Hangzhou minibreak

A couple of weeks ago I finally got my passport back, complete with residence permit. It’s a fairly long process but luckily my school has a visa officer who took care of most of it for me. Technically, you’re meant to have your passport on you at all times, but generally just showing a picture of it will do – although travelling is an exception to this, as you usually need your passport to buy train tickets and definitely need it to stay in a hotel.

To celebrate getting our passports back, and because we felt it was time to get out of Shanghai, my friend Mahalia and I decided to go to Hangzhou for the weekend.

We met at Hongqiao Railway Station about 40 minutes before our train. Hongqiao station is on the western edge of Shanghai and is where most of the high speed trains go to these days. It’s inconvenient for most people, but Matt and I live a few stops away so it’s alright for us! It’s a huge, gleaming place, more like an airport than a train station. Mahalia and I managed to find each other, then went through security and found the departure gate.

We’d been out at a party the night before so we had plenty to catch up on while we waited for our train and the entire journey to Hangzhou. It’s less than an hour, and the speedometer in the carriage said we were going at 300 km/h. It didn’t feel that fast.

At Hangzhou we got on the metro. It was insanely busy, hordes of people and staff with megaphones trying to move people around. The train itself was even worse, we were jammed in with some people with questionable hygiene and everyone was staring at us and saying things like “oh look at the foreigners, they’re on the train, where are they from, maybe they are american” and other inane things like that.

A lot of people got off before us and by the time we got to our stop it was less bone-crushingly crowded. I had a print out from the hostel so followed the slightly vague directions, supplemented with baidu maps.

The hostel was cosy and atmospheric, and our room was spacious and clean. It was on a pedestrian street, backing on to a hill, so was very peaceful.

We wandered out to see Hangzhou. Very close to our hostel was a pedestrian street with stalls and shops selling snacks and tourist gifts. One of the stalls was selling something that I can only describe as smelling like death. We were quite hungry but none of the stalls appealed (crab on a stick, anyone?). By the entrance to the lake front was a restaurant and we went in, although I was a little wary that they’d have nothing veggie. The waitress was quite sweet and kept trying to order for me, but in the end I had broccoli/other veg in garlic with rice, and Mahalia had duck and chips. It was much better than it sounds! Neither of us tried the Hangzhou specialities of fatty pork in syrup or fish in vinegar soup.

Nicely full, we went to see the lake. West Lake is one of the most famous sights in China, and it was beautiful. It was quite a grey day so not as pretty as it could be on a clear day, but it was lovely nonetheless.

We asked how much a boat trip would be and a family suggested we join them – so we did! This was super relaxing. The family (from Shanghai) were friendly but not overbearing and floating around on the lake was very soothing. Other than when we came a little too close to other, much bigger boats, of course…

After an icecream, we continued meandering around the lake.

It started to rain, just a little at first but gradually a little heavier. This meant there were fewer people around, but it also meant we cut our wanderings short and headed back to the hostel.

We had a little nap and then a relaxed dinner, chatting away for hours. After all that walking and talking we were both quite tired and were asleep by 22:30!

The next morning I went for a run. I’d spent some time looking at the map trying to work out a good route but I didn’t want to take my phone or a map with me so in the end I settled for running to the lake, along the water’s edge and then retracing my steps. It was breezy and a little cold when I set out but by the time I got back to the hostel I was very warm!

We had breakfast in the courtyard of the hostel. Mahalia had eggs and oatmeal, and tried to order a hazelnut mocha but was told it wouldn’t be very nice. I had waffles and it came with two forks.

After breakfast we went for a walk up the “mountain” to the rear of our hostel. There were a few interesting buildings, pagodas and the such like, as well as the Hangzhou exhibit from the 2010 Expo. The view from the top of the pagoda was fantastic.

We wound our way back down the hill and mooched about the shops. I bought sweets and Mahalia bought pearls. 

We had a late lunch (made even later by the huge delay in bringing our food out!) and I started my customary worrying about getting the train. As a result we made it to the train station with more than an hour to spare, and had to kill the time by having a matcha frappe latte. We were asked for our passports at security in Hangzhou, which hadn’t happened in Shanghai. The security guards laughed at my picture – thanks guys, yes I look like a murderer.

Hangzhou station is just as impressive as Hongqiao, and I kept referring to both as the airport. The most stressful part of the whole weekend was back at Hongqiao as there were so many people trying to get off the platform and then out of the station and into the metro. Chinese queues are… well, let’s just say they’re not like British queues. Lots of pushing. I try not to think about what would happen if there was an emergency (I guess I’d use my height as an advantage and step over people….).

I got home and I felt so relaxed! Even though it was only one night away, and only an hour away, and to another city, not the countryside, it felt like I’d had a good break away from it all. Very content! Matt gets back next week so I’m going to plan an adventure for us – maybe somewhere nearby or maybe a little further afield.

 

 

Pre-China Czech weekend

I know this is a blog about my travels in China, but as I just got back from the Czech Republic I thought I might write about that too.

Last year, my mum asked if I’d like to see the opera Rusalka. I know very little about opera but I thought it would be an experience to see a Czech opera, in Czech, in the Czech Republic. Mum has been to Prague before but I’d never been. I booked tickets for the opera and Mum booked return flights with three nights at a hotel for £120 each – bargain.

We flew from Gatwick with SmartWings, a budget Czech airline. The airport and the airline have a lot in common, both are fine but seem a little old. Certainly no frills. But who needs frills on a short flight? It was a clear evening so we had a good view of the towns around Gatwick as we ascended. We may have had views for the rest of the flight but I fell asleep.

We had a taxi transfer booked from the airport in Prague, and even though we could tell that he was getting lost trying to find the hotel, we didn’t mind driving about and catching glimpses of the illuminated castle. We shared a Twix from the vending machine for dinner.

The next morning I went out for a run, then had three types of cake for breakfast, before heading out to explore.

After exploring the old town and seeing the astronomical clock, we went to the castle, where we visited the cathedral (too big to take a picture of, as you can see) and other chapels.
We made sure we kept our energy levels up with more cake in beautiful surroundings – this was at Café Imperial.

We made it across Charles Bridge once but the crowds were too much for me, and too much for this guy.

The next day, we went to the foot of Petrin Hill, where there’s a monument to the victims of communism. I read a little about communism in Czechoslovakia but as it retreats into the past it feels more and more surreal.

We went up the Petrin Tower, taking the funicular railway to the top of the hill and then the lift to the top of the tower (we felt we were doing enough walking as it was!).

After all that walking (around 20k steps per day!) we went for a foot massage before getting ready for the opera.

The opera was amazing! Beautiful theatre, clever set design, not entirely ludicrous plot – an absolute treat.

We left the next morning in the driving rain, having been cold but dry throughout our trip. 

Such a nice little holiday and so good to spend time with my mum – even if she does snore a little!