A Travellerspoint blog

November 2017

A Weekend in Hangzhou

sunny 20 °C

My most recent escape from Beijing was to Hangzhou, a city about an hour south of Shanghai, and the southern climate was a welcome break from Beijing's fast-descending temperatures. The journey was a tad on the long side; it took around 6 hours by train to get there but it was so worth it.

Will and I met at the main station before catching the Metro into the centre. From there it was a short walk to the hostel. Initially the city seemed quiet, understandably as it was nearing 11pm. However, as we turned the corner onto the road our hostel was located on, everything changed. Hefang Street was buzzing. There were crowds of people and hundreds of street vendors selling everything from post cards to Chinese flutes. There were flags bunting draped across the old street. We were so distracted by everything that we forgot we were looking for the hostel and walked right past it. We met Anna and Tessa at the hostel and then headed back out in search for something to eat and drink before bed. There were miniature food courts at regular intervals, so we took the plunge and ordered an aubergine stuffed with noodles and vegetables which was really tasty.

Saturday was reserved for Hangzhou's main attraction, The West Lake (Xi Hu). The lake is huge and luckily for us, it was a beautiful day to see as much of it as we could. After a quick breakfast, the four of us headed towards the lake, unsure of exactly where was the best place to start. We struck gold by finding some beautiful gardens which lead us straight to the lake's shore and gave us the opportunity to take in just how big it was. There are several famous sights to see around the lake, including temples, islands in the middle of it and a narrow strip of bridges that crosses part of it. We took a boat over to "The Moon Reflecting in Three Pools" island, which interestingly has four pools... It was a really beautiful space, full of trees and flowers and with bridges between the pools. We walked all around it and from one side you could see the skyscrapers of Hangzhou's modern district which was a strange contrast to the serenity and nature of the island.

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We spent the whole day exploring different parts of the lake and when we got tired, we stopped in a particularly warm spot for a couple of drinks and watched the sun go down. In the evening, we ate at a restaurant near the lake and then went back to the lake bank to see what it looked like in the dark. It was, of course, beautiful. There was an illuminated building near us that reflected in the still water and in the distance, on the other banks, there were thousands of tiny twinkling lights. To finish off the evening we went to a jazz club for a few drinks.

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Sunday morning, we walked up to Wushan Scenic Spot which is a hill at one side of the lake. At the top there are several temples and a huge pagoda which we climbed up. Unfortunately, it was smoggier so the views weren't as clear as the previous day but we could see roofs of other buildings poking out of the tree tops. I felt miles away from my urban life in Beijing, it was so green. For what remained of the afternoon, we took the time to explore a bit of the old part of the town by daylight. The architecture around the streets was not what I expected at all! Once we moved off Hefang Street, suddenly it all seemed a bit less Chinese, and while it wasn't quite European, there was definitely more European influence than I have seen here.

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Walking back to the train station I realised how much I had enjoyed visiting Hangzhou. The city has such a huge variety of influences and atmospheres. I'm not sure a weekend there is enough to really make the most of everything it has to offer. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to go back one day to see some more of the lake and explore the city more.

Posted by amysblog 21:04 Archived in China Tagged nature landscape history travel lake city china pagoda skyline weekend hangzhou west_lake tefl Comments (0)

Beijing Blog

Part 2

sunny 3 °C

So it’s been a while (almost a month!) since I’ve written about what I’ve been up to and that’s mainly because I’ve been suuuuper busy. Right now it feels a tad strange to be here in China when at home as it seems like the festivities are in full swing. Every time I log into social media I see pictures of people at Christmas Markets and Christmas trees… I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t making me miss home a bit. Here in Beijing there are a few reminders that Christmas is approaching. Some of the bigger malls have lights and trees up and Starbucks is playing Christmas music. But it’s not quite the same.

Despite feeling as though I’m missing out on the run up to Christmas, I’m still having a wonderful time here. This month I’ve been making the most of a couple of extra days off and exploring more of Beijing. Notably, I have finally been to the Forbidden City. I went with my friend Lou on a cold day when the skies were a brilliant blue and made for a magnificent backdrop to the bright red buildings. The Forbidden city is absolutely enormous. Its huge squares stretch on and on further than you can see and it is framed with narrower streets leading into smaller gardens. Although technically, I was standing in the centre of Beijing, it felt extremely far removed from city life; you can count on one hand the number of skyscrapers visible above the huge walls that guard the area. The 2 hour visit surpassed my expectations and I still feel that there is a lot more of Beijing’s Forbidden City to explore.

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Another tourist spot I’ve hit this month is the Summer Palace (yes, I know it’s winter). I visited the Summer Palace with Will and we turned up under the impression that it was a big park and therefore not particularly enthusiastic. That changed more or less as soon as we entered the gates, the clue is in the name I guess, yes it was a park, but there was also a huge lake and several temples and pavilions sprawling across Longetivity Hill. We spent a couple of hours climbing up the rocky hillside until we reached the top where we could see the lake and the full expanse of the ‘park’. It was absolutely crawling with people but the manic-ness, along with a severe lack of health and safety, added to the uniqueness of the Summer Palace and made it a fantastic experience. Visiting the Summer Palace in late autumn was another bonus, because the rich colours of the leaves on the surrounding trees really complemented the vivid colours of the buildings.

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More recently, I visited Beijing’s Olympic Park. The first word that comes to mind to describe the experience is COLD. As we are getting closer to mid-winter, the temperatures here are dropping… fast. It’s barely making it over 5 degrees and the forecast for next week has lows of -8. The bad news? Apparently this isn’t even *that* cold. So yes, visiting the Olympic Park was first and foremost chilly. It was a very cool space to be in, huge (obviously) and The Bird’s Nest is a fairly iconic piece of architecture which is undoubtedly impressive in real life. We were there for sunset, hoping to see the stadium lit up. Disappointingly, that particular evening it was not, which was a shame.

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On the same evening, I FINALLY sampled some Peking Roast Duck and boy oh boy it did *not* disappoint. We went to a restaurant that one of my Chinese friends recommended. There was little English spoken, and whilst my Mandarin is improving, I don’t have the technical duck vocabulary that was required. So after much pointing, gesturing and some broken Chinese, we had ordered an entire duck between two of us. Obviously that was going to be far too much for two people, so we decided to eat what we could and take the rest home. The problem? It was ducking delicious. We ended up eating AN ENTIRE DUCK but I have absolutely no regrets. It was the perfect introduction to the local speciality. It’s fairly similar to what is served in Chinese restaurants in the UK apart from they carve the duck into delicious mouthful-sized slices, rather than shred it and the sauce is slightly different.

So all in all, November in Beijing has been a great month. I also went to Xi’an, which I will write about soon. This weekend I am going to Datong which I am looking forward to. However, temperatures are set to be even lower than they are here, so if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that I’ll definitely be packing my thermals…

Posted by amysblog 05:59 Archived in China Tagged buildings sky landscape history travel lake city china beijing mandarin Comments (0)

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