Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yosemite

Finally, we got around to Yosemite. Being in Patagonia last year really prompted us to start checking off the popular national parks in this country. Our visit to Yosemite was a little unusual, in that it was punctuated with high and low lights, instead of our normal even pace.

  • Glacier Point Road opened three days before our arrival, one of the earliest in history.  It is unlike us to have such luck. 
  • We left the park a day earlier than planned due to rain, forsaking the Upper Yosemite Falls trail.
  • Due to thigh-deep snow, we had to scale back our Sentinel Dome area hiking ambition.  The trails were completely buried in snow and the park does not seem to subscribe to trail blazes.  We trudged over much snow, cross-country.  The 360-degree view from the dome was well worth the effort.
  • The second evening at the Bridalveil Fall pullover, we were one-inch (literally and exactly) from being in a car accident.  An SUV from the far lane yanking a sedan in the near lane towards the parking spot in front our car, missing our car by one inch.  No one was hurt, but imagine the hassle... I had never been so relieved in my life.
  • We had expected to get a little wet on the Mist Trail.  Instead, on the way down we looked like we had walked through a waterfall rather than by a waterfall.
  • We squeezed in a peak at the wild flowers at the little known but highly rated Hite Cove.  Knowing there are supposed to be 60 some species, I was still awed by the variety.  Nature is amazing.
  • And we saw a bear! Near the Mist Trail trailhead, therefore semi-habituated. But still very exciting!
The park was every bit scenic as we expected, though the ratio of pullover vistas to day hikes is a little high to our taste.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake - Yosemite National Park - California

Heading up Sentinel Dome with Yosemite Falls over Sun-Ling's right shoulder.
Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - California

View from Sentinel Dome with Half Dome and Nevada Fall in the distance.
Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - California

Northern end of Yosemite Valley as seen from Glacier Point.
Yosemite National Park - California

On the Illilouette Falls Trail.
Yosemite National Park - California

Yosemite Valley with El Capitan at left, Half Dome way back in the middle, and Bridalveil Fall at right.
Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park - California

Bridalveil Fall at sunset.
Bridalveil Fall - Yosemite National Park - California

Lavender - Hite Cove.
Wildflowers - Hite Cove Trail

Some variety of Echeveria Succulent.
Wildflowers - Hite Cove Trail

Yellow.
Wildflowers - Hite Cove Trail

Friday, April 27, 2012

Big Basin

Spring Break with my nieces turned out to be very low key. By Thursday I was sufficiently recovered from jet lag and ready to stretch my legs. Big Basin Redwoods State Park had surfaced during our planning. The last time we visited had been 10 years ago. It's high time. The giant redwoods were every bit as impressive as we remembered. On the popular 10-mile Berry Creek Trail, we only encountered a total of four other hikers. The waterfalls were beautiful and mesmerizing. The real surprise were the hundreds of trillium on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. I had my fill of trillium for this lifetime, haha.

Redwoods.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park - California

Berry Creek Falls.
Berry Creek Falls - Big Basin Redwoods State Park - California

Berry Creek Falls - Big Basin Redwoods State Park - California

Trillium.
Trillium - Big Basin Redwoods State Park - California

Trillium - Big Basin Redwoods State Park - California

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Longchang to Chongqing to Shanghai

A travel day with many segments.

Leave hotel at 10:15AM and walk to bus stop. Take local bus #7 (1 yuan each) to Longchang Train Station. The 11:07AM (41 yuan each) is on time and arrives in Chongqing at 4:15PM. Walk up a hundred (more or less) steps to a Chongqing Rail Transit (CRT - aka Chongqing Metro) Line 3 station. Ride 21 stops (6 Yuan each) to the end of Line 3 and it's a short escalator ride up to Domestic Departures at Chongqing Jianbei International (CKG). Our Spring Airlines flight (400 yuan each) leaves on time at 8:55PM and we arrive in Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) at 11PM. Our bags come right out; the taxi rank is humming, and we are home at Sun-Ling's parents at 00:06 according to the fare receipt.

For our fellow independent travelers we present

How to get from the Chongqing Train Station to the Chongqing Metro (CRT) and Chongqing Jianbei Airport as of April 1, 2012.

On exiting the train station there is a medium-sized plaza. The bus station and official taxi rank are to the right (signage in Chinese and English). To your left and slightly above you (almost due north if you have a compass) is a local bus stop. There may also be taxis at this bus stop. And if you keep looking up you will see a long flight of steps with a monument at the top. That monument is your goal.

Walk across the plaza and up the steps to the bus stop. Then, cross the road via the pedestrian bridge and walk up the steps to the monument. At the monument, take a right and go up the steps under the arcade (or maybe its the underside of the road above). As you start up the dim, arcaded steps, keep looking to your left and very soon you will see the bright modern interior of Lianglukou Station with immediate access to lines 1 and 3. Go in. A ticket vending machine will be to the right. [As far as we could tell, there were no signs, in Chinese or English, in the arcade (or anywhere) pointing to the metro station, so stay alert.]

A ride/ticket to the airport is 6 yuan. Take Line 3 all the way to the end to Jianbei Airport Station. The ride takes about 70 minutes and the station is short escalator ride from Domestic Departures. Not sure how far to International Departures; check the signs to take the correct exit from the station.

Notes:
1 - Touts at the train station told us (they were lying) that it's a long walk from the metro stop to the airport, so "take our bus". Nothing could be farther from the truth. It's amazingly short to the domestic check-in counters.
2- We had no trouble getting ourselves and our backpacks into the metro station or onto the cars. Plus folks were friendly.
3- There are no signs (that we could see) at the train station pointing the way to the metro station and don't expect anyone to know where it is.
4 - The steps up to the monument are not trivial, but not daunting either. However, if you are dragging wheeled luggage, give yourself some extra time.
5 - I assume you can follow these steps in reverse to get from Jianbei Airport to Chongqing Station (not to be confused with the Chongqing North Railway Station).



Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Longchang Gates

Our first time in AC Hard Seat from Zigong to Longchang was not bad as the attendant was attentive, our seat companions quick to laugh, the "hard" seats comfortable, and the 25-minute break in the Neijiang Station let me catch plenty of rail yard action as some trains are heading north to Chengdu and some like ours east towards Chongqing. Our train changed locomotives. Woohoo!

Once in Longchang, Sun-Ling took an hour to settle on the Long Chang Hotel, while I cooled my heels in the lobby of the 3-star Golden Swan Hotel using their free Wi-fi. Many of the hotels had raised their rates for the Qingming Holiday, including the Long Chang which turned out to be a well-run place.

With only a day-and-a-half of sightseeing before our train to Chongqing and flight to Shanghai we set out right away for Longchang's famous 6 Southern Gates and then on to a white pagoda we had spotted from our hotel window where we also bagged a Buddhist nun printing paper money, a 7th gate,and a section of old road.

The next day we made a quick trip to Longshi Village, then returned to Longchang and bagged 4 of the 5 Northern Gates (a surly security guard prevented the 5th), the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, a Buddhist Temple, and the Mosque.

The China Railways salesman hawking...er...what exactly is that ?
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At Neijiang Station.
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The 5 Southern Gates/Archways straddle the Old Road.
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Nun printing fake money for QingMing.
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The Old Road - Longshi Village
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Re-fluffing a cotton comforter - Longshi Village.
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Checkout the similarity in the design of the Catholic Church, Protestant Church, and Mosque. Neat!
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The 4 Northern Gates (3 shown here) will soon be surrounded by a new park. Until then construction workers live in the unfinished buildings and the Old Road is lightly trod.
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Summing up Zigong

We spent 8 nights in Zigong, the most ever in any city in China outside of Shanghai. Granted, one day was "wasted" when we were both out with Stomach troubles and also had to change hotels.

Our first impression of Zigong was "wait-and-see". Zigong is what SL calls a "3D city" having hills, tunnels, rivers, and not on a grid, thus it takes a few days to get ones bearings. However, it turned out to have a friendly city bus system; frequent buses to the places one wants to go, and some unique sights like the salt wells. Not to mention that Zigong is known for its Lantern Festival and parts of town are lit up every night. And we did not visit three of the top four attractions: the Dinosaur Museum, the Salt History Museum, the Lantern Museum and Park, but still found plenty of things to do.

Excursions to Xianshi, Sandouzhai, Fu Shun, and Gongjing were also very interesting (although we would not recommend Rongxian and its Giant Buddha) and with easy transport.

Overall we rate Zigong as an excellent destination for the independent traveler.

The Guild Hall near our hotel is now a pleasant, leafy, tea house.
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Guild Hall and Tea House - Zigong, Sichuan, China

The old waterfront with folks enjoying the nice weather in riverside tea houses.
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The Dinosaur Museum. We did not go in, just changed buses, but I just had to take this photo.
Dinosaur Museum - Zigong, Sichuan, China

At dusk, we were walking a section of the old road when this train came by.
Zhaotong to Neijiang Train seen in Zigong, Sichuan, China

One of the pedestrian tunnels that connect various parts of the city. This one happens to be the least attractive one we saw.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

The old semi-circular Catholic Church.
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The old cinema is now a warehouse.
Cinema - Zigong, Sichuan, China

These portable restaurants appear around the Zigong downtown in the evenings.
Portable Restaurant - Zigong, Sichuan, China


Tofu Hua - Salt Factory - Zigong, Sichuan, China

A couple of night scenes along the Fuxi River. I like the reflection pic because I see a guitar.
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Monday, April 02, 2012

Gongjing - Sister City

The Gong in Gongjing is the same Gong in Zigong as the cities of Gonging and Ziliujing were combined in 1939. So after day-tripping to places outside of town for 4 days in a row, we finally rode the city buses over to Gongjing on consecutive days to see the sights.

Basically it's the same story as the previous days: salt wells, waterways, guild halls, old buildings, bridges, and the Old Road, but with enough difference to not be a waste of time. And Gongjing is much less urban than Zigong. One can walk to Aiye Village and back along the Fuxi river, enjoying the dams and sluices, fisherman, and rural scenes.

Fuxi River with dam at left and salt well at right.
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Fuxi River.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

The old wharf in Aiye is impressively "well worn".
Old Wharf - DaMoTou - Aiye, Sichuan, China

The riverwalk between Gongjing and Aiye.
Riverwalk btw Aiye and Gongjing, Sichuan, China

It's possible to make out the dam (actually behind the field of vision in this photo), sluices, and locks from the bridge in Aiye. There were once 17 sets of such "waterworks" on the Fuxi River to facilitate the movement of salt.
Aiye, Sichuan, China

Guangdong Guild hall - Gongjing.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

Guizhou Guild Hall - Gongjing.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

Old Post Office - Gongjing.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

This old well is no longer producing salt brine, but is producing natural gas.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

This derrick is huge and now produces natural gas - check out the meter.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China
Salt Well Derrick - Gongjing, Sichuan, China

The old road from Changtu to Aiye
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

Great lines of the Post Office in Aiye.
Post Office - Aiye, Sichuan, China

A section of the Old Road with worn sandstone blocks that's right in downtown Gongjing.
Gongjing, Sichuan, China

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

From Aguascalientes, there is a very convenient direct flight to Cancun.  Since the wedding is at a private beach south of Playa del Carmen,...