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March 21st 2013
Published: March 21st 2013
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The flight from Xi‘an was fairly uneventful and we were soon on the metro line from Pudong airport into town. A short while later and the most bizarre stop arrives, we all have to cross from our train into one that arrives on the other platform and vice versa. The metro train we were now on continues into town while the one we’ve left heads back to the airport. A bit of reading of the signage in the train reveals that this isn’t always the case and between certain times the train does go all the way.
After a short walk from the subway we arrived at our hotel, it was advertised as a boutique hotel, and the impressive reception and small entrance lane didn’t disappoint us. We checked into our large room that had all the style of some of the higher end western hotels we’ve stayed in, although some of the finishing details were a little tired, they are in the process of renovating. This was also the first room where the temperature was about right, without us having to fathom the air con into heating the room. With it being a little late in the day we enjoyed the comfort of the supportive but soft bed and got some rest.
After a bit of a lay-in we headed out to grab some lunch on our way to the aquarium, Shanghai Oceanworld. Once inside, the scale became apparent, the guide/plan showing the many floors and the one way route through the exhibits. While looking round the first area we realised we’d left the camera on the bed, with both of us assuming the other had picked it up. Not a total loss as Anna had her phone, it just meant the images we had were of dubious mobile quality. The route had us wandering past many of the smaller tanks first before slowly introducing glimpses of the much larger animals. They also have a huge display of different types of jelly fish, all in relative darkness with only UV lighting making for an impressive spectacle. After a few glimpses we dropped down an escalator inside a tube that leads to the moving walkway inside the main tank. Here they house all the usual show stoppers including huge rays, sharks and sea turtles. Although on a moving walkway you do have the option to step off at any point and admire the display more, having missed the feeding times by quite a way, we opted to stay on and finish the tour round.
Back out in the damp daylight we spotted a Yang’s Dumplings not far from the aquarium and decided to see what all the fuss was about. During our research we’d found several people raving on about how you had to try the shengjian bao at Yang’s. These are small dumplings made using a flour dough for the case, filled with a pork and herb filling, which is then fried on the pinched joint, capturing all the juice released as the pork cooks. They’re great cheap eats at around 6 yuan a time at Yang’s, but be warned, the juice inside will try and squirt everywhere, so grab a handful of spare serviettes before taking your seat to eat. They tasted so good we found ourselves ordering a double portion every time we went back. Entering the store we followed a fairly familiar Chinese street cafe process of ordering, first placing our order and paying the person at the till who gave us a receipt, which we then took to the hatch in the kitchen and waited a short time while our meal was put together and passed back through to us.
After a wander around the mass of shopping on offer in this part of the city we went to sample the other type of famous dumplings, xiǎolóngbāo, at the best place to find them, Din Tai Fung. This place was a world away apart from Yang’s, with a plush air conditioned huge dining area overlooking the river on the second story of a shopping mall. The walls were covered with artistic paintings of famous people that have visited, some of which have been signed by the celeb. The prices are also in another world too, with a two small servings and some tea coming in just over 100 yuan. These were presented beautifully in the bamboo steamers and tasted as good as they looked. We tried the traditional pork filled and some wild mushroom ones.
The start of the second day had us exploring the impressive viewing area, the Bund, along the riverside. This gives panoramic views of Pudong across the river, although these were a little truncated by the low cloud/high fog that masked anything higher than the second ball of the Oriental Pearl tower. At the northern end of the walkway we found the famous Garden bridge, the world’s longest steel arch bridge. From the river front we headed off to find some heat in the shopping malls, of which there is no shortage in Shanghai city centre. We eventually found ourselves in an underground mall while looking for a way to the urban planning centre, this mall extended around most of two sides of the peoples park and included stops for at least two metro lines. We eventually found the right exit, only to discover the centre had just closed for the day. Vowing to return the next day we took careful note of the exit we needed before heading into the Peoples Park for a look around. The serenity of the park once inside was amazing, we could hardly believe we were in the middle of the city. Feeling the cold biting we ducked into an entrance for the underground mall and explored the shopping a little more. While underground Anna found a beauty parlor/hairdressers with favourable prices so stopped in, while I found another of the ‘must try’ food companies we’d been looking for, Lillians Bakery. While this wasn’t the main bakery, it was a small concession selling the egg tarts. Being a bit of a fan of a good custard tart in the UK, these are much the same in the filling but rather than using a sweet shortcrust style pastry they use a sweet puff pastry and serve them warm from the oven. After dinner, we took a wander back to the Bund viewing area to take a few photo’s of the skyline at night, luckily for us the weather had improved a little and raised the cloud/fog above the towering skyline leaving us with a fantastic view across the river as well as getting up close to the financial bull on the Bund.
The next day, having been starving the previous morning, I opted to grab a breakfast from room service at the hotel while Anna had a snooze. After the slightly disappointing effort at a fry up, we headed over to the Yuyuan old street area to take a look through the shopping area there. We found a massive collection of lanterns in preparation for the Chinese new year celebration. There were several displays depicting the new year symbol of the snake, all with happy cartoon style faces. Also around the walkway over the koi pond we found a collection of displays telling an old Chinese story involving a monk, princess and a soldier. We found a cafe on the first floor of the main building that had amazing food and a view overlooking an impressive display of hanging lanterns. After lunch we continued our exploring route around the streets, having renewed warmth from the heat inside the cafe we’d had lunch in. We paused at a signboard to work out where we wanted to go next when we were approached by an older gentleman who asked if we were lost. He stopped and had a lengthy conversation with us in impeccably good English, he’d asked where we were from and going to, how long were we in the city and what we’d seen and liked so far, as well as giving us a few sightseeing recommendations. This had us totally off guard for the selling question of “had we had a tea ceremony, or would we like to have one at his daughter’s tea house”. After we politely declined, he let us know the location if we changed our minds, wished us a good day and headed off. We both felt that this was the nicest approach by a seller so far on our trip and that if we’d wanted another tea ceremony we’d have taken his offer as it was so well presented, rather than the usual hounding we’d received so far in China.
With the cold again beginning to sink through, we headed into a coffee shop to plan our next move. It being mid afternoon, we took the metro round to the Peoples Park and headed into the urban planning exhibition. On the ground floor we were greeted by a model of the 2010 Shanghai Expo mascot called Haibao before looking over the planning model of the Bund boardwalk project we’d enjoyed the day before. Heading up to the next floor we found the impressive model of the city inside the first ring road, which put into perspective just how little of the city we’d managed to cover in the last few days. When we arrived the model was in daytime mode illuminating the room with light, a short while later the lights began to dim slightly and the skyscrapers began to light up, this continued on until the room was in relative darkness and the model had the streets and buildings lit up replicating the real city. Around the model there were small rooms spreading out with additional displays on the different aspects of the city, such as the metro, air and marine ports. Above the model we found a floor with the centre of the room missing which gave us another impressive view of the scale of both the city and the model. With more displays on each floor we soon found ourselves running short on time and rushed through the exhibits to try and see as much as we could. Not having time to stop on the top floor in the coffee shop with panoramic views over the park, we took a few photo’s and looked through the collection of artwork depicting the city. With the day moving on we headed back to the hotel and got ready for dinner as we had booked ourselves in on a pub crawl called the ‘Drunken Dragon’ aimed at ex-pats and tourists that were English speakers.
For dinner we headed to a Szechuan restaurant called Di Shui Dong and had amazing, if a little spicy, ribs as well as a few other typical Szechuan dishes. The meeting bar of O’Malleys wasn’t far from the restaurant so we wandered round and found the organising staff still setting up as we were a little early. We had the basic set up explained, we had an hour of a free bar there before we jumped on a bus and headed to a couple more bars before getting free entry & a drink in a night club. We set ourselves in some chairs at the bar and got a couple of beers in and waited to see who else would be joining the event. As the hour began there we about a dozen people all heading for their first beer, while waiting for our drinks we began talking to a couple from England that were stood next to us. They were on holiday for the spring festival period from their English teaching jobs in Beijing, we all got on very well and ended up sharing a cab ride back from the night club as their hotel wasn’t far from ours. As for the rest of the night, we have hazy memories of at least two other bars and a badly organised entry to the night club, with no explanation of what we were able to order at the bar. This was only compounded by the lack of cross language skills on both sides of the bar in the deafening night club. Beyond that all we can say for certain was it must have been a great night if the state we found ourselves in the following morning certainly was anything to go by.
Somewhere between a hangover and still drunk we checked out of our hotel and headed on the metro to terminal 1 of the airport. We had another early flight the next day so had again opted to book a hotel closer to the airport to make the transfer easier. Exiting the terminal we walked in the fresh air for a little over 20 minutes to the hotel. With a bit of discussion at reception we managed to confirm that they had a free transfer bus to terminal 2 the following morning, so headed off to catch up on some much needed sleep before having dinner in the hotel restaurant. After recovering enough to be able to eat we had a very standard dinner of fried rice and noodles with a big pot of green tea. After a long nights sleeping, we headed down early for the free bus to find it was a first come first served affair, luckily for us there were a few seats still available. Not so luckily for the dozen or so people who arrived in reception 5 minutes before the bus was due to depart as they were now at the mercy of the collection of cabs circling the hotel car park like vultures. Arriving at the airport in plenty of time we joined the lengthy queue for checked luggage, eventually getting our bags in and almost had tickets in hand when we were told we’d have to go to the security check area before we could be issued our boarding passes. Now a little worried, we followed the signs round to the back of the check in desks and found our bags waiting with a security guard. He told us we each had a battery in our hold luggage and would have to remove it. With the level of scanning he was even able to pin point the location of the batteries in our bags, which was just as well, as one was a small camera battery and the other a mobile phone battery. With all this sorted we headed back, I joined the long queue just in case, while Anna headed to the front to see if she could just collect the boarding cards or if we had to repeat the process of checking in. With luck on our side she was handed our passports and tickets while the staff checked in someone else. So without further interruption we headed through the other security checks to wait for our flight to be called.

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