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September 3rd 2019
Published: October 25th 2019
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Dear Blog Readers,

The 20 hour train ride went surprisingly quickly. We slept really well, relatively few stops and no train conductors getting a free English lesson! We rattled into Shanghai around midday and decided to get one of their Oyster Card equivalents...although it didn't seem to make the journey prices any cheaper. After a couple of metro stops and a confusing walk, we eventually found the lovely Greenland Jiulong Hotel which had a nice view of the city. Unfortunately the weather turned against us just as we got to the outskirts of the city to explore and we'd forgotten our umbrella! We dived into some shopping centres and headed down the main street following the crowds until we got to The Bund.

The sight in front of us is nothing short of one of the most spectacular skylines in the world. Hugging the Pudong River that winds through the city centre stand numerous skyscrapers coloured from top to bottom in the night sky. The weather didn't stop the thousands of people flocking to the viewpoints along The Bund to get their photos - including three wedding photographers there complete with bride (wearing red) and groom (looking nervous) dolled up and lit up like professionals.

The following day the weather was working more in our favour so we decided to try and find the lovely ancient water town of Qibao. Here, tourists wanting an escape from the metropolis find a relatively tranquil getaway with lovely walkways and bridges intersected by rivers running through them. The side streets were heaving and the smell of food attracted many, and some looked too good to eat, such as the beautifully designed steamed buns!

We had a walk around until we found the Qibao Temple with its seven storey pagoda greeting you at the entrance along with the smell of fiery incense. Before scaling the pagoda, we had a lovely walk around the nearby garden with another huge bell as its centrepiece. Each storey of the pagoda had a beautifully sculptured Buddha statue which seemed to get better and better as we got tireder and tireder in the now humid heat of the day. The rest of the complex was equally as impressive and well worth the walk around to find the place!

On our way back, we had an extortionately priced cup of tea overlooking one of the nicer sections of the water town before walking back to the metro and taking it to an area called the French Concession. It's supposed to have lots of boutique petit cafes and parks to walk around...although both felt that the most French thing about it was the fact Laura was walking around there.

As Laura went off into town to do some shopping, I visited the site of the first CCP National Congress which housed a (very) biased museum and history of the rise of communism and the virtues of Mao Zedong and the other 13 delegates in attendance. After my daily dose of communism was complete, I headed towards the People's Park where we were hoping to join onto a free walking tour that never materialised. What was odd though was that the park had turned into a sea of parents sat behind umbrellas which on the front of them had the stats and statistics of their offspring that they were trying to marry off! It was like a really odd flea market for desperate singletons!

As the evening was creeping in, we decided to get across the river to Pudong where the skyscrapers towered above us. We contemplated going up the 128 storey Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world...but at a price tag of £50 for the two of us to go up and down, we decided to get the lift up to the cafe on 52nd floor and enjoy the view from there for free! There was even a lovely marriage proposal whilst we were Shanghai seemingly turned into the city of love...another tenuous link to the French Concession perhaps?!

It was tough to wake up and pack in the morning and the torrential rain outside made it even harder to leave the comforts of the hotel! We decided to go to the appropriately titled Yuyan Park ('yu' is rain in Chinese) least we remembered out umbrellas this time! The little side streets and water ways there were gorgeous. We had a nice lunch and made our way to the underground shopping centre back at the People's Park area more for the shelter than anything else! A spot of culture followed as we went around the donut shaped building of the Shanghai Museum. Plenty of historic ceramics, artwork, coins and jade to admire!

We picked our bags up from the hotel and got to Shanghai South train station...annoyingly we couldn't get our Oyster card deposit back from the station we'd originally bought it from...bizarre! Our final sleeper train journey was ahead of us and we were soon waking up to the familiar territory of Beijing for our final leg of this wonderful journey. We were staying back at the Red Lantern Hotel so dropped our bags off there and grabbed some breakfast before getting the metro to the Summer Palace.

The sun was baking down but we wanted to make the most of it and bought the full ticket which included entrance into all the extra sections. Sprawling across a square mile, this was the imperial escape back in the day and is filled with amazing temples, luxurious gardens and courtyards now housing lovely little museums. This is all encircling a wonderful Kunming Lake and amazing seventeen-arch bridge to the south lake island in the middle. The views were incredible from the vantage point of Buddhist Fragrance Hall - well worth the sweaty hike up the steps!

We ended up spending most of the day there and by the time we made it back across town on the metro to the Olympic Park it was already time for some dinner! We found a lovely spot for some proper Peking Duck which blew our first meal of it nearly a fortnight previously out of the water! We had a king prawn starter and it was simply one of the best meals we've ever had! Keeping on theme...we were soon walking around the Bird's Nest stadium which really is a sight to behold! Lit up beautifully and the nearby Aquatics Centre bubbling away in the background, there was a great atmosphere whilst walking around the area. Many of the venues are being converted specially for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics so there was still a buzz of excitement around the area rather than the desolate and fading areas that have housed Olympics in the past.

Unfortunately, our final day was upon us! After a little breakfast, I had a lovely walk around Shizliou St. and followed the Grand Canal towards a beautiful lake. Laura was busy shopping and we managed to lose each other but once reunited we headed towards Tian'anmen Square. The queue to get in was simply the worst queue we have ever been in. It was steaming hot, and there must have been thousands of people crammed in trying to get through the ticket barriers. You need to bring your passport with you and these all get checked individually as well as an additional security check before you even get through. About an hour later, we were finally through and stood in front of the main gate with the huge portrait of Mao Zedong watching us melt in the sun.

I watched a really interesting documentary about the Forbidden City the night before so was clued up on the history and significance of the place. The courtyards that house these huge temples are stunning. Queues of people will wait to see thrones where the emperor would have sat, barked out orders and ruled the land almost under the secrecy of the people he ruled over. It used to be that the temples here were the highest in Beijing which explains why the place wasn't encircled with skyscrapers! Moving through the complex, the huge squares seemed to soak up the heat and with the little shade and lack of places to get some drinks, it made traversing between great halls more of an effort! Saying that, the place was magnificent and well worth the queue!

We bailed on hiking up the Jongshan Park at the back of the complex to get a view of the place and surrounding area. Instead we started walking back and found a decent little restaurant for a late lunch. We'd been poor organising presents and put all our eggs in one basket to go to the guide-book recommended Silk Road. What a huge disappointment. It was basically a small shopping centre filled with fakes and over the top pushy vendors trying to convince you they were real. Needless to say, we quickly bailed on that and got back to the hotel to collect our bags. We got chatting to some groups there who were just starting their trip...all were impressed we'd managed to cart 'Mona' the panda around with us and we left with a tinge of jealousy wishing it was back at the start of our trip. Our final meal was getting the meat sticks from the nearby restaurant before getting the last express train out to the airport and starting our 10 hour flight to Kiev...without the entertainment system working! I guess I should have spent the time writing this blog up instead...better late than never!

Tink & Laura

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