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Published: April 3rd 2011
For our journey to Shanghai, we climbed aboard the train due to take somewhere in the region of 16-21 hours to reach our destination. After the train we took from Taiyuan to Pingyao where sleeper cabins were three bunks high, we were fortunate to get a private cabin with four beds where we could relax in each other’s company. After bringing along numerous snacks and armed with my computer and hard drive stocked with films, I was quite happy in the comfort of the cabin for a little while. That is, until the battery died and I actually tried to sleep! Forgetting where I had put my ear plugs, I was treated to the soundtrack that is the screeching rail line and constant bouncing of the cabin. Being a travel pro, Amy slept soundly with earplugs and sleeping mask, accompanied by my jealous stare!
Following a sleepless night, jumping off a train at 7am in a strange city is never a fun encore. However, when the city happens to be a place like Shanghai, it softens the blow somewhat! After the earlier than expected start (according to Lonely Planet timescales we should have been getting into Shanghai at 9am at
the earliest!) we hopped in a taxi to our hotel, which fortuitously allowed us a morning check-in.
After dumping our bags, we headed straight out to The Bund, the former financial centre of Shanghai situated on the Huangpu River only a few yards from our hotel. The Bund itself consists of early 20th century architecture reminiscent of Wall Street, which sprawls out along the river. Walking along the waterfront admiring the nostalgic structures, you can imagine times gone by when it was a place of fortunes won and lost in an up and coming city. Shanghai is of course no longer up and coming but rather, if it weren’t for the historical significance of Beijing, Shanghai could easily be mistaken for the capital of China, with a cool modern feel and cosmopolitan makeup.
Indeed across the river from the Bund is the Pudong ‘New Area,’ an ultra modern area of the city so new it is still a ghost town. Being there we were very much reminded of Songdo City, the recently built free economic development back in Incheon. We spent little time in this area since it was so quiet and instead crossed the river (through a
bizarre underwater ‘sightseeing tunnel’ which defies description...in a bad way!) and headed south of the Bund for Old Town. Here we were greeted with many of the bustling market stalls and tea shops which contribute to make China so interesting. Despite the high tourist prices expected by sellers, we were able to purchase a number of bags of Ginseng Oolong and Lychee Tea at bargain prices (since coming to China I am now officially a tea lover!) together with large quantities of scented incense.
After taking in the sights of the waterfront and Old Town on our first day, we decided to hire a taxi to take us just outside the city centre to Zhujiajiao, one of China’s many canal towns. Arriving at this busy town, we meandered through the tight streets crisscrossing their way over the sprawling canal system. Similar to the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, Zhujiajiao is a place where your senses are assaulted on all fronts, but primarily by smell (including some interesting looking street food vendors selling cooked cockroaches)! After ambling around the streets for a while, we found a quiet tea shop to rest our legs, have a cup of tea and enjoy one
of the quieter branches of the canal where locals calmly rowed their longboats along the water.
After bartering for another tea set from an angry shopkeeper, we headed back to Shanghai and to the French Concession. The French Concession is without doubt the most cosmopolitan area of Shanghai and probably China itself, with people of all nationalities are milling around the tight streets or enjoying an afternoon glass of wine outside one of the its many cafes, sitting under the sunshine in the tree lined streets! The good life indeed! Here, we visited the tight streets Taikang Road Art Centre, taking in some of the photography art galleries before settling in an Indian bistro for a delicious dinner.
On our final day in Shanghai, and indeed China, we had a relaxing day walking the streets of the city where we found a park next to the Old Town. Here, Amy and I simply sat for a while and took in that most enjoyable of pastimes – people watching. Seeing children socialising and old couples sitting and enjoying the sunshine, it was a tranquil place in such a gigantic city. However, the tranquillity was somewhat disrupted when we noticed
a couple of six year old girls who had been riding around on bicycles for a while, when they decided to use the facilities - the facilities being a patch of grass in plain view of all around where they simply squatted, chatting while they watered the plants! Charming!
After picking up a few more items for friends and family, we headed back to the hotel truly exhausted after two weeks of intensive travel (probably sounds soft to some of the more experienced travellers but it is our first attempt at the travel thing – our bodies are not quite conditioned for the process at this time!).
However, I truly enjoyed Shanghai. Of the places we have visited in China and even Korea or Japan, I have enjoyed many of the cities, but none have felt quite as appealing as Shanghai. For me, it was one of those places where I really can envision myself living and enjoying. Although I’m not ready to say that it tops Rome as my favourite place I have ever visited, it is certainly a strong second and a great place to end our time in China. Originally, we had planned to spend
a whole month in China and then continue into Hong Kong and spend the month of April travelling through India. However, on our final day before we left Korea, we discovered that Amy needed to have surgery so, without a Korean visa, we decided to spend the two weeks in China with my parents then come back to England to receive the necessary medical treatment. Obviously we are both disappointed at the timing of such a thing, but health comes first and it will also be a good opportunity to catch up with some familiar faces. The world, of course isn’t going anywhere so we will take a little time at home before heading back out on the road...
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