Railroad Culture Park, August 2017. One of my favorite Xiamen experiences was this simple but ingenious nature trail in the southwest of the city. It stands as a towering testament to brilliant urban planning and creative reuse, with five kilometers of landscaped gardens set around a stretch of preserved rails. Popular with ramblers, dog walkers, joggers and people simply wanting to get from A to B, I found myself instantly charmed.
Hexiang West Road, August 2017. My five-day trip to the island city of Xiamen very nearly didn’t happen. In the days preceding my visit, Typhoon Nesat swept through southern China, causing considerable mayhem to Taiwan and mainland Fujian Province. In fact, just the day before my journey all trains to Xiamen had been cancelled! Luckily for me god wagged his finger, the clouds parted and the train schedules were brought back from the dead. Happier still, my three and a half hour train journey from Rui’an turned out to be mercifully straightforward. On arrival I found a city engulfed in rain, light winds and an eerie afternoon darkness. The streets in and around my hotel were virtually deserted, save for the carcasses of unearthed plants, broken bushes and fallen trees.
Street Card Game, July 2009. The town of Qufu is one of the top sights in Shandong Province. As the hometown of Confucius, arguably the world’s most revered philosopher, thousands of people flock here every day to pay testament to the old sage’s far-reaching influence. And it felt to me like this pocket-sized town, with a population of just sixty thousand, could barely cope with the strain. Still, away from the madness of Qufu’s Confucius attractions, one can still seek out a taste of local life. Work your way into the back streets and you’ll find restaurant owners fanning barbecues and circles of chain-smoking men playing cards.
Confucius Temple, July 2009. “Chinese people so crazy for Confucius!” giggled the receptionist at Qufu International Youth Hostel. She wasn’t kidding. The real reason, the only reason one might argue, for coming to Qufu was to check out San Kong, the town’s three hallowed Confucius sights. Spread out across a walled complex of sixteen thousand square meters, Confucius World, as one might call it, is so vast it actually takes up one fifth of Qufu’s total land mass. This is the temple area, a wondrous mix of stone courtyards, towering trees, crumbling bridges and a green, algae-infested stream.
Tianjin Port, July 2009. How can I ever forget the modest city of Tianjin, the first stop of my great Chinese road trip in 2009? Tianjin isn’t the most exciting place in China, but it did provide a gentle, hassle-free start to an amazing four-week adventure. This photo was taken on our first day as we wandered aimlessly around the pretty port. In fact, I think it may have been the first time I was stopped by Chinese tourists and asked if they could have their photo taken with me. Little did I know it, but the novelty would rapidly wear off.
The Sign, April 2011. The leafy little English market town of Chesham in Buckinghamshire is not a very exciting place. In fact, one might say it has virtually nothing to entice the passing traveler. It does have a pretty park and a handful of decent pubs, while a claim to fame could be the local produce market, once voted Britain’s greenest. Oh, and if you’re really desperate, there’s always Chesham Museum. But while nobody could describe it as the pulsating heart of England, this inconsequential little town will always occupy a special place in my heart.
Charlottenburg Palace, November 2007. Planning a city break in Berlin? Even with the German capital’s abundance of sights, you should still try and clear a half-day in your schedule for this magnificent former summer residence. Named in honor of Sophie Charlotte, the first Queen consort in Prussia, this exquisite baroque structure boasts opulent apartments, priceless art, historical treasures and a simply gorgeous stretch of public gardens.
Jack Daniel’s Distillery, May 2007. I’ll never forget my amazing day trip to the charming little American town of Lynchburg, Tennessee. Even the drive over from Nashville was memorable, our two-hour journey taking us through a fascinating section of The Bible Belt, with its unchanging panorama of painted farmhouses, manicured hedges, white picket fences and pocket-sized churches. On arrival in Lynchburg, we headed straight to The Jack Daniel’s Distillery for our free tour of America’s oldest distillery. The woman pictured above was our friendly guide, a non-nonsense Tennessee gal with an accent so thick my then fiancé could barely understand a word the woman was saying.