I had an awesome day yesterday. It was a free one to do whatever we wanted, so I rented a bicycle and, armed with a map and a sense of adventure, I took to the road by myself.
I had an amazing time cycling the streets around the West Lake, a picturesque circuitous route totalling about 14km.
In places I had to cut it up with the best of them, because the traffic was pretty manic. In China there as just as many bikes as four-wheeled vehicles, so it never feels as if you're out there as target practice for cars or buses, but it can be daunting if you're not used to the cut and thrust and unpredictability of large groups of bicycles.
What I found particularly liberating was not so much the scenery -- absolutely stunning in places -- and the lovely wide lanes dedicated solely to two-wheeled vehicles, but the fact that there doesn't seem to be any rules whatsoever for bikes: you can cruise through red lights, go up one-way streets, cycle against the traffic -- or with it, and even trundle along the footpath with no-one blinking an eye.
And because everyone cycles -- and drives -- at an ultra-slow pace, it feels very safe. I got the impression that everyone, including pedestrians, are so used to the chaotic nature of it all that they're prepared for the unexpected and take things easy, with a view to stopping quickly or getting out of the way if necessary. I have to add that it helps to have a bell, or a horn, and to use it freely -- just as everyone else does, so all you can hear is a cacophony of toots and whistles and ding-a-lings!
I took my time cycing the route and stopped a lot along the way to take photographs and admire the scenery.
All up my two-hour adventure cost the equivalent of £2. And the bike was terrific: new tyres, ultra-strong brakes, an easy-to-adjust seat and a lock. A highly recommended way to discover the city if you are ever in this neck of the woods!