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.

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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.

Searching for locations: The Lingering Gardens, Suzhou, China

The Lingering Garden

These gardens are very tightly put together and are interspersed with buildings that you can go in and look at as distinct from just looking in from the outside.

There are lots of paths that wind around interspersed with rocks which may or may not be sculpted, and equally interspersed with trees, bushes, and small plants.  In the middle is a lake which usually has lotus plants in bloom, but they are not in season.

The gardens were built around a small lake that was filled with fish of all sizes and colours

The buildings were also a contrast for those built for the men

and those for the women

In the middle of the garden was a significant rock pillar

surrounded by certain areas of the garden that had smaller rock formations

 

At the end of the garden is a large collection of bonsai trees, some of which are quite exquisite.

Searching for locations: The canals of Suzhou, China

This morning is a boat ride that will take us along a small portion of the main canal, and we head through a number of back streets, to a landing where there are a number of boats all vying with each other to get us passengers on boats.

But…

These boats don’t have a wharf to tie up to and then put out a stable gangplank.  No.  They just more into a concrete step and you take your life in your hands getting on.  One wrong step and you’re in the canal.  And not a very clean one at that.

That’s if another boat doesn’t come along and bumps you, knocking you off balance.  We managed not to lose anyone in boarding the vessel.

This is where we get on the boat

We go along what appears to be downstream towards another larger canal, past tree-lined streets until the canal narrows and we’re looking at the backs of houses, which look very dilapidated.

And the canals?  Well, it’s not quite like it is in Venice

Though some parts of the canal look better than others

What doesn’t bear thinking about is the electrical wiring which is a nightmarish spider web of cables going off in all directions.  How anyone could troubleshoot problems is beyond me.

We pass under a number of bridges, and then, about 30 minutes after leaving, we reach a larger canal and do a 180-degree turn, and head back to a drop off point the will enable us to walk through a typical everyday Chinese market for food and the other items.

This drop off point is much the same as the starting point, a concrete step which is as hazardous as the first.  At least we don’t have to compete with other boats for the landing spot.

We take a leisurely stroll down a small section of Pingjiang Road with small shops on either side, selling all manner of goods

but my interest is in the food and the prices, which at times seem quite expensive for so-called local people, so maybe because the tourists go down this street every day, the prices have been inflated accordingly.

I find it rather disappointing.

We walk to the bridge, go under to the other side crossing the canal and find the coffee shop which is also the meeting place.

So…

When is a coffee shop not a coffee shop, when it takes an eternity to make a cup of coffee, we waited 25 minutes?

We also ordered beef black pepper rice and it took 20 minutes before it arrived, but it was well worth the wait.  Strands of perfectly cooked beef with onion, carrot, and capsicum, with a very peppery and spicy sauce, with a side of boiled rice.

A pizza was ordered too but it did not arrive at all before we left.

Searching for locations: Hutongs, Beijing, China

What are Hutongs?

In Beijing Hutongs are formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences, called siheyuan.  Neighborhoods were formed by joining many hutongs together. These siheyuan are the traditional residences, usually occupied by a single or extended family, signifying wealth, and prosperity. 

Over 500 of these still exist.Many of these hutongs have been demolished, but recently they have become protected places as a means of preserving some Chinese cultural history.  They were first established in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)Many of these Hutongs had their main buildings and gates built facing south, and lanes connecting them to other hutongs also ran north to south.

Many hutongs, some several hundred years old, in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Drum Tower and Shichahai Lake are preserved and abound with tourists, many of which tour the quarter in pedicabs.

The optional tour also includes a visit to Shichahai, a historic scenic area consisting of three lakes (Qianhai, meaning Front Sea; Houhai, meaning Back Sea and Xihai, meaning West Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty and remnants of old-style local residences, Hutong and Courtyard.  

First, we had a short walk through the more modern part of the Hutong area and given some free time for shopping, but we prefer just to meander by the canal.  

There is a lake, and if we had the time, there were boats you could take.

With some time to spare, we take a quick walk down one of the alleyways where on the ground level are small shops, and above, living quarters.

Then we go to the bell and drum towers before walking through some more alleys was to where the rickshaws were waiting.
The Bell tower

And the Drum tower. Both still working today.

The rickshaw ride took us through some more back streets where it was clear renovations were being made so that the area could apply for world heritage listing.  Seeing inside some of the houses shows that they may look dumpy outside but that’s not the case inside.

The rickshaw ride ends outside the house where dinner will be served, and is a not so typical hose but does have all the elements of how the Chinese live, the boy’s room, the girl’s room, the parent’s room, the living area, and the North-south feng shui.

Shortly after we arrive, the cricket man, apparently someone quite famous in Beijing arrives and tells us all about crickets and then grasshoppers, then about cricket racing.  He is animated and clearly enjoys entertaining us westerners.

I’m sorry but the cricket stuff just didn’t interest me.  Or the grasshoppers.

As for dinner, it was finally a treat to eat what the typical Chinese family eats, and everything was delicious, and the endless beer was a nice touch.

And the last surprise, the food was cooked by a man.

Searching for locations: Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, X’ian, China

Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum

A little history, and anecdotal advice first:

In 1974 a 26-year-old farmer, Yang Jide, was drilling a well and found fragments of the terracotta soldiers and bronze weapons.

What was discovered later was one of the biggest attended burial pits of China’s first feudal Emperor, Qin Shi Huang.  In the following years remains had been found in 3 pits, yielding at least 8,000 soldiers and horses, and over 100 chariots.  The soldiers were infantry, cavalry, and others.

Emperor Qin was born in 259 BC and died in 210 BC.  He began building a mausoleum for himself at the foot of Mount Li when he was 13.  Construction took 38 years, from 247 BC to 208 BC.  It was divided into 3 stages and involved 720,000 conscripts.

The pits of pottery figures are 1.5 km east of Emperor Qin’s mausoleum.  Pit 1 has about 6,000 terracotta armored warriors and horses and 40 wooden chariots.  Pit 2 is estimated to have over 900 terracotta warriors and 350 terracotta horses with about 90 wooden chariots.  Pit 3 had so far yielded only 66 pottery figures and one chariot drawn by four horses.

Official records say it was discovered later that it was likely Xiang Yu, a rebel, intentionally damaged the Mausoleum and the soldiers in the pits, by setting fire to the wooden roof rafters, and these fell on and broke the warriors into pieces.

However, we were told that after the terracotta warriors were completed, the Emperor ordered the builders to be killed so that they would not tell anyone about the warriors, and then of those that remained alive deliberately smashed all of the artifacts.

The thing is, all of the terracotta figures that have been found are in pieces, and they need computers to piece them back together again.

The visit:
The first impression is the size of the car park and the number of buses parked in the lot, and a hell of a lot more outside up the road an off on side streets.  Obviously, it costs money to park in the parking lot.

The other first impressions; the numbers waiting to get in were not as many as yesterday outside the forbidden city, in fact, a lot less.

Be warned there’s a long walk from the entrance gate where your bags are scanned and a body scan as well, before admittance.  This walk is through a landscaped area which it is expect might sometime in the future reveal more soldiers, or other artifacts.

At the end of the walk that takes about ten minutes, you can get a one-way ride to the second checkpoint, but we opted not to as no one else in our group did.

That walk is the warm-up exercise to an organized viewing of the exhibits after going through a second ticket checkpoint.  On the other side, we had to hand our tickets back to the tour guide which was disappointing not to end up with a memento of actually having been there.

So, on the other side in the courtyard, the guide told us the most important parts of the exhibition, that we should spend most of the time looking at pit 1, and then spent a little time in 2 which is only there in the first stages of excavation.  Then move onto the museum if only to see the replica chariots.

We do.

The chariots were small but interesting

The horses were better and intricately detailed

These are soldiers, perhaps complete examples of those types found in the end pit.

This is one of the archers.  You can tell by the way he wears his hair.

Pit 2

The excavation of this pit has only just begun, so it is possible to see where they have carefully removed the top cover, and you can see the broken parts of the warriors lying in a heap.

Some parts of the warriors are more discernible closer up

These parts are carefully extracted and taken to the ‘hospital’ where they are digitised and the computer will match each part with the warrior it belongs to.

Pit 1

This has quite a number of standing soldiers that have been glued back together, but not necessarily complete and I notice a number if the statues were incomplete. And if they cannot find the missing pieces, then they are not added to or filled in.

The scale of the pit is enormous, and they have hardly scratched the surface in the restoration process.

What is there is a number of horses as well.

That’s at the front of the pit, a long line of statues, and what is clear is the location of the well where the first fragments were found by a farmer.

There are about eight lines of soldiers, and some lining the sides.

Midway down there is a large area currently under excavation

At the back is the hospital where the soldiers are reassembled.  There’s nearly a hundred in the various stages of rebuilding.  These days the soldiers are rebuilt using computer imaging.

The hospital area is where they are put back together

And these are some of the statues in various stages of reconstruction

Another two views of the size and scale of the reconstruction project

The coffee shop is also a sales centre, but there are too many people waiting for coffee and too few places to sit down.

Searching for locations: Smith Street, Fitzroy (Once part of what was known as Marvellous Melbourne)

Of course, it could easily be Collingwood depending on who you barrack for in the local football competition, as it is Fitzroy, but the map and my GPS tells me the street is, for all intents and purposes, in Fitzroy.

Not that there is a football team for Fitzroy any more, that moved north to Queensland a long, long time ago.

But…

Going for a wander up and down the street shows two or three very different sides to inner suburban living, and the effect that comes from a diverse range of cultures, the city has acquired over the past few decades.

Once viewed as almost the slums of Melbourne, these inner suburban areas have moved upscale to become havens for the more wealthy middle classes and a home for many diverse outlets, not the least of which are eateries.

And. In just this small section of Smith Street, there are a lot of eating establishments, from the Old Kingdom Peking duck restaurant to a small place selling Falafel, and then everything in between. It says a lot about how Australian eating habits have changed in a single generation, where back in those infamous old days you would be lucky to have a fish and chips/ hamburger shop and one or two Chinese restaurants.

Now, intermingled with gourmet bakeries and cozy coffee shops, there are a plethora of other eating establishments that cater to any cuisine you can imagine.  In fact, it’s possible to dine out on a different cuisine every night for a fortnight and only traverse about half a kilometre up and down the street.  It could be ideal if you lived in one of the small fronted houses just off the main carriageway in a leafy narrow side street or laneway.

And, as you would expect in an inner-city suburb,  the streets are narrow and made more hazardous for traffic because of the trams, a familiar sight in many of the streets in this area, and a much-used form of transport for workers making the short trip into the city.  It’s almost possible to take the extra half hour, and walk.

The street is lined with old buildings, some dating back to about 1868, there’s around the turn of the century, but most are not inhabited except for the street level where there is an eclectic mixture of furniture, haberdashery, and clothing stores catering to a particular group of people, what some call yuppies or upwardly mobile men and women who are between 25-35, with high paying jobs, and preferably no children.

Then there a subgroup walking there streets, homosexual men, some wheeling adopted children in pushers, others walking hand in hand out for a Saturday afternoon stroll where they can feel safe among many others.  It’s very different from other places I’ve been, but one can imagine there are places like this in every city all over the world.

But as a backdrop to the appearance of wealth, the shopfronts that cater to those upwardly mobile upper middle classes, there’s that exact opposite in full view, the homeless, and beggars, sitting on the ground outside the more run down shops soliciting alms, asking for a spare dollar, and even one asking for a cigarette.

Everyone walks past them, imagining no doubt there are not there, or that if they ignore them, they will go away.  I think not.  And, I suspect, more will come out of their daytime hiding places and take up residence in Smith Street itself.

The only surprise is that the local council has not asked the police to move them on. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of inhabitants in an area that no doubt can only attract the upper middle classes, as anything and everything is relatively expensive, particularly real estate, and permit driven parking spaces.

Would I live here?  No.

Would I come here to wine and dine?

Maybe, if I could get parking, which there appear to be very few spots or any other form of parking such as under the local supermarket which can be very expensive.  And if you are lucky enough to find a spot, who has the time or the memory if continually feeding a parking meter every two hours, particularly if you’re having a good time.

Equally, it’s a place I would not feel comfortable, even if it was once a safe haven, which up to a few years ago, I’d probably think it not.  In fact, at times I was not sure what to make of some of the people on the street, but I guess if I lived here, it would no doubt be the norm.

Would I recommend people to come here?

Of course.  One of the more interesting places in Melbourne to experience grassroots cuisine that is incredibly diverse in it range and price, and even from a place with tables and chairs that may have seen better days, but you haven’t come to see the furniture.

And to my mind, the dining is definitely better, here than perhaps Carlton, which in itself is Mecca to a plethora of university types, both teachers and students alike, and the coffee culture that pervade that area of Melbourne.

I have no doubt you will come and leave with a very good opinion of the place.

As for me, I came here for an engagement party held at the Hotelito de Jesus, a Mexican restaurant, serving a variety of Mexican dishes.  As I’m no expert of that particular cuisine, everything was going to be new.

It was.  It’s spicy but not too spicy, the pork belly excellent, the canapés delicious, and both the mushroom-based and shredded beef based mini tacos were equally scrumptious.

All of this was washed down with two particular Mexican beers, two of several available in bottles, cans, or by the glass.

Oh, and you can get sangria by the jug too if you like.  I would have, but my passion for trying different beers won out.

Searching for locations: Toowoomba Flower Festival, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is held in September, and generally runs for ten days at the end of the month.

We visited the Laurel Bank Park, where there are beds of many colorful flowers,

open spaces,

statues,

an area set aside for not only tulips but a model windmill

and quite a number of hedge sculptures

There was also the opportunity to go on a morning or afternoon garden tour which visited a number of private gardens of residences in Toowoomba.

Wishful thinking will not get us there any faster!

My phone, being smart and all, has been creating a notification that tells me I have some memories stored on it for this day a year ago, or two years, or many years.

The pictures it is showing are of our trip to China a few years ago.

Not much chance of going back, and, back then, neither of us could imagine that everything that has happened in the last six months could happen.

But, it did.

And one of the effects of those events is no more overseas travel

No more travel of any sort at the moment with the travel restrictions in place.  We can’t even fly to another state.  Come to that, we might not have an airline to fly on.

Travel, of course, is the main escape, where we can get away from our daily lives, and go somewhere quite different from where we live and experience a different world.  The people, the food, the sights.

What is probably more significant is that we might not be able to go away again, if there is no cure for the virus.  No one will want to risk catching it in another country, simply because of the medical expenses, the chances are that travel insurance will not cover you for the Coronavirus.

And no cover, no travel, even if you are able to.

So, it means that any travel we will be doing, when we can, will be in our own country.  We can do this without a vaccine because we have so few active cases, and the measures we have is stopping it in its tracks.

So too for New Zealand, and we may be able to travel there.

One day.

Until then, my smartphone is going to keep sending me gentle reminders of what it was like in another lifetime.

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 3

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

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This is Chester.  Back on the bed.

Another argument lost, another smug ‘I’ve got the better of you, again’ look.

Time to move on, pick a battle I think I can win.

Food.  There’s the old wives tale, that cats love fish, and it’s true to a certain extent.

Chester doesn’t believe fish live in cans or plastic packets, despite how it’s dressed up.  Fresh fish, he’s into it, but there always seems to be a measured reluctance to eat something out of a can.

I think he regards us humans with disdain when our food comes out of a can or packet.

He refuses to eat the leftovers!

Then there’s chicken, or its more expensive neighbor, turkey.

He loves turkey.

I’m sure he’d eat quail and spatchcock too, but no, he’s a cat, and cats have to get used to eating chicken.  We’ve had this discussion, one too many times.

And just for good measure, I told him if he thinks he’s coming to Italy with us, he’d better get used to the idea of eating pasta.

Of course, always with the last word, he said, quite nonchalantly, ‘then you’d better call me Garfield’.

Grrrrrrr.

Searching for locations: Innsbruck, Austria

On this occasion, we drove from Florence to Innsbruck, a journey of about 500 kilometers and via the E45, a trip that would take us about five and a half hours.

We drove conservatively, stopped once for lunch and took about seven hours, arriving in Innsbruck late in the afternoon

The main reason for this stay was to go to Swarovski in Wattens for the second time, to see if anything had changed, and to buy some pieces.  We were still members of the club, and looking forward to a visit to the exclusive lounge and some Austrian champagne.

Sadly, there were no new surprises waiting, and we came away a little disappointed.

We were staying at the Innsbruck Hilton, where we stayed the last time, and it only a short walk to the old town.

From the highest level of the hotel, it is possible to get a look at the mountains that surround the city.  This view is in the direction we had driven earlier, from Florence.

The change in the weather was noticeable the moment we entered the mountain ranges.

This view looks towards the old town and overlooks a public square.

This view shows some signs of the cold, but in summer, I doubted we were going to see any snow.

We have been here in winter, and it is quite cold, and there is a lot of snow.  The ski resorts are not very far away, and the airport is on the way to Salzburg.

There is a host of restaurants in the old town, and we tried a few during our stay.  The food, beer, and service were excellent.

On a previous visit, we did get Swiss Army Knives, literally, from a small store called Victorinox.

And, yes, we did see the golden roof.