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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Huangyaguan Pass Great Wall of China, near Tianjin - less crowds and less flashes.

Great Wall is seen from the Moon, at least that is what the Urban Legends say. Although, the majority of the foreign tourists go to Beijing to catch a few snaps of the relatively new version of The Great Wall, I wasn’t born to follow. That is why I embarked on a trip to the not so well known Huangyaguan Pass, seen near Tianjin. Yes, you can see great walls everywhere around China (sorry to break your image) – they come in various shapes and forms. Having said that, bear in mind that from what I’ve heard in China there are only few sites left that are actual remnants of the original constructions.

On this day, I was accompanied by a friend of mine and two local ladies. We got the bus from the Tianjin railway station and full of excitement chatted about useless stuff. The small traffic congestion (1 hour) passed almost unnoticed - after all I had been living in China for a while so patience was among my virtues.

From the base of the site you will take opened taxis that go straight to the top. Thus you can start from the distant gate and slowly climb down. My eyes were desperate for greenery and wilderness, all that smog and grayness took their share. Still in elated spirit we arrived at our starting point and looked down. Impressive and enticing! 

The route is descending from the top section. While on our way down, after having a quick snack we observed the wave-like terraces on both sides. The village down below seemed distant and foggy. Behind our backs the high rocky mountains were glaring at us in contempt.

When you approach the small village keep your eyes open for the BaGua labyrinth. In accordance with the traditions there is a temple (no surprise) and the typical incense aromas floating in the air.

Just outside the exit there are small stands offering local products – fruits and nuts. Remember, don’t bring your naive foreigner expression. Be like locals – cut the price when buying 2 packs.

We jumped on the bus and dozed off.

Although, I haven’t been to the Beijing section of the Great Wall, from what I’ve heard it is likely to be overcrowded. So, if you prefer more secluded and intimate places where you can enjoy the breathtaking view without constant flashes give it a try!

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Friday, 26 February 2016

Malta's Cart Ruts - an enigma yet to be solved

What a coincidence it was to have peeked into an article about Turkey's ancient and mysterious Cart Ruts, before heading out to Malta. Somewhere, deep in my mind (subconscious) that peculiar detail have sticked and waited for its time patiently.

Panoramic view of Dingli Cliff

There I was in the Malta's National Museum of Archaeology in Valetta (5 Euro - ticket). Totally
recommended for history geeks and people that can't be diverted from the Malta's hidden gems by swimming and bourgeois touristy stuff. I am joking, don't skip them, just keep your eyes open –Malta's surprises wait around the corner!
Cart Ruts information in National Museum Archaeology Malta

To my amazement, one small corridor in the museum offered a vivid reconstruction of an actual Cart Rut with a short video guide. Well, it turns out the small island is traversed in and out by these strange lines. They run parallel and are of a specific diameter and depth, often forming railway like net. That information got me hooked and slowly I came to connect the dots. These are the .... famous Cart Ruts (my memory clicked – Turkey, I could have overlooked this aspect of Malta).

Wow, no matter whether you are into Ancient Aliens or are a die-hard sceptic that will cause you shaking head. "Wait, why this diameter, and depth and so much like train line tracks?"

It is not by chance, one region (close to Dingli Cliffs) is called Clapham Junction (former Misrah Ghar il-Kbir). People, who have visited the hectic London, will know what I mean. Just like the traffic intersections of the modern metropolis. There are few clues to where to find directions to the actual Cart Rut sites, the once I saw can be attributed to providence.

Another striking coincidence, my hostel happened to be close to one small, unpretencious site on Tal-Mensija street (San Gwann Junction Cart Ruts). It is a small plot of land, protected by a fence. It is a shame this is not a popular touristic spot.

San Gwann Junction Cart Ruts close view

San Gwann Junction Cart Ruts several parallel lines

If you are planning to go to the Ta Hagrat and Skorba temples I strongly encourage you to make the effort and walk the distance between them. Not to keep your body muscles in shape, but so that you don't miss a small area, guarded by bins section, rich in the same mysterious lines.

One pleasant and envigorating walk can be made from Valetta to the Sliemma Bay. Do pay attention to the rocky beach, especially when you discover the same strange Cart Ruts, we were discussing. From the street they look so precise, almost machine like. According to the scarce information (and some things I read on social media) here the Ruts are said to go into the water. Amazing, isn't it.

The major ancient ruins for the avarage tempted traveller are definately hotspot. However, should you decide to move away and see something away from the crowds, don't miss the Cart Ruts. They spark imagination and you will end up asking yourself what may lay hidden on the Earth and this very intrigueing, plot of land - irrigation, transportation, too many questions – few answers.

Should you happen to be willing to dig deeper into the matter – a good starting point.

Cart Ruts between Ta Hagat and Skorba temples

Between Ta Hagat and Skorba temples - rails like lines

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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Pictish symbols in Dyce, Aberdeenshire. 

After a thorough investigation on the net about that location, I was finally about to go for it on one nice Saturday. The fact that it was on the route to the airport, made it quite easy to get to with the public transport.

You can ride the bus N80 from Central Station. When you reach the final stop head towards the Church and ask around for directions. The person at the Church, cutting the lawn, was polite enough to guide us to the beginning of the path. The famous Scottish hospitality, even with its help, we managed to stray away and lost 1 hour.

I got a bit confused and actually took the wrong path which brought me to a nice river curve. The local fisherman enthusiasts guided me to the right direction. Off I am again. How tantalising the small grove looked! 

Most of the time you will be walking on the car road just when you see the sign you turn right. 

The marvellous view of the river meanders invigorates your spirit, especially during the summer. There is something about that black and explosive water in the whole Grampian region. 

Once you get there you can be struck by the fact nobody has placed any restrictions on the site. All the stones and stellas are just lying around for you to make your facebook photos. No fence, no nothing, maybe just the spells protect that pictish sanctuary. In proximity to the ruined St Fergus' Chapel, there are many tombstones and every rock captures your imagination. 

Picts, oh the picts, these guys had it all. Magic, ancient wisdom, lost rituals. Strange symbols and animals, mythological creatures and spiral symbols have embodied the sacred ideas on the ancients. Yet one is not able to comprehend what urges them to put so many petroglyphs on stone. Maybe they are trying to convince us that there is something hidden in our everyday reality? 

In case you came with a car you can spend some time to look for the stone circles, located somewhere in the region. Due to the time constraint, we were not able to hunt for them, maybe the next time.

Back to my reality. Modest Scotchman keeping these hot spots not so popular. Maybe the mass public should deserve to set their eyes on such fine examples of ancient cultures. Well, I felt obliged.
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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Chinese food – multitude of aromas, flavours and colors  

Chinese food. Where to begin? I remember on one occasion I was invited for a breakfast in mainland at one cafeteria, which offered variety of snacks, rich in taste and color. I got so filled up that I was forced to sit for a while for half an hour in order to come back to normal. 

The predominant myth about the Chinese restaurants

The first thing that should be debunked is the myth that the Chinese restaurants outside mainland offer traditional Chinese cuisine. I have traveled and tried Chinese restaurants in various countries but they all look the same. Some claim they adapted the taste to the western standards. Believe me, the dishes, noodles and even sweets bear no comparison with their western counterparts. You have heard the jokes that Chinese eat only the garnish but, hey, what I saw over there prompted just the opposite. These guys eat a lot, in the morning people are crowding to get the street snacks and doufu (original soy milk), during the noon you will have to fight your way to get a small portion of fried vegetables or pork. 

Chinese cuisine 

As you may have guessed, the Chinese cuisine varies from North to South and East to West. The southern Sicuan is characterized with a lot of spice and is hot. Hot pots from the region at the centre of the table are ushering the puzzled tourist to dip his own meal. In the Tianjin and Beijing a common breakfast is comprises of doufu and fried dough sticks. I have mentioned elsewhere that one peculiar tradition in Chinese restaurants is the customers to order more food than they could eat. Some claim this is to compensate for the dark period of famine in the reign of Mao Tze Dong. 

What about cockroaches? 

I know at the back of your Western mind a questions keeps popping up – do they eat some weird stuff as cockroaches and scorpions. I do not dare to say so. Needless to say, at Wang Fu Jing you can see those type of snacks but it is more of a cunning marketing strategy to attract more customers (my opinion). I , honestly, don’t think the Chinese put insects in their morning muesli. Having said that, there are some really wicked meals I discovered during my stay in that fascinating country. One of them is a clear soup with cucumber in it and another was a sort of marinated (I assume) egg which got a black color instead of white. Cool, isn’t it?

Photo credit: 
1. Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant - taken from Charles Haybes, flickr  
2. Xian street food - taken from David Gordillo, flickr  

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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Hurgada, Egypt - landing and first impressions

When you are going into off the grid destination such as Egypt something inside your mind is trembling. Mixed feeling cross you heart: "how big are actually the pyramids", "is it going to be dangerous", "what are the Arabs like" (who consider themselves Egyptians). It has nothing in common with travelling to a standard European destination. After all, that is why many explorers, adventurers and scholars are drawn to that place, which may be considered the cradle of our civilization. 

While I was on the plane to Hurgada, I hoped for a favourable weather so that I can open the swimming season (it was the end of February). My first impression when we landed was that the air was fresh and the wind moderate. Contrary to my pessimistic expectation that it will be dry and I would be staggering through the sands. Time to switch to my “ Hawai ” self...

After passing through the border control (20 dollars are paid by each visitor) and the bus dropped us on our hotel I had to face my first challenges. I admit I may have been under the influence of my previous trips and that lowered my guard. Well, time to meet the locals! It was a 3 star hotel , which turned out to be quite all right, but yes, the Arabs on the reception tried to scare me at first. I will tell you straight they were kind of rude and pushy but, hey, it is all part of the game, right. Not to mention that the porter insisted on giving him a tip (considered in some countries unacceptable). The rest of the day was simple – bath, bed.

On the second day, I was determined to go for my first swim this year in the Red Sea. After a lavish breakfast (guava, soups, sweets and fried egg) I took my own towel and rushed for the wooden sunloungers. God, the world becomes more inspiring once you get your portion of salty water and sunrays. Due to the fact that it was a bit windy, there were not so many people around me. Needless to say, I was not discouraged from the chilly water 20 grades – experience, you say. 

The current situation in Egypt does not stray away from the other developing countries. The investors are hectically building hotels and you may see a brand new hotel next to a construction site. One nice aspect of the building boom is that each hotel is equipped with its own private beach. Of course, there are other tourist resorts (Sharm al Sheikh, Marsa Alam) who are proud of attracting richer tourists. 

Time for planning the historic trips – I had the intention to go for at least 3 but since there were not quite many at that time I reduced them to : Pyramids – including the Djosser and Luxor. What happened there, be patient, I will bombard you with photos. 

Stay with me for the almighty Sphinx, the mysterious pyramids and the immense Temple of Luxor.

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Saturday, 21 March 2015

10 things I learnt from travelling

1. Spontaneity 

Whenever you are taking the sidewalk that leads to god knows where or deciding that you will sleep on this particular meadow the power of spontaneity is within you. That is what makes your trip memorable and helps you get a much more profound impression of that particular place. Not to say that organized trips and excursions are not worth it but from time to time it is good to move around without any limitation whatsoever. 

2. Organization 

I don’t know about you but most of the time I had gone somewhere with friends I was the talking head, preparing the agenda and the routes. When I am travelling with a group I can be pain in the a** pushing everybody forward or warning that we should not be late for the train. Like in the army. 

3. Orientation 

Even in the cities in Asia you can see the pattern in the street planning. After some years you can see a map for a couple of minutes and then make the actual walk for hours and arrive at the exact point of interest. Magic? No just the good old travelling experience? 

4. Planning in advance 

What can go wrong? Maybe I can stay another day there without interfering with the bigger scheme. Or I can skip visiting this attraction in order to guarantee that there will be enough time. No matter whether you are just visiting a city or going in the countryside your planning skills have improved and now you can approach a problem from various angles. 

5. Self – confidence

There is a tiny line from which this quality can transform itself into self-conceit. But, after all, not all the people from your circle can brag about places and exotic countries you have already pinned on the map. 

6. Respect 

Don’t judge or fall victim of prejudice. Meeting so many people from various social status and background urges you to be open – minded and trust others. People are people everywhere. 

7. Communication

Striking a conversation – especially valid for shy person or introverts. That is not to say that you have to change your unique individuality only to fit in the polite society. But, admit it, after you ‘ve been here and there you can always refer to a funny story with the police in ... country or when you got lost while going to .... That will not be possible if you got stuck to your miserable city and got hammered every Friday night. 

8. Stress (crisis) management

Remember the time when your wallet got stolen and you did not have a clue how to issue your papers or when you lost your rucksack. No more hectic running back and forth, now you have to deal with everything step by step applying logic and calmness.

9. Re-assessing your values and priorities

Going through a tough period. Why don’t you run away and leave everything – of course only for a couple of weeks. Some good decisions might be awaiting you once you move away from the routing and break the cycle. 

10.  Patience 

Sitting in the back of a weird taxi driver or taking a free ride from a person who you have just met forces you to remain stable. You know the old saying: when you can’t change the situation, change yourself.
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