We again travelled by overnight train from Xi’an to Wuxi. The 13 hour journey itself was fine, with four of us sharing one booth and Tristan installed down the corridor with a snoring Chinaman.
As we waited at the station, the sky was a spectacular green-black and we could hear the crack of lightning very nearby. After the (now routine) stampede of smoking thousands to board the train, our departure was delayed as we sat in the station through a massive thunderstorm with ear-splitting overhead lightning. I wondered as we waited if there was the potential for the creation of a new Olympic sport………………..
As we are a party of five, we always have to travel in two taxis on routine journeys. Arriving in Wuxi’s huge station we did our usual, attempting to take two taxis and were offered a fixed-price ride at 100Yuan (10 times the meter fare) and experienced a taxi-driver cartel after bargaining them down to 20Y or nothing. On refusal at our ultimatum, we walked away and eventually found the basement taxi rank. Showing our destination printed in Chinese (so cleverly prepared for each hotel by Anne prior to my departure from Brisbane. We would
not have survived without it). With some relief, we set off and were independently delivered to two different hotels in the city bearing the same name. Thankfully, the situation was salvaged in about 15 minutes by an enterprising hotel clerk, plenty of sign-language and another taxi-ride. What a start!
The whole of Wuxi is covered in a layer of dry dust (including the interior of the taxis) and is generally unattractive. The city is however renowned for the beauty of Tai-Hu Lake and this was our purpose for visiting. On our first afternoon we took a cable-car in (slightly drab) Xihui Park, but the view was once again restricted by smog. The highlight of the afternoon was when we discovered the 2m diameter inflatable ‘climb-in/zip-up’ see-through globes which once entered were pushed out onto a pond for synchronised falling-over. This provided a hilarious interlude for us and the many watching locals.
In the evening our desk-clerk helpfully shepherded us to the restaurant next to our hotel and ordered us local food delicacies, many of which were very enjoyable but one dish contained enough chilli to set our mouths on fire!
The next morning, we took taxis to
the lake about 20mins drive out of the city and were dropped by circular bus at the ferry terminal (the lake is vast). Once again, despite hot weather there was no evidence of sky but plenty of evidence of horrible and extensive blue-green algae on the water. Apparently (as we discovered after our visit) a number of factories had recently been closed down after polluting the lake’s waters which contribute to the local water source and perhaps explained a bout of tummy upset a couple of days later.
Disembarking on one of the islands we set off for a walk and found our way to ‘Heavenly Street’, which comprised a path lined with stalls selling awful souvenirs and a hideous mural of the lake. The gigantic concrete Buddah’s held about the same level of charm.
Miss it if you can - it was the biggest low of the trip so far. The best part was paying the optional extra £8 to get out by speedboat!
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