5 November 2017

Notting Hill & Kensington, London

Stepping back into London, Golborne Road became my runway, giving me all kinds of European and North African flavours! Seeing Trellick Tower being fashioned into its next phase for London City living, I had almost everything! Of course Portobello Road's market made an appearance, but not before finishing things with a bit of autumnal realness at Kensington Gardens. Go!

Great Portland Street Station planted me in the right part of London for my fingerprints at the Chinese Consulate, some new visa regulation called me back into London. I would be able to collect my visa on the following Monday, things were coming together at long last! Seemingly surrounded by those embassies and fluttering flags gave Portland Place some serious international flare! Westbourne Park Station had me staring the brutalist Trellick Tower in the face, I didn't feel it was right to be snapping those photos in front of Grenfell because that disaster zone is still bruised and hurting from the horrendous fires, so I decided to pay attention to its concrete cousin along Golborne Road instead. I didn't want to be one of dizzy and disrespectful individuals that saw it fit to see Grenfell Tower as a point of interest, maybe a memorial will be installed like NYC has for the late great Twin Towers? Justice for Grenfell already!

Breakfast had only been a minute ago but those street food waggons had me sniffing out the talent! I had originally found a steak restaurant called 'Flat Iron' but as soon as I saw those Tagine being served outside 'Le Marrakech' Halal butchers. Ordering the lentil soup and chicken Tagine had to be done without a seconds thought, freshly made I wolfed down my delicious lentil soup with some fresh bread but where was my Tagine? Exchanging my empty soup bowl for a piping hot chicken Tagine gave me life! With the chicken falling off the bone and the potatoes cooked to perfection I enjoyed every single bite, did I need a drink? I saw the other table had fresh mint tea, I got one for myself and it was so good! Cafe Lisboa and Oporto Patisserie served independent coffee house realness with most of their patrons genuinely Portuguese, an authentic hangout for certain! I don't endorse hipster trash, throwing my first choice to the wayside I made the best choice with Moroccan food! 

Portobello Road Market was one of the first places that I had on my London list before my visa run commenced but Thursdays only operated on half days, leaving it till the Friday I was afforded the full effect without the mayhem of the Saturday crowds! Not stressing my mind I took in the many colourful houses and shopfronts along Portobello Road Market. The food stalls were not on my radar as I had already ate some amazing food. From antiques to tourist appropriate garb I saw the lot but I wasn't bothered about making any purchases because it was all about the vibrant sights. The previous London boozers had been transformed into Thai eateries and Gin houses, something that London has done to transform itself over the last few years, I paid that attention to the Earl of Lonsdale served me a refreshing pint of Cider. I enjoyed my alcoholic drink but I noticed the amount of tourists, something that I was not! No!

The market visually impressed me, was it a work of art? Maybe just so it was with its colourful offerings, London may keep on changing but this Portobello Road Market has been going strong since the 19th century with an evolution from it's early days serving fresh produce to today's antique and bohemian delights, she's legendary! Yes, Portobello Road seemed to last forever and then some, the market stalls carried on a little further as Notting Hill slowly turned into Kensington. One thing I thought was ridiculous as W10, London turned into W11, those tourists had no sense snapping group photos outside those outlandishly designed rainbow fashioned houses! During my looks of disgust at those individuals I clocked that those houses looked damn expensive! I'll never know! London is a living legend, she deserves a level of respect that is boundless, no that wasn't understood by those tourists. I didn't buy any antiques but I left with an appreciation for another one of London's markets. OK?

Reinstating some calm, I made my way down to Kensington Gardens to find my favourite queen of all! Kensington Palace may have been in the background but a glorious statue of Queen Victoria stood strong, stony faced and commanding the attention, Queen Vic still has her way! With the sun almost deciding to set it was almost time for me to make my way back to the Tube for that Uxbridge bound train, I had one more thing to do though! Before doing that one last thing I appreciated the pint-sized Kensington Palace, one of London's Royal sites within a very Royal London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, I was fulfilling fantasy because yes I'm a queen too! Oh, the air was filled with an autumnal vibe without a doubt, taking every single breath of that seemingly fresh air I took some time to enjoy that moment. I would soon be off to Beijing, China where I guess Chaoyang Park will be my equivalent? Kensington Gardens killed it! 

Where was Princess Diana's Fountain? I asked that question myself and consulted my Apple Maps but my battery was about to go and if truth be told I was content with what I had seen within Kensington Gardens. Admitting defeat because of the time I found Exhibition Road, running hell for leather to South Kensington Station had to be done because the Uxbridge train would take about one hour on the Piccadilly Line. Maybe the vastness of the park meant I didn't see that final part, hey oh! All in all my final day in London served three treats that brought the right stuff, I admired the concrete fashion of Trellick Tower in place of Grenfell because it would have been cold of me to do so. Golborne and Portobello Road Markets lived up to my expectations if truth be told, I left London feeling very accomplished yet again. London would be seeing me for one final time the following Monday for me to collect my Chinese visa, after the three month wait, it's exciting stuff! Thanks again, London!

Lovely London!

Joseph Harrison 

4 November 2017

City of London: Cathedrals, Banks & Markets...

London crept back into my life somehow, I had waited three long months to renew my visa to return to China. Using that 'City of London' location to the best of my advantage had to be done, getting back to Uxbridge within a good time had to be considered. Oh, St. Paul's, the Bank of England Museum and Leadenhall Market were in my sights after my visa appointment!

Staying in the South Bucks commuter town of Gerrards Cross with my aunt and cousins enabled me to catch the tube from Uxbridge into Moorgate for my China visa appointment. The formalities didn't take too long with my Chinese visa so I was free to explore the 'City of London' for the rest of the day, mainly built up of banks and office blocks known as the 'Gherkin' and the 'Walkie Talkie' buildings I decided to head for St. Paul's Cathedral without thinking twice. I had last seen St. Paul's from the Millennium Bridge during a day wandering along the River Thames during 2014 or 2015 but then decided to walk back over to the southern side of the river for some reason I can't remember. Paying my only admission fee for the day I stepped inside the grand entrance of St. Paul's to see what all the fuss was about, seeing it from the gardens just wasn't enough for me! No photos were permitted, would that be followed through? Maybe?

As I took my first steps into the wonder of St. Paul's Cathedral I was blown away by the beautiful stonework, apparently that Anglican Church doesn't receive any funding for restoration works so I saw my admission fee as money well spent. Respecting the photography warnings I was pleasantly surprised to see other visitors were actually taking heed of that request. Taking the many stairs to the middle of the dome I looked down onto the cathedral floor from the 'Whispering Gallery' the height didn't bother me but the golden views of the dome roof and of down below were amazing, every penny was well spent! Lighting a candle had to be done but like any Church of England venue, I struggled to see the Madonna! Going down into the Crypt showed me the way to my next location but not before finding out Florence Nightingale had a monument within the grounds of St. Paul's. Viewing from the inside and out I was content with St. Paul's Cathedral that November morning. Onto the money!

They say money makes the world go round but I at least wanted to see how the Bank of England originated. Making the most of one of London's free museums opened my eyes to another part of the 'City of London'. Founded in 1694, the Bank of England was originally conducted from rented premises in Cheapside in the heart of the bustling city centre. I was staggered to find out that it was a full forty years later until the actual bank was put into business on Threadneedle Street. Throughout the museums instalments I discovered the original handling of money through the newly founded Bank of England, in modern terms it functioned like a building society. Forgery of the early notes was something the museum schooled me in, even though the less educated dwellers of London couldn't read they could craft their own counterfeit notes. I wouldn't be able to that but I'm no criminal, really I am not! No!

Funnily enough during June 2015 I had crossed the busy junction outside the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange after collecting my first Chinese visa, upon that occasion I didn't invest any attention so I was very willing to be considerate second time around. Going further into the many exhibits at the Bank of England museum opened my eyes, obviously my favourite reigning queen will always be Victoria, so the coins from her days ruling Britain and its Empire impressed me much! Jane Austen had her own little feature, the new material for the new bank notes educated me that they will be more durable and be harder to forge. There's a possible new face for the fifty pound note but I haven't seen one of those for an age, they must be all disappearing overseas? London kept on showing me more, I hadn't expected much from my day within the 'City of London' but St. Paul's and the Bank of England captured my attention. Money may be changing but that bank is still coining it!

The day was pressing on but the banking types of London's beating financial centre made good viewing for sure, those suits looked just right from where I was looking! As I'll be heading to Beijing this time around I began to imagine if I'll be seeing any delectable suited individual go about town? Oh, I think there will be a few! Feeling peckish I headed for my final stop of the day, Leadenhall Market stood out to me during my pre-trip research and being a former filming location used in the Harry Potter series I saw it as a winning choice to visit. Getting on for about 1pm I was so surprised to see as many suits as I did, their drinks were most certainly of the alcoholic kind and that begged the question of what decisions they would be making in the office after those boozy beverages! I'm not one to judge but it's definitely not something that I indulge in during my dinnertime break between teaching classes. Really?

I admired the cast-iron details of the roof, the 18th century market retained a sense of its past but effortlessly catered for the modern requirements of today's market goers. Upmarket dining options were plentiful but I was there to marvel at the architecture that had attracted me to Leadenhall Market nonetheless. Going for a burrito had to be done, keeping it simple I managed to grab a bite to eat for less than a tenner! Giving that busy burrito line some time to quieten down I took a seat just outside of Leadenhall Markets exit on Lime Street, sitting amongst a pile of towering steel and glass I turned my head to my left side to find the 'Walk Talkie' building staring back at me and the famous 'Gherkin' to the other side. For a half planned day after my Chinese visa appointment I managed to see as much as possible within the limits of the 'City of London'. Returning to Aldgate for my Uxbridge bound tube I felt very accomplished! London slayed yet again but it is so damn pricey! 

Suits, Suits & More Suits!

Joseph Harrison 

24 October 2017

China High Speed Rail: Wuhan - Shanghai!

For a developing country, China's high speed rail network is quite remarkable, looking at one section that I took at the end of July 2017 brought together one place that I lived in for two years and three others that I have visited. From Wuhan Railway Station to Shanghai Hongqiao with two express stops in Hefei and Nanjing south stations concluded my experiences in China. 

Setting off from Wuhan Railway Station on the 28th of July 2017 signified the end of my time living in Wuhan, China. From the first moments in Hankou to the final moment that saw me running for my first class carriage kept me on my toes. English teaching was definitely my trade during that time but I got around the city to see some amazing sights indeed, some slightly unrefined but that's Wuhan! The Yellow Crane Tower impressed me with its panoramic views over Wuchang and across the Yangtze River. My Guanggu location had me crazy, but towards the end of my second year of living there I felt comfortable amongst the madness. It was such a conflicting feeling as I relaxed into my Shanghai bound first class seat, I had wanted that moment to happen, it was definitely tinged with sadness. Living in Wuhan hadn't been a walk in the park but those pitfalls and challenges shaped me for my next chapter. W!

Wuhan's East Lake had me chilled with its never-ending scenic views, contrasting with the quiet of Hubei's tranquil charms I had my first mad nights out at Wuhan Prison. That underground bar gave me my first taste of Wuhan nightlife, that evolved with my partner in crime Fiona because turned the party up! Coffee and cake along Tanhualin served a slice of Wuhan life that gave me life, over the waters in Hankou I was shown another sedate scene thanks to a special friend. Hanyang had a set of new rules, fashioning itself into something else I adored Qinghuan Pavilion and Guishan Park without hesitation. My nonstop kindergarten life glued all of this craziness together, keeping it together I applied myself to my trade. I had traveled from Wuhan Railway Station many times before that Shanghai departure but that final journey finally pulled me away from Wuhan. That Hubei city gave a fist full of surprises but a bucket full of dreams that I worked hard to turn into gold! Chill out, Wuhan!

Stopping in Hefei, Anhui, the third time round gave me a sense of accomplishment, casting my mind back to my Nanjing trip I had passed through Anhui's south station with a certain curiosity. Biting the bullet for 2017's Dragon Boat Festival weekend took me to Hefei, Anhui to see what that pint-sized city had to offer. Quiet but perfectly formed, Hefei had a very pedestrian feel about it with not much madness going on compared to the many big cities in China. A certain phase of construction was going strong around Hefei's south rail station but the remainder of the city sat waiting for the next phase. Investing my time visiting cities that didn't attract the masses always gave me life, Hefei had an unrefined nature that oozed qualities that larger cities have lost within the maddening crowds. Lord Bao kept it calm for me, allowing me to do some serious walking without being surrounded by the usual madness! Hefei knew this!

Hefei had parks without admission fees, being within a national holiday it was amazing to be one of the only people going about their business within the city's Municipal Square, the calmness was almost unnerving. Compared to my previous Dragon Boat Festival weekend I was pleasantly surprised to experience it without crowds or fussing, it can be quite something else in China during these holidays. Not forgetting my high speed rail journey from Wuhan, I felt appreciative for my time spent in Hefei as that Anhui city needed time but I had seen it before the boom bang had truly happened. Hefei had my attention for some reason, it was meant to have been one of my first twenty-seven places for my first China chapter. My G train hurtled towards its Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station terminus, my view of Wuhan had disappeared already but I was feeling blessed nevertheless, Hefei and Wuhan's chapters had been closed tightly but I was good with that development. Jiangsu grew nearer.

The penultimate stop along my final China high speed rail journey from Wuhan to Shanghai Hognqiao was fast approaching. Nanjing had me going round in circles, trusting that Jiangsu city during 2016's Dragon Boat Festival I saw everything that I wanted, well considering I got lost multiple times! The chilled nature of Nanjing's city streets impressed me much, giving me a sense of calm that Wuhan could only dream of. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen had brought me to my third and final place of remembrance after Wuhan and Guangzhou respectively. The Mausoleum of Zhongshan was worth the wait, even the manic crowds didn't bother me as much as usual, but that lady needed to respect the rules regarding photography! Unlike Wuhan and Hefei it wasn't easy to take a peak of Nanjing's city vista because that high speed train sneaked into Nanjing South Railway Station and departed after a few moments bound of Shanghai Hongqiao.

Reliving those Nanjing memories as that speedy train hurtled towards one of China's four metropolis's it gave me time to think what milestones I had achieved during those two years in China. The time period when I visited Nanjing was such a busy time, the escape to Nanjing showed me places that instilled some chill into my life for that long weekend. Spending a snapshot alongside the waters of the Qinhuai River showed me a lovely river vista, chaotic with tourists I casted those people out of my view to enjoy the sights that surrounded me. First Class was treating me well, I relaxed back into my seat as the Chinese countryside whizzed past me, the ordeal of getting on the train was pure drama but I was well on my way to connect with my flight that bound for Moscow in the early hours of the next morning. Nanjing once again became a distant memory, hurtling through the remainder of Jiangsu Province meant the municipality of Shanghai was growing ever closer. England called me B!

Checking Baidu Maps on my phone revealed my train was passing through Suzhou, Jiangsu. Suzhou wasn't one of my stops because my train was bound straight for Hongqiao Railway Station but that Jiangsu Province city played a pivotal part during the first phases of my time in China, it was all so new back then! Leaving that blurred view of Suzhou's city limits meant my high speed train finally made its approach into its final station stop, getting my things together was fine but the next phase of journey to Shanghai's Pudong International Airport was going to be a mad one! Hongqiao Railway Station oozed that Shanghai city feeling as I passed through the main station concourse. The taxi line was a joke, not wasting any time I used my suitcases as buffers as I powered to the east exit because that seemed like a great idea at that time! It was an ordeal with three suitcases but I made it into a DiDi bound for the airport. Oh S!

I had completed my final high speed rail journey in China for that chapter from Wuhan Railway Station to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station in under five hours, stopping at two key stations flashed back memories of my previous visits to those places. Leaving Wuhan had to be done but I didn't appreciate the craze before and during the boarding process! Returning to Shanghai, the city that I arrived into two years previous of that late July 2017 high speed arrival was magic, time was still on my side! I definitely plan on creating more China high speed rail themed blogs in the future as I'm planning to make my return to China in a few weeks but to Beijing because Wuhan just wasn't international! Through the stress of that epic journey it was one major relief to touchdown into London Heathrow Airport the following day, the epic journey from Wuhan to London via Shanghai and Moscow was something else entirely! So, next time will be from Wuhan to Shenzhen North! I'll revisit Shenzhen!

Tickets, please!

Joseph Harrison

8 October 2017

Like A Prayer: China & Tibet...

I'm not down for religion as such but I don't judge someone else's beliefs, shelving those holy scriptures to one side I do love discovering new places of worship whatever the chosen religious flex. China and Tibet showed me a series of inspiring houses of religion, giving me a history lesson, I left with a calm and centred mind. Oh, St. Sophia's acted crazy but she wasn't sinning!

China's bitterly cold far northeast showed me a slice of Moscow in China! Harbin had been colonised by the Russian empire during the early 1900's, bringing a Russian flare to Heilongjiang's provincial city, transforming that freezing city into an Eastern Moscow of sorts. Completed in 1937, St. Sophia Cathedral still stands to this day with a fair amount of its European Orthodox design. I was attracted to Harbin for its ice festival but I would have been a liar to say it was the only reason why I dealt with the below freezing weather conditions. Nowadays, St. Sophia's goes by the name 'Harbin Architectural Art Galley' stripped back of its alter and congregation it showed me and many other visitors how the Russian influence fashioned Harbin into a sophisticated Moscow of the Far East. From the outside the revival of this former Orthodox cathedral looked in great shape considering its turbulent past. Saint Sophia keeps serving H! 

From Russian cathedrals to another European christian house of god, I visited the Shandong capital of Qingdao to stumble upon another Catholic cathedral from the German period of influence. Qingdao was just famous for its beer because St. Michael's Cathedral conducted those key sermons during the European days that brought German and British interest to those East China shores. I admired the large paintings of the JC, it had those Chinese tourists transfixed for certain! Restored to its former glory in 2000, St. Michael's was sure welcomed into the Diocese of Qingdao with its very own bishop who shared the same name as myself! It was incredibly bizarre to see such a convincing looking European house of prayer in Mainland China, when I blocked out the tourists in the courtyard outside the cathedral I could picture the German settlers going to mass back in those first brewing days. After my Macanese mission, I was amazed to see two prime examples of western religion in China. 

Bhuddism and Taoism seems to be prominent faiths in the China of today, making up the main focus in prayer within the temples on the Chinese Mainland. I couldn't possibly begin to count the amount of temples I visited during my two year stint in China but I can remember two temples for a good reason. Hangzhou had attracted me firstly to its West Lake but the Lingyin Temple brought me to its doors like a magnet with much force. I learnt that the monastery had been designed and built by an Indian monk named 'Huili' around 328 AD. The main hall caught my attention the most, I may have got confused about the names of the halls but the bright colours pleased my senses to no end. Aside from the temple grounds I found the enchanted stones of the Feilai Park area, formed of jagged rocks, separated by a winding creek I loved life at Hangzhou's Lingyin Temple. Yes, I saw the resting place of Huili's' ashes! 

From Hangzhou in April 2017, I want to take this opportunity to rewind back to December 2016 during my Christmas holiday within Southwest China's Yunnan province. Touching down into Kunming Changshui International Airport I didn't really have a set plan for my two days in China's spring city but I knew Yuantong Temple was in my sights. I wasn't reading into the history behind Kunming's city centre temple because it was so pleasing to the eye I was taken away to another world. The shallow pond in the middle of the temple grounds set a peaceful tone to my visit and added to the atmosphere, no stress was in life during that moment. Yuantong Temple's already placid nature had me centred and focussed, it was the first place that I visited during my Kunming sector and it calmly kickstarted my Yunnan break effortlessly. Spanning 1,200 years since it's opening in 817 AD I didn't notice any major fatigue, I'm taking anti-ageing tips from Yuantong's nature! I was spirited away KM!

Ascending over the Tibetan Plateau took me away from real life to Lhasa, Tibet. My experience was impacted by the many monasteries, temples and one majestic palace I saw during my four day experience. Drepung Monastery was the first Tibetan place of religions significance that I saw in Lhasa, it didn't take me long till I was confronted with a labyrinth of colour and timeless scriptures that related to Tibetan Buddhism. The sky shone like a bright blue ocean vista, adding to the heavenly feeling that was already being served so perfectly. Spirited away once again but within the quarters of Sera Monastery allowed me to see the monks debate session, that meeting of minds mesmerised me, I was living to see that slice of Lhasa living in real-time motion. Sera and Drepung Monasteries schooled me about the history and the succession of the Dalai's, I lived a dream! Lhasa's religious offerings were on-point! Lhasa!

Johkang Temple crossed my path, ushered into the winding paths within the temple walls gave me the opportunity to see so much more! I had noticed the golden statues of the many buddhas, with eyebrows painted on flawlessly and a piercing eye they were definitely judging each passerby, now that's some shade that I could champion to the highest! Leaving the best for last, climbing up the many stairs to enter the red halls of the Potala Palace I made it to the top even though the thin air choked me. Amazed by the luxurious furnishings and decorations I could well have lived there in my own lap of luxury. Both Johkang Temple and the Potala Palace slayed in their own ways, I felt so blessed. The heavenly sights from the Potala Palace confirmed the reason why I had travelled so far from Wuhan to make those dreams play out in real life. Since my first 'Like A Prayer' blog publication I forged ahead without any religious conviction to find a sense of spirituality. I sense a Mosque next! 

Yinchuan's Next! 

Joseph Harrison