The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has dampened the enthusiasm for travel for many Beijingers. As such, instead of looking at deals and news, we'll take a serene visit to Ningbo in Zhejiang province, which makes a pleasant spring getaway from Beijing.
Although it doesn’t overlook the sea, the ocean is Ningbo’s livelihood, and water courses through its center. Sacred Heart Cathedral stands at the confluence of three rivers, making it like a Chinese Pittsburgh, but with a pleasant climate and mix of history and modernity.
It may not be a household name for tourists and foreign residents in China, but Ningbo has produced some of the biggest names of China’s diaspora, including the recently departed movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, and Overseas Orient Container Line Founder C.Y. Tung. Ningbo’s blend of contemporary and colonial architecture, its medium size, its walkable streets, and a pedestrianized bar district near an old and still-active cathedral make it a popular destination.
Sightseeing is a mix of the new and the old. Tianyi Pavilion (Tianyige) may be China’s oldest library. Built in 1561 with private funds, it held 70,000 volumes at its peak. The Qing emperor Qianlong visited the site and used its design for library facilities in the Forbidden City. The Qing’an Guild Hall (Qing’an Huiguan) is a low-rise masterpiece of Zhejiang architecture. Built in 1850 as a meeting place and community center for mariners in a city made famous by shipping, it now serves as a museum to the exploits of Ningbo shipping magnates and sailors. Few people visit the hall, but the detail employed throughout the structure is remarkable, both for its quality and state of preservation.
A perfect late afternoon itinerary takes the visitor across one of the river bridges to the Old Bund (Laowaitan) for a walk around Sacred Heart Cathedral and the former waterfront. Sacred Heart was built in 1878, and features a set of columns from an earlier church constructed by the Portuguese, but destroyed in a local anti-foreigner uprising. Three minutes away is the Sanlitun-ish Old Bund nightlife area, a collection of cobblestone streets and a selection of bars and restaurants.
Another area for evening amusement is Tianyi Square (Tianyi Guangchang), a sprawling outdoor shopping area. There are two parts to it: a computer and electronics mall next to a long reflecting pool, and a large semi-circular area, complete with retail stores behind the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral (cathedrals are a big thing in Ningbo). Try the Grandma’s Kitchen (Waipojia) on the fourth floor of the shopping mall near the point farthest away from the church. It’s a chain (of which we have several in Beijing) but it’s good and inexpensive.
Air is the easiest way to get to Ningbo, as high-speed rail is not convenient from Beijing. Air China, China Eastern, and other airlines fly there in about two hours.
Until next week, one road flat safe.
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