Tianjin 天津 : ‘The place where the emperor crossed the sea’

Unfortunately for most the mention of Tianjin either recalls a tragic chemical explosion in 2015, or it creates no recognition what-so-ever. It is one of four cities, along with Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, that stands alone. By that I mean it is not part of a province, but instead a municipality directly under the central government. It’s enticing neighbour Beijing (just 75 miles north), tends to win the competition with many tourists whom flock there for the Great Wall, Tian’anmen Square and Peking duck. It’s a pity that many miss out on the 1920’s architecture, the relaxed vibe from locals, the space and beauty of Hai river and the night life of Tianjin. It is a hidden gem just a 30 minute bullet train from the Big B and a day-trip I had totally underestimated before arriving.

Our first stop was to an area called Wudadao, home to 230 buildings of European architecture dotted along 5 main avenues. It was tempting to climb aboard the horse-drawn carriage, but how could a ride around on a battered old Chinese bicycle be sniffed at? Dashing down lanes and weaving between old guys with top heavy tricycles; a bizarre Italian-designed house to my left, a British-style church to my right. The vivid green trees blocked the high-rises in the background and I forgot for a short time where I was. Yes, Chinese people surrounded me, but the influence of Italy, Germany, France, Russia, Great Britain, Austria, Japan and Belgium overruled and a tiny pocket of Europe was well and truly alive.
A European courtyard interrupts the high-rises
Italian design found during our cycle

 

A 20rmb (£2) for 4 hour exchange meant that cycling in circles would be a waste. Braving the familiar hectic city roads, we went in search of the Hai river. Wide open roads, spaced out buildings so high I had to crane my neck right back and a smell in the air that could only mean one thing: flowing water! I’m not sure if it was a 10 month separation reaction, or just because temperatures were soaring 35 degrees, but 5 minutes by the river and I was in. If the retired locals could handle floating fish and a thin layer of muck, so could I.
Fishermen and swimmers lined the riverside
Cycling in soggy clothes was enjoyed slowly, mainly in fear that injuries would occur from overly-excited eyes.
A much needed water stop was had at the accidentally found Red Bull beat boxing competition.
Guilty-free ice-cream was gobbled in the shade.
Locals waved us by; some fishing, some swimming, others racing us on their electric bikes.
Resident foreigners stopped to ask if we were interested in a teaching job.
Toward the top end of the city, the Tianjin Eye stands bold, one leg either side of the Hai river. As dusk approached, hoards of people headed to the water, all individually participating in an unintentional atmosphere. Every sense came alive once again as brightly-lit boats bobbed along the river, and music started up for the keen dancing community. It would have been easy to get lost in the evening, had we not booked a train to take us back to the North City. Begrudgingly I walked away, reminding myself that an almost unbelievably (at least for me) comfortable city is situated within reach from Beijing.
A contrast of old and new
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City progression
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Tianjin Eye by dusk
Views across the Hai river from the train station

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