This is the first time that I stepped onto the land of Northwest China. The destination is Xi’an, Shanxi, one of the oldest cities in China that is famous for being the capital for 13 dynasties in ancient China. This is really a historic city — walking on the street, you can’t keep thinking of that thousands of years ago, this is the center of the world. Of course one of the must-go sites in Xi’an is the Terracotta Warriors and Horses (秦兵馬俑) in the suburb, which is thought to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. Thousands of life-size soldiers and horses are buried underground with Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), the first Emperor of China, and they were only discovered in 1974 by local farmers. There is a saying that in the Terracotta army, “a thousand soldier have a thousand faces” (千人千面) — they are so realistic such that you can understand whether a soldier comes from North China or South China, what’s the official rank of the soldier in the army, etc. simply from looking at them. And it’s said that these sculptures are originally painted with colors! How gorgeous that would be!
The last stop of the new year trip is the courtyard of Family Chou (周家大院) in Yongzhou, Hunan. It is said that descendants of the famous philosopher Chou Tun-i (周敦頤) of the Song Dynasty live here. The courtyard was built in the late Qing Dynasty — although after hundreds of years, you can still imagine the prosperity of the family at that time. Now, while the houses were still there as if they were hundreds of years ago, it seemed to be much quiet than it could be back to that time, with the exception of the time when you can see kids chasing each other on the old granite road.
It’s a winter morning when we visited Mt. Jiuyi in South Hunan. Rolling hills were hidden in the morning mist, as if they were not awake yet, while a flock of ducks quacked and followed the master all the way down to the field, hoping that they can get a first bite of the breakfast. What an interesting scene! According to Records of the Grand Historian (《史記》), Mt. Jiuyi is the burial place of Emperor Shun (舜帝), one of the “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors” (三皇五帝) in ancient China. Many people may also learn about Mt. Jiuyi through one of Mao Zedong’s poems, which starts with Emperor Shun’s legendary stories:
七律 • 答友人 (毛澤東)
St. Augustine is said to be the nation’s oldest city. First explored and built by Spanish, you can almost smell the “European air” while walking in the streets: the Spanish architecture, the slow pace and the leisurely life. Among a number of sites to visit in St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos is a special one with its unique architectural design: It’s the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States and now it becomes a U.S. National Monument.
An exploration of the Great Tampa area starts with a walk along the white sand beach in the Honeymoon Island State Park (though it’s a pity that we can’t get access to the Caladesi Island via ferry due to the strong wind), followed by an unexpected lovely “journey” to a Hawaii-style family restaurant and finally ends at the stunning fabulous sunset at Clearwater beach. Clearwater is known for its incredible sunset, and surely it doesn’t disappoint me! The cloud is a little bit thick that day so the sun hides behind clouds most of the time, but as a “compensation”, we get an amazing evening glow!
A late September walk on the upper Gorge Trail in the Robert H. Treman State Park. The foliage began to turn into different colors, yet it’s still a couple of weeks from the peak time. There are tens of waterfalls along the trail, and this one probably has the largest drop — I can’t really take the waterfall as a whole in the picture, and here it’s probably only one thirds of it!
Cades Cove is a beautiful valley and a popular destination for wildlife viewing at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We didn’t get much luck during our visit — except for a few cows and horses, the only wildlife we kind of see is a running deer in the woods. But Cades Cove by itself, with the endless mountains and grasslands and a couple of cabins along the way, is already pretty fabulous, although late summer is probably not the best timing for visitors yet. Imaging how gorgeous it would be in autumn, with trees and shrubs being colored in different ways and interleaving with each other!
First day’s task, hiking. The Chimney Tops Trail is listed as one of the top three “must-go”s at the Great Smoky Mountain on TripAdvisor and it naturally becomes our choice. It’s a pretty enjoyable walk in the woods, with quite a few waterfall sights along the trail, until the very end of it — to see the summit, you have to actually “climb” the rocks, literally on your hands and knees!