Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Purple Mountain is the lungs of Nanjing. It is a huge Park that also has a few other attractions we will visit over time - Dr Sun Yatsen's Mausoleum and Museum, an Aquarium, Botanical gardens and lakes, The Nanjing City Wall and the Xuanwu Lake. It is quite heavily vegetated and I was hoping it was effectively sucking up most of the carbon Monoxide from the pollution in Nanjing. This proved to be a forlorn hope! When you look at the pictures you will see just how polluted it is here. These pics were taken in the autumn, so it was not yet cold enough for heating fires. They were taken mid morning so probably not a lot of cooking fires. And they were taken at the end of a holiday period of one week - so you would think the pollution would have been down a bit with some industries maybe taking some time off!
However this is where we live now and it doesn't effect me anywhere near as much as the desert did. I have done a collage of pics. The pollution is clear in the top photos - you could barely see Nanjing which is only a few kilometres away.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
Suzhou is about an hour’s train ride from Shanghai. Saturday morning, bright and early we met our travelling companions, Sue, John and Tina at Nanjing railway station and board our train. Cheryl and I are travelling light with just a backpack between us. The trains in China that we have experienced so far have been excellent. Yes, we travel first class because it’s cheap and we can book seats – but from what we see through the windows, there’s not a lot of difference with other fare classes. The train is fast, comfortable, and above all clean and well serviced.
Flashing through the countryside at speeds of up to 200kph, we arrive in Suzhou about 11:30. Thanks to our lovely Tina, who is Chinese, and takes on the role of translator and trouble shooter for the weekend, we skip the long taxi cues and soon have a minivan take us to our lodgings, the Pingjiang Lodge. (http://www.the-silk-road.com/hotel/pingjianghotel/index.html) This is a hutong, a culture hotel. It was once a small village like complex with multiple rooms in a warren of hallways and connecting courtyards. Parts are some 450 years old and the hotel claims to have items dating back to the Ming Dynasty times. It is totally charming. And even better, it is right in the middle of a local tourist area leading directly to some of the picturesque and historical sites in Suzhou.
After a delicious lunch and a bottle or two of Tzingtau in the hotel restaurant, we spend the afternoon wandering along the local streets alongside one of Suzhou’s many canals, gazing into corridors and shops that are little different from times of centuries past. Along the way, two players are presenting an opera on the footpath cross the canal. A simple backdrop and a tape player is all the support they need for this open air theatre. There is a tourist site – the Humble Administrator’s Garden nearby and undaunted by the crowds, we venture inside. It’s not huge (about 4 Hectares), but quite beautiful. A mini botanical gardens, with pergolas, hills, lakes and grottos scattered throughout. We think it’s lovely. Unfortunately, about ten thousand other visitors also choose to spend the afternoon here with us – which makes for quite a crush of people in parts. But then this is China.
Wandering back to the hotel, we take a small catnap and then it’s time for a light dinner. Back up the same street where in the afternoon we spotted a local dumpling restaurant. Again the food is yummy, and this time, cheap as well! Wandering on after dinner we stumble on an English Pub. Well of course this is a compulsory stop, where we watch a little footy, down a lager or two (and some chardy) before getting almost lost and taking a very long way home.
The next morning we begin rather casually and decide to take on Tiger Hill - Suzhou’s major tourist attraction. Our intrepid Tina is told that a number 2 bus will take us all the way. You Beauty! Off we go t the main street nearby. It’s Sunday morning, the streets are crowded (as they are every day), and Number 2 bus takes ages to arrive. When it does, it is very - - -very full. But, when in China …..
And so we are on - and in very close contact with a number of the locals! The streets are as crowded as the bus – and progress is painfully slow, despite the driver’s liberal use of his horn. At one point, so many people get on the bus that he can’t shut the doors. The driver stops the bus. A crowd crams into the back door. Driver shouts something and after a few murmurs and shouts to and fro, several people begin collecting bus fares from those that came into the back door. They jump out the back door, run to the front, pay the driver, and run back to the back door before he shuts it and we are off again.
By now we’re wondering if we’ll ever arrive. “It looked much closer on the map” But eventually we do. Begging for a coffee, we search high and low – plenty of bridal shops - where is Starbucks when you need them! By this time we’re a little concerned that traipsing into the Gardens of Tiger Hill, with the other 25,ooo people may not be a wise choice if we also want to catch our train at 4:15. So instead we catch a canal boat back town.
What a delightful journey. Photos don’t do it justice. We wander through a series of canals between centuries old houses and other dwellings past ramshackle extensions over the water and little stone patios almost falling into it. There are windows open everywhere allowing us a voyeurs view into the everyday existence of these canal dwellers. This place is just gorgeous. And remarkably clean. The sky is blue. There seems to be little air pollution and so the buildings and streets aren’t continually grimy, as in Nanjing. Everything appears clean, tidy and generally cared for.
Another local lunch (costing the amazing amount of about AUD$12 for the 5 of us and we travel by bone-jarring tuktuk back to the hotel. The advantage of the tuktuk is that they aren’t held up by the traffic, squeezing between busses and cars where a taxi can’t. A quick cuppa, and another tuktuk and we’re back on the train headed home.
Suzhou, we’ll be back. The Venice of the East is a delightful place – and well worth a longer visit. And yet again, we have the beginnings of another firm friendship.