Saturday, June 30, 2012

Honeymoon: Days 11-13

20/04/12 - Our plan was to go to Suzhou, so we got up relatively early to go to the station. We got the underground there, which unlike going to the French Concession required a couple of changes. At the station the ticket hall was very busy with many long queues. We didn't think we'd be able to make the train that we wanted to get, so we decided to abandon going to Suzhou and buy tickets to go on Sunday instead - we bought a ticket (first class on the bullet train again) from the one English speaking ticket office.

Shanghai model in the Urban Planning Exhibition
Our new plan involved some more sightseeing around Shanghai. We firstly went to People's Square to the Urban Planning Exhibition Center. It was a really interesting place full of information on Shanghai's past, present and future. It contained a brilliantly detailed and huge model of the current and future Shanghai. Some highlights of stuff we also saw were: a 360° CGI video flying through parts of Shanghai like the new Pudong Airport and Pudong district; a very good exhibition of comic strip-like drawings of Shanghai street scenes by an artist called He Youzhi (or Frank He); a cartoon video about "socialistic villages" (planned rural villages, towns and cities, so the farmers don't all move into the current major cities) featuring a water droplet character called Little Drip; and a display of communist party posters from the past 90 years.

Street market in Shanghai old town
For lunch we initially bought food from a van in People's Square and went into a grassy area where lots of locals were having lunch. But, the food was a bit too greasy to eat much of, so we then went to bakery in nearby mall instead. From there we walked to Yu Garden in the old town. It was really busy with tourists and people trying to sell Rolex watches. It was all a bit much, so we didn't stay long. Despite Jen being tired we decided to try a walk around old city from our guide book. It was much nicer once we got away from Yu Garden. The walk took us along street with good markets (live eels and fish in tubs were being sold). We also found a pet market selling birds, cats, dogs, fish, turtles and insects (and probably a lot more besides). At the end of the walk there were a few of the traditional-style Shanghai stone tenement buildings, or shikumen. We then walked back to hotel via pedestrianised part of Nanjing Road East shopping street.

We rested at the hotel for a bit before heading back to the French Concession for dinner - this time getting a taxi having walked enough during the day. At the hotel we'd tried booking online at a Malaysian restaurant, but didn't hear whether we had a table (we had an email from them confirming the booking when we got back to the hotel later). So, instead went to small vegetarian restaurant we'd passed the other night - the food was simple, but not bad. At this point it started raining hard, but we walked the short way back to O'Malleys for a pint. There was a band made up of American ex-pats playing. We then got a taxi back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel we decided to have a drink at the bar. There were a couple of old guys in the bar on their laptops - they were part of a big school reunion for the Shanghai American School that was being hosted at the hotel - but otherwise no-one else was in the bar. We found a guest book in the bar that we wrote a message in, but oddly most of the entries in the book were from single men thanking "the girls" - this seemed rather odd as the bar didn't seem to employ lots of barmaids. This made more sense later on when we discovered that the "karaoke" that some sites claimed was available at the hotel (and we'd not found any sign of) is generally a front for prostitution!

21/04/12 - We had a long lie in and lunch of sandwiches and crisps in the hotel cafe. We then got the underground to the French Concession again to do another of the guided walks from our guidebook (although to mix things up we walked it in the opposite direction!) The walk took us through Fuxing Park where we saw a crowd around a band, old people playing with diablo's and kite flyers. Near the park there were lots of fancy newly built properties. We went through a set of narrow alleys (Tianzifang) filled with boutique shops and cafes that, had we known about it before, would have been a nice place to go in the evening. The walk ended up going through an area with lots of arty cafes with bookshops and galleries. We also passed a Scottish coffee shop(!) housed in a former Russian Orthodox church.

For dinner that evening we'd booked at a fancy restaurant called M on the Bund, which overlooked the Huangpu River and Pudong. The starter and main meal were very nice, but it was the puddings that stood out and were amazing. We had a platter containing small versions of each of the desserts and they were all lovely. We finished the evening with a couple of cocktails. The place we also good for people watching and trying to work out the relationships of the other diners.

A Maitreya Buddha at the Beisi Pagoda
22/04/12 - We got up early again to get our train to Suzhou. The train was a slightly different make to the one that we'd got from Hangzhou, but was just as nice and fast. Suzhou is supposedly a big tourist destination, but when we got to Suzhou station it's an understatement to say it wasn't very tourist friendly. There were lots of people touting guided tours, but we had a basic map in our guidebook and thought we'd find our own way. This proved problematic and it took us at least half an hour to find our way from the station to something we recognised on our map - this was partly because there were no better maps in the station to show the way and also because between the station and town centre there was a massive building site.

Once we got heading in the right direction we also discovered that the city was bigger than we'd thought and it took quite a while to walk between the sites. It was also very hot. The first major site we came to was the Beisi Ta pagoda, which we climbed to the top of. This gave us good views of the city, but the air quality wasn't great, so you couldn't see that far. We then walked down to the Humble Administrators Garden, where we got ourselves ice lollies to cool down. It was very busy with tour groups, but was quite pretty. After another long walk we saw a sign for another garden (the Couple's Retreat Garden, which was another World Heritage Site), which took us slightly off the main road. This only had a few tourists in it, so felt a lot calmer.

The Humble Administrators Garden
We then had to head back to the main road and found our way to Pingjiang Road. This road followed along the canal and was most like the Suzhou Street we'd seen at the Summer Palace in Beijing. It was busy, but nice along the canal, and the street was lined with little cafes and shops. We stopped for sandwiches (and a beer for me) in an American-style bar, but we couldn't hang about as we had a long walk back to the station and wanted to try and see one last site. We managed to walk down to the Shuang Ta (double pagodas), but just saw it and then turned back to head to the station. We walked past an underground station, which we thought might get us back to the station, but it seemed that the underground system was still being built, so it was no use. The walk back, which took us through the main shopping street, was quite hot and exhausting, so the coolness of the station was very welcome. It was very busy at the station, so it was nice to get on the train and relax again. I think to properly explore Suzhou it would have been sensible to get a tour guide with a car and maybe stay a couple of days to get more of a flavour of the place.

When we got back to Shanghai we just went back to the mall on Nanjing Road East and went to a Japanese noodle fast food place. It was a very pleasant evening in Shanghai with clearer air then before and nice temperature, so the walk back to the hotel was nice. I also got some final pictures of wedding photo shoots.

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