I apologise. We are a little behind on the blog front. Here is one about a few weekends ago.
So this weekend we spent in the beautiful Shanghai. A Chinese friend of ours had never been, and was going with a friend of hers, so we thought we would gate crash their trip and improve it with a little western style.
It was another of our colleagues (and friends) leaving do on the Sunday night so we awoke early, but not exactly fresh faced, on the Monday in order to catch our train. Boarding the four hour train we both promptly fell asleep and whiled the hours away in beautiful dreams.
We awoke in sunny Shanghai. Eager to eat some post-hangover breakfast (it was about 1pm by then) we headed to our favourite restaurant Barbarossa, which is in the centre of Peoples Square Park. The view from the conservatory style windows is of a beautiful lake, which stays clean and fresh all year round, the incredible lily pads, and sometimes a hoard of Chinese men locked in battles of chess. The sun was out, glistening off the lake, the trees were green, and the people were happy.
We met our friends there, and after a few hugs we settled down to a paella lunch. They had never eaten paella, but being Chinese we knew they’d enjoy the seafood-rice combo. Thrilled with their huge dish of food they devoured it quickly and were soon ready for a walk around the park. The day was warm with a light dry breeze, and we decided to taxi from there to a bookshop on FuZhouLu (福州路) so I could stock up on my English books.
What it is to peruse a bookshop. I have missed the quiet contemplation of minds in a bookshop, the concentration, the eagerness to find that one book, or the sheer thrill of letting yourself be drawn in by an interesting cover. It is not as though FuZhou doesn’t have bookshops, quite the contrary, but what it does lack is a range of English books. You can get your hands on a Dickens, or a Hemingway, but when it comes to authors such as David Mitchell, or Cecilia Ahern, or even J.J. Abrams, FuZhou somewhat lacks. So this trip to The Land On The Sea (Shanghai 上海) was made even sweeter by the presence of a well stocked bookshop.
From here we walked to a Chinese Style Old Town in search of a Buddhist Temple. It is situated in an area of old Chinese buildings, all wooden in frame and tipped with red and gold, surrounded by tourist shops and snack stalls. If it were in any other country it would be a beautiful Chinatown, and how curious it looked in a modern-day China, scattered with skyscrapers and shiny cars.
Unfortunately the temple was closed (if anyone is thinking of heading there, it is open from 9-4.30) but I did manage to find a dumpling that you eat with a straw so all was not lost. We quickly googled where in the area was good to go next, and decided on a beautiful mosque just around the corner. The walk to the mosque brought its own surprises, when we stumbled upon a Tesco we just had to go in.
It’s not the same as an English Tesco, unfortunately, there weren’t any meal deals or Tesco’s own brand things. There were live fish tanks (and an escapee on the floor who was quickly rescued) and strange fruit and veg, but I did manage to find two boxes of Weetabix, so again spirits were raised.
When we reached the mosque it was closed. We asked a helpful looking chappy if he knew what time it’d open, yet he proved to be the least bit useful. He spoke with a thick Shanghai accent through his cigarette and punched me amicably on the arm…. looked like we were to find somewhere else to go.
By now the sun was setting and the sky getting grey, so jumping in another taxi we made our way to the Pearl of the Orient, up close and personal. How wonderful it looks, lit up at night, surrounded by larger and more elegant skyscrapers, and yet there’s something intriguing about it. We walked around it and down by the river for a good hour or so, with the odd ‘wow’ from our friends, and a few photos or ten, before we gave in and let our Chinese friends choose a place to eat.
We were pleasantly surprised with their choice, settling on a restaurant from YuNan we ate nothing short of a good Chinese meal of fish and vegetables, all covered with an incessant amount of spice.
We were on the wrong side of the river so we decided to take the ‘sightseeing tunnel’ back before going to our hotel. We bought a ticket, alighted an escalator, and were immediately in a cablecar style vehicle trundling awkwardly through a strangely lit tunnel. With it came an audio track that featured buzz words like ‘stars and space’, ‘paradise and hell’, and ‘bubbles’. How strange an experience it was, it left me laughing and my friend wanting her money back.
By now it was late (9pm haha) and we all wanted to retire to bed. We waited for the bus in the pleasant evening air, before crawling sleepily though the streets of Shanghai and finally into our beds. Good night!
The next morning we awoke bright and early at 6am (for those of you who know me… before you ask, yes I am sick) and met each other ready to head to the French Concession for a spot of breakfast.
As we arrived at a lovely French cafe however, our friend realised that she had lost her phone. We were quite far away from our hotel so decided we would settle in the cafe, get some breakfast, and ring the hotel from there. They did indeed have her phone – she had left it in her room – and so we happily tucked into breakfast. That was our friends first ‘real’ sandwich – the size of your head with unsweet bread and a filling that comes out the sides. They had wisely chosen an egg and avocado sandwich to share (it was gigantic) and one of them tucked in, skillfully working from a corner inwards with small bites and a lot of success, whilst the other managed to spill the filling out the sides, struggle to cut it in half, spilled some on her jeans and generally had a bit of a nightmare. Luckily they both enjoyed it.
Our sandwiches came with a dish of olives and pickles. As one of our friends confidently popped one in her mouth I commented ‘be careful, there’s a pit inside!’ and her face changed as she realised she was eating her first bitter red olive and not the sweet redbean she was expecting. After assuring her that red olives were indeed a thing, and not some magical fruit the restaurant had concocted to surprise unsuspecting redbean enthusiasts, we finished up and walked aimlessly around the French Quarter discussing architecture the world over.
Soon it was almost time for our friends to leave, having booked an early train so they could catch their bus at the other end. First, one of them had to head back to the hotel to retrieve her phone. We gave her directions, the bus route she had to catch, and our best wishes and set her off. We hired some bikes, went for a cycle, and were persuaded to eat a an ice cream (her first, and no doubt the shop keepers first, of the year) before our second friend had to set off. Wishing her luck with her journey we found a cafe to sit in and drank an iced tea. It was wonderfully hot by now and we had our bags with us.
From here, on our own, we decided to take a look in the museum/library behind the cafe. It was a museum in memory of 钱学森 (Qian Xue Sin), China’s leading man in astrophysics, mathmatics, and patriotism. The museum was great, with huge objects that could have been either rocket ships or bombs (he helped with both), and shelves of his English books behind sheets of glass that included titles such as Astophysics and Good Housekeeping.
From here, we walked through the sunny streets to Pie Society, a shop that makes and sells fresh pies. After a lunch in the sunshine, watching a child called Brandon splash in the water feature after his mum told him not to, we made our way to the train station.
We didn’t have to wait long for our train, and much to our surprise, we met our friends in the queue! They had missed their earlier train and had to buy tickets for another. This train was a seven hour affair, and although Callum and I were sat together, our friends were in a different carriage. These seven hours we spent reading our new English books (Callum has finished two already!) and studying Chinese; it was a long and tiring ordeal indeed. Luckily, Callum produced an almond croissant or two from his bag, that he’d had the forsight to buy at breakfast, and we feasted on delicious sweet pastry halfway home.