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What did you do last weekend?

It was fun coming back to school last Monday. Most people had forgotten that I’d been in China, so it was nice to have a really good answer to the question, ‘How was your weekend?’ A return trip of nearly 12,000 miles might seem a little extravagant for just a couple of days, but my experience was absolutely worth the jet lag. Friday’s education conference was incredible (see my previous  blog ‘Lessons from China’) but Saturday’s sightseeing in the historic city of Hangzhou was every bit as memorable.

I suspected that the day might involve sampling the local cuisine, so I went for breakfast in the hotel with the very best of intentions not to over indulge. However, faced with a buffet of exquisite dim sum and Chinese vegetables, the day started with a bit more food than I had planned, with one or two return visits to the steamer. Unfortunately the American teachers I was with arrived for breakfast just as I was leaving. It seemed rude not to double back and keep them company – and even ruder not to partake in my second breakfast of the day.

The only thing missing from breakfast was a hit of caffeine, so when we were collected from the hotel by our guide Li, our first stop was, rather embarrassingly, Costa Coffee. There was a bit of a misunderstanding when a request for ‘double strength’ was translated as ‘double sized’ – with lots of squirty cream and chocolate sprinkles, but with two breakfasts and a litre of coffee inside me, I was well set up for the day.

Our sightseeing tour started with a walk across the causeway of West Lake to a most beautiful island, housing the Zhejiang Provincial Museum. The museum was a fascinating chronological tour of the Chinese history, spanning a period of over 6000 years, through its remarkable pottery. Since it was almost midday, from here our generous hosts took us for lunch at the popular Louwailou restaurant. With the most spectacular views of the lake and mountains, this restaurant was breathtaking – and the food was every bit as good. Our hosts were clearly keen to show off the range of culinary delights and the dishes of incredible Hangzhou food kept arriving, including chicken’s feet and the particularly delicious sweet and sour bullfrog. At this stage I was rather regretting the double breakfast, but the food was so good I managed to make a healthy impression on the array of dishes that came our way.

Next we were taken to the Buddhist Lingyin Temple, approached through a limestone gorge with ponds, creeks, grottos and statues of Buddha carved into the rock face. This walk through dense bamboo forest on our way to one of the richest and most established Buddhist temples in China, was awe-inspiring. This was followed by a trip to Hangzhou Wetlands Park, a nature reserve crisscrossed with six main watercourses, where we enjoyed a serene tour on a traditional Chinese dragon boat through the lush vegetation. On our return, Li felt that it was definitely time for something to eat, so we headed back into town to sample local food at a bustling community restaurant. Again I felt under a little bit of pressure to sample the full range of adventurous local dishes, but having had a lot of eating practice earlier in the day, I was up to the task, and especially relished the drunken chicken gizzard.

It was then time for shopping, usually my least favourite activity, but shopping in Hangzhou is a totally different experience to a trip to the West End, as all of our senses were stimulated by sights, smells, sounds and tastes of downtown Hangzhou. As darkness fell at the end of an incredible day full of exploring this remarkable city, we returned to the hotel – just in time for dinner!

For good reason Hangzhou is described by locals as ‘Paradise on Earth’. Thank you to our guide and host, Li, for giving me such an incredible day that will live long in my memory.

…and, if you happen to overtake me tomorrow morning at ‘Run a Mile’, you’ll understand why.

William