30.09.2015 - 02.10.2015 28 °C
YICHANG is the gateway to the Three Gorges. The Three Gorges Dam, completed in 2012, is the largest hydro power plant In the World!
Tourists start or end the Yangtze River Cruise here. We are not taking a cruise but we will at least see the Yangtze River as we stay 2 nights on our way from Zhangjiajie to Chengdu.
The Yangtze River is the largest river in China, and is the third longest river in the world. (Only the Nile and the Amazon are longer),,
We are staying at the Taohualing hotel. This is more expensive than I had arranged through Booking.com but my original hotel backed out. I have to pay the extra but I will get a refund of the difference from Booking after submitting the right paperwork. So eventually this hotel will have cost us fifty-three dollars Canadian a night.
The Taohualing Hotel was the first four star hotel in Yichang, and it has hosted many famous people including the leader of North Korea and Henry Kissinger. I don't think we have the same room as those guys but our room here is a big step up from where we have been staying for the last week and the lobby is palatial. They have a whole wall of pictures showing famous people who have spent the night.
We are on the fifth floor overlooking a courtyard, nice and quiet. No roosters crowing, no school kids singing, no street sounds. It is a bit crowded for an easy chair and a desk besides the beds and night tables but there is a closet, the shower works and it seems pretty clean.
There are robes and lovely slippers as well as a good shower and softer beds!! At night staff set out your slippers and close the curtains, very good service. The staff speak limited English but they have been trained to say a pleasant and enthusiastic "Good Day" or "Good Evening" and are very attentive. Our cab is met by a smartly dressed staff, very effective "Good Afternoon" (even though he didn't speak any other English), and very efficient at bringing in our luggage. I am thankful for the suitcases, it is such a formal lobby and the staff are formal too.
We have arrived by train from Zhangjiajie, we had a sleeping car, not because it was all night but because these were the only seats available. It was not a long trip, we passed fields, cities, towns and construction and enjoyed the ever changing scenery, all very interesting to us:
We had asked some English speaking girls in Zhangjiajie to write down the hotel name in characters so were able to give this to the taxi driver. When you get off the train there are persistent people trying to carry your luggage or get you a taxi so the trick is, ignore them, there will be a taxi 'queue'. When it is 'your turn' do not hesitate, grab the first empty cab, hand the driver your paper. Of course, we arrived in rush hour and the station is a distance from our hotel. We were pleased to pull up through a gated entrance and a formal drive, hey, this is a nice change.
I had arranged to meet a CouchSurfing host in the lobby on our first morning, 1 October. Grace is a college professor, visiting her family in Yichang for the National Holiday which is the first week of October this year. She took time away from her family to meet with us and offered tips on what to do during our short stay in her home city.
She wrote some things down for us in characters, including the names of dishes that were popular in Yichang. One of these was lotus root which we later sampled and enjoyed. She told us how to get to a park along the Yangtze River and advised us to go to a restaurant where the food was good and the prices reasonable. She had put some thought into what two older foreigners might want to do while in Yichang and was a great resource. Yilling Square was walking distance from our hotel and in the evening people gather and lots of them dance. In China most people live in apartments and the abundance of parks and squares in some cities affords them the opportunity to enjoy nature, companionship and the outdoors. We did see people dancing in parks, doing tai chi, playing cards and mahjong.
I told Grace my sob story about losing my reading glasses and she walked us part way to a place that made glasses, they were unable to understand me and they could not make the glasses in the short time we had. Besides, I had a spare pair with me, bifocals, so I was not desperate. I never did get glasses in China. After we had checked out the eyeglass situation we started to look for the restaurant.
Rhea showed a young man our map and characters and he started walking with us, indicating we should follow him. After about ten minutes he called out to another young man who now took over and we followed him for about ten minutes down little alleyways lined with businesses, we were kind of worried, where are we going and then he pointed - yes, there, the restaurant. We would never have found it without help and it is indicative of how kindl some young people in China are to tourists.
This was a small, plain restaurant, everyone was friendly, we showed our characters and ordered the fried spicy potatoes and lotus root that Grace had recommended. They were served with tea and a plate of very good pickles, picture below. The potatoes were so hot and spicy that I decided to have a beer, which was so cheap.
This was the best meal we had in China and the total bill, including the beer, was nine dollars. We were the only foreigners in the area, people stared and smiled at us, everyone was very good-natured. Of course they do seem to drink tea when they eat. Lotus root tastes like sweet potatoes or yams. The way ours were served reminded me of sweet potato fries. Sorry, I don't know the name of this cafe.
Spicy fried potatoes are a signature dish of Yichang. I was surprised they even ate potatoes!!
From the restaurant we made our way to the park and saw the Yangtze River. It was a gorgeous summer day, October 1, 2015. People were riding bicycles built for two, fishing, playing cards.
While I wandered around an older gentleman struck up a conversation with Rhea and his English was very good. He was older than me and had not taken English in school but rather had taught himself by listening to the radio. He had been a cook and a sailor and was now retired. We were impressed by his motivation to learn English. All we can say in Chinese is Nehow and shayshay (thank you, or a rough facsimile).
We attempted to take a taxi back to our hotel but no taxi would stop. Finally when one did, somebody else beat us to it, you cannot hesitate - he who hesitates is lost - but the cab driver did indicate to us we should go across the street and try there, the traffic on this side was going the wrong direction. Tried there and still no luck, nobody would take us as we were too close to the hotel. So we walked back and had to ask for directions several times.
In the evening we walked over to Yilling Square. There was a pedestrian overpass with a ramp.
Our train to Chengdu left on the morning of 2 October. The hotel arranged for a taxi, the check-out process is time consuming, I am inquiring about my deposit refund, the bellhop insists on carrying my luggage ..... Long story short, my credit card was left behind.
I knew within two blocks of the hotel, perhaps before we had passed through the gate, but how to yell 'stop, I have to go back' to the driver in Chinese was beyond me. So our train ride from Yichang to Chengdu was not relaxing for me as I was stewing about my credit card, my jacket and my glasses. I have lost three things. Although I am pretty sure that my credit card is with hotel reception.
No wifi on the train, we had kind of funny seats, soft seats, but we faced the other passengers in the car - like twenty rows of people all looking forward and we looked backward. It felt kind of awkward facing everybody, but between taking pictures and deleting pictures the time passed. Food carts go around but we do not buy anything on the train. I have digestive biscuits and water.
Today is Oct 2. The National Holiday, called Golden Week, is on and every guidebook said - do not go to China during Golden Week. This year was even worse as there was another holiday where they eat moon cakes, on Sept 28. Lots of people took vacation for the duration. However, I can't say the crowds have been unbearable. We only had to wait in line for any length of time once, not as bad as I expected. However, we did kind of plan our holiday around the anticipated congestion of Golden Week, hence our stop in Yichang and now six days in Chengdu. Then the National holiday will be over. But there will be overflow from those who took extra days right up til Oct 11. I guess traffic on the highways in some places is horrific, but not that we have witnessed. We have guaranteed seats on all the trains as the tickets were booked before we left home. Good thing, as the trains are full and they have laid on many additional trains to transport all the people traveling.
Chinese New Years is family time, Golden Week is sightseeing for those who can afford it.