “small” places such as Shanyang. I think the size of the city must have at least tripled since I came here for the first time in 2010.

As we agree in our group, most of the new buildings (high rises for accommodation which all look pretty much the same) do not look very friendly. But, apparently, city planning also has its good sides and pretty places for recreation are being built at a similar pace.

Another way to measure the growth of the city is to go and see how much is going on on the People’s Square in the evening. In cities like Shanyang, people like to get together in the evening on the people’s square for dancing, singing and body workouts. The most popular activity on these squares are line dances, typically called “big square dance” guangchang wu. As we reached the People’s square after dinner, it was already filled with dancing people. There was a partcularly big fraction of pair dancers, waltzing their ways on the smooth stone ground of the square. As a group of foreigners, we could not escape the attention and were approached by college girls who tried out their English for the first time on native speakers, and were asked to star on a number of pictures.

As the People’s Square is located derictly in front of our hotel, we wondered if we were going to get any sleep with all the noise and trampling going on. However, at 10 pm sharp all the noise died, lights went out and we spent a peaceful night in our beds.


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Lemon Bombs

Posted By : Karl/ 45 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 10: Short stage from Luonan to Shangluo, 43 km, cloudy. Tea tasting in the afternoon.


This was the easiest stage of our tour, no doubt about that. We reached Shangluo by noon, after riding on a slightly descending, scenic and rather quiet winding road for most of the way.

All of us were ready for a proper lunch break and some sleep, and then we got out again to go for a tea tasting at the tea shop opposite of the road. We tasted a couple of regional green teas and two black ones, with the lady from the tea shop answering all of our questions concerning the best way to brew and drink it. Tea tastings are one of my favourite activities with the groups – you always learn a lot and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. Today’s discovery were the carved out mini-lemons, filled with black tea, that we called lemon bombs – what a fragrant, fruity and new taste!

For the rest of the day, we strolled through the city. These strolls never get boring. We discovered a somewhat underground meet-up point for table tennis and badminton players, watched a forty-year-old guy having a disco dance outside of his shop to modern music and finally ended up in a incredibly cheap and incredibly good little restaurant with a chatty and humourous chef.

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The Yin and Yang of Cycling

Posted By : Karl/ 48 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 9: Cycling 115 km from Huashan to Luonan.


The terms Yin and Yang, today mostly used in a rather metaphorical way, originate in a very simple depiction: Yin was used to describe the shady side of the mountain, Yang for the sunny side.

The elevation profile of today’s stage is simple: One long ascent, one long descent. We climbed the shady side, and rolled downhill again on the Southern, sunny side. One strenuous climb with big energy output and a few too many trucks overtaking us here; one nice and scenic downhill ride on quiet small roads there.

Yin and Yang unite to result in a group of six tired cyclists having a beer on the city square of Luonan as the sun sets.

I am too tired myself to write in more detail about the day. I hope the pictures give you an impression of our ride and I promise to give you more details in my next entries. Good night!

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Mountain of People, Sea of People

Posted By : Karl/ 24 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 8: Climbing Mt. Hua – Countless steps, countless people, beautiful weather.
“Mountain of People, Sea of People” ren shan ren hai (人山人海) is a Chinese proverb which describes a dense and big crowd of people. It’s not hard to imagine that this is a very common expression in China.

Have you climbed one of China’s holy mountains before? This is what you should expect: Countless staircases and steps, and countless people. On Mt. Hua, we encountered both today, and we had a great time. The ascend from the foot to the first peak of the Western of China’s Daoist Mountains took us about four hours. The stairs got steeper and steeper the higher we climbed and we were quite exhausted when we finally reached the mountain ridge. However, the weather was stable and nice and we were awarded with a stunning scenery and beautiful views.

For everyone who doesn’t like to walk so many steps, you can still get to the to of Mt Hua by cable-car. As most of the Chinese visitors happen to happily avoid the steps, we were suddenly surrounded by many many people. Instead of lonesome mountain paths and quiet contemplation, we found a noisy crowd of young and old who struggled to get in line for the designated picture taking spots. As we were hardly any other Westerners to be seen on the Mountain, we were asked to feature on quite of few pictures. This act usually involves lots of giggle and laughter and we had much fun despite the exhaustion.

Going back down we took the cable-car from the Western peak. What an experience! Non of us (not even the Swiss) had ever been in a cable-car which got even close to the spectacular experience of this one. The car goes down and up and down again, crossing two steep and deep valleys, the whole ride taking about 20 minutes.

We appropriatly ended this nice day with a delicious meal. Tomorrow, we’ll swing on our bikes and head south – more climbing to be expected!

Through the Wei River Valley

Posted By : Karl/ 93 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, day 7: Cycling 106 km through the Wei river valley, from Lintong to Mt. Hua.

The River valley is said to be the cradle of Chinese civilisation. Archeologic findings suggest that the Han Chinese culture stems from the fertile flatlands between River Wei and the Yellow river. Opposed to all most other cycling stages coming up after tomorrow, today was a pretty flat one: Until Weinan we cycled through smooth hills and typical small towns and villages.

After a lunchbreak and a repair stop at the local GIANT bike shop in Weinan, we continued on a very straight road for a very long time, to reach the foot of Mt Hua. To be honest, this stretch of the road is not the nicest to cycle – the mind gets tired after a while and so do the buttocks! Good to know that for the rest of the tour, the landscape is going to be pretty, mountainous and changeable. Nevertheless, we managed to arrive at our destination early enough and had our first very deserved “dirt beer” (that’s the beer you have before having a shower) in the lobby. Cheers!


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Many Faces of China

Posted By : Karl/ 67 0

Three Gorges of the Yangzi, day 5: Cycling 30 km from Xi’an to Lintong, and then to the Terracotta Warriors and back.

Today we started our cycling trip! Xiao Yang, our driver, loaded his little truck with our bags and off we went into the direction of Lintong. Although we were happy to be on our bikes and on the road, today’s focus was on the afternoon schedule: After checking in to our hotel, we cycled another 7 km to the famous Terracotta Warriors.

Using words to describe the sight of the warriors does not do them justice, and neither do pictures. We took our time to absorb all the impressions of the tomb guards designed by Emperor Qin, one of the greatest megalomaniacs that has ever lived.

Just as the countless Warriors each have a different face, modern China is not easy to put into one mold: After coming back from our visit to the historic warriors, we experienced the bustle of the medium size modern Chinese city in the evening: On our way to have dinner we crossed the city square and saw people dance to loud western music, while a group of pensioners sat just a few meters away, practicing on erhu’s (traditional two stringed instruments played with a bow), while other’s sat and watched a soap opera on a huge public LED screen. It is certainly not easy to merge all these impressions into one picture – but we will have another 20 days of time to slowly get a grasp of the many faces of this country.

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Walls of China

Posted By : Karl/ 87 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi – Days 3 and 4: On two nice and sunny days, we climbed two walls – one near Beijing, and one in Xi’an.
On our last day in Beijing, we packed our things early and set out to the Great Wall 70 km North of the capital. The Great Wall at Huanghua is steep and spared by mass tourism. We had a great time climbing the high steps and steep slopes, enjoying fantastic views over mountains coloured by first flushes of light green, with the Chinese Wall winding along the ridges like a giant serpent. Of course, we also stopped at our favourite little restaurant at the foot of the wall to have a taste of their delicious grilled trout.

In the evening we took a sleeper train from the enormous Beijing West station to Xi’an. Traveling by train in China is an adventure in itself! The atmosphere of the station is more like that of an airport, with masses of people waiting at designated gates to be called to get in line to board the train.

After a somewhat shaky night (caused by “square wheels”, as diagnosed by our two expert train drivers) we arrived Xi’an on time at 8:30 in the morning.

After picking up our bicycles and having a little rest in the hotel, we set out to explore the city that used to be the capital of the Chinese Empire. About a thousand years ago, during the Tang dynasty, this city had been the world’s biggest metropolis, with over one million inhabitants and a multicultural flair caused by its position at the beginning of the famous silk roads that connected China with Central Asia and Europe.

Chang’an, the predecessor of Xi’an, became a model for imperial cities in China, Japan and Korea – with it’s central characteristics being the square shape and the walls separating the different gentries from each other. The city wall of Xi’an stems from Ming dynasty times and has recently been reconstructed – in a way that makes it possible to cycle all the way around it. Of course, we could not miss out on this opportunity and had a great time cycling the 13 km around the city center.

In the evening we paid a visit to the beautiful mosque and mingled with the many Chinese tourists in the pedestrian zone to try some of the muslim specialties: Mutton-filled bread (rou jia mo) and a mutton-and-breadcrumb stew (yangrou pao mo).


An unexpected visit to the Railway Museum

Posted By : Karl/ 37 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 2: Exploring Beijing on a rainy day.

We did sightseeing in the rain.

As predicted, the weather was not great today but we made the most of it and managed to have a good and enjoyable day of sightseeing in Beijing. We saw the retirees at the Temple of Heaven, who came out despite the rain to play cards and exercise in the park, walked throgh the former red light district of Dashilanr, made a quick stop at the Railway Musem, crossed gigantic Tian’anmen square, wandered through the Forbidden City’s many yards, and looked over the city from the top of Jingshan hill.

Wait. Railway Museum? Yes! I had passed that Museum (which is located inside an old Railway station right next to Tian’anmen square) with various groups on various trips before, never even taking notice. Today was different though, as two of our groups participants are professional train drivers. As rare as this profession is, as clear it was to all of the group that we could not pass the Chinese railway museum, having two experts on this field on board. Even though most explanation panels were written in Chinese, we learned a lot about trains just by letting the two tell us what came to their mind when looking at the pictures presenting the 130 years of railway in China.

On another note, we had great dinner in a roast duck restaurant and walked back to the hotel mighty exhausted (Is it just me? A day of sightseeing makes my body aching and tired more than a day of cycling 100 k through mountainous terrain.) – but happy.

Oh, and how fitting that after learning all about the railway system, we will travel all the way from Beijing to Xi’an tomorrow evening – by train.


Beijing Blue Sky

Posted By : Karl/ 35 0

The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, day 1: First stroll through the Chinese Capital, flowers are blooming and the sun is shining.

It’s spring in Chinese capital as we start our tour to the Three Gorges of the Yangzi!

While the trees back home are still waiting to wake up from their winter sleep, Beijing’s Almond- Plum- and Cherry -Trees are in full bloom.

On the day of arrival, we used our first afternoon to explore the surroundings of our hotel. Located in the heart of the Beijing Hutongs, strolls into every direction are sure to be exciting – the tradtional back alleys of the city are always bustling and a new scenery waits behind every of the Hutong’s many bends and corners.

Walking to the Drum Tower and around the pretty Hou Hai Lake, we saw an open air hair studio, rounds of people sitting on those typical small chairs who gathered for a game of mahjong, were impressed by the flexibility of an old lady dancing in the park, heard some cheesy jazz classics played live by the side of the lake and watched Beijing’s bravest retirees go for a swim in the incredibly cold water. Describing all of those scenes would be worth a couple of more blog posts… but I’ll keep this one short.

One thing I still have to mention is the beautiful weather: It couldn’t have been any nicer. Perfect temperatures, a soft breeze, blue skies and fresh green all around us – not exactly the type of picture Western media like to show of Beijing!

We finished our walk with a beer in a bar above the water, and then headed for some of the best Jiaozi in town for supper.

Will spring around the Three Gorges look as pretty as here? We will find out!