“Above there is Heaven, below there is Suzhou and Hangzhou” ~ really old Chinese saying
Well, I wouldn’t go THAT far, but it turned out better than expected given the weather.
Murphy’s Law: The day before, even the day of, our departure to Hangzhou was lovely. Then once we were on our way it wasn’t. Our first trip outside of Shanghai since we arrived 9 weeks ago and the weather was terrible. I cannot be exactly sure, but it may have begun to rain the minute our high-speed train departed Hongqiao Station.
And it kept raining.
Through the train journey. Through the ride in the taxi to our Hangzhou hotel. Through the night. And through our first day.
I had wanted for years to visit Hangzhou and had certainly been looking forward to this trip (almost desperately) for weeks and now…
We had breakfast in our room and I poured over the Hangzhou tourist brochure looking for something, almost anything, that we could do on a rainy day. But even the tea museum had an outdoor component. So I gave in.
I decided our first day would just be a relaxing day at the hotel. Just C and I. And I looked at the bright side.
I managed our first trip in China. Getting C and I to the train station on the metro and then to Hangzhou with the two of us sharing a single seat on the one hour journey. I managed, with the help of my little spitfire, to get us from the Hangzhou train station to our hotel. Surrounded by taxi touts refusing en masse to use their meters and tossing out crazy, inflated numbers. As I walked away and they followed, C yelled at them “Leave my mommy alone. BU KEYI!” Yes, in Chinese she told them to basically buzz off. (Well, she said “Cannot!” but I know what she meant.”) I negotiated from 80 RMB ($12.80) to 50 RMB ($8). (Though of course, as I learned later, the real meter cost is 12 RMB or $1.92).
We had a lovely lunch at the hotel and then we went to get a foot massage. Or rather I did while C enjoyed the adjacent chair – in our private room! – with her iPad and then fell asleep for her nap. This is the first massage I have had since a post-partum one within a month of C’s birth. I also read a book. Gasp!
We enjoyed an hour swim together in the hotel pool and then dinner. The hotel had a Tex-Mex promotion and did not do half bad. Sure, I had never before had Mexican Lasagna, but it was very tasty.
When I threw open the curtains on day two to find another overcast, grey day however, I felt a bit defeated. I debated just cutting our loses and heading back to Shanghai whether I received a refund on the third night at the hotel or not. I did not know however if I could get a ticket back on the train. It was a holiday weekend after all. And then, through the clouds, I saw a little glint of sunlight hit a nearby building. So I threw some clothes on C and myself and we headed out.
I thought I would first thing get a taxi to Hangzhou’s famed West Lake. But down in the lobby I thought to the glimpse of greenery, a park perhaps?, I had seen across the street with what looked like a traditional Chinese bridge. We would head there first to see and then back to the hotel for a taxi.
We did find not only a park but a canal filled with upgraded traditional dugout canal boats. In a little exercise park by the canal, friendly grandmas and grandpas getting in some workouts and moms and their kids out for a stroll, came over to check us out and chat us up. They were curious and sweet, testing my Chinese and practicing their English. One woman told us rather than head back to our hotel, why didn’t we head to the little canal boat dock on the other side of the bridge, and head down river a ways?
So we checked out the bridge, where we again became the subject of much kind interest and then over to the boat dock. Turns out the boats are canal taxis. They are fitted with mechanical transport card readers. I did not have a card of course and asked how much. I did not get far as a kind older woman motioned to me and C as she scanned her card three times. It was on the house. (I think it cost 3 RMB, or 48 cents, for a ride)
What a fantastic little trip! We meandered along the canal (or a river with incredibly tamed banks) for at least half an hour. I honestly lost track of time. Our canal trip benefactor took the opportunity to snap some pictures of C enjoying the boat (as did I) and since she had been so nice we both acquiesced to a photo with C on her lap and giving her a hug (because no one gets a photo like this unless C agrees). The canal was lined on both sides with a tree lined walking paths and periodically with covered Chinese gazebos where old people rested and watched the water, did exercise or played Chinese musical instruments. People walked their dogs. Moms and dads walked with their babies and children. The low clouds created a mist that only made it more inviting.
We were let off at the terminus where pretty little white houses with grey roofs and red lanterns lined the canal. We walked back a little along the canal path, underneath willows and plum trees in bloom. C ran and laughed. Geez, it was lovely.
Then we made our way on foot several blocks to West Lake. We stopped for lunch and unfortunately the skies opened up and buckets fell. Thankfully it started after we entered the restaurant and by lingering a bit longer it ended before we left. A few blocks more and we found the lake.
The weather was still overcast. Clouds hung low and the opposite bank, even boats on the water, could barely be seen through the mist. Still it was beautiful and, judging by the crowds, we were not the only ones longing for a stroll by the lake.
We walked for hours. C alternated between the stroller and running excitedly ahead. When it drizzled, we found refuge under the trees or in one of the lakeside gazebos or even once in a temple. King Qian’s Temple was a wonderful respite from the buzz of the Chinese crowds. It cost 15 RMB to get in and I was a bit hesitant at first, but I am so glad we took the time to visit. Just off the main path around the lake it was as if we were suddenly transported a long way away. The crowds were gone, only a handful of other people were inside, and it was so incredibly quiet.
I did not make it all the way around the lake. I had no such anticipation when I started as it is expected to take approximately FIVE HOURS to do so. Yet I did not even make it to Leifeng Pagoda. C conked out in her stroller and I too became tired. So I made the decision to head back to the hotel but told myself that Hangzhou is worth another trip, soon.
I think C enjoyed the trip. The one part though that seemed to disappoint her is that we never did find “Joe.” Seems every time I mentioned going to “Hangzhou” she heard something about “Joe” (zhou in Chinese is pronounced quite similar to the name Joe). Even just now as I write this, while looking over the pictures of our trip, she said, “Next time let’s visit Joe.”
So there is likely to be a next time.