Trip Journal: Nanjing
Funny how perceptions get skewed after living in a city the likes of Shanghai for a couple of years. We took a 2 1/2 hour train ride to the former capital of Nanjing to "get away" for the weekend. Apparently, "getting away" these days refers to going from a city of 20 million people to one of 3 million. Small town, indeed
Traveling with friends Jean & Veronica, we found Nanjing to be a fascinating place to visit ... ancient history, natural beauty, political heritage and somber reminders of WWII atrocities. The city is just far enough away from Shanghai ensure a unique character. Foreigners even seemed to be a little more of a rarity in Nanjing, based on the number of stares and paparazzi-style photographs.
We stayed in the area around Confucius Temple on the south side of town and found a lot to see within walking distance of the hotel. The weather was hot (33C / 90F), so we were thankful it was so easy to flag down one of the numerous green VW Santana taxis zipping around town.
A leisure weekend it was not. We were up and out early to take advantage of the cooler morning weather. A visit to the Nanjing Massacre Museum provided a vivid reminder of the evils man is capable of. The museum detailed the events leading up to the mass killing of 300,000 city residents by the Japanese in WWII ... events that leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many Chinese to this day.
The somber mood of the massacre museum was counterbalanced by the natural beauty of Zijin Shan (Purple Mountain) on the city's upper east side. Parks, lakes and cultural points of interest are sprinkled about the area which made for a great day of exploration. The shade and higher altitude also helped to break the heat. A walk around Xuanwu Lake takes in views of the surrounding hills as well as the ancient city walls. Exploring further into the park, the area around the Ming Xiaoling mausoleum was lined with large animal sculptures which are intended to protect the former Hongwu emperor from the the Ming Dynasty.
Back in town, a climb to the top of the Zhonghua Gate provided commanding views of the city as the sun went down. The old city walls are in great condition and quite amazing in size and scope. The walls took 21 years to complete and involved the work of over 200,000 laborers. If there is one thing that China has always been good at, it is mobilizing workers in support of an important project.
Before we knew it, it was time to jump back on the train to Shanghai on Sunday evening. I was glad we decided to make the trip ... always interesting to soak up the culture and history of a new place. And besides ... sometimes you just need to escape the big city and catch your breath