From Shanghai we drove two hours west (about 62 miles / 100 kilometers) to the historic city of Suzhou, known for centuries as “the Venice of the East”. Today it is a booming metropolis, with a population approaching 5 million in the city and 10 million in the greater Suzhou area. “It is a major economic center and focal point of trade and commerce, and the second largest city in the province after the capital Nanjing. The city is situated on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the shores of Lake Tai and belongs to the Yangtze River Delta region.” — Wikipedia
“Historically, Sūzhōu (苏州市) was synonymous with high culture and elegance, and generations of artists, scholars, writers and high society in China were drawn by its exquisite art forms and the delicate beauty of its gardens. Like all modern Chinese towns, Sūzhōu has unfortunately endured much destruction of its heritage and its replacement with largely arbitrary chunks of modern architecture. Having said that, the city still retains enough pockets of charm to warrant two to three days’ exploration on foot or by bike. And the gardens, Sūzhōu’s main attraction, are a symphonic combination of rocks, water, trees and pavilions that reflects the Chinese appreciation of balance and harmony. Adding to the charm are some excellent museums, surviving canal scenes, pagodas and humpbacked bridges.” – www/lonelyplanet.com
Our first visit was to The Garden of Cultivation, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the center of the city. It is regarded as one of the city’s nine finest “Mountain and Water” landscapes. We had the opportunity to have tea in one of the tea houses and individually learn and practice some Chinese calligraphy with brush and ink. Our instructor also showed each of us our English names in Chinese characters. It was clear to all of us that much study and practice would be needed if we wanted to become even moderately competent in calligraphy. After our garden visit we had a ride on a small boat down the Grand Canal. In the neighborhood of Suzhou where we disembarked we walked to the Songhelou Restaurant for a Chinese banquet luncheon. Their signature dish, Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish, was excellent and a dish that we also enjoyed again later on during our stay in Shanghai.