Today we awoke early at 6:30am to say goodbye to Greg and Sara before they left for work at 6:45am. Then we packed all of our belongings and said goodbye to their guest-room which had been a great home for a few days!
We got to the Shanghai Hongqiao train station (上海虹桥站) about an hour before our departure. Katie went to find breakfast while JT stayed with the bags.
Katie opted for a bakery, and got four pastries for ¥40. She also got a vanilla latte for ¥37 from a coffee shop. Coffee shops are expensive here in China!
The short train to Suzhou (G7126, depart 10:04, ¥39.5 each) was uneventful. On arrival we left our bags at a baggage storage shop (one of a few that we ended up seeing) in the north arrivals hall for ¥10 per bag. Then we headed to the taxi queue. We got a taxi with no wait, but had trouble communicating ‘Humble Administrator Garden’ to him despite having the name written in Chinese characters on Katie’s phone. Someone who could translate came over and off we went.
Figuring out (1) where the Humble Administrator’s garden was from the beginning of a pedestrian street where our cab dropped us and (2) where to buy tickets was difficult. It was not made easier by the people aggressively hawking tours, rides, and other items. The garden did not take Visa or MasterCard, so we had to find a bank a few blocks away to withdrawal more cash. Back at the gardens, the high season ticket price was currently listed as ¥90 per person.
We decided to just wander in the gardens instead of hiring a guide. There were adequate English descriptions around, and we wanted to just relax, so this was perfect for us. Many/most of the mostly-Chinese tourists opted for a guide though, and the guides used loud and poor-quality portable speakers, which created a less than peaceful environment at points. Although the garden was crowded, it never got oppressively busy.
We walked to a pavilion on an island in the garden, and heard calming music playing as we approached. We were surprised to find an empty pavilion besides a sketchpad, pen, and backpack. We glanced at the sketch, which seemed to be an in progress, but impressive, sketch of the building below the pavilion. We sat in the pavilion, as the music was relaxing and we were curious as to who would return to the sketchpad.
We did not have to wait very long, as an elderly man came and sat at the sketchpad after a few moments. We just relaxed in the pavilion watching him draw, enjoying the music, and surveying the surrounding garden. JT even dozed off for a bit.
JT was awoken when the older man was showing off his drawings to a boy. A crowd soon gathered, and we watched in awe as the man produced one spectacular sketching after another. We were blown away by the detail and artistic vision he had! To make it even more impressive, we saw that his only tool was a simple ballpoint pen. One person brought out a camera and he encouraged that person to take a photo of each of his drawings. Then he did the same with us. We happily obliged! He asked for (and seemed to want) nothing in return, but seemed fed by our appreciation of his drawings. This was truly one of the most spectacular experiences we had in China!
After wandering through the rest of the garden, we got really hungry – as it was getting late in the afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch. We opened TripAdvisor and narrowed the results down to “quot; and “$”. The top result (#5 rated in town) was a Danish Bakery Shifu that was reportedly about 1.5 km away. We debated taking a cheap taxi, but decided to just walk.
We had some trouble finding Danish Bakery Shifu because although the address (Pingjiang Road 293) was correct, the Google Maps location pin had been placed about 1km off from where the actual café was (but on the correct street). When we got close (according to Google Maps), we checked the actual address and realized we had already walked past it 10-15 minutes earlier)! We backtracked and found it – although with the number of Danish flags flying outside, it is hard to believe we missed it the first time!
Despite what TripAdvisor implied, the Danish place was indeed more of a bakery than a café, as they had no substantial food. We ordered drinks, rice pudding, and an apple strudel to hold us over. The owner guy (Lars Pach) chatted with us a while – he is very friendly, but very talkative. We would certainly recommend the café for a snack, but not for a meal.
We went to the ticket office to attempt to obtain a reprint of the ticket. Unfortunately, there was no ‘foreign guests’ window where the attendant spoke English. We attempted to convey that JT has lost his ticket using Google Translate, but it was not going well. We asked the people in our line if anyone spoke English, but no one volunteered. However, as we continued struggling, a young man came up and volunteered to help us. He successfully conveyed to the attendant what had occurred, and translated her responses. At first the attendant said JT would need to buy a new ticket, but then further translation conveyed that he would need to buy a new ticket, but that if we got the head train controller on our train to certify that the ticket was indeed lost, then we could get the money back from the ticket office at our destination. With no other option, JT handed over the money to buy a new ticket, we thanked our translator profusely, and hurried off to get our bags from left luggage.
We boarded our Z92 train easily, and were surprised that we seemed to be the only people in our soft-sleeper carriage (¥456.5/person booking via Ctrip). The train departed right at 7:42pm as expected. The carriage attendant came around, and JT conveyed to her that he had lost his ticket and he needed a note from the head train controller certifying that the original ticket had been lost (ie, it had not been used to board the train). She took both of our tickets and gave us plastic cards in exchange (apparently this is normal on overnight trains). JT settled into sleep while Katie stayed up and blogged and looked out the window.
Our cabin-mates, as well as seemingly an entire group of Chinese tourists, boarded our carriage at the last evening stop in Nanjing at 9:42pm. We are not even sure who our cabin-mates actually were, as at points there were as many as 6 Chinese people in our cabin. We were trying to sleep, but they rudely and carelessly chattered and carried on. It was rather frustrating, as we knew the train would arrive at our stop at 7:44am and we wanted to be well rested for our hike.
Eventually they quieted down, and Katie awoke in the morning to an older woman staring at her and a little boy changing. Perhaps they were our cabin-mates for the night? The revolving door of people in our cabin continued in the morning, but it was not quite as annoying since we were not sleeping and we could just sit in our bunks as they moved about.