A Travellerspoint blog

August 2017

Shanghai Day 3

Still suffering from jet lag we all had restless nights but packed our bags and made breakfast at 9 am. Our guide David arrived at 10 am and he had a driver as well. We set off for the 'Water Village' a little over an hours drive from Shanghai. It wasn't rush hour but it sure felt like it! We arrived at Zhujiajiao Ancient Town and it reminded us immediately of other Asian towns such as in Phuket - heaps more scooters than in Shanghai, narrower streets, rows of small retailers and power lines everywhere. The 'water' is a series of man-made canals connected to the Grand Canal which is a canal connecting Hangzhou in Zhejiang province with Beijing in the north. It is 1800 kms long and the first 500kms was built starting in 581BC! It is the longest man-made canal in the world. The canals around the town used to be used by fishermen and farmers trading their wares but is now mainly a tourist attraction. The odd sight of junks and quadruple scull was quite a contrast and a pleasant surprise! We went for a ride on one of the small junks and then visited the Zezhi Gazrden built by the richest man in the village in 1912. The four main features of these 'Southern China' gardens are architecture (heaps of small and medium-sized buildings), water, mountains (large rock formations made using imported rocks), and plants. They are very formal and not unlike Japanese gardens and very picturesque. We then took the van back to Shanghai to see the 'old city' again in the daylight and to see the Yu Gardens which were not dissimilar to those in Zhujiajiao just a bit bigger and with more use of rock formations. We then visited the Buddhist temple and saw the amazing Jade Buddha donated to a Chinese monk by Burma in 1882. It is fashioned from a single huge jade rock and is beautiful. Unfortunately you can't take photos of it. However there are several other incredible gold Buddhas and other sculptures that are pretty impressive too. The temple occupies a large plot of land and encompasses several shrines. It somehow managed to escape the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976) relatively unscathed. We were dropped by the van at Starbucks near the hotel for a quick but late 'lunch' before catching a taxi from the hotel to Pudong airport for our journey home. We all agreed that the manic nature of Shanghai with all its language difficulties and feeling a little 'alien' made heading home that much easier. Of course looking forward to seeing our granddaughter also made it easy!

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Shanghai Day 2

We againall struggled with jet lag overnight and were all up in the middle of the night doing stuff as we couldn't sleep. We had the hotel breakfast around 9 am which was pretty good and then retired to our rooms as it had started to rain and the heat the day before had scared us off! However when we did venture out we found it much more comfortable as the rain and breeze had cooled things down. We wandered around a local street and Julie purchased a couple of momentos. We had a late lunch at a local eatery and went back to the hotel for a couple of hours rest before venturing out with a private guide Tom, who took us first on an evening cruise to see the amazing building lightshows. The boat was pretty big - three decks - but we had the forward section pretty much to ourselves as Tom had arranged VIP passes. The lights were much more spectacular than any of us had envisaged and it was hard to stop taking photos and videos (see some attached). The cruise took around an hour and then Tom took us to the 'old city' where we experienced a whole different architectural world. These buildings are over 200 years old and beautiful. Tom told us that prices are so high here now that a two bedroom condominium in 'downtown' will set you back US$4 million! No wonder the people are moving out to the 'burbs' in their droves. One of the other interesting facts - the Shanghai Council now charges motorised scooter owners US$25k to register a new scooter.
So now almost all scooters are electric. However the silly bastards drive them at night with no lights to save the battery charge - talk about dangerous! Tom then took us up close and personal with the new buildings including the Shanghai Tower which at 632 meters, it is the world's second-tallest building, after the 828-meter Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Tomorrow Tom has arranged a 'cultural' tour...

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Shanghai Day 1

We had a reasonably leisurely start - a taxi booked for 11:00am to take us to Heathrow. The taxi took us through some areas that we hadn't been in before - The Strand, Knightsbridge, Earls Court etc - places to visit next time! We arrived about 11:45 for a suggested time of 12:15 - three hours before departure. We were all anxious about our bag weights and Julie's ended up 2 kilos over and mine slightly over. We had a quick juggle-around of stuff to even the weights out and checked in. We then had a late breakfast at a cafe - three vegetarian English breakfasts - very nice. We were flying to Shanghai with Virgin Atlantic. The plane was ready early but airport delays meant a ten minute late departure. The flight was uneventful and we arrived 20 minutes early. Big ups to the VA crew - very attentive and the food was good too. The only complaint is that they gave no advice as to arrival card needs and made none available. Consequently we arrived having no idea what we needed. We completed a yellow arrival card but found once we got to customs that we needed a non-visa blue card. We then got moved to another counter and got the royal going-over by customs who seemed to be very suspicious that we had only come to China for two days. Eventually we got thorough to find our bags the only ones left from that flight being guarded by an airport employee. We then caught a shuttle (only us on it) to our hotel in the Bund which took about 45 minutes. We were all buggered so we decided to sleep for a few hours. Julie and John woke at 4 pm and went for a walk along one of the very busy streets. It was too hot and humid by far. 34 degrees and the air was so humid and clammy. The thing we noticed is how few people were wearing masks - virtually none at all. Patrick in the meantime had also decided to go out and found a huge open air mall nearby. Around 7:30 pm we decided to see if we could find somewhere to eat in the mall but after an hour walking around we could not find anywhere that suited us all. We went back to the hotel with the intention of dining there only to find it closed, so it was back into the stifling atmosphere again to Maccas at the mall! A frustrating afternoon all around. The language barrier is a real issue here. Even most of the hotel staff have a very limited grasp of English so it is hard going trying to communicate. They even have a 'Fitness Room' in their services card but when I asked where it was, even spelling it the same way as in their own card, the staff had no idea what I was talking about. It was only when we said "gym' did they understand what I wanted! It turned out to be sub-standard anyway...

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London Day 4

We caught an Uber to Waterloo Station at 10 am to link up with Brakeaway Bike Tours. There were nine of us on this bike tour, two Aussies, two Canadian girls, two Chinese girls (who actually managed to get lost in the first 100 metres!) and us. Our guide Charlie had a great (dry) sense of humour and was fun to be with for the four hours we were on the tour. The bikes were basic but had seven gears and very comfortable seats. We learned a lot about London history that we didn't know previously. Charlie took us to popular spots as well as little side streets and alley ways that connected us from backwaters to mainstream attractions. As we had already seen many of the main attractions we found the backwater places he took us to be of more interest but the background info Charlie gave us at each place we went was interesting and informative anyway. Did you know for example that 'toeing the line' comes from the red line drawn on each side of the debating chamber in the House Of Commons which is exactly a sword length and one pace on each side as all MPs are apparently entitled to carry a sword into the house and 'toeing the line' ensures they can never damage each other! The route taken did cross some busy streets but at no time did we feel unsafe. Charlie was always conscious of keeping everyone together. Clearly you see so much more in the same time on a bike than walking (we even got a 30 minute lunch break) and much more flexible than being on a bus. After the bike tour we decided that we might do a river cruise down to Greenwich and take in the Borough Market on the way. We bought hop-on-hop-off tickets on the clipper express from London Eye (which was a five minute walk from where we dropped the bikes off) and hopped off at Bankside to take in the market. It was a typical foodies-paradise-type market and to be frank if we lived here there were a lot of temptations! We then caught the ferry (which are almost the same as the Brisbane River catamarans) to Greenwich. Greenwich had their own market too which had much more variety and was nice to wander through. Greenwich has a nice 'vibe' and it is clear a lot of Londoners like to go there on the weekend to enjoy it. Food tents and entertainment on two different sections and plenty of open spaces and greens that families were enjoying plus plenty of eateries. We had tea and scones here, tea was great, scones another story... There is actually a foot tunnel under the Thames there built between 1898 and 1902 that we stumbled across so we walked under the Thames and back again just to tick that box. We then caught the ferry back to Tower Bridge (close to an hours wait as people were heading back to Central London). We started to pack for our flight out next day, watched the Black Ferns win the Women's World Cup on TV and then went out for dinner close to 10pm. Slim pickings, so we ended up at a cheapish Indian place but the food was ok. Tomorrow afternoon we leave for Shanghai.

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London Day 2

A slowish start - out the door by 10:30 - no reason - just lethargy and of course social media demands of certain tourists! We caught a bus right outside the hotel door after figuring out that the shop 20 metres down the road sold the tickets. Five quid each for buses and trams all day (never saw any trams though!). We caught the bus to Trafalgar Square and went to wander down 'The Mall' (Pall Mall) when we saw a crowd gathered in front of what turned out to be the Household Cavalry's stables but now is their museum. There was no changing of the guard today at Buckingham Palace so we were lucky to stumble across this which was one troop coming from nearby Hyde Park quarters replacing the ones going back. Beautiful horses and dashing Calvary soldiers ! We then walked down to the palace itself through St James Park then walked back to the St James Cafe which was such a nice place to eat we returned later for a late lunch! We then walked around past Downing Street (blocked off) and over London Bridge and went on the London Eye. Ticked that box and then went back for a stroll past Parliament, through the grounds of Westminster School and then headed back to St James Park where we saw the pelicans (yes pelicans) being fed before lunch at the cafe. Somehow we then had the bright idea of going to Notting Hill. Anyway the bus trip through town Regent Street, Oxford Street, Edgeware Road etc took forever. We got there, walked around a few streets and then caught the tube back to Oxford Street to see Marks & Spencers. We then went on a wild goose chase looking for some luggage scales at what turned out to be an online store - so you could buy them but would have to wait a week to get them! We had some trouble then finding how to get back by bus (because the tube was so bloody expensive and we had bus tickets anyway). The bus system is so complicated it took us a while to figure out which street we needed to get onto to catch buses going in the right direction, but once that was sorted we were honky-dory. We got back to the hotel around 8pm, still incredulous at the number of after-work drinkers still milling around outside all the pubs - but believe it not there were still heaps of them still there when we went across the road to The Chamberlain Pub at 9pm - talk about a drinking culture! We had a reasonable meal there and retired for the night as we have an early start tomorrow, going on a full-day trip to the Cotswolds.

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