Mini Adventure: Wentworth Villa

In an effort to keep my mini-adventures interesting I often search for upcoming, preferably free, activities that could be interesting and provide some exercise. The Wentworth Villa Architectural Heritage Museum seemed like a perfect match. Two free tours were being offered on each weekend day over two weeks – maximum ten people per tour. I checked with my weekend adventurers who were definitely interested before registering the three of us through Eventbrite. Which nearly found me dropping the whole thing due to the ridiculous process for a free event. Too much information was requested, all three names, addresses, emails and phone numbers were requested (blood type optional) if we wanted confirmation and to print the tickets. Only after all this had been provided did we discover we did not have to print anything, nor were we asked our names on the day we attended.

To ensure a good walk I drove to my sister’s house to put in what we thought would a pleasant 45 minutes. A miscalculation meant we had time to spare to walk further down Fort St. then back up. Fort Street has been known as Antique Road since at least the 1970s. Sadly, most of the quirky stores have since closed their doors as interest in all things old started to wane some years ago. There are now only 2-3 stores left. Wentworth Villa, further up Fort Street, had been one of those quirky shops. I had even visited it once many years ago.

The pink paint was not the original colour; it was chosen to showcase the exterior workmanship.

Central hall. Visitors rarely went beyond the door to the private areas of the home. However, aesthetically pleasing stained glass does give a glimpse of the lovely banister on the stairs beyond. (There are only two stained glass windows, the other is in the attic! No easy access had the renovators think it was there purely for looks.

Only two families ever owned and lived in the Villa. Built in 1863 for Captain Ella, his wife Martha, who would eventually have seven children, and Martha’s aunt. Despite the grandeur quarters would have been quite cramped! Some of the family lived in the house until the 1930s. By the 1940s the home was a bit run down, back taxes were owed and Wentworth Villa was purchased by Faith Grant and her husband – paying 25 years of back taxes. Renovated, with plenty of living space, the antique store next door, and the Grant family were soon relocated to Wentworth Villa. Over time the only changes to house were an extension and paint. It was an antique store until 2012. Sold in 2011 to developers it seemed likely the once grand home where Fort St. met Cadboro Bay Rd. (Over time Fort St. was extended and Cadboro Rd. starts at the border of what is now Oak Bay) was slated to be converted into high end suites. Yet another piece of Victoria’s history lost to the almighty dollar.

The door from the other side.

Note the wood floor in the next room is covered – these are floorboards that are laid across the foundation before the walls go up. Floors were often left unstained in the centre of the room as rugs were used to cover that area.

Fortune must shine on the home as it was sold in 2012 with the purpose of renovating it to become a jewel of the Wentworth Villa Architectural Heritage Museum. We were taken through the house by Stefan, one of the extremely knowledgeable members. Although he did not say, I was under the impression he is one of the main people involved in ensuring all the work is completed as closely to the original structure as possible. This meant sifting through family photos from the Ella family, one of whom serves on the board, newspaper articles, and of course the fantastic B.C. Archives. After threes years the house has been fully restored and available for visitors.

As soon as I saw this I asked which cemetery it was stolen from. (I had learned of what happened to many missing stones) Ross Bay, the oldest cemetery in Victoria. Our guide said their renovators were quite surprised to discover tombstones used as paving stones. There are others, none as intact as this one. With names and dates in hand, researchers discovered the story of this, and other, individuals whose stones were found. Their stories are included in the history information boards.

Although we have many heritage designated homes in Victoria only four are open to the public. Emily Carr House, and Ross Bay Villa, and Ellice Point House have all been carefully restored, two with the furnishings of the original owners, one refurbished to appear as it would have been when first built. The plan for Wentworth Villa is to refurbish one room in the style of the Ella family. As their mandate is to show as a Museum of Architecture many of the renovated rooms have, or will have, models and information of various homes of architectural interest. In addition to these there is extensive information mounted on the walls about the process to renovate, the families and history of Wentworth Villa.

Royal Doulton sewer pipes. Ships from England used these pipes as ballast then sold them upon arrival to Victoria as no longer needed.

The architects and renovators could not find any blueprints or reason for why there is an arch from this room to the next. Nor did the very small space in between appear to have any functional use.

One of the finials removes while the roof was being repaired; when the initials carved on it were discovered the decision to make a replica to replace it was made and put the original on display.

Of course, all of this work is expensive, visitors will soon be charged to, and the extension put in by the Grants has been renovated as an intimate, acoustically sound, concert space. I checked out the seats – comfortable! The intention is to invite a variety of musical artists from Vancouver Island to perform. Concert goers will get quite a hit to the wallet though, $40.00 seemed to be the main ticket rate. Not terribly expensive if one considers the cost of movies these days. Our one hour tour stretched to nearly two – the passion of our guide was infectious as well as extensive! His mention of a few other familiar homes was interesting – one of which my daughter had lived in. Check out their growing website, http://www.wentworthvilla.com

bottom of one of the posts holding the house up.

Right hand side of the photo is where these posts were in the ground.

After our walk and two hours at the Villa we were all very hungry. With the house on the outskirts of Fairfield we headed down to Cook St. Village, to me the heart of Fairfield,where there are many choices of eateries, a few I have been fortunate to have already tried. Knowing there would be choices my daughter could have we headed to Bubby’s Kitchen. This place seems to be always busy. We were quickly seated at the end of the communal table (I think these are a great idea) and handed breakfast and lunch menus. My sister was disappointed to be told her choice of smoked salmon croissant had run out of croissants and found her half order Westcoast Benny on a tea biscuit expensive and not as tasty as she had hoped. I had the Falafel Naan Wrap. With French fries at the insistence of my sister – she wanted to share them. I was very pleased with the choice, after our server made the suggestion when I could not decide between that and another dish. Only ate half – carried the rest in a recyclable box for my dinner later. (No recollection of what my daughter had, just that she also took home leftovers)

Those boxes became a nuisance at times. I proposed we head to the ocean at the end of the street before veering off to Moss St. in the hope of seeing the cheery blossoms in full bloom. Moss Street is the best place for visitors in Victoria during cherry blossom season. They were still not in full show mode. Then to Rockland Ave where there are many grand old homes as well as the Lt. Governor’s House. We took a short stroll through the public park inside before wending our way back to the street. We had planned to find one house mentioned during our tour, too bad we recalled the street incorrectly. No matter, we were in very familiar territory, the weather was only slightly chilly and windy, and we were feeling hearty.

Keeping a watchful eye on everything.

On the way I discovered a little wonderland on the edges of one home. Such a delightful sight.

By the time we returned to my car we had walked nearly 14km! (I faithfully wore my knee brace until back at the car – it only helps a very little) No wonder I was tired. My daughter and I put in another 2km shopping before heading home. Another stress free, very little driving, adventure.

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The Tale of Three Cities: Chapter 3 – Kitchener

Thirteen days in Ontario should have been easy for me; after all I spent nearly six months of winter there one year, as well as four other winters for a month each time. Then there were the two early summers. Surely I could manage less than to weeks. Let me just say that I did try. I even had fun, as noted in earlier posts. It was just so darn difficult this time. A dragged out cold left me wilted, and I am still not fully over it despite being home for six days. However, time, rest, the gym, glimpses of the sun and the west coast air will soon find me back in full swing. I am feeling well enough to finish up the tale of three cities.

I talk about Kingston a lot so writing about Toronto was fun and I was looking forward to visiting the Kitchener-Waterloo area where daughter 3 is studying. It is an interesting area, a lot of cross connections, including Waterloo University and Sir Wilfred Laurier University. My daughter goes to Waterloo. They have a Starbucks on campus – which was a huge issue and seems to be all on its own in what I believe is the Engineering Department. Waterloo has many Starbucks. It appears Kitchener has none. I like to keep track of such things for orienting where I am.

I did not find too much to enamour me with Kitchener-Waterloo. Perhaps it was just due to it being winter, cold, my being sick, and my daughter being robbed a week earlier. There is a definite factory town feel to the area. Not a lot was happening. The Tannery District, (as far as I could tell this is just one building rather than a true district – it was too cold to explore) as the name implies, was once an early 20th century mill that has been refurbished and now holds a number of businesses, eateries and, from I read, an event venue. The only place open was Balzac’s Coffee Roaster. For which I was grateful.

The day I decided I should just stay at the house, early 1900s, was only broken up when I finally ventured outside long enough to get the kinks out and to find a store. I came across one house, apparently into offices, and one austere Lutheran church worthy of photographing. Unfortunately I did not cross the street to be across from the Sun Life Financial head office property that appears to include a building dating back to 1912. It was not until the next day, when on a bus, that I saw there is a provincial plaque of its history – next time I visit I will check it out. However, further research seems to indicate the building was always in the hands of Sun Life, until 2014. (Now leased back to them)

Not my photo – no snow here!

Lutheran Church on King St.

I loved the brickwork and the tri-corner style is lovely. The area it is in not so much.

It was not until the day before I left for home that I would go on an adventure. This is when I ventured to the university with my daughter, had coffee at Starbucks and hid from the elements,while waiting for her to attend a class, for a couple of hours before we headed to the Mennonite village of St. Jacob’s. I was feeling a bit better and looking forward to something different. The village dates back the 1850s, with Mennonites settling in the the region in the 1840s. The population of St. Jacobs is around 2000 and swells during tourism season with visitors arriving on bus tours, heading to the market and checking out the many, many shops along the Main Street. As often happens in small places that depends on tourism, many stores were closed. However, we did manage to have some fun poking about what was open, discovering some treasures – a pity my phone battery died – enjoying lunch, then coffee, and a sense of a time warp. Interesting bit of history, St. Jacobs is the home office for Home Hardware

A real fire in the fireplace at Stone Crock Restaurant !

Former Anglican Church is now a pretty neat toy store. I had to force myself to not leave with a few fun items.

Talk about a time warp! I could not have caught a better sandwich photo of past, present and cold.

We discovered the maple syrup museum along with a small model train set up. We had hoped to visit the larger model train display across the street – it was closed. We did however walk through the old silo mill where there are a few stores. The only one actually open was the pottery store. Here they sell products made locally, or made in Canada. There is a Wedding store that uses an old freight car as a place to store dresses and a section of the silos as a boutique. It was probably just as well it too was closed. With so much closed for the season, including the huge market, I already know I will be returning in the summer when I visit. I will most likely be with 2-3 of my daughters, maybe even one SIL so it will be attended unattendedgrandma.

We made this discovery on a side street when searching for the old school house. Unable to discover if it was open until after we finally tore ourselves away, I was happy to just take pictures and marvel at the collection. Such fun!

look at what we found at the mini train model display! My daughter graciously took then shared this with me after my phone died. I am looking into taking both trains. The table settings and menus belonged to other trains. Too bad!

Slow Down, You’re Movin’ too Fast

Or: Woe Is Me

Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who that reflection is only to admit it is definitely me after attempting to outrun age and common sense. So, after having fun in TO, visiting my daughter, ‘SIL’ (they are the ones getting married) and my grandson in Kingston and finding a dress I slowed down a bit after arriving in Kitchener. Just a little though.

When I arrived my other SIL and 3rd daughter greeted me at the train station and I foolishly agreed a twenty minute walk would be fine. I am happy to say I survived that, the temperature had started to plummet. I seriously wonder why the whole population of anywhere beyond the south west coast of Canada does not head to a warmer climate during winter. I guess Canadians are just too polite to overtake another nation. Besides, what would we have to talk about if our weather woes were taken away?

By the next day it seemed to be warming up enough to venture out. We decided to check out The Museum, an interactive space that encourages visitors to actively experience the space. We were disappointed to discover half of the third floor, and all of the 4th were closed. No idea why for the 3rd floor section, but the 4th floor was being changed over for a new exhibit.

Although a bit dubious we would find much to engage us for a couple of hours we decided we would take a look. Indoor activities during winter can be a challenge so we were happy to discover a large self serve coat check. Divested of coats, hats, mittens and scarves makes it easier to explore.

The space for children under 4 looked inviting to my daughter, when she was encouraged to enter she tried out all of the big buttons that lit up various boards before heading to a low peek-a-boo window for little ones to wave at unsuspecting patrons. Of course my travel companions were by now quite excited. I had stuffed them into my pocket at the last minute when I worried they could get lost if sitting in the coatcheck.

My daughter and SIL had a marvellous time and, although I did try to get into the mood I would have enjoyed myself more if I had been feeling a little healthier. However, just look at the fun we had! The Museum is a great little gem. We did indeed visit for nearly two hours before hunger took over. I was taken to Crabby Joe’s where I ate half a chicken prosciutto sandwich (with only half the crusty bread) and a small Caesar salad. Dinner ended up being the other half. I had half expected to not be able to taste anything due to my cold but it was good. We took the bus home with minor plans for the following day.

A playroom like this would be fabulous.

A real bed of nails!

who hasn’t wanted to try out a bed of nails?

We had a little help from a visitor with small fingers to extract the bears.

Who would have thought my parents Commodore 64 might have become a museum exhibit! Most of the computers were in working order.

Àq1An extremely rare photo of me (I look as old as the dinosaur) with my somewhat worried travel companions.

The next day my SIL stayed home to cook while my daughter and I headed to City Hall Rotunda Gallery art exhibit with a stop for lunch at a place called Slices. I ordered a gyro breakfast that was enough to feed both of us – I convinced my daughter she was hungry. There is a small skating rink outside City Hall where happy looking families were enjoying a somewhat warmer day as they glided, spun and tumbled on the ice.

The title of the exhibit, The Face to Face Project, by Eva McCauley is 38 pieces, mixed media, with two common threads – people (understandable considering the title) and a turquoise hue in all of them. I have no idea if the colour was significant, my daughter read the information to me as I had left my glasses behind. A small number of the paintings were of the artists students while the majority were photographs of single or groupings of people from several decades ago that were then painted over to enhance, reveal, or possibly hide some aspects. It was an interesting view to the past.

I now want one of these coffee bean bins!

As we headed home we discovered a coffee shop in the Tannery, Balzac’s Coffee Roasters. So of course we had to go inside. My daughter was quite pleased to see they also had Turkish Delight – have I missed something – seems this delicacy is making a comeback. I had coffee, my daughter had hot chocolate made from Lindt chocolate – sinful! I ate a piece of the pistachio Turkish Delight, and we just relaxed.

We also saw an interesting wall mural along the way that at first we thought was a structure with a person standing on it. From another point of view it appeared to be 3D with several cut outs of people, it was not until we were across from it we realized it is a flat surface. It was colourful and fun on what was quickly becoming a chilly late afternoon.

Imagine how happy we were to arrive home to home cooked lasagna!

When morning arrived the next day plans to visit Waterloo University, where my daughter is a PhD student, were postponed when the guest speaker for a workshop had a flight cancelled somewhere out of the States. Coupled with more dipping temperatures plus wind it was a perfect day to stay inside and finally listen to everyone who had told me to SLOW DOWN!

Nanjing

This portion of my trip was the first of a few very difficult ones to write about. I anguished over how to provide adequate words for why I was there and where I visited. To assist me I recorded snips to remind me of the immediate impact of the heartwrenching Museum of the Nanjing Massacre. Despite having a very firm grasp of the history of that era, particularly the horrid attacks by the Japanese on Nanjing, Shanghai and the surrounding areas, I was not prepared. Which brought me up short when I finally sat down to write.

I finally decided to keep my visit to Nanjing in chronological order, it made no sense to jump back and forth even though the museum is what stood out. My whole visit to Nanjing in one ugly lump. As with my visit to Suzhou, it was one of the reasons I decided to return to Nanjing. However, I shall begin with my departure from Suzhou and my arrival in Nanjing – another early morning and a hunt for my hostel. I was beginning to think this would plague me with each new city in China and Vietnam.

Despite all the problems with not knowing if I was legally staying at a now un-named Hostel in Suzhou I actually slept and was up by 5:30. Unfortunately, due to the nature of backpacking and the lack of hot water I did not have a shower. Coupled with wearing the same outerwear as the previous day I felt yucky from the start of my day. Bleh. Then as if that were not enough, for good measure, I bashed my head with my coffee press that I had finally managed to pack in its usual top pocket of my bag. So, there was no knowing if my feelings of further bleh were a result of the head bash, no shower, or carrying everything about to taxi, station and train, or all of the above. Wheels were beginning to look like an excellent alternative to a backpack by the time I was on the train.

My first stop once I arrived at the train station – as usual far too early – was to head for whichever fast food place I could find. This time it was KFC, where I ordered a large coffee and watched the day unfold below me. Like watching Geand Central Station in fast motion. (I have only seen this on film) Then it was my turn to join the madness, coffee unfinished. I never like this part of travelling by train in China. A mad dash for the gates, stuff your ticket in, yet another mad dash up, down, over (depending on which train) and find the right car. I still have not figured out how to tell where I am supposed to go despite the colour coding on the platform – the board inside is, of course, in Chinese so I never know the colour I should head for.  Once in my seat I relax. Until my arrival.

Another short train trip, another early morning, another bad taxi driver, and I was very hungry. (One day I need to tell the tale of the driver from hell in Shanghai.) It was easy to get a taxi, not so easy showing him the address – written in Chinese – with the phone number and GPS. When I discovered later that the area is a major spot for tourists all I could do was wonder why some people choose to be taxi drivers. Once he had figured out where I was going he kept muttering to himself – this seems to be something drivers must learn at taxi school – and asking me where the place was, or possibly he meant did I, the foreign visitor, recognize it or see it – this is another common query from drivers. Once we did arrive I was nearly thrown out the door after paying the 22.00CNY in exact change; a demand for extra money was made with all sorts of gestures as to why, along with the driver insisting I hurry up. The result was I dropped my money, which slowed down the process even more, all the while he was yelling st me. I hoped I had not lost 100CNY! If he had not been in such an angry rush our transaction would have gone more smoothly as well as much faster. It was not until the following day that I found out there is a 2.00CNY surcharge.

the hostel kitty – he did not seem too pleased to share his space with a dog and a rabbit.

I was so happy my hostel was just across the street from where I was dropped off – until I was informed there was no power, which also meant no internet, for the whole block. It was not expected to be on until mid afternoon. By this time I was more than a little shaky, and in dire need of food. Although I had not intended to break into my emergency granola bars I was happy I had taken the foresight to buy them before leaving Canada for moments like these. Fortunately my bags could be left in a secured room on the main floor. I was not favouring the idea of climbing to the 4th floor with them! I headed out in search of food and happily discovered a restaurant two doors down that serves food already prepared – breakfast often being a rushed meal – prior to the power being cut. I made my selections, grabbed a set of chopsticks, and headed back to the hostel where I could make coffee – thermoses of hot water are still a major item found in hotels and restaurants in China – to add to my picnic on the large deck. Coffee, breakfast and a book – I was happily unplugged for several hours.

Naturally, after I did finally have a bunk to call my own, I was also ready to explore. My first stop was to the Fuzimiao (Confucian Temple) down the street. I rather liked the apples and ribbons hung on trees by couples – either for good luck or progeny, probably the latter considering the importance of family according to Confucius. No clear explanation as to how Confucius (b. 551 BCE) would be where many Chinese choose to show their devotion. However, his philosophy on moral standards and filial piety were, and remain, the base of Chinese culture. I have always wondered why temples were built to venerate Confucius – temples were generally erected for religious reasons. Confucius never considered himself a god, not even a messenger of God. I spent some time making friends with the few Temple cats sunning themselves. I also had to don my sunglasses to hide my tears for Mozzy. (This would happen pretty well every time I visited a place that also had cats in residence)

I could not resist this very cranky looking kitty with his brush and stand – not that I was going to try to pet him!

After the truncated visit to the temple I visited Nanjing’s very busy, pedestrians only, Fuzimiao (Confucian Temple) Street and surrounding area where the hostel is handily located. In addition to the Confucian Temple and the Imperial Examination Hall there is a lot to see. I did not make it to the latter – too worn out. In hindsight I wondered just how much I missed of the Confucian Temple though, the time I was there, and what I saw, certainly did not cover what I have since read about it. (The Temple and site were undergoing extensive renovations which did explain why some areas were not accessible) Next time I visit a place I will have to be better prepared! I The various wares and food did not draw my attention nearly as much as what I consider a new trend – mainly with young men – tattoos. A cross on the throat of one young man, others with various neck tattoos. Young women seem to keep their inkings to shoulder blades or arms – perhaps easier to cover up or be discreet. I blame my lack of enthusiasm for trying out the many delectable selections to the morning head bash, no electricity and a cranky driver. My mantra at the end of each day was rapidly becoming – I was worn out! I was in my bunk by 8:00pm.

This funny fellow seemed to belong to a wax museum.

My plan for the following day was to visit the Museum to the Massacre of Nanjing. Even two months on I remain unable to adequately put into words what I felt and saw. This became palpable throughout my trip each time I visited a recent (20th Century) historic site of conflict.

I did not take any photos from inside. However, the monuments and statues outside tell the story far better than I can.

What I first saw once inside, formally called The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invader, was a mass grave, with many of the skeletons laid out relatively straight. It was an eerie sight; who took the time? It is important to know that the anthropologists, the forensic scientists, anyone involved with the discovery of this mass grave, pulled no punches when describing the atrocities against these victims – they were all brutally murdered. I wish I had known the importance of the flags the majority of the visitors were carrying, and just how much the tragedy of the massacres (as with earlier and, sadly, later mass ‘war losses’, worldwide, I doubt there is no knowing how many more mass graves remain undiscovered) to this day has an affect on the citizens of Nanjing as well as the whole country. As we solemnly passed by, and around the grave site, then – in mute harmony – matched numbers to photographs, visitors left a flag next to a name, a picture, a story, a memory.

A question came to mind while a few visitors were taking photos of the bared bones. (As visitors came closer to the exit they appeared to lose the shroud of quiet respect with a need for the air of modernity – death, particularly of such magnitude – is easier to leave behind from behind a lens). I should remark here that 10,000 bodies are not under scrutiny at the memorial, I did not make a note of how many – one being too many when considering why they are there – skeletons are displayed at the memorial, although I think fewer than 150 based on the numbers laid beside each remains. The question was were we, who are visiting, collectively guilty of ghoulishness, or was it an attempt to keep the memory, or a reminder to never let it happen again? Not that it has not happened since.

Q

It seems nearly an insult to write of the more pleasant visit I made to the city wall of Nanjing. Similar to the Great Wall outside of Beijing, and across the country, the ancient cities of China had fortifications built to keep enemies out. Nanjing, as well as Xi’an, had built a wall to surround the city. For a fee, senior discount for me, it is possible to climb the stairs to the top of the wall and go for a very pleasant walk. The sections that are open to the public stretch to six kilometres – I walked only 3. It is also much easier than the often arduous climbing of the sections of the Great Wall. I spent a couple of hours walking, taking in the view of the city on one side and a park on the other. Birds chirping, a slight breeze, and trees shimmering below were a balm after the museum. As this was a Sunday there were people cycling, walking, classical singing, tai chi, playing instruments were only some of what I heard and saw A photo shoot was happening on the wall – how the woman managed to climb the stairs in the long, flowing gown, was beyond me. I have noticed that women often carry, or have them carried, a pair of heels when heading to have photos done. Once again I was not sure if this was an wedding party or a fashion shoot. This time the dress was red – making it even more difficult to figure out. Unfortunately, by the time the Japanese attacked Nanjing on Dec. 13, 1937, the wall was useless against the bombings. It made me wonder if the Japanese were laughing at the ancient fortifications once considered strong enough to push back any invading army.

the inscriptions in the bricks are many, many centuries old, with some dating back to when the wall was first built. Although some histories say it was the builders who wrote them that seems unlikely as they were labourers and unlikely to have had any formal education.

After walking down from the wall I walked about 100metres before encountering the strangest sight – people had crossed over the low fence across from the lake and were kicking the trees before stooping down to gather up whatever had fallen to the ground. There were gingko trees and some trees I did not recognize which seemed to indicate this was a rather nifty, relieve your stress at the same time, way to harvest the fruit that would otherwise just fall and rot. It was quite funny to first hear the whack, whack of foot against trunk and more so when I saw it! Life carries on.

This lovely tearoom was built within the Nanjing Wall during extensive renovations during which time some internal modifications were necessary in order to keep the exterior as close to its original look as possible. I chose a less expensive repast.

Suzhou: Two nights

Day One

The most frustrating part about travelling is trying to capture the trip by carefully writing down highlights, along with the not so pleasant aspects, with everything still fresh in the memory bank. Of course with pictures. Which I may have deleted. Imagine, after using up several hours overnight at an airport finishing a piece to share with anyone interested, discovering that it is not there! Seems I forgot to save my draft about my visit to Suzhou. Which is why I have always take notes! 

I started out with good intentions to take the subway to the train station. Once I carried my pack down the first set of stairs I quickly changed my mind and walked back up to find a taxi. It was here I decided that saving money should never mean sacrificing my back. It also meant less likelihood of falling over and landing on my back like a turtle – sometimes that fine balance between remaining upright and tipping is wobbly.

‘Darkened forbidding hallway – Doorbell unanswered – Modern technology call’

I have no idea why I am wanting to think in a simplified haiku form – perhaps a need for less chaos? The above had me momentarily rethinking my choices for accommodation. I had the number for the hostel, I had my new Chinese number, I was at   the door and it was still relatively early – no real need to panic. Once I connected with the owner I was able to go up to drop off my bags but had to wait a few hours before checking in. That seemed reasonable at the time. Divested of my bags I walked, in a drizzle, to the Suzhou Museum. I had forgotten how grossly people here underestimate distance – plus the fact I thought the man at the hostel was stressing blocks, not km. However, although it felt like 5km a look at my tracker showed it was indeed about 3km. So this time it was not out of range. It is also far too common to be given the wrong directions rather than be told ” buzhidao” – I don’t know. The best way to avoid being incorrect but still helpful is the hand wave in whichever direction is thought to be correct.

Suzhou, China’s Vienna, the city where Marco Polo is said to have spent much of his time. Like where I am from, Victoria Canada, a city of gardens. It is in the setting of gardens that the museum was built. I had wanted to see the Suzou Museum after watching the documentary, “I.M. Pei: Building China Modern” about the architect and his dream for the museum. It is a simple design, fits into the area and invites the outdoor & indoor environments to be enjoyed. Designed by I.M. Pei, who was well into his seventies during the construction,  this was like a gift from him to Suzhou. He is perhaps best known for designing the Louvre Pyramide. However, the Suzhou Museum was also a work of love.


Pei incorporated elements of light, air, water, and fauna to create spaces that invite visitors to linger. The entrance looks onto Lotus Pond and has two wings for exhibits. Yes, it did seem the standard artifacts were in abundance in addition to local finds, but, the lack of a mish-mash of items thrown in to fill space shows care in what is included – and what was not. I was quite taken by the simplicity of the scholar’s study, it was not just crowded into a corner like so many other displays I have seen. This was s room of its own, just as a scholar would have had – albeit most likely a relatively well to do scholar. The choices of calligraphy and scrolls of art were selected with care, and everything is displayed for visitors to really look at the items as a whole and as individual pieces. The small windows in several rooms draws in the outdoor without causing damage to artifacts. A small courtyard to one side with a single pomegranate tree; another with with a stand of narrow bamboo; the Wisteria Garden and of course the stunningly simple Lotus Pond provide a calm, reflective space.


By the time I made it to the thatched Song Pavilion, that duplicates a scholar’s studio from the Song Dynasty, (960 – 1279) it was raining quite heavily. This made the effect of entering the pavilion magical. I doubt it would have been cozy during chilly days in December of January – it does snow, although rarely – when the only warmth would have been most likely from a brazier. The scholar’s room I mentioned was not displayed here. The quiet, the rain tapping of the thatch and simple garden had me wishing I could either hide out there for a while or have something built at home. Not likely to ever happen, I do not even have a garden.
It was a nice way to spend a rainy late morning to early afternoon despite many others having the same idea. Of course, being free and adjacent to one section of the famous Administrator Garden makes this a popular spot. It was not exactly a walk in the park sort of day so the buildings in this section of garden were appreciated. These were where the owner of the gardens resided. When I visited there was a lovely exhibit of fans by an artist who still uses the methods from hundreds of years ago.  I had no idea that the craft of fans was so intensive. 


I even found sustenance, if a thick slice of sweetened cheese ‘toast’ can be called a good choice. Weird stuff served in China. The coffee was decent. I was also able to recharge my phone battery to 40% – it seems to be sapped far too rapidly. It was time to head back to the Hostel to officially check in. Except I couldn’t – or certainly not officially. When I had called the owner she had been at the Public Security Bureau where she and other similar owners of hostels in a specific area were being told they could not have foreigners staying for about a month. Was I willing to take a chance, hang out until evening and maybe have to be moved to another hostel. I figured why not? My belongings were put in the room where I hoped I would be staying and I waited. By 9:00pm rolled up I was ready to sleep and the PSB had not come knocking. Or ringing.

Suzhou: Day Two – Chinese tour

The tour booked was going to be in terestng was all I could think. However, it was also s lot less expensive than anything I would find for foreigners with a translator. I was the first to be picked up. I also had little idea of where we would visiting after not really paying attention, it sounded like I would enjoy it. I believe one garden, a canal cruise , Tiger Hill. The cruise goes to Shanghai Taxi to train station 21; Breakfast 25; Tour 198; Room (eventually) 100; Xiao bao 10;Water 2; Lunch 30; random tour fee 20; Taxi 22 (I was irritated to discover the tour bus would not be dropping me off where I was picked up)the hill from what I understood. For the equivalent of about 20CAD. However, I do know the pace of Chinese tours and can only hope I can keep up!
So where did we go, one garden in the morning before we parted ways to do our own thing according to what we had paid for. I opted for a return to the museum. That took up about two hours, visiting gardens in Suzhou, and many parts of China is serious business and are not simply a plot of land planted with flowers and shrubbery. They are carefully planned, often over many years, places for reflection, creativity and meditation. Rockery, water, plants and walkways play an important part in making the gardens accessible at all times of the year. Dwellings were always considered when the gardens were built, and I use built because they certainly needed some manipulation of materials to fit into the space available. There were many sections to each garden, all with lovely names to suit the space. If only I had thought to take photos of some of them!

Bats bring good luck in China and stepping on the stone plus the centre where there was a coin means lucky in wealth.

We also visited the Beisi Pagoda, also known as the Bao’en Temple, which was wonderful to see for its pink and brown colouring alone! Unfortunately for us it is undergoing massive restoration so we could only manage to walk some of the grounds and attempt to get some pictures. What I found fascinating is the colours are exactly the same as a house I lived in for a couple of years as a teenager! I could not find any reason for the colour scheme.


Lunch was a matter of pay or starve unless, as some did, smart enough to prepare a picnic. However, I thought it friendlier to join everyone even if few of them spoke English. Wo bao.le! (I’m full) Noodles in broth, cabbage/mushroom/tofu mix (like a small salad or soup garnish), one boiled egg (should have saved it) & glutinous steamed rice something – ate two, sampled the other two. This after four xiao bao. Thank goodness we would have plenty more walking to do! And my first squat toilet this trip.


Funny story: on the bus waiting. Tour guide tells me to follow her. No idea why. We go into a store so my immediate thought is that I am expected to buy something. Silk. No, I was given a gift of a scarf – as were the other ladies. Incentive to spend money. I did not. Not even 1:00 and I was exhausted – the humidity remained high throughout the morning and part way through our afternoon activities.

Thank goodness for some cooling rain by the time we headed to our canal boat ride. Our group ended up being split up, leaving four of us, including the guide, behind. As often happens in China it was s matter of hurry up and go nowhere. By the time we were aboard I think we were all wondering if maybe there had been a jam upriver. Nice respite though. We were headed to Tiger Hill where there is an ancient Pagoda. Well worth the trip. There were a few precious seconds of awed silence as we rounded the corner, we were on open air carts, to have our first close up view of the pagoda. The Pagoda leans, has done so for several years. 


I was tired but happy by the time I was dropped off and caught a taxi to my hostel. Still no PSB. I packed everything – bed around 10:00, and slept relatively well.


Shanghai Taxi to train station 21; Breakfast 25; Tour 198; Room (eventually) 100; Xiao bao 10;Water 2; Lunch 30; random tour fee 20; Taxi 22 (I was irritated to discover the tour bus would not be dropping me off where I was picked up)