Edinburgh Weekend

 hello edinburgh!

BFS – EDI £70 RTN

     Spending a January weekend in Edinburgh is what I imagine being trapped in Hogwarts at winter would be like: it’s cold, it snows, and there’s windy-wee-passages and cosy shops to get trapped in. Just what Rebecca and I were looking for for a best-friend birthday-mashup weekend!

      I’ve never seen anything quite like the old town streets that wind and nestle on the hill. From above, Edinburgh Castle juts proudly over the city atop an outcrop of sheer rock-face, while the rest of the city’s old sandstone houses stretch up over six floors towards the cloudy sky.

City spires

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out & about

     Museums and independent trinket shops are right up my street, and Edinburgh has them aplenty. 10/10 to the National Portrait Gallery, and special mention to The Red Door Gallery, which stocks a fabulous amount of my illustrator idol, Gemma Correll.

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top eats

     I spent a lovely couple of days jumping in and out of Edinburgh’s deliciously heated trinket shops and restaurants — a great excuse for eating my way around the city. Nom nom treats for my belly.

Recommendations are…

FIRST PLACE           The Outsider – Rabbit pie, pureed veg, and mash £7.20
Best find of Ed, ridiculously reasonable lunch prices – yet classy.

NARROW SECOND   Henderson’s  (Vegan + Veggie) – Stuffed peppers £10.95
Cosy, with piano-tinkling and amazing vegan and veggie food. Yes, please.

DELICOUS 3RD        Bread Meats Bread — BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich £7
Absolutely packed on a Sunday night for the best pulled pork I’ve had.

    Of course, I visited The Elephant House for a glimpse of the space where J K Rowling dreamt up the fabulous magicalness of Harry Potter. Strangely, but perhaps appropriately, I found Harry Potter’s world in the Loos, where hundreds of devotees had scribbled their love of magic.

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     On my last night, Rebecca and I made good use of the little pool, steam room, and sauna at Novotel (where the revolving front door refused to co-operate with Rebecca’s feet). It was puuuuuurfect for warming our wee fingers and toes after a chilly weekend.

Blueskyhouses

 

     Edinburgh you were lovely,

Charlotte xx

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Year Abroad: Hangzhou

杭州
Hangzhou

Shanghai Honqiao – Hangzhou East: 159¥

Sights:
West Lake,
Bai & Su Causeways,
JingCi Temple,
National Silk Museum
Dragon Well Tea Village.

After term ended in January I headed to Hangzhou for a long-weekend. It’s a short two and a half hour high-speed train journey from Shanghai, and if you choose your weekends wisely, a great break from the bustle of the big city.

Lakes, greenery and pedestrian and cycle paths that should be the envy of China, Hangzhou made a crisp New Year’s trip that’s definitely one of my China favourites.

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West Lake Hangzhou

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 MOUTH-WATERING TREATS.

I’m a simple creature, proximity to food is high on my list of priorities.

And Hangzhou’s slightly sweet and flavoursome style of dishes are a solid favourite out of my trips so far. If you’re down south, definitely try out these three dishes mains at the very least, Hangzhou did them perfectly: 红烧肉 Slow Stewed Pork, 家常白菜 Home Style Cabbage, 红烧茄子 Stewed Aubergine.

For speciality snacks, head down to QingHeFang St. on the west side of the lake where stalls selling traditional savoury snacks and sweet cakes line the narrow streets.

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West Side of the Lake

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Red Bean Tea Cakes in Hangzhou

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TRANQUIL SCENERY

If you stay away from the traumatising horror of major national holidays in China, even at the weekends, Hangzhou’s lakes and causeways are some of the loveliest.

Besides the gentle (read: wonderfully flat) walk around the lake, it’s also surrounded by a scattering of temples, pagodas and museums well within a walking radius. We managed to cover them pretty extensively over three days, and I wish I had had more time at the Silk Museum. I was taken rather grudgingly, given my sceptical opinion of how interesting a museum of a single fabric could be, but I (equally grudgingly) had to confess I was wrong.
Good choice, Peter.

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Leifeng Pagoda

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View from Leifeng Pagoda

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Peter at JingCi Temple

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GREAT PUBLIC TRANSPORT

At risk of being called a criminally uncool, I have to say, having travelled a fair bit along the main tourist routes of China by now, it is with no small amount of gravity that I praise the tourist buses in Hangzhou. All hail efficiency.

With managable timetables and English announcements at every stop, it’s an easy town to move about in. (And the fact that I still managed to lead us half an hour in the wrong direction by the bus is testament only to my poor understanding of North vs. South.)

We headed down to the lakeside to rent a cheap tandem and cycle the lake. Things were certainly a lot safer when I wasn’t steering, but that aside, it was a perfect way to enjoy the sunshine.
Su Causeway North to Hubin Rd. takes around 25mins.

Another plus of good transport is that we weren’t afraid to take some late evening strolls around the lake and watch the lights glow from street lamps and tiny wooden stalls.

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Su Causeway Stall Hangzhou

All in all, a great weekend.

再见杭州!

Charlotte xx

See you again, Hangzhou.

Year Abroad: Trip to Zhujiajiao

朱家角
Zhu Jia Jiao

Pu An Road Station 普安路 –  Zhu Jia Jiao 朱家角: 12¥
35mins-1hr (traffic dependant)

Sights: Ke Zhi Garden,
Qing Dynasty Post Office,
Shen Ming Bridge,
Town God Temple.

 Restaurants Zhejiajiao

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This week, with my mum here in Shanghai, we took a half-day trip across the city to the water town Zhu Jia Jiao.

I’ve managed to get by for nine months referring to the town in a nonchalant jumble of Z sounds and a vague hand-wave (with any old tone thrown in for good measure), and this trip involved a full day of avoiding it like the plague, twisting my mouth into unintelligible Chinese when it was only explicitly necessary.
Unsurprisingly, that was fairly often.

It’s a speedy bus journey out of the city on the huge concrete flyovers that head south-west towards Shanghai province’s inland lakes and rivers, and the bouncy journey on China-style suspension is tempered only by the no standing system (I take a seated China-style snooze).

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Sheng Ming Bridge Zhejiajiao

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ZhuJiaJiao is a different feel to Suzhou, with its Old Town constrained within a 15min radius of sharp, twisting alleys, packed with noisy sellers and nosier tourists, but in the blazing sun it certainly has its own charm – particularly in its two storey canal-side tea houses and restaurants.

A maze of traditional wooden shutters, whitewashed walls, and dubiously constructed bamboo scaffolding that marked large-scale maintenance of it’s traditional architecture, the Old Town is a strange mix of the locals everyday life, adapted to the hundreds of camera-wielding tourists that march through every day between 9AM-5PM.
After hours, I imagine, is entirely more pleasant.

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Traditional Wooden Second Floor Zhejiajiao

Tea Houses, Zhejiajiao

Alley Teashops Zhejiajiao

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With a slow-paced wander around the Old Town, Mum and I get a noodle and wonton soup lunch upstairs in a quiet restaurant. I’d suggest checking out what the upstairs of your chosen lunch establishment is like before committing, lest you end up like us, with our windows bizarrely facing over the street and dry, latticed scaffolding instead of the picturesque tourist canal.

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Tiled Roof Zhejiajiao Resturant

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By the end of the day, I did reluctantly learn to pronounce ZhuJiaJiao.
You know, that pretty water town place, she says, gesticulating vaguely.

Charlotte xx

Year Abroad: Nanjing Weekend

GIRLS TRIP!

Shanghai – Nanjing: 134.50¥
Two days, One night.

In November, I made a long weekend trip an hour and a half from the Big City to Nanjing along with some girls here at Fudan University.

GIRLS ON TOUR

nanjing

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The great thing about travelling with friends is that, even if things go a bit awry, any unfortunate catastrophe makes a pretty good anecdote when you’re putting your feet up at the end of the day. Come rain, dubiously timetabled buses, or our dodgy foreigner’s Chinese, we managed to power through a with a whirlwind tour of Nanjing.

As a testament to the trip’s success, all six of us girls are still friends.
Not bad, eh?

TOUR TOUR TOUR

Being November, it was drizzly, splashy and rainy for our second trip to the Jiang Su province, having been in Suzhou not long before. We made the best of our two day trip in Nanjing and split our time into a day on the Purple Gold Mountain tourist trail and a day for the City.

紫金山 // Purple Gold Mountain

Sights:
Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty
Sun-Yet Sen Sun-Yet Sen Mausoleum
Forest Trails

It’s a long hike from the bottom of the mountain to base of the Sun-Yet Sen Mausoleum where a dizzying set of stairs lead the way to the memorial building, but the road is packed. Nothing like getting overtaken by Chinese grannies on a crisp Autumn stair-master challenge.

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南京

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Although I may be some six thousand miles from home, something about the cool, clammy air in the mountains, the heavy foliage and falling leaves, walking with my backpack, and speaking English gives me the strongest feeling of home – of drizzling Northern Irish weather and Sunday walks with the family.

Purple Gold Mountain, though, has the most gorgeous yellow trees that line the paths and spray them with delicate, fan-shaped leaves, and now and then, we stumble across some Chinese architecture amongst the trees.

Probably better than your average day Sunday walk.
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南京市
Nanjing City


Sights: Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum

For our day in Nanjing City, the weather takes a turn for the worse and we head to the foreboding structure of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum for the morning. It’s a dense exhibit, and here and there between it’s visceral images and personal accounts, tiny old men and women cry silently as they walk. It’s a harrowing visit, and by the end of it all, we’re a fairly tired bunch.

Can hardly visit Nanjing without seeing this museum.

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SLEEPS & EATS


Bars: Brewsell’s, Ellens
Sleeps: 心子旅花圆客线
江苏省南京市秦淮区应天大街388号
025 5188 5858

At night, we take a jaunt around the intersection of Guangzhou Rd. and Shanghai Rd. for some post-touristing drinks, popping into Ellens, the local grimy Helen’s knock-off which is jammed full of local students, and quickly leaving to Brewsell’s pub round the corner for an Expat atmosphered beer (or Amaretto and Coke for me – the first I’ve seen in China).

This fabulously dressed Germanic-looking gentleman sits at the bar, which probably makes my evening.

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In amongst our sight-seeing, there are a fair few exciting meals from the strange noodle breakfasts, the traditional lazy Susan lunches and, ashamedly, a desperation-fuelled Starbucks. Of course, my rucksack was constantly crammed with the odd snack to keep me occupied.
(It’s better for everyone if I’m kept well nourished, trust me.)

As for sleeps, we nabbed a clean, six-person dorm, albeit slightly out of the way, in a hostel that featured smack bang in the middle of 1865创意园, a Creative Technology and Design Park.

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Nanjing, you were great.

Charlotte xx

China: Journey to the Mountain

 

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Journey to the Mountain

#1 Gate to the clouds

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It’s a great, heaving breath I take as I step out of a tiny Chinese bus at our first stop on our upwards journey of 3,099m:
the Gate to Mount Emei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China.

It’s been a stomach-churning drive to this point, but the air is clear, crisp and fresh. It’s a rush of oxygen that comes as a huge relief, not only because of my all-too-familiar feeling of car-sickness, but after a month in China, I’m craving any kind of air that doesn’t feel like a dice with a slow, carbon-monoxide death.

With much reluctance, but greatly refreshed, that I step back on the bus to cross under the arch towards the Emei summit.

Our next stop is the Gondola at the base of the mountain, that departs from within a beautiful, deep-coloured wood building. Unfortunately, however, it’s under repair this time of year, and we’re herded towards the second back-up gondola leaves from behind this beautiful wooden building.

The aptly-named back-up gondola is a tiny, creaky plastic box – a relic from the 80s – which two foreigners can just about squeeze into. For the love of God, do not shake the box. We ascend through five minutes of cloud over tiny, paintbrush trees until we suddenly, with an artistic bust of sunshine, break the clouds…

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#2 Golden Elephant Peak

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The first section of the walk after the death-defying gondola ride takes us to base of Samantabhadra Statue Peak. It’s a stunning eruption that pierces into a swathe of blue sky – the likes of which I haven’t seen much of in China so far.

All along that steep incline towards the glimmering monument, people of all ages, and from all over the world climb the steps at times puffing almost shoulder to shoulder.

All different people, looking, in reverence and revery, and resting tired feet in the passing cloud.

Beautiful.

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Lack of Oxygen:
Peak of Emei Mountain, Chengdu, 3099m

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At the summit of Emei Mountain is this moment of real breathlessness.

The second, and unfortunately not final, terrifying rickety bus across the side of Emei mountain, took us to a  – then unreassuringly under-renovation – cable car, which took full running-jump into the tiny carriage, and proceeded to leak and rock us over proper Chinese mountains and sheer cliffs as the peak began rising up out of an endless sea of clouds.

At the summit rises three monolithic structures, atop an avenue of white-and-gold elephant lined steps: a goliathan gold buddha-elephant-spike, a golden temple, and a silver nunnery. They’re floating in and out of passing clouds, and there are these sudden bursts of gold reflections when the clouds break and the sunlight strikes the shining metal.
The Golden Summit.

All along the upward climb people were silently praying, periodically stopping to force their foreheads to the solid concrete steps, and to put smoking incense sticks and fat red candles on racks – the wax dripping everywhere, big sooty orange flames. People  were dirty, an end of pilgrimage dirt that suited their tired, reverent faces. A brilliant dirt, next to the gleaming temples in the sun and clear, thin air.

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We stayed for several hours, before beginning the quiet, slow decent to the base town.

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Mount Emei:
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China
Pǔxián Púsà (普賢菩薩)
First Buddhist Temple in China
Earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery

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