During all the past weeks we have been spoiled with a bright blue sky, and today on the third of Advent, the rain set in. Every drop counts to replenish the groundwater table of the arid islands, and we enjoyed the rainy day as much as the sunny times. The flora immediately stretches out for the water and the smell of fennel and thyme raises into the air. In the morning we joined friends for a walk to the beautiful North-Western coast of Malta and went down to Il-Bajja Ta' Fomm-ir-Rih. It is a very picturesque trail along a geological terrace where porous limestone formations are moving backward on harder Miocene Greensands which form the cliff. You literally walk on that edge. By public transport you can reach quite close by taking Line 109 to Il-Bahrija.
One advantage of Beijing is, that you can easily get out. The Megcity has mountains in the North and West, which mark a sharp boundary between 1950s style coal power plants and a beautiful natural landscape. You might want to avoid tourist destinations, but still use public transport. And actually, this is quite well possible.
For example take the subway to Ping Guo Yuan (=Apple Garden, but don't be confused when you don't see any apple tree). It is the last stop of Line 1 in the West. Then walk 300 meters further West, until you see the bus stop for line 892. The bus service starts at 7:00 o'clock in the morning and runs very frequently. Stay on the bus for about 2 hours and get off at at the Fa Cheng bus stop, at N40 00.113 E115 47.949. This is a good starting point for a hike over the mountains and the decent to Jian Yuntai (N39 56.132 E115 51.110), for the bus 929 back to Ping Guo Yan station. The whole hike will take you around 7 hours. The last bus at Jian Juntai leaves at 17:40. If you miss that, you are (!) in trouble, as this is just a remote village which has no (!) other transportation.
The route gives a beautiful outlook over the mountains. There are nearly no people up there. The villagers do not grow nuts or fruits like in other rural regions around Beijing. Still the terraces along the slopes witness an agricultural past here. The trails are just kept open by a few hikers per year and you need a thorn proof jacket. Strictly stay on the trails, which are occasionally steep and going along fringes. Hikers here use 435.000 MHz and 437.900 MHz.
During Spring Festival Beijing is laid back and festive. Most people which have their families not in Beijing, travel back to their home towns. Logistically the best thing to do during these days is to stay where you are. All others who also stay enjoy a week holiday and there are many things you can do in this city. Not just the cultural repertoire is huge, but also you can just get onto a lake ice skating, do a hike in the mountains along the spectacular parts of the Great Wall which are less "developed" or even drive up to a ski resort. Hiking, I was surprised that there are now also many Chinese going outdoors and enjoying the scenery. A few years ago, they did not go too much into the countryside. Now there are many "Donkey Friend Clubs", which are mainly self organized groups walking together far distances. For a first orientation, I found that the Beijing Hikers are organizing nice groups. There are a lot of foreigners in these groups, but they are not the typical Expats, but nice people which have been living long time abroad and many of them speak Chinese. I guess, that foreigners strolling around the Chinese countryside with a rucksack, already implies some self selection.
Of course, I would not be in China, if not everywhere small little businesses open to cater into all kinds of holiday demands. From the man with the mobile sweet patato bakery who is counting his money on the frozen lake where he sells his snacks to the ice skaters (see photo on the left), to extra capacities in taking family portraits in the China Photo Studio. Not to mention the huts selling the fireworks which turn the nights in Beijing into a self (un-)organized light show which is unmatched anywhere. I was wondering how safe it is when the firework's salesman is smoking sitting on a few tons of gunpowder. But you think it is "cool" just to smoke in a non-smoking area in Hong Kong and chase away the little policeman? That's nothing against sitting smoking on a pile of gunpowder chatting with the policeman on how the family is doing. Happy new year, health luck and prosperity for the Year of the Dragon.