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Day 6: Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China


Day 6: Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Shanghai, China

Welcome to Shanghai! We got up at 7:30am and went up to the Executive Lounge on the 59th floor for breakfast. The spread is plentiful-- lots of pastries (The Chinese really do like breakfast pastries and they had delicious chocolate mini muffins) and dim sum and hot foods like sausage, hash browns and beans; also, a juice bar and fresh sliced fruit. It was so nice to have refreshing watermelon and honeydew slices!

We were waiting for it to get a bit warmer (high today of 42 degrees F) before we started our massive walking tour, and we sat in the lounge after breakfast, sending emails. The city looks huge – its a bit hard to tell as the smog is so thick it is obstructing our view from the 59th floor – so I wasn't sure if my walking plans were too ambitious. We really like Shanghai so far and were amazed at how tall and flashy the skyscrapers were as we drove into the city from the airport. And unlike Beijing, there are a lot of billboards on the highway and all have very optimistic messages about a “new world” and a “better tomorrow”. Shanghai is definitely the new face of China! We see a lot more people smoking, we expected to see heavy smoking in all of China but saw very few smokers in Beijing – but at the Shanghai airport taxi stand, they were handing out free lighters!

Around 9:30am, we packed up our bags and headed out for an ambitious day of walking and sightseeing. My legs were already a bit sore (they actually started to throb at night so they must have been tired from walking around the Temple of Heaven), and by the end of our first day in Shanghai, they would be ready to fall off! But it was well worth it as we covered so much ground by walking and really got to see all the major sights up close and on our own timetable. We saw so much of the sprawling city, we can truly say that we saw the best of Shanghai.

Leaving the hotel, we walked down Nanjing Lu, a main pedestrian shopping street that had several large malls and department stores and boutique shops. We poked in just one store, Uniqlo, a Japanese brand clothing store that we like, but bypassed everything else. I bought two light-weight fleece turtlenecks for about $13 each and they were great purchases, as both shirts were worn within the next two days as the weather was still quite cold. Nanjing Lu wasn't the nicest shopping street that we discovered in Shanghai, although it was probably one of the most famous. We passed a lot of “friendly” people who say hello in English and then try to sell you fake watches when you turn your attention to them. Nanjing Lu road ended at the Bund, which is, as we had been forewarned, under an immense amount of construction in preparation for the World Expo in May 2010. The Bund is the riverfront promenade that extends for over a mile. Across the river is the Pudong area, another large section of Shanghai. We had planned to take a river cruise to see the shoreline of the Bund, but the construction made it hard for us to find the place to take the riverboat, and Nanjing Lu dead-ended at the famous “Bund Sightseeing Tunnel” which was next on our list. We went underground to take this unique experience. The sightseeing tunnel is almost like an amusement park ride, and is a very weird combination of Chinese entertainment and practical transportation. You board a people transport, almost like a glass enclosed cable car in which you stand up the whole time. The cable car is on a track – like the rides at Disneyland – and the car rides down the tunnel, which is filled with flashing neon lights, and a very weird psychedelic soundtrack. There are blowup dolls that jump out at you as the car passes down the track to the other side. Very, very weird, but definitely a Shanghai “must do!”

We emerged from the tunnel on the other side of the river in Pudong. Pudong houses the most famous of the skyscrapers in Shanghai, including the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a tall building with two balls and a tall pointy top – any time a picture of Shanghai is presented in the news, this building will be shown. We walked to the tower thinking we would go up, but saw it was $25pp to go up to the top, which we didn't think was worth the money since we were planning to go up to the top of the nearby Jinmao Tower which was taller and less expensive. There was a sign for a riverboat cruise from the Pearl Tower, but we learned it was only starting in the new year. So we walked towards the famous Jinmao skyscraper, which was very close by but a good 30 min walk as there was massive amounts of construction going on that blocked the major roads. We wound up walking around in a huge circle to get to the building. We stopped for lunch at the Blue Frog in the Shanghai World Financial Center, which is the tallest building in Shanghai. It is shaped like a bottle opener and glistens in the sun. We didn't go up to the top, but instead walked next door to the Jinmao Tower to go up to its observatory. At 1,379 feet, the 88-floor tower houses the Grand Hyatt hotel and an observatory deck that offers incredible views of the city. We took the elevator that traveled 9.6 meters/second and then spent a good half hour walking around the observatory, admiring the 360 view of Shanghai. The skyline is so incredible, just spending time looking at the uniquely and very modern/futuristic-looking buildings is a fun thing to do. We took lots of pictures, although we wish the smog wasn't so thick.

Leaving Jinmao Tower, we walked down to the promenade to catch the ferry to the Old City, back on the other side of the river. We passed by a restaurant that advertised a “snow bar” and knew we had to go in. Just like our experience in the Ice Bar in Copenhagen last year, we donned large snow parkas with hoods and walked into a back room that had freezing cold temperatures. However it turned out the bar wasn't completely made of ice like the one in Copenhagen was, but it was cold enough to have snow on the plastic bar and ledges, which supported its “snow bar” name. We each had one drink. I had a shot of raspberry vodka and Hunter had a shot of Everclear, a drink that is actually illegal in all but 6 states in the US because it is 151 proof alcohol. We were nice and toasty after that drink! The ferry was right near by and we boarded right before it took off, along with a whole group of motor scooters, which are very popular in Shanghai.

The ferry ride was short - only about 5 min to reach the other side – and gave us great views of the Bund. Getting out we used our handy map from the Eyewitness Travel book (the local map the hotel gave us was awful and didn't represent distances to scale) to find the heart of the Old City. It was AMAZING! This is what I expected China to be like – narrow streets with small cubby-hole like shops selling cheap scarves and bags and other trinkets. The narrow streets then turned into a maze of alleyways with even more merchants selling goods and even cooking large vats of noodles with vegetables. There were two alleyways that exclusively sold Christmas decorations. Let me pause now for commentary on Christmas in Shanghai. Although it is not a nationally recognized holiday in China, we have never heard so much Christmas music playing everywhere. Every single store, restaurant, and place of interest has a Christmas album blaring from its speakers, the most popular being Kenny G's Christmas album, followed by Mariah Carey's. We think we heard more Christmas music here than we would have if we were back in the US. We now know why everyone says Christmas is so commercialized – in China it is ALL about the commercial aspect of gift giving and parties. It was really funny to see street vendors selling plastic light-up reindeer and giant robotic santas. Despite feeling like we are on a whirlwind vacation, we felt like we were in the midst of Christmas season, more than we felt before we left for the trip, thanks to all the Christmas music and decorations around the cities.

Back to Old City. There was one place where the alleyways opened to a big square that had beautiful old Chinese buildings. We finally found the entrance to the Yu Yuan Gardens, which was on our sightseeing list, but I had spent all of our money and we didn't have enough cash to cover the entrance fee. We also figured the gardens were small (only 2 acres) and we could see some from the outside, so it wasn't so much of a loss. Whoever said Shanghai takes credit cards was wrong. NO ONE takes credit cards in China except the big restaurants and the largest department stores. Every single attraction/major tourist site is cash only. We even had to pay cash with the concierge when purchasing our tickets to the Shanghai Acrobatic Show, and you would think a hotel would take credit cards! We had brought a lot of Yuan with us, but wound up making 2 additional trips to the ATM (in addition to the one ATM stop at the airport) to ensure we had enough cash for the rest of our trip in China.

After the unique experience in Old City, we started to walk back to our hotel but it was very, very far. We got about half way then took a taxi the rest of the way. We always carried the piece of paper with us that had directions to our hotel in Chinese characters because none of the taxi drivers speak English. By the time we got back to our hotel it was 5pm – we were on our feet actively and briskly walking for 7 ½ hours and were quite exhausted. We purchased tickets to the traditional Shanghai Acrobat show from the concierge and then headed back out for a pre-show dinner. The concierge recommended a complex called Xiantiu which was a very romantic outdoor area of restaurants. The restaurants surrounded two large courtyards, filled with trees and white twinkling Christmas lights. Very romantic! It was something you would find in the US. We ate delicious hamburgers (we know we are not being adventurous with the local food, but we would rather be safe and stick with food that we know won't give us upset stomachs than to risk getting ill before the cruise even starts) and then hopped in a taxi to the acrobatic show. It was SO much fun! We saw several different acts, from contortionists to jugglers to magicians to somersault acts, to spinning plate girls, to beautiful ribbon flying acrobats. The last act was 5 motorbikes in a cage. Each act offered more “Oh my gosh, are they really going to do that?” moments and is something we would definitely recommend to future Shanghai visitors. We can understand why the Chinese are such gymnastic professionals!

We finally ended our first day in Shanghai around 9:15pm back in the hotel and made the last 15 min of the free drinks and dessert in the Executive lounge. Our tequila and glass of wine was greatly needed by the end of the day!

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 17, 2009 from Shanghai, China
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged China, Shanghai and Asia

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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