|A great train trip overnight from Beijing (on the Shanghai Express!) 1463kms in just 12 hours! Real luxury in a soft sleeper carriage on a very modern train. Much better than even European standards. We woke up very refreshed from a good nights sleep when we arrived in Shanghai, despite there being one snorer in our 4 bed compartment. Pity it has taken this long to have our first train trip in China, although I am sure that most chinese trains are not anywhere near this good.
Shanghai is a massive city, as big if not bigger than Beijing, and also a lot hotter. We are back up to the 35 degrees celsius range rather than the 'almost autumnal' Beijing which was 29-30! Despite this, Shanghai is not a bad place to hang out for a few days. For starters, it has a pretty good metro line for those slightly longer journeys. In fact, at the ridicuously cheap prices and fully air-conditioned carriages, it makes sense to use it even for the shorter trips (if there is a station handy). Take note London Underground. A ride here is about 20p a go, and we will it say again, it is air-conditioned!! The Shanghai metro was a lot more handy for us than it was in Beijing, so it got a thorough work out from us.
The attraction of Shanghai is how the city equalises itself between old and new. From the incredibly big skyscrapers, and ritzy apartment stores, to the old colonial areas, and old chinatown with people still peddling their wares on the street and going around on old bikes and pedicabs (rickshaws). There is a good feel to Shanghai. This is despite the extra traffic noise here (we think Beijing had bought in noise regulations before the Olympics). The traffic noise in Shanghai is back to China's roudy best. And this place has overkill in A/C units strung up along all the city buildings. On the narrow streets around where we stayed, it sometimes felt like it was raining from the number of leaky A/C units - yeek. Always odd to feel that much water coming down when we were in scorching sunshine!
We, of course, ended up in one of the older (read grottier) sections of town, but this was just a block away from The Bund and the metro. The Bund lies on the west bank of the Huangpu River which splits Shanghai, and is one of the very familiar sites of the city. It is made up of the colonial buildings which were built here during the early 20th century and still stand looking pretty grand, despite that they now look up to the incredibly tall skyline across the river in the New Pudong area. With these sites on both sides of the river, it makes for a great walk along the Bund riverfront - especially at night, when it becomes really spectacular.
The history of it is that as China became weaker in the 19th century, especially as a result of the Opium Wars that Britian waged on it, that they then ended up conceding more and more of the new shipping port of Shanghai to the Brits and the French. Shanghai was little more than a fishing village until the mid 19th century. It then had rapid development as a port for China as they had by then conceded the whole of Hong Kong to Britain. Hence the many colonial buildings here that would not look out of place down Fleet Street in London. And as for the New Pudong Area across the river. Well that was just a muddy piece of farmland until just 15 years ago! Now check out the photos for how built up this is. Anyone who has seen the film MI3 this year will have some idea. (We had to go and see this again while here!)
One of the highlights for us in Shanghai on the site seeing front was to visit the very stunning Jinmao Tower, the world's 4th highest building (420m). This is a very sleek building completed in 1999. Obviously fantastic views from the top, the 88th floor, over the city skyscrapers, but also a view way out to the east where the now very wide Yangzi River flows into the East China Sea. We could also look directly on top of that Tom Cruise jump building, just do not know how he did it? (: And also great view of the Oriental Pearl (TV) Tower and the hundreds of boats going past it on the Huangpu River. The Tower, incidentally, is the 3rd largest TV tower in the world (460m), but you can only go halfway up it. Finally, the view within the Jinmao Tower is also incredible, looking down the atrium to the 54th floor reception area and start of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Now that would be an amazing place to stay.
We had some respite from the heat by resting in the shade of trees in People's Square on the west side of the city, again overshadowed by a large skyline, and spent an afternoon at the Shanghai Museum which is very fab and very modern (read A/C). We had a good couple of hours in here, but the exhibits are not so modern, and there is only so many calligraphic paintings and old wine pots that one can take in!
One afternoon was spent in chinatown, mostly in the very tranquil (we went on a weekday!) Yuyuan Gardens and Temples. These are a good get away from the shoppers, and the place was actually built by some Ming Dynasty rich official 500 years ago. We expected to find some good food in the bazaars around here, but were pretty disappointed. Think we might be getting a bit sick of the unhealthy chinese food we have been eating.
And on the other extreme, we went to Xintiandi, which looks just like a very modern Covent Garden in London with very plush cafes and bars. Thats where we went to the cinema. But sitting incongruously here is the commerative building and museum where the 1st National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party took place in 1921. Not a bad museum, must be said. Well looked after, of course, and also had some very useful information on the colonial concession days. Still odd to find this sitting in what must be one of the most capitalistic parts of China.
But our best time in Shanghai overall definitely came in the evenings. First of all, by pure chance, we ran into some young english travellers, Kate, Mark and Andrew, who we met at the Torch Festival way back in Dali and then Lijiang, Yunnan. We had a very drunken night at their hostel on the first night, and then went with them down the Bund on the second before they left town the next day. Our best night out in quite a while came on Wednesday when Nancy and I went to see the very very amazing Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe at the Shanghai Centre. Not only was it a pretty magical display, but also real hearts in the mouth time as well! We also started this evening with a meal at the same centre at Element Fresh. As the name sounds, it was really fine food served up here, and made even better by sitting out in the balmy night air with views over West Shanghai.
Finally, on our last night, at the end of another very hot day, we went to Noah's Rooftop Bar. Eating pizza, downing beers during happy hour, while looking over the Bund, the river with the tourist boats all lit up, and the Pudong Area skyline at night! Perfect way to end our time in this city!