Searching for locations: West Lake, Hangzhou, China

West Lake is a freshwater lake in Hangzhou, China. It is divided into five sections by three causeways. There are numerous temples, pagodas, gardens, and artificial islands within the lake.

Measuring 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) in length, 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles) in width, and 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) in average depth, the lake spreads itself in an area totaling 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles).

The earliest recorded name for West Lake was the “Wu Forest River”, but over time it changed to two distinct names.  One is “Qiantang Lake”, due to the fact that Hangzhou was called “Qiantang” in ancient times.  The other, “West Lake”, due to the lake being west of the city

It’s about to get busy, with a number of activities planned, and the warmth of the day is starting to make an impact.

The tour starts in the car park about a kilometer away, but the moment we left the car park we were getting a taste of the park walking along a tree-lined avenue.

When we cross the road, once again dicing with death with the silent assassins on motor scooters.

We are in the park proper, and it is magnificent, with flowers, mostly at the start hydrangeas and then any number of other trees and shrubs, some carved into other flower shapes like a lotus.

Then there was the lake and the backdrop of bridges and walkways.

.

And if you can tune out the background white noise the place would be great for serenity and relaxation.

That, in fact, was how the boat ride panned out, about half an hour or more gliding across the lake in an almost silent boat, by an open window, with the air and the majestic scenery.

No, not that boat, which would be great to have lunch on while cruising, but the boat below:

Not quite in the same class, but all the same, very easy to tune out and soak it in.

It was peaceful, amazingly quiet, on a summery day

A pagoda in the hazy distance, an island we were about to circumnavigate.

Of all the legends, the most touching one is the love story between Bai Suzhen and Xu Xi’an. Bai Suzhen was a white snake spirit and Xu Xi’an was a mortal man.

They fell in love when they first met on a boat on the West Lake, and got married very soon after.

However, the evil monk Fa Hai attempted to separate the couple by imprisoning Xu Xi’an. Bai Suzhen fought against Fa Hai and tried her best to rescue her husband, but she failed and was imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda by the lake.

Years later the couple was rescued by Xiao Qing, the sister of Baisuzhen, and from then on, Bai Suzhen and Xu Xi’an lived together happily.

The retelling of the story varied between tour guides, and on the cruise boat, we had two.  Our guide kept to the legend, the other tour guide had a different ending.

Suffice to say it had relevance to the two pagodas on the far side of the lake.

There was a cafe or restaurant on the island, but that was not our lunch destination.

Nor were the buildings further along from where we disembarked.

All in all the whole cruise took about 45 minutes and was an interesting break from the hectic nature of the tour.

Oh yes, and the boat captain had postcards for sale.  We didn’t buy any.

Lunch

At the disembarkation point there was a mall that sold souvenirs and had a few ‘fast food’ shops, and a KFC, not exactly what we came to China for, but it seemed like the only place in town a food cautious Australian could eat at.

And when tried to get in the door, that’s where at least 3 busloads were, if they were not in the local Starbucks.  Apparently, these were the places of first choice wherever we went.

The chicken supply by the time we got to the head of the line amounted to pieces at 22.5 RMB a piece and nuggets.  Everything else had run out, and for me, there were only 5 pieces left.  Good thing there were chips.

And Starbucks with coffee and cheesecake.

At least the setting for what could have been a picnic lunch was idyllic.

If only we could make travel plans!

Round about now, in our part of the southern hemisphere, spring is nearly two months gone and leading into December, we start having hot days.

Today, is is going to be about 30 degrees Celsius.

This is the calm before the storm, because round about now, we not only have to contend with the heat, we also have the humidity, sometimes reaching 100 percent.

Those days, every move you make causes endless perspiration.

So, best not to go outside if you can avoid it.

Some years ago we installed air conditioning and it’s been great for summer.  Then, the climate change became a factor in everything, and saw huge increases in the cost of water, and in particular, electricity.

Our bills for summer frequently topped a 1,000 dollars for the three months, and getting worse every year.

So, a year or so ago we invested in solar panels.  What a difference.  The air conditioning costs very little and our bills are now about 300 dollars for the three months.

More money then for holidays.

And finding a more temperate climate to bask in.

The idea of minus 19 degrees may faze some people, but not us.  If you can imagine endless days at 35 degrees Celsius with 100 percent humidity, you would understand why we prefer to be anywhere but home.

But our favourite destinations of New York and Toronto are no go zones because out government has decided none of us will be travelling until a vaccine is available, or COVID has gone.

It looks like I’ll just have to surf the internet and indulge in a little armchair travelling.  Maybe I can create a bucket list of places to go when we finally can leave.

Searching for locations: The Kingston Flyer, Kingston, New Zealand

The Kingston Flyer was a vintage train that ran about 14km to Fairlight from Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, and back.

This tourist service was suspended in December 2012 because of locomotive issues.

However, before that, we managed to go on one of the tours, and it was a memorable trip.  Trying to drink a cup of tea from the restaurant car was very difficult, given how much the carriages moved around on the tracks.

The original Kingston Flyer ran between Kingston, Gore, Invercargill, and sometimes Dunedin, from the 1890s through to 1957.

There are two steam locomotives used for the Kingston Flyer service, the AB778 starting service in 1925, and the AB795 which started service in 1927.

The AB class locomotive was a 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive with a Vanderbilt tender, of which 141 were built between 1915 and 1927 some of which by New Zealand Railways Addington Workshops.

No 235 is the builder’s number for the AB778

There were seven wooden bodied passenger carriages, three passenger coaches, one passenger/refreshments carriage and two car/vans.  The is also a Birdcage gallery coach.  Each of the rolling stock was built between 1900 and 1923.  They were built at either of Addington, Petone, or Hillside.

I suspect the 2 on the side means second class

The passenger coach we traveled in was very comfortable.

This is one of the guard’s vans, and for transporting cargo.

The Kingston Railway Station

and cafe.

A poster sign advertising the Kingston Flyer

The running times for the tourist services, when it was running.

Searching for locations: Driving in ice and snow, Canada

This morning started with a visit to the car rental place in Vancouver.  It reinforced the notion that you can be given the address and still not find the place.  It happened in Washington where it was hiding in the back of the main railway station, and it happened again in Vancouver when it was hidden inside a hotel.

We simply walked straight past it.  Pity there wasn’t a sign to let people know.

However…

We went in expecting a Grand Jeep Cherokee and walked out with a Ford Flex, suitable for three people and four large suitcases.  It actually seats 7, but forget the baggage, you’d be lucky to get two large suitcases in that configuration.

It is more than adequate for our requirements.

Things to note, it was delivered with just over a quarter of a tank of gas, and it had only done about 11,000 km, so it’s relatively new.  It’s reasonably spacious, and when the extra seats are folded down, there is plenty of baggage space.

So far, so good.

We finally leave the hotel at about half-past ten, and it is raining.  It is a simple task to get on Highway 1, the TransCanada Highway, initially, and then onto Highway 5, the Coquihalla Highway for the trip to Kamloops.

It rains all the way to the top of the mountain, progress hampered from time to time by water sprays from both vehicles and trucks.  The rain is relentless.  At the top of the mountain, the rain turns into snow and the road surface to slush.  It’s 0 degrees, but being the afternoon, I was not expecting it to turn to ice very quickly.

On the other side of the mountain, closer to Kamloops, there was sleet, then rain, then nothing, the last 100kms or so, in reasonably dry conditions.

Outside Kamloops, and in the town itself, there was evidence of snow recently cleared, and slushy roads.  Cars in various places were covered in snow, indicating the most recent falls had been the night before.

We’re staying at the Park Hotel, a heritage building, apparently built in the later 1920s.  In the style of the time, it is a little like a rabbit warren with passages turning off in a number of directions, and showing it is spread across a number of different buildings.

It has the original Otis elevator that can take a maximum of four passengers, and a sign on the wall that says “no horseplay inside the elevator” which is a rather interesting expression that only someone of my vintage would understand.  And, for those without a sense of humor, you definitely couldn’t fit a horse in it to play with.

The thing is, how do you find a balance between keeping the old world charm with modern-day expectations.  You can’t.  Some hotels try valiantly to get that balance.  Here, it is simply old world charm, which I guess we should be grateful for because sooner rather than later it’s going to disappear forever.

In my writer’s mind, given the importance of the railways, this was probably a thriving place for travelers, and once upon a time, there were a lot more hotels like this one.

Searching for locations: The Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Now we’re walking to the Forbidden City, and it seems like we’re walking for miles and we’re practically exhausted before we get started on the main tour.  I’m not sure if we received a map of the city, but one is certainly needed so that you can navigate the many features, buildings, and walkways.

There are tour groups everywhere in the large courtyard outside the gate, most likely getting a lecture on the last of the Chinese emperors about that time Sun Yat-Sen proclaimed the new China around 1912.  We were no exception, and it was an interesting way to spend the time waiting to get in.  It was a tale of intrigue, interwoven with a 3-year-old emperor, and a scheming concubine who becomes the Emperor’s favorite, enough to bear him a son and successor.

Bribery and corruption at its best.

But its history runs something like this:

The Forbidden City is was once the imperial and state residence of the Emperor of China, as well as the center of government, from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, or 1420 to 1924.

It was built from 1406 to 1420 when the Yongle Emperor moved the capital from Nanking to Beijing and consists of about 980 buildings, and 8,886 bays of rooms (not the 9,999 as prescribed in myth) and covers 180 acres.  Over the 14 years, a million workers used whole logs of wood from the jungles of southwestern China, marble from quarries near Beijing, specially made golden bricks from Suzhou

Since 1925 it has been a museum and is the largest number of preserved wooden structures in the world.

The city is surrounded by a wall 7.9 meters high, and a moat that is 6 meters deep and 52 meters wide.  A tower sits at each of the four corners.  Each side has a gate, the north is called the Gate of Divine Might, the south is called the Meridian gate.  East and west are called East Glorious Gate and West Glorious Gate respectively.

But, back in the courtyard, we are ready to go in and follow the tour guide who has switched from her amplified microphone to a whisper device we all wear in our ears.  She talks and we listen.

We all make it through and regroup on the other side. This is where the fun begins because we are about to meet a large percentage of the 80,000, they let for the day.

It seems to me they have all arrived at the same time, although by the time we get to the entrance gate, it is very well organized, bags are scanned, people are scanned, and you’re in.

After crossing one of the seven Golden Water bridges, you begin to get some idea of the size and scope of the City, and in the distance, the first of the buildings, The Gate of Supreme Harmony.  On a hot day, that could be a long and thirsty walk.

From there it is one pagoda after another with buildings that surround the edge of the whole Forbidden City, as does the moat.

By the time we get to the second courtyard, it was time to have ice cream as a refresher.  Others head up to another exhibit, and it’s just too many stairs for us.

After this, it’s a walkthrough another courtyard, heading up and down some more stairs, we go and see the museum, with priceless relics from past emperors.

There are areas like the outer courtyard, the inner courtyard, yet another courtyard, and the gardens where the concubines walked and spent their leisure time.  It is not far from the emperor’s wives living quarters, though there’s precious little left of the furniture, other than a settee and two rather priceless so-called Ming dynasty vases.

We get into the bad habit of calling all of the vases Ming dynasties.  Above is one of the inner courtyards there were living quarters, and that tree is over 300 years old.

Out through some more alleyways and through an entrance that led to the area where the concubines lived, very spacious, bright, and filled with trees, plants, and walkways through rocky outcrops.

The whole area was made up of living quarters and waterways, rocks and paths, all very neatly set out, and it looked to be a very good place to live.

This is an example of the living quarters, overlooking the gardens

And there were several pagodas

From there its a quick exit out the northern entrance, and another longish walk to our bus, which arrives at the meeting point shortly after we do.

That done, the Beijing tour guide has completed her section of our China experience, and we’re ready to move onto the next.

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada – again

It’s always a given that whatever city you stay in unless it’s overnight, you go on a tour and see the sights.

Even when you’re staying a short distance from the city, you may go to the effort of catching a train or bus, then get on the hop on hop off tour.  There’s always one in just about every city you visit.

Vancouver was no exception.

Except…

We arrived in the rain, went to sleep while the rain came down, woke up to the rain, and a heavy dose of jet lag, or perhaps it was more than we had spent 24 and a half hours traveling from Brisbane to Vancouver vis Shanghai.

We had an excellent view out the window of our room looking towards the shopping mall, and the steady fall of rain.

 I felt sorry watching the construction workers on the building site that was the main vista we had to look at.

It could have been worst.  Endless mountains with snow on them.

What to do.  Venture out in the rain and go on the tour, on pop over to the shopping mall and pick up a few boxing day bargains, no, sorry, boxing week bargains.

We have had some experience going on ha op on hop off tours in open-top buses in the rain.  And the last time was not a pleasant experience, even though we learned a valuable lesson, not to stand in front of c as mons and yell ‘fire’.  Apparently, that’s how Admiral Nelson lost his arm.

But…

The shopping mall won.

We’d wait and see if the weather improved.  Hang on, isn’t Vancouver near Seattle, and doesn’t it rain the 300 days of the year?

Not holding my breath.

I feel sorry for the construction workers again.  Still raining, still cold, and still no reason to get out of bed.

Day 2 in Vancouver turned out to be the same as day 1.

Hang on, there’s a development.

We’re on the 16th floor and up at those lofty heights, we can see not only the rain but intermingled with it a few flakes of snow.

Whilst we procrastinate about what we’re going to do, the snowflakes increase into small flurries.

Yep, we’re off to the mall again and go for a walk in the snow.

On the way back we drop into the Boston Pizza, which has a sports bar and there you can sit, drink, eat, and watch the ice hockey, or whatever sort is going at the time.

Today it’s a junior ice hockey tournament, but Canada was not playing.  Just the same, a long cold beer and ice hockey?

I can now cross that off the bucket list.

Day 3, we’re going on a great rail journey, well, we are going to get the train to the city and collect the rental car, on the booking form, supposedly a Jeep Grand Cherokee or similar.

Of course, ‘or similar’ are the words to be feared here because in truth the rental company can throw anything at you, so long as it matches the brief, three people and three large suitcases.

And, you guessed it…

The ‘or similar’ got us a Fort Flex

Searching for locations: Vancouver, Canada

Staying at Hampton Inn and Suites downtown, whatever that means because it looks like we are in the middle of nowhere.

But, judging by the crowd in the breakfast room, it’s a popular hotel.  Of course, it is Sunday morning so this could be the weekend escape people.
Two things I remember about staying in Hampton Inns is firstly the waffles and whipped butter.  It’s been five years but nothing has changed, they are as delicious as ever.  The other, its where I discovered vanilla flavored milk for coffee, and it, too, is addictive.

They also used to have flat burgers that were made out of sausage meat which was delicious, but on the first day, they were not on the menu.
Nevertheless, it was still a very yummy breakfast.

After some research into where we might find this pixmi unicorn, it appears that it is available at a ‘toys are us’ store in one of the suburbs of Vancouver.  So, resuming the quest, we took a taxi to West Broadway, the street the store is located.

A quick search of the store finds where the toys we’re looking for are, after asking one of the sales staff, and we find there are at least a dozen of them.  Apparently, they are not as popular in Canada as the might be in America.  Cheaper too, because the exchange rate for Canadian dollars is much better than for American dollars.  Still, 70 dollars for a stuffed toy is a lot of money.
We also get some slime, stuff that our middle granddaughter seems to like playing with.

After shopping we set off down WestBroadway, the way we had come, looking for a taxi to return us to the hotel.  There’s no question of walking back to the hotel.

A few hours later we walk to the observation tower, which was not very far from the hotel,

a place where we could get a 360-degree view of the city of Vancouver although it was very difficult to see any of the old buildings because they were hidden by the newer buildings, nor could we see the distant mountains because of the haze.

After leaving the tower we walked down Water Street to see the steam clock and the old world charm of a cobbled street and old buildings

We stopped at the Spaghetti Factory Italian restaurant for dinner and is so popular that we have to wait, 10 minutes to start with.  It doesn’t take all that long to order and have the food delivered to the table.  Inside the restaurant, there is an actual cable car but we didn’t get to sit in it.

I have steak, rare, mushrooms, and spaghetti with marinara sauce.  No, marinara doesn’t mean seafood sauce but a very tasty tomato-based sauce.  The steak was absolutely delicious and extremely tender which made it more difficult to cut with a steak knife.

The write up for the marinara sauce is, ‘it tastes so fresh because it is made directly from vine-ripened tomatoes, not from concentrate, packed within 6 hours of harvest.  We combine them with fresh, high-quality ingredients such as caramelised onions, roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil’.

Oh, and did I mention they have a streetcar right there in the middle of the restaurant

I’m definitely going to try and make this when we get home.

After dinner, we return to the observation tower,  the ticket allowing us to go back more than once, and see the sights at night time.  I can’t say it was all that spectacular.

Another day has gone, we are heading home tomorrow.

A trip back through memory lane

We were diverting to Venus, sitting out there in screen, lonely as a cloud, if there could be clouds in space.

So, I wondered if the Captain had a special reason why I should head the team going to the freighter.

It was an opportunity to take one of the new class of shuttles, reported to be faster, more stable, and larger so that we could carry more people and cargo. It would be overkill today.

The crew assigned to collect the cargo were aboard, and my co-pilot for want of a better name was Myrtle, an officer that joined the ship with me, and had excellent qualifications.

We were going through the preflight, ready to lift off.

“First time?”

“In a shuttle, no. In space, real space, more or less.”

I don’t think I wanted to know what more or less meant.

“There’s nothing to it.”

The captain’s voice came over the speaker, “You’re cleared for departure, they’re expecting you imminently.”

“Very good, sir.”

It was never a gentle lift off, unlike landing, and that initial jerk was an annoyance. Then engaging the thrusters, we began to move forward slowly towards the cargo door, and at the synchronised time, the doors opened and there was nothing but empty space before us.

Outside, we increased speed, turned, and flying under our ship, just to get a look at it, something I knew the people aboard might be interested in seeing, then onto the Aloysius 5 drifting off our port bow.

“Do you see what I see?” Nice to see Myrtle wasn’t blind.

“I do, and that’s worrying.”

What was it? A scorch mark on the side of the Aloysius 5, in a place where we couldn’t see it from our ship, and a direct hit on one of the exhaust manifolds. That would stop a ship dead in it’s tracks without wrecking it.

“Captain,” I said, hoping he was listening.

“Number one?”

“I think we have a problem.”

© Charles Heath 2020

Searching for locations: Vancouver

It’s always a given that whatever city you stay in unless it’s overnight, you go on a tour and see the sights.

Even when you’re staying a short distance from the city, you make the effort to catch a train or bus, then get on the hop on hop off tour. There’s always one in just about every city you visit.

Vancouver was no exception.

Except…

We arrived in the rain, went to sleep while the rain came down, woke up to the rain, and a heavy dose of jet lag or perhaps it was more that we had spent 24 and a half hours traveling from Brisbane to Vancouver via Shanghai.

But…

We had an excellent view out the window of our room looking towards a shopping mall, and an excellent view of the steadily falling rain. I felt sorry watching the construction workers on the building site that was the main vista we had to look at.

It could have been worse. Endless mountains with snow on them.

What to do? Venture out in the rain and go on the tour, or pop over to the shopping mall and pick up a few boxing day bargains, no, sorry, boxing week bargains.

We have had some interesting experiences going on the hop on hop off tours in open-top busses in winter and rain. And the last time was not a pleasant experience, even though we learned a valuable lesson, not to stand in front of cannons and yell ‘fire’. Apparently, that’s how Admiral Nelson lost his arm.

Again, but…

The shopping mall won.

We’d wait and see if the weather improved. Hang on, isn’t Vancouver near Seattle and doesn’t it rain the 300 days of the year?

Not holding my breath.

I feel sorry for the construction workers again. Still raining, still cold, and still no reason to get out of bed.

Day 2 in Vancouver turned out to be the same as day 1.

Hang on, there’s a development.

We’re on the 16th floor and up at those lofty heights, we can see not only the rain but intermingled with it a few flakes of snow.

Whilst we procrastinate about what were going to do, the snowflakes increase into small flurries.

Yep, we’re off to the mall again and go for a walk in the snow.

On the way back we drop into the Boston Pizza, which has a sports bar and there you can sit, drink, eat, and watch the ice hockey, or whatever sort is going at the time.

Today it’s a junior ice hockey tournament, but Canada was not playing. Just the same, a long cold beer and ice hockey?

I can now cross that off the bucket list.

Day 3, we’re going on a great rail journey, well, we are going to get the train to the city and collect the rental car, on the booking form, supposedly a Jeep Grand Cherokee or similar.

Of course, ‘or similar’ are the words to be feared here because in truth the rental company can throw anything at you, so long as it matches the brief, three people and three large suitcases.

And, you guessed it…

The ‘or similar’ got us a Fort Flex.

Not quite the same in name or prestige.

Oh, well… When in Vancouver!

Searching for locations: Lake Louise, Canada

The Fairmont at Lake Louise, in Canada, is noted for its ice castle in winter.  This has been created by the ice sculptor, Lee Ross since 2007, using about 150 blocks of ice, each weighing roughly 300 pounds.

When I first saw it, from a distance, looked like it was made out of plastic  It’s not.  Venturing out into the very, very cold, a close inspection showed it was made of ice.
And, it’s not likely to melt in a hurry given the temperature when I went down to look at it was hovering around minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
And that was the warmest part of the day.