Thursday, June 28, 2012

Under the Sea

Nanjing is quickly becoming a sauna. It's hot, humid, and sticky, and you can't step outside without breaking into a sweat. 

This past weekend was Dragon Boat Festival, which is a holiday commemorating a famous poet who either drowned himself or was sentenced to death by drowning. The boat races represent the people trying to rescue him. The race is fun. Disney didn't have a team, but a friend of one of my coworkers did, so Friday morning I went to Mochou Lake to cheer them on. They came in third in their race, as they were mostly foreigners. But it was fun to watch. I couldn't stay the whole day as I had to work. 
Dragon Boats and racers

Saturday was a day off for the holiday (as opposed to the 3 days most other people had). I went to a couple new parks in Nanjing that I hadn't been to before and relaxed at home. 

Then on my actual weekend, I went to Qingdao. I like the fast trains. They have comfortable seats and air conditioning. Anyway, Qingdao is a seaside city, founded by Germans, where my friend/former short-term roommate moved for work. It's a nice enough city, great architecture, and the weather was wonderfully cool compared to Nanjing - a little too chilly to actually go in the water, but refreshing none-the-less. My hostel was in an old observatory, which was very cool, one of the first built in China. It even had a telescope on the top floor, though the roof was covered, so you couldn't see anything out of it. 

Observatory/Youth Hostel

View from the hostel rooftop cafe/bar

Tuesday, I had ice cream for breakfast. The streets are much too complicated to navigate (like snakes, one local told me); maps are no help; so I spent Tuesday wandering and seeing sights (including Chinese couples taking wedding pictures on the beach) along the boardwalk. It was very nice. 

Zhanqiao Pier (famous image on the Tsingtao beer bottles)

Wednesday, I tried wandering the streets again for a little to find some sights. I found a street market with lots of seafood and meat and other things, and I found the church I had been looking for. Then I taxied my way to all the sights I wanted to see but couldn't find the day before. I saw nice views from the top of the sightseeing TV tower and a pavilion in a park - I recommend the pavilion; it's cheaper and you get basically the same view. Plus, apparently there are different types of tickets for the tower, and since I got the cheapest one, I didn't get to go all the way to the top. I didn't go to the beer factory (Qingdao is also known for it's locally named brew - Tsingtao - super cheap, supposedly good, advertised at all the local restaurants). After a rest by the water and some more ice cream, it was time to head back to Nanjing. 

Sightseeing TV Tower
St. Michael's Catholic Church 
Stall at street market

Train station - cool architecture

Friday, June 22, 2012

Climb Every Mountain

Oops! Sorry, I thought I posted this. I wrote it a week and a half ago. 

I'm healthy again, and I hadn't traveled for a month, so this weekend I took a trip to Mount Huangshan (aka Yellow Mountain, named for a Chinese emperor, not the color of the mountains). It is a very steep mountain that everyone who lives here says is a must climb. So after work Monday, off I went. 

I woke up early Tuesday to catch the bus to the mountain gate. Then there was another bus to the start of the hiking trail, from which out one window was mountains and out the other window was clouds. It was very cool. I started climbing the stairs. (If I haven't said so before, most hiking trails in China are stairs.) It was hazy, so a little difficult to take pictures of the scenery, but the mountains were amazing. After about 15-20 minutes, I wanted to go back down and take the cable car up. Instead, a lovely Chinese student named Kathy asked if I was traveling alone and suggested we climb together. She kept me going for the next 3 hours, which is what it took for us to get to the first stop up the mountain. She was very nice, and she was ready to hike. She had a walking stick (and made me get one) and sneakers on. Interesting thing about hiking in China: many women wear high heels. I didn't see any heels on this whole trip, but I saw a couple pairs of sandals and fancy flats. I felt terrible because there were definitely people 3 times my age hiking. And at least one 5 year old. And several men carrying their body weight up the mountain in food and drink on a bamboo pole. But I made it. 
Me & Kathy

When we got to the "top", Kathy and I had lunch and then parted ways. She was going to stay on the mountain for the night (like a smart person - you must plan 2 or more days for this hike), and I wanted to get to the peaks and had to catch a bus around 5pm. I am very thankful for her help up the eastern trail. She made it much easier. 

I kept climbing to the peak - Brightness Summit. It's the second tallest peak on Huangshan at 1860m. It looks out over a sea of mountains. It's beautiful. And people put padlocks there to show that they have been there - they are sold as you walk up the mountain. It's pretty neat and different from other things I've seen people leave at tourist sights. 
View of Huangshan

I started heading down the western side of the mountain, which is a much steeper and longer climb than the eastern way up. There's a little fork where you can choose between 2 paths to get to the cable car on the way down. One is kind of straight, one is up to the tallest peak and down the other side. I thought I had read that Lotus Peak was closed - I was wrong. There was only .2km to go up it, so I forced myself up. I stopped about every 10-20 steps to catch my breath. The view at was very similar to the one at Brightness summit, and the peak was much narrower and cramped for everyone pushing to take pictures, but again, I'm glad I can say I did it. My favorite part was cheering on other hikers and being encouraged to keep going. Especially since we would just kind of look at each other, laugh and point in the direction the other one was going. It was also fun seeing men who had been carrying bamboo poles with food and drink who had dropped off the supplies and were now walking with just the poles, smiling and much friendlier. 

Then I happily headed down to the cable car and took the 20 minute ride to the bottom. (Remember, I had already walked 15-20km and had a bus to catch.) There was a bi-lingual recording about the mountain as you went down, which made me laugh because there had been very little English the rest of the day. I can count on one hand the number of foreigners I saw on this trip. Then I took the bus back to the hostel, had dinner, and slept for 11 hours. 

When I got back to Nanjing the next day, I found out one of my friends was getting a degree from a Chinese university (he had studied there for a year when he first came to China), so I headed down there to go take pictures for the afternoon. Very fun. Then dinner and more sleep.