20.01.2013 - 22.01.2013 10 °C
Sunday 20th January
We took a train in the morning to Hangzhou, a smaller city near Shanghai of only 6m people, famous for its West Lake. The good thing about Hangzhou is that the state has made all the tourist attractions (e.g. museums, buildings of interest) free entry so we were off to a good start when we heard that! We took a bus from the station to very near our hostel which was on the west side of the lake. The city has been developed on the north and east side so were the other side from the city which was nice to get some peace and quiet. It was only a 30 mins walk to the city edge anyway. We threw our stuff in our room and went for a wander by the lake. With it being a Sunday afternoon with the sun out, the lakeside was busy with Chinese families. The lake very much reminded us of Lake Bled in Slovenia. We meandered towards the city and walked along the oldest street in the city peering in the local shops and real Chinese medicine dispensers - very interesting. After a nap back at the hostel we went back into town for dinner eating at our worst restaurant yet where we tried the local carp from the lake in a sweet and sour sauce with some meat and veg. The food wasn't up to much and felt like it had all been microwaved.
Monday 21st January
We got up at a leisurely pace today and hired bikes from the hostel, opting for individual bikes rather than a tandem as they weren't permitted around the lake edge. The weather was misty and foggy today (which made a change from smog!) but we soon warmed up while cycling, stopping to see the thousands of carp and destroyed Emperor's house at the top of the lake. We both really enjoyed being in a quieter place and able to get some "fresh" air. For dinner, we ate at Grandma's kitchen which is something of a Hangzhou institution with apparently over 20 branches in the city. We had been warned to expect queues but as we were only two we were able to get a table straightaway. The entrance was on the ground floor where we were given a piece of paper with a number on it which turned out be our table number, while the restaurant was on the third floor of a big building. The restaurant was massive, full of young people eating. We had a menu and order form to order from, choosing Grandma's special BBQ pork, some greens fried with chilli, a sweet potato (turned out to be an orange stuffed with something sweet!), chicken with peanuts and some salad leaves (our first in two weeks!!). The meal was great and all for under a tenner. The couple beside us went all out and ordered a whole fish with noodles, stuffed whole duck and various other plates which they kindly offered us to try but we were both full by that point.
Tuesday 22nd January
On our last day here, we took a bus into the mountains to a local village famous for its tea called Longjing. The bus dropped us off half way up a hill with not much around us. We walked up into the woods nearby looking at the ruins of buildings and a famous well we don't quite know the story behind. We continued walking up the hill and after about 30 mins we were at the top with panaromic views across the small valley with tea plants everywhere. We continued along the ridge for an hour or so before descending into the village below. At the bottom, I had to overcome countless chickens and barking dogs on the path which I wasn't happy with! We walked through the village, stopping in an old lady's house for Alice to try a cup of tea which she thought was good, but not quite up to English breakfast standard . We didn't quite know how to get back to the bus so decided to continue walking down the village to its end where vehicles could no longer pass. We decided to follow this path further down the valley, crossing several streams with stepping stones. Neither of us were quite sure where this would lead and after about an hour of walking we were both secretly worried we were lost or on the wrong side of the hill. Thankfully, we came out at a bus stop where a bus we recognised began its journey so we were both grateful we knew where it was going although several miles from where we expected to come out! We took the bus all the way into town and went to Grandma's again for food. This time we tried grilled aubergine with garlic (amazing, will try at home), stir fry squid, honey roast pork, more greens fried with chilli and chicken wings. Again we had a great meal for under a tenner. At night we took a train back to Shanghai where we stayed at an airport hotel before an early morning flight to the south west of the country.
Writing this from Lijiang where we are now where the weather is gorgeous and we are in a picturesque town surrounded by mountains! Such a nice contrast to the busy (and cold!) places we visited in the north. More about Lijiang in next blog.
Hope the cold weather is over back home.