Tuesday 5 May 2015
I arrived a whole 1 hour at Nanjing Railway Station before my departure which I’d prefer rather than rush around with 20kg on my back. The bullet train was punctual as I sped toward Shanghai.
Checking into my hotel, I was blessed with a view of the Oriental Pearl Tower. I have plans to see this later in the week. For now, I unpacked and wandered around the city to get my bearings.
As I sat by the river on the Bund, I was approached by a couple of Chinese girls asking me to take a picture for them. I duly obliged as I put my guide book down. They then proceeded to make small talk which I didn’t mind. After a 10 minute conversation, one of them asked me what I was going to do now. I replied that I was still planning areas to visit and perhaps go for a beer. Then the killer line came from one of the girls. They were going to go and have some tea at a tea house and I should come along, since it was customary for Chinese people to make new friends over tea. I suddenly burst out laughing loudly and politely declined their offer. To think I would be falling for an obvious scam like that within a couple of hours of landing in Shanghai. I know that once I had a tea, I would be presented with a huge bill as the tea house would be in on it.
Instead, I decide to walk around some more whilst taking in the sights. As the city was getting dark, the neon signs began to flicker into life.
After dinner, I went back to my room to check on the Oriental Pearl Tower and make sure it was lit up for the evening.
Another day of major walking planned as I set off to the “First Food Hall in Shanghai” for breakfast. To start the day, I went for noodles, braised pork with an egg soaked in tea and some steamed Shanghai buns. I hadn’t realised that the bowl of noodles was so big and the buns would come as a portion of 8, all for 36 RMB (£4.32).
With sufficient fuel for the day ahead, I set off over to People’s Square and the Shanghai Museum. The square itself looked immaculate as I passed through security to get into the museum for free. My kind of price!
Set on 4 floors, I began my visit with plenty of enthusiasm taking in the history of China’s entry into the Bronze Age. I felt that ancient China liked a good drink and dinner party as the bronze artefacts on display were mostly of wine vessels, food containers and bells. On closer inspection though, the detail engraved into the bronze was amazing.
The next area I visited was the Sculpture Gallery. Buddha images carved from wood and stone were on display here. Again, the attention to detail was outstanding as I found my favourite piece labelled “Thousand Buddhist Stele, Stone” dating back to the 6th Century.
I was beginning to wane after an hour as I then entered the Porcelain Gallery. I managed to whizz round this where only a couple of pieces on display caught my eye before I moved onto the Calligraphy section of the museum. By this time, I had enough after only completing half the museum.
I then set off on an 8 mile circuit walk over to the French Concession area of the city. On part of my route, I came across a small wet market that sold live fish, frogs and turtles. I got shooed away as I tried to take a couple of pictures. I understand that it’s probably normal culture to eat turtle over here but it made me feel a little sad and disgusted to see them live and up for sale.
Passing through alleyways of shops selling art and modern canvasses depicting the most beautiful scenery of China (and a Spongebob Square Pants Exhibition…don’t ask!!), I eventually ended up strolling along Sinan Road where I passed buildings with hints of French, German and Spanish influences. One area that appeared to have redeveloped these 1930’s buildings into commercial property was the Sinan Mansions, which housed fancy restaurants and eateries within the old buildings. Maybe later in the week I’ll indulge in a coffee here.
After walking around all day, I ended up on the roof terrace of the Fairmont Peace Hotel overlooking the Bund, which I have plans to visit in detail at the weekend. A couple of Tsingtao beers in hand, I began to relax and rest whilst taking in the hustle and bustle beneath me.
Dinner was slightly difficult today as I couldn’t make up my mind what to have. I settled for a place called “Curry House CoCo Ichibanya”. Here I had a bowl of corn soup and pork cutlet and Chinese curry for 47 RMB (£5.64). I’ve noticed that a lot of people like to eat corn on the cob here along with ice lollies! Maybe I will partake in that too sometime. For now, my curry tasted delicious as I made light work of it before heading back to my hotel.
En-route, I stopped to witness an “aerobics” class right in the middle of the high street. A little further along, a ballroom dancing session was taking place, again, in the middle of the street. Although the half a dozen dance couples drew crowds, the actually dancing wasn’t exactly “Strictly Come Dancing”. Nonetheless, 10/10 for participation….
Thursday 7 May 2015
I’ve recently taken to sleeping with the curtains open since I’m residing on a high floor in the hotel. This has twice woken me up naturally as the sun rises over the bund. After getting my head around the censorship of the internet to update my social media, I head out on a walk. I had planned a route which would take me around the Old City and across to the area where “Out of Town Chinese” people were beginning to flock to.
As I take a general direction to the Old City, I dive down alternate side streets just to see if there was anything interesting. I noticed that people were starting to fill local restaurants from as early as 11 am which made me a little hungry too. Having not had breakfast yet, I hold out for some food in the Yu Gardens and Bazaar in the Old City. As I arrive, I enter a “Snack Square” as it was labelled, where I was met with another canteen style indoor eating area. Situated around the perimeter was stalls and counters of random food ranging from dim sums, noodles, rice to fried chicken and dumplings. I settle for a plate of soft shelled crab and a bamboo stack of Char Siu steamed buns costing me 57 RMB (£6.84). My most expensive meal yet! The steamed buns were delicious but I’d give the crab a miss next time.
First stop after my feed was the City Temple. It cost me 10 RMB (£1.20) to enter this temple complex within the bazaar. It turned out to be a very popular place of worship for a lot of Chinese as they scramble to by their incense sticks and make donations at the altar. The smell of smoke and incense added to the atmosphere as I watched streams of people come and go.
I then head onto Fangbang Middle Road (cool name right?!) and make my way over to the Chengxiang Ge Buddhist Temple. With no crowds or people, this was the complete opposite to the City Temple. There just seemed to be something peaceful and calming about this temple as I could hear the nuns chanting and reciting scripture next door en-mass.
After walking a couple of miles, I come across a flea market which is also known as Dongtai Road Market. Here, the street was lined with stalls on either side selling what I guess is “antiques”. However, I doubt any of the stuff here was. Chairman Mao’s little red book seemed to be on offer at nearly every stall too along with propaganda posters depicting the same image as all the rest. This made me certain that it was unlikely I would find a gem here.
Treading on, I reach Taicang Road and the modern redeveloped area of Xin Tiandi. Here, there was the compulsory Starbucks along with a lot of cafes, bars and restaurants. I’ve noticed whilst on my many long walks around the city that KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks and Costa Coffee seemed to have made it big over here. It feels like there’s one on every street corner. Bypassing the chain coffee shop, I settle into a wicker seat at a place called Kabb where I indulge in a diet coke to quench my thirst before treating myself to a Tiger beer.
After sipping my beer and partaking in some people watching, I move onto a cafe/bar called Greyhound. The happy hour sign stating that all beers were half price drew me in so easily. A TsingTao later at a cost of 16 RMB (£1.92), I make the mile walk back to my hotel to drop off my backpack and rest a little before venturing out for my supper. I felt like I hadn’t eaten rice in a few days so I chose some ribs and rice along with some Shanghai Steamed Buns again. The Shanghai Steamed Buns had pork meat inside them with a little taste broth all parceled up. Delicious…
Friday 8 May 2015
First plan of action was a fueling stop at a Ramen Place right next door to my hotel. I opted for some fried rice and with eyes bigger than my belly, I went for some Gyoza’s too. At a total cost of 45 RMB (£5.40), my delicious meal arrived.
Making light work of it, I then took the metro from Nanjing East Road directly to Shanghai Zoo on the Line 10 for 4 RMB (48p). Thirty minutes later I’d arrived at the zoo and duly paid my 40 RMB (£4.80) for my ticket to gain entry. The zoo was set out on a circular path and with the decisive action to go anti-clockwise, the first section of my visit was the marine life and reptiles. Full of enthusiasm, I came across a Diodon Bleekeri (easy to say right?!) which looked like a deflated puffer fish followed by Nemo’s friend “the turtle”.
This was where my annoyance started I think. Not with the animals but with the other Chinese visitors. Not content with just looking at the fish or reptiles, there was a need to constantly knock on the window pane where they were displayed. Trying my best to ignore them, I carried on viewing the lizards and crocs who gave me some amazing photo opportunities.
Strolling further anti-clockwise around the zoo, I passed the bird section where they kept Emu’s, Peacocks, many different types of Pheasants, Macaws, Toucans (which made me want to drink Guinness immediately. Good branding by the company I think!), Eagles, Flamingos and Cranes. Moving onto the big cats, typically, the Jaguar was restless, the Bengal Tiger was dozing and the puma was in Stealth mode and nowhere to be seen.
The bear section was next and this is where my annoyance and some what embarrassment for my fellow Chinese visitors would increase. As I approached the bear enclosure, I noticed that one of the 2 bears was standing on it’s hind legs looking up with a sad face. Clear signs of no feeding the animals were completely ignored as biscuits and red bean buns were being tossed to the animal below. The bear almost looked like it was grovelling for more junk food!
Moving swiftly on and behind the safety of a high perspex glass were two giant pandas munching on bamboo. In their own little world and totally focused on grazing away, they looked content in perhaps one of the best enclosures of this zoo. I can now say I saw Giant Pandas in China!
Other animals on my circuit included Rhinos, Elephants, Giraffes and Kangaroos to name a few. In summary, the zoo has its good and bad points in terms of the conditions of the enclosure. It seems to me that some animals get more preferential comforts than others. For instance, the Arctic Dog’s kennel looked like a shed in a war zone. Smelly, tiny and covered in rubble, you didn’t need to be a dog whisperer to read the sad expressions on their faces. On the other hand, the Giant Pandas home was spacious with lots of apparatus to keep them amused. In addition to the zoos upkeep, there needs to be more security and education around park to stop the native visitors from feeding the animals monkey nuts, biscuits and cakes and to stop taunting the residents on display.
Overall, I still enjoyed the zoo if I ignored the negative aspects since I spent a good half a day here wandering around before getting the metro back to my room. After picking up my laundry from the dry cleaners, I indulged in happy hour at The Max pub which was within striking distance of the Sofitel Hotel. As soon as I entered the pub and settled down with my pint of TsingTao beer for 50 RMB (£6), Emily the barmaid was offering me a game of pool. It was Buy One Get One Free on the beer so I was going to be a while here, so I thought why not!
The evening ended after a few more beers and trying to learn a Yahtzee type of dice game which I failed miserably…
Saturday 9 May 2015
“Up with the larks” again at 6am as I was meeting a travel partner at Shanghai Pudong Airport today. I had a quick breakfast of tiny beef, onions and rice at the Yoshinya restaurant next door before heading off on the metro to Longyang Road on Line 2 for 4 RMB (48p).
Once I arrived at Longyang Road station, I had the opportunity to ride the Shanghai Maglev Train to the airport for a return fee of 80 RMB (£9.60). I was giddy at this point as I reached a speed of 301 kmph taking about 10 minutes to reach my destination. On the way back into the city, the driver must have had an urgent appointment as the train went even faster getting up to 431 kmph (268mph). This was the fastest I had travelled outside of an airplane. I did notice that the Maglev train was mostly half empty. I had read that due to the short travel time and high price, a lot of people opt for an alternative route.
Next on the itinerary was to venture across (or should I say under) the Huangpu River to inspect the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Whilst strolling along the Bund (riverside), I was graced with an amazing skyline which I would see more of during the day.
I decided to take the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel across the water. At 50 RMB (£6) one way, it did feel like a Willy Wonka ride as I entered my plastic pod. Travelling 1,500 ft, the tunnel came alive with spiralling lights. A novelty I guess, and something I would probably only do once.
Reaching the other side, I exited at the base of the Pearl Tower. I couldn’t help but constantly look at this huge structure as it captivated my attention. It was slightly hazy today so I decided that I would go up it another day. Instead, I chose to visit the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium which I had read was “One of the best in the world”! Bold statement I know! At 160 RMB (£19.20), the price was on the hefty side in proportion to everything else I had so far come across in Shanghai (except for the beer).
Shark feeding time was within half an hour of me entering the building. Located toward the end of the ocean aquarium, there was no way I would make it in time as the whole exhibition was a one way journey. So, taking my time and again, with huge enthusiasm, I came across many fishes of all colours and sizes.
Trying my best to block out the ignorant Chinese visitors who kept tapping the glass tanks and even going as far as to feed the fishes with god knows what, I gradually made my way around the building. Standing firm and tall against the nudging and pushing by other visitors who wanted to get as close to the window pane as possible, I couldn’t help but be hypnotised by the Jellyfish as they effortlessly floated around.
Eventually tearing myself away from the pretty colours of the Jellyfish tank, I came up close and personal with Jaws before exiting the ocean aquarium.
As the sun burned the haze away, the skyline was amazing as the Jinmao Tower, Shanghai World Trade Center and “Twisty” building shadowed over me.
I took the ferry back over the river for 2 RMB (24p) giving me some gorgeous views from where I had just been. I then ventured to the top of the Fairmont Peace Hotel to enjoy the skyline as it got dark with a TsingTao beer.
It was dinner time as I headed over to the First Food Hall again. Trying a different eaterie this time, I had seaweed battered prawn, seaweed battered fish and spicy pork risotto (Chinese style). I definitely had another case of “eyes bigger than belly” syndrome.
Sunday 10 May 2015
Today I decided that I would venture back over to the Old City here in Shanghai. Although cloudy, it was still relatively warm and bright. First call was brunch at Snack Square in the bazaar. On the menu from the canteen style format was some pork and vegetable steamed dumplings, sticky rice dumplings and some fried battered fish. It felt like a vegetarian meal but nonetheless it was very tasty and a great way to kick off my long day at a cost of 66 RMB (£7.92).
After picking up a Pepsi, I walked over the zig zag bridge in the centre of the bazaar and had a stroll through the Yu Gardens located in the Old City. For an entrance fee of 40 RMB (£4.80), the gardens gave me a completely different sense to the Shanghai I had seen so far of skyscapers and big named shopping malls and stores. With rockery and amazing coloured flowers on display, I worked my way through the maze of circular archways and bridges. Every now and again, I saw huge dragon heads along the wall that ran alongside the gardens. Very much worth the entry fee as it gave me a very good impression of what Shanghai use to look like with the traditional pagoda style roofs and ponds of Koi Carp fish.
Next plan of action was to walk the route I did on Thursday as I missed the insect and bird market. Passing the monastery where the nuns were all reciting scripture in unison, I arrived at the entrance to the market on Xizang South Road. Slightly hesitant as to what I would see and whether this was a market where the animals were dinner or bought as pets, I was soon reassured it was the latter. I weaved through the row of stalls selling crickets, tiny green and pink frogs, turtles, goldfish, birds and kittens. Crickets and birds chirping, Chinese people haggling over baby birds and sellers advertising their goods, the sound and smell was an amazing experience.
I then walked through Dongtai Road Market (flea market) again where I managed to haggle with one trader for Chairman Mao’s little red book of quotations for 5 RMB (60p). The first stall I tried wanted 60 RMB (£7.20) for a little red book I picked up which was absolutely ridiculous. She thought it was even more absurd when I offered 5 RMB (60p) too. Quickly slashing her price down to 45 RMB (£5.40), I soon walked away.
My watch was showing beer o’clock as I revisited the KABB Bistro Bar for a couple of Tiger beers before moving over to the Greyhound Cafe for some more beverages. Walking back to the hotel, I stopped off at another cafe for a quick bite before returning to the comfort of the Max Pub for a quick night cap with MeMe the cat, Emily the barmaid and Feng the owner….
Monday 11 May 2015
Rolling into a new week, I was enjoying a lock in at the Max Pub playing pool and drinking TsingTao beer with the owner. He arrived with a menu about 3am and insisted he wanted to buy me some food in his own pub. Not really hungry, I pointed at the french fries. With Muse, The Eagles, Dire Straits and U2 blaring out of the sound system as we chose song after song on the Chinese equivalent of Spotify, I eventually left the establishment at 4:30am to venture over to The Bund for sunrise.
Stepping out of the pub, it had obviously been raining quite heavily whilst I was indoors so it was no real surprise that by the time I walked over to the Bund, the cloud level was too low and heavy to see anything. With that, I got some rest back at the hotel before consuming my one meal of the day. At my old favourite haunt of the First Food Hall, I had steamed shrimp and pork dumplings accompanying pork and egg with noodles in a pork bone soup. There was a theme of pig here as I concluded that it’s quite popular over here.
After my meal, I had another walk over to the French Concession area. I tried to find a pub on Wednesday and failed miserably so it was a slight mission to seek out the Boxing Cat Microbrewery today. Just to see where it was located rather than have a brew since I had excess overnight, I eventually found it with no thanks to my guidebook which had an address of 82 Fuxing Road rather than Unit 26B in the Sinan Mansions on Fuxing Road middle.
More walking, I discovered Danshui Road in the French Concession area where there was bars and cafes lining the entire road. It certainly had a french influence feel to it and looked like a lovely place to spend the evening drinking and socialising. Moving with purpose, I ended up at 221B Baker Street located on Ruijin No. Road and just had to pop in for a refreshing Iced Blank Tea. This was basically iced black tea with hints of orange. A strange yet interesting drink for 30 RMB (£3.60).
It was dark by now and had been raining non stop since leaving the hotel. Rather cold and damp whilst walking with a brolly for over 3 miles, I decided to retreat back to the comfort and warmth of my room for the night….
Tuesday 12 May 2015
I was determined to see the sunrise this morning. After it had continuously rained for most of last evening, I got an early night so that I would be fine to get out of bed at 4am. Blessed with a dry morning, I walked down to the riverside at The Bund. Sat on my jacket on the wall to stop my backside getting wet from the morning dew, I waited for the sun to appear from behind the skyline over the other side of Huangpu River. I was perhaps only one of half a dozen people on the promenade but as the time past 5am, slowly more people began to appear holding their huge camera lens. Joining the increasing population of sunrise seekers were older men out exercising. Some running past me, some clapping loudly as they launched into a brisk walk forward, some even clapping behind their backs as they walked backwards, and one guy doing a rigorous 45 minute warm up for what appeared to be for a gentle stroll. Once the sun had risen, I walked back to my hotel for a quick rest as it was only 6am and nowhere was really open for breakfast yet.
By about 7:30am, I headed out to seek out somewhere for breakfast. I eventually settled for a real local place for beef tongue noodles and some steamed buns.
After breakfast, I took the metro over to the other side of the river to venture up the Pearl TV Tower. It cost me 220 RMB (£26.40) to go right to the top (Space Cabin) as well as the middle section and lower section. Passing through baggage security checks and other Chinese visitors jostling to get ahead in the queue, I arrived at over 259 floors up for some spectacular view over Shanghai on a blue sky day.
There was a 360 degree clear walkway path which I forced myself to tread on. Not normally scared of heights, it certainly tested my anxiety and mental ability to stay focused and calm. Of course, it was all perfectly safe as the toughened glass withstood everyone’s weight.
I then took the lift all the way down to ground zero where the Shanghai History Museum was. Depicting life through the early times of Shanghai when it began to be a commercial port through to modern times, it was interesting to walk around the 10,000 m2, although my enthusiasm was waning after about an hour.
I then headed back over to People’s Square to finish off the Shanghai Museum which I didn’t get to do on last Wednesday. After learning about ceramics, I finished off the exhibition on the fourth floor looking at the wonderful furniture that had been handmade.
It was getting to around 5pm and time for a drink, so I headed over to the Radisson’s Blu hotel and up to the 45th floor where I started my evening with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in the Epicure Bar. A 360 degree revolving restaurant and bar, I watched the city from all angles as the sun slowly set and the neon lights began to come on.
Afterwards, I climbed up to the 47th floor to the Sky Dome Bar for a few more beers and a light bite of spring rolls and Sushi.
As it was my last evening in Shanghai, I wanted to say goodbye to my new friends Emily and Feng in the Max Pub. After several B52 shots and another lock in, I eventually left some time in the early hours…
Wednesday 13 May 2015
After managing to say my goodbyes to the Max Pub, I arrived back at my hotel at 5am. I was in two minds whether to walk back down to The Bund to see the sunrise again or get some valuable sleep. My head ruled my heart as I watched the sunrise from my room and banked about 5 hours kip. My alarm rudely woke me up at 11am to prompt me to rise, shower and pack my rucksack. I was leaving Shanghai after an amazing 9 days for my next destination.
Checking out of the hotel, I got the metro on Line 2 from East Nanjing Road to Hongqiao Terminal 2 for 5 RMB (60p). Arriving at 1pm, check in was smooth as usual, which was great as I was hungry by that point. Settling for the Chinese Dumpling Restaurant and with certain “eyes bigger than belly”, I managed to order a set meal of Three Delicacies Steamed Dumplings (I could name pork and shrimp but couldn’t figure out the third delicacy) and a bowl of spare ribs noodles.
With a belly full of food and a lack of sleep, I banked another hour of kip whilst waiting for my flight at 4:15pm at gate 30. By about 3pm, I received the announcement that my “flight was delayed due to air traffic congestion” and the gate was now 27. Eventually, I was allowed onto my flight that had arrived at 5:15pm. However, I sat on the tarmac in the plane for another 3 hours due to that mysterious “air traffic congestion”. I received a meal on the plane whilst stationery but could only manage a few mouthfuls before conceding.
I eventually took off at around 8:30pm and landed at my next destination 2 hours later…..