Hangzhou Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 11 › view all entries

Well, that's it. I'm not coming home...ever.

I have found my new home in Hangzhou, China. Never heard of it? Neither had I until about a week ago when thumbing through Lonely Planet for a place to chill between bookend episodes of chaos in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

A city of 6 million (yeah you read that right), Hangzhou is about 2 hours south of Shanghai on the shores of Xi Hu (West Lake) and is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. This is the China you've seen in postcards and coffee table books. Temples and gardens, arched bridges, weeping willows and fruit trees blanket the landscape.

The silhouette of distant mountains are broken only by the occasional peaked roof of an ancient pagoda that looks as though it can be sought out but never reached. Our hotel is on the quiet west side of the lake surrounded on three sides by water and bordering the sprawling imperial gardens. It's small, maybe 20 rooms, and without disturbing it's oldworld charm it has been recently updated with brand new facilities, high speed internet, a theater room with 60" flat screen TV (not that I could imagine staying indoors in a place like this) and a restaurant that serves the best Chinese food I have ever had. It also boasts two stone courtyards furnished with comfortable chairs made for socializing and swapping stories. On the walls, photos of the snow covered landscape and a large stone fireplace are evidence that this place is equally as beautiful dressed in winter white.

Marcus and I arrive early in the afternoon, drop our packs in the room and head for a hike around the lake. The climate is much like Atlanta, so being late-September, the daytime temps are in the high 70's while it drops into the comfy-cool low 60's at night. We are both immediately struck by the peaceful beauty of the lakeside city. In fact, we can't stop talking about it. We just keep turning to one another and asking "Can you believe this place?" Aside from the natural beauty, the landscaping is extremely well manicured and impeccably clean - reminding me of the resort plantations back home on Hilton Head. Soon we come across a outdoor cafe on the water, grab a quick beer and decide to hop a cab into town to see if the food can compete with the scenery. Taking our standard "off the beaten path" attitude towards finding good grub, we duck down the side streets until we can smell the satay cooking on outdoor grills.
Jackpot! We find a row of not-so-rickety stalls, grab our chopsticks and a couple of beers and start pointing out what we want to sample. Today's menu includes, frog legs, venison satay, spicy bbq squid, steamed mussels, crawfish and a gegot leg that has been wrapped in lotus leaves, encased in mud and roasted over smoldering coals. I am in heaven. I live for this and I haven't even gotten to the good part.

Bellies full, we go back to the hotel, shower up and ask the staff where we can find some good night life. Marcus wants to hit a disco (that's what I get for traveling with a Euro) and I'm in no mood to argue. There are two major Chinese Universities in town so we have no problem finding a busy club to satisfy his craving for loud techno and a crowded dance floor. As you can tell by the photos, I had a terrible time.
..Ha! We are two about 10 westerners in the club of about 500 or so but we make fast friends and end up doing shots and dancing well into the morning. How old am I again?

The next morning we shake of the cobwebs and have a leisurely breakfast of dim sum, sweet & sour pork and curried beef in the warm sunshine of the hotel's rear courtyard. Delicious. Marcus wants to take advantage of the high speed internet to update his blog and upload pictures so I decide to go for a walk through the adjacent gardens. There are no words to describe the scenes before me. I sit on a large rock above a waterfall surrounded by lily pads and take in the panorama trying not to blink and fearing that this is all just a hollywood movie set that will be disassembled before my eyes at any moment.
On the lakeside some locals have gathered for family picnics taking advantage of the perfect weather.

Evening brings hunger pains and we are both craving seafood. Time to head back to town and see what the nearby Yellow Sea has provided the locals. Ok, here comes the good part...today just happens to be the local food and beer festival! Our jaws hit the floor as we stumble upon the scene. Marcus stops dead in his tracks, grins from ear to ear and gives me the now familiar Swedish accented "holy shit, man."

Where do we begin? The choices are both exotic and endless. It's time to have a beer and come up with a game plan. We decide that we'll take turns chooses dishes, each will taste whatever we choose, we'll take our time and we'll pause for frequent beer breaks in order to keep up our nerve.

Off we go, working our way from one end to the other...sparrow to goat...beer...squid to starfish...beer...wait a minute, what's that on that sign up there? Is that flipper? that's right, it's porpoise satay time...mmmm tastes like chicken. Couple more beers and we both know what's coming. Insects. With locals cheering our bravery, we crunch down on a couple of scorpion and some type of grubworm , it's crispy shell protects a gooey soft center. I have to be honest, I could plop down on the sofa for some afternoon football with a bowl full of those little scorpions and munch them like popcorn - you know I love the salty snacks. "We are alive, man" Marcus says to me amidst the chaos "This is really living". It's times like these that make me really appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to experience a trip like this.

We top off the night by meeting some of the locals from the disco at a student hang out called the Reggae Bar - a cool dive done in rasta style with Marley on the walls and the stereo. We share pitchers of cheap beer and learn a Chinese dice game that resembles liars poker. I am off to Wuyishan tomorrow on my way to Hong Kong while Marcus is heading back to Shanghai to meet up with a friend from Sweden. We've only known each other for a few days but I feel as though I am saying goodbye to an old friend as we part ways at the train station. Thanks for everything man, see you at Stupida Lupitas in Costa Rica - just say the word.

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photo by: sophiefbs