Monday, 6 April 2020

China: Lhasa, Hangzhou & Nanchang...

Despite what many think about China, the Middle Kingdom nation amazed me with three more outstanding cities during 2017. Stepping back in time for only a moment, Lhasa transported me to another world with its heavenly temples and seriously good Tibetan incense. Hangzhou served its effortless West Lake and Nanchang was my super snappy séjour! 现在走吧! Go, go, 中国!

Taking my Lanzhou bound flight only took me half from Wuhan to Lhasa, I then boarded my overnight train to the capital of China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Lhasa. My four days in the world's most heavenly city was amazing, giving me all the right vibes to have me ready for the craziness of my then Hubei city residence. Whilst the temples, monasteries and palaces shone brighter than any star I had ever seen before, it was the electric energy that I felt as my group discovered Barkhor Street in the old side of the city. Paying mind towards the pilgrims it was the done thing to walk in the appropriate direction. I'm not religious but in the moment it was impossible to not feel a spiritual connection with what was going on around me. Up to that 2017 moment I had had the immense opportunity to travel within China but Lhasa had something intangible, Lhasa had its own mystery. I was living for Lhasa!

During my Lhasa trip I did not have any fast food, I kept things Tibetan with my food choices. I had never had any Tibetan food before that Lhasa trip, I first tried some curried potatoes on the first evening in a lovely relaxed tea house. Going further I tried a serving of Bobi, it was like a chapati but I had some stir-fried vegetables and some raita like yoghurt to add to my Lhasa lunch choice. The food was similar to Indian food in one way. Being British I love a good cup of tea, in Lhasa I found several lovely Tibetan tea brews. The yak butter tea tasted so smooth, in the tea houses of Old Lhasa it was such a treat to relax with a few cups of that deliciousness. Away from the show-stopping temples, monasteries and palaces it was effortless to capture a slice of Tibetan culture, I would be reminded of that style when I visited India in December 2018. Lhasa was a place that I won't ever forget, it took me two days to reach it but it was worth every moment! Until next time Tibet. Thanks!

Hangzhou in China's Zhejiang Province allowed to experience a true changing of the season, that end of week trip beckoned the spring time season with such beauty and simplicity. Landing into Hangzhou without any delays, I dropped my bags at my hotel before I could get my sightseeing on! Hitting up the Lingyin Temple had me surrounded amongst some crazy busy scenes, I needed the temple to chill that crazy vibe out and then some! I loved that yellow temple, it was one of the temples that stood out for me because I had seen a fair few at that 2017 point. Taking a few moments after my temple visit I stumbled upon the Feilai Feng Grottoes, I loved that enchanted looking rock formation. I was half expecting to see a few fairies flutter about the grottoes because they possessed a mystical quality. With just enough time I made it to the light-show at Hangzhou's Wulin Square, my first day in Zhejiang was ace!

Bright and early the next day it was time for my China Highlights trip to experience Hanghzou's best bits. Hitting up West Lake definitely put the cat amongst the pigeons, after taking a short boat trip to the middle of the lake it was time see the view that would set my trip on fire! Living for the view that overlooked the 'Three Ponds Mirroring The Moon' allowed me to see another money shot from the Chinese RMB notes. Moving onto Chenghuang Pavilion gave me another effortless view over Hangzhou's beautiful cityscape. The local light snacks were just enough, I loved that pavilion. The final part of the day allowed me to pick my very own tea leaves within a famous tea plantation! Going back to the owners house allowed me to see the true way that tea is brewed and poured, she told me that I poured like a woman! No shame! Who would have known that I would be making another kind of move back to Zhejiang a few years after that lush weekend trip! No, I definitely didn't know!

Taking the night train after school one Friday evening allowed me to execute my 'Nanchang Escape!' Before my China hiatus would begin I wanted to visit as many provincial capitals within China's southern central region before Beijing became my new China home. Arriving into Nanchang before the strike of midnight allowed me to see the city centre at its quietest. Heading out early on the next morning I found myself at the Pavilion of Prince Teng, the metro helped me out for that part. Taking a bus from that city centre location I grabbed some lunch at a local non-assuming restaurant, it was nice to be in a calmer place, Wuhan had me crazy with its nonstop pace and crowds! Scanning a bike I peddled the short distance to find the Qingshan Lake and Park, the metro line wasn't in operation at that point so I had to get inventive. The quietness of the lake and park was great! I wanted noise! To the square!

The focal point of Nanchang's city centre didn't look like the square I had imagined that I would get to see that summer weekend! Nanchang's famous 'August 1st Square' (八一广场) was in the midst of a huge rejuvenation project, I snapped my photo from a distance with the traffic in the forefront whilst the square sat nicely in the background, it was utter chaos but I loved it! Stumbling across an alley way that looked mad old, I found some seriously old residential buildings that dated back to the Qing Dynasty as far back as 150 years previous to that 2017 moment. A local man asked me in English if I wanted to see one of the courtyards because he wasn't sure why I was in the alley, I explained that I was curious and he thought that was great! Xiaotaohua Alley looked amazing! Enjoying some local noodles was the right thing to do, I didn't pay McDonalds any mind! Ending my night with a Russian ice cream before going back to my hotel felt right! It was a great unplanned weekend!


Joseph Harrison 

India: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur & The Ganges...

No, I couldn't let my parents have all the fun, I followed their footsteps with my own visit to India in 2018! China Southern Airlines check-in at Beijing thought I was homebound? In the nicest possible way I said '我不回家,我要去印度'. Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and the rolling Ganges River were in sights! I was definitely looking for that 'Taj' bench that Princess Diana sat on! Yes!

Delhi was an assault on my very senses, I just needed to know! The calm of 'Gandhi's House' had me at ease but Delhi had me on my toes with its realness. I wanted everything from the first moment, it was like a race to find the realness. The taxi got me to the safety of 'Gandhi's House', he had the right frame of thinking  building his house within the 'New' Delhi area. The first night had me getting a shave and getting curry next to the railway station without any care given, the experience would give me something to remember. The story behind 'Humayun's Tomb' had me wandering within those peacock worthy jewel gardens. Getting the realness from the local places around my 'Grand Balaji' hotel had me relaxed, for me the Indian sweets never tasted better! I lived for the British colonial niches, get me a piece of toast and some baked beans for breakfast, masala chai! Beijing was a playground, Delhi's nature was mad!

I wasn't going to sit in my room, after getting back from my tour adventure I was looking for the real market streets, I found Pharganj because I wanted a custom suit to fly back in. I wanted to fill my suitcase with Indian incense, they weren't going to be cheap, get out! Getting real, I got real lost within the winding streets I heard a group of American tourists that were being babied. I found my Sister-in-Law the perfect carved Ganesh because the theme for 2018 was elephants, they are right! Those incense sticks were smuggled back into China like a drug, in a hefty quantity I carried those Indian spiced sticks. The Butter Chicken was off the scale, I was in my element! The food was so cheap! Delhi had grit, the India Gates had everyone crowding around but were they on the same page? I didn't think so, I did not pay 'Connaught Place' any mind, giving my coins to those alley way retailers gave me life! I wasn't there to be Mother Theresa, I wanted responsible adventure! No mercy mission!

Departing before the birds I left Delhi behind, Agra was on my radar! Meeting with my tour guide, we walked to the grand entrance of the 'Taj Mahal'. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved late wife, Mumtaz Mahal as her own dedicated mausoleum. I ignored the throng of tourists, the views from afar of the 'Taj Mahal' were unstoppable. I found the bench where Princess Diana had her famous photo taken in front of the palace. I was being schooled, the Mughal ruler followed the Muslim faith, before my visit to India I was under the illusion that Islam hadn't been a popular religion. Set along the Yamuna River, the 'Taj Mahal' looked like an ivory beauty with the less than eye catching surroundings within the same area. I learned that there was a mass period of looting, the Taj Mahal had most of its jewels stolen and had been left in such a sorry state. The British would save the day? Yes T!

In 1932, British Viceroy Lord Curzon kickstarted a huge restoration project, the well planned gardens were added once the project had been completed in 1908. Putting a pair of slippers on, I was able to see within the interior of the 'Mahal'. The intricate detail that had gone into the mausoleum told me that the original building process was a labour of 'love' for the late Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Leaving the hubbub of the 'Taj Mahal', I was taken to 'Agra Fort', the red brick wonder that had protected the Mughal Empire's leaders during their reign. My visit was brief but very informative, both Indian and British history could be traced back within the tales, Agra had its fort on lockdown! Known as a 'walled city', the fort had seen six ruling parties from the 'Lodhi Dynasty' to the 'British Empire'. Taking it easy near my hotel it was lovely to enjoy some roadside curry, finding the perfect tea biscuits I loved my masala chai at a very ordinary Indian corner shop. Agra served me very well!

Arriving in 'Jaipur City' had me ready to spend some of my Indian Rupees up! There was an abundance of handmade crafts being sold beside the 'Man Sagar Lake'. The backdrop impressed me much, the half submerged 'Jal Mahal' created the perfectly vista. Happy with my purchases, it wasn't my idea but I was taken to a textile factory showroom, more money was definitely spent! Lunch was mad tasty, the Indian food was out of this world in 'Jaipur City!' Right in the 'pink', the beauty of 'Jaipur's' 'Pink City' nature had me right in love with Rajasthan, the 'City Palace' had me speechless with its 'pink' grandeur. I took my time to explore that 'Jaipur' wonder. The street sellers in 'Jaipur' had me parting with more cash, my purchases were piling up! The vibe around the corner from the 'Hawa Mahal' had me feeling like 'Aladdin' as I weaved in and out of the maddening crowd! I was excited to see my final 'Jaipur' point of interest!

My personal favourite sight within 'Jaipur' was by far the 'Hawa Mahal'. Serving secrets for the gods, the 'palace' amazed with its intricate details, even the window frames had me mesmerised. On the other side of the famous display of windows, the interior of the 'palace' took me by hand to show me its former functions. The view from one of the viewpoints had me feeling all of kinds of love for 'Jaipur', the chaos of 'Delhi' was faraway, I adored that day spent in 'Jaipur!' It hadn't been all roses, both hotels were less than satisfactory, I had my last nerve stolen during that last morning spent on the road! I just wanted a bit of breakfast! The two days spent exploring in and around 'Agra' and 'Jaipur' won't ever leave me! 'Jaipur' served substance, it appealed to me more because 'Agra' just had its 'Mahal' and 'Fort', all the same different with a real tough edge away from the tourist traps! On the road for the final time, I was so relieved to get back to my 'Grand Balaji' hotel room to relax! Chill!

'Air India' so thoughtfully rescheduled my flight, twenty four hours later than originally planned! I managed to extend my hotel stay for an extra night, making a sorry situation better I found the perfect filler for that final day in and around 'Delhi'. No, I didn't have enough time to visit 'Varanasi', after checking the trail of the the 'Ganges' I saw that 'Garhmukteswar' stood as the closest point from 'Delhi'. Picking up my car from my hotel, the drive that morning showed me lush green pastures with the odd small village for good measure. In no time the sacred waters of the 'Ganga' stood before me. That river held serious significance for the local population. Many people took their daily wash in the waters, hoping to find vigour and strength from the 'Mother Ganga'. Taking a boat ride over to the other side I was able to seriously appreciate the view. Yes, I washed my hands in the waters of the 'Ganges', I had to! Bless me!

The riverside along the waters of the 'Ganges' bore many functions, I passed by the wood-stock used for the cremation fires. Their was the odd cow roaming around, that's India though! Getting some Indian sweets from a family run sweet centre had me feeling part of the 'Garhmukteswar' experience. The tented market area had me parting with some more money! Content with my purchases, sweets and the mighty 'Ganges', it was time to head back for Delhi. I thank 'Air India', them temporarily cancelling my flight gave me the opportunity to see such a sacred waterway. The 'Thames' flows with 'empire's' past but the 'Ganges' gave me a serious serving of 'renewal' and 'spirituality'. Varanasi section of the 'Ganges' will be bossed in the future! My week spent in 'India' showed me more, I enjoyed the crazy ride that it took me on! I will definitely be planning a future 'Indian' adventure with a beach feel tinged with a few 'Bombay' dreams! भारत, सुनहरी रहो! चलो अजनबी नहीं! 'India' is incredible!

India Calling!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Destination: Nottingham

Being back in England because of the Coronavirus hasn't impressed me all that much, getting up to Nottingham gave me something to look forward to. Taking in Old Market Square was nice and to clock the Major Oak at Robin Hood's own Sherwood Forest had me excited! Getting out to Bulwell, I found that famous charity shop for myself! Notts history at the Lace Market! 

Leaving my Bilston home early on allowed me to catch my Birmingham to Nottingham Megabus without any hitches. I had a hazy plan but with enough time on my hands I headed for the city's Old Market Square as soon as I stepped down from my coach. Most of the city centre looked like it was being restored, so much scaffolding could be seen! I wasn't bothered with the history of the city at that point, where was Sue Tuke though? Bulwell would have to wait for me! The city centre street signs were helpful, without my China Mobile data plan I would be needing those street signs soon enough! I loved seeing the Council House as the focal point of the square, to the left I had period buildings that were busy shopfronts with people going about their business. Getting my photos quick, I felt an overwhelming feeling of 'reverse culture shock'. I would be feeling more of that later! Sure, Nottingham had more for me! 

Nottingham had been a city that my Nanjing friend, Chris had lived in. It was a shared excitement in one way because I was being told some funny stories about his time living in that city, with kind recommendations along the way. Where was I going to go next? Taking a moment or two within Nottingham's Old Market Square felt like the right thing to do. The city of Nottingham was serving all kinds Victorian realness, the abundance of 18th century architectural opulence had me thinking that I was in another time period! I love living in China but nothing compares when I get to see British period features! The reason for my Nottingham trip was to get out of the house, to see some place that would give my blog a new English directive because I seem to be a lover of Asian places. Getting up into Nottingham's raw city nature, I could tell that the city would show me many interesting characters! After listening to the local folk, seemingly sounding friendly with a sense of normalcy.

I got a little distracted for a quick second I missed the 12:30 Sherwood Arrow bus from Victoria Bus Station, that hourly bus service would take me to the famous Sherwood Forest. Breaking change for the bus reminded yet again that I was back home in the land of cash, the lack of mobile pay features had me running to change up some money! Leaving the city of Nottingham for the greener pastures towards Edwinstowe Village allowed me to see some lovely countryside views. Looking for the Major Oak had me following the forests path, I remembered watching 'Maid Marian and Her Merry Men when I was younger. I was half expecting to see her and her compadres skipping through the forest that rainy March afternoon. I wasn't going to see them but I was loving the scenic views with the threatening showers keeping people out of my way! I had the forest to myself! Nottingham, where was that Major Oak? Seriously?

I found the Major Oak without any issues! I marvelled at that wondrous tree that looked amazing for its 800-1,100 years of life! The tree had significance from the times of Robin Hood, the figures blew my mind but the real life view impressed me much indeed! The facts about the jays with the acorns hammered home that nature has largely helped the Major Oak last the test of time, the fence was introduced in 1975 because people just didn't have respect for the soil that got disturbed at the bottom of the trees impressive trunk. I remembered my time at Dengfeng's Pagoda Forest near the Shaolin Temple in China, it would have been lovely to have not had such a fence getting in the way! Being mindful of the time I made my way back to the bus stop, I wasn't about to be stranded in the village of Edwinstowe because time was pressing on and my hostel was away in the city centre. With no mobile data it was heaven to be helped, I found my hostel, relaxing that night was the perfect plan!

New York, Paris, Milan & Bulwell! I had a duty to hit up Bulwell before my Birmingham bound coach would leave Nottingham that afternoon! Taking the tram from the Lace Market had me making moves towards Charity Shop Sue's own store! Not an online personality, I saw her own shop because yes she's a manager! Passing the Bullwell Bogs I didn't want to waste any time, I was starstruck, so 'Scuse Me Laydeh!" Bullwell had hits of Bilston, with the outdoor market it reminded me of my hometown! I didn't see Sue's usual volunteers but to be within that famous charity shop made me feel like I had a second hand chance for sure! She needed to get back on that till! Becoming an icon for the LGBT community and a known fan of Rupaul's Drag Race, I hope to see Sue Tuke, Manager branch out into other ventures in the very near future! I don't care what anybody else thinks about my visit, I loved Bulwell! Yes!

Clearly, I had big plans for my trip to Nottingham, getting up to Bulwell to see Sue Tuke, Manager and her shop was the one! She had her work cut out to spread the word of charity to the world to make each one of her customers look like a bloody star with her award winning makeovers! Content with my Bulwell explorations, I boarded the Nottingham Tram back down towards the city centre. Casting my mind back when several people at my hostel had asked me why I had chosen to visit Nottingham, I told them that it was to see Charity Shop Sue within the Bulwell town outside of the city of Nottingham. I loved Bulwell with all of its normalcy, the tram allowed me to zoom in and out of the city without taking lots of time. Bulwell had been everything that I had wanted it to have been, the bogs presented themselves just as they did in that renowned YouTube series. The Lace Market had me walking back to the Nottingham Tram, bidding a fond farewell to Bulwell, the shop and Sue!

The Lace Market? The final chapter of my Nottingham overnight trip was my visit to the city's Lace Market area. Once a powerhouse for the garment production of lace and with the master hosier's calling the shots! Before my trip I had no idea about Nottingham's garment trade, thanks to some time spent at my Grandparents I saw a television programme that featured an auction in Nottingham, paying much reference to the former craft, graft and social in-justice those workers faced. It was apparent that the production of lace products didn't stand as the current trade within Nottingham's Lace Market during my 2020 visit. I wanted to see through the renovations, to see what the stories stood behind the period factory buildings. During my pre-trip research that Kayes Walk within Nottingham's Lace Market oozed the current amounts of 'Victorian Lace Making Realness!' Nottingham's lace past had schooled me thoroughly, N!

The Lace Market was my contingent, a few days before my departure to Nottingham I found out that the city's castle was closed due to major renovation under a National Lottery grant. After my visit to the Lace Market I tried my luck to see the castle, it was impossible to see anything inside the castle walls but I did see a statue of the famous legend Robin Hood. My time in Nottingham had been short but I had made sure that I had seen everything, I hadn't left anything out during that overnight trip! Using that industrial revolution reference I used the Lace Market as my fourth element, paying dual attention to the castle even though it was being taken care of at the point. My final steps in Nottingham were walked along the canal towpath near Castle Wharf to see the British Waterways building. Catching the coach back to the West Midlands I got talking a Chinese student who proved to be good conversation throughout the journey to Birmingham. Sue Tuke, I'll see you soon! Yes!

Nottingham, Get Back On That Till!

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 3 April 2020

2020: That Spanish Shutdown!

2020 hasn't been so kind, it's thrown me into a whirlwind of uncertainty and has turned my once settled life in China upside down! With two UK overnight trips planned out and paid for I wanted to fly away to Spain's Costa Blanca for a cheeky weekend, I wanted a bit of Benidorm! Little did I know that Spain would be locked down fast! No Jet2 flight to ALC for me, B! 

OK, I had had a few drinks at my brothers house after getting back from my exit flight from China when I felt the need to book a little weekend away! The previous month had been filled with bureaucracy and hotel confinement, all I wanted was to jet away to Alicante to soak in some Spanish culture, tapas a bit of the other! Booked it, packed and I was all excited to go to Spain in under three weeks time at that point in early March 2020. I had planned to stay in Old Benidorm with easy access to more authentic food choices, making use of the tapas and cobbled streets opposed to the bright lights and 'Brits Abroad' nature on the strip, I was ready to be cultured for a little bit anyway. I had had a lot of time in my Beijing hotel room to watch 'Bargain Brits in the Sun', a documentary series about Brits living their Benidorm dream. I was so fed up of that Chinese quarantine, how I tried to use my return as a positive. 

Checked into my flight, I printed my boarding cards along with pre-ordering a breakfast for the outbound flight to add something different to my ever-growing 'Flying High' blog series. Prepaying for the accommodation was a choice I made, it was cheaper than paying on check-in, that was a choice! I had my itinerary all planned, I was going to be spending three days in resort that would allow me to see Alicante, Benidorm and Altea. The documentary series had me excited to see the Levante Beach as it had also been featured on the hit ITV series 'Benidorm'. In my home country and with the Coronavirus situation being taken care of in China, the faith that my return to England would provide me with some downtime was a momentary comfort. 2019 had been such a fruitful year for my travelling efforts, I wanted 2020 to have the best start considering the wave of shade I had been thrown so early on into the year! Yes, I wanted the food and sunshine, yo quería a esos hombres!

After completing my overnight trip to Nottingham without any hitches I still had faith that the Coronavirus wouldn't put the UK or Spain into any form of chaos, the resorts of the Mainland of Spain continued as normal without a care in the world those flights made their round-trip flights from Birmingham to Alicante without stress. Blissfully unaware I used my downtime before my then planned trip to Sheffield to make my Spanish weekend itinerary. Choosing to spend one day in Alicante to see that port side city, I wanted to see something cultural and cosmopolitan. I discovered that the Alacant Tram connected Benidorm with a whole host of nearby beauty spots! The Castell de Santa Bárbara, Explanada de España and old town surrounding Casco Antiguo were on my Alicante sightseeing list, no mistakes! Keeping the budget small was the one, the cheap eats would be great to scout like I did in Tarragona. I was excited!

Staying within Old Benidorm I was looking to enjoy some local tapas and wine, the full English breakfast could wait because that part of town deserved me trying a few cafe con leche y churros! Plaza Santa Ana would have took precedence, that view would have allowed me to see from far and wide across the Mediterranean Sea. Like a prayer I planned to take notice of the Iglesia de San Jaime y Santa Ana. Getting down with the nightlife I was planning to get nasty, I knew what I wanted to find! Altea had a plan for me to wander around its winding streets, I was looking forward to getting my 'Alacant Tram' on! Back to Benidorm, I wanted nothing more to enjoy a few Euro pints along the strip overlooking the famous Levante Beach, for the nighttime I wanted nothing more to see some cabaret along the bar street, where was Sticky Vicky? I had all my blogs planned out, everything was in place, I even had my taxi money secured for my flight. Miss Corona was about to strike! Si, esa perra!

Something told me that it wouldn't be wise for me to convert any of my British Pounds into Euros, I felt that something would happen but I wasn't expecting what actually happened! Around the 15th of March the Spanish government announced Spain would go into a 15 day precautionary lockdown to fight the suffocating grip of that Coronavirus, it had followed me from China and had effectively cancelled my weekend break to Benidorm! I wasn't going to let this dampen my spirits because 2020 already had me back in England against my will. I focussed on getting refund from my prepaid non-refundable room in Benidorm's Old Town, the property didn't want to know so I took to Twitter to bring my grievances with their media team. After a short wait I got my non-refundable hotel coins back! Jet2 pulled through with a refund issued for my flight, I needed to wait 28 days for that check to come on through!

It was crazy to see the Brits who were in resort within Benidorm's own 'Little Britain' as the iron curtain the tourists made their last orders with four drinks at a time. The Spanish police had their work cut out as the Brit loving tourist town had to locked down! I saw some hilarious footage of a gaggle of Brits who told the camera that having a beer would make everything better, happy days? I wasn't going to freak out because the seed had been planted for a Spanish return later in the year if I had my China life back together, that Miss Corona can sashay away! I know that looking towards Benidorm, Alicante and Altea wasn't a mistake, I'll be having that roast dinner on the beach with a pint of cider in the future! I know this pest will stay with us until its good and ready to leave. Miss Corona has got stunted but she's not won, she has given me more planning time for that regreso épico! ¡Esto es real, me estaré preparando para que esa perra muera! ¡Señorita Corona, estoy hablando de usted!

Miss Corona, Get The F**k Out!

Joseph Harrison

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

China: My Shanxi Surprise!

Shanghai hasn't been the only surprise sprung upon me during my time in China, the northern province of Shanxi has served three stellar cities for the win! Surprising me with hanging temples, grottoes and banks with a smattering of shady nightspots, I definitely made those Shanxi moments count! Shanxi served three cities within two weekends with more to boot! Oh, Shan! 

Losing no sleep I arrived into Datong's own airport to be greeted by my China Highlights tour guide and driver. Getting on the road soon after, it wasn't long before we arrived at Datong's 'Hanging Temple'. Steeped in history, built into Hengshan Mountains I was amazed by the state of the temple, some restoration had been carried out. I was more than content with not going up those narrow steps, the view from the bottom was more than spectacular! Dating back to the 5th century, I was impressed with that hanging temple, I needed a nap thats all I knew in that moment! Before lunch it was time to explore the area around Datong's 'Yingxian Wooden Pagoda'. The cold noodles were lovely, I got into my holiday mood with a cheeky Zongzi because it was the weekend of China's Dragon Boat Festival. Fixed together like a jigsaw, the wooden pagoda was once used as a lookout point. Datong had me on my toes for sure, S!

Driving into the city, I had booked myself a nice hotel for the weekend. Making use of the bath had to be done, when there's only a shower at home, it felt like I was in some palatial suite as I soaked in the bath! The area around my hotel was slap bang in the middle of the city, I had some exploring to do. Tracking down the nearest Wal-Mart had to be done, those imports shamed other foreign supermarkets without question! Getting some Australian import cider and some cooked chicken had me set for the night ahead, it was going to be a sedate affair because the early morning departure from Beijing had wiped me out when evening came. Beijing seemed like a million miles away, I always craved noise because Shunyi's so damn quiet! Earlier on I got myself on a rental bike, that gave me the chance to ride around the unassuming city centre, I sensed a lot of development had gone on in that Datong city area! Anyhow, my ex-Holiday Inn hotel was comfy, I was ready for the next day! 

Starbucks breakfast completed, it was time for the second and final day of my tour in Datong City, Shanxi Province. Heading towards the 'Yungang Grottoes' had me excited, the pre-tour photos had me longing to see those vivid colours. The crowds didn't bother me because I had my senses in check, snatching my photos I made it clear to my tour guide that we could move on to the next place. The 'Huayan Temple' was easy breezy, the scorching temperatures kept the crowds away from the temples inner core. Moving on quickly, the 'Nine Dragon Wall' had me transfixed with its blue and golden design! I was schooled good and proper, I found out that China boasts several version of the 'Nine Dragon Wall', the most famous being in Datong. The morning so far had been fully packed with three worthy points of interest. Content but not, I knew that I wanted some more! To the rescue, my tour guide had one more place to show me. Go!

After climbing the short way to the top, I had a boss view overlooking Datong's cityscape from the newly renovated 'Datong City Wall'. My guide informed me that coal had been Datong's primary money maker but when the local government realised that the city boasted a series of show-stopping sights, it changed everything! The city wall was mad quiet, I was loving having that elevated path to myself. Taking it slow, I enjoyed the final part of my tour, the guide had been informative and knew what she was talking about. My weekend in Datong, the capital city within China's Shanxi Province had been fruitful, lots had been discovered and for that I felt that my China Highlights tour had been worth every single penny. Flying back to Beijing had to be done, I needed to complete one more month at work before my Montessori training kicked back in. With Datong done, I needed to see Pingyao and Taiyuan to complete my Shanxi Province trilogy! I wanted the Shanxi surprises to continue! 

Pingyao called my name in August 2019, I managed to get a cheeky high speed train from Beijing West Railway Station to Taiyuan after work on one Friday night after work. Meeting with my guide and driver early the next morning outside my Taiyuan hotel was seamless, Pingyao's ancient past was at my fingertips! Checking out the famous 'Qiao Family Compound' first, I dodged the gaggle of local tourists to get my photos once again. My enthusiastic guide told me about the class divisions of the former compound. Certain influences from America could be seen through the architecture that influenced the door frames within one courtyard. I appreciated the well preserved and crafted 'Qiao Family Compound', keeping the pace moderate it was time for us to hit the road, the ancient city of Pingyao needed my attention! I was so ready for more Shanxi cold noodles, the hot weather had me appreciating the food! Yes!

Parking up outside the walls of Pingyao's 'Ancient City', it was so easy for us to access the period style pedestrian street. I loved the feel of the 'Ancient City', the cold noodles were waiting for me and with the heat it was a welcome choice. The locally made vinegar made my cold noodles taste so good, loved it I did! After lunch we walked towards the city wall, I lived for the small time chaos as the first bank of China showed itself to me. Before the days of China Merchant Bank and China Construction Bank, Pingyao gave China one of its first fully functioning banks. It was so interesting to see the developments that were made during those early years, the rate of expansion was insane considering the early start the bank had. The bank's history impressed me much, with that gem ticked off my list it was time to see the second of two city walls in Shanxi Province. The views were so different, definitely more authentic compared with Datong's offerings. Yes, that darling temple! 

After napping in the car from Pingyao, the time had come to say goodbye to my guide and driver as the car arrived back at my hotel in Taiyuan. I took a short rest in my Yitel hotel room, feeling refreshed I got myself ready for my unplanned night out in Taiyuan. Consulting my go-to social media app, I asked around about the nightlife of a certain kind. The manager from the Pingyao tour company had suggested that I check out 'Mao'er Xiang' to see what foods were on offer. I lived for the lights and energy but didn't entertain any of the food. Opting for a Hui dish, I enjoyed my uncomplicated beef, potatoes and rice. My app consulting had paid off, I had a location to find later on that night by taxi. Feeling thirsty I called upon a drink at 'Joker Homie Pub' after seeing certain reviews on my Dianping app. I enjoyed a few beverages before moving onto the club with no name. I was loving the randomness of the night, T! 

The night took an amazing turn, I got frequented with a new contact for the night. Getting some more beers I found out quickly that the bar was managed by several Trans individuals, I loved the sense of difference because that has to be cherished in certain places on this earth. I made another contact, let's just say it snowballed into something that was very memorable for all the right reasons. Waking up the next day, I didn't feel good but the night had been a roaring success for many reasons. Getting down to the riverside to see the quiet Fen He waters gave me a sense of solitude. I committed myself to getting taxis for the rest of the day, I wanted to continue with my sightseeing before getting the train back to Beijing. I managed to get to the 'Twin Pagoda Temple' for my last point of call, I liked the closed interior garden with the pagodas in view. The previous night had left me feeling 'smashed' and 'spent', it was time to get the train back to Beijing before work.

Serving Shanxi Province!

Joseph Harrison