If you haven’t already, take a look at my last post ‘Wonderful Shanghai Pt 2’ here
I have to admit the title here doesn’t really tell the full story as we actually spent the day in the equally wonderful city of Suzhou which is around 62 miles from Shanghai. Read on
After a good nights sleep at our hotel in Shanghai we arose early for our 9am pick up. As Breakfast was included we headed down to the Restaurant. Breakfast was fantastic with a great selection of Western and Eastern breakfast dishes – I noticed the now infamous Congee. Along with said Congee were things like Steamed Dumplings, Noodles, Chicken Sausages, bacon, fried Potatoes, eggs (Boiled and Fried), Various Pastries , fruit and even an omelette station so everyone was well catered for.
After filling up on Breakfast, which did include copious amounts of coffee (I was still trying to adjust to the time difference) we were met in reception by our guide and driver. We had to check out of the hotel as we would be travelling to Suzhou and spending an evening there.
The travel time to Suzhou was Approximately 2 hours so the comfy executive chairs in the minivan were much appreciated. On the Journey Kirsty gave us lots of facts and history about Shanghai which was really interesting and for me one of the best things about having a local guide. That local knowledge is invaluable.
Our First stop in Suzhou was the Humble Administrators Garden – of all the Gardens we visited this was the biggest and most spectacular in my opinion. It is one of the most famous Gardens in China and is divided into three distinct sections – Eastern Garden, Western Garden and Central Garden.
Gardens in China are very different to those in the UK where the focus is mainly on the plants and the arrangements. In china the Gardens were built by the wealthy for them and their families and friends to enjoy and escape from the outside world. The focus is on different areas and views with buildings created for different events. So they would have a building for entertaining guests where scenes would be created to be viewed from different windows. A building for reflecting, a building for drinking tea and even a building for playing music. The Gardens are normally linked by zig zag walkways (evil spirits can only walk in straight lines). The buildings themselves are always built in the traditional Chinese style with the edges pointing to the sky depicting a dragon tail. Also when walking into the buildings there is always a high step over – again this is to keep evil out.
Even though the Garden was busy it felt calm and serene. There are many rockeries and pools with stunning trees with each area having its own story. Again having a guide to take us round these gardens was a real advantage because you were able to have a commentary about the history and Why certain things were done.
After a few hours enjoying the gardens we headed for lunch. Kirsty called our driver and as soon as we stepped out of the gardens there he was ready and waiting to take us. We went to a large Restaurant in Suzhou with our guide – Lunch is very important in China and you will find many restaurants full – in the case of this particular restaurant it had 3 main sections plus I noticed lots of private rooms with large tables (this is normal for large restaurants in China). The Chinese dine with families and friends for lunch – making the time in their busy schedules because it is important. We let Kirsty order for us with several plates of food coming out – we attempted to use Chopsticks with some guidance from Kirsty. She also explained to us that it is traditional to be served Green (or in some cases Black Tea) with your meal, we decided that we would embrace this and go with the Tea with all of our meals, and actually it works very well. When dining in China it is served to share you have a bowl for rice and a small side plate – so you don’t pile your plate high you pick from the dishes served and share. Kirsty told us that dining is a communal thing and if I had my own plate and didn’t share it would be as though I didn’t like the people around me. I have to say dining as we did like this was great and really left an impression on me. The food was delicious- Food in Shanghai is very soy sauce/ sesame oil based with plenty of chilli – but the restaurants do serve a range of Chinese cuisine. There are a lot of vegetables served – we were eating plates of Pak Choi , Green Beans, full Spinach all cooked to perfection with subtle flavours of chilli and spices. Even the meat dishes have lots of vegetables on them like carrots and Mange Tout.
This afternoon we took a leisurely cruise down the Grand canal on a small motorboat. We were able to see homes built on the river and was a great insight into local life. The tour lasted around 1.5 hours. Early evening we travelled to our hotel in Suzhou where we checked in for the night. The Hotel : Nan Lin Hotel was quite central – Suzhou is a much smaller city than Shanghai. The hotel was modern (we were put in the new annex building although the restaurant and the check in area are situated in the old building – it is only a 2 minute walk away). The room was a good size with writing desk and 2 chairs – ample storage and a large walk in shower and separate toilet / sink area. Outside of the hotel there are several Restaurants and Bars. We went for a walk around Suzhou and found it to be very busy. It felt much more intense than Shanghai on the roads with so many scooters. The Chinese drive electric scooters…very fast and erratically. They also do not use their lights at night, to save the battery!! You really have to have your wits about you when crossing the road as they don’t always pay attention to the red light!! Also you will see some whizz across the pavement. what an experience.
After a quick bite to eat…in KFC (Don’t judge me) we found a local bar where we were welcomed with open arms by the locals who were really friendly even though there was the inevitable language barrier – a good night was had by all.
Stay tuned for part 3