Thursday, August 15, 2013

Zhangjiajie, a Visual Feast!

We enjoyed a day of nature with hundreds of thousands of our closest friends today. Zhangjiajie is the first National Park in China, and has miles of scenic area, famous for mountainous columns formed by erosion over millennia. We waited at the park entrance while our guide, Oscar, bought us tickets.
Once in the park, transportation is by shuttle bus over windy roads. It was nice having Oscar to accompany us, not only for a little information about the park, but to get us on and off the right buses and we went from place to place.
We started out at the cable car,  but decided the line was too long, and got back on the bus and transferred to the 10 mile natural gallery.
There we had an electric train ride up the mountain, accompanied by lovely views along the way.
We walked back down a gentle slope, enjoying stopping along the way for views. We were asked several times during the day if people could take their picture with us. Ed is an especially popular target. Perhaps they recognize he looks a little like Nicholas Cage!
We returned to the now much shorter line for the cable car, and enjoyed the ride up Tianzi Mountain, with its spectacular views.
The ride was about 7 minutes on a modern cable car built by the Swiss (to inspire confidence in the safety).
We then visited He Long Marshall park, which had the largest McDonalds in China. Brittany pointed out that it was much to early in our tour to break down and get a hamburger, but she was tempted by the ice cream!
There were plenty of places to stop and take pictures. I was particularly anxious to show off my new hat, which was only 20 yuan, (about $3.50).
While waiting in line there was also plenty of opportunity to buy snacks. In addition to cold water, we also enjoyed the chestnuts roasted over an open fire!
He Long Marshall was one of Mao's generals, and is a favorite local son, so he has a prominent statue in the park. Mao, himself, was from the same province, but had a parting of the ways with He Long because of Long's popularity. This resulted in the unfortunate premature demise of the the Marshall.
We enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant who served us typical Tujia food of the region. The sausage was tasty, but mighty spicy! We also had fresh pears from their garden.
Continuing on with our journey, we crossed the Number One Natural Bridge in the world. It was a connecting bridge between two columns. While you cross it you are not really aware of the precariousness of the walk, but afterwards you wonder if it is safe walking across it!
We also crossed a man made bridge (with an even more spectacular view).
From the bridge we had a fantastic view of the South Pillar of Heaven, which was renamed the Hallelujah Mountain to capitalize on the popularity of the movie Avatar, which used it as inspiration for the floating mountains.
They had a mountain Banshees as well as the blue Avatar girl on display, just in case tourists might want their photo taken with them.
Finally, we took the Bailong elevator down the mountain, a 326 meter tall ride built into the side of one of the mountains.
We had our picture taken in front of the 48 Marshalls column formation at the base of the elevator.
We got home with time to enjoy a refreshing dip in the pool. There was some controversy about whether the pool was open or not. This wouldn't have come up, if John hadn't read the sign in Chinese that said it was a scenic fountain, not for swimming, however, after talks with the front desk and some other hotel staff, it seemed that it wouldn't be a problem if we swam at our own risk, which we happily did!