I got off the early-morning train in Hangzhou and began my walk in search of the hostel. I almost always choose to walk, with just one or two exceptions where it was simply impossible. Buses aren't so easy to use when you're new to a city, taxis are expensive and less necessary when you're not in a rush, a bit of exercise is appealing after many hours couped up on a train, getting hot and sweaty isn't a worry when you know a shower awaits you at journey's end and walking around with a map is good way to acquaint yourself with your new surroundings.
Today's route went through a normal city area before giving way to a more tourist-focused district as I neared the West Lake, for which the city is primarily known. The hostel's dormitory rooms were out of service due to Winter refurbishment which meant they could only offer me a private room. I asked if there were any other hostels in town and they told me the only other option was a few kilometres away, so I decided to stay and take the single room. A week later I spoke to someone who had the same response at this hostel when she arrived the day after me. She had persisted until they conceded that there was in fact another place with dormitory rooms just a short walk down the road.
My room was still reasonably cheap and nice, albeit as cold as every other room I stayed in after Beijing. Once again, there was the obligatory wall-mounted air heater which fought a losing battle against the elements whilst ensuring that the air was dry enough to keep my throat sore. I took some breakfast downstairs in the hostel bar before getting some sleep (sleeping on trains is comfortable but often not truly resting). The staff here were nice but generally hopeless. The breakfast came with toast and butter or jam. I couldn't make them understand that you can't have jam without butter, they just interpreted my "can't" as meaning that it was not allowed to select both from the menu; "That's right, you cannot have jam and butter". I gave up in the end but they brought me both so I tried my best to look appreciative. In the evening, I found an Italian restaurant that was extraordinarily expensive by Chinese standards but the food was marvelous so probably worth it. Afterwards, I sat on the cold stone floor of the hostel reception into the early hours watching Everton's staggering 2-3 defeat to Aston Villa on the internet.
On Monday I went for a walk around the lake, taking about five hours. It is said to be one of the most beautiful places in China, but as I walked around the urban east side, it didn't seem incredibly special to me. Walking around the north and western sides though, most of which on causeways, it was much prettier. I am told that is is especially good in the solitude of night or the rain. I'm not sure whether I should be glad that this was a sunny day or not?
In the evening, I found a place with wireless internet and explained to the waiter that I didn't eat meat, which he understood. Let me emphasise this point, he fully understood. I then ordered some bread rolls and the mushroom spaghetti. A few minutes later be brought me bread rolls with mince filling and mushroom & bacon spaghetti. I pointed all of this out to him and he profusely apologised, taking it all away. In due course, replacements arrived. First of all, it became apparent that this was the same spaghetti, but with most (not all) of the bacon bits picked out. I ate the bread rolls, but once again found myself with a mouthful of mince. Figuring that this place was going to be a non-starter, I packed up and walked out. The duty manager frantically chased after me down the street to try to get me to go back in to pay. I explained the problem and that I had no intention of paying. The conversation wasn't as heated as it probably sounds, but she cut me off one or two words into every sentence I spoke so I gave up in the end and went to find somewhere else.
On Tuesday, I took a walk across town to buy my train ticket out. The whole ticket-buying process seems to be a lot less troublesome these days than it was before. Maybe this is because fewer people travel in Winter months, boosting availability, maybe this is because I am picking less-busy routes, maybe I am just more adept at it all. Whatever the reason, it is still wise to buy any ticket days in advance if at all possible; in this case, two days in advance.
Walking the two miles to the station also gave me a chance to see the city. It had a more modern atmosphere than anywhere else I had been in China, although this was before I had visited Nanjing and Shanghai, both of which were on a par. Beijing may have had a brand-new metro, roads, buildings etc for the Olympic games, but here the modernity seemed to have taken deeper roots rather than something that can be created by building an architecturally-striking new office block. Walking back I stopped for the evening at one of the nice coffee restaurants that I now make a bee-line for all the time.
Sickness from sleeping in cold and dry rooms goes up and down without ever going away at the moment. Wednesday was my last full day in the city so I had decided to hire a bike and go for a ride to some of the sites out of town. Firstly I discovered that the hostel didn't hire the bikes themselves but sent me down the road to a kiosk who did. There, the cost was Y305 but the sign wasn't clear whether you got Y300 or Y100 back afterwards. The girls serving didn't speak any English and, in that typical way some Chinese people do, didn't have any focus to try and work out the question other than to giggle nervously whilst pointing at the sign. I decided to cut my losses and dedicate the rest of the day to resting in bed before the next morning's train to Nanjing.