Suzhou #1: Beautiful Gardens

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October 7th 2016
Published: November 8th 2017
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We had arrived in Suzhou quite late the previous evening, so had only had a short walk out to find some dinner. Today we were ready to explore. We headed towards the main shopping area, nearish to where we were staying in search of some breakfast. We found a place selling coffee and juices so got some of them. We didn't find any food, but did come across a nice looking temple. The Xuan Miao Temple was built in 276 AD, but had a different name, Zhen Qing Taosist Temple, back then. The temple changed names pretty frequently, normally when a new dynasty took over ruling China. The temple was quite big, as there were buildings connected to it, that were not joined to it, so we got to explore those too. I love all the burning of incense in the big pots in front of the temple. It is a beautiful to see and smell. From the temple, we took a walk around the smaller backstreets by the temple and along the main shopping street. We finally found a shop/stall to grab some breakfast at.

Our walking took us to Ping Jiang Road. This is a beautiful street, very traditional looking. The old stone walls and small canals were nice and it reminded me a little bit of the water town I had visited near Shanghai, a good few years ago. There were lots of cute, little shops along this street and we spent a while browsing in them. I loved that there were lots of small side streets to explore. The traditional feel here was nice and so different from where I live, which is modern. It was on a wander down one of these side streets that we came to the Couple's Garden Retreat. We couldn't tell much about it from the outside, so paid the entrance fee to see what was inside. While this place looked small and unassuming from the outside, once we got inside and consulted the map we were a little shocked to see how big the garden was. There was lots to explore. The garden has been in existence since the Qing dynasty, and has underwent several names, owners and transformations. It had been a private residence until 1980, when it was opened to the public. The garden and buildings are very peaceful and there weren't too many tourists there. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around and taking it all in. The attention to detail was amazing. This place was really beautiful and incredibly well maintained.

We decided to stop and get some food as we were hungry, we walked up and down Ping Jiang Road, but nothing really appealed. In the end, we just picked a place. I have to say the owner was a bit shady, as we went in, sat down and he came over with a menu. We looked at the menu and nothing really appealed it was all a bit too fancy and expensive, we just wanted some normal food, so we got up to leave. Then he produced another, cheaper menu, which had more stuff the stuff we wanted on it. I was a bit pissed off with the owner's behaviour, I hate it when people presume tourists and/or foreigners are walking cash machines, and try to get as much money out of you as possible. It really puts me on my guard and makes me less inclined to spend anything. I bet if we had been given the cheap menu in the first place, we would have been more inclined to order more dishes. I ordered vegetable fried rice, which was pretty mediocre.

We continued our wandering and came to another garden to explore. This one was called the Lion Grove Garden and is one of the more famous gardens in Suzhou. It was definitely busier than the garden we had previously visited. The ticket woman had obviously never been to charm school and was thoroughly unpleasant when we inquired about student discount. We produced our student cards to be told that they weren't good enough and then we were asked our ages. I was told I was too old to get a student discount, apparently there is an age limit in being a student? I'd even lied about my age saying I was about 5 years younger than I was. My friend got the discount eventually as she was able to produce ID which had her date of birth on. I really don't know why this woman was being such a Nazi, was it really going to kill her to give us both student discount? Despite the unpleasant woman, the gardens were beautiful.

First, we took a look around some of the buildings attached to the Lion Grove Garden. These were eloquently decorated and I loved the different coloured glass in some of the doors, it looked really beautiful.The garden was built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty. It was built by Wen Tianru, a Zen Buddhist monk, in memory of his teacher, Abbot Zhongfeng. The garden was pretty big, and there was a kind of labyrinth of rock formations in the middle, which we happily spent a while climbing up and down all the steps. There was also a nice pond and a stone boat structure, which we had a look around. There was also some cool interactive 3D artwork, which I enjoyed looking and and fooling around with. On the floor, there was a scene painted and it looked like the rocks were floating in mid-air on it. People were standing on the 'rocks' and having their pictures taken, so it looked like they were standing in mid-air. It reminded me of the Trick Eye museums I had visited in Korea.

We headed back to the hostel to have a bit of a rest since we had done quite a bit of walking. Later on, we ventured out to get some food. We headed to one of the side streets off the main shopping street about a 10-15 minute walk from where we were staying. The street food options weren't too great, but I got some takoyaki and fried potatoes, two of my favourite kinds of street food. We had a little bit of a walk around after dinner, but apart from the shops, there wasn't much else to see or do, so we headed back to hostel to call it a night.

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