My travel blog on Suzhou was published on internet and promoted in the weekly newsletter by the travel website ‘Bestemming in Beeld’ (Destination in Pictures) – February 2013. Suzhou only 81 km north-west from Shanghai is known for its silk, historical canals & beautiful gardens, nine of the gardens are now on the UNESCO list. I got more, what a delightful and pretty city. Weblink to the Dutch Blog.
This is my second visit to China – April 2010, the first being four years earlier where I visited the highlights. This time the trip starts together with my sister in Shanghai where she had a work related conference and I go out on the sightseeing. After one week my sister returns back to the Netherlands and I travel on on my own for another two-and-a-half weeks. My travel plan is to visit former Chinese Imperial cities: Suzhou, Nanjing and Kaifeng.
As I climb up to the city gate to get a good view over the city the walled gardens and the ‘Grand Canal’ I’m engulfed by a Chinese tour group of elderly. As only European tourist I’m an often photographed celebrity. More than often someone sneaks up next to me and my arm is grabbed as the photo is taken. Smile 🙂
The Grand Canal from Beijing tot Hangzhou has a length of 1776 km. Meant for trade and to transport grains and food from the fertile south to the imperial city in the North. The Yellow river and the Yangzi river are connected by the canal. The Grand Canal is the oldest and longest man made canal, longer than the Suez canal and the Panama canal. Like the Chinese wall an immense building project. Building started in 495 BC and during several dynasties the building continued. Unfortunately now large sections have silted up. The cruise from Suzhou to Hangzhou is no longer scheduled.
Since the 10th Century Suzhou is known for its silk industry. I really wanted to visit one of the typical national Chinese silk factory’s. What I find: huge halls where a heavy sickly smell of cooked silkworm cocoons is pungent in the air. With oiled efficiency the ladies work hard at their assigned jobs. None are open for a chat of any kind, guess I’m the trillionst visitor smiling at them. In another hall huge looms whizz and purr whilst rolling out sheets of silk, all from a braille like pattern which zoom through the machine. In another room ladies sit behind their meticulous embroideries, unbelievable so tiny, so neat on both sides of the embroidery that you are able to choose which side to show. Their pattern not more than a photograph or magazine cutting, paintings from famous masters as Monet, Gustav Klimt and Picasso are reproduced precisely. In the showroom Mao and Lady Di follow you with their eyes and I must suppress the urge to fluff up Mao’s lacquered down hairstyle.
Suzhou as cultural historical city is really know for her gardens, many often dating back 2500 years. Most were created during the Song, Ming en Qing dynasties (10th – 19th century) and belonged to rich civil servants whom gave the gardens their poetic names that conjure up enchanting pictures in my mind. The gardens are predominantly rockeries, waters & ponds, flowering trees, gazebos, and elegant buildings. Armed with my notebook and the garden names written in Chinese by the hotel clerk off I go. The first is opposite my hotel.
The first to visit is the “Master of the Nets” garden (Wangshi Yuan) also known as ‘The Fisherman’s garden’, is one of the most famous gardens. Also it is one of the smallest with her 0,6 hectares. Formally a private garden and home of an important city civil servant 1636 – 1911. The garden dates back to the Qing dynasty. Now the fresh spring green and cherry blossoms enhance the garden’s beauty and serene calmness.
Next I’m off to one of the largest gardens dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1509 AD) -“The Humble Administrators Garden” (Zhuozheng Yuan). The garden is around 5,2 hectares and also originally belonged to a VIP civil servant. He wished to create a garden where he could garden, plant trees and his veggies as a humble individual. The garden is divided into several sections and pavilions with attractive names as ‘The Hall of Distant Fragrance’, ‘Celestial Spring Pavilion’, ‘Small Flying Rainbow Bridge’ en ‘Pagoda Reflection Pavilion’.
Other gardens to visit:
“Lingering Garden”, a garden divided in four with each their own theme. “Retreat & Reflection Garden” this garden is from 1885, designed by a painter.
“Lion Grove Garden” This garden dates back to 1342 and was landscaped by a Zen Buddhist monk as part of a monastery complex.
“Great Wave Pavilion” the oldest of the gardens, dating back to the Song Dynasty – 10th Century and typical for that time.
“Garden of Cultivation”, a Ming garden from 1541 with an aesthetic design of elegance and simplicity.
“Couple’s Retreat Garden” A garden dating back to 1874, with two sections the garden is associated to a couple.
“Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty”, Historically this garden dates back to the Jin Dynasty (265–420) and was altered + cultivated over 5 dynasties. The oblong garden has several elements with romantic names – ‘Autumn Hill’, the ‘Flying Snow Pool’ and the ‘Flying Snow Spring’.
After the gardens it’s off to the old part of town “Píngjiāng Lù“, actually it’s a long street along an old canal. This is authentic China for you, small canals and streets branch off and street life carries on as though you’re not there. A lust for your eyes and sensation to your nose, all travel senses come alive – this is travel delight! Little stores filled with all sorts of exotic bits, bobs and foods, open doors to courtyards, elderly people seated in front of their houses enjoying the afternoon sun, little kids playing in the streets and toddlers in their nappy-less open trousers, an old man shuffles along to the community well to pull-up a bucket of water. The garbage collectors come through the canal to fish out rubbish and collect home garbage, further along a man collects huge bags of plastic bottles and takes a break to have a look at his mobile phone. Mobiles also here in China a part of life and in every hand & pocket. Píngjiāng Lù is so photogenic, lovely old buildings and bridges, charming small cafes, its alive and with its beauty brings many young couples to have their photos taken all dolled up. For me a good chance to also take my snap shots!
When travelling a nice hotel is also very welcome. I stayed at the ‘The Garden hotel’ obviously also in her own tranquil and lovely garden. Inside the hotel a calm sphere, and what s a great help even a bit of English is spoken by the helpful staff. The hotel is opposite the Mater of Nets Garden.