Xi’an’s Boulevard

This is a real road in Xi’an

This week’s post is about one of the more remarkable roads I’ve ever strolled. The street is in Xi’an, home of one of the world’s best preserved, still-intact, walled cities. We’re big fans of places listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Xi’an is on Chinese and international lists as a cultural treasure.

This however is not a city street. This ‘boulevard’ is actually on top of Xi’an’s city walls
From atop the wall with a bird’s eye view

It’s an old capital city located at the end of the Silk Road. The rampart walls were built in the 14th century by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as part of his military defenses and enclose 8.7 square miles, or roughly 14 square kilometers. [1]

The walls were made first with tamped earth (and, according to Travel China Guide, ‘with the base layer including also lime and glutinous rice extract’). [2] A century later they were reinforced with blue bricks. The original walls used to include a moat and drawbridges. These walls are so thick that in WWII, Xi’an’s residents built a thousand bunkers inside the base to protect them from the bombs of Japanese air raids!

They are a breathtaking 12 meters or 39 feet high. It takes four hours to walk them. Actually, it takes longer than that if you’re Uwe and Jadi, because you never know what’s down the road. On our visit (foolishly booked during China’s Golden Week when all 1.3 billion Chinese citizens were also on vacation) we discovered a festival performance taking place inside one of the courtyards.

We heard it before we saw it. Drums, lots of drums…

And men in costume. Enter, Stage Left.

Or was that Enter, Stage Right?

What tickles me most about the walls is that once you’re on them, you could be on a wide boulevard anywhere in the world. Except that this is China, and this isn’t a boulevard…. It’s a wide street located on top of Xi’an’s city walls. Travel doesn’t get any better than this.

NOTES: [1] The current fortified city walls were constructed on an earlier, Tang dynasty palace wall. [2] www.travelchinaguide.com ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

UNESCO World Heritage Tentative Lists

 

Speyer’s Walk of Shame

In You’ll Be Sorry! I gave you Schifferstadt’s Walk of Shame for medieval and Renaissance miscreants. And shame on you for enjoying my Tale of Schadenfreude.

Today I give you the city of Speyer…. Speyer is a mere 5 miles /8 kilometers from Schifferstadt. Coincidentally (?) both cities are known for their Walks of Shame.

Speyer Cathedral is glorious

Speyer was the heart of the Holy Roman Empire. Five German kings and eight Holy Roman Emperors are buried here, and the Speyer Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The city is beautiful. Speyer is on the River Rhine, and cool beer gardens and restaurants decorate the shore. The streets are filled with bicycles of students from the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer. From 1084 to 1349 an important Jewish community flourished in the region. You can still visit the medieval mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath house, first mentioned in 1126. [1]

Speyer’s main street is lined with gorgeous old buildings like the Unicorn Apothecary from 1703.

As you leave the Speyer Cathedral, you walk past a huge basin known as the Cathedral Bowl. In a custom that began in the Middle Ages, the bowl is filled with wine on special religious occasions! Everyone gets to partake, citizens and visitors alike. [2, 3]

this is one big wine goblet

One last fact matters most to this post. According to the website Speyer.de, “[s]ince its construction in the 14th century, it played a significant role in the execution of a prison sentence: whoever had broken a state law and fled to the cathedral bowl was protected from prosecution.” Reread this sentence, because it takes on ominous importance with the next factoid….

At the other end of the main street stands the Altpoertal, the Old City Gate. Building began in 1230 and the Old City Gate marked the terminus of a road pompously called Via Triumphalis, extending from the Cathedral to the city walls. The Holy Roman Emperor and his retinue paraded from the Gate to the Cathedral on major religious days. However, the Altpoertal tower also served as the town prison, and the road in the opposite direction, leading from Cathedral to prison, was the scene of Walks of Shame.

start your Walk of Shame from here
keep going and don’t look back
almost there

Some guilty women were forced to parade down the street naked, with a stone tied around the neck. Males were allowed to keep their clothes on. If he had enough money, a man could pay a hefty sum and avoid the Walk of Shame. [4] Reaching the gate to begin a prison sentence might have been a relief. It would have been a looong walk from the Cathedral to the Altpoertal.

The top of the Altpoertal tower provides a great view of the route taken by the humiliated. But I want to know more about that Cathedral Bowl and how it provided sanctuary!

NOTES: [1] While Crusaders busily slaughtered Jews in the Rhineland, a Speyer law stated that anyone who harmed a Jew would have his hands cut off. Wikipedia/Speyer But then the Black Death struck Speyer in 1349 and Jews were blamed for the plague, proving that stupidity has a long history. [2] The bowl was filled in 2011 for the Cathedral’s 950th dedication anniversary. It holds more than 1500 liters of wine!  [3] The Church knows how to throw a party [4] Sexism and the ogling of female bodies, along with wealthy men buying their way out of trouble have long histories too. Go to these sites for more on Speyer: Speyer Tourism; Speyer.de

Text and Photos © Jadi Campbell 2018. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Did all roads lead to Speyer? Rome?

The Altar Boy

At the end of August I made a visit to the Pfalz region of Germany with friends. We went to visit friends of my friends (if you follow). The couple I’ll call Josef and Beate showed us around the historic city of Speyer. The Speyer Cathedral is the most important Romanesque church on the planet.

A bold boast, but true. For starters, it contains the world’s largest Romanesque crypt. The crypt has been described as ‘the most sublime monument on German ground.” [1] Speyer is the last resting place of both kings and emperors. The Pope had to crown a king (always men, natch) for him to be officially titled Holy Roman Emperor. Depending on political conditions, the Pope might – or might not – name the ruler “Imperator Romanum”.

Rudolph von Habsburg, a lugubrious chap in an unusually true-to-life depiction for the Middle Ages. He died in 1291.

The oldest grave belongs to Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1039. Take that date in for a moment. This church was consecrated almost a millenium ago. And it’s built on the site of an older church, founded hundreds of years earlier. Speyer is the heart of ancient Germany.

Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl came from the Pfalz and is memorialized with a plaque in front of the cathedral. Kohl was notorious for bringing dignitaries to admire the cathedral and then making them eat Saumagen for lunch. [2]

“In appreciation of the merits of Bundeskanzler Dr. Helmut Kohl.” Plaque placed in thanks for the way he pointed to the Cathedral as example of the Christian roots of a united Europe. No mention of the Saumagen though

Speyer’s Cathedral was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981. Yes, the breathtaking and harmonious proportions make this a site and sight to see. But what really blew my mind was the story of Josef, which he told me as he showed me around the cathedral and the crypt.

He spent much of his childhood in a boys’ home run by nuns, just around the corner from the church. The sisters had plans for him to become a priest. Each Sunday he served as altar boy, taking part in the church services. [3] Then he met Beate, the woman who has been his wife for 52 years, and that took care of that.

As we stood at the high altar Josef talked about the years after his mother died and he came to live as part of the religious community. I looked out over the vast interior of the Cathedral and almost felt dizzy. Yikes. This wasn’t some great monument for him. He wasn’t describing a thousand of years of history; he’s literally at home here. This grand space helped formed him as a human being. Josef, his story, and the soaring church are beautiful.

NOTES: [1] – German poet Reinhold Schneider. [2] Saumagen is the German version of Scottish haggis. Instead of suet and sausage in a sheep’s intestine, the Pfalz version uses pig’s stomach. I’ve tried it, and it’s not bad. Tasty, even. [3] Josef is 74 years old, so the services would have been conducted in Latin.

Speyer Cathedral’s Dimensions [Source: Wikipedia]

  • Total length: 134 meters/ 440 feet (from the steps at the entrance to the exterior wall of the east apse)
  • External width of the nave (with aisles): 37.62 meters/ 123 feet (from exterior wall to exterior wall)
  • Internal width of the nave: 14 meters/ 46 feet
  • Height of the nave at the vertex of the vaults: 33 meters/ 108 feet
  • Height of the eastern spires: 71.20 meters/ 233 feet
  • Height of the western spires: 65.60 meters/ 215 feet
  • Crypt Length: east-west 35 meters/ 114 feet; north-south 46 meters/ 150 feet; Height: between 6.2 meters and 6.5 meters/ 20 feet and 21 feet

© Text and Photos Jadi Campbell 2018. Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Great Wall of Pain: Part Two

I injured my back through overwork, recklessness, and sheer, stupid, stubbornness. I was incapacitated for over two months. If only I hadn’t climbed the Great Wall of China after I first hurt myself. If only I’d slowed down, even just for a day or two, while we were traveling. If only….

I would have missed the Terracotta Army

But no. What are you suggesting, that I should have slowed down and maybe let myself miss something???

China Golden Week special performance in Xi’an: I would have missed this, too
Ditto Expo in Shanghai
and the Forbidden City in Beijing

So now we were home, and I was down for the count. Have you ever experienced a herniated disk? Those of you who have know what kind of pain I’m talking about. Either give me the good drugs, or just shoot me now. At the doctor’s office I actually begged for  pain killers.

The Frau Doktor’s brow furrowed. “You mean you want me to give you a prescription for something you can take as soon as you get home?” she asked slowly.

“No. I mean I want you to give me a shot of something, before I leave your office. Like, right now,” I whined. “And yes, I want you to give me a prescription for something I can take as soon as I get home, too!”

She obliged me. I was able to hobble the few blocks back to our apartment.

When I got there, I bargained with every god in every place in the world we’d ever visited. “Just let me not be crippled,” I prayed. “If I heal and can walk again, I promise I’ll do yoga – and tai chi – and stretching exercises – and aerobic workouts – and never ever ever overschedule myself, from now until the day I die.” Because if the pain didn’t stop, that day was going to be a whole lot sooner than I’d anticipated. This HURT.

It took two months before I got back to healthy. Thanks to the German mix of physical therapy, acupuncture, anti-inflammatory meds, x-rays, and yes, those really good drugs, I didn’t need to be killed and put out of my misery.

P.S.: I kept that bargain with the gods. Almost a decade later, I religously start every morning with a routine of yoga – tai chi – stretching – and aerobic exercise. Superwoman is retired, and she’s not returning. I cut back on the amount I’m willing (and able) to work doing massage therapy.

As the memory of the pain receded, I got my health back. And, dude,  — I climbed the Great Wall of China!

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Great Wall of Pain – Part One

I blame everything to do with my health on the Great Wall of China.

It’s a long story. In other words, it’s perfect for a blog post. It begins with a trip that started in Beijing and ended in Tokyo…

Uwe and I were going to be gone for more than a month, and that means all the people who come for massage therapy wanted to get in for a last appointment before I left. No problem, I worked longer hours with more sessions, I was Superwoman in those days, I never got sick and was pretty vain about how healthy and strong I was.

Was. The weekend before our trip I got a wild hair up my a** and voluntarily defrosted the freezer. Why, I have no idea.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. So I chipped away, contorted over the ice with a sharp tool and a bucket of steaming water all afternoon. I woke the next morning with a low back that was screaming, and no time to take off to rest it. Not with Asia waiting for us! We climbed on a series of planes and 20 hours later arrived in Beijing, my back sending out those periodic, pinging, you-are-going-to-be-sorry signals. Uwe and I like to see, um, absolutely everything when we visit a new place, so I figured I would rest my back in between sight-seeing at some point.

And then the next day we went to climb the Great Wall of China. Gentle readers, I tell you, I stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked UP.

I calculated the Wall’s height and the angle of the steps and knew I was going to regret this. In typical Campbell fashion my next thought was roughly, “You may never get another chance to climb the Great Wall. Suck up, shriner. Start climbing.” And I did.

We didn’t allow for much down time. Our entire trip was terrific, but somewhere in Japan I began to hear an alarming clicking sound when I moved: bony eminences rubbing against one another. Or something. I’d figure that problem out once we got home again.

I am going to regret this and I don’t care

Of course, once we got home, every single one of those massage patients who’d been counting down the days before I returned all wanted new appointments, and instead of resting I dived back into work with a vengeance. I was Superwoman, right?

The second time my back blew out, it really went.

Part Two to publish next week.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

 

 

The Terracotta and People’s Armies

I’ll travel pretty much anywhere at the drop of a hat. Go around the world for 7 weeks? Cool! When do we leave? Overnight trip to Munich? Sounds grand, which beer hall do we want to have dinner at?

But. There are times when travel is not    –     quite    –    optimal. The rainy season offers big bargains and great deals for a reason. Like, you’re going to be wet most of the time. Another time period to carefully debate traveling in is when other countries have their special holidays. Sure, Christmas Market season anywhere in Germany or areas that have a tradition of a Weihnachtsmarkt is a good time to go. However, any National Day will probably mean shops and sights are closed up tight.

And, trust me on this one, you really don’t want to go to China when it’s National Day Golden Week, and 1.3 BILLION people are on holiday. [1]

They will all be taking their vacations. Spots that are usually crowded anyway are going to be jam-packed. This is not an experience for visitors with weak hearts or fear of crowds.

We learned this the hard way: first-hand. We did this at one of China’s most popular tourist sites: The Terracotta Army in Xi’an.

We got tickets and seats on a tour bus to get to the site. Our charming tour guide pointed to the buildings that house the terracotta army, pointed to the number of our bus, and finally pointed to her watch. No way she was going to push through the crowds in the massive hangars – she’d meet us at the designated time, back on our bus.

And in we went…. To this day I’m not sure what astounded me more. Was it the sheer size and scale of the clay army from 210-209 BC that was discovered in 1974?

This is 1 of 3 hangars and the Chinese are still excavating

Or was it the mass of tourists both foreign and native who completely filled the viewing areas?

Those are streams of visitors lining the windows

One thing I do know for sure. That trip to China during October’s Golden Week cured whatever claustrophobia I may have once had. If you could survive the crowds we experienced in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, you can survive them anywhere.

A small break in the big crowds

NOTES: [1] National Day of the People Wikipedia. ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.