And breathe… We’ve just returned from four days in Shanghai, and what an intense four days it was! We knew that travelling to one of the busiest Cities in the world during the Chinese National Holiday would be a challenge, but I think we underestimated just how crowded and hectic it would be.
We need to stop underestimating China!
Shanghai has a population of over 24 million people, and it’s the most populous City in the world on an ordinary day, let alone during Golden Week. It’s the time of year where everyone in China goes home to visit their families- I can’t give you exact figures on how many people were in Shanghai over the weekend but considering around half a billion people were travelling over the holiday period in China alone it’s safe to say it was an awful lot! To give you some perspective on what this meant for us, here is a photo of our walk down one of the streets in the French Concession area of the City:
For comparison, our friends James and Sarah from The Whole World or Nothing visited Shanghai earlier this year, and they managed to snap a photo on a similar street with almost no-one else in frame!
As you can imagine, the sheer mass of people we were contending with at every turn had a bit impact on our time in the City. We didn’t see anywhere near what we had hoped to and we’ve resolved to come back to Shanghai on one of our days off to experience it again. We’d rather do that than use our money on entrance fees when it’s too busy to enjoy it properly.
Despite our difficulties we had a really fun few days and I wanted to document it fully. So let’s park the people issue now and get cracking with our Shanghai story.
We’re currently in the process of applying for our residents permits in China (I’m sure a post on that will be appearing soon) which means our passports are with the Police station. In order to collect pre-booked train tickets at the station you need to show your passport (along with your booking number) to the ticket office, so we collected ours a few days before whilst our passports were still in our possession. To be honest, I think we would have done this even if we weren’t handing over our passports, as we’d heard a lot about it taking hours to collect tickets in China and we knew it would be ten times worse during the National Holidays.
When we did collect them there was hardly a person in sight, so I think Ningbo might be an exception to this rule ordinarily, but when we arrived on the Saturday morning to board our train there were hoards of people queuing up so we were glad of our forward planning.
We arrived at the sta-
Wow, sorry, I need to interject here. Although you could read on without being any the wiser, I’ve just had to take a break so that Seb and I could embark on a mission to kill the world’s biggest cockroach we just found on our curtain. We have succeeded in our quest, but not without me giving a bloodcurdling scream and Seb flushing the b*****d away after smashing it thrice with his trainer. We’ve done a thorough search of the house and we’re pretty sure it came in through an open window and it didn’t bring any friends. For all those planning to stay with us, fear not, for the beast is slain and we will defend our castle to the death should a similar situation rise again. I’m now recovering in the most British way I know how- with a good, hot cup of tea! We can continue…
-tion around an hour before our train, which would have been too much time but we got lost on the way to the departure floor so it took us about 30 minutes to find our way to the right place. The nice thing about Chinese trains is that you aren’t allowed onto the platform until a few minutes before your train arrives, and you are always allocated seats, so there’s no need to arrive especially early and no need to rush for a good seat either. Chinese trains are extremely efficient (and clean too!) and all in all we had a pleasant journey to Shanghai, bar a lot of pushing and shoving when it was time to go down onto the platform. Here I am in the “queue”:
What immediately struck us on our arrival (apart from all the people!) was how BIG everything is in Shanghai. Perhaps that’s stating the obvious, but we really felt the contrast to our little Ningbo– I can really see why everyone says it’s small now! There are 15 different Metro lines in Shanghai and although they’re easy to navigate it takes so much longer to get everywhere than we’re used to as the City is so vast.
All in all it was a pretty uneventful journey to our hostel, and we arrived in need of a few hours of down-time to compensate for the madness in the streets. We stayed in a dorm room at the Blue Mountain Youth Hostel (Luwan), which we loved- it was within walking distance of the French Concession area and dorms only had 6 people in them. We managed to snag two bottom bunks and weren’t subjected to any snoring roommates like in Singapore! The beds were also really big and the common area was lovely, so all in all we had a great stay.
There were some funny characters staying at the hostel too-
but when is there not?
-like the tall, bearded man with a funny hat who sat in the common room all the time telling everyone about his adventures; the little old Australian lady who got angry and sweary about a receipt; the guy who chainsmoked topless in the entrance at all hours of the day and night. I think it’s part of what I love about staying in hostels- you’re always going to have a laugh, and you’re always going to meet interesting people. Sometimes it’s nice to have the comfort and privacy of a hotel, but I love having stories to tell.
We chose Blue Mountain because we wanted to be as central as possible without paying a premium for the holiday period. Our beds in a dorm came to a total of 600 Yuan (£70.70) for 3 nights, meaning per person per night we paid 100 Yuan (£11.78). We thought this was a fair price for what the hostel offered!
On our first night we headed to the Bund to see Shanghai’s skyline lit up along the river. We weren’t disappointed by the amazing amount of lights and skyscrapers we saw- the Pearl Tower in particular was beautiful.
It was while we were admiring this colossal tower that a voice said
“Could Seb Jefferies report to checkouts please?”
causing confusion for Seb, being reminded of his retail manager past.
Turns out, despite us being thousands of miles away from home, as we competed with ten of thousands of people to get a view of the City where millions of people live, a guy Seb used to work with at Sainsbury’s happened to be in the exact same spot. Turns out he’s also working as an English teacher in China (like Seb), which is really weird considering he also tried to pursue a career in the RAF (like Seb) and also left the UK to travel the world when he realised he wanted more from life (like Seb). For a second we even thought we were staying in the same hostel, but they were staying at the Blue Mountain Hostel at East Nanjing Road instead.
It’s times like these where I have an existential crisis and question how the world can be so bloody big and so bloody small at the same time!
After that blast from the past we had a lovely walk along the river, spotting what I can only describe as a pirate ship sailing along, and then we had a delicious (but very pricey!) dinner at TGIs because we were too late to grab something at one of the mall food courts. It felt nice to eat some naughty Western food though!
Our evening ended with a beer and some work on the blog, and a well deserved sleep.
On the Sunday we headed to the French Concession area, where as you’ve already seen above we competed with all the people for a glimpse of the area that Chinese people were forbidden to enter for almost 100 years. The leafy streets were beautiful, though lined with shops designed to tempt tourists into parting with their cash. We managed to resist the souvenirs but our love of cats got the better of us as we spied Tono Palace, a Cat Cafe (address here) and went in for a drink.
I hate to say it, but I wished we hadn’t gone in, as we were seated upstairs where there weren’t any cats, and parted with 90 Yuan (£10.60?!) for a couple of tiny milkshakes and a quick, forced hug with a kitten. On top of that they then tried to make Tono fight with his son to entertain the tourists and it upset me. I can see the draw of these cafes but I wouldn’t recommend this one- our experience in Prague was much better. I thought about how I don’t like having to pay to have a cuddle with a cat when we always had unlimited love from our beautiful furry family in the UK, and then I had to stop thinking because I was getting the guilty feeling that I hate so much. I find it hard to even write this as it makes my heart hurt, and I realise that the cats really are a trigger to me missing our old life.
Putting that to the side, and focusing on the positive again, we had some great pizza for dinner at a place called Baker’s Pizza (groundbreaking name!) in the SML center next to the French Concession area. Good pizza is nearly impossible to find in China so we took full advantage whilst we were in Shanghai and visited on our last day as well.
I know Sunday seems a bit sparse- truth be told I wasn’t feeling well and we headed back to the hostel for a quick mid-afternoon nap that turned into a whole-afternoon sleep!
Monday was our busiest (and best) day. We wanted to visit Yu Garden but once we arrived at the Metro station we realised this would be impossible. So we wandered through the streets in Nanshi old town before deciding to try our luck at accessing the highest library in the world, located on the 60th floor of the JW Marriott Hotel in Tomorrow Square. We walked all the way there, which took a long time but we enjoyed the exercise and laughed a lot taking silly selfies in Music Square park.
We made it to the hotel and did our best to blend in and pretend we were staying in the beautiful building. Alas though, our plans to visit the library with it’s secret door bookcase were foiled as we needed an executive keycard to access it. On the bright side though, we made it to the 38th floor where we admired the lobby, the view and pretending we were wealthy enough to stay there. It was lovely to just spend time together without stress or an agenda, and enjoy each other’s company. We’ve been together for 7 years now and although we consider ourselves very lucky that we get to spend most of our time together and travel the world with each other it’s still easy to forget this and let daily life get in the way. We both agree we have a really wonderful relationship, so I don’t think we’re in any trouble, but if nothing else our day served as a reminder that we’re happy, healthy and still each other’s best friend.
Wow, sorry, that was really soppy- let me continue with my story! We now decided to make our way to Shanghai Circus World, as we had tickets to see the Era Acrobatics show and we wanted to arrive early so we could have some dinner before the show. We were pleased to discover our route to the metro station involved walking through People’s Park, which is a really beautiful area of the City where lots of locals gather to play cards and you can admire the flora. As we were taking photos were accosted by a strange man, who asked if we could spare a moment of our time. He reassured us that he didn’t want to sell anything, or practice his English, or even have a photo with us- oh no, he wanted to talk to us about robots.
As he began to tell his strange story about artificial intelligence he kept putting his hands to his mouth with a strange sort of glee, and then I felt someone brush past me and the whole situation went from funny to suspicious so we told him we needed to leave and scarpered. We did take a selfie shortly after though which I think documents my emotions well:
For dinner we found a really cool bar/ restaurant called the Blue Frog in the Daning International Commercial Plaza and we got a BOGOF deal on burgers and drinks as it was a Monday. You’ll hear more about this place very soon as our food was so good that I need to write a separate post to tell you just how good it was.
And then the acrobatics show- I mean wow. Seb and I are very lucky in that we’ve seen some amazing circus/ acrobatic shows before, including Amaluna by Cirque du Soleil on our honeymoon, The Illusionists Live and Moscow State Circus. The show was two hours of edge-of-your-seat acrobatics; I don’t know how they don’t ever hurt themselves! It was really impressive, and beautiful too. There’s no story to the show but each act is based on some aspect of Chinese history and it’s a joy to watch. We paid around £18 per person after the exchange rate and bank charges were applied, which was the cheapest seat. Don’t think you need to splash out any more than this because the theatre is small and round, and you can see everything perfectly from wherever you’re sat.
I don’t want to give too much away, but if you want a little sneak peak of what the show has to offer you can download this short video.
The show brought our final full day to an end, and on Monday we had a quiet morning at the hostel, followed by a short walk and lunch at Baker’s Pizza as I mentioned earlier. It takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour to get from the centre of Shanghai to Hongqiao Train Station, so we’d recommend giving yourself at least 1.5 hours to get there and find your train in the very large station. We also found trains boarded sooner than they had in Ningbo, and stopped people going down onto the platform several minutes before the train departed, so please factor this in to your journey plans.
We know our first trip to Shanghai didn’t exactly tick everything off the ‘must-do’ list, but I’m a believer that you don’t have to ‘do’ what everyone else does to have a good time in a destination. We had a great few days in the City despite the difficulties we faced travelling during Golden Week, and we’re certain that our first trip won’t be our last.
Although we’ll travel at a quieter time next time!
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