Suzhou

28 01 2011

It took much longer than it should have to get here.  Unfortunately Suzhou doesn’t have an airport, so my choices to get there from Dalian were a 22 hour train ride, or take a plane to Pudong Airport in Shanghai and get to Suzhou from there.  I took the plane, then at Pudong I had to decide between a coach or train.  I decided to go by train even though it would require me to change a few times, since I wanted to try to buy my ticket back to Xiamen, which it turned out wasn’t going to be available for a few days.  When I arrived at Shanghai station, I entered a room full of automatic ticket machines, and tried to buy a ticket to Suzhou.  I had already checked the available trains to Suzhou on the internet, and none of them were appearing.  I quickly gave up trying to buy that ticket and instead tried to buy my ticket to Xiamen, again giving up because I wasn’t able to find Xiamen as a destination.  I was going to go to the ticket office when I saw a second lot of automatic ticket machines in another room.  I decided to give it a go, and found that these machines were a lot more co-operative; you could choose any stations in China to buy tickets for.  The next train to Suzhou was apparently sold out, so I tried to buy my Xiamen ticket again but it was too soon.  So I went off to the ticket office and bought a no-seat ticket for the next train which was apparently sold out.  So much for those automatic ticket machines…

I arrived in Suzhou after about 1 hour 20 minutes, using my backpack on the train.  I finally arrived at my hostel 9 and a half hours after leaving my hostel in Dalian.  If only Suzhou had an airport you could take 4 hours off the journey…

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The Hostel

Suzhou is famous for it’s gardens, so I spent most of my time in the gardens.  I visited three of them altogether; Lion Forest, Humble Administrators Garden and the Lingering Garden.  My favourite was the Lion Forest, named so because it’s full of strange rock formations which are said to resemble lions.  I didn’t see any I thought looked like lions, but did see some that I though resembled other things.  Amongst the rocks there are lots of paths and caves to walk through which made it more interesting, and the garden was well preserved. 

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Funny Skull

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Dog

I visited the Suzhou Museum the first day as well, since it was free and next to the Humble Administrators Garden, so I thought why not.  The problem I find with museums is I lose interest quite quickly, especially in this one since I was quite tired and it was pretty warm inside.  I had to take a few sitting breaks in-between the exhibitions.  The museum had similar things to that of the Shanghai Museum; Chinese paintings, calligraphy, pottery, stamps, furniture etc. so I’d seen many similar things before.  The museum did have an exhibition of some American paintings as well which was interesting. 

Next on my itinerary was the Humble Administrator’s Garden.  I’m not sure why it’s called the Humble Administrator’s Garden, it wasn’t particularly humble; it was bigger than the Lion Forest in fact.  Perhaps the Administrator was a humble fellow?  I wandered around the gardens, thinking to myself ‘it looks much bigger on the map’, and ‘this looks awfully similar to the Lion Forest’.  It seems the gardens of Suzhou all follow a similar style, so it’s you get the feeling of ‘seen one, seen them all’.  There was a nice collection of bonsai trees though. 

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The second day I walked to the Lingering Garden, one of the largest and most important classical gardens.  During my walk I noticed how terrible the traffic is in Suzhou, much worse than in Xiamen.  It was mostly all kinds of bikes that were the problem.  The pavement was lined with bikes, from one end to the other, leaving less room for pedestrians, and to make it worse people would ride their bikes on the pavement making it quite the danger zone.  It is made worse by the fact there are dedicated biking lanes adjacent to the pavement, and fenced off from the road so it’s completely safe to ride on them. 

Eventually I reached the Lingering Garden.  There were far fewer tourists visiting this garden than the previous two, maybe because it’s further away.  The garden was indeed bigger than the previous gardens I’d visited, but again it was designed in a similar style; that is with halls, pavilions, rocks, ponds, all in the Chinese style.  This garden also had some nice bonsai trees. 

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After night fell I went out into Pingjiang Road, where the hostel was situated, to take some night-time photos along the canal.  It’s quite a pleasant street, reminiscent of what old China might have been like.

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