We arrived here and instantly loved it, a lot less people around and the Youth Hostel we are staying at is in a great location, right by the famous West Lake (the main reason for coming to this town) The hostel is luxury compared to the last two hotels we were in, obviously Beijing and Shanghai are never going to be great value for money....
A few words on Hangzhou, it was the capital in the Southern Song Dynasty 750 years ago, it is now a very modern and clean city, with wide walkways which are bliss!!! no more fighting for somewhere to walk, be it people, leaky air-conditioning units, bicycles, scooters, spit (the one I dislike most!)etc...
It has a population of 6 million people and compared to most other big cities we have been to in China, amazingly has not much pollution, so our lungs were breathing huge sighs of relief....
So we spent three days here, one of them just relaxing, as the heat in southern China is starting to take its toll on us, poor Tony has come down with a cold, and the heat and humidity, is making it even worse. The temperatures are an average of 38 degrees in Hangzhou but with the humidity it feels like an oppressive 43 degrees! (even the locals are sweating it out). Not that we are complaining, as we have not had any rain of note since we were in Yunnan province, so we have been very lucky! The reason why temperatures are so high is because of something the locals (in South China) call the Autumn Tiger. The temperatures soar for a couple of weeks in this part of China before plummeting to the normal autumn temperatures, so it looks like we will have to endure the heat for another week or two.... We have to say it seems unbelievable to us whilst sweltering in this heat to think that the temperatures will go down into the negatives with plenty of snow in winter in this city by January and February!
The other two days we spent walking around West Lake. This is the famous one of the 36 'West Lakes' in China! The one that brings in the 2nd most chinese tourists behind of course Guilin. One day by ourselves where we did not venture out until after lunch, hoping it may have cooled down (of course not!!) We had a lovely afternoon enjoying the Lake, the views over the lake to the hazy hills is breathtaking and the parks around the lake (like most of Chinas' parks we have been to) were really well laid out and beautiful. They have some great names for them as well (All to do with the Ten scenes of the West Lake)like: 'Three pools mirroring the moon', 'Lingering snow on the broken bridge' , 'Oriole singing in the willows', all lovely sights. We even had a great sunset to top our afternoon off nicely. (Although Tony was getting sick of me taking photos by this stage, on top of struggling with his cold and the humidity, so was not enjoying it quite as much as I did.....) we retired to the air-conditioning in our room to cool down, then joined an English couple who had taken advantage of the DVD offers of Vietnam, and watched Ice Age 2, in black and white!! TV in the hostel was not working properly so had no choice, but goes to show how much you start to crave english TV, when even in black and white it is Fab!!!
The 2nd day we spent with Frank (one of the young guys we met on our Yangzi river boat cruise, who lives in Hangzhou) who very nicely offered to be our guide. We spent a fantastic day with him, seeing the southern sights of West Lake and he took us to an area west of the lake where not many tourists, Chinese or Western actually make it to. It was paradise, so tranquil, having no one around is almost an unknown for us lately.... We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in West Lake, where we had to rely on Franks expertise (menu all in Chinese) he chose the local food very well. We thought the food was great, although he seemed to think the place he was suggesting we go for dinner was much better.
We tried things like cats ear (actually a pasta shaped like cats ear, Thankfully!!!), Porridge that tastes not at all like what we are used too, but with Franks advice to add soya sauce, actually very tasty. We also had two types of dumpling, one fried, one steamed, both delicious, again with Frank helping us by showing us how to pour the sauces down our chopsticks so as not to make complete idiots of ourselves by spilling it all over the table... Thanks again Frank :) We had some other tasty/unusual things but I need to check my diary, as forgotten them at the moment, too busy thinking about what I'm going to eat tonight...)
So we walked around the rest of West Lake past huge Lotus plants again, we were lucky to see some of them flowering as it is just getting to the end of the season for them. I took way to many photos of them as you will see once, when I can actually find an internet cafe that will let me use the usb connection!!! South China seems to have a NO GO policy on them, strange since I could use them in other parts of China...
With the West Lake well and truly explored we jumped in a cab to Frank's suggested restaurant, one his family frequents a lot. He once again did the ordering for us, and he was a bit nervous about doing this as his Dad normally takes this role, but again he did brilliant, this time we tried: Jellyfish! much tastier than it sounded, may have had something to do with the vinegar dressing it was in (I love vinegar), Chicken knuckles, these were mostly gristly knee joints and heels coated in breadcrumbs. I thought they were really tasty and was enjoying the whole item, until I looked over at Tony's plate and he had only eaten the meat and breadcrumbs... I was horrified, as Tony eats anything!!! Frank had eaten it all, so I can only think "When in Rome do as the Romans do......" (and I'm still alive to tell the tale now..) We had a vege called Bitter melon, apparently very good for you, but as with anything that is good for you, not so tasty, well not to our tastes anyway, as the name says very bitter!! We had several other tasty, dishes, tender tender steak, eggplant stuffed with pork, a soup made with Hangzhou water plants, which had the weirdest slippery texture to it but tasted good. Frank decided we should have one more dish and after drawing an Octopus on paper (a trick we used a few times when we couldn't get the words across to each other) asked if we liked them. We do, so he ordered one last dish, then when we asked what it was he said "Octopus eggs" We both looked a bit shocked and Tony said "Nancy won't eat them", which is correct!!. No way..... Anyway thankfully Frank misheard the waiter and they were Octopus heads stuffed with pork and actually rather tasty, a photo of our faces would have been hilarious if they had been Octopus eggs. We would have hated to see the size of the whole Octopus if these were it eggs they were nearly the size of chicken's eggs!!!
Needless to say it was a fantastic dinner and thanks to Frank for being such a great host, we look forward to repaying his hospitality when he makes it to NZ. The night was topped off with a bus ride through the city centre to our hostel, the city looks amazing at night as well, seems every hotel, shop, business has a competing light show going on, and the West Lake shores have fairy lights hung in the trees, very pretty indeed.
So the next day we bid a farewell to one of our favourite cities so far in China, we boarded a train south bound for Guilin. It was not as new, or comfortable, as our train from Beijing to Shanghai but, we got our soft sleeper compartment all to ourselves (has 4 beds/bunks) so was actually rather pleasant even though it was 29 hours long!! Amazing to think it took this damn long though, as the distance by the crow flies is less than the Beijing-Shanghai route which only took 12 hours! Then we worked out why - the train had to go back and forth to reach the major cities and towns of the large southern provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan and finally Guangxi. And the back and forth bit was the most disturbing. We changed direction several times! The worst time was when it first happened, we woke up in the middle of the night thinking we were now going in the wrong direction and had misunderstood the instructions given to us when we purchased our ticket!
Most of the journey was pretty dull scenery, but did at least get to see some rural life for the first time for a while - and even rice fields. Were wondering where these were in China! But it all improved dramatically as we got closer to our destination of Guilin, as limestone karst mountains started to appear. Almost felt like it was a homecoming for Vietnam again, and we are quite close to north Vietnam again now.
Got to Guilin safe and sound. Tony starting to feel much better. Only casualty was that we finally fell victim to chinese counterfeit money. Not much, 50Y, about the equivalent of $6US. Tony was none too happy though as he was caught in a situation where he could not do much about it. Urgently getting food from a vendor at a station stop and she ripped him off!! (-:
Tony's data input! Left Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province at midday, arrived Guilin, Guangxi Province at 5.15pm the next day. Now travelled 20,500kms in Asia, of which China takes up over 11,000kms! Total distance travelled is 33,000kms, not including long distant flights, London to Windhoek, and Nairobi to Bangkok. Hope all is well. Eventually will get some more photos on the site!