Before arriving in Zhouzhuang, one of our most typical and charming Chinese destinations, we had to go through a few challenges.
Travelling by public means in China it’s no simple task. First come the ideograms, but also the train stations’ size, the distances and the rarity of information written in English aren’t of any help.
Shanghai’s Long Distance General Bus Station was all work in progress – what a chance! – and good part of it was permanently closed while another huge new building was rising nearby. It took us almost an hour just to realize from which platform our bus would leave.
On our way back we had the opposite problem: a tiny station with old dusty plastic chairs and no one around to tell us about the timetable. In the end had to go “all in” on a merciful bystander.
Those circumstances apart, every thing else was a piece of cake. Like the spectacular entrance from the beautiful bridge leading to town, sitting on a trembling rickshaw led by an hilarious old man. Please note we had to walk on the bridge on our own while he pulled the rickshaw!
After we passed the bridge overlooking the endless flow of loaded boats and a charming pagoda, our first impression was that of a very average town, although quite a small one. A very interesting feature were the pillars on the roadside, made of stone with the Chinese zodiac’s animals carved on them.
Then our rickshaw left us at the beginning of a very different area, where the buildings told about deep feelings and ancient traditions. Dark, imposing wood everywhere, and red shingles colouring the alleys together with green weeping willows reaching into the water streams.
This is Zhouzhuang’s old town, the ‘Chinese Venice’, shaped into a labyrinth of narrow channels. We explored it at a slow pace, roaming among the few tourists after we paid the fee for visiting the ancient buildings and the charming theatre on our own.
Outside we kept hearing the chants of the boaters leading the few visitors on small wooden boats, pushing them with great expertise with a long pole over the channel.
Up and down, through small streets and fancy bridges of stone, we spotted any kind of small shops, from the most elegant selling paintings, silk and solid perfumes, to those sporting armbands, t-shirts and cheap presents, and those selling fish and other foods.
The heavy heat didn’t allow us enough hunger to taste the proposed fish, nor the local specialty, roasted pigeon, which showed in every eatery, even in its take away form. A shame!
The old ladies washed the clothes sitting on the channels’ banks. They almost didn’t notice us when we crossed them gazing at the gorgeous flowers decorating the whole village, growing everywhere thanks to the moist climate, far from cars, pollution and noise.
Zhouzhuang is a peaceful island, well protected from the Chinese towns’ chaos. A rare pearl imbued with the ancient times’ beauty.
Where is Zhouzhuang?