Driving to the edge of Russia: How far can you go?

This route-planning article looks at how to overland to the edge of Russia. It picks up where we left off with How to Get from Russia to Alaska Across the Bering Strait. There’s a lot of info in there that will be useful for anyone trying to overland to the edge of Russia.

Since I wrote the Russia to Alaska article four years ago, things have changed in Russia. In four years, they have invested in some construction. It looks like they are embarking on a road-building project which, while it doesn’t quite rival China’s construction speed, is still a lot faster than anything you would see in the West in recent years.

The geography is new and exciting!

When I wrote the original article about this side of the world, there was no complete information about any of it, only rumours. The only thing everyone agreed on was that the road ran out at Magadan, and after that, there were just isolated cities surrounded by untameable wilderness.

There were reports of people hiking the 800 miles from Magadan to the Bering Strait (it’s actually 1200 miles left to right, not including any up and down you might need to do, so there’s about 1500-ish miles between Magadan and the Bering Strait), and someone attempted to do it on a dirt bike but it got too damaged by fallen trees etc in the thick forests. No one seemed to have had much success, or where they had, they hadn’t talked about it or explained how to do it.

In 2016, Google Maps wouldn’t even accept one of the parts of the journey, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport, as a real place. That’s changed, now. I like to think it was down to the popularity of my original article but it’s more likely to be that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky has been given some updates recently. There’s even some Street View of it on Google Maps. God knows how they got a Google Car Camera out there but if the person who drove it wants to guest post about the experience, please email me!

And most importantly, there are now approximately 500km more roads on that side of Russia. Progress is slowly making its way over there. Where before the road ended at Magadan, you can now travel as far as Omsukchan using Google Maps! See the route, below (this is a static image, not an embed):

The astute reader will notice you are still over 500km away from the Bering Sea.

Personally, I don’t think you’ve crossed Russia to its edge until you’ve reached the Bering Sea.

The good thing about this journey, and the difference between this and my other article on driving across Russia, is that you don’t actually need to get to the Bering Strait itself to have crossed Russia. There are many endpoints to this journey. Unfortunately, all of them are currently impossible.

So Google Maps only knows about roads as far as Omsukchan, but I have a hunch the roads now go further than Google knows. I think this because I used to live in China and I know Google’s mapping isn’t always updated even after they take new satellite images. So, how much further can you travel?

The Google Satellite images are from 2020, from NASA. I studied aerial photography and how to read aerial photographs as part of my master’s degree in Archaeological Information Systems. So I decided to read the images and attempt to learn how far I could really go, drawing a map over the raw satellite image.

The answer was not good, I am sorry to say. The road really does seem to run out at Omsukchan. However, there may still be a way to get across. Next, I looked at the deep river lines. I was primarily interested in whether it would be possible to take a kayak, perhaps with some portage (carrying it overland). I have kayaked before and feel confident with it if the conditions are safe.

The closest big river to Omsukchan is the Kolyma River, which transects Russia north to south. One of its tributaries is the Reka Sugoy. What I first needed to establish was which direction the river flowed in. For this, I followed the river from Omsukchan in both directions to find out how it changed.

Usually, an easier way to find out the direction of a river on a map is to look at the elevation. They always flow high to low. Unfortunately, Google and NASA’s satellite images hadn’t got any elevation info. I didn’t have that information, but I could see where other rivers joined it, and it became clear the Kolyma River (and by default the Reka Sugoy) were flowing East to North West.

So to use them to travel from Omsukchan, one would be paddling against the stream the entire time. Not ideal. But if the river was wide enough, a small motorboat could do it.

Unfortunately, however, the elevation will be the downfall of this idea, because the Reka Sugoy moves into the mountains as it goes east. So it will become considerably narrower at some point, while depositing me in a high-altitude mountainous region about 20km east and 50km south of Omsukchan.

Back to the drawing board.

So the only way I can think of to get to the Bering Sea, without taking a commercial flight, would be to take a microlight, which is a type of engine-powered small aircraft. You need a microlight pilot’s licence to fly one, but you can get a type called a “powered parachute” whose top speed is 45mph which folds quite small, and could fit in the back of a van or on a trailer.

However, you would have to get a microlight licence valid in Russia to fly across the country, and they are not easy to come by.

At this point, it becomes clear that it’s actually easier to fly to Alaska than to overland to the end of Russia!

But why are there no roads? Basically, several reasons. The official reason is, there are indigenous tribes and the area in the far East of Russia is a nature reserve whose beauty needs to be preserved.

This is, of course, true.

What is also true is, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is across a 5km bay from Rybachiy, where Russia keeps a lot of its nuclear submarines. This area is still used by the Russian Navy, and presumably, the towns on the peninsula all get their supplies delivered by boat.

There are many, many towns in the East of Russia just like Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. No roads, cut off from civilisation. Largely, without a map or a road, this journey currently ends at Omsukchan.

However, Omsukchan is an interesting end-point in and of itself. It is 10 miles north of a real ghost town – Galimy – which had a population of 5 at its last census in 2010 (down from 188 in 2002). However… you guessed it. There are no roads to Galimy from Omsukchan.

However, 10 miles shouldn’t be a difficult hike for most intrepid explorers. Except for the mapping issue that there are no maps. According to Google’s satellite images, there is a path/trail between the two towns. However, if you got lost, you would have to either cross some mountains or follow the river bed/stream from Omsukchan to Galimy.

One issue for travellers wishing to cross Russia is the length of time it takes to get there overland compared to the length of time you are allowed to be in the country with a Visa. From my country, I believe 28 days is the longest I could be in Russia. According to Google Maps, it would take 139 hours to drive from Moscow to Omsukchan via the most direct route. If you want to do some actual sight seeing, and plan in stops at cities such as Novosibirsk and Vladivostok (highly recommended) it will take even longer.

When I drove from York to Rome (a tiny journey by comparison) I planned about 8 hours of driving per day. With traffic jams, time to eat etc, that usually meant about 12-14 hours. Magnifying that over a 10,000-mile journey, at 8 driving hours per day, you are looking at 18 days to make the journey without any days off. Travelling via Novosibirsk and Vladivostok adds time, making it a 185-hour journey, or 23 days. That’s assuming nothing goes wrong with your vehicle and that you don’t have to take any weird detours.

This sounds like it would work on a 28 day Visa, but it wouldn’t, because you still have to get back. Unless you are planning on dumping your car and all your stuff in Russia and flying back, á la the Mongol Rally, which is fairly irresponsible because they don’t want your trash.

So you would need to either take a shorter route or find a shipping company to take your car out of Russia for onward travel, and as I’ve pointed out before, this gets expensive quite quickly. You can ship a vehicle to most places from Vladivostok, if you have the money, but for a car you would generally have to pay for a shipping container.

Overall, with the length of time it would take to get from Omsukchan further east to the Bering Sea, I think you would be better to wait a couple more years as I am sure more road-building work will be done soon.

The example of Galimy (which had a population of over 1000 in 1989) shows that Russia’s central administration knows they need to give the people in East Russia access to the rest of the world, and that means building roads.

In another four years, there might be a road all the way to Manily, and four years after that? Surely there will be a road that finally reaches the Bering Sea and bringing much-needed transport to this side of the world.

50 things to do in Shanghai

This article covers fifty things to do in Shanghai, China. I’ve heard people (especially Americans) say there’s not much to do in Shanghai. I think there is, but some of it can be hard to find out about if you’re not local.

So I wrote a list of fifty things to do in Shanghai. Five are in the far suburbs and will take an entire travel day to see and return to Shanghai. Shanghai is the most sprawling city of any I’ve ever been to.

Some things didn’t make this list. That’s either because I didn’t think they were great things to do, or I didn’t know about them. If you have other things to do in Shanghai, add them in the comments!

In the city:

1. China art museum: A huge museum where you could easily spend a day or more if you’re a fan of looking at art. Next to China Art Museum Metro station. (free entry)

2. Shanghai Expo Park: A nice park near the China Art Museum and Minsheng Art Museum (free entry)

3. Shanghai 21st Century Minsheng Art Museum: An art museum focusing on Minsheng art near the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition Centre (which isn’t on this list as it’s a venue not a thing to do)

4. Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art: A modern art gallery in a former power station on the south-eastern edge of Bansongyuan Road Residential District, on the northwest bank of the Huangpu River.

5. Shanghai Century Park: A huge park with lots of open space, near the upmarket Dorsett Hotel if you’re looking for an alternative to a Marriott. Built in 2000 to mark the new century, it cost 10RMB to enter, pay cash or phone only; they don’t take cards. Features of Century Park include a bird sanctuary, Yunfan Bridge, Lakeside (Hubin area), and Guanxing Square.

6. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum: An educational museum featuring permanent exhibits on robots, life on Earth, space exploration, the Earth’s crust and temporary exhibitions in theatre areas alongside a colourful children’s playground. Free entry for children under 1.3 metres. Adults 45RMB. Book the theatre exhibitions separately. Great for kids. Find out more: http://en.sstm.org.cn/

7. Shanghai Oriental Art Centre: A performance venue for traditional oriental art.

8. Light of the east sundial sculpture (Feoso Zhiguang). Beautiful outdoor art installation next to the Shanghai Oriental Art Centre.

9. Shanghai Tower: Situated in the financial district, this is the second-tallest building in the world at 627m high.

10. Shanghai Ocean Aquarium: An aquarium with a “walk under the fish tank” sort of thing, and features 10 areas covering different aspects of marine life.

11. Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom: A sort of mini-zoo for insects, small mammals and reptiles. Near the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium.

12. Oriental Pearl TV Tower: At 468m high, it’s enormous, but dwarfed by Shanghai Tower. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower is still worth a visit, however, because it has a revolving restaurant at the top from which you get great views of the city. And what better way to see the second-tallest building in the world than from the slightly smaller building nearby?

13. Aurora Art Museum: A six-floor art museum near the Shanghai Tower. More info: http://www.auroramuseum.cn/

14. Shanghai World Financial Centre: A 101-floor high skyscraper with a glass walkway and fantastic views of the other buildings nearby. The website is in English but is mostly corporate-speak. http://www.swfc-shanghai.com/about.php

15. Jin Mao Tower: If you’re an enthusiast for tall buildings, or if the queues for the Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai World Financial Centre and Shanghai Tower are just too big, don’t forget Jin Mao Tower also has an observation deck, and at 88 floors tall, it has great views of the taller buildings which are around it.

16. Waitan boardwalk: A boardwalk area on the west side of the Huangpu River where you can look across the water and see the Bund and Shanghai modern skyline.

17. Huangpu River Cruise: Starts from the Ferry Waterside Travel Bus stop at the corner of Jinling East Road and Zhongshan East 2nd Road. Scenic and fun way to see Shanghai from the river. From the other side of the river it is called the Dongchang Road Ferry.

18. Bund Sightseeing Tunnel: An underwater train with flashing lights, this one is best for kids or the young-at-heart. Takes just over 5 minutes to cross under the Huangpu river.

19. Huangpu Park: A 19th-century park at the top of Waitan, this gets very busy at peak tourist times such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year.

20. Waibaidu Bridge: Right next to Huangpu Park, engineering and architecture fans will love to see China’s first all-steel bridge.

21. Shanghai Museum: A huge museum with free entry but during peak times the queue snakes for hundreds of metres from the entrance, so I never went inside because it was always too busy. Right at the bottom of People’s Park.

22. People’s Park: A huge park in the middle of Shanghai, this is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours or eat lunch, even on busy days it is large enough to feel peaceful. At weekends, during the afternoons, you will find Shanghai Marriage Market here from about midday, where families go to find husbands/wives for their children. Free entry to park. Also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

23. Museum of Contemporary Art: An art museum in the centre of Shanghai People’s Park, it is tucked away in one of the former greenhouses of the park. It’s not clear from their website whether it’s free entry or not and I couldn’t find it in the People’s Park so this might be a hidden gem or a total bust. http://www.mocashanghai.org/

24. Jing’an Sculpture park: A green space around the corner from the Shanghai People’s Park, featuring lots of sculptures.

25. Shanghai Natural History Museum: A museum with dinosaurs, fossils and recreations of extinct animals. Unlike most natural history museums worldwide, this one is not free entry and the cafe doesn’t have a vast range of options.

26. Shanghai Mao Zedong Former Residence: The home of Mao Zedong during a short period of time, this is now a museum with artifacts and wax models. No English, so take plenty of mobile data for WeChat Translate. Free entry.

27. Ohel Rachel Synagogue: A baroque style Jewish synagogue with a kosher shop and restaurant. You need your passport for entry.

28. Changshou Park in the Changshou Road subdistrict: A beautiful park with a collection of traditional Chinese buildings. Well worth seeing.

29. Longhua Martyrs Memorial Hall in Xuhui District: A park and former prison which was where the martyrs (people allied with the Communist Party who became political prisoners and died at the hands of the former government) were held and executed. A part of the “real” China that every visitor should see to understand how China arrived where it is today.

30. Shanghai Botanical Garden in Xuhui District: Two hundred acres of domestic and exotic flowers and plants. Includes a bonsai garden. Gets busy during national holidays and weekends. Two tiers of tickets. The basic one only has limited access so to see the really good stuff, you need the more expensive ticket.

31. Yu Garden, Xinbeimen district: A garden dating back to 1577, Yu Garden features traditional pavilions, ponds, rockeries and bridges. This garden isn’t huge and it is always bustling, but gets really, really busy at peak times. When I went, there was a one-way system around this whole area, corralling tourists into a specific route, and progress was very slow.

32. Shanghai Temple of the Town God: A Taoist temple just south of Yu Garden.

33. Yuyuan Old Street: Surrounding Yu Garden and Shanghai Temple of the Town God, this area is full of very old fashioned buildings with the pagoda-style roofs and selling a lot of souvenirs and fast food. A bit of a tourist trap, this is always a busy area, but it is worth seeing, and if you take a side road before you hit the Yu Garden one way system, you can get all the atmosphere of Shanghai’s Old Town with far fewer people or souvenir shops.

34. Shanghai Old Town City Walls Dajing Ge Pavilion: Across the road and a little way south from People’s Park, this is the entry to the Old Town. When you’re tired of beating a path on the ground, get a bird’s eye view of the Old Town by walking the walls or hiring a bike. While there isn’t as much remaining as the Xi’an city walls (which completely encircle Xi’an’s city centre), it’s still worth a look, especially if you’re not planning on going to Xi’an.

35. Shanghai Zoo (aka Shanghai Dongwu Yuan or Shanghai Zoological Park): This is where to see pandas in the Shangai area. The zoo is modern and the animals well-looked-after. The site is ENORMOUS so take comfy shoes, and there is so much to see here that you could easily spend an entire day.

36. Hongqiao Pearl Market: A huge indoor market selling cultivated pearls and lots more. Some good deals to be had here but you do need to bargain hard.

35. Shanghai Jewish Refugees museum: A small and understated museum devoted to the 20,000 Jews who fled to Shanghai during the Holocaust.

36. Fabric Market, Huangpu district: A market selling fabrics, tailoring services, as well as other items on the upper floors. I got a pair of glasses re-lensed with transition lenses here and my husband got some excellent three-piece suits fully tailored.

37. Disneyland Shanghai. Enough said.

38. Site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party: A museum built on an important historic site telling the history of the Communist Party. Free entry.

39. Madame Tussauds Shanghai, just north of People’s Square: A Chinese version of the popular London waxworks attraction.

40.  Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre: Spanning 6 floors, this has interactive exhibitions of the city’s architecture and urban development.

41. Shanghai Propaganda and Art Museum, Changning District: A hard-to-find hidden gem museum in a basement, this place shows propaganda artwork from the twentieth century, giving a unique insight into a part of China’s story.

42. Tianzifang, or French Concession Area: A shopping street and marketplace type area in traditional twentieth century architecture.

43. Environmental Theme Park of Suzhouhe Mengqing Garden: This isn’t a theme park, it’s a park with a theme. It’s a garden connected to a residential district where 100,000 people were relocated due to the water where they used to live becoming too polluted. There’s an exhibition centre in the garden telling the story of what happened to Suzhou Creek.

44. Ride the Maglev train: If you’re a railway enthusiast, this may float your boat, but for everyone else, it’s the same as getting the subway (except this doesn’t even go into downtown). Start at Shanghai Pudong airport.

45. Shanghai Museum of Public Security: A museum spanning 3 floors dedicated to the Chinese law enforcement. Prepare to see old police cars, guns, a jail cell and police uniforms! Free entry.

Outside the main city:

46. Zhujiajiao Water Town: A traditional and historic town which has been occupied for over 5000 years. Very scenic. Lots of canal.

47. Qibao Ancient Town (on the edge of Shanghai): Another historic canal town, this one is just west of Hongqiao district and therefore easier to get to.

48. Shanghai Maritime Museum (about 30km south of Shanghai): A museum dedicated to Shanghai’s seafaring prowess.

49. Jinshan city sand beach at Binhai Park, Jinshan district: A sandy beach on the eastern edge of Shanghai.

50. Shanghai auto museum: A museum of automotive history. No translations but beautiful cars.

The Great Wall Of China: Which section has public transport?

When we think of the Great Wall of China, we know it’s a long snaking wall that extends for thousands of miles, yet 90% of tourists go and see the same crowded part! This article will cover the main sections from Beijing, how to get to them (including public transport) and which is best.

So there are actually four main areas of the Great Wall of China which are most accessible to tourists from Beijing. The most popular and easiest to reach are Badaling and Mutianyu. There are also Jinshanling and Simatai sections but it is harder to see those because they are further away.

There are other sections as well, but as these are further from Beijing you would need an overnight stay somewhere else to reach them, and this guide only covers sections of the wall you can do in a day trip starting from Beijing.

Overview of the four sections of the Great Wall accessible from Beijing in 1 day:

BadalingMutianyuJinshanlingSimatai
Distance
(from Beijing)
1 hour1.5 hour2.5 hour3 hour
Reconstruction?In 1957In 1569ADIn 1570ADIn 1987
Busy?Very!A bit.A bit.No.
Length of a day trip4-5 hrs5-6 hrs8 hrs8+ hrs
Public transport?YesYesNoYes

Picture this: You are standing on a four metre wide section of wall, elbow-to-shoulder with dozens of other tourists. You try to take a selfie of you on this once-in-a-lifetime experience but someone knocks your arm and when you get back, you have one blurry shot and a couple more pics of the hundreds of tourists surrounding you, all chattering away on WeChat to their families telling them that they have visited the Great Wall.

That’s basically what Badaling section of the Great Wall is like. Most organized tours of the Great Wall will take you here as part of your itinerary and it is so crowded. Every photo I’ve ever seen from any trip to Badaling is the same. It’s just packed with people in every direction. After ten or fifteen minutes, you go back onto a big bus and are whisked to the next sight for more of the same.

It is also a very recent reconstruction from the 20th century, so mostly what you are seeing is a re-visioning of what it originally looked like.

Having said that, if you’re interested in heritage studies, you might like to visit Badaling because it was the first section of the wall to be opened to tourists in 1959.

If you shuddered at the thought of being stuck in such a big crowd, you’ve come to the right place. Now picture this instead:

You climb a hill to some ski lifts which slowly propel you to the base of the Great Wall, where you disembark and climb the steps to the top. There are watchtowers ahead and behind you. Free to move, you look out at the view. You climb to the top of one of the watchtowers and look out from its roof. Although there are plenty of other tourists around, when you take a photo, with a little effort, you can get pictures with no one else in the shot.

That’s better, right? I think so, too. That’s Mutianyu section of the wall. If you get to choose which part of the wall to visit, and it’s your first (or only) trip to China, I absolutely recommend Mutianyu over Badaling.

For our trip, we hired a car, driver and tour guide via our hotel’s travel agency. We were staying at the Marriott hotel in Central Beijing so they offered a range of different day trip itineraries and they organized everything, all we had to do was show up and pay at the end of the day.

Our guide discussed the history with us on the way to the wall, and he came on the wall with us. We spent about an hour up there, and he also took us to the Ming Tombs, which were about an hour’s drive away, and the Sacred Way Dongbeikou.

It was a full day out of Beijing and we started at 8am and returned to the hotel at about 6pm, although there were a lot of road closures and very heavy traffic around the edge of Beijing that day because Donald Trump was doing his presidential visit (we had bad timing).

Getting back to the car from the Great Wall of China, we had another surprise. Remember we got here by ski lift? Well to get back down again, there was a fun slide which you go down on some sort of kart! It would have been a lot more fun if this middle aged woman in front of us hadn’t got scared and kept hitting the brake on her slide kart.

Getting to the Great Wall of China by public transport:

Badaling has a very easy-to-get tourist bus which will take you there. Currently, it is the bus number 877 which leaves from Deshengmen Bus Station. If you miss the last bus back you may have to get a Didi (taxi) back, so be sure to download the Didi app.

The Mutianyu direct bus departs from Dongzhimenwai bus station in the city centre at 8:30am. However this is difficult to find and the 916 from the main Dongzhimen transport hub (easy to spot–subway, buses etc) takes you almost all the way, then you can get a second bus or a Didi to the wall. Overall, getting to Mutianyu by public transport relies on you being able to follow a multi-step process with lots of chance of failure (and apparently, so-called “black” buses wait around near Dongzhimenwai, “black” not being the colour, but named from the black hearted people who tout these fake tourist traps, aka scammers), so personally I would try to book onto an organized trip instead unless you either speak and read good Mandarin or are really broke; if it’s the latter, you would be better going to the Badaling wall in my opinion as it’s easier to get to.

Jinshanling wall is accessible by tourist bus from Beijing during the summer. It is at the same bus stop as the Mutianyu tourist bus so I’m not sure how you would know which bus to take to which section of the wall, except this bus departs at 7:40am. There is technically a train, but it’s a 5 hour ride which is a 10 hours round trip! There’s also a way to get there by public bus but it’s frankly complicated.

I would honestly not recommend taking the public bus to Jinshanling out of season unless you speak and read good Mandarin because there’s too much chance of something going wrong, which would leave you stranded quite a distance from Beijing where you will struggle to even get a Didi home. However, if you are braver than I, and quite competent at Mandarin, the lure of being able to walk this 10km stretch of wall unaccompanied is strong.

Simatai is the same tourist bus as Jinshanling and you just go east instead of west when you get off the bus as these two sections are side-by-side. Next time we go to China, I look forward to hopefully taking my Chinese driving test (foreigners may not use or transfer their driving licence to China) and being able to drive to the Simatai and Jinshanling sections of the wall so we can spend a day there on our own itinerary.

The advantage of the Simatai section of the wall is that most people travelling out there are actually going to see Jinshanling section of the wall, meaning Simatai is almost empty.

Best time to see the Great Wall of China

Beijing is still quite warm in November and I would recommend September-November to see the Great Wall as there’s a lot of walking (and if you take the bus, a lot of waiting around and sitting in a bus) and I can’t imagine it’s comfortable in the height of summer’s heat.

It’s also the time of year when there will be the fewest tourists, although if possible, you should avoid the Mid-Autumn festival as Beijing city is quite busy at this time (Golden Week is fine, though). Other times to avoid are Chinese New Year as all of China is busy that fortnight, and all of July/August, as that’s when most westerners come to China.

Come join the NEW Weekly Friday Photography Challenge: Beginnings

Announcing… the new weekly Friday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

So the Weekly Photography Challenge used to be an amazing way for photographers (amateur and professional alike) to take a prompt and turn it into a piece of artwork. You could search your files or go out and specifically take a photo for the weekly challenge.

“Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I was scared of participating at first, because I knew nothing about photography (I still don’t know as much as many people, but enough that I’ve sold pictures to national news outlets) but I enjoyed taking pictures and I knew what I liked seeing in a photo.

I was away in China, where I couldn’t update my blog as our internet in our apartment was too slow, when the final WPC came and went, and I only found out earlier this year that the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge has now passed.

Obviously it’s a big commitment, to put out a challenge for everyone every single week without fail and to go and look at everyone’s contributions, but I am going to take it on. I hope this new one will be one of many challenges to inspire people to share beautiful photos and to bring together the strong community we used to have a few years ago on WordPress.

Beginnings

From endings, there are always beginnings. Leaves fall to the ground at this time of year and in decaying, they become the nutritious soil that nourishes all plant life.

Late Autumn is a time for new beginnings, as the lifecycle of the earliest plants begins, months before we see anything happening above the ground.

This week’s challenge, then, is beginnings. Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Friday, I will post the next challenge!

10 things I discovered while living in China

1. You can buy almost anything in China.

Need a Valentine’s rose with panties folded up in the middle of the flower? Taobao. Need an oboe? Taobao. Need a Doraemon wedding tea set for a wedding tea ceremony? Taobao. Need 5000 personalised corporate pens with diamonds embedded in the barrel and your company name engraved in it? Taobao. Don’t understand Mandarin? Baopals! There are literally translators working at Baopals who will talk to Taobao sellers for you and ensure you can shop with confidence! Taobao is often touted as “Chinese eBay” but that’s not entirely true. Taobao sells literally everything and it’s all brand new.

2. There are no launderettes.

I never saw a coin-operated launderette anywhere in China. But everyone knows someone who can do your laundry or ironing for you and they’ll give you her WeChat so you can connect.

3. Milk is the next big fad diet.

They put milk in almost everything in China! Even sorbet! The “translate” function on WeChat will help if you’re dairy free, but it’s a LOT easier to just learn the Chinese character for milk (or anything else you’re allergic to) and scan the packet for it. Milk is seen as the next big thing over there, and if it comes from Australia or New Zealand, Chinese shoppers will pay top price for it.

4. You can fit a lot of stuff on the back of a bike.

Here are some stellar examples of this from Xi’an:

funny things on bikes in China mamaadventure

funny things on bikes in China mamaadventure
funny things on bikes in China mamaadventure

5. Everything is caused by “heatiness” or “coldness”.

Chinese medicine boils down to two things: Hot and cold. If you’re ill, you have an excess of either one or the other (or both, if you have bipolar). I lost a baby once and got taken to a traditional Chinese hospital, where I was told in all serious by a qualified doctor that I’d eaten too much cold food.

6. They have their own type of sushi.

If you’re a fan of sushi, you’ll know sushi is actually the name of the type of rice. China grows its own, which is called Jilin rice, because it comes from Jilin province, which borders North Korea. It’s identical to sushi rice and a fraction of the price in China. I got 10kg of Jilin rice as a free gift for spending over 700RMB ($70) on groceries once. That would be like $30 for 10kg sushi rice in the UK, so getting it free with $70 of shopping seemed crazy, but that’s how cheap it is. And I really liked cooking with it.

7. Pregnant women are treated like queens


It’s probably a hangup from the now-defunct one child policy (now a two-child policy), but pregnant women and new mothers are treated with great care. Old ladies stop elbowing you in the ribs in crowded areas, men give up their seats on the metro, airports let you sit in the priority seats and the doctors expect you to rest. You also get a legal minimum of 6 months maternity leave from work and they legally have to give you your job back when you return. And everyone stops to adore a baby! There are entire shopping centres just for children like Coco City in Changzhou.

8. Eggs boiled in tea make a great breakfast.


The first time I saw it I was like whaaaat? Why waste good tea? But somehow it delicately infuses the egg with tea flavour and makes such a nice start to the day.

9. Umbrellas have two uses

Many Chinese women don’t like getting a suntan because they want to look refined (and not agricultural) so they use their umbrellas on hot days to keep the sun off them when they’re walking down the street.

10. Family is everything

This stems from the Confucianism on which China’s society still functions, even if 60% of the population are now atheist. Confucianism is a “humanist religion” which believes in no God, but which values hierarchy and prosocial values, especially respect for ancestors (including living ones, e.g. your parents, aunts etc). This is so ingrained into Chinese culture that you will almost never hear anyone in China criticizing their parents or going against their family’s wishes. Conversely, children are also precious, although this is sometimes expressed in ways we don’t understand very well in the west.

To sum up…

Culturally, China is difficult to pin into a box because it’s one huge country, with so many nuances across the different regions, but these are the things that sum it up for me!

Review: Innisfree Jeju Orchid vs Cauliflower Mushroom range

Today, I’m reviewing the Innisfree Jeju Orchid and Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom (aka Innisfree White Fungus) range.

Let me start by saying “cauliflower mushroom” and “white fungus” are both terrible names for a beauty product, even if that is the active ingredient. That’s the elephant in the room with this range.

I was lucky enough to get a set of miniatures of both the Jeju Orchid range and the Cauliflower Mushroom range. I’ve reviewed the comparable items here.

This article covers:

  • Innisfree Jeju Orchid Skin (toner) vs Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Skin (toner)
  • Innisfree Jeju Orchid Essence vs Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Essence
  • Innisfree Jeju Orchid Lotion vs Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Lotion
  • Innisfree Jeju Orchid Cream vs Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Cream

I’m going to start with the toner.

Innisfree Jeju Orchid Skin (toner) vs Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Skin (toner)

I decided the best way to test the toner was to put orchid skin on one side of my body and cauliflower mushroom skin on the other side of my body.

I have been using K-beauty for a while (about 3 years now) and although I used to follow a 10-step routine, I have largely developed my own K-beauty routine which works best for my skin. But I could never quite figure out where to place the toner, and where other people said to put it (after essence and serum) didn’t work for me at all.

For the record, I’m 34, my face skin is still looking under 30 but my arms and legs have been ageing faster since my late twenties due to spending a lot of time in the sun in foreign countries. It’s the price you pay for being a travel blogger. But I’d still like to improve things and I’d heard that skin/toner was the product to use.

See, some K-beauty skin/toner products are exfoliating, using AHA or BHA to reveal the fresh skin and clear away the dead cells on the surface.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to know what’s in Innisfree products imported from South Korea because, of course, the labels are in Korean. When I bought their products in China, the labels were in Chinese. Go figure. And the American products are so translated that half the time I can’t even tell if something is the same product or a reformulation for the US market.

So anyway, on the one hand we have a bottle of gloopy toner in pretty purple packaging that is orchid scented and on the other, we have a bottle of toner in brown packaging that is… you guessed it. Cauliflower mushroom scented.

That’s about as good as it sounds.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether these toners should be left on or washed off, and toner seems to be one of the steps in the K-beauty routine you hear the least about. Maybe because no one else is sure whether to wash off their toner or not, too. Or maybe because most people doing K-beauty are, like, seventeen (I’m sorry, but statistics show most beauty bloggers are on average fifteen years younger than me) and therefore have no need for anti-ageing products.

So I used the orchid toner on my left arm and leg, and the cauliflower mushroom toner on my right arm and leg, then I left them for about ten minutes. They went on slightly sticky, feeling a bit like shampoo, meaning they definitely have things in them that should be washed off again. Like western exfoliating face washes.

I stepped into the shower and washed off. I had applied them to dry skin because they were quite watery and I wasn’t convinced that they would do much on wet skin, and I’m far too impatient to make my body damp then stand around in the Belfast November cold waiting for gloop to work.

When I came out of the shower, the difference was profound. The orchid skin toner had given a very mild effect, but the crumpled paper sort of appearance of the surface of my skin still remained when I pinched it (when you get to a certain age, when you pinch or squeeze your skin all these lines appear that you don’t usually see), and it felt rough to the touch, like it needed moisture ASAP.

The cauliflower mushroom skin toner had done something completely different. It had left my skin feeling smooth to the touch, and when I pinched some of my leg skin between my fingers, the crumpled paper appearance had drastically reduced.

My skin felt renewed and looked and felt younger.

I was very impressed. And also shocked that I had never seen anyone writing about this product because it’s incredible! I don’t know if it’s because the name cauliflower mushroom doesn’t sound appealing in English or because the packaging is a lot browner than the orchid’s pretty purple packaging (which I’ve commented on before in my review of the orchid eye cream vs. the perfect 9 eye cream).

The Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Skin/Toner is the best exfoliating toner for anti-ageing needs I’ve ever come across.

I don’t say it often, but Holy Grail alert! And I’ve had it sitting in my cosmetics drawer for months and never used it!

I wish this toner was more accessible to the UK market.

I wasn’t planning on doing this, but given how good this toner is, I am going to compare it to the Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peeling Exfoliator in a separate article.

Wow. So let’s look at the other products:

Innisfree Jeju Orchid essence vs. Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom vital serum

Essence and serum are sometimes used interchangeably but actually, they can sometimes be different things, such as in the Innisfree Soybean Energy range, where there used to be a (now-discontinued) serum which was different to their mega-amazing bestselling Soybean Energy Essence (which I swear I will review one of these days). Usually, however, “serum” is the English translation of “essence” which is a shame because essence is a prettier word. In the case of these two products, the word is interchangeable.

An essence or serum is sort of like someone put all the active ingredients of a cream into a container without any of the moisturising or hydrating properties. Sort of.

I’ve been using the Innisfree Orchid Essence on my face for several months, now and if I’m entirely honest, I’m not very impressed with it. I spent ages researching which products to get to replace the Soybean Energy Serum which is now discontinued and was my favourite product ever. The research I did said Orchid was just as good.

It isn’t.

I’m sorry if you’re a fan of the Innisfree Orchid Essence and I know it’s one of their bestselling ranges alongside the green tea seed products, but honestly I don’t like the Orchid Essence and I don’t feel like it’s doing anything to my skin. All told, I’m glad I got it in an Autumn Festival sale rather than paying full price for it.

So the bar was pretty low and tl;dr, the Cauliflower Mushroom essence was a lot better. I’m not rushing out to buy a full-priced bottle because there are so many serums out there to choose from and I don’t think it’s the very best, but at the same time I felt like it was at least doing something for my skin. It left my face feeling soft and hydrated.

I didn’t use the essence on my arms and legs because the bottle is a miniature and it’s even smaller than all the other miniatures in this set, so there isn’t much product.

Innisfree Jeju Orchid Lotion vs Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Lotion

After my shower, I did put the Orchid lotion on my left arm and leg, and the Cauliflower Mushroom lotion on my right arm and leg. The Orchid lotion was thinner and came out of the sample bottle very easily, whereas the Cauliflower Mushroom lotion led to me doing the Innisfree Miniature Bottle Dance, which is where I spend about ten minutes tapping the mouth of the open bottle against my hand until enough product comes out to actually use.

If you’ve ever had an Innisfree gift set, you’ll know EXACTLY what I mean. They don’t put anything in a squeezy bottle.

Anyway after many minutes I got the Cauliflower Mushroom lotion out of the bottle and applied it to my arm and leg. It was honestly worth the wait. The Cauliflower Mushroom lotion was instantly hydrating and made my skin feel smooth. The paper bag appearance when I pinch my skin was totally gone, and I credit the Cauliflower Mushroom skin/toner and lotion combo for this.

For a lotion, the effect was very impressive.

Innisfree Jeju Orchid Cream vs Innisfree Cauliflower Mushroom Face Cream

This is the last pairing in this review and I am not sure I need to really write it, at this point, because if you’ve been following this article, you can clearly see what I’m going to say. Except I’m not.

I have been using the Orchid cream for a few weeks on my face. I hadn’t opened the Cauliflower Mushroom miniatures set until today.

The Cauliflower Mushroom face cream is not as startlingly good as the Perfect 9 eye cream, which I think is my favourite Innisfree product right now. The Cauliflower Mushroom face cream is richer than the Orchid face cream, though, and which one you prefer will depend on your current skin needs.

It was super clear-cut that the Cauliflower Mushroom Skin/Toner, lotion and serum was better than the Orchid range, but when it comes to the face creams, I’m not so sure that’s the case.

The Cauliflower Mushroom face cream is a lot richer than I currently need, and my skin wasn’t able to absorb it very well, suggesting it’s aimed at ladies who are ten or fifteen years older than me. The Orchid face cream was largely ineffective. Both creams left my face feeling weighed down (if that even makes sense) and over-saturated, and neither addressed my anti-ageing needs especially well.

So when it comes to the face creams, I wouldn’t buy full sized versions of either of them. And I’m glad I didn’t (I almost bought a full size pot of the Orchid one).

Conclusion:

Need a toner? Cauliflower mushroom. Need a lotion? Cauliflower mushroom. Need an essence/serum? Cauliflower mushroom. The Cauliflower mushroom range does these products extremely well.

But if you need a daytime face cream, I would suggest you keep looking, because neither of these quite hit the mark for me.

How to get a flight over Everest for 1/10 of the price of a charter plane

After our first trip to Xi’an, we headed to Kathmandu, Nepal. We completely didn’t expect to see Everest until we arrived in Nepal.

We boarded our flight, and I was feeling a little better after having quite a bad fall in Xi’an. To help with the travel sickness I often get, I’d asked for a window seat at check-in and we were near the front of the queue so I got my wish.

Our plane took off and on the ascent, we went straight through a thick, white cloud that stayed with us throughout our journey. We were travelling in early July 2018. Summertime in Nepal is the height of the rainy season. There are few tourists at this time of year, since most go to Nepal in the (northern hemisphere’s) winter months in order to capitalize on the dry, cooler temperatures for mountain expeditions to Everest and Annapurna.

FYI, rainy season = cloud cover. All the time. The skies are SUPER grey in Nepal at this time of year and it rains pretty much every afternoon, you can almost set your watch by it.

We hadn’t gone to Nepal with any intention of doing the infamous Everest Base Camp trek. We just wanted to see Kathmandu, for itself, as a destination in its own right, so there was no real plan to see Everest at all on this trip. Some people will be outraged by that or see it as a waste of an opportunity.

What can I say? As I said in my article on 17 things to do in Xi’an, I’m not a fan of box-ticking travel, to go somewhere just to do one thing then to leave again without taking in the culture. I had to go to Xi’an twice before I saw the Terracotta Warriors, haha.

I had hoped to see Tibet from the air, as we hadn’t been able to organise travel there, due to needing time to apply for the travel permits (even with a China residence visa, you still need a permit to visit Tibet as it is a conservation area).

The whole flight was cloud cover. But as we got to the border between China and Nepal (which is exactly at Mount Everest), the pilot made a surprising announcement.

“This is your captain speaking. We are about to fly past Mount Everest on your right,” he said.

There was great excitement. And by some incredible stroke of luck, we were sitting on the side of the plane that passed Mount Everest.

At first, little cones of mountaintops poked through the clouds like puppy noses. Then, into view came this huge behemoth, surrounded by the little puppy noses but dwarfing them.

The mountain was almost as high as the plane, and we got so close, I felt like we could have stepped out of the plane and glided over there if we’d only had a hang glider. The distance was probably an illusion caused by the sheer size of Mount Everest.

People say it’s the highest mountain in the world, but from the ground, every mountain looks huge. It’s difficult to explain how different they looked from the air, especially since the clouds were so thick.

But if the clouds hadn’t been covering the ground so much, we wouldn’t have been able to see Mount Everest projecting so clearly and majestically out of the biosphere, with a background of delicious blue sky.

Fun fact: Mount Everest is the only part of the Earth in the whole world that occupies the troposphere, the layer of sky above the biosphere, where no mammals can actually survive.

The total cost for two plane tickets from Xi’an to Kathmandu was about 3300RMB (about £350) one way for two people. When we arrived in Kathmandu, we saw several “travel agency” places advertising a chartered flight over Everest for the equivalent of £1000 (8000RMB) for ONE person, so our flight over Everest was about 1/10 of the cost of the chartered planes.

It was one of the greatest travel experiences of my life. Here are some of the incredible photos I took:

10 things to do with a baby in Belfast this week

Lockdown with a baby is making me stir crazy! I need to do things with the baby. Northern Ireland’s lockdown (bizzarrely) lifted today. For seven days. Then we’re in another, much harsher one, until December 11th. So I have to HAVE TO get out with the little one. Feeling the same? Here’s all the stuff you could do in the Belfast area.

Okay so this is partly a personal to do list and partly a list for anyone else in Belfast area looking for ways to make the most of the (brief) lifting of the lockdown.

  1. Soft play: Some soft plays are opening again! Others are not. Check out Roar and Explore in West Belfast or Funky Monkeys in Dundonald as both say they’re open this week.
  2. Crazy golf: Pirates Adventure Golf in Dundonald is open-air and open doors.
  3. The beach: Of course. Like usual. Holywood Sea Park is open and so is the play area… for now. I’m sure the council will close the playground area next Friday because this whole lockdown thing seems to be orchestrated by Puritans.
  4. Library: Return your library books, Mama Adventure! So I may have had three overdue books since March. :O I hope the libraries are opening this week because I really don’t want to still have these books when we emigrate.
  5. Belfast Zoo: The zoo will be open this week but you have to book in advance to manage the numbers.
  6. The Great Light on the Maritime Mile, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
  7. Titanic Sculpture on the Maritime Mile, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
  8. The Buoy Park on the Maritime Mile, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
  9. The Mo Mowlam play park (part of the Stormont estate), Stormont, Belfast has SO MUCH to do, for children of all abilities.
  10. CS Lewis Square, Strandtown, Belfast. A great place to take babies in their “zoo animal” phase, my little one loved the giant lion Aslan sculpture.

Further afield (driveable from Belfast):

Bangor Castle Walled Garden: A beautiful flowery garden with fountains and walls. Free entry.

Pickie Fun Park Bangor: Does what it says on the tin. Playgrounds, pedal swans, mini-railway and more!

Mount Stewart: The Natural Play Area is open! Book in advance (not always necessary during weekdays though). Entry £10 for adults. Under 5s go free.

Castle Ward: Visit Winterfell (or at least, the gardens and stables, the main building is still closed). Entry £10 each for adults. Under 5s go free.

Got any more ideas for things to do around Belfast this week before our new lockdown starts again? Let me know in the comments!

Lockdown running

At some point during the first lockdown, I think it was June, I took up running.

I’ve always been the worst at long-distance running. I have no stamina for it at all, and I get very breathless. This has been the case my whole life.

In February of this year, I was diagnosed with asthma. I’ve been diagnosed before, as a child, but I stopped taking inhalers and generally convinced myself I didn’t need them when I turned 18 and was no longer eligible for free prescriptions in England. It’s easier to tell yourself you’re not asthmatic than to face the truth that you are and you can’t afford your inhaler.

One of the good things about living in Northern Ireland is that ALL prescriptions are free, for everyone. So when I got rediagnosed with asthma, I got inhalers.

They were life changing.

For the first time in my life, I can run.

At first, it was hard going. I couldn’t even do 60 seconds of running without stopping, tired. I had my breathing right, but my ankles, my knees and my back had no idea how to do cross-country.

Not to be deterred, I signed up for my first of several run challenges. Some were better than others. Race At Your Pace and Run Challenges were both fairly decent, but for my first challenge, I signed up with another company and they didn’t send any sort of explanation about how to get a medal, so I missed their 3-day “evidence submission” window. I emailed them after to ask how it worked, and received a snotty reply that implied I ought to have known how to submit the evidence.

Their system used this idiotic and unnecessary online portal that they didn’t send you an emailed link to access.

I hate portals. My former psychiatrist now uses one and it’s hopeless. Good thing I don’t need to see a shrink anymore.

Actually, I can (partly) thank running for that, too.

After 1 month of running every second day, I didn’t need my antidepressants that I’d been taking for post-natal depression. Once that layer was peeled away, we were able to discover that my underlying mental illness wasn’t bipolar, as I’ve been misdiagnosed with for 5 years, or borderline, as was suggested in August, but PMDD – Pre Menstrual Dysphoria Disorder – and ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

PMDD isn’t really improved by running, but I find my ADHD is. When I run, I get the energy out that builds up and can turn in on itself during the afternoon. When I run, I take time to focus on my breathing, so it’s inadvertently a mindfulness exercise. And when I run, I am doing self-care. I am also increasing my confidence.

In February, I read in a leaflet about someone who had “beat Post Natal Depression” by running. I was extremely scornful of this idea. I don’t think mental illnesses are invaders that we should approach with a “fight” mentality, they’re part of us that we need to accept in a self compassionate way while ameliorating symptoms.

My opinion on self-acceptance hasn’t changed, but I do think there’s mileage (no pun intended) in running to help with mental health symptoms, and I can understand why other people feel that way.

It’s also given me confidence in my own body. After pregnancy, I felt weak and tired all the time, whereas now I feel strong and (dare I say it?) powerful in a way I never have felt in my entire life.

The hardest thing about running was the first month. About two weeks in, I hurt my knees due to not warming up enough and not taking enough rest days. I had to rest completely, but I still had several kilometres to go before completing my challenge. I made it, at a limp, but because I hadn’t rested fully or recovered entirely, I carried those knee problems into my second month.

Three months into running, in August, I was working with a very unethical self-styled psychotherapist who I later found out had faked her credentials.

She questioned why I was going running and denigrated it as inappropriate and boring. She told me I should do ice skating instead (she was utterly oblivious of Covid and she also contributed to me getting another borderline misdiagnosis so I’m a bit annoyed but because she has faked all her credentials, there’s no one to report her to).

I thought she was full of crap and yet somehow, it got into the back of my mind and I stopped running. For two months.

I also got too invested in my stats, and when I couldn’t beat my distances and speeds, I felt like a failure. My new (ethical, qualified, and registered) therapist encouraged me to try again, without timing myself or logging my runs.

It was great advice.

I started again in October and I’ve been going ever since.

I no longer have any idea how far I’m running in any given run, but I have been doing the same route since March (lockdown… there’s literally only one lane to run down here) and I know I can get further down the lane without stopping. And my knees are no longer struggling to keep up, nor are my ankles.

I’ve realized running is all about incremental progress, not trying to do everything at once, or perfectly first time. Sometimes you don’t meet a particular challenge, for whatever reason.

Who cares? Challenges are constructs, they’re not real, and they’re not a true measure of your running ability.

So to anyone else looking to start running, I suggest you try it! With an inhaler in your pocket, if you need it.

I hope the featured image inspires you that almost anyone can start running; it’s all about the mindset.