The Enchanting Yuyuan Gardens, Shanghai

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My second-favourite place in Shanghai is possibly the city’s second most popular place – the Yuyuan Gardens. We walked there from the Bund and took some back streets, wandering down this cute little alleyway to find the entrance.

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The entrance is through a giant tourist complex all fake-antique and filled to the brim with souvenir shops, jade shops, tacky restaurants and of course a McDonalds.

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Yuyuan Garden dates to the Ming Dynasty and is comprised of a series of shrines, pagodas, little summer houses, artificial lakes and of course gardens. I’ve noticed since visiting China that their idea of a garden is slightly different to mine My idea of a garden involves lots of flowers, and this isn’t the case in China. Their gardens are more places for reflection and relaxation, and involve lots of rocks. Lots and lots of rocks, as well as ponds and lakes and some green stuff. They’re very different to the western kind of garden, but no less enjoyable [even if there are no flowers for me to pick].

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We made our way through the tacky tourist mart surrounding it and into the gardens. Our first stop was the City God Temple, which had a number of shrines in the complex. Local people brought incense – again, it seems that size definitely matters – lighting the incense before praying in each small chapel or shrine. It was bright and gaudy but beautiful; it’s safe to say that I appreciated it more than John, who believes that they all look pretty much the same and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I don’t know what he thought he was getting himself into. Clearly he overlooked that part of me that’s endlessly fascinated with churches and temple and mosques and religious architecture in general!

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After the City God Temple, we entered the gardens proper. It was a veritable maze, and we meandered through with no set route or purpose. Well, I wandered and John followed and in the end I’m pretty sure we made it through the entire complex, often retracing our steps to take a different gate.

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Gorgeous faded red pagodas overlooked lakes, and covered walkways lead you across the ponds. Seriously fat golden fish swam incredibly slowly [I’m picking that their weight is a bit of a hindrance] through the murky waters and all the locals completely ignored the Do Not Feed the Fish signs.

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As we were clambering over rocks, the sky gods decided that to punish me for having thrown away my raincoat [it was bulky and not particularly waterproof – a double failure for a raincoat] and start bucketing down, with bolts of thunder and rumbling lightning. We found a sheltered spot and tried to wait it out, but it wasn’t going to happen.

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We’d explored the whole garden by this point and figured we had to get out sometime. As we scrambled undercover in the tourist mart, women selling umbrellas found an excellent target. However, I already had an umbrella – albeit at the hotel – and my stubborn nature prevented me buying a  second umbrella when I had an entirely useless scarf to protect me from the rain. We found our way inside for food to wait out the rain before catching the metro back to our hostel.

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