|On Saturday we took the train out from Shanghai to the "village" of Suzhou. A hint for the unwary - a country with the population of China calls a place with 1.5M people a village. Suzhou is a canal town and only about 35 minutes by train. However, by the time you get a taxi to the station, queue for tickets, queue for security, find your waiting hall, get a cab at the other end and do it all again on the way back it becomes a marathon event with little time for actual sightseeing in between.
We did manage a look around the ancient part of Suzhou, a Chinese gondola ride down the main canal and a cup of coffee before heading back to Shanghai. The gondola ride was pretty special. We seemed to be the only westerners on the canal and were treated a bit like royalty with many people waving to us, saying hello and wanting to take our photo. We passed a couple of cleanup gondolas whose main task seemed to be pulling rubbish out of the canal with a net. One of them even had a small outboard motor. Also there were a few people fishing from the side of the canal.
Our Gondolier was a middle aged woman who sang to us on the last stage of our little trip then demanded "Monnay" and pulled some notes from her pocket if you get my drift. We duly gave her a tip and hopped off the boat.
Was it worth the trip? Ask me in a couple of weeks time.
Despite having to queue at railway stations the trains here are very efficient. Locals who have an ID card can get their tickets at automatic stations but foreigners must go to the ticket office. You have to produce your passport for every ticket. Even if you are buying multiples. Most stations and trains repeat every announcement in English so it is quite easy to know when to board and when to get off. The railway stations are huge some bigger than our airports and can be quite confusing until you get the hang of them. The trains are always full.
We caught the train from Shanghai this morning to Hangzhou. It took less than an hour to get here and we were lucky enough to get an early check in at our hotel. The hotel is very minimalist quite unlike the boutique hotels we have stayed in so far with lots of natural timber and seems more Japanese than Chinese to me. It is just opposite the park that leads to the West Lake and we took a walk through it to the lake this afternoon. We had to climb a fairly steep hill and the path was quite slippery particularly on the way down but we made it to the lake with no mishaps. The lake is very beautiful but unfortunately we are back in smog land so I don't think we saw it at its best.
Tomorrow we take the bus to Huangshan.