Category Archives: adventure

A Significant Encounter in the Water Village

On the second day, there was a trip to one of the water villages around Shanghai. The city is built on the delta of the Yangtze River; the surrounding countryside is crossed by many small rivers. To the west of the urban area, there are several ancient towns which preserve much original culture. We were going to Zhujiajiao, about 50 km from the city.

sampan in water village nr Shanghai

We began our explorations in the Kezhi Gardens. Our guide led us through the living areas, now displaying various examples of the crafts once practised there, to a large room which housed a model of the original design.

resilience village model

I was stunned – it was an exact depiction of the imaginary ‘resilience village’ which I’d described in ‘Recipes for Resilience’! The establishment used to house not only an extended family, but also students learning about plants. The ethic was that the whole community would work on the fields and vegetable gardens, as well as studying, in order to have a balanced life.

Although the place had undergone changes – at one point it was a junior school, and is now an exhibition – the small craft workshops still housed skilled artisans. You can watch paper-cutting, calligraphy and embroidery; pick up some pretty souvenirs.

calligraphy and paper cutting

Paper cuttings
Paper cuttings

Some of the extensive fields survive as a demonstration area on the other side of the lovely formal gardens. I saw rice ready for harvest for the first time; it certainly seems to give a good yield of grain.

A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens

The garden itself was lovely. There was more space here than in the Yu Yuan; the water features were more intricate and the pavillions grander, with higher levels. You can see more pictures here, and read a brief history.

Too soon we had to continue our tour, emerging to take a walk along the riverfront and down the narrow colourful alleyways. These were lined with small stalls – the weather is quite warm here, even in November – selling all manner of enticing articles. Often the craftspeople themselves would be there, working on their next piece as they waited for customers.

riverfront water village

We paused for roll call by the famous Fang Sheng bridge, and were let off to explore. Across the bridge was an area of new development; modern apartments and shops, with the ubiquitous Starbucks. Part of the old bank was artificially preserved to ensure the survival of the old culture; the rest seemed to have managed it unaided.

The old and new in Zhujiajiao
The old and new in Zhujiajiao; the man in the boat is clearing weeds from the river

Zhujiajiao water village is one of the closest to Shanghai. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get there by public transport. Most city hotels provide small bilingual cards at Reception, instructing taxi drivers on returning wandering guests to the right address; make sure you pick one up if you’re going exploring without a guide.

Next week: Towers, silk and shopping in Shanghai

Sights of Shanghai

I find writing a book quite intense, especially towards the end. When the final draft of ‘Recipes for Resilience’ left my desk for that of Magic Oxygen publishers, I was in the mood for adventure. My colleague, Linda Benfield, had booked us on to an RSD tour of China – luckily I’d met my deadline – and we flew to Beijing on the 6th November.

Flying over Gobi desert
The Gobi Desert makes Siberia look busy

From there, we had to manage the transfer to Shanghai ourselves. It looked daunting; there wasn’t a lot of time to achieve it. There were some films on YouTube describing the route to take; down the escalator and on to the shuttle train to Domestic Departures. We didn’t have to collect our luggage after all, possibly since both flights were with Air China and booked together. It’s this sort of detail that I value a tour company for.

Shanghai airport signs

If you’re arranging your own programme, leave a good couple of hours for transfer in case of misunderstandings. The queue at Chinese Immigration can be quite long too. Have your arrival card filled in before you get to the desk.

Our fantastic tour guide, Kevin, was at Shanghai Airport to meet us. We drove to the Golden River View Hotel through the rush hour smog arriving, with just enough energy after over twenty four hours of travelling, in time to dine and get an early night.

The smog had gone in the morning; we learned it was rarely as bad as the day we’d arrived, when it reminded me of my Midlands childhood. There are moves to increase the proportion of electric vehicles, as transport accounts for about 30% of the pollution, and to explore the use of natural gas and renewables instead of coal.

RSD Travel has mixed reviews, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that their sightseeing agenda is relentless. We had very little time at the excellent hotel buffet before boarding the tour bus for a look at the Jade Buddha Temple; we learned to get up earlier in future. RSD provides more of an adventure than a holiday, but after fourteen days we really felt we’d seen China and at a very reasonable price.

The Reclining Jade Buddha
The Reclining Jade Buddha

The Yu Yuan came next; beautiful formal gardens in the centre of the megacity. A natural setting is created in such gardens. Trees, ponds and winding paths combine into different vistas, viewed from small pavillions or cloistered corridors. There are rarely any statues, only ambient rocks suggestive of various shapes in a very effective manner.

Yu Yuan gardens Shanghai

yu yuan gardens shanghai

At lunchtime, we were released into Shanghai Old Town to do some free range shopping; you could easily spend an afternoon here picking up quality trinkets for gifts.

Dragon tortoise guards shanghai old town

If the waterside teahouse doesn’t tempt you, there’s a Starbucks not far away.

Teahouse in Shanghai old town

One last trip before dinner, to the spacious, gated French Concession area. People practised Tai Chi, and what we later learned was square dancing, in the empty road. Others flew kites in the park.

Tai Chi in the French concession Shanghai

After dinner, back on the tour bus for a river trip (optional extra). Like most places in the city, the boat was crowded, so we paid extra for seats by the rail. It was well worth it; Shanghai waterfront illuminations are legendary.

Night tour boat Shanghai

Night lights Shanghai
The Oriental Pearl Tower stands in space-age splendour

All this, and jet-lag too – Beijing time is 8 hours ahead of the UK. Next week – A Significant Encounter in the Water Village

Iceland Adventure

In the Resilience Handbook, I recommend going on regular adventures.  Travel by a method you don’t normally use, go to somewhere different.  It doesn’t have to be exotic – a week in a campsite is just as good for your resilience.  As a solo traveller, I prefer to use hostels.  They’re cheap, you can self-cater, and you meet interesting people in the communal areas.

The confidence I gained by hostelling around Britain enables me to explore further afield on a limited budget.  I did some research and packed appropriate clothes; there was very little I didn’t actually use.   Even an 18 kilo suitcase was a serious handicap on public transport though; it may be worth while paying the extra to fly from a closer airport next time.

Why Iceland?  With its renewable energy and reforestation programme, it’s an ideal destination for the resilience explorer!  I’ve got extensive notes to go over, and a return trip is already on the cards.  I never did get a recipe for putrefied shark – but I know the history behind it now.

Here’s some pictures

iceland old harbour
The Old Harbour is quite industrial around the bus stop – then you walk round the corner and see the bay open out towards the sharp snowy hills
My kind of tour bus! Off into the wilds for the 'Game of Thrones' tour. Winter driving in Iceland is challenging; use tours, not car rental.
My kind of tour bus! Off into the wilds for the ‘Game of Thrones’ tour. Winter driving in Iceland is challenging; use tours, not car rental.
The landscape north of Reykjavik from the tour bus - there was a strong wind that day, whipping the powdery snow up into a white out later on!
The landscape north of Reykjavik from the tour bus – there was a strong wind that day, whipping the powdery snow up into a white out later on!
iceland murals 2016
Many ordinary house walls in Reykjavik are adorned with amazing murals – the streets are full of random sculptures as well.

I stayed at Reykjavik City Hostel which is a little out of town but well serviced by the 14 bus from across the road, which takes you all the way to the Old Harbour (Grandi stop the return journey is headed Listabraut).  It’s right next to one of the best heated pools in town, Laugardalslaug and there’s a lovely park behind it.

The Game of Thrones tour is run by Grayline.  All the tours, and the airport bus, collect you from right outside the hostel.  This was a relief as, outside the main town, the suburban roads are quite exposed for the walker.  It takes less than an hour to walk to the other side of the town centre from the hostel though.

Another good day’s winter wander – keep in mind you have only 6 hours of daylight before the cold dark sets in! – is Oskjuhlid wooded park.  The number 5 bus takes you to the artificial beach with hot tub at Nautholl, then you can wander past the site of the new Asatru heathen temple and head upwards through the dwarf birch and evergreens to the Perlan at the hill top.  It’s a challenge – the paths are often icy and you can’t see the landmark building for the trees – but the view over town is wonderful and the cafe quite reasonably priced.  An 18 bus goes from the main road to the Hlemmur – bus station – where you can catch the number 14 again.

Malta – Transport and Trees

We thought we had come well prepared for the challenge of hiring a car in a strange country after arriving late at night. We’d printed out a full list of Google directions to the hotel at the far end of Malta. Luckily my colleague, Linda Benfield, had also bought a map at Bristol Airport.  It was a very valuable last minute purchase!

The directions relied on street names. We found one later, sixteen feet up a wall in inch high letters, some of which were missing. Navigation was a challenge even with the Marco Polo map. Signage seemed optional, the names of towns changed as you got nearer and EU funding had inspired a proliferation of new roundabouts. There was even an extra tunnel to the ones depicted!

Hedgehog sign
Beware of the hedgehogs!

Being resilient, we had a torch to do map reading with, and made it to the hotel. The ‘Riviera’ sign lights up blue at night and is something of a landmark as you drive the the hairpin bends of Marfa Ridge. There was no need to worry about Reception closing, as a coach full of German tourists had just arrived.

Discovering it only took ten minutes to go from really close to our sought after destination in central Mdina, to being confused on Route One at the northern edge of the island was a revelation, and explained why we spent the first few days visiting sites at random as we stumbled across them. We were simply expecting too much distance.

Malta is a small island with a long history. Everyone knows their way around. If you’re able-bodied, there’s an excellent bus service – without, alas, the iconic yellow buses, which were stood down in 2011. Walking is a good option too. Some of the important Neolithic sites can only be accessed on foot. Remember the summer sun can be merciless in this open landscape; take water and a hat.

Land here has been cultivated for centuries and deforestation is a problem. On their arrival in 1529, the Knights of St John – soon to be the Knights of Malta – reported ‘an island without trees.’

Rural landscapes are divided into tiny vegetable plots, there is neither space nor water for many large trees. Although it was only 20 C in January, the impact of the summer heat was baked into the very stones.

The contrast with Buskett Forest Gardens was startling. Here, we found open water, running streams, cool and damp air. This reforestation project dates back to its use as a hunting preserve by the Knights in the 1600s. It’s now a Natura 2000 site. Native tree species from Malta’s once extensive forests support a variety of rare wildlife, including many migratory birds.

Buskett Forest Gardens, Malta 2016
Open water in the forest

On Sundays, as we discovered, many Maltese families come here for picnics, and the car park becomes very full. We were hoping to find the famous cart tracks and caves, which were surely just at the top of that hill, but couldn’t find the way. Perhaps it was signposted from the other side of the plateau. I recommend hiring a guide!

 

 

 

Diary February 2015

It’s been a quietly busy winter.

I finally paid attention to completing my English teaching course before the deadline, and was awarded the certificate with its shiny hologram. The grammar section was surprisingly challenging, even for someone with an ‘old-school’ education!

Still looking for a distraction from waiting for the Resilience Handbook to work through the publishing process, I set up a series of free craft workshops. Reskilling is a vital part of resilience plannning.

So are adventures.

‘Why don’t you come to the Lyme Regis LitFest?’ said Tracey, my publisher.

Why not? It is the sort of excursion expected of a writer, and I could meet many of my fellow authors from the Magic Oxygen stable.

I stayed at nearby Monkton Wyld Court, a hostel and education centre. The peaceful community of today is a contrast to its lively decades spent as a St Trinian’s style progressive school.

Arriving early, I spent a day wandering along the Jurassic shore, admiring the delicate outlines of ancient ammonites sketched on the mudrocks, collecting driftwood and flotsam for art works. The air was cold, the stony beach quiet apart from the tapping of fossil hammers.

A literary festival turns out to be just the sort of event a writer enjoys. There were some excellent lectures and discussions, although I had to miss the weekend programme. Meeting authors and having the chance to leaf through a book is far more satisfying than buying online, or selecting from the promoted range of titles in a supermarket.

Home in time to deal with the final details of the first craft workshop session, which went very well. I had been prepared to sit there on my own if necessary, but there were over forty visitors during the afternoon, despite the problems we’d had getting publicity out.

Next craft workshop day is 1st March….next adventure may well be a day trip on a tall ship.