Searching for locations: The Erqi Memorial Tower, Zhengzhou, China

A convoluted explanation on the reasons for this memorial came down to it being about the deaths of those involved in the 1923 Erqi strike, though we’re not really sure what the strike was about.

So, after a little research, this is what I found:

The current Erqi Tower was built in 1971 and was, historically, the tallest building in the city. It is a memorial to the Erqi strike and in memory of Lin Xiangqian and other railway workers who went on strike for their rights, which happened on February 7, 1923.

It has 14 floors and is 63 meters high. One of the features of this building is the view from the top, accessed by a spiral staircase, or an elevator, when it’s working (it was not at the time of our visit).

There seems to be an affinity with the number 27 with this building, in that

  • It’s the 27th memorial to be built
  • to commemorate the 27th workers’ strike
  • located in the 27th plaza of Zhengzhou City.

We drive to the middle of the city where we once again find traveling in kamikaze traffic more entertaining than the tourist points

When we get to the drop-off spot, it’s a 10-minute walk to the center square where the tower is located on one side. Getting there we had to pass a choke point of blaring music and people hawking goods, each echoing off the opposite wall to the point where it was deafening. Too much of it would be torture.

But, back to the tower…

It has 14 levels, but no one seemed interested in climbing the 14 or 16 levels to get to the top. The elevator was broken, and after the great wall episode, most of us are heartily sick of stairs.

The center square was quite large but paved in places with white tiles that oddly reflected the heat rather than absorb it. In the sun it was very warm.

Around the outside of two-thirds of the square, and crossing the roads, was an elevated walkway, which if you go from the first shops and around to the other end, you finish up, on the ground level, at Starbucks.

This is the Chinese version and once you get past the language barrier, the mixology range of cold fruity drinks are to die for, especially after all that walking. Mine was a predominantly peach flavor, with some jelly and apricot at the bottom. I was expecting sliced peaches but I prefer and liked the apricot half.

A drink and fruit together was a surprise.

Then it was the walk back to the meeting point and then into the hotel to use the happy house before rejoining the kamikaze traffic.

We are taken then to the train station for the 2:29 to our next destination, Suzhou, the Venice of the East.

Searching for locations: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China

The Henan Museum is one of the oldest museums in China.  In June 1927, General Feng Yuxiang proposed that a museum be built, and it was completed the next year.  n 1961, along with the move of the provincial capital, Henan Museum moved from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou.

It currently holds about 130,000 individual pieces, more of which are mostly cultural relics, bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and pottery and porcelain wares of the various dynasties.

Eventually, we arrive at the museum and get off the bus adjacent to a scooter track and despite the efforts of the guide, there’s no stopping them from nearly running us over.

We arrive to find the museum has been moved to a different and somewhat smaller building nearby as the existing, and rather distinctively designed, building is being renovated.

While we are waiting for the tickets to enter, we are given another view of industrial life in that there is nothing that resembles proper health and safety on worksites in this country, and the workers are basically standing on what looks to be a flimsy bamboo ladder with nothing to stop them from falling off.

The museum itself has exhibits dating back a few thousand years and consist of bronze and ceramic items.  One of the highlights was a tortoiseshell with reportedly the oldest know writing ever found.

Other than that it was a series of cooking utensils, a table, and ceramic pots, some in very good condition considering their age.


There were also small sculptures

an array of small figures

and a model of a settlement

20 minutes was long enough.

Searching for locations: The Pagoda Forest, near Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, China

The pagoda forest

After another exhausting walk, by now the heat was beginning to take its toll on everyone, we arrived at the pagoda forest.

A little history first:

The pagoda forest is located west of the Shaolin Temple and the foot of a hill.  As the largest pagoda forest in China, it covers approximately 20,000 square meters and has about 230 pagodas build from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Each pagoda is the tomb of an eminent monk from the Shaolin Temple.  Graceful and exquisite, they belong to different eras and constructed in different styles.  The first pagoda was thought to be built in 791.

It is now a world heritage site.

No, it’s not a forest with trees it’s a collection of over 200 pagodas, each a tribute to a head monk at the temple and it goes back a long time.  The tribute can have one, three, five, or a maximum of seven layers.  The ashes of the individual are buried under the base of the pagoda.

The size, height, and story of the pagoda indicate its accomplishments, prestige, merits, and virtues. Each pagoda was carved with the exact date of construction and brief inscriptions and has its own style with various shapes such as a polygonal, cylindrical, vase, conical and monolithic.

This is one of the more recently constructed pagodas

There are pagodas for eminent foreign monks also in the forest.

From there we get a ride back on the back of a large electric wagon

to the front entrance courtyard where drinks and ice creams can be bought, and a visit to the all-important happy place.

Then it’s back to the hotel.

Searching for locations: From X’ian to Zhengzhou dong by bullet train, China

Lunch and then off on another high-speed train

We walked another umpteen miles from the exhibition to a Chinese restaurant that is going to serve us Chinese food again with a beer and a rather potent pomegranate wine that has a real kick.  It was definitely value for money at 60 yuan per person.

But perhaps the biggest thrill, if it could be called that, was discovering downstairs, the man who discovered the original pieces of a terracotta soldier when digging a well.  He was signing books bought in the souvenir store, but not those that had been bought elsewhere.

Some of is even got photographed with him.  Fifteen minutes of fame moment?  Maybe.

After lunch, it was off to the station for another high-speed train ride, this time for about two and a half hours, from X’ian to Zhangzhou dong.

It’s the standard high-speed train ride and the usual seat switching because of weird allocation issues, so a little confusion reigns until the train departs at 5:59.

Once we were underway it didn’t take long before we hit the maximum speed

Twenty minutes before arrival, and knowing we only have three minutes to get off everyone is heading for the exit clogging up the passageway.  It wasn’t panic but with the three-minute limit, perhaps organized panic would be a better description.

As it turned out, with all the cases near the door, the moment to door opened one of our group got off, and the other just started putting cases on the platform, and in doing so we were all off in 42 seconds with time to spare.

And this was despite the fact there were about twenty passengers just about up against the door trying to get in.  I don’t think they expected to have cases flying off the train in their direction.

We find our way to the exit and our tour guide Dannie.  It was another long walk to the bus, somewhat shabbier from the previous day, no leg room, no pocket, no USB charging point like the day before.  Disappointing.

On the way from the station to the hotel, the tour guide usually gives us a short spiel on the next day’s activities, but instead, I think we got her life history and a song, delivered in high pitched and rapid Chinglish that was hard to understand.

Not at this hour of the night to an almost exhausted busload of people who’d had enough from the train.  Oh, did I forgot the singing, no, it was an interesting rendition of ‘you are my sunshine’.

The drive was interesting in that it mostly in the dark.  There was no street lighting and in comparison to X’ian which was very bright and cheerful, this was dark and gloomy.

Then close to the hotel our guide said that if we had any problems with the room, she would be in the lobby for half an hour.

That spoke volumes about the hotel they put us in.

Searching for Locations: The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Sorry, reminiscing again…

It was a cold but far from a miserable day.  We were taking our grandchildren on a tour of the most interesting sites in Paris, the first of which was the Eifel Tower.

We took the overground train, which had double-decker carriages, a first for the girls, to get to the tower.

We took the underground, or Metro, back, and they were fascinated with the fact the train carriages ran on road tires.

Because it was so cold, and windy, the tower was only open to the second level. It was a disappointment to us, but the girls were content to stay on the second level.

There they had the French version of chips.

It was a dull day, but the views were magnificent.

20140107_132225

A view of the Seine

20140107_132859

20140107_132208

Sacre Coeur church at Montmartre in the distance.

Another view along the river Seine

Overlooking the tightly packed apartment buildings

Looking along the opposite end of the river Seine

Searching for locations: From Beijing to X’ian by bullet train

Beijing West train station.

Beijing west railway station is about eight kilometers from the Forbidden City, located at East Lianhuachi Road, Fengtai District.  Most trains traveling between south central, southwest, northwest, and south China are boarded here.

This place is huge and there are so many people here, perhaps the other half of Beijing’s population that wasn’t in the forbidden city.

Getting into the station looked like it was going to be fraught with danger but the tour guide got us into the right queue and then arranged for a separate scanner for the group to help keep us all together

Then we decided to take the VIP service and got to waiting room no 13, the VIP service waiting room which was full to overflowing.  Everyone today was a VIP.  We got the red hat guy to lead us to a special area away from the crowd.

Actually, it was on the other side of the gate, away from the hoards sitting or standing patiently in the waiting room.  It gave us a chance to get something to eat before the long train ride.

The departure is at 4 pm, the train number was G655, and we were told the trains leave on time.  As it is a high-speed train, stops are far and few between, but we’re lucky, this time, in that we don’t have to count stations to know where to get off.

We’re going to the end of the line.

However, it was interesting to note the stops which, in each case, were brief, and you had to be ready to get off in a hurry.

These stops were Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou East, Luoyang Longmen, Huashan North, and Weinan North.  At night, you could see the lights of these cities from a distance and were like oases in the middle of a desert.  During the day, the most prominent features were high rise apartment blocks and power stations.

A train ride with a difference

G Trains at Wuhan Railway Station

China’s high-speed trains, also known as bullet or fast trains, can reach a top speed of 350 km/h (217 mph).

Over 2,800 pairs of bullet trains numbered by G, D or C run daily connecting over 550 cities in China and covering 33 of the country’s 34 provinces. Beijing-Shanghai high-speed train link the two megacities 1,318 km (819 mi) away in just 4.5 hours.

By 2019, China keeps the world’s largest high-speed rail (HSR) network with a length totaling over 35,000 km (21,750 mi).

To make the five and a half hours go quicker we keep an eye on the speed which hovers between 290 and 305 kph, and sitting there with our camera waiting for the speed to hit 305 which is a rare occurrence, and then, for 306 and then for 307, which happened when we all took a stroll up to the restaurant car to find there had nothing to eat.

I got a strange flavored drink for 20 yuan.

There was a lady manning a trolley that had some food, and fresh, maybe, fruit on it, and she had a sense of humor if not much English.

We didn’t but anything but the barrel of caramel popcorn looked good.

The good thing was, after hovering around 298, and 299 kph, it finally hit 300.

We get to the end of the line, and there is an announcement in Chinese that we don’t understand and attempts to find out if it is the last station fall on deaf ears, probably more to do with the language barrier than anything else.

Then, suddenly the train conductor, the lady with the red hat, comes and tells us it is, and we have fifteen minutes, so we’re now hurrying to get off.

As the group was are scattered up and down the platform, we all come together and we go down the escalator, and, at the bottom, we see the trip-a-deal flags.

X’ian,and the Xi’an North Railway Station

Xi’an North Railway Station is one of the most important transportation hubs of the Chinese high-speed rail network. It is about 8.7 miles (14 km) from Bell Tower (city center) and is located at the intersection of the Weiyang Road and Wenjing Road in Weiyang District.

This time we have a male guide, Sam, who meets us at the end of the platform after we have disembarked.  We have a few hiccups before we head to the bus.  Some of our travelers are not on his list, but with the other group.  Apparently a trip-a-deal mix-up or miscommunication perhaps.

Then it’s another long walk with bags to the bus.  Good thing its a nicely air-conditioned newish bus, and there’s water, and beer for 10 yuan.  How could you pass up a tsing tao for that price?

Xi’an is a very brightly lit up city at night with wide roads.  It is very welcoming, and a surprise for a city of 10 million out in the middle of China.

As with all hotels, it’s about a 50-minute drive from the railway station and we are all tired by the time we get there.

Tomorrow’s program will be up at 6, on the bus 8.40 and off to the soldiers, 2.00 late lunch, then train station to catch the 4.00 train, that will arrive 2 hours later at the next stop.  A not so late night this time.

The Grand Noble Hotel

Outdoor scene

Grand Noble Hotel Xi’an is located in the most prosperous business district within the ancient city wall in the center of Xi’an.

The Grand Noble Hotel, like the Friendship Hotel, had a very flash foyer with tons of polished marble.  It sent out warning signals, but when we got to our room, we found it to be absolutely stunning.  More room, a large bathroom, air conditioning the works.

Only one small problem, as in Beijing the lighting is inadequate.  Other than that it’s what I would call a five-star hotel.  This one is definitely better than the Friendship Hotel.

In the center of the city, very close to the bell tower, one of the few ancient buildings left in Xi’an.  It is also in the middle of a larger roundabout and had a guard with a machine gun.

Sadly there was no time for city center sightseeing.

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: San Gimignano, Italy

We have visited this town on a hill, famous for its fourteen towers, twice.  The first time we stayed in a hotel overlooking the main piazza, and the second time, for a day visit, and return to a little restaurant tucked away off the main piazza for its home cooking.

No cars are allowed inside the town and parking is provided outside the town walls.  You can drive up to the hotel to deliver your baggage, but the car must return to the carpark overnight.

This is one of the fourteen towers

I didn’t attempt to climb to the tower, which you can do in some of them, just getting up the church steps was enough for me.  Inside the building was, if I remember correctly, a museum.

Looking up the piazza towards some battlements, and when you reach the top and turn left, there is a small restaurant on the right-hand side of the laneway that had the best wild boar pasta.

Another of the fourteen towers, and through the arch, down a lane to the gated fence that surrounds the town.  The fortifications are quite formidable and there are several places along the fence where you can stand and look down the hill at the oncoming enemy (if there was one).

Part of the main piazza which is quite large, and on the right, the wishing well where my wish for a cooler day was not granted.

Officially, the Piazza della Cisterna is the most beautiful square of the town, San Gimignano.  The well was built in 1273 and enlarged in 1346 by Podestà Guccio dei Malavolti.

And not to be outdone by any other the other old towns, there is an old church, one of several.  It is the Collegiate Church or the Duomo di San Gimignano, a monument of Romanesque architecture built around 1000 and enlarged over time.

Next door is the Museum of Sacred Art.

And I guess it’s rather odd to see television aerials on top of houses that are quite literally about a thousand years old.  I wonder what they did back then for entertainment?

Searching for locations: Somewhere in Tuscany, Italy, a hilltop town

It’s a town we visited in Italy when on a private tour.  Of course, I wrote it down on a notepad app on my phone at the time, and, yes, not long after that, an accidental reset lost all the data.

Now, I have no idea with the name of the town is, just that it was a picturesque stopover in the middle of a delightful private tour of Tuscany.

2013-06-20 10.12.54

There are narrow laneways that I suspect no one 300 hundred years ago planned for cars

2013-06-20 10.17.36

Narrower walkways that lead to very dark places

 

Walkways on the side of the hills that look down on the picturesque valleys

2013-06-20 10.15.27

And rather interesting hillsides, some of which provided inspiration for Leonardo da Vinci

2013-06-20 10.15.48

Or maybe it was this landscape, though it is difficult to see what could be found as inspiration in such a bland hillside

2013-06-20 10.15.55

A lot of houses, some of them quite large, nestled in amongst the trees

2013-06-20 10.17.41 (2)

Gardens, of sorts, balcony’s, not so big, and hidden doorways

2013-06-20 10.17.53 (2)

Even not so secret passageways between houses.

All in all, it was an interesting visit, and it made me wonder what it would be like to live here, all crowded together, rather than living on our relatively isolated quarter-acre blocks.

Searching for locations: Murano, Italy

The first time we visited Venice, there was not enough time left to visit the glass-blowing factories on Murano.  We saved this for the next visit, and now more comfortable with taking the Vaporetto, boarded at San Marco for the short journey.

The view looking towards the cemetery:

The view looking down what I think was the equivalent to the main street, or where several of the glass-blowing factories and display shops were located:

Looking towards a workshop, this one costs us each a Euro to go in and observe a demonstration of glass blowing, and it still surprises me that some people would not pay

The oven where the glass is heated

And the finished product, the retail version of the horse that the glassblower created during the demonstration:

Then we bought some other glassware from the retail storefront, a candle holder

and a turtle.