Monday, 11 May 2015

TRAVEL: Playing Tourist in Shanghai

Although in China 'on business' back in March, I wanted to make sure the free time I did have was put to good use.

I had googled and scoured Trip Advisor for the recommendation 'must-sees' of Shanghai and whether, in actual fact, they were worth seeing.

High on my list were The Bund, The Old Town and Yu Garden. I had planned to make my way round, potentially using the Metro but decided to enquire at the Concierge Desk about any trips they may offer. Now, on holidays/during my travels I have gone on organised trips, but if I can plan things and get around myself, I will do. I figured this would be the case with Shanghai – although the majority do not speak a great deal of English (if any!) I figured I'd be able to do it. I just need to point out as well, I HATE being a traveller that feels a bit put out that people don't speak English and 80% of the time you can pick up local phrases and communicate, even a little bit, but in China that is virtually impossible! So, anyway, long story short, the hotel could offer me a four hour tour of everything I wanted to see (as well as the French Concession, People's Square and a Tea Ceremony) plus admission fee to Yu Garden for RMB 350 (£35) – as this included transport and an English speaking guide, I couldn't really justify not doing my sightseeing this way.

Since I'd been there the jetlag had hit me hard and with a 7.30am pick up, I was filled with dread having been wide away since 3am. However, I managed to get up, breakfast and hop on the tour (mini)bus full of enthusiasm.

We started off in The Old Town. I'd been recommended a visit here by a friend of mine who said it's really cool seeing the old buildings with the backdrop of the skyscrapers – the old against the new – however, these old buildings, although reflecting traditional Chinese buildings with their quirky roofs, terracotta against white walls etc. they were infact purpose built to adhere to the needs of tourists. As well as this, there are multiple old towns scattered across the city, which possibly could be genuine old towns. That said, I loved visiting The Old Town because, despite the fact they weren't necessarily historic buildings, that style or architecture was what I had envisioned for China. I also kinda felt like I was part on a anime film, which I quite liked.

We wandered through The Old Town, making our way to Yu Gardens – something I'd seen amongst my googling and it looked beautiful. Authentic buildings, scattered with lanterns, beautiful magnolia trees and flourishing water areas, Yu Garden was everything I hoped it would be. It was the kind of place I could imagine people arriving at, as the sun rises to meditate, to read or just simply to enjoy the peace and quiet. There were so many little things I liked about it and it gave me a more intricate view into the mentality of the Chinese – with their circular doors, symbolising happiness – something so simple yet so effective. The statues surrounding the gardens are of animals demonstrating the zodiac animals we were told a little about each animal – the rat symbolising wisdom, the elephant bringing luck, the goat symbolising curiosity and exploration. I find the Chinese way of thinking very interesting – they have very positive and insightful mentalities. Throughout the gardens they have numerous seated areas – my favourite area was the room designed for women to socialise overlooking a beautiful water area.

From Yu Garden we went on to a tea store to be greeted with a tea ceremony. The Chinese offer a tea ceremony to guests that visit their homes and as I love different teas, this was a great experience. William was our host and told us a little about the teas we were drinking and offered them to us in tasting cups. The Chinese drink a lot of tea so are really passionate about good quality and tea leaves – strictly no teabags. The teas we got to try were Jasmine, baby Jasmine, green tea, black tea with lychee and rosebud (which was delicious!) and several others that, quite frankly, I can't remember the names of. It was really interesting and I love that they spend the time greeting guests in this kind of way. They take it one step further than the British 'wanna brew?'

From Yu Gardens we were taken to the French area; a place of cafes and restaurants, scattered with character originating from the 1840's. This area was the French Concession area from 1849 until 1949 but retained much of it's original character. It was strange to see such a European area and knowing I was in fact in China. We had a little wander through here and took a few photos before hopping back on the bus and making our way to The Bund.

The Bund was the area I was looking forward to seeing the most. The Bund, meaning embankment, is the waterfront area of Shanghai, hosting a number of lovely restaurants and hotels that run along Zhongshan Road. The Bund hosts 52 different types of architecture, including Renaissance Revival, Neo-Classical and Art Deco - so, as you can imagine, it's a very interesting place to visit. We were given a little time to take photographs and have a wander. I really enjoyed coming down here, not just to check out the view but to people watch and get some fresh* air (*term used loosely with all that pollution!)

From here we were taken a little way round the corner to a Pearl shop. I swear EVERYWHERE you go in Asia there's a pearl store/pearl farm/somebody flogging pearls. I didn't really enjoy this part at all - I was practically followed round the entirety of the shop as I tried to fake an interest in what I was looking at. Personal space, ya know?

All in all, a 4 hour whistle stop tour of touristy-Shanghai which was definitely worth it. It hardly cost me anything and I can now say I've seen bits of Shanghai I might not have managed to alone.


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