Last week, we had a really good couple of days in Hangzhou. I am not sure that it is paradise on Earth, but it is very pretty. It is about 2 hours from Wuxi by high speed train and its close proximity to Shanghai makes it a really popular place for Shanghai folks to escape to for the weekend.
Luckily, John had a couple of days off work, so we were able to visit on Thursday and Friday rather than at the weekend. There is a Chinese idiom ‘人山人海’ (Ren Shan Ren Hai) which literally means people mountain people sea – a perfect description of Chinese scenic spots on the weekend.
Accommodation is pretty expensive, but as we are planning to stay in youth hostels when we visit Yunnan in the summer we thought we would have a trial run. The hostel was lovely. We had an ensuite, double room. The bed was a bit hard, but all in all it was great. The best part was the location. It was just off Hefang Lu which is a pedestrianised street full of shops selling snacks and souvenirs and only about 15 minutes walk from the West Lake.
The West Lake (西湖 XiHu) is the reason Hangzhou is so popular. It is not as big as Tai Hu near Wuxi, but it is much more attractive. We took a boat trip to an Island in the middle of the lake then on to the Louwailou restaurant on the lake shore for lunch. I was especially keen to go to this restaurant as it had a starring role in one chapter of my Chinese textbook (the main character, Mark, visits Hangzhou and meets an informative taxi driver).
For lunch we had West Lake Vinegar Fish (西湖 醋鱼 XiHuCuYu), which is one of the typical Hangzhou dishes (another is beggars’ chicken – chicken cooked in mud, which is smashed at your table). To be honest I wasn’t very keen on the fish, but it was good to try it in the authentic location.
Afterwards we took a rowing boat out on the lake, which was a bit hard work for a relaxing break. We had a paddle each and as John is a lot stronger than me, we spent some time going around in circles and crashing into other boats. Back on dry land we were just in time to see the spectacular fountains which ‘danced’ in time to the music. Very impressive.
In the evening we shopped for souvenirs (tea and old-style propaganda postcards) and visited the food street. There were stalls selling every kind of snack, from tasty kebabs to scorpions and the ubiquitous stinky tofu (it really stinks – like stinky cheese gone bad). One man tried to tempt us by shouting snake at us in English, but I thought that is a treat I could happily live without.