Saturday, June 30, 2012

Honeymoon: Days 9-10 (Shanghai)

The bullet train
18/04/12 - On Wednesday we were travelling to Shanghai. Jen was starting to feel better, but still had a sore throat. We had the good breakfast buffet again and then went back to the room to finish packing. We then got a taxi to the train station. At the station we had to go through security, with an X-ray scanner checking our luggage. We'd got there in plenty of time, so had to hang about for 45 mins before the train departure. They didn't allow you to wait on the platform for the train, so we waited in a departure lounge, which gradually got busier and busier. About 5 mins before departure we were allowed through the barriers to the platform. There were a lot of people, but the (bullet) train was so big it didn't seem too busy. We didn't need to worry anyway as we had seats reserved in first class. The seats were huge and were able to recline quite far, and the atmosphere in the carriage was nice and calm (especially compared to trains in the UK). Looking out the window during the journey we noticed that there was barely any countryside between Hangzhou and Shanghai, with the only agriculture in the form of some poly tunnels. The trip took just over an hour and a half.

On getting to Shanghai station we were initially thinking that we'd get the underground to our hotel, but after wandering around the massive station for a bit we decided it was probably a better idea to get a taxi.
Our hotel room in the Astor House hotel
Our hotel in Shanghai was the Astor House hotel - established in 1846 it was the first Western operated hotel in all of China and has had many uses over the years, and many famous residents (including Albort [sic] Einstein). It was a lovely colonial-style building and had a good feel about it - definitely a lot more character than the Hyatt in Hangzhou. They didn't have the room we'd originally booked, but (as in Beijing) we got put in a far bigger room instead - it was huge! It was obviously very recently renovated and other rooms on the corridor were still being done up - in fact the first two rooms on the corridor were being operated as offices for businesses! After settling in we briefly explored the hotel - during this we encountered the first (of many) Shanghai wedding photo shoots. On leaving the hotel we saw more wedding photos on the bridge opposite the hotel - this proved to be a very popular location for photos. [These photo shoots did seem very elaborate and lasted for hours without any obvious sign of the rest of the wedding party and with the brides dresses often pinned. We later found out that a lot of couples have their photos taken months in advance of their weddings, so they can use the images on the day itself.] It was drizzling a bit and quite overcast, but we had a brief wander up and down the Bund (the main promenade along the west of the Huangpu River) to get our bearings.

Despite the day of travelling we weren't feeling tired (I suppose we'd only had a short train ride to deal with) and decided to be a bit more adventurous by heading for dinner in the French Concession, which required an underground journey. The Shanghai underground was more comprehensive than the one in Beijing, but also a bit more expensive (maybe an extra 10p!). It wasn't quite as obvious how to buy a ticket from the machine as rather than the single fare that existed in Beijing there were different fares depending on the destination (and the machine required the correct change, which we didn't have, so we had to go and buy a drink [and cake] to get some coins), but we figured it out and bought the correct tickets. The underground was still very modern and clean.

In the French Concession it took a couple of minutes to get our bearings and work out which side of the road we were on on our map. Once we'd sorted that out we decided to head to The Boxing Cat Brewery (the best microbrewery in Shanghai), where we had beer and burgers (including a pint of Glasgow Kiss Scotch Ale). The rain had picked up, but we decided to explore a bit more and headed for another drink at Abbey Road (which was so busy that we had to sit outside on a table with an umbrella), and then another at a huge Irish Bar by the US consulate called O'Malleys. In general around the French Concession, due to the large number of consulates there were a lot of non-Chinese people and a lot of English being spoken - the area felt far more western in general and compared to Beijing there were far more pubs!

The Sightseeing Tunnel
19/04/12 - Today was going to be a day of sightseeing - starting off with the Sightseeing Tunnel! This is a tunnel under the Huangpu going from the Bund to Pudong (the financial district) - it consists of a small carriage that takes you on a "journey through the Earth" consisting of a mental psychedelic light show. It cost far more than it should do (especially when compared to the price of the ferry), but it was an experience, and the epic surrealness meant that it had to be done - just the once though! The tunnel complex also had lots of other kitschy exhibitions, but we decided that the tunnel itself was enough for us. Prior to taking the tunnel we'd briefly wandered down the Bund to find the location of a restaurant we planned to go to. During this walk we were accosted by two girls asking us to take their photo and then chatting about where we were from - eventually they asked us what we were doing that day and whether we wanted to join them for a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. Our guidebook had warned us about these being scams to bilk tourists out of large sums of money, so we declined and walked on. Once this had happened we spotted many other pairs doing similar things to other tourists.

The Jinmao Tower from the SWFC observation deck
Pudong is full of skyscapers and we had tickets to go up to the top of the (currently) tallest one in China - the 101 storey Shanghai World Financial Center, or the bottle opener as it is sometimes known due to the hole at its top (this is soon surpassed in the tallest building category by the under-construction Shanghai Tower). Going up to the observation deck was another surreal experience, which felt like we were travelling into some futuristic sci-fi universe. On going into the entrance to the lift up to the observation deck we were the only people there and were greeted by three women wearing identical futuristic clothes who guided us through slick and sparce white rooms to a model of Pudong, which featured a lit-up night time mode with a firework display. We were then led into the lift, which was a creamy white colour, with smoothed corners and a pulsating light on the ceiling. It felt like we were ascending into a space ship, and the longer we didn't see anyone else the more strange it got. The ride was very quick and smooth and when we arrived at the floor 100 observatory the sci-fi illusion was broken as we encountered other regular looking tourists (and a cleaner). It was quite misty, so we couldn't see that far, but it was still very impressive being that high. There were some glass panels on the floor that I walked over, but Jen wasn't so keen.

The tunnel in the Shanghai Aquarium
After the tower we headed to the Aquarium via a fancy supermarket in the IFC Mall (to get washing powder to clean our clothes). The aquarium was impressive and had a very long underwater tunnel - as would be expected we saw a variety of fish, sharks, turtles, seals etc, but the penguin exhibit was closed. We then walked down to the ferry terminal (which was further than we expected) to cross back to the Bund.

For dinner we went to a mall on Nanjing Road East. After checking out all the food options we decided on a Japanese BBQ banquet place, because it had an all-you-can-eat (and drink) option. We weren't sure of the etiquette of ordering, so we started out not getting that much food, but after seeing others ordering a lot more we happily got extra (although there was some confusion with one of the dishes, which I wasn't sure if I'd ordered and sent away, but it turned out is was mine). The food was very nice, especially the strips of beef.