Cycling in Korea is different. Very different to what I experienced elsewhere. With the Four-River-Pathway everything is extremely well-organized and – since I am just outside Seoul – crowded. There are so many cyclists here, we don’t even acknowledge each other. Never before had I experienced situations bicycle touring when you not at least nod to each other. But – here are so many cyclists, it’s just not possible. There’s a convenience store at every corner and each of them is surrounded by a crowd of cyclists craving something iced.
At one turn-off is just a big box with frozen water-bottles, free to take. The bicycle path is in a great condition, and we don’t even have to worry about hills – where there’s a hill, there is a tunnel. For cyclists. ONLY for cyclists. They are awesome. Nice. Cold. Instead of slowly sweating your way up a mountain you just go through and cool down while doing it.
I was confused last night when I found out on google that I had to take a bus to the Visa Application Center as it actually looked as if it was walking distance from the hostel. But then… well, maybe I mixed it up or the jumping signal messed it up. Didn’t matter too much as I was now going by bus – cycling as little here as possible. And this distance was actually the reason why I was too late yesterday.
Food-hunting around the hostel I came across a sign reading “Chinese Visa Application Centre“ – in w-a-l-k-i-n-g d-i-s-t-a-n-c-e!
Ta-da . Never would have thought there would be two in one city! One is on a-maps and the other one on google-maps… All this switching around maps messed me up.
Anyway – leaving my bike and stuff at the hostel I quickly applied for the visa. And by quickly I really mean fast. Thirty minutes after entering, I was done – so I stuck around some more to do research about sight-seeing in Seoul and arrange a meeting with an author who’s been living off her writings in Asia for seven years.
To be honest, I didn’t feel like sight-seeing but… I’m in Seoul so I should go see a couple of things. But the heat was really dreading when I walked around this UNESCO cultural heritage site. The walk back to the hostel I enjoyed much more. I was more relaxed and didn’t feel obligded to do it for „being in this city“-reasons. Walking past small shops and stores, feeling some wind – and running into a climbing gym.
I got really exited about that – would I meet people here I could go climbing with?! But actually – it was pretty deserted and the guy working there didn’t get my hopes up on finding someone in this heat.
After meeting Sveanna at the river I had my latest start ever – and one of the best camp sites just outside Seoul.
I am dreading to leave my hosts place. It’s so nice there, air-conditioned and I am looking to some city cycling. If I had been aware of the hilliness of Seoul I would have dreaded it even more. I think I purposefully don’t check this as I try to avoid cities anyway. But China doesn’t put their place for Visa Application in the country-side but in the middle of big cities. I do get how that is convenient for all applicants that don’t travel by bike.
Eventually, I hit the road – after rush-hour. The parts that aren’t along the River-Bicycle-paths are strenuous and my progress slow. Once I get to Seoul the GPS signal is hopping around on the map – I assume due to the high-rise buildings all around. I am getting hungry and aware of the fact that I still don’t have any money. My card wasn’t working with any of the machines I’ve been to. I try a couple more – without success – when I come past the Worribank. And despite its name it takes my most urgent money worries away, reads my card and gives out cash which I will soon change into food and a bed at the Youth Hostel.
I realize that my plan of just showing up at the center and hitting the road again isn’t really working out. I am a sweaty, run-down-cyclist, feeling way too hot and exhausted to deal with the people at the center.
Paying an amount of money that would almost allow for a night in a luxurious hotel in country-side China I get a bed in a dorm for 10 people, where I can epical park my bike in front of the window, and use of a kitchen. By the time I get to the center it’s too late for drop-off or to get any information. It’s only pick-up then.
Time to look around Seoul and enjoy the roof-top-terrace.
You are cycling for two hours. It’s humid. It’s sunny. You’re thirsty but the water in your bottle is almost at boiling temperature. Your tongue is sticking to your mouth. Someone opens their door, carrying two insulated cups, handing one of them to you – and it’s ice water!
That’s how I met M-G and I can’t help loving her straight away. I will use her shower, enjoy her air-con and later – sleep in her bed.
While I am doing the first two things mentioned above, her boyfriend cycles off to his family. In Korea, you live with your parents, until you get married. And before I do the third – M-G organizes dinner for me where I learn that she is a solo female traveller herself and both of them take me out to a night drinking with their friends. I get introduced to Sujo – which I like right away – and how you drink in Korea. You never take a sip on your own, you always go “yan” with all your friends and then everyone is drinking. And we “yan” a lot and of course I teach the “prost”.
That’s what I love about Couchsurfing. Not the “you get drunk part” but you meet people, you don’t sit in your hotel room alone but have fun, laugh and learn about different cultures, ways to life and views on live plus you get to play with their puppies if they have any. Without Couchsurfing I doubt I would have ever learned that there is a thing like a “kimchi-fridge”. A huge device that is providing the perfect temperature for Kimchi. I wouldn’t have walked the empty streets of Bucheon and never gone to M-Gs church. A catholic service which I enjoyed despite understanding anything as the atmosphere was a very open one.
I look down the road and spot them easily. Even from the distance I can tell the relief that’s spreading on Andrea’s face when he sees me waving. They didn’t find a host so Dong-Hyun offers them to take them to a camp-side. Since we already left the ferry station the two have now to find the way to the hidden restaurant where Dong-Hyun invited me for lunch, so slowly they are fighting their way up the steep road.
From that point, Dong-Hyun takes the lead across sidewalks through the older, narrower part of Incheon where there are no bicycle lanes yet. Something feels wrong – not the sidewalkpath but something else. I can’t put my finger on it, but something is… missing. Out of place. It somehow feels as if we are cycling through a deserted city but still there are people as well as cars everywhere. After a while I realize I am missing the sounds, the noise. Cars are turning, driving past – but the drivers aren’t honking. The cacophony of the trucks is not there. Maria and Andrea are noticing the same and we are smiling at each other appreciating the quietness We spot bicycle lanes when we ride across bridges and our smiles become even wider. By the time, Dong-Hyun suggests a rest, we are marveling at the beauty of the river in front and the bicycle lane – car-free of course – that’s in mint condition next to it. Even though there are camp sides all along, it’s possible to just camp anywhere you like and use one of the many, many public toilets along the way. Maria and Andrea decide to camp close to a small convenience area with a store, coffee place, restaurant and free wi-fi.
Maria, Andrea and I look at each other before doing the math. About 10 Euro per person to sleep in a four-bed-room on the ship instead of sharing a room full of sleeping mats with 50 people. As the ticket sellers sees us hesitating he offers that there won’t be a fourth person in the room. We get tempted but decide to still go with the cheapest option. How bad can it be? It’s just one night, 17 hours and all of us had spent nights under worth circumstances.
A couple of hours later I meet them on the ship. I have already settled in, watched the astonished face of the receptionist when she realized that this foreigner booked into the biggest room available (the dorms for 72 people seemed to be closed), and listened when she explained to me how to read the room and bed number and where to store my bike.
The air-conditioned room was spacious enough, we slept on pretty comfy bunk beds with curtains, lights and socket next to the windows. Money for the private room would have just been a waste. I text my arrival time to my first Korean host before I resign to sleeping a couple of hours while Maria and Andrea set off the explore the ship. It’s a quiet and relaxed journey.
The view in the morning is magnificent as we glide past numerous small islands.
Upon arriving we are the first to leave the ship and get onto the bus – with our bikes – and the staff is taking some of our bags as we make our way towards customs. We are unsure if they are trying to help us or if our bags are being taken to be searched and lose sight of them to be reunited at the compulsory scanner where all our bags have to go through.
On the other side I see a young man with a touring bike smiling – I am so relieved I don’t have to find the way to some hotel on my own with all this getting lost in Qingdao I had.
4 am, sneaking around Phil’s and Jennie’s apartment I am getting ready to go. Last night I cooked and packed myself a decent breakfast and lunch so I could get an early start to Qingdao and wouldn’t have to worry about food. And of course filled up my water bottles so I wouldn’t be totally dehydrated once I get into Qingdao.
120km, most of them flat and 10km with the ferry – I am confident of fitting some sightseeing in before my host Dai would come home from work at 6.30.
It’s so dark, I have to wear my head lamp for the start as I set off on the now quiet roads of Qingdao. As I don’t just want to follow the G-Road I take a detour along the beach where I watch the sunrise over breakfast together with a lot of people who camped at the beach for exactly this purpose.
Later on, I will have to cancel my attempts to follow the coast as there are road works going on. Nonetheless I leave the G-road shortly after to climb some hills in the hinterland past small villages. It’s more exhausting than the levelled G-road, but I enjoy it much more. 100km of that would surely get my morals down.
I just keep cycling only stopping to nibble a bit on my food or buy an ice tea so around lunch time I get to Huangdao’s ferry port. The cycling gets harder, as I am in a city AND have to climb. So I can’t just cycle up and enjoy the down hill but have to stop all the time for traffic lights.
Anyway – I am almost there at the ferry port. I will have a rest waiting for the ferry, enjoy the ferry ride and the last bit in Qingdao. Right? No. I start getting a wary feeling as I am turning into the port area. It’s just too empty. And a dirt road. No cars. No people. A locked up building that maybe used to be a ticket selling point. Rain is starting slightly when someone asked where I want to go.
I make myself understood and finally hand him my phone. He types in the name of the correct ferry port and I brave myself for another 20km of cycling.
I detour, then I share the road with nothing but trucks with shipping containers. I am out of water soon but no stores. Dehydrated – again -, exhausted – very – I arrive at the correct ferry port, double-check with the guy that’s selling beverages while purchasing a bottle of iced water and finding out where to buy the ticket.
Most times in China I would find English signs like “Ticket counter” even though I am in areas where hardly ever any foreigner gets too. But not here. I can’t find the signs and the hut the helpful vendor pointed to are deserted. I ask a bus driver who points back towards the vendor. I doubt him, gesture that they send me here. But he says “go go” and is very reassuring. Slowly I cycle back, checking everything in between if that might be the place. But no. I ask the vendor and other passengers, point to the word for “ferry ticket” and they point…. back to where they send me before.
I mentioned my state, right? I am tired. I am exhausted. I am way to hot. I am still dehydrated. I cycled 20k more than planned.
So, in this state, I sit down on a bench. I think about crying. I take a deep breath. And I remember what a foreigner, that doesn’t speak Chinese does, in a situation like this: I call a friend that speaks Chinese! My dear friend Huan picks up the phone, explains my situation to the vendor, who explains it to the other passengers, a father that’s waiting with his wife and kid says “follow me!” and I am so relieved I don’t know how I can thank Huan for solving this for me.
The father walks me back to the hut where I stood before. By now, a couple of trucks are waiting too and three women that get way to excited about seeing a foreigner. The father feels a bit embarrassed while I endure the process of picture-taking, trying to smile politely.
An eternity later the ticket seller shows up and a few minutes later I am on the ferry to Qingdao, sitting exhausted on one of the chairs, resting…
I get spotted again, and the picture-taking gets taken to a whole new level. A woman makes her daughter – somewhere between 6 and 8 – pose next to me without asking me at all. I never said no so far but I really appreciate if people start communicating with me before they take a pic and I never had people posing without getting in touch with me first. It’s really not hard to ask for a pic – you just have to hold up your phone and make eye-contact. Anyway, this woman wasn’t having any of that, I was too exhausted to do anything so I just played along eventually. One pic doesn’t take that long, right?
Right. But her daughter wasn’t posing enough. Wasn’t being sexy enough. Didn’t have her t-shirt in a sexy enough way. And she had another daughter. So she had to get pics of her and both of them, all the time scolding them and I was too defenseless and bewildered to do anything about that. Then, she had to have her pic taken with me… It just went on and on.
My day ended at 7pm. I fought myself through rush hour to Dai’s nice and spotless apartment where I could re-hydrate and eat a yummy, vegetarian dinner. I was actually excited about meeting Andrea and Maria, two cyclists that were going to take the same ferry as me in the morning. But I just passed out at about 8pm and didn’t notice anything until the next morning…
With four hours of dozing and four hours of sleeping in my sticky tent I am back on the road. I feel battered right from the start.
It’s less than 40km to Jennie’s and Phil’s and I am glad it’s not one k more than that.
When I start riding, my camp site was at the edge of a small village – if I had gone further, I would have had to pass the village before camp. It’s flat at the start but Rizhao is hilly, it’s getting hot and I think, I am pretty dehydrated as I drag myself up the hill to my hosts place. Counting every km, ever 100m to be honest. Part of me thinks about stopping to get more water, but the other part of me just wants to keep going so I will get there.
I finally make it, Jennie is offering me their biggest glass, pointing to their water supply. When I finally stop drinking, I stagger towards the shower, just to fall asleep after. At this moment, I am very glad that I am staying with two cyclists who totally understand my needs and supply me with delicious food for lunch.
I enjoy a very lazy day and when they come home from work we talk, share stories, drinks and we agree on my staying one more night so I will go to Qingdao in one lap, rather than two with camping in between.
Cycling on roads that are about two trucks wide. With trucks going both ways. Slow when it’s going up, fast when it’s going down again. One after another after another. And trucks overtaking each other. And cars overtaking the trucks. While it’s getting dark. Trying to look for a campsite.
This does not feel good… as in safe. It’s my first night camping ahead of me and – to be honest – I am dreading it that’s why I am still cycling. No chance to get to Jennie’s and Phil’s place, as it’s still more than 50km. So, I check the map for gas stations in the hope that they would let me stay.
The first one is right opposite a hotel – so I assume my chances are rather slim. I pedal on. 10k further on there is supposed to be another one so I aim for that while trying to spot a camp site. My chances are rather slim – I can only see my side of the road, have to concentrate on the trucks and it’s getting darker. I spot tiny patches but they feel too close to the road. All other places are used as farmland and I don’t really want to destroy crop for a nights sleep.
Finally, I arrive at the gas station. But they refuse. No way I can pitch my tent somewhere. Shoot. I aim for the river near by and end up setting my tent up in front off an empty house. I can’t really tell if it’s deserted or not and there is no where around to ask. Half way through a man comes around, rubs his bare belly while trying to talk to me.
And to be honest, I don’t attempt to talk to him. I am tired. I feel beat. I am going to spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent. At least, as long as this is not his house and he is unhappy about me camping there. Then I would be facing more cycling. In the dark. With the trucks. Even though I already did 130k. To spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent a few k further up the road – So I try to appear harmless and polite and therefore try to smile while I repeat “tingpudong”. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could have produced any sentence where the tones where important.
Eventually he goes away. I finish pitching the tent, get in and take a dozen mosquitos with me. After four hours off dozing off and waking up again I fall asleep for another four hours.
When I wake up, I look like an offering to the god of mosquitos.
The day of cycling was pretty flat, unexciting G- and S-road riding. Most times with a shoulder, only the turn off to the S341 the road gets smaller and looses it shoulder.
A day that holds everything in stock that biketouring has to offer – it felt like bicycletouring in a nutshell.
A lovely goodbye, a warm welcome. Headwind. Rain. Sun. Bad climbs. Awesome downhills. New pavement. People waving and smiling at me. Picture taking and exchange of WeChat contacts. Cars stopping to hand me ice cold water. Practicing my new Chinese sentences. Awesome views. Dirt roads and dead ends. Going in circles in a small village. Finding my road again. Garbage dumps. Lush green mountains. Rivers and lakes. Even nice picnic places for my first and second lunch.
After saying Good-bye to my friend and family – I am so happy that we are going to meet again – after a huge breakfast with panniers full of food, I am looking forward for a relaxed ride. Just see how far I could get on a day like this, rested and well fed, before dark. So I start off towards Linyi where I had been a touch with Yana, an Ukrainian girl through Couchsurfing. The weather is lovely – cloudy and on and off rain. Hardly any sun, but headwind.
Not having a specific goal in mind I enjoy cycling along, stopping for photos, smiling at people and having a small conversation with a girl on a e-bike when I meet a student from Qingdao. His dad stopps their car, so he could get off, talk a bit and hand me a cold bottle of water. You never realize how thirsty you are, until you see a bottle of ice cold water. Finding out he’s a student in Qingdao where I am headed we exchange WeChat-contacts before I rode on. Maybe we can meet there?
I did 80km since I left seven hours ago. I go small roads through the mountains. It’s exhausting and breath-takingly beautiful. I wonder, if I even make it to a 100 today, even though it’s cold. I estimate less than three hours until sunset. My heart is happy and I can’t believe that I can spend my time like this. I feel grateful.
It’s almost 6pm, I am at km 105 and I am climbing. Somewhere in the mountains. The sun is in my back, not fierce anymore. When will it get dark? How long is the climb? I don’t want to loose the sunlight before I finish the descent. My body aches for a break but I push on. I don’t want to have to break because it’s too dark to see. A motor-tricycle overtakes me, the three kids on the cargo area spot me and get excited. When their dad stops to work on his field, they ask for his mobile phone and start walking towards this weird, sweaty figure that I am to bravely ask me for a pic and the girl takes happily a selfie with me.
I am at km 125. It’s only 25 more to Yanas place. I will make it – would be ridiculous to stop now that I am almost there.! . I was getting carefully optimistic when I left the mountains at km 90 not being aware that I would reenter them again. I am starting to get exhausted but I am having a runners high as well. It’s past 7pm and the last k I spent cycling along a huge lake, framed with mountains during dusk. A part of me wants to stop for pictures but another part of me wants to get as far as possible before dark. My phones battery is at 5% and it’s dark now. With shaking hands I search for my battery pack and eating fruits at the same time when two guys on a motorcycle stop to strike up a conversation. They leave and I watch bats while the last bid of sunlight sips away. If it’s possible I am even happier than before?
I am km 140. It’s dark, I am wearing my head lamp for extra light – to see and to be seen. I am climbing, it’s a slight climb but I am starting to feel the day through the runners high. I stop to gobble down eat my noodles from last night sitting on a big rock in someones deserted front yard.
Km 145.27! I message Yana. I am here. She is a lovely host, has prepared dinner for me which I enjoy after a shower and half a liter of water, offers use of the washing machine and invites me to stay another day. I accept even though I still feel the runners high. I know I will thank myself tomorrow!
So many things happened – I will need some time to write down the stories.
But I had an amazing time in Peixian, experienced the culture, spend time with my friend and her family. It was relaxing, even though we did many different things and I experienced so much I would fall asleep at 9pm.
And I got around to organize so much – especially since I had her help.
Details will follow, I just leave you with some pics for now.
I simply enjoy hanging out a lot but looking at the pics I realize how much I experience everyday anyway.
I am writing – actually finished my second article for saporedicina.
I am Organizing my student visa.
I am relaxing.
I am learning new words. Huan is a great teacher. Very encouraging but strict on the pronounciation. Not teaching me too fast and keeps repeating the words and correcting me.
I am eating the best food. Loads of veggies and fruit as you can see on my instagram as well as the specialities. I feel like I am a person in one of these travel books I love to read.
I am sleeping. Sleeping in in the morning. Having a nap at lunch time. Going to bed early.
I do yoga and go for walks while everyone around me worries about me melting.
I am jogging around a temple in the evenings! How awesome is that?
If anyone would have told me 5 years ago, that I would do that in some Chinese village I never-ever heard of before in 2018…
I didn’t have anything to do with China at that time of my life. I was getting out of a bad relationship. Going through a really bad time and with some parts I don’t know if I would have managed if I didn’t have wonderful friends around me supporting me. During these awful and dark times I just had a glimpse, an idea, that my life will be better in one point of the future. I was just about to finish my college education and I am grateful I found the courage and reason to do so.
I am really happy that life led me this way – even though I would have prefered to fall in love with a country were the visa stuff would be a whole lot easier!
Huan wears a beautiful flowered dress as she stands at the corner of the street to pick me up. She is looking down the main road, trying to spot me. I approach her from the other side as I missed a turn-off and had to circle back. Seconds later we hug, happy to see each other again.
Our friendship began four years ago by now when I boarded my first flight to China in Helsinki. I was nervous when I got onto my seat. In seven hours this plane would land in Shanghai, where I knew no-one, where I had to figure out how to take a taxi that would bring me to the hotel my new employer had booked for my first two weeks in Shanghai. I knew pretty much nothing about the country and despite the language class I had attended, didn’t know the language either. I sink into my seat, notice the girl next to me and get my phone out. Probably to set it into air-plane-mode, when she suddenly says “Bist du aus Deutschland?” – “Are you from Germany?”
As it turned out, she was not only one of the most impressive Chinese girls I ever met, but a German-language-student who just returned from one year in North-Germany and a fluent German speaker. I felt so relieved, so less alone, so excited as we both fell asleep during the night-flight.
She had an amazing amount of hand-luggage with her – “I love books.” – and in return for me helping her, she helped me get a taxi, told the driver where I had to go and not to screw me over. Which he didn’t, even though I fell asleep on the ride. Just before Huan and I said good-bye at the airport we exchanged our email-adresses and as I had we-chat we started writing there.
We met up in different places in China – in Shanghai, where I lived; in Tianjin where she did an internship; and developed a deep friendship as we are two like-minded souls that love to discover the world.
And now – I am invited to stay with her family for a week! To cook baozi, jiaozi, explore her ‘little village’ that is about the size of Hamburg and meet her family.
The ride itself had been pleasent and short – only 60k on smooth roads so I was easily averaging 19k per.
„No – it’s way too early to sleep.“ where the lasts words Yan uttered, seconds before falling asleep at 9pm. We had a rest day ahead and no riding in the heat to worry about. Beauty of the rest day. We slept in until half past 6.
Just like our rest-day in Nanjing – we were very lucky to have a cloudy day so we simply started walking around Xuzhou towards the big lake where a lot of touristy stuff is to be found. Xuzhou doesn’t feel like the industry city it once was. It has a lot of parks and lush, green hills. Through one of them leads a tunnel with an extra level for e-bikes, bicycles and pedestrians. The cars pass through the lower level and everyone else through the top one. The space along the road is full of stores – you can buy fruit, bicycles or clothes – a wine cellar and storage spaces that double as safe areas during hurricanes. They go deep into the mountain, are comfortably cool but wet. Fascinating to walk in and a bit scary to think about having to stay there with 5000+ people while a storm is going through the city.
We enjoyed the old and the new Han Stone Gravings museums and opted out of taking the cable car to the viewing platform as it was getting hot.
The guy on the motorcycle stops right next to me as I am about to enter a store to get a cold ice tea. I greet him – we waved at each other before as he saw me cycling past and he passes me a bag with two bottles of ice tea he just got. I say my thanks – as there is not so much more I can say in Chinese – and we exchange WeChat-contacts.
We cycle through stone-country. Many places exhibit and sell this kind of impressive stones around here. A small one actually gets through my tire and I have the first flat of this trip. Apart from that, we just get our head down and try to get to Xuzhou.
When we get there, traffic gets heavy – of course – and I lose sight of Yan again on our last up-hill of the day. After check-in and shower we feel up to leaving the hotel – it’s less sunny and therefore less hot today. But we opt for busses and taxis. It just seems impossible to walk 1.1km to the – very interesting – Xuzhou Museum.
Before dinner, we even get a proper thunderstorm but it doesn’t cool down.
4:45 am. I leave the hotel. Instead of the freshness of the night, the air feels like a wet blanket. I sigh and get onto my bike. Wuhe is still asleep – hardly any traffic on the road, not even hawkers are selling their trade of mantou and soymilk at this time of the day.
I keep pedalling without breakfast then. Following the main road I leave the city centre behind as the sun starts to rise. This is going to be our hottest, but although prettiest day of riding so far.
The road is smooth, it’s a slight down hill and I am doing a good speed. Depending on the point of view despite the heat or because of it. Nonetheless it is 10:30 and awfully hot as we get to the first hotel of Daluxiang. We don’t care about much when checking in apart from the air-con and skip lunch, determined not to be outside again before the sun goes down.
The town itself seemed rather poor, the store across from the hotel looked almost like it’s been looted. But dinner was at a surprisingly good at a muslim restaurant which had the air-con on and all fans running at maximum speed so it felt a bit like eating in the middle of a very refreshing thunderstorm.
A bunch of birds flies off as I walk past, pushing my bicycle, to get the most out of this short piece of fresh, lush forest along my way. I’ve been cycling for about 50km this day and my body is pretty happy about this change in the way of movement as well es temperature. I am still on the G-road but it leads through some dense trees for a few kilometers.
I don’t dare to really sit down and stop and temperatures are still rising and are supposed to get up to 36°C again and unfortunately this idyllic piece of federal roads ends soon, if I looked straight ahead I would see the sun burning onto the tarmac but instead I look to my right to soak in the beauty of nature while trucks and motorcycles zip past.
Getting out of Zhangbalingzhen was some more undulating hills, longer even then before. In total, we will be climbing until Xuzhou, but do get downhills in between. The G-road 104 changes from wide, with a shoulder and everything to two lanes and no shoulder and back. It leads around one bigger city, past some smaller villages until we are there.
At 11:30h, 5 1/2 hours after we started, I finally cross the bridge into Wuhe, counting the meters to the hotel where Yan is already checked in. When the receptionists see me, of course, they know who I am and where I want to go, so a few minutes later I can start admiring the air-con.
Racing along empty streets, running most lights as there is no traffic yet anyway, enjoying the temperature at a comfortably cold 26°C – that’s how we appreciate our really, really early start at 4 am. No crazy, dense Nanjing traffic, just us, a car here and there, some motorcyclist and the first food stands at the crossings.
We arrive at the ferry dock to cross the Yangtze-River at 4:45 – a bunch of motorcyclists are also waiting for the first ferry that will leave in 15 minutes. Enough time to get some breakfast-pancake.
The rest of the ride is rather uneventful. We get past some factories, some fields, some smaller rivers – and some roadworks for about 20km. The same undulating hills that lead into Nanjing on one side, are leading out to the other.
And around lunchtime we made it to the nicest hotel so far. Rather unexpected. Over lunch the restaurant owners told us, that they do get a lot of cyclist here but hardly any foreigners. Only one french guy that married a girl from this city and me so far.
Since both of our live-stories are entangled with Nanjing we stayed for two days. Okay, in my case the entangled bit is overdoing it a bit. But my roommate’s from Nanjing and she was so lovely to set me up with her parents. A lovely, nice couple of Chinese teachers who invited me for lunch, showed me around the tourist area and explained a couple of the typical Nanjing-style things that were sold in the stores. So lovely, so awesome and they just kept talking despite my almost non-existent Chinese skills. I didn’t understand every single word, but recognized some and then there is always context, gestures and just feeling yourself into it while accepting you just understand some. I had a great time and tasted so many different dishes. Her parents were even kind enough to walk me to the metro and explain where I had to go. They double checked with their daughter to make sure I understood it. And I had. (At this point, imagine me smiling in a very, very proud way).
Yan’s live-story is much closer to Nanjing as it’s his father side of the family who lived there until the Japanese massacre which they had to flee. There is a very well done, very interesting, educational and foreigner-friendly as everything is written in Chinese, English and Japanese. It really gripped me to learn that the Japanese are denying this massacre. So of course the Japanese people aren’t very well-liked in Nanjing. As to quote a taxi-driver “Japanese and Germans are all fascists”. This goes as one of the Chinese sentences I understand without any further explanation.
Until the massacre his great-aunt had a leading position at the observatory which was opened in 1934 and was married to the man who was leading it. Nowadays it’s a great exhibition that shows modern equipment from the opening times as well as ancient, Chinese utensils to tell the position of celestial bodies. These had been taken away by German and Japanese troops in 1900 and eventually returned five and twenty years later.
The Observatory is one of a few tourist attractions on Purple Mountain. The Tomb of Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of modern China, is the one that is most visited. After we’ve climbed the many, many steps to go there, we went to an ancient one of one of the emporers of China who was much more humble when it came to the point of how much work you have to put into visiting his tomb.
From there we hiked towards the Observatory and I saw for the first time, Chinese people that were going for a swim in a lake in the mountains. If I lived in Nanjing I would spent many weekends there. The hike, even though exhausting, was what I enjoyed most on this mountain.
Lost in the loneliness of beautiful mountains with impressive, Daoist temples in which’s shadows I hide from the fierce sun – what more could I wish for?
Sophias Mouse and I had a small photo session instead of lunch or fresh water. It was totally off-season and apart from the temples not so many people seemed to live there. So, no restaurants, small stores or gas stations. My initial plan was to hide in some restaurant and write and read around lunchtime but since I got lost on some disappearing X-roads I didn’t get back into any village until almost Nanjing so I dismissed this plan.
Out of the mountains I kind of followed an official green-way but it must either be given up or out of season. I came past a huge official information centre, really excited about finally getting water. I had none for the last couple of hours in 35°C but it was closed. There even seem to be some rest-places for cyclists but they were – even still in a good shape – deserted and the door broken into.
10k further down the road I toppled into a gas station and hardly ever had I been happier about a cold drink!
The last 30k or so were soft, undulating hills were I enjoyed the downs and loathed the ups as I was already pretty exhausted. Traffic in Nanjing was slow, a lot and annoying – if you can get there earlier in the day, try so.
Early start to try to beat the heat? Or be rested and better able to deal with the heat?
It was a late start and for me, it was great. The heat didn’t feel as bad since I was rested. Different for Yan though who really belongs into the arctic.
We finally got a bit outside of the big cities and followed the Grand Canal for a long time. So far the nicest part of the riding. We stayed on the river side of the road, ignoring the bicycle-motorcycle-way on the left hand since that side had all the streets coming onto our street. This way, we only had to worry about traffic lights if there was a bridge.
Riding out of Shanghai was simply beautiful. We started at about 5am to beat the heat and were on the roads before the traffic was. And – my dear friends – I am sure I have told you all about my pancake-lady? I had one of them for breakfast every morning I went to work in Shanghai four years ago. Four years are a long time, especially in Shanghai. So when I realized we were riding towards my old place I started wondering if she would still be there.
And yes! She was still there, doing her business. Actually upgraded it to having a real, small store instead of standing in front of one that wasn’t opened yet and her husband was now working with her selling drinks.
Luckily we hadn’t eaten yet so I could fully enjoy my fresh made pancake.
The rest of the ride was rather uneventful, city-ish riding with a lot of traffic lights. Traffic itself felt okay, most times we had a shoulder that was very well apart from the traffic.
We got so Suzhou around lunchtime, exhausted and hot.
Yan decided to stay within the air-con while I set off to be a tourist and explore the Humble Emporers Garden. It’s really beautiful but was pretty busy on this hot day in the middle of the summer holidays.
A couple of weeks ago I cycled around 170km round-trip to visit my grandma. I decided to take about the same kind of pictures I took when cycling in Asia. As in..Well, See for yourselves – in no particular order:
A nice spot to have a rest – a bench and a table at the road side welcoming travelers
Typical cattle for North-Germany – black-and-white-cows. They are mainly used for milk, so they have to get a calf every year. Mother and baby get seperated as the baby is not supposed to drink its mothers milk. The cows are killed after a few years, when their milk production decreases
Memorial site in a small village for the sons that fell in WWI
That’s a very typical modern house in North-German-style made from red bricks and having a red roof.
Old farm houses. The lower one is a square-framed one.
Memorial for a beloved person who’s been killed in a car accident
The sign reads “protestant churchservice Sunday 10am” and these kind of signs fascinated me badly as a kid. Villages and some towns have them so everyone knows what time they can go to church. Especially Catholic ones would quote more than one service a weekend – which impressed little-me very much. Like, one Saturday night and two on Sunday morning. I kept wondering, who would believe in God so much, that they would go to church so often or so early, like at 6am, on a Sunday?
I followed some beautiful, small and quiet avenues
No country-side photo essay would be complete without a picture of farm workers, would it?
And never ever any essay without a food photo. That’s my lunch.
Some crop to my right – that’s corn growing here. I also cycled passed apple trees but didn’t take pictures at that time.
Some more road.
Something surprisingly purple in a midst of grey – yes, that’s a picture where I took the same one in China. I was cycling on a rainy day, everything was grey. There were no colors at all, when – all of a sudden – a purple building appeared. So of course I had to stop to take a pictures of this purple wagoon
Do you know this game “Never have I ever…”? Thailand was the reason I had to drink on “stayed in a police station over night” I would have to get out my travel diary and count to find out, how many nights I spent there. Unfortunately I had most of my police related photos on the phone that got stolen and never did a backup on.
No worries. I never was in trouble. I was a guest. Thailand wants tourists to feel safe and the police is accommodating to that. There is actually a special tourist police around – even came past a sign once: “The tourist police – your first friend in Thailand” and a phone number. Once they even slowed down, rolled down their window and asked me and my companion if they could be on any help to us and if we wanted directions.
So for you as a foreigner feel comfy, rural police stations have a place to sit in front where you are protected from the rain. Most offer drinking water and some of them some snacks. Once I was even invited for dinner.
Some police stations would even offer wifi to visitors. And – to get back to the topic of this article which is sleeping – I was invited to spend the night and given an opportunity to shower. Sometimes I was camping near by or I would sleep on the floor next to the head of the police office and his wife.
Another safe bet for a place to sleep are monasteries. I would walk up there during dusk and friendly-smilingly underlined with a lot of gestures tell a bit about me and my tour as well as my desire to pitch my tent somewhere.
Only once I was turned away but found another place to sleep with no hassle.
I stayed with people I met as well. Even getting into the really special problem of being offered to stay by TWO families at the same night.
The down-side of this is that you don’t get to sleep in as monks, police officers and everyone else, gets up early in the morning and so do you as their guest. I didn’t mind as I appreciated cycling in the cooler wee hours of the morning.
Finding places to sleep never was as easy as in Thailand. Unless I wanted a hotel, they were hard to find. Especially the ones that didn’t have a bunch of girls sitting in front.
Getting a taxi at 5 am went so smoothly that I still wore my helmet as I was checking in – being totally oblivious about that fact. I stressed about that half of the night thinking about the troubles Yan and I had the summer before in Bangkok.
Emirates (who doesn’t charge extra for bicycles in boxes) checked our boxed bicycles without any hassle and didn’t care about the two or three kilogramm my luggage was too much. I was just confused at the confused looks the staff was giving me but as mentioned before, I was totally unaware of wearing a bicycle helmet.
On my first bicycle tour I was stuck there for two weeks during Chinese New Year as I had to apply for visa and it turned out to be the most amazing way I could ever be stuck in a city. Trying to describe this in a blog post really doesn’t give justice to all the amazing-awesomeness of that time!
Imagine roof-top camping for two weeks and feeling as a part of a Hong Kong family who even take you to all their New-Year-family-gatherings.
Thanks to the strong solidarity in the bicycle community, christian hospitality and a lot of luck I met Cat, Mike and her sons who agreed to have me sleeping in their living room for the first two nights and allowing me to leave my stuff there when going to apply for the Chinese visa (which is essential as there seem to be some troubles in getting visa for China as a cyclist).
Thanks to the prelude you already now where these two nights led to. And they were delighted to meet up again.
Cat and Mike had planned out a lovely evening with sight-seeing, dinner and seeing their new home. We were reminiscing about the first time we met and catching up on each others life with promises to stay in touch and see each other again. I am really looking forward to the next time!
Pre-dinner Sunset over Hong Kong – amazing, isn’t it? They took me here last time as well, but this time we had a much better view
Taiwanese-dinner at the very same restaurant they took me for dinner on my first night in Hong Kong.
Arriving in Shenzhen at lunch time, it took us only all day to get to Hong Kong. Thanks to the bikes it wasn’t too far to get to the border (maybe 10 oder 15k?) but I wanted to have a last lunch in China and finish off the mangos I bought in Zhaoqing the day before.
And I was reluctant. I didn’t want to leave China. So we were loitering in front of the big border building for a bit.
Getting through went smoothly without any hassle – and then we took a wrong turn. A turn I thought that was impossible. We were outside. I was convinced that there is no outside. There is only the metro to get out.
Excursus: The non-existing-exit
Two and half years ago I arrived in Shenzhen for the first time and asked on the Hong Kong side for the exit – I was determined to cycle. But was told by the tourist information lady “You can’t go outside. There is no exit. You can only take the metro.” I was frustrated but since she was very firm on this being the only option – I sucked it up and pushed my bike to the metro. (This is actually one of my favourite stories of my Shanghai-Singapore-bicycle tour.) And that’s were it got hilarious. I was told, I could not take the metro with my _BI_cycle.
So I was stuck. I could not go back to mainland China for not having a visa. I could not exit the border station as there was no exit. And I could not take the metro which was the only way out towards Hong Kong where I could get a visa to go back to China…
I did the only sensible thing that was to do at a situation like this – and started laughing.
For some reason this sensible reaction caused some confusion so I got explained again that I was not allowed to take my bicycle onto the metro. I explained that I perfectly well understood what I was told. And that I was stuck.
And then I learnt some magic. I got handed a tool to take off my front wheel. Because something that has only one wheel attached to it, cannot be a bicycle anymore.
So you might understand my confusion of being outside at a bus port. But since we agreed upon no more cycling than was inevitable this was not the option I wished for this time.
Only took us about an hour to find our way back to the metro, going some no-return-lanes the wrong way and squishing into elevators.
Yepp, that’s Niklas and his bicycle with all it’s wheels in it’s appropriate places on the bus. I was pretty impressed and didn’t think we would ever find a bus driver who would allow the bike on board regardless of it’s wheels.