Zhenjiang, a city in Jiangsu Province that sits at the intersection of the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal, calls to tourists with its scenic parks and historical sites. Just 20 minutes by high-speed train from the provincial capital of Nanjing, the city's almost 2,000 years of history has left it packed with cultural heritage and its centerpiece hilly parks—Jinshan, Beigushan and Jiaoshan—along the Yangtze River.
Zhenjiang is a comparatively small city of 273 square km, which is home to 750,000 residents. It is so small that a visitor can see the whole city from the 10th floor of a building. There are few tall buildings in Zhenjiang, whose main streets are lined with large oriental plane trees.
The air is clean and fresh from all the plants growing there. There are far fewer cars than one would find in most of China's cities. Most local residents make their way around on bicycles and scooters.
Jiaoshan Park, the most magnificent of the three parks, is located on a small island hill in the Yangtze River and has a large pagoda, a peacock farm and many winding paths through dense foliage. Bamboo forests partially cover the island. It was originally named Qiaoshan Hill.
Wandering on the hill, visitors encounter a deserted fort with decomposing earthen walls. In 1842, Chinese warriors fought against 70 invading British battle ships. All 1,500 soldiers died in the siege but some of the cannons remain, and now the site is a provincial-level heritage site.
Jinshan Park boasts a large pagoda that is home to another well-known Chinese folk tale. Jinshan Temple monk Fa Hai destroyed the marriage between Madame White Snake and her husband Xu Xian. Failed in asking the monk for her husband, Madame White Snake, making use of her theurgy, inundated the temple.
Beigushan Park has many sites that date back to the Three Kingdoms period (220-265) including Ganlu Temple. A pavilion at the top of the hill is an excellent place to sit in the shade and admire the wonderful views of the Yangtze River below.
Apart from the three heritage sites, there is one place that tourists might overlook—Ancient Xijin Ferry Street, a 1,000-meter-long pedestrian made of flagstones from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is said in history books that several renowned poets from the Tang Dynasty, such as Li Bai and Meng Haoran, took the ferry that used to wait at the end of the street to the other side of the Yangtze River. All that remains of the ferry stop are a few stone steps buried underground that are revealed through a glass viewing panel set up for tourists.
But the ferry street has managed to survive along with architecture from different periods of history still standing on either side. The street has been renovated and now looks clean and neat. Shops selling calligraphic works and paintings, teahouses and even an international youth hostel line the street, along with the homes of residents.
The street may remind tourists of other similar ancient streets such as Nanluoguxiang Alley in Beijing and Shantang Street in Suzhou, but with fewer visitors and less commercialization. Taking a stroll at sunset is a very relaxing and enchanting experience with every breath being filled with the moist breeze of the Yangtze River.
Though few locals remain, seniors and children in their shorts can still be seen having their simple summer supper and sitting along the long and almost empty winding street. Time moves slowly there and outsiders can be forgiven for forgetting the hustle and bustle of life for a while.
Along the Yangtze River and northwest of the city, there is a vast area of wetlands where acres of reeds grow. Local authorities have built entertainment and sightseeing facilities there for people to enjoy the beauty of the wetland. People fish in the waters while parents take their children on a stroll at sunset. Art students sketch landscapes while sitting on the stairs beside the water.
Zhenjiang is known for producing tasty Chinese vinegar, which is sold across the world. Most restaurants in the city serve guogai, a local treat of noodles that are thin and soaked in soy.
Most of the restaurants are scattered among the city's small streets and alleys, inconspicuous and sometimes even looking shabby. But the noodles there are unparalleled. It is common to see many restaurant patrons having to eat standing up with a big bowl of noodles in their hands, as the restaurant is too small to hold that many diners.