Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Zhangbi village: Photo of the Week

Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 is a tiny, beautiful, bucolic village in rural Shanxi Province.  The village is famous for its underground castle, Zhangbi Gubao张壁古堡, a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the Tang Dynasty (more than 1400 years).

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Here are a few of the photos we took. There will be more on Zhangbi Village and its underground castle in the coming weeks.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi Village can be easily visited on a day trip from the ancient walled city of Pingyao 平遥.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省
Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

The best way to get to Zhangbi Village is to hire a car and driver. You can also take in the Wang family courtyard 王家大院 on the same excursion. It all makes for a great day out from Pingyao. We paid 400 yuan and which also included stopping at Shuanglin Temple 双林寺 8 kilometers outside Pingyao。

Kongtong Shan From our Diary

Kongtong Shan and Bus Insurance Hassle: 崆峒山甘肃省

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省


Pingliang has become a large prosperous town in the last decade and has expanded enormously. Along with that expansion there are more hotel and eating options than what we have listed here. Kongtong Shan has become a huge domestic tourist spot and has undergone a lot of renovations. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and some of the authenic atmosphere of a taoist hideaway has disppeared forever. That said it is still a beautiful place. Transport to and from Pingliang has also improved. Especially the bus connections to other major cities such as Lanzhou, Tianshui and Xian. You also don’t need to purchase the Gansu Travel Insurance anymore (Click here.)

Part one: Lanzhou – Pingliang 

The first part of the adventure involves no more than going to the Western bus station and convincing the ticket sellers to sell you a ticket to Pingliang. In the summer of 2002 we had a tremendous battle with them, because they simply refused to sell us a ticket, even though we had previously purchased the (in)famous travel insurance that was obligatory in Gansu at the time. Finally we had to resort to the PSB to sort the problem out (click here for a full account of our bus hassle).

Pingliang and Kongtong Shan: 崆峒山

Once you get there, Pingliang is a small town which makes an excellent base for a visit to the Taoist Mountain of  Kongtong Shan, one of the most sacred in China, which is a mere 15 kms away.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

The best approach is to take a taxi to the reservoir (around 20 Yuan); a steep flight of steps will take you up to a road, skirting the reservoir, and on to the first temple. This is a beautiful ancient Taoist structure, guarded by venerable old priests, some of them with the pointy goatee and bun, characteristic of many followers of Tao.

After this, you come to the ticket window, from where different paths will take you up the mountain in around 3 hours, passing many small temples, nunneries, colourful gardens and Continue reading “Kongtong Shan From our Diary”

Lake Kanas / 哈纳斯湖


Lake Kanas National Park Updated

Xinjiang 新疆 China
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖

Click here for our original article and some updates on the magical Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖.

Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖

Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味

Sabor Sichuan 川百味 (Taste of Szechuan)

Calle Gabino Jimeno 6: Usera, Madrid


Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州考鱼 Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Do you like Spicy Food?

Madrid is a fabulous city for eating out. For the adventurous, boundless opportunities for exciting dining exist all over the city. However, those who crave spicy food, and I mean really spicy food, are often disappointed by the dearth of options.

川北凉粉 spicy mung bean noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Some Peruvian restaurants make brave attempts to keep up their spicy tradition, but most succumb to the whims of their autochthonous diners by watering down the kick. Kitchen 154, a mecca for spicy food in the market of Vallehermoso, does a pretty good job. Cruel, there own chili brand, is pretty fiery .

四川凉面,cold Sichuan noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

This after all is the country were the giant Tabasco Sauce company has almost given up the ghost. Sales in Spain are about its worst in Europe. Spanish tolerance of hot spice or chili is pretty low.

Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Thank heavens for Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan). This small little restaurant in the barrio of Usera , south of the River Manzanares, and  in the heart of Madrid’s China town is a godsend.

青椒皮蛋 green peppers and 1000 year old eggs Sabor Sichuan 川百味

If you have ever been to Sichuan or Chongqing and continue to crave that lip burning and tongue numbing Mala 麻辣 spice then Sabor Sichuan is Continue reading “Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味”

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼: Grilled Fish from Chongqing 重庆

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 the Chongqing dish that is hot in Madrid’s Chinatown

Lotos Roots; one of the usual condiments for Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

 A local specialty from Chongqing, China called Wanzhou Grilled Fish (Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 ) is now all the rage in many restaurants in Madrid’s Chinatown neighbourhood of Usera.

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

What is Wanzhou Grilled Fish / Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

It is a grilled /roasted whole fish covered in a dry dressing of Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies and and served in a big pan filled with a soup like sauce that is not to dissimilar to the stock used in Sichuan hot pots 火锅 (huoguo).

The dish originates from Wanzhou (formerly WanXiang) in Chongqing municipality: It’s now popular all over Mainland China.

The original way of making this dish is to first grill a freshwater fish (Carp 鲤鱼 is popular) over charcoal and then cover it with various condiments that you order from the menu.

Some of these condiments might include lotus roots, potatoes, bamboo shoots, glass noodles, edible fungus, and beansprouts.

In Madrid the fish is usually Sea Bass (Lubina in Spanish)鲈鱼.

A great place to try Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 is in the Sichuan restaurant Sabor Sichuan in Usera, Madrid. See our review:

Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001


From our Diary 

Monday 24 September, 2001.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

We are picked up at 7.30 sharp by Sue Lin in his shiny black car and leave Beijing via a four-lane road, lined with old trees. The road looks innocent and pleasant enough, but apparently people get killed here everyday. Although Sue Lin is a good driver, we ourselves experience a couple of near misses, due to the crazy manoeuvres of other vehicles.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

It’s supposed to be only 60 kilometres to the village, but it takes us more than two hours. We have to stop and ask for directions a couple of times and once we even have to backtrack a bit. We don’t mind at all, because the scenery is absolutely gorgeous; we are surrounded by those dark, rolling mountains that I remember from my first visit to the Wall, so many years ago.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

In fact, our route takes us quite close to Mutianyu. From time to time we can actually see crumbly bits of the Wall, running along the tops of the hills. At the foot of the mountains there are fields of corn, wheat and beans, and small villages. There is a busy traffic of donkeys and carts because this is September and the harvest is in full swing. We are in the middle of the real, rural China, we have seen so little of on this trip, and so close to Beijing as well!

Our journey ends at the refreshment stall of an incredible old lady who whips out a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ and explains all the pros and cons of the two possible routes. She proudly shows us her collection of photos, taken by and with foreign visitors.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

Apart from selling drinks, snacks and film, she also keeps the most amazing toilet: it’s a concrete box, open to the air and entirely without doors, so that you have to climb over the wall to get in, or out. Most importantly, it’s clean, airy and quite pleasant.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The views from here are stunning: there is a very steep piece of Wall right in front of us, and a reservoir on the other side. Something that looks like a Continue reading “Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001”

Photo of the Week: The Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷

This photo taken in 2010 of the breath-taking scenery along the Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷,near Bingzhongluo  丙中洛 in south west Yunnan.

For more on our trip to The Nujiang Valley click the numbers: 1 2 3 4

Bolivia Invades China (town)

Bolivia Invades China


China Town Usera Madrid IMG_20190210_115953_1Download

Earlier this year, Madrid’s barrio of Usera; a  gritty, slightly run-down area, and home to a totally authentic Chinatown, was turned into a riot of color and boomed with the sound of South American music as Spain’s Bolivian community danced up Calle Dolores Barranco, one of the main arteries in Usera, and the beating heart of Madrid’s Chinese Community.


Bolivians In Usera

Only a few weeks before the Bolivian parade,  thousands of Madrileños (people who live in Madrid) had lined the same street to watch Madrid’s Chinese community celebrate Chinese New Year and welcomed in the year of the Pig. It appears that the two communities are going to battle it out every year to see who can put on the best show in Calle Dolores Barranco (both parades were pretty good).


Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera Madrid

I must admit, though I am a great Sinophile, I think the Bolivians edged it this year with a display of extravagance and vibrant music that lasted three hours compared to the much shorter Chinese New Year Parade. I am sure the Chinese comunity are going to up the ante at next year’s New Year parade.


Bolivian Dancer in Usera, Madrid,

For people who don’t know Madrid; Usera is a District south of the Manzanares River that cuts through the city. It’s quite close to the historic center and near the hotly promoted Madrid Rio green area. This area was created by putting the enourmous ring road, the M30, underground and building a park above it. In the last decade Usera has become home to thousands of people from China.

Gongs and Drums. Calle Dolores Barranco Usera, Madrid

They have created a Chinatown were any Chinese citizen could probably live without ever having to venture any further out into Madrid. All services and whims that a Chinese person would want are catered for so that they need not feel they have left China.

Chinese New Year Usera, Madrid

There are numerous streets where nearly all business signs are in Mandarin characters. From restaurants, supermarkets and hair salons to real estate businesses, lawyer’s offices, and churches, the presence of the Chinese community is everywhere. Unlike other Chinatowns in Europe, such as London’s Chinatown which is more orientated to tourism, the Chinese community in Usera, live, work and have their businesses in this area.

Taiqi students Chinese New Year Usera, Madrid

The two main streets are Manuela Usera and Dolores Barranco. These two streets are intersected by many much smaller streets that undulate between them. Basically, from Calle Olvido, closer to the river, until almost Calle Mariano Vela near the park, Olof Palma.

Guizhou Fish, Sabor Sichuan, Usera, Madrid

Usera is also home to a large Latin American population, especially from Columbia, Ecuador and Bolivia. This year, the Bolivians put on a fantastic show with their colorful carnival parade.  The festival was called FIACBOL, Carnaval Boliviano en Madrid 2019. In 2018 the FIACBOL parade took place in the Paseo de la Castellana, one of Madrid’s main streets.

Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera Madrid

More recently young Madridleños have begun moving into the area as rising rents and house prices have pushed younger people further from the city center

Chinese Lanterns floating on the lake in Pradolongo Park Usera, Madrid

And yes, the word gentrification is being banded around and there are rumors that Calle Dolores Barranco could be pedestrianized in order to make way for a touristy Chinatown. The neighbours are not impressed. Calle dolores Barranco is a busy commercial street where people live and make a living from small businesses. The last thing that the street needs is to be turned into a gaudy tourist trap. Let it be and keep it authentic.

Sichuan Spicy Sweet Patato Noodles: Sabor Sichuan, Usera, Madrid

If you missed this year’s parade but fancy seeing traditional Bolivian and other South American dancing just go along to Parque Pradolongo, the fourth biggest park in Madrid, every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and you’ll be treated to quite a show.

Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera Madrid

This park is where Madrid’s Latin population practices their traditional dances. A visit to Pradolongo makes for a great off- the – beaten track excursion when visiting  Madrid.

Bolivians dancing up Calle Dolores Barranco, Usera Madrid

You can finish the excursion off with a fantastic meal in one of the many fabulous Chinese restaurants in Usera, where every culinary corner of China is represented.

Spicy prawns in the Restuarant Jin Lai Usera
Bolivian dancers in Calle Dolores Barranco Usera Madrid

Photo of the Week: Yuanyang Market 元阳市场

This Photo was taken in Yuanyang Market 元阳市场 Yunnan Province 云南省 in 2006.

It shows a women from the Hani minority 哈尼族 knitting while waiting to sell peanuts

Hani Minority 哈尼族 Peanut seller Yuanyang market 元阳市场 2006