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Japan - Land of the Rising Sun

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Part 16 - Shanghai, China

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Part 16 - Shanghai

The view from the window in the morning wasn’t as colorful as the night before, but no less attractive. This morning, the top of the 632 m (2.074 ft.) high Shanghai Tower reached into the clouds.

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There are some habits that mustn’t be broken. Therefore, like in the past two weeks on the ship, we started the day with a generous breakfast.

The selection of the stylish buffet was very good, ranging from Western cereals and individually prepared eggs to Asian delicacies.

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For this day we had booked a private city tour via Jennysshanghaitours.com. Right after breakfast, Susie, our guide for the day, picked us up in the lobby of our hotel.

In good English Susie told us that our first destination would be Yuyan Garden in Shanghai Old Town, also called “Chenghuangmiao”. The garden was in walking distance from our hotel, and Susie used the walk to give us some general information. And so the 10-minute walk flew by and we found ourselves in front of a big gate representing the entrance to this area.

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„Guardians“ in front of shops and big buildings in Chinese architecture marked just the beginning of the other world we were entering here.

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As soon as we had turned around the corner, we were immersed in Yuyuan Old Street, where restaurants, artisans, tea houses and souvenir shops lined up close to one another. 

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We noticed a long queue at one of the street vendors and assumed it was a sign of good food. Susie confirmed that it was a very popular shop for soup dumplings. But since we had just had breakfast, it was easy to resist the temptation to join the line…

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A few steps away we passed by a shop selling a popular yogurt drink and candied fruit. Again, this seemed to be a popular snack, we should see shops with such jars on steaming dry ice quite often on our way.

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At the next corner we found ourselves on a larger square, the Yuyan Garden Market near the entrance to the gardens.

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From here you could access the long Jiu Qu Bridge which led us along its 9 bends past the Huxing Ting tea house. This picturesque building is the oldest tea house in town set amidst a pond of lotus flowers. It can only be reached via the zigzag bridge, which is supposed to ward off evil spirits. According to Chinese belief, ghosts only go in straight lines.

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At the end of the bridge we reached Yu Garden.

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This garden, actually a complex of several beautiful gardens, was built during the Ming Dynasty in 1559 by the imperial official Pan Yunduan as a private garden for his parents.

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A maze of paths and various halls took us through this picturesque and peaceful place.

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But the gardens weren’t the only attraction. Wherever you looked, statues were watching over the plants, and dragons were flying around the grounds on the undulating walls.

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Some of the 400-year old halls and houses could also be visited from inside.

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And even the roofs featured a variety of ornate details.

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After the pleasure of the beauty and tranquility of the gardens, we first took a walk back through the old town and then, as if in contrast, along some of the main roads. We always had to watch out that we didn’t get run over by one of the many motor scooters – you could hardly hear them because due to the high air pollution only electric scooters are allowed on the roads.

Soon we turned into a smaller side street again, where Susie told us that it was one of the oldest residential areas in Shanghai. Small shops were both workplace and home.

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Motorcycles parked in the street apparently served as work equipment and sleeping place in one…

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Susie seemed to notice that we were quite impressed with the laundry logistics and commented that inevitably everyone here knew the color of their neighbor’s underwear.

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After another 15 minutes we reached our next destination and stood in front of the Confucius Temple. 

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The Confucius Temple, or „Wenmiao“ in Chinese, was built during the Song Dynasty in the mid-13th century. This is where scholars studied for civil service examinations and where teachers taught their students.

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As we had already seen at the shrines in Japan, the faithful here could also leave their wishes in the temple.

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For the tour around the temple, Susie handed us over to a young temple guide who explained to us the meaning and function of each building.

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At the end of our visit we were asked whether were interested in a tea tasting. We gladly accepted this offer and learned a lot about the preparation of teas. In addition, we could try different varieties, all of which had their own healing effects.

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One tea tasted so good that we bought a tin of it as a souvenir. We still enjoy it today and relish the beautiful memories of the temple in Shanghai.

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After this visit we followed the lane n front of the temple a little further. We passed a shop where Susie bought us one of her favorite local sweets to try.

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In the meantime it was time for lunch. Susie asked us whether we preferred a western restaurant or whether we wanted to try a restaurant popular with the locals. What a question… We obviously preferred the Asian place.

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Given the menu that hung behind the counter, we were glad to have an interpreter with us. We ordered, paid and then waited for our meal at the table – delicious fried noodles and soup dumplings.

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After lunch we took the underground and went to Xintiandi, the former French concession, where we left the underground in an avenue with less traffic. Cafés and modern boutiques lined the street on both sides.

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In a small side street, Susie showed us a section where traditional Shikumen houses had been restored.

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In the 1860ies these homes had made up 60% of the living space in Shanghai, before the trend changed towards the huge housing complexes. Here, they are now trying to revive the old way of living.

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Afterwards we reached the part of Xintiandi characterize by pedestrian zones with restaurants, cafés and modern boutiques.

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This area seemed to be very trendy. The Shanghai Fashion was just a stone’s throw away, and its sometimes quirky visitors seemed to like it here, too.

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We liked the clean modern streets with their pubs and shops, but at the same time they weren’t special. These pictures might just as well have been taken in Frankfurt, Paris or London – it just didn’t feel like being at an exotic place like Shanghai anymore.

As it had started to rain, Susie called us a car via Didi, which had replaced Uber in Shanghai. We drove through long tunnels underneath the river towards the commercial zone of Pudong. Here you could admire one architecturally fascinating skyscraper after another.

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Pudong’s development began in 1990. In just about 20 years, Pudong has developed into one of the busiest and most prosperous areas in the world, and in some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, people are heavily involved in world trade and finance.

We entered the 492 m (1,615 ft.) high Shanghai World Financial Center, also known as the “bottle opener” due to its opening at the top. There was a viewing platform near the top that we wanted to visit.

Susie presented her guide pass and led us past the lines of waiting visitors. So it wasn’t long before we shot up in one of the extremely fast elevators and soon looked down on Shanghai from the observation deck in 474 m (1,555 ft.) altitude.

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Looking down from here onto the magnificent pagoda-like structure of the slightly smaller Xin Mao towers, we noticed a movement on the upper floors

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Susie told us to have a closer look, which is when we realized that people were walking along the building.

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Secured with a strap, visitors can move freely in 341 m (1,120 ft.) altitude on a 60 meter (197 ft.) long and only 1.2 meter (4 ft.) wide glass walkway to get a good view of the metropolis. A walk with a special kick.

Although I would have liked to try this, we were glad in the slightly rainy weather that the glass walls protected us from the wind.

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As a golden strip at the horizon heralded the end of the day, we left the platform.

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A few levels below there was a café and some souvenir shops… and restrooms, of course. It must be one of the most photographed toilets in the world, because many guests came out with a smirk and a look at their phone. A toilet with a few…

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On elevated pedestrian paths we walked along the highrises towards the bank of the Huangpu River.

We were approached by some sales representatives in front of some of the new highrises and invited to visit one of the probably million-dollar apartments. We gladly declined and joked that we first had to pay off our penthouse in New York.

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We took the ferry to cross the river and enjoyed the beautiful evening light, which reflected on the huge glass surfaces of the skyscrapers.

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The ferry terminal was right across the street from our hotel, so we didn’t have far to go. We thanked Susie, who in only one day had shown us many sides of Shanghai and thereby filled the day with many different and unforgettable impressions.

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We arrived just in time to grab a drink in the hotel lobby.

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Glasses in hand we retreated to our suite and enjoyed the view from the box seat of our sofa after it had eventually  become dark outside.

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Obviously we also tried to surf a bit on the internet. But this was only possible to a limited extent, as access to many sites such as Facebook or even Google is blocked in China.

After a well-deserved break we left again. As soon as we were outside, it started to rain again and it wasn’t long before sellers on electric scooters whizzed by and tried to sell umbrellas to people seeking shelter in house entrances.

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We returned to Nanjing Road and strolled along the many shops and department stores. In a food mall we found a restaurant and enjoyed a meal there.

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To return to the hotel, we walked along the Bund one last time to soak up the colorful lights of Pudong. It really is a unique skyline!.

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