Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Highlights of Hangzhou

Since we are now on vacation, I decided it is time for me to post about our weekend trip to Hangzhou (in January) and share with you all the "inside scoop" - although I would hardly say our two nights there puts us with the "in" crowd.  When thinking about our anniversary, we wanted to go somewhere new but also not too expensive.  Travel in China is fairly cheap unless you want convenience.  Cheap and convenient do not normally go together in China.

We took the train from Nanjing to Hangzhou.  There are trains leaving all the time & train travel is the easiest way to get around China.  The fastest trains are amazing - but also more expensive, especially if you want first class.  On the way to Hangzhou we took the second fastest train, the "D" train, and sat in first class.  It took us a little over 3 hours to get there.  Did I mention we almost missed our train?  We had a really hard time getting a taxi that morning and barely made it in time.  Yikes.  As much as I am late to most functions, being late to catch the train is not something I enjoy.  

The lines at the ticket counter in Hangzhou
We arrive in Hangzhou and it was snowing!  The view out of the train was lovely as the snow covered roads, trees and houses.  It was also quite a bit colder in Hangzhou than in Nanjing.  I'm sure glad I took the Hubby's advice and brought my super warm boots.  After getting off the train and exiting the station, we decided that we needed to go and pick up our tickets for our return on Sunday.  We bought our train tickets online but needed to actually pick them up at a ticket window.  The rules are different for foreigners than for Chinese, so we can't buy tickets at the automatic teller machine (at least that's what we hear).  Never having been in Hangzhou before, we got totally turned around looking for the ticket counters.  Finally we found them and we encountered the biggest surprise - there were literally hundreds of people in line to buy tickets.  It was shocking.  Not wanting to stand in line for hours, we decided to grab lunch at the Burger King next door (score!) and then head to the hotel.  

After lunch, we wandered back into the train station to find the taxi queue.  We figured it must be downstairs, so I asked a guard who was nearby where to find a taxi to confirm we would at least start in the right direction.  He smiled broadly and gestured to the street.  "Right here!" he exclaimed and immediately, as if he had magic, a taxi pulled up to the curb and he opened the door.  We thought this was odd because at most other train stations you had to go to the specified area to catch a taxi - you weren't allowed to just flag one down outside the station.  The driver asked where we were headed and I showed him the address on my phone, about 2 km away.  "80 kuai!" He happily quoted us.  80 kuai!!  To go 2 km!  A typical cab fare for that short of a distance would be between 10-12 kuai. Seriously?  We waved him off and to our disappointment were also given high prices by the next two taxis that stopped for us.   I asked guy #2 why he would expect me to pay so much.  He pointed to the sky and replied, "because it is snowing." Sometimes principle trumps comfort and we decided to walk the 2 km to our hotel.  It would have been a lovely walk...had it not been snowing. 

We found out later from a friend we visited on Saturday that Friday morning no one expected the snow and as a result the roads were slick and many people missed their trains.  He said the people waiting at the ticket counter must've been mostly those who had missed trains and needed to reschedule.  Crazy!  

A cool statue we saw on our walk to the hotel
After more than 40 minutes of walking (ok, it was over 2 km...maybe more like 3), we arrived at our hotel The Crystal Orange.  It was right along the East side of West Lake and was a very nice hotel.  Our room was cozy, had a soft bed and excellent amenities (including a mini-fridge, not typical for mid range hotels).  They even provided a HDMI cable to hook up a laptop to the TV!  The Crystal Orange is a trendy hotel with all sorts of electronics and gadgets (like an iPod station and speakers in the bathroom).  Upon entering the room, you are greeted with funky music.  In some other CO hotels (not ours) they also have fun lights that come on with the music.  The Crystal Orange in Hangzhou is nestled in between higher end spas, shops and car dealerships (like Porsche, Lamborghini and Aston Martin, you know, the more common kind).  Luckily, there was a small convenience store across the street where we grabbed some snacks and breakfast foods.  

For dinner that first night, we decided to walk to a nearby restaurant that had good reviews on TripAdvisor.  It was near the lake, so we walked along the edge of the lake and through the park in the snow.  The sun had just set, it was quiet and huge snowflakes were falling all around us.  It was an enchanting walk.  After finding the place we were headed, Eudora Station, we dined on delicious food.  I had steak kabobs that were amazing and the Hubby ordered a chicken pasta dish which was equally as good.  It was impressive.  It's hard to find good Western food in China.  Most places are decent, but it's a great night if you can find a place with a fun atmosphere and good food! 

The next day we headed out to lunch with some friends and then wandered down to the North side of the lake in the afternoon.  It was freezing cold & the Hubby's poor little toes were frozen.  There were a ton of people down at the lake enjoying the view, building snowmen and even one bride getting her photos done (she looked pretty miserable, but I'm sure the pictures will be amazing!).  For dinner, we were craving Mexican food and our friends told us about a newer place that had opened called the Maya Bar.  After taking 30 minutes to get a cab, we maneuvered our way through rush hour to arrive at the small bar tucked away in a row of other restaurants just off the street.  Luckily our cab driver knew where it was or I'm not sure we would've found it!  We were one of three couples in the whole place.  They had a limited menu, but chicken burritos were on the list!  Though, more like tacos than burritos, they were pretty good; the only thing missing was guacamole (which I've never seen offered in a restaurant in China).  The burritos came with a side of chili that was by far the best chili I've ever had in China.  It was a good way to end our afternoon stroll, if only they had the heat turned on a little higher - but you know, it is still China after all even if they do serve chicken burritos.  

West Lake, Hangzhou
After dinner we went back to the East side of the lake and walked around until we found Starbucks.  It actually took two Starbucks to find what we were really after - the Hangzhou City Mug!  Every coffee lover's favorite souvenir.  Ok, fine - my favorite souvenir! 

The next morning we packed back up, grabbed some yogurt to go and caught the train back to Nanjing.  it was truly a lovely weekend (even if it was a little fast to really see a city).   We enjoyed our time together and the opportunity to see and experience a new place.  I think Hangzhou is a place we would go back to, but maybe at a time we could take a bike around the lake a common and fun activity to do in Hangzhou, just not when it's snowing. 

1 comment:

  1. People back here in the States cannot fully understand the crowds in Asia. Glad you all had a nice time.