With the cold and dry wind of winter hitting Beijing
earlier than expected, I traveled to Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province over the weekend for a warm escape to the City of Springs.
As a perfect weekend getaway not far from Beijing
, Jinan has a quiet atmosphere, unique natural beauty and plenty of things to see and do.
It takes about three hours by train from Beijing
to arrive at the slightly-rundown Eastern Station of Jinan, however the friendly local people speaking with a strong Shandong accent overshadowed the dilapidated surrounds immediately. Most of the locals are friendly and eager to strike up a conversation. Talking loudly and smiling, they are keen to proudly introduce their city, their characters combining the strength of the surrounding mountains and the tempered waters of springs.
Located in the middle of Shandong Province, Jinan lies at the foot of Tai Mountain in the south and neighbors the Yellow River in the north. The city is known for its beautiful springs that are a result of favorable geological formations. There are at least 72 famous springs here and more than 700 springs in total. According to an ancient poem, "Springs and willows are found in every courtyard."
Navigating your way around Jinan is easy, as most things are orientated around Daming Lake at the center of the city and with the towering Thousand Buddha Mountain in the south, it is hard to get lost. The easiest way to travel around is on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that links most of the city. Jinan also has modern highways and taxis, but at only 1 yuan ($0.15) a ticket and with stops at almost all scenic spots, the BRT can t be beat.
"If you haven t been to Baotu Spring, it means you haven t been to Jinan," most locals will tell you. Located in Baotu Park, one of Jinan s most well-known scenic areas, Baotu Spring is a must see. Last month, the water level of the spring topped 30 meters, the highest level in 45 years and has been continuously flowing for seven years.
"Rain levels are enough and local people have changed their habits of drinking the underground water to protect the spring," explained a Baotu Park guide, adding that 10 years ago, many people used the spring as a water source for daily living.
Baotu Spring is thought to have existed for at least 3,500 years, with records dating back to the Shang Dynasty (C.1600-1046BC). Throughout history many famous poems have been written about the spring and today its beauty is still something to behold. With water bursting through three outlets into a pool, rising mist envelops the area like clouds in early winter and ancient pavilions and halls that surround are reflected in the clear water, creating a truly wonderful scene. A favorite pastime is to enjoy tea tasting made from the spring water in the pavilion. It is very pure in quality and mellow in taste.
Baotu Park has several well-known springs, including Jinxian and Liuxu. The water in all pools is clean and clear and retains a temperature of 18 C all year. In some pools, you even see goldfish enjoying a meandering swim, creating a real-life Chinese painting.
Daming Lake is not far away from Baotu Park and the most enjoyable way to get there is via boat. A relaxing ride takes you along the canals of the city and into the grand lake itself. A major canal project connecting the city s rivers and lakes was completed last year and offers a perfect way to enjoy the hidden beauty of Jinan.
Winding its way through the city, the canals enable you to take in willows bending over the water, green parks around the springs and the odd swimmer enjoying the fresh water. The boat ride costs 100 yuan ($15) and you can stop and visit scenic spots on the way.
Daming Lake covers 460,000 square meters, almost one quarter of the old city and takes in the water spilling from springs. Bridges and pavilions combine to create a picturesque view. In the evening, the moon and bridges are reflected on the water, with mountains in the distance and it seems that time slows down for a while.
The local government has made efforts to retain the city s ancient past, with several buildings restored and parks retained. The eastern part of Daming Lake is now open to the public free of charge, a move that was welcomed when it was introduced last year.
Walking from the south gate of the park, I found the last row of hutong buildings left in the city. Here you can catch a glimpse of years gone by and several courtyards with springs inside have housed the same family for generations.
Wandering through the small alleys is a great way to explore the city. I discovered the courtyard of Family Zhang at 9 Wangfuchizi Street. This is a beautiful old complex that has been occupied by the Zhang family for several generations. With small buildings and its own spring inside, the courtyard also offers a taste of local cuisine and has a small food stall and six tables.
In the hutongs people live a simple life. With friendly smiles they seem to have escaped the hustle and bustle of the city. Although there are no large shops, cafes, restaurants or hotels, enjoying a taste of the every day and tasty local cuisine was the most enjoyable experience in Jinan for me.