We are in the midst of the winter break right now and for many of us that means traveling. The destination of choice for many this winter seems to be Thailand. The people are friendly, the customer service is amazing. There is sun, sand, and beaches if that is what you like. There are also mountains and amazing scenery if that is your preference. However, that is not where I have been this winter break. First I went to Jhingdezheng, the porcelain capital of China. Then I came home to the USA for a bit.
Three other ceramic loving foreign teachers and I visited Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China at the beginning of the Winter break. If I had to describe this trip, I say it was short and sweet. We departed from Zhengzhou by fast train Thursday and returned the same way Saturday. The highlight of this trip was the visit to the porcelain museum and factory. What beautiful pottery. It was a rainy drizzly day but it didn’t matter. We wandered the grounds and learned the process of making porcelain from start to finish.
Since it was snowing we had to leave Sias extra early. It was still dark and with the snow falling it was a bit eerie. The good thing was that there was very little traffic and we arrived at the station in good time.
Although we had pre-purchased our tickets, we still had to wait in line to get the actual printed vouchers. The lines were a bit long so I was initially nervous that we wouldn’t get the tickets in time but we finally got them. Then we headed to the gate. We got there a little early and even had time for one of our party to run to Starbucks and get coffee for us all.
The train was on time and we soon found our seats and made ourselves comfortable for the 6-hour trip. This was only my second trip on a fast train so it was still rather exciting for me. It reached a maximum speed of 303kph. This translates approximately 188 mph.
We arrived in Jingdezheng in mid-afternoon. Our first stop was at the hostel to drop off our bags. I’d never stayed in a youth hostel in China before but the rooms were nice given the price. They were clean and well equipped. Two of us shared a room so the cost in USD was a little over $19.00 for the 2 night stay. That’s a price you can’t beat.
After we dropped off our bags, we went to an area of town that specialized in pottery and ceramics, especially tea sets. The deals we could get there were much better than could be gotten most other places. They were so good that before the trip was over, two of our group bought tea sets. The variety of porcelain pottery was amazing. From tiny cups that could barely fit over my thumb to giant pottery more twice the height of a person. We walked for miles and saw more varieties of pots that it is possible to describe. The colors of the glazes, from delicate celadon green violet to bold purples, pinks and reds, were amazing. Only after all the shops had closed and we were foot weary and sore did we turn our thoughts to dinner.
That night we ate individual hot pot in a cool little restaurant where the different food choices were skewered onto sticks and placed in bowls that ran past us on a conveyer belt. The cost of the meal was determined by the number of sticks the customer turned in to the cashier at the end of the meal. The meal was excellent and the experience was very memorable. (I enjoyed it so much that I went back there the next day on my own.) After we ate we were all so tired that we headed back to the hostel to turn in for the night.
We spent much of the next day at a porcelain factory and museum. This may initially sound boring. Actually it was quite fascinating. The city of Jingdezhen has been associated with porcelain making for hundreds of years and the museum had displays and information about the different techniques and practices used through the years. One of the most amazing things to me is that every step of the process, from start to finish, of creating the many varieties of pots is still done by hand today!
The day was a bit drizzly and damp, but it didn’t matter to any of us. We simply pulled out our umbrellas and wandered at will. The museum is a late add on but the actual factory has been in existence for about 200 years and has several kilns that are in operation today. One, called a dragon kiln runs all the way up the side of a hill and can fire hundreds of pots at the same time. Amazing!
The next day was Saturday and it was the last day of our trip. The factory from the day before was fascinating but each step of the pottery making process, despite being done by hand, systematically regulated. We wanted to see some of the local independent artists work as well so we went to a weekend market where the artists set up tables and display their creations for locals to purchase their wares. Again, the variety of artistic creations in a small area was quite impressive. I was unable to resist purchasing a delicate ceramic necklace and earring set that looked like a tiny bamboo shoot and bamboo leaves. Finally, we headed back to Sias, tired but feeling that our quest to explore the porcelain capital of China and the world had been more than satisfied.
The second trip I took during this Winter break was quite a contrast to the first. I had not planned to go back to the United States, but the opportunity suddenly presented itself and on January 16th I headed out for a 4 week stay California, my home state. My sister picked me up LAX and we took a road trip north up the state of California to the Sacramento area where I spent the bulk of the trip with my son’s family mainly spending time with him, his wife and their two kids. Our first night we spent on the Queen Mary a ship that was commissioned to take travelers from England to the United States. Later she served as a troop carrier. Today she is a floating hotel and tourist attraction near LA. We had breakfast on the ship the next morning. The food was excellent and the view of the harbor and LA across the way was an added bonus.
After breakfast we drove to Solvang, a Danish town in the Santa Ynez valley about 3 hours from LA. We spent a day and a half there seeing the local sights and sampling the unique Danish cuisine. The town boasts restaurants that serve both Danish and American food, jewelry and antique shops, wineries, and unique craft shops. The architecture is Danish as well. We could have spent another week there, but we needed to move on since I was anxious to see my kids. The town certainly deserved more than the short time we spent there.
After our side trip to Solvang we headed to Antelope, a small town outside of Sacramento, the capital city of California. As you can see, we did some local sightseeing but most of my time there was spent simply spending time with my son, his wife and their two children. I was sorry to leave them at the end of my visit but at the same time I was glad to be heading home to Sias to begin preparation for the upcoming spring semester.
My two trips during the Winter Break were quite different. One was spent exploring the new and different. The other was spent with the familiar and comfortable.
How do you like to spend your time when you travel? Have you taken any “off the beaten path” destinations you’ve really enjoyed? Please share a few words about these unique memories with me. I’d love to hear from you.