27 September 2016

Bus ride to Changsha and a dip in a pool

Morning packing in our room. It's a grey dull sky, not conducive to one last effort to do more sight-seeing. Last great breakfast buffet at the hotel. Pork bites and taro is my favorite.

At 3pm we board a two-level bus to Changsha. No staff is around to help stow our bags in the hold. Or I should say there was quite a few staff around, but no one thought of the possibility of helping passengers, some of whom were older travelers. Once we are done we can climb to the top level for a better view.

The bus was almost empty. The seats were quite comfortable and so was the temperature, though the aircon unit was noisier than might have been hoped. We left on time and I began to enjoy the rolling Hunanese landscape careening in front of the window as the driver kept a crispy, almost hurried pace.

After a short drive in Wulingyuan, the town near the Zhangjiajie park, the bus stops to pick up some packages for delivery to Changsha. The driver takes some cash from someone who is clearly the sender of the package but issues no receipt. Maybe it's an extra income on the side...

The highway smooth and clean, like many in China these days. I can't stop admiring the amazing work that's been done for the national transportation infrastructure over the last few decades. The fields seem to be mostly in good shape, industrious farmers at work. The small urban areas we encounter are not exactly charming, with lots of grey concrete and houses with no character, but I suppose they probably took the place of muddy huts with no running water, and if so it is an improvement.

Lots of unfinished construction along the way and no one is working on almost any of the sites that pan in view of our windows. Some buildings look like they could become pretty smart condominiums if they ever make it to completion. I have read that there has been a boom of construction in parts of China in recent years, a rush to buy property, and this created a bubble that might be about to burst. Many Chinese today seem to believe, like many Italians did in the past until they got burned, that real estate never goes down. I hope not as we have just finalized the purchase of our family apartment in Guiyang!

The taxi stand at the Changsha West Station too crowded, Lifang decides to go for a taxi. This driver comes forward and talks to her and offers to take us, but after we load our bags in his trunk he refuses to go by meter and asks for 60 Rmb )about 9 euros) to take us to our hotel, the Intercontinental. Lifang thinks it is a rip-off and she must be right. We choose another one and he takes us down to his "brother" at the proper taxi stand. He was obviously a scout who hoped for a cut from taxi drivers to whom he brought business. The new driver accepted to go by the meter then as we go Lifang notices the meter running too fast, it is already way past 60 Rmb and we are not even close to our destination, it must have been tricked. Lifang is furious and after a long discussion whose exact content I can only guess, he agrees to a flat fee of 50 Rmb.

We can finally check-in at the Hotel Intercontinental, and are pleased to learn that they have decided to add free breakfast for free to our reservation. We were tired and really wished for an hour or two in the spa or pool, and smiled when they told us it was open until 1:00am. However, after rushing to drop our bags in the room and change, it was 11pm, the pool was just closing down. The lady at the spa reception smiled but said there was nothing to be done. Well, she might have been right under normal circumstances, but Lifang is not one to take no for an answer. Not when she'd been promised a dip in the pool after a long and tiring bus ride.

In the end, the director shows up and they open the pool just for us! They are clearly trying to impress, and they certainly did.


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