For the middle of our trip we decided to visit one of the nearby cities, Hangzhou, which is famous for its leafy West Lake. To get there we took the metro about 45 minutes to the cavernous Shanghai Hongqiao train station where we planned to catch the high speed train to Hangzhou. We were surprised that the metro was packed all the way to the end of the line.
The Hongqiao train station is overwhelming to say the least. We stood in line downstairs (ticket office #4) for a few minutes but after asking for advice at an English-speaking tourist booth we headed to the ticket office upstairs hoping for an English-speaking agent. After the brief security check (very common in China) we found the lines to be much shorter, and although the transaction was a bit touch and go, we managed to get the correct tickets with a return for the following day. Hooray!
Unfortunately, the next train was full (I assume) so we had to wait an hour and a half for the train after that. To kill some time, I wandered around the station marveling at the high tech bathrooms, finding our track number, and observing the boarding procedures.
Boarding started about 20 minutes before departure and we easily found our coach and seats, pleased that we had two seats to ourselves. The 85 minute ride was smooth and we were able to use the machines in the Hangzhou metro to get a one-way ticket closer to the lake. Very glad we didn’t have our heavier carry-ons with us as we had to cross a few busy streets underground which meant quite a few sets of stairs.
Upon check-in at the Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake, we were upgraded to Club room (4th floor) with nice views and a huge bedroom with open tub and vanity area.
Eager to get out and explore, we inquired about rental bicycles from the front desk at the hotel. The prices were 30 rmb/1 hour, 50 rmb/2 hours, 80 rmb/3 hours, 12o rmb / 4-6 hours and because of our Club upgrade we got two hours free!
We spent a leisurely three hours cycling and walking the 11km around West Lake. A lot of fun.
Garden paths extend along the entire lake, with pedestrian sidewalks and bike lanes throughout most of it. Even though many of the flowers were no longer blooming, the lake was beautiful, and this was a highlight of our trip.
After returning the bikes, we each got a glass of wine at the Le Bar in the hotel lobby to make a dent in our $60 credit then wandered down the shore to see the nightly musical fountain show at 7pm.
We chose Grandma’s Home for dinner because of the great reviews but our experience was both confusing and underwhelming. We walked inside and after asking the attendant we were impatiently directed back outside, where we apparently needed to take a number from the two people who let us walk past them just a moment before. Now with a ticket we sat down and waited for our number to show up on the monitor. Five minutes later we returned to the indifferent attendant who wrote ’67’ on the back of our slip and pointed to the stairs. We walked up three levels and wandered around a bit before someone came over and asked to see our slip, then pointed us to a section. Turns out that ’67’ was our table number… many of which also have letters. Once seated, we were (thankfully) given a thick English menu with photos but many of the options had fish and/or were out of stock. After ten minutes of matching the Chinese writing from the photos to the printed menu slip (numbering the dishes would have helped tremendously, alas), we ended up with spicy noodles (small portion, best of our choices) spinach with glazed pork (spinach was good, pork was a bit too rich and sweet), and dried eel (interesting but the bones threw me off). Eh, dinner was cheap at least, 68rmb, or about $10.
We retreated back to the hotel for a nightcap, champagne for me and Talisker for Eric.
The buffet breakfast at the hotel was crazy good with abundant French and Chinese options.
After breakfast we headed out to Hefang Street for souvenirs. The street was under construction for a large swath but we didn’t give up and finally found the historic section further up. So many shops with silk, snacks, knick knacks, tea and other items.
We went back to the hotel to check out of the room, then used up the rest of our credit with a glass of champagne. With an extra hour and half we headed back to the lake to explore on foot until it was time to leave for our train at 3pm.
Our train back uneventful, as the Hangzhou train station was less hectic, and the ride back took less time due to fewer stops. Plus, it got up to 308km/hour!