Christmas Island hopping. HoHoHo!

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December 24th 2011
Published: January 25th 2012
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Taking it easy for few days

We got to Shanghai....cause we ought to. How could we avoid it when in China? Even if we don't like big cities we really wanted to check out the atmosphere of Shanghai. The train ride from Suzhou was short and sweet at 312 km/h and it cost only 40Y/4£. Just for the experience of the bullet train ride it is worth to try ;-) Marie was coming along with us (her final destination) and she already had a hostel to recommend. We stayed in Mingtown Hiker Hostel just a walking distance from the Bund and People's Square. Location wise it was perfect.

The hostel itself was pretty good as well (40Y/p/night) with great modern showers, washing facilities and nice lounge/bar area. There was an element of constant cold in the lounge again (cause people did not care to close the door at all) but despite that it was ok. The only thing we could complain about was the fact that there were very few cheap places to eat around as the whole area is very urban and super trendy. We managed to find few street vendors selling fried rice and noodle soup in
Western Beach of GulangYuWestern Beach of GulangYuWestern Beach of GulangYu

still too cold for swimming
the end. As far as the food is concerned we really enjoyed the street food area near People's Square with loads of nice and inexpensive restaurants to choose from. Besides, there is plenty of French bakeries around if you fancy that kind of food for breakfast or lunch.

We spent 3 days in Shanghai, walking around, taking photos and generally relaxing. Really liked the feel of the ultra modern place with shopping malls, expensive coffee shops, night clubs and variety of people from all over the world around. We felt a little bit underdressed but that was fine. We are travelers not weekend tourist in the end. We visited the Shanghai Museum, which surprisingly was free of charge and was one of the best museums we saw so far. On the way there we met two groups of young Chinese people who were eager to chat to us, asking what we were up to and then saying that museum was very busy, queues were horrendous and suggesting that we should check the Tea Show instead as they were just heading there. Call me cynical – maybe it was just coincidence that they all said exactly the same thing – but when we got to the Museum it was completely empty so I would assume I was right ;-)

The best section of the museum, in our opinion, was the Minorities Exhibition as we had no idea that there were so many of them in China. When we saw a map of settlement/distribution of the ethnic minorities we were amazed. Then different tribal outfits, jewellery, bridal decoration followed and it was all really different and enjoyable. You can also see some old caligraphy, coins and porcelaine exhibitions - all equally interesting. We wandered further south and checked the Yuan Garden, which was a cute and supposedly old shopping district but looked very artificial. Just as if it was built especially for tourist. On the way there there are many original colonial buildings and wandering streets along side them is far more pleasurable than being trapped with masses of tourists buying souvenirs.

You could say exactly the same about Old Town and French Concession. Old Town market is just a place for the afternoon walk. Even when you couple it with being hassled by quite aggressive vendors, it still makes the top experience in Shanghai ;-) And of course The Bund. Heard so many things about this place and it really is what people say. Beautiful architecture, lit up buildings and their reflections in the water, food vendors and loud music. Due to the Christmas season we could indulge ourselves in familiarity of “All I want for Christmas” and “Last Christmas” songs that reminded us of home. Sadly we had to say good bye to Marie and also decided to move on south to Hangzhou.

Hangzhou is a holiday retreat and really pretty place just to relax. It looked a little bit like some kind of sanctuary and the Lake district is small enough to walk around. There are many options to explore around and you can hire one of the city bikes virtually for free (350Y: 200Y deposit and 150Y usage, however is you keep returning bike within 60 min you pay 0Y and that is a treat in China). We were up for that but weather broke again and it was raining almost all day. Despite the fact that there were no views over the surrounding mountains and lake we decided to do some trekking up the Pagoda Hill and then circle the lake. As I said, the place was nice but maybe too nice and too touristy so we did not feel that we would like to stay for longer. It also just hit us that we had only few days till Christmas and we did not yet plan anything special for that time. Initial plan was to get to Hainan Island or Hongkong but there were still places we wanted to check out on the way and moving backwards was not ideal.

We spent almost all evening looking through the guidebook, weather forecasts and hostel availability and we finally made a decision to not to climb LuShan mountain but head to Xiamen instead. As we were very late with that decision we could not find any nice hotel available and we had to settle dont for youth hostel instead. That was fine as we would be in a nice warm weather at least. It has been so long in cold temperature that the thought of that made us feel great ;-) We took a taxi to the station and got tickets for the bullet train for the next day. 7h instead of 20h seems like a great idea and price is really the same as the standard train (275Y/28£ each).

Maybe Xiamen and GulangYu are small islands but it still counts as Island hopping;-)

When we got off the train in Xiamen we could already feel the warm air. It was not tropics of course but still must have been around 15C difference when compared to the North. We decided to stay in the Old Town that is a maze of very old and cute alleys. Thanks to the help of local people we were able to find the Old Town Youth Hostel (120Y/12£ double room), that is more like a family run guest-house rather than hostel but nevertheless great place to stay. Phil (US) and Maggie (China) mades us feel very welcomed and they were really helpful with information and trips. There is a night market nearby with loads of great food options to choose from and ferry crossing to is just a 5 min walk away. We only stayed few days before moving to yet another small island GulangYu – our home for Christmas time.

The island is on China's list of National Scenic Spots and also ranks at the top of the list of the ten most-scenic areas in Fujian Province. We loved the Victorian style architecture that remained on the island after 19-century settlement of British, French and Japanese. There is a lot of fashionable villas, boutique hotels and surprisingly - Churches. Of course there are more like sights than actual churches but nevertheless it felt more like at home with the Christmas carols and bells signalling morning mass. We were ON THE BEACH as well !!! Ow well, we just walked on the beach but still it was the first sandy beach since we left home. How exciting.

Local food was also different. Streets and stalls were full of sea food based dishes, light salads and fruit deserts. GulangYu is only 2km square and it is motor traffic free. We must have circled it at least 3 times during our stay there. It suddenly occurred to me that all sea side resorts look so alike. Romantic walks, smell of fried fish and souvenir shops selling exactly the same stuff every where in the world. It was familiar and for the first time during our trip it felt nice that it was familiar. We did not have to explore the unknown but relax and enjoy. The place is so pretty that no wonder we could witness endless wedding photo shoots, magazine shoots, modelling etc.

For Christmas Eve (which is very important for Polish people) we went out for dinner and tried to compose the 12 traditional Christmas dishes. We managed to have some fish, grilled oysters, some fried potato salad, stir fried veg, dumplings and soup. A lot, but still nowhere near to the feast we would have had if we had been in Poland that day. We really enjoyed strolling around colonial buildings and imagining how parties where held on their big terraces, with everybody dressed up smartly and with music being played from old gramophones. Of course you can buy the see-through ticket (120Y/12£) to see some old houses, museums and gardens but we did not feel the need to do so.

Having relaxed and warmed up we decided to continue alongside the coast and headed towards Hong Kong ;-)

Additional photos below
Photos: 66, Displayed: 28


Shanghai at nightShanghai at night
Shanghai at night

view from the Bund
Shanghai at nightShanghai at night
Shanghai at night

the Minorities Section
Shanghai MuseumShanghai Museum
Shanghai Museum

the Minorities Section

26th January 2012

We always get a big smile on our face when your most recent blog arrives
Your photography is exceptional and we love to follow along on each piece of your adventure. Sometimes immersion into the city life is good. Sit in a cafe and have a cup of coffee....and ah, those french bakeries. Can't wait to read the next installment. When do you expect to reach the US? We would love to hook up with you
26th January 2012

Thank you Dave and Marry Jo ;-)
It always make us really happy that you enjoy our blogs!!! Yeah sometimes it is great to just do nothing and take a city in as it comes. Tomek met a photography pro in Shanghai and he gave him loads of tips on how to spend time over there by just taking photos of people and old buildings. US will probably be at the beginning of 2013 and of course we would love to meet you as well ;-) How exciting!!! cheers, B

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