We hopped on the airport bus just opposite our hotel to Hong Kong Airport for our 6.00pm flight to Shanghai with low budget airline Spring, arriving in to Pudong at 9.00pm and a couple of hours later we were sitting in Adam's apartment in Shanghai. Adam was away for a few days so we made ourselves at home. Beautiful, modern and spacious 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment with a balcony, we were very comfortable.
We weren't sure what to expect and were pleasantly surprised that Adam's apartment was located in a leafy district on the edge of the French Concession area. All the streets are lined with beautiful Plane trees (fun fact - introduced from France in 1902 and are now found all over China as a roadside tree), little boutiques, coffee shops, wine bars and feels very western. On the larger streets are many high-end designer shops - Gucci, Prada etc and nightclubs, bars and restaurants and has one of the richest collection of art deco buildings in the world. A nice area to live in for a few weeks and call our home.
Grocery shopping wasn't the easiest thing to do in Shanghai, no Sainsbury's or Tesco or anything similar here. The local 7/11 sold the basics, bread and milk, so our first attempt at shopping took us a while. We found a Carrefour in the cloud 9 shopping centre (where our friends Kerry and Ian liv2ed for a few months - Kerry probably literally in the shops) which took us quite a while to get to by metro and managed to get some staples to keep us going for a couple of days. We found that basic things we take for granted are very expensive in Shanghai - butter, bread, washing up liquid, cheese, yoghurt! Around the corner from Adam's apartment was a market where we bought eggs and vegetables. Eventually we got to know which shop sold what, so no one-stop shopping for us during the next 3 weeks.
Our local area included the park which amused us when we walked past with the entertainment of the locals dancing with their loudspeakers full blast, doing their tai chi, playing badminton. The Russian onion domed church which was never open, the homeless man who lived outside the 7/11 who waved at us every day, the electric motor scooters which were unnerving at first and we nearly got run over a few times.
How were we going to tackle Shanghai, the largest city in China (by population)? We quickly got in to a routine and would pick an area every day to explore using Adam's guidebook, the extensive and cheap metro system and lots and lots of walking - to the extent we even started losing weight. Our fit bits regularly clocked up 20,000 steps a day. We would get home in time to cook a meal for the working Mr Twomey Junior and we even had our own local, the Shanghai Brewery, or "Shanghers" as Dan affectionately called it.
Our weekends were a slightly different type of sightseeing as Adam wasn't working, so we would explore the bars and restaurants of Shanghai - resulting in what we started calling "3 movie" Saturday's or Sundays or both - as that is all we were capable of doing after a night out on the town. One particular night saw us in the Boxing Cat Brewery where all the craft beers had boxing names, Dan's was a TKO (Technical Knock Out), Adam had Sucker Punch American Ale and Heather had Right Hook Helles. They had a special Halloween Friday event - drink all night for £10.00. We all felt like we had done 10 rounds in the boxing ring the next morning.
Our exploration took us to the main "must see" sights of Shanghai and in no particular order included :-
The colonial riverside of Shanghai, The Bund, with lots of beautiful historical buildings lining the Huangpu River and its attractive riverside walkway thronged with tourists. This side of the river is called Puxi. We also explored the other side, Pudong, with its mass of high rise, modern skyscrapers including The Oriental Pearl TV Tower with its pink spheres, the bottle opener (Shanghai World Financial Centre), and The Shanghai Tower, China's tallest building at 2,073 feet and the world's 2nd tallest, with elevators travelling at speeds of 40 miles per hour! We didn't go in though, a first for Heather not wanting to go to the highest view point of any city she visits. We got the ferry back across to The Bund at a huge cost of 20p and admired the buildings on both sides lighting up for the evening. We visited this area a few times to see it at different stages in the day light and night time.
People's Square, which was once a racecourse, housing several beautifully designed buildings including Shanghai Museum, the Grand Theatre and the very interesting Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (more on that later). In the centre is a huge and amazing topiary display. Just off People's square is Nanjing Road pedestrian street which comes alive at night with all its neon lights, shops, restaurants and lots and lots of people.
The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall doesn't exactly sound very exciting but we had heard that it was a must see, and we were glad that we did and spent a couple of hours viewing a photography exhibition of Shanghai and the large-scale model of the whole of Shanghai and what it will look like in 2020.
Yuyuan Ming Dynasty Garden (happiness garden) - a lovely, peaceful garden full of walls with sculpted dragons, bridges, pools, pagodas, archways and rockeries. It is surrounded by the very busy bazaar and its small lanes filled with tea houses, shops and again, a huge amount of people - no getting away from those tourists, we are after all locals!
Parks, we visited a lot of parks. It was nice to see so much green space in a big city. Again, the parks are filled with people exercising, dancing, playing cards and mahjong, and even doing calligraphy on the pavement with giant brushes dipped in water.
Art - we spent a day visiting 50 Moganshan Road which is a contemporary art district situated in an old industrial area where warehouses and factories have been converted into art galleries, art studios and surrounding walls have lots of wall art.
Temples - Shanghai is not a city known for its temples, but Heather had seen some golden temple roof tops in the distance from Adam's flat so we went to see it out. It was called Jing'An temple and was very impressive from the outside. We had read that it wasn't so interesting on the inside, so we didn't go in. We did go in to the most well-known temple in Shanghai, the Jade Buddha Temple, named after …….!
Day trips - we ventured out on 2 days trips. One day was spent in Hangzhou, another big city with 9 million people, but has a beautiful lake (West Lake), which apparently is one of the most famous natural attractions in China. And only a quick 45 minute train journey from Shanghai Hongqiao railway station (a station like we have never seen before, thronged with so many people). We spent the afternoon taking a boat over the lake to 3 Pools Mirroring the Moon Island which we read resembles a traditional Chinese water and mountain painting - zigzag bridges, lily ponds, curved-eave pavilions and reflective pond (3 of them!) Later we watched the sunset over the West Lake with a cold beer before venturing back to Shanghai.
Our 2nd day trip was to a nearby water town called Qibao, only 18km away from Shanghai and accessible by metro. We weren't the only ones that day to go and visit this town and we found wall to wall people along the 2 main streets, one of which was "snack street" which sold smoked toads as one of their snacks (we didn't try). We walked the streets and the picturesque river and its bridges and found a lovely small Catholic church in the back street - no street food consumed though as we had no clue what any of it was, so not very adventurous of us on this occasion.
After 3 weeks, Adam's girlfriend Hannah arrived and we set off on a new adventure. Will cover our time in Beijing and Xian in separate blogs. After spending 6 days with the young uns, Dan and I took the train back for our last couple of days in Shanghai. We spent our last night at the top of The Captain Restaurant above the Captain Hostel, where they had 2 for 1 cocktails and superb views over the river to Pudong. A lovely evening to say farewell to a wonderfully relaxed time in Shanghai.