No better way to top off a trip to Shanghai than a daytrip to Hangzhou and all the lovely landscapes and architecture that surrounds’s it’s West Lake.
Travel to Hangzhou
For Grammy’s last weekend in China, we decided to get out of the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and make the quick trip to Hangzhou to visit the West Lake area. Just an hour or so by high-speed train, it’s far enough away to feel different but close enough for a weekend get-away. The West Lake is a UNESCO heritage site and is said to have “influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries and bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealised fusion between humans and nature” It also is the site of a rather complicated classic Chinese love story that a colleague shared with me and assured me that almost all Chinese know this story in its varied forms. Without knowing the above, we just chose to visit the site due to the chance to see a little green, and introduce my mom to a different part of China.
To make the most of our time we sped home from work and loaded up for a brisk walk to the subway which was by far the quickest (& cheapest) route to the Hongquiao railroad station on a Friday night. Upon arrival at the train station, we had to pick up our train tickets, make it through security, get some snacks & happy hour beverages for the trip and get to our platform. While rushed, we made it just in time and I was thankful that my mom was a trooper as we speed-walked our way through the journey.
Train travel in China is pretty amazing these days with their massive network of high-speed rail. Before moving here in 2017, my early 2000s China travel was all on the old-school rail lines with overnight trains and hard seats. I’m pretty sure those trains still exist, but I haven’t been back on one of those in a while. The fleet of high-speed trains are super comfortable, relatively affordable and amazingly on-time. Given the amount of time that I spent on Amtrak trains up and down the NE Corridor, I have an intense appreciation for on-time train travel.
Upon arrival in Hangzhou and after a relatively short wait in the taxi queue we made it to our hotel (Side note: I will make a future post about car travel and safety in Asia and how we manage). Sam chose the hotel for the combination of location and price – situated close to the West Lake it was the perfect choice for our quick trip. From a comfort standpoint, the rooms were basic and fine, but the overall establishment was more to a standard Chinese level of comfort (ie. indoor smoking was the norm) and we were a bit disappointed by the food options which were limited as the Chinese restaurant was closed for private functions and the Western restaurant was passable but not worth a return visit.
Sam had worked out a full itinerary for us that started out with a morning walk around West Lake – it was a great way to start the day and we enjoyed seeing multi-generational families out for a stroll, couples dancing in the park, HUGE water lilies, old men writing poems with water on the sidewalk and beautiful pagodas. After about and hour by foot we made it to a nearby Starbucks for some coffees and some yogurt for Charlie. Grammy’s day doesn’t really start until after her coffee, and although I had passed off an instant Nescafe pack to her the night before, she really picked up after her Grande latte! After our coffee break we set out again to continue our West Lake exploration, weaving in and out of the neighboring park. It was nice to be in a big park and we just took it slow and enjoyed the lake and the surrounding green space.
Residence of Xueyan Hu
Eventually Sam led us to the our historical site for the day; the residence of Xueyan Hu. Tucked back off of a main street, it was a total hidden gem with beautiful architecture, gardens, a koi pond and bonsai trees. It also was pretty empty so it was nice to have the chance to explore the house a bit without fighting through crowds. At times, domestic travel in China can be an effort in crowd control – so it was a nice change of pace. We toured the rooms and gardens and as then decided to make our way towards our lunch destination.
Along the way to our lunch stop was Hefang Street, and few blocks of old and new shops hawking ALL kinds of wares. While Grammy was on the hunt for some post cards, we were on the hunt for a cheap scarf to cover the stroller from curious hands. When Charlie was younger we never left home without a swaddle which covered a variety of uses, now that he is older it’s not an automatic, but I had forgotten the appeal and interest of a Laowai (foreign) baby outside of the bigger Chinese cities (where they are more common). I don’t mind casual or kind curiousity but I draw the line at people touching Charlie’s hands or face (although sometimes strangers are quicker than I am and I can’t stop them all). I was more concerned when he was little when he hadn’t had too many vaccines, but as he gets closer to one year, he is closer to being more fully vaccinated and I’m less nervous but I still don’t love it, so a lightweight cover is a good deterent to curious hands. As we made our way down the street, we secured the scarf for 10 RMB ($1.40 ish) and my mom got her postcards. Wins all around. We walked and walked and Sam’s chosen lunch spot (famous Grandma’s) ended up being on the inside of a smaller train station – as we were hot, hungry and needed to change Charlie’s diaper, we called a taxi and executed Plan B…lunch at the JW Marriott.
Asia Bistro inside the JW Marriott was awesome; unfortunately we missed their lunch buffet (which looked amazing as they were putting it away as we entered) but were free to order a la carte. The restaurant was empty as it was quite late for lunch and we basically had the place to ourselves. After starting with some fruit, my mom got a seafood noodle dish, I got a salad and pizza, and Sam had reuben sandwich. It was all delicious and very relaxing. After walking almost 12,000 steps we were ready for leisurely lunch. It was the perfect location! I’ve always liked Marriotts but I have grown to love them in Asia as they are always solid options and tend to have pretty great service – what was cool about this one is that there was a JW and a Courtyard Marriott that shared the other spaces – a great future option. During lunch we debated what to do next and after looking at the Sunday weather forecast and feeling the 12,000 steps (kudos to my mom for keeping up!) we decided to take a train to the tea fields and take a slower approach to the afternoon.
Longjing Tea Fields
We took a car about 30 minutes away to an area full of terraced tea fields to explore a bit and take it a bit slower. Our car dropped us off and we were immediately approached by a few low-key tea “touts” – after a few polite refusals, we set off on foot to walk to find a tea house. Our winding uphill walk took us past a few commercial looking tea houses, but we pressed on enjoying the views. We were glad that we did because just as it began to rain we decided to go into a humble looking tea house that seemed to have a great view. It was a wonderful choice; run by a family it was the perfect tea-house experience; basically a private terrace and a beautiful view.
They set down 3 cups of tea, a thermos of piping hot water and filled the lazy susan with a variety of snacks (that even with full stomaches were were able to make a sizeable dent in). One of the snacks was a fruit that none of us had ever eaten; it tasted a bit like a cross between a strawberry – cherry -with a hint of peach. They were delicious! We stayed for about an hour and a half – drinking tea, snacking, enjoying the cool breeze, and view. My mom had been on the hunt for some tea as a thank you gift for her house-sitter; we though this was the perfect place to get it. The tea-house owner and farmer showed her the tea and packed it up for her to take home. Finally as the sun started to set we decided it was time to head back to the hotel; after many attempts to call a car, we gave up and decided to walk a bit to see if we could get a car closer to the commercial action. After about a 15 minute walk we were able to catch a car (just as the rain picked up) and soon we were on our way back to town for a light dinner.
Since our lunchtime attempt to find Grandma’s restaurant was a bust (or just a decision not to eat in a train station) Sam was on a quest for redemption for dinner. After multiple sets of directions we finally found the 2nd outpost of Grandma’s and just as we had been told, it had to be good, because the line to get in was MASSIVE. They said it was a 90 minute wait and there were 79 groups ahead of us. With a tired Grammy and baby this was NOT an option. So, no Grandma’s for us. We headed back to the hotel and decided to get dinner there. Dinner was kind of a bust, with the Chinese option at the hotel closed, the Japanese option seemed kind of sketchy and the best item at the Western restaurant was the Chinese fried rice…thankful our big lunch + snacks kept us pretty much set.
Return to Shanghai
Sunday morning we awoke to more rain; and after a family huddle decided to call it and return to Shanghai early. So Sam quickly exchanged our tickets and then we were off to the train station. (sidenote: it is critical to have a Ctrip account as Sam was able to buy the tickets on the app first thing in the morning and then pick them up at the counter and return the others. Had he not there is no chance we would have gotten a seat)
As it was a game time decision we didn’t have loads of time, after making it through security, ticket pick up etc we thought we had time to hit up Costa (on the 2nd floor of the station) for coffees and breakfast. Now, normally I am the one that thinks that getting places early is just a waste of time but after we placed our coffee orders I looked at my watch, it was 11:35 AM & our train departed at 11:42 AM…7 minutes. I alerted my mom and Sam and decided to have him wait for coffees with Charlie and my mom and i would take off with the luggage and meet on the train. We took off in a rush and dashed through the station to platform 14. Somehow Sam beat us- by taking the elevator and running but he only waited for 1 coffee…which happened to be his Vanilla Latte…c’est la vie. We all made it onto the train with literally 2 minutes to spare!
The quick trip was made a bit more eventful by the fact that Charlie sometimes like to jerk front and back very quickly – my mom was holding him and kept him from hitting the arm console with the front of his face but then he quickly jerked back and conked his head on the side of the arm rest – screaming ensued and Sam rushed Charlie out to help calm and soothe him. The Sam came back into the car and said “I think we need to go see Dr. Jiang when we get back to Shanghai” – NOT what my mom & I wanted to hear. He leaned over to show us the massive bump that had appeared immediately post head bump. Once we got Charlie calmed down we snapped a picture and texted our pediatrician Dr. Jiang. Now I will say that being able to WeChat our pediatrician is one of my favorite aspects of life in China – now I appreciate the spirit of US HIPPA laws but they seem a bit overkill – because I could never text Charlie’s US doctor and get a response in 5 minutes. Dr. Jiang asked us a series of questions, reviewed the images we sent and our answers, gave us some guidance on icing it and what to look for over the next 2-3 hours, but she assured us he was basically OK aside from a big bruise and no need to immediately get medical attention. A huge relief for all of us! Now that all of us had calmed down a bit we watched Sam enjoy his coffee & blueberry muffin and teased him that magically only his coffee and breakfast order was ready! All in all, it was a great weekend get-away and a nice chance to make the most of my mom’s last weekend in China. 10/10 recommend!