A bullet train this time. Sounds great doesn’t it – ‘bullet train’! And it was.
3 hours in a luxury train, seats big enough for 2, and legroom fit for a NBL player. I’d read that the trains were good, but this was a delight. And to add to the experience we had possibly the friendliest and most helpful attendant I’ve met so far. Something that we’ve discovered is a rare find here in China. She even tapped us sweetly on the arm and gave us a 15mins warning when we were getting close to our stop. Small acts like that make a journey so much sweeter! We settled down for a very easy ride to our next destination – Pingyao – and even sneaked in a little bit of homeschooling on the way!
I love travelling by land, even if the vehicle that you’re on is going 300k per hr! (yup, they’re not joking when they called it a ‘bullet train’!)
It’s so enjoyable and interesting to see what’s whizzing by outside your window. It gives me an amazing sense of freedom and allows me the perfect opportunity to just check in, take 5, and not only let all the past experiences settle in, but also to mentally prepare for the next.
As we traveled closer to our stop I couldn’t help but notice the colour and tone of the sky changing, almost fading into a dead shade of grey, with absolutely no blue in sight. Initially I though that maybe we were heading into an extra cold area, and were looking through a heavy fog. Ohh, the naïve thoughts of a country girl hey! The sun had long disappeared and now resembled a murky, toned-down, golden disk in the sky. It wasn’t long before I realised that this wasn’t a fog brought about by cool weather, it was a man-made blanket of dirty, stinky ‘SMOG’ and it was ugly, ugly, UGLY! Of course, staying in the south for 4 and a half months we would often hear people talk about the smog, and the enormous problem that this country, and many more, are facing, but actually being ‘in it’ is another thing totally. We were to experience this from here on in China, and each day I was amazed at the level of discomfort it brought about. My eyes began to sting, my photos all seem to have a slight haze to them, nothing is crispy and clear – including the skies, and sadly we all left China with nasty coughs. Granted, they may have been brought about by the cold weather, but surely there’s no doubt that breathing in this dirty air would certainly prevent the immune system working its magic!
But … all is not lost!
In the middle of this ugly and heavy cloud of industrial haze we found the most gorgeous little gem of a town called ‘Pingyao’. This time, this stop was my request. I’d read that if there was only one place to visit in China then this little town was the spot. So many reviews had said the same – quaint, authentic, the ‘China of your dreams’ and nothing like the other crazy chaotic destinations in China.
From the moment we arrived and meandered through the charming ancient streets looking for a place to eat, I was mesmerized. I fell in love! It was everything that I expected, red lanterns lining the length of old stony lanes, imposing walls that cast dark, mystical shadows over the stunning and ever-so-elegant facades of the ancient Chinese buildings. It was here, in this little town, that I finally found, time and time again, that stunning architecture that I had been seeking in China. Not just a few bits here and there, but every shop, every building, it was truly ‘the China of old!’ Absolutely fantastic!
We stayed in an original residential building that had been refurbished beautifully to capture what the people of Pingyao lived like all those years ago. It was tiny, enough room to open one suitcase, (certainly no room for dancing!) one BIG bed for the 4 of us, but it was cosy and warm … WARM! We were getting into minus degree territory so a warm place to rest was becoming an essential part of our accommodation. We spent 4 days here which gave us time to just wander about – and that we did! The cold was a little foreign to us, but that didn’t dampen our adventurous spirits, we just pulled on our gloves and beanies, wrapped ourselves in our scarfs and jackets and discovered all the fantastic sights, and tasted all the local fare of Pingyao. It was a great 4 days.
Please allow me to indulge you, or should I say, please allow me to tell you a little bit about this charming little town that stole my heart!
Pingyao boasts being China’s best preserved ancient walled town. Apart from a small part of the wall that collapsed in 2004 it’s all original, dating back to 1370. We spent a few hours just walking and skipping along the wall, stopping at almost every one of the 72 watchtowers and just marvelling at the wonder of it all.
Inside the city wall is a maze of creaking temples and old world courtyard buildings. The original architecture hasn’t been changed, and as you walk through these dusty, dark old buildings you can just feel the history seeping out of every nook and cranny. We discovered an ancient ‘Confucius Temple’ where we haggled and had a whole lot of fun choosing some gorgeous pieces of Chinese brush painting from the resident artist, and Jed and Deni had their first ‘class-room experience’! We walked through one of the oldest buildings that is said to have originated in the late 18th century and lived the life of a dye shop that transformed into China’s very first draft bank. We spent hours fossicking through the many, many little antique stalls that occupy the tiny spaces behind the weather beaten shop fronts that are yet to be restored. The peeling paintwork and dusty architraves just add to the old-world charm of this little town. And we sampled some of the yummiest Chinese cuisine that we have tasted so far, our favourite being the local noodles and a great dish called ‘beggars chicken’ (worth a google that one!)
There’s been moments, up to now, that I’ve felt like I’ve entered into a time warp, the Jiuxian Ancient Village gave me a glimpse, the rickety old streets of Xing Ping did the same, but those moments were brief in comparison. Being in Pingyao somehow transports you back … way, way back, and drops you there for a while – it’s a magical experience.