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Hangzhou

December 14 is Nichole’s birthday. To celebrate, we took a 3-day weekend in Hangzhou.

For those who don’t know, Hangzhou is about 4 hours from Zhangjiagang. It has long been an important city, occasionally serving as the capital of China, and it has always been an important business center. It is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world; Marco Polo wrote “the city is beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world”, and devoted 16 pages to it in his travel journals.

We headed down on a gray Wednesday afternoon. The drive was much the same as any other in this region of China; most of it was somewhere between a small town and a well-populated countryside. Upon arrival at the bus station, we hopped in a cab and headed off to the West Lake, the cultural and historical center of town. The lake is quite developed, with a beautiful network of paths all around its perimeter.

Scenes Around the West Lake

Our hotel was a small unremarkable place, but the location was great. We were less than 30 yards from the shore of the lake. Our first night we wandered along the lakeside path for a while, but it was difficult to see much, and we soon went back to the hotel. The next day our mission was simple: we wanted to walk all the way around the lake. After a thoroughly uninspiring hotel breakfast, we took off.

The lake is surrounded by a variety of sights. Towards the north and east ends, it’s a downtown shopping district with all the Armani shops and restaurants one could want. In the southeast it is more pastoral, with parks and museums along the path. All along the lakeshore are boats, ranging from small

Scenes Around the West Lake

to monstrous.

Scenes Around the West Lake

The boats ferry people around the lake to two of the three islands. The third island is linked by bridges to the shore.

Scenes Around the West Lake

Scenes Around the West Lake

We walked all the way around the lake, stopping on the biggest island to eat lunch at the most famous Chinese restaurant in the city, Lou Wai Lou. It was good, but not exceptionally so. The island was quite beautiful, with a lovely mountaintop park.

Scenes Around the West Lake

Later that night, we went in search of Hangzhou’s famous silk district. We were not disappointed. We found far more than we could have hoped for, and at great prices. Most of the shops had already closed for the night, but we returned the next morning to explore in more depth. We found more than we’d ever imagined. Silk of every sort, piled from floor to ceiling. As soon as we thought it couldn’t be any better than the shop we’d just seen, we’d find that the next one was bigger yet. We wandered through silk heaven for hours.

Silk Shopping in Hangzhou

Silk Shopping in Hangzhou

Silk Shopping in Hangzhou

Silk Shopping in Hangzhou

We bought as much as we could afford, then headed to the bus station for the trip back.

Our general impressions of Hangzhou were great. It lives up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, and has enough cultural background to make a trip fulfilling. However, we both agreed that we probably would not like to live there. Its success has been its failing as well; there are too many haute couture shops and Starbuck’s for it to really feel like China. But for a weekend trip to a phenomenally beautiful city, it’s great.

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