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What to do for 6 days besides Shanghai & Beijing

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I’ve really enjoyed reading the detailed China trip reports written by those who have traveled independently as it has given me a lot to think about for our upcoming trip. We are flying into Shanghai and out of Beijing in late June for a total of 13 nights on the ground. We have English friends who are living in Shanghai and will enjoy a few days/nights staying with them and seeing the sights. They will also join us for the weekend in Beijing before we fly home. My husband & I are fit & active (cycling, running) love history & culture. We have been to Hong Kong but didn’t really have the rest of China at the top of our list until we had the opportunity to visit our friends. Now we are really looking forward to it. Between the minimum 3 nights in Shanghai and 4 nights in Beijing (including trip to Great Wall), how would you suggest we use the other 6 nights?
From what I’ve read I see 3 possibilities:

1) Use both Shanghai and Beijing as the base for day/overnight trips to places like Suzhou, Hangzhou from Shanghai and Chengde plus somewhere else out of Beijing. Travel between Beijing and Shanghai by air and the smaller trips by train or private car.
2) Travel between the two cities via train, snaking up and seeing places like Nanjing, Qingdao.
3) Pick a third air destination like Lijiang/Yunnan and fly between the 3 places with 3-4 nights in each.

I want to minimize the time spent traveling and also the time it takes to arrange for the travel (a little nervous about figuring out the train ticket thing). We realize that we won’t “see it all” and are fine with that but would like a mix of big cities with something, for lack of a better word, more “quaint”. We aren’t interested in traveling to Xian. Does anyone have an opinion on what I’ve outlined as well as specific recs for Hotels in the smaller cities? We’re adventurous in most things with the big exception of a place to sleep - my husband is a tall guy and we’ll probably want to stay in hotels that cater to Western tourists (softer beds?). Is there another alternative that I haven’t thought of? Thanks in advance for any opinions you care to share!

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