Thursday, 25 April 2013

Hangzhou March 2013

The railway station in Shanghai was enormous but we found the ticket office in no time, I discovered we were unable to purchase using the automatic ticket machines as you needed a Chinese I.D. card, so had to wait in line at the ticket counter. The line moved quickly and we had to produce our passports to buy our tickets for Hangzhou. Trains leave frequently so we didn’t have much of a wait. To our surprise the train was sleek and modern and turned out to be a fast train travelling at an average speed of 219 kmph so the journey took only 55 minutes.
When we arrived it was raining and as usual there was general confusion around the station with many arrivals and departures milling around. I thought getting a taxi to our hotel would be easy especially as I had the name and address written in Chinese characters, however, no driver wanted to take us. I bought a map hoping the hotel wasn’t far but it was no help. We walked away from the station in hope that we might be able to hail a more co-operative taxi driver. No luck. Some young people came to help us and said, ‘You can’t hail cabs.’ I explained that I had seen many people do so, why not us. After some further discussion they hailed a cab for us and press ganged the driver into taking us to our hotel, which wasn’t that close to the station after all.
We arrived at our hotel the Wuyang Inn which was in the old area and was a delightful small very Chinese Hotel, with minimal English spoken by the reception staff. We settled into our room then went to explore.
Scene around Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a very beautiful city with the famous West Lake. We walked out of our hotel and turned right and walked a very long way and eventually found the lake. We walked along its bank but we felt cold and a little hungry. We then found a really nice place, an Arts ‘Club,’ which had quite a colonial feel to it. We were ushered in even though we weren’t looking too posh in our jeans and parkas. We sank into the armchairs by the window and had coffee and cake at ‘private club’ prices, but the most important thing was we were warm and dry. We had to tear ourselves away and find our way back via an easier route.
Heifang Street is where you can buy a variety of Chinese products, tea and tea sets dominating. We lusted after many of the beautiful Chinese tea sets but commonsense prevailed and we resisted the temptation to buy. We ate some very tasty street food along a side street; we then meandered back to our hotel looking at the variety of shops and stalls on the way. At the gate of the old part of the town a number of women were dancing/exercising to music. They encouraged me to join in which I did, but it was very cold so I stayed for a few numbers then we went back to our room.
The next day we went on a tour, it was for Chinese only but there wasn’t much else offering, we thought it would be OK. The tour guide had a little English but left us mainly to our own devices, but she was a motor mouth, in Chinese her commentaries didn’t stop and she seemed barely to take breath, even the Chinese started tune out.
 We went to some really beautiful places, with poetic names, for example, Tiger Running Spring, Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon and Yellow Dragon Cave. As it is spring everywhere the blossom trees are in flower and are just stunning, especially as you walk around the lake.
Mirror Lake
 We also visited Yufei’s Mausoleum, which is the result of another bloody episode in Chinese history. During the 12th century Yu Fei was the commander when China was attack and even though he was successful in repelling the invaders, he was recalled to the Song court and executed due to treachery. More 
Yufei's Mausoleum
than 20 years later he was exonerated (too bad he was dead) and his corpse was re-buried at this site.
The worst part of the day was visiting Songcheng Silk Factory. It was noisy and it was hard sell on very expensive silk doonas. The exit was through the shop of rather ugly doona covers and clothing and then a supermarket. We escaped quickly as did a number of the Chinese. From there we went to Lingyin Temple which was originally built in 326 AD, due to war and variously calamities it has been restored 16 times, the present buildings are from the Qing dynasty.
While wandering around the public gardens there was a small group, singing and dancing. A rather charming man asked me to dance, he was very graceful and I felt a bit of a bumble foot. After the music stopped I thanked him and he replied in impeccable English. I wondered what job he might have had in the past. Then a granny minding her grandchild asked me to dance with her so I obliged. Then there was some more singing, but by this time we thought we better get back to the bus.
The trip gave us some interesting views of the countryside and we saw many places, both large and small growing tea. It was inevitable then that we would end up at a tea tasting place. We had all the ritual plus showing us the health properties, hoping to sell it to their captive audience.
We returned to the town around dinner time and as we had seen food stalls setting up in our hotel’s street the previous night we decided to eat there as it was so convenient and we had a delicious dinner very cheaply.

Blossoms around the lake

Our first job on our last day was to buy our bus tickets to Huangshan. We discovered that they could be bought ahead of time at the post office which was very convenient. We then contemplated riding a bike around the lake but as the bike path was close to the road from which there was no view of the lake we decided to walk instead. It was such a beautiful day walking around the lake was very relaxing despite many other people doing the same thing. The blossom was out on the trees ranging from light to dark pink, some with both colours. Spring was definitely in the air. We ended up with quite a good view of the dancing fountain which was fascinating.

West Lake Hangzhou

We made our way to the pagoda we had seen in the distance on previous days. It was a modern construction with even escalators up to the entrance and lifts inside. It wasn’t overly interesting but it did provide a good view of the surrounding areas.
That night we did a last circuit of the night market, ate at our favourite stalls and then packed for our next destination.

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