When I visited Suzhou earlier this year, with the aim of putting my stamp of approval on the whole ‘moving to China’ project, I thought calling the place the ‘Venice of the East’ was a bit of a stretch. As I was only here for a week and spent most of it either tired, overwhelmed or looking at shopping malls or supermarkets (don’t ask), not much sightseeing was accomplished.
One day last week as I was walking around the old town (well I was at stop two of my ‘let’s get off at every metro station, look around and if it looks anyway decent, go for a wander’ game), I found this tiny little old street called ‘Ping Jiang Lu’ (Lu meaning road) which ran along a narrow canal with some lovely arch bridges. I quickly realized that this street is probably in every guide book (obviously we didn’t have one the last time…) but I didn’t care because it was very nice and I was beginning to get on board with the whole ‘Venice of the East’ thing.
The ancient cobblestone road is aligned with trees, cafes, some of the oldest tea houses in this area, and my favorite, a few small shops selling cards and paper goods.
A little bit of research taught me that Ping Jiang is about eight hundred years old and one of the two streets in Suzhou that made it onto the list of China’s “famous history and culture streets”, the other one being twelve hundred year old Shantang Road which we subsequently visited. Although this area also has beautiful and unique architecture, arch bridges and cute little alleyways perfect for magical mystery tours, it is also swamped with tourists wearing name badges. So definitely not as relaxing as Ping Jiang road but obviously a lot easier to get to from a tour bus…
The old town of Suzhou is surrounded by canals on all four sides and crisscrossed by lots of smaller canals so everywhere you walk, you are pretty close to the water. Also passing through Suzhou is the Grand Canal of China, the longest canal/artificial river in the world, totaling almost 1800km. It runs from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south, the oldest parts dating back to the 5th century BC. It was built to connect the northern region to the south in order to transport grains and apparently also the emperor, who of course needed some nice places to stay along the way.
We came across the Grand Canal on our stroll and it does not look all that different from some canals in Holland. Perhaps there will be iceskating this winter!