Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hangzhou: Easter Weekend Day 1 (4/23/2011)

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Time for a road trip! Actually a train trip, starting from the new Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station that is connected to the domestic airport. The waiting hall is immense:
There are two sets of escalators down to each platform, in this case our end of the train was at the A-check-in gate. People queued up when their train number came up on the signboard, and when the numbers turned green, they used their tickets to go through the turnstiles and down the escalator to the platform.
Kent discovered you could get free bottles of water if you showed your train ticket.

You were only allowed to check in a few minutes before departure time, and as we went down the escalator, people were still getting off the train.
Found our seats in Car 7, and we seemed to leave on time. At the front of the car, they showed the current speed of the train:
Reached a top speed of 350 kmh/217 mph. Covered the 120 miles to Hangzhou in about an hour.

Hangzhou is one of the great ancient cities of China. It is disputed whether Marco Polo ever really visited China, but he heard enough about it from his father's and uncle's stories of their travels. Hangzhou was described as a paradise and finest city in the world. Even Richard Nixon, during his 1972 visit, quoted the ancients in saying, "Above there is heaven, below there is Hangzhou..."

Upon arriving in Hangzhou, we first bought return tickets, then a map, then looked for a taxi. We tried two different sides of the station, and strangely enough, we had to approach the taxi drivers, and then they said they would take us to the hotel for 100 yuan. It was such a laughably huge amount of money that we walked away, and no one came after us. We could walk to the hotel, and that's what we did.
Passed the canalized Donghe River:
Passed the Phoenix Mosque:
Continued down the Zhongshan pedestrian street which follows the path of the Imperial Street of the Southern Song Dynasty (1138-1279) of which Hangzhou was the capital city:
Dollarweed (actually another subspecies) was used in the landscaping!
Seal/chop or typeface designs?
Turned onto another pedestrian street, Hefang Road, this one filled with touristy shops and teahouses:
And vendors selling creepy GI Joe toys:
These things commando-crawled forward a few paces, stopped and fired their guns, then crawled, etc.

A laughing Buddha with lilliputian Buddhas:
Bronze sculpture of a ding pot, an ancient cooking vessel:
There appeared to be a Flower Exposition at Wushan Square:
Above Wushan Square, Chenghuang Pagoda sat atop Wushan Hill:
A 7-story pagoda established in the early 15th century, rebuilt in 2000 with an elevator...

After about 4 km/2.5 miles, we reached Xi Hu/West Lake. It was sunny and warm, and hazy over the lake. West Lake is one of the scenic wonders of China. It was originally an inlet of the Qiantang River, but by the 4th century the river had silted up and formed a lake that is 8 sq. km2/3 sq. mi. The lake had a tendency to flood, so over the years dikes were built, creating causeways named for the governors who had them built.
Long Bridge Which is not long, and just centimeters/inches above the water:
One of the rental boats:
View of Liefeng Pagoda:
A former villa, now a cafe where we stopped for lunch:
Hot Pepper Beef (with ginger) and Spicy Garlic Tofu Pork:
Once fortified, we could continue walking to the hotel. Remember, we were walking with our luggage, or more specifically, Kent was carrying our duffel bag!

Detoured through a street-side park where we saw painters:
The park followed a stream:
Later we figured it was 7 km/4.4 miles from the train station to the hotel, the last part being uphill. The West Lake Hillview International Hotel was nice enough, but it was on a one-way road.
Hotel room:
Bathroom with a glass sink that from above looked perfectly flat!
The hill view:
After checking in, and ordering tickets to the highly recommended "Impression West Lake" show, we wanted to get a taxi down to West Lake to start our tour. After a 1/2 hour wait and two taxis refusing to take us, we ended up renting bicycles!

Survival bike riding! There aren't always curbs, so the sidewalk merges with the bike lane which merges with the street. Since Hangzhou is a tourist spot, and this was the "hot" season, the sidewalks were crowded and spilled over to the bike lanes. The bike lanes were filled with bikes, motor scooters, motor rickshaws, electric carts, and cars, taxis, and buses. Several tour buses parked in the bike lane, plus there were trees and lamp posts, people crossing, etc. It was wild! We were told we could ride around the lake and on the Su Causeway. But, when we tried to follow a path along the edge of the lake, we were yelled at by the rent-a-cops and waved back to the street. We had to stay on the street with all the traffic!

We started at the southeastern corner of West Lake. Passed the Leifeng Pagoda, which was first built in 977, but this version was built in 2002 with an elevator as well. It is nicely lighted at night.
View along the southern shore:
This is a bridge to Huagang Garden, where we wanted to stop and see the pools for viewing fish:
But we never found the entrance. Took a side road past this jungle cruise:
But ended up at a gated hotel.

Windsurfers:
A view across to the Su Causeway and the city beyond:
At the northwestern corner of West Lake, we looked for the Yue Fei Memorial. I wanted to see at least one sight, so we parked and locked the bikes, paid 25 yuan each, and entered the shady temple area.
The Main Hall:
Main Hall detail:
Yue Fei was a successful Song dynasty general, who campaigned against the invading Jin from the north. But he was so successful that the overlords were afraid he might turn against them. So he was falsely charged with sedition and executed. Twenty years later he was exonerated, and declared a hero who was revered for his patriotism:
Now stone animals and dignitaries line the avenue to his tomb:
And those who falsely accused him must now forever kneel to him:
The tombs of Yue Fei and his son:
Gate to the tombs:
I wanted to look for the 373 cranes on the floor of Memorial Hall, and couldn't find them. Then I looked up, and they were on the ceiling!
Cranes symbolize integrity and faithfulness:
We were running out of time and were supposed to be back at the hotel by 6:00 PM to pick up our show tickets. We took a quick look at the Su Causeway, and saw people walking their bikes. Assumed you could not ride bikes there, so returned the way we came by road, a bike ride of a total of 16 km/10 miles. And not an easy bike ride, with all the people and traffic, but also because of the little arched bridges along the way, where I had to walk the bike up the steeper ones (Kent had multiple gears, I had one.)

Arrived at the hotel just after 6:00, and picked up the tickets. We had time to shower, before going back downstairs to wait for a taxi. This time they were supposed to call ahead for one, but we were able to grab one that had just deposited passengers at the hotel. Okay, another problem with Hangzhou being full of tourists, there were terrific traffic jams. Our driver seemed to be doing marvelously weaving in and out, using the bike lane to squeeze by on the right. We felt like we were in The Amazing Race, and we were going to make it! But then the driver thought the traffic was too slow, and decided to take another route, backing up and turning around, and adding another kilometer to the meter. He ran into just as much traffic with his new route. Our only saving grace was that we had departed so early! A 9 km/5.5 mile trip took 40 minutes, but we had 20 minutes to spare. Kent bought us drinks and pistachios, as we had missed dinner.

We were seated on the top row of a rickety set of bleachers overlooking a large enclosed section of West Lake. There was VIP seating in two boats on either side of the bleachers. This was going to be a multi-media extravaganza directed by Zhang Yimou, who also staged the amazing Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

It started out pretty awesome, and even though we had no idea of the story, there was plenty to entertain. What made it so amazing was that most of the lake was the stage, which was just underwater, so that the actors appeared to walk on the water. And then they lighted up the surrounding trees.
video
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Boats carried actors in the foreground, and whole buildings floated out onto the stage:
After the show, we decided we didn't want a real dinner, and got some chicken at KFC. Then we tried to catch a taxi back to the hotel. Traffic was at a standstill in the immediate area, so we started walking. Then every taxi was occupied. We kept walking. A couple vans stopped and offered to take us for 100 yuan. No way! Finally a taxi stopped, looked at the card the hotel gave us to show a taxi driver where to go, and shook his head no! So we ended up walking 8 km/nearly 5 miles back to the hotel. Treated ourselves at the bar before falling in bed exhausted!

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