|Thursday (21 October) started pretty early for me with my alarm off at 4.15am as I have to get off the train at Tai'an at 4.40am. I tried to be as quiet as possible as the three old Chinese women sharing my compartment didn't seem best pleased to be sharing with me to start with so I did not want to offend them too much. As it turned out they snored like steam engines so I had hardly slept anyway.
Staggered out onto the dark platform and wandered to the exit where there was a frenzy of taxi drivers for very few travellers. One was yelling out "hello, hello" so I went with him. Unfortunately that was the full extent of his english so eventually I persuaded him to take me to the hotel I was after. It was full as were the next two but the 4th (his recommendation) had a room for 350yuan which I agreed to take for 200yuan (about 15 pounds). Not bad room with large bed and tv and own bathroom with western toilet. Best of all it is above ground and has windows.
After an hour or two rest I left to walk up Tai Shan, one of the 4 holy mountains in China. After a bit of searching for the start I began the walk at about 9am. The early stages were surrounded with temples and souvenier shops and quite a gentle slope. Then into the cyprus forest on the lower slopes of the mountain which were quite peaceful with just a few tea houses scattered around. I stopped at one tea house made entirely out of old tree roots including all the furniture. I met a Singaporean guy there (the first westerner I had come across) and he was also walking alone so we spent the rest of the climb together. He spoke Chinese (being of Chinese origin) which was very useful and he was a nice guy although he began by walking quite a bit faster than me and as I had had no breakfast I was feeling pretty exhausted. After a stop to eat one of the Kitkat bars I had brought with me from Europe I was feeling much more energised and then it was his turn to suffer.
The second half of the climb was really quite stunning. A steep granite mountain scattered with gnarled cyprus trees and temples. The path of granite steps is beautifully constructured and is about 3-4m wide. The incredible thing is that it just goes straight up the side of the mountain - no traversing here. Great relief to get to the top at about 12.30. It was cold at the top so we stopped for a bowl of soup and a doughy onion-filled bun which cost the grand total of 2 yuan (about 15p). I left my Singaporean friend at halfway on the way down as he was getting the bus the rest of the way. By the time I got back to town I just had time to go to the travel office before it shut. Unfortunately it had moved and no-one seems to know where it is - I will have to randomly search tomorrow. After a hot shower I went to another hotel for dinner (the restuarant at my hotel is shut) and had a delicious mushroom and wonton stew with chicken wings.
Yesterday I spent the morning wandering around town looking for the travel office which through pure luck I found and booked a train ticket to Xi'an for Saturday night (none were available for the same day). Spent the rest of the day at a complex of temples and park area in the middle of town called Dai Maio. A good place to relax although here, as is the case everywhere now, the locals blatently stare and point at you - all very good natured but a little tiresome. Many of the younger ones say hello and when you say hello back they giggle furiously. Worse was to come when I sat down on a bench to do a primitive sketch of one of the temples for my dairy - soon I was surrounded by about 30 locals clambering to get a look and pointing out things I was missing. The result was a very rapid sketch, lots of smiles and handshakes and one of the locals kindly wrote the name of the town in Chinese script in my diary. There do not seem to be any westerners at all in this town.
Today I am really just killing time until my train leaves at 3pm. Met a Canadian guy at my hotel this morning and we wandered around together for a while - he is also having problems getting a train out of town so has to stay a couple of days longer than he wants to.
Next update will be from Xi'an.