Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

Pingyao Old Town

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Yamen Government Complex

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Pingyao City Wall

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Group of senior citizens relaxing outside the city wall

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Street seller on south street

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Main tower on Pingyao’s south tourist street

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines’ inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So… mind made up, and ready to go.

Continue reading “Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao”

Islands off Incheon, South Korea: Muui-do

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Revenge of the killer seagulls. Just lucky timing, on the way across from Jamjin-do to Muui-do.

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Fishing boat at Yeongjong Pier with Incheon City in the background

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Panorama of Incheon City in the horizon from Muui-do

It seems that autumn is finally upon us. Temperature has dropped to 20C on a sunny day like today. Looks like the right time to explore some islands off the city of Incheon. Island hopping is a term I wanted to use, but it is technically not really any hopping at all, since by public transport I would be lucky to even get to one island per day. What more, everything is in Korea here so I will have to guide by chance and by the grace of my GPS. Good light also means I can ditch my big camera and go light with a D300, lunch and plenty of water. Always ready for an adventure.

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Google Earth capture of the entire journey mapped by a GPS. Green path is the actual route taken throughout the day.

Getting to the island is a multi-transport discipline. On my research, it looks like the easiest way to get there is to get out of Seoul and get on the express train to Incheon Airport an then hop onto a bus. The alternative way going through Incheon and then a ferry ride to the Airport island looks to be a longer journey. In most cities, Seoul included, the authorities have this idea that tourists are beings meant to be fleeced, so for example a metro ride to Incheon city proper is less than half of what it cost to go to the airport. Price aside, I’ve said that getting out of the city to the airport by Metro is not an easy task. There are some signs at metro station that looks like you could get a A-REX express train to Incheon Airport at Seoul Station, but don’t make the mistake I did. There’s no train going to the airport as of 2010. The line should be ready in the future, but just not now. I wasted 1 hour looking for that phantom train. Some maps indicate that the line is there, but some doesn’t. Best way seems to be to get to Gimpo Airport using Line 9 and then hopping to the A-REX to Incheon Airport without getting out of the station at Gimpo Airport stop.

Outline for today therefore, to take metro to Incheon Airport and then onto one of the island next to it by bus. End the day with a ferry ride into Incheon city before dark. It doesn’t really matter how it turns out. What is clear is that I will have to take a bus over a causeway to Jamjin-do and then hop onto a ferry to Muui-do. Will make up the itinerary as I go along…

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Incheon City from Yeongjong Pier

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So now at Incheon airport, it takes a little bit of investigation to know where to go next. I used up at least 1 hr here figuring out that it is impossible to walk to the pier (2km away) because of the airport security, so a bus is the best option. Go to departure area on the 3rd floor and take bus 222. Unfortunately there is no way to know whether the bus is going to Jamjin island or to Yeongjong pier for the ride into Incheon city. Just have to take your chance or ask the driver.  Bus fare seems to be 1000W as I didn’t really pay attention to my stored value card as I put it on the sensor.

However I was one of the ones that got on the wrong bus as the first one I took was going to Yeongjong pier on the return trip from Jamjin-do. When I got there, it was time to wait for the next bus to go to the island I wanted to go in the first place. Good time killer is to hang around the pier and look at all the tent-restaurants that sprouted out at the parking lot, full of drunk Koreans munching on BBQ pork and kimchi.

After half and hour, it was time for the bus to start moving again. Somehow I have a feeling that there’s not more than 2 buses that services this route going from one end of the Incheon Airport island (that would be Yeongjong Island) to the other end. The bus goes through the airport to pick up more passengers (or victims) and then darts to the west, where I wanted to go, confirmed by my GPS. Right after the airport the bus turns left into a small lane full of korean restaurants, seemingly built so that patrons can look at the sun setting over the sea. After a while, going through a tight road and avoiding carks parked on both sides of the road, the bus goes over a causeway connecting Jamjin-do with larger Jeongyong-do where the airport is located. The bus stops in the small island just before the ferry point. Roads here are tight, as real estate is not plentiful. A building sells 3000 Won return tickets to Muui-do for pedestrians.

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Ferry connecting Jamjin-do with Muui-do

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Four lanes of cars, they go in on the left then make a u-turn at the end of the ship and get out the same way.

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Turkey: Cappadocia Day 3

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Cappadocia

6 September 2009:
The plan today will be to cover the south-western part of Cappadocia, visiting some underground cities which the Christians lived while escaping the invading Seljuks. Right after will be the Ihlara valley, dotted with rock cut churches. Quite obviously the church will be just the same as the others I have seen in Cappadocia so far so the interest is more in the scenery. I plan to rush through it and not walk the whole valley.

After a heavy breakfast made of olives, goat cheese (like the french chevre) and bread, it’s time to start the day before 10am. Will drive past Uchisar and its hill top castle hewn out of a rocky hill and pass Pigeon Valley lookout point. You know the view here is good when you see tour buses. Valley on the right, and the ancient city of Uchisar in the background. And true to its name, there are pigeons around.

Pigeon Valley, with Uchisar Castle in the background

I don’t plan to stop too long at all the interesting spots. Soon I’d go southwards, passing highway 330, Kavak and on the way to Kaymakli through Cardak. The views are of rolling plains, a pleasant drive in the morning. The road is not too wide, enough for 2 lanes to and fro. With the windows wound down, the smell of garlic permeates the air. There are sacks of garlic fresh off the field on the roadside. No, it didn’t come across my mind to nick one. But this is a nice drive, about 40km to go.

Eventually I hit the main north-south road connecting Nevsehir and Kaymakli. It is still farming area here but soon I’d hit Kaymakli. Signs abound pointing to the underground city there, but right at the same spot I branch off to the right towards the satellite town Ozluce, with a lot less tour buses. As quickly as Kaymakli started, once I turned right I was in the open fields again and it is possible to see Ozluce in the distance.

1107hrs: Typing this out at Ozluce Underground City next to the village of the same name, minus the ‘underground’ part obviously. The place is right inside the village, follow the signs and you will not get lost. This one definitely looks out of the way for the tour groups that prefer the other 2 more popular underground cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.

I drive the only car parked at the small shaded area. A guy comes up and ushers me into a small little stone house numbered 18. Inside is a small room with nice carpet strewn sofa and old farming tools and an old pair of leather shoe hanging on the wall. Naturally a good place to let go a barrage of B&W film on. I asked the guy how long to do the whole place and he says 10 something in part sign language. Can’t be hours so I guess must be minutes. Hope it is not 10 storeys of caves to explore. Stairs go down about a floor underground and first thing you come across is a medium sized chamber with a wheel as a door to block the entrance. There is a well as air ventilation shaft and potteries all over the place. The tunnel is lit with 60W incandescent bulbs requiring ISO1600 to shoot properly. At 400 I was able to do half second with my Ricoh. A few passages leads away from the main chamber and I follow it until it winds a little too much. I am the only one here and GPS don’t work so I thing better to play safe and not get too far. The air is cool here, easily 20C or slightly below when it is scorching hot outside. Nice. I will rest here for a while. The caves here look like they are dug out of clay, none of the rocky or crumbly caves which most churches I have seen in the last 2 days were made of.

On the way into Ozluce

Ozluce: Small farming village

I wonder where it is....

Continue reading “Turkey: Cappadocia Day 3”

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