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Wuzhen Ancient Town

April 4th, 2018

I’ve spent the last two Easters in China visiting these 古镇 “ancient towns”. In 2016 I went to Tongli near Suzhou, and this time last year I was in Anchang. It would be bad to break with tradition so this Easter weekend I visited 乌镇 Wuzhen, which is about halfway between Shanghai and where I’m living currently in Hangzhou. Wuzhen is one of the more well known of these towns, possibly because of its proximity to Shanghai which makes it a bit of a tourist hotspot. The other nearby one being 西塘 Xitang which I guess I’ll visit too at some point.

In contrast to some other places I’ve been, the “scenic area” in Wuzhen is very well preserved, almost like a historical theme park. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t feel like a town where people actually live (although, in fact, I think some do). Most of the buildings date from the late Qing dynasty, so a little over a hundred years old.

A more specific name for this type of town is 水乡 “water town”: the classical style of this area is these white-washed buildings and every other street is a canal. Wuzhen is a bit special though in that it’s situated on the Grand Canal which links Beijing and Hangzhou, and despite being dug nearly 1500 years ago is still the longest man-made waterway. On the edge of the scenic area is a pagoda you can climb up and watch the modern day water traffic.

Wuzhen actually has two scenic areas, a larger “west” area and a smaller “east” area. I only visited the west area which is more than large enough to spend a day in unless you’re going to race around. I felt the day ticket price – 150元 – was a bit steep, definitely more than I’ve paid in similar towns. I believe the “east” area ticket is a bit cheaper and you can buy a combined ticket for both areas. I also felt that Wuzhen was a bit lacking in attractions compared to similar towns, beyond just looking at the scenery. E.g. in Anchang the day ticket gets you admission to several small museums, a large temple, etc. but in Wuzhen the buildings mostly just house shops, hotels, and restaurants. Though there was a small exhibit on the traditional local textile printing industry, which I rather enjoyed, and from the official website it looks like there are more museums in the eastern area. But if you’re in Zhejiang, and you just want to visit one of these towns, I think you’re better off going to Anchang. It’ll be much less crowded too.

If you are also planning to travel there from Hangzhou I suggest you ignore the travel advice on the official website (which is also the route Baidu maps suggests). This involves taking the Hangzhou subway to the long-distance bus station, then taking a coach to a town called 桐乡 Tongxiang, and then transferring to the local bus to Wuzhen. This takes basically forever (3+ hours) and if you travel out the night before like I did, the direct bus 282 from Tongxiang to Wuzhen stops alarmingly early (like 5pm). The smart choice is to take the unofficial tourist coach which runs between central Hangzhou and the car park outside the scenic area in Wuzhen. I used this on the way back and it only took an hour and a half. Just pay the driver 30元 when you get on the coach. You can actually find schedules for these coaches in the Ctrip app or website (but you need the local version, not the international one).

Xixi Wetland

March 23rd, 2018

After I finished class today I went to a nearby nature reserve called Xixi Wetland Park 西溪湿地. It’s a very large area of wetland to the west of Hangzhou. I didn’t have time to explore it all, but there were a lot of spring blossoms out, and a Qing-dynasty-style old street with a little pagoda and a few exhibitions. I don’t think it’s original but had a good atmosphere.

The wetland is a series of large lakes like this

Cherry blossom (maybe)

Red and yellow flower

Technology Gone Too Far

March 18th, 2018

I remember when I went to university in the UK the washing machines in the laundry were simple coin operated affairs. But because China has ALL THE TECHNOLOGY the washing machines here are exclusively controlled by chat-program-turned-app-platform WeChat. You are basically screwed if you don’t have a smartphone.

First you need to add the laundry service as a contact, and then find the one nearest to you

Now you can select the kind of wash cycle you want and the time you want to book the machine

Now you need to log in to the washing machine that was reserved for you on this control panel

After it’s done washing, the machine sends you a helpful reminder to go collect your laundry

Leifang Pagoda and Lingyin Temple

March 18th, 2018

So I’m taking a bit of a career break at the moment and living in Hangzhou, China for a few months to study Chinese. Last weekend one of my Chinese friends came to visit so we did a few of the local tourist attractions. Actually I’ve been to Hangzhou once before back in 2016, but that time unfortunately coincided with a G20 summit and it was soo crowded so I just walked round the lake and left.

Leifang pagoda

The first stop is Leifang pagoda 雷峰塔. The original pagoda was built in 975. It was damaged and then totally collapsed in 1924, but was then later rebuilt in 2002. Underneath the new pagoda is an exhibition on the reconstruction, and you can see the remains of the originally foundations. I’m actually a big fan of rebuilding ruined historic sites, as long as it’s done in keeping with the original building, and I wish we did more of it in the UK. How much more interesting a tourist attraction would Pontefract castle be if they rebuilt it in the original style?

Buddhist carving

On Sunday we went to “Lingying scenic area”. I love a good “scenic area”, and this one is based around Lingyin temple 灵隐寺, one of the largest and reputedly wealthiest Buddhist temples in China. There’s a small rocky area with a number of ancient stone carvings, and lots of temple buildings, one of them containing an impressively large Buddha statue. I tried doing the praying-with-burning-incense-sticks thing and nearly set my fingers on on fire, possibly a bad omen.

Lingyin temple

Behind the temple is Feilai peak 飞来峰, the highest mountain in the surrounding area. From the temple you can climb up some steps to the viewing platform at the top and then take the cable car back down. I love how the Chinese word for cable car 缆车 has exactly the same pronunciation as 懒车 “lazy car”. Very appropriate.

Silchester to Newbury

February 26th, 2018

Last day out in the UK for a few months as doof.me.uk will soon be temporarily relocated. Decided to go walking near the Roman town at Silchester I visited a few times before. And from there walked along the downs to Newbury.

Iron age fort

There’s something about Newbury as a destination for my hikes, whenever I go there it always turns into proper adventure. This time I wildly underestimated distances as usual and the sun started to set while I was still on the hills 6-7 miles from Newbury so I ended up doing the last two hours or so along some country lanes in the dark. It was quite exciting actually – lucky I brought my torch though.

Downland at sunset

Saunderton to Henley

February 20th, 2018

I went for another outing on Saturday, this time from Saunderton to Henley. I wanted to go all the way to Goring but it was way too boggy for that. In the mud I managed less than 2mph on average.

Church at Radnage

Muddy

Dartford to Gravesend

February 16th, 2018

I went for an adventure on Thursday and ventured further east out into the Thames estuary from Dartford to Gravesend and then across the river to Tilbury in Essex.

Dartford had a lively market and a Wimpy, rumours of the latter’s demise proved unfounded. The highlight of the walk was definitely going under the QE2 bridge at the Dartford crossing. Reminded me a little bit of my excursion to Hull many years ago.

Dartford crossing

Walking along the salt marshes in the sunshine was quite pleasant, although it got a bit sketchy between Northfleet and Gravesend, ending up in some industrial estate. At Gravesend I hopped on this ferry to Tilbury on the other side. As the light was fading I hurried over to take a look at Tilbury fort: it was closed.

Tilbury ferry

Tilbury is a rather bleak place. Dominated by the docks and more lorries than I ever saw in one place before. And that infamous Amazon warehouse. This poignant Newsnight documentary gives an accurate feel for the town.

All the Minsters

February 14th, 2018

I went to visit a friend in York last weekend. The Friday afternoon was really sunny so I took some photos of the minster. And also nearly froze to death. It’s cold up north.

York minster

On Sunday, somewhat inspired by All the Stations, I went on a rail adventure around west Yorkshire. First stop was Pontefract. It has a rather delightful market town centre, but almost everything is closed on a Sunday.

Pontefract

I heard Pontefract had a castle, but the reality was rather disappointing. Most of it was destroyed after the civil war, and what’s left is being renovated. The views over the countryside and power plants were quite good though.

Pontefract castle

After Pontefract I went to Wakefield and discovered there’s not much worth visiting there. They have a modern art gallery but I soon remembered I don’t like modern art and got back on the train to Doncaster.

Doncaster Minster

Doncaster has an old marketplace which looked interesting but closed. So I walked around the minster instead. And rather nice it is too! Very petite compared to the one in York.

Crayford Ness

January 12th, 2018

Way back in 2010 I walked along the easternmost section of the Thames Path, to a rather dreary town called Erith. Actually the official end of the Thames Path extension is a little bit further at Crayford Ness so I’ve had this niggling sense of unfinishedness ever since. Well, time to put that right!

I was a bit disappointed when I got to the Thames Barrier that the exhibition centre was closed for refurbishment. Not sure when it’s going to open again but based on the scale of construction it should be pretty epic.

Thames barrier

The wind was bitterly cold and I was walking into it the whole time, but the late afternoon was beautifully clear and I managed to take some nice photos of the Dartford crossing and the Thames estuary.

Dartford crossing

I wanted to finish up in Dartford itself as I’ve never been there, but it had already gotten dark and it seemed a bit far so I caught the train back from another drab commuter suburb called Slade Green.

Eastbourne Pier

December 31st, 2017

I was in Eastbourne a few days ago visiting my grandmother. The only clear day of the Christmas period so I managed to take a few photos of the pier.

The gold colour scheme is new and very controversial, the idea of a certain middle eastern investor who bought the pier recently.