Our Baltic Cruise

Jing'an Temple is a Buddhist temple on the West Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China. Jing'an District, where it is located, is named after the temple.

Jing'an Temple is a Buddhist temple on the West Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China. Jing'an District, where it is located, is named after the temple.

GrownUps Age Hacker Alex is away overseas on a wonderful holiday. Usually he shares his ideas on making the most of technology with us, but for the next few days, he’ll be sharing his experiences while enjoying a Baltic cruise!

Day 3

Today we were up early and ready for our last breakfast in Shanghai. Having perused the offerings yesterday we are now more aware of what is available – even Won Ton soup is on the menu along with steamed cauliflower and corn on the cob! There are so many other foods available that I would never associate with breakfast. Anyway, all we had tasted great.

Our transfer arrived 25 minutes early, so thank goodness we were packed and down to the foyer early.

The trip only took just over an hour. I can’t believe how many 3 -5 lane highway. Even with thousands of travellers milling around, they all go in the same direction. A quick coffee and a snack got us all set for the next stage of our wonderful trip.

Our boarding time was 11.45. For some reason it was 15 minutes late but we eventually got into our seats by 12.15, the time of the scheduled departure. Just as we were buckling up, the Captain came on the intercom, apologising, saying they had discovered one of the tyres was flat and needed replacing. That was the easy part.

Once fitted, it needed pumping up with nitrogen (presumably because of the enormous heat they have to endure on landing) and that took a good hour. By the time the tyre was complete they discovered the person responsible for signing it all off had disappeared and we couldn’t move until he was found. By this time, two hours had elapsed, and with us relying on the air conditioning from the airport, it was becoming very, very hot and humid. We finally left at 3.45pm, over 2 1/2 hours late. That presented a bit of a problem for us, as our connecting flight was leaving 1 1/2 hours after we landed.

Well, didn’t our Captain do well – he made up two hours on the normally 11 hour flight. As we were chasing the sun we had full daylight during the whole trip over the continent. The skies were mainly clear and even at 40,000 feet the landscape spread out below looked sensational.

We made our connecting flight after being bussed around Frankfurt airport. That airport is unbelievably large. The trip from our point of arrival to departure appeared to be around four kilometres by bus. We would never have made it if we were required to walk.

Then, a 45 minute trip from Frankfurt to Amsterdam and a reasonably rapid baggage collection had us on our way to our hotel. By the time we arrived at the hotel I worked out we had been up for 28 hours, so no wonder we felt so tired. Then, a slight mixup with the hotel booking (a red herring we found out the next day) added an extra 45 minutes to an otherwise long day.

Day 2

Today, we are off on a guided tour. It looks like it’s going to be a day of many facts and buying opportunities (watch this space!!), as well as discovering a pinch of the personality of Shanghai.

Before that, it’s breakfast – an Asian breakfast is something that is so unlike anything I’ve experienced in New Zealand; even the choice of bread for toast is a new experience.

We were picked up at 8.20 am on the dot by Gullivers Travels represented by Roy, a Shanghai native, and joined another Kiwi, Gail, American Lisa, Indian Prasad and an Asian lady called Gi. Over the day we got to know most of them apart from Gi – she was using the tour as a taxi service.

The day was fascinating in more ways than one. The itinerary was followed only very loosely. We visited at least three establishments which, while fascinating, presented opportunities to sell us something. It became more obvious as the day wore on that Roy was getting kickbacks on sales made!!!

We visited the Yu Yuan Gardens and bazaar, a fascinating insight into very old gardens established over 400 years ago. Much of it was destroyed in the cultural revolution, but from 1990 the order has been to restore much it to its former glory. We certainly appreciated the tour here.

Next was the introduction to drinking tea. We were all seated around a table as a woman took us through the intricacies of tea types and traditions. We had the chance to sample black, green, geranium, jasmine and white tea. The cups were tiny but we were able to smell the aromas and taste just enough to get the right impression.

We learned that tea responds to different temperatures and the brewing should be no more than 30 seconds for most teas. We also learned about the therapeutic and healing properties of various types of tea and frequency of ingestion. We were then taken into their sales room where we enthusiastically purchased a wad of black tea (fermented for taste), geranium tea and a dispenser along with a range of effigies for the grandchildren.

It wasn’t what we intended purchasing at the start of the journey but as we are avid tea drinkers it will set us on the road to more enjoyment of the product.

From there, we moved on to the French Concession (a part of Shanghai occupied by the French in the 19th century) to see the restoration that had been done to many buildings, over 100 years ago. Our drive took us through the English Concession where we saw glimpses of English architecture now merged with the Chinese more modern structures. The highway bisecting the two concessions used to be a river. Due to pollution( caused by the rapid growth in people coming into Shanghai), the Government of the day had it filled in to be replaced with an eight lane highway.

The French Concession is very quaint with dwellings originally for people to live in but now replaced with an array of restaurants.

Next was lunch at a typical Chinese restaurant. It resembled Yum Char, but with none of the dumplings. I think our guide was keen to keep the costs down, irrespective of what we were billed. It did at least include a beer. It was satisfying and tasty at least.

Then onto another unscheduled stop – a silk factory. This was one of the more fascinating stops as we learned of the history of the silk worm and saw the process followed to take the thread from silk worms cocoons and weave into a bigger thread for making garments and other products.

The poor silk worm doesn’t have much of a life. Their diet consists of Mulberry tree leaves which they feed on. They grow rapidly into large caterpillars and then weave a cocoon to grow into a moth that then lays only 48 eggs and then dies. The whole process only takes 20 days. (I hope I have remembered all that correctly!)

The cocoon is the most important part as this is then unravelled to produce the end resultant thread. They also take advantage of other byproducts such as worm faeces that is used to fill pillows to assist people sleeping! As the faeces still has a lot of protein it is used to make a moisturiser also. We tried a little and it was certainly smooth – but not really our thing.

The single thread unravelled along with 8 other threads from a cocoon is 100 feet long. The products produced are amazing. All manner of clothes, bedding and of course carpets. The latter are like fine Persian rugs and the intricacies of the weaving is amazing. We saw a lady working away at a loom fashioning a rug – so labour intensive. A large rug will take one person a year to make. The cost wasn’t as astronomical as you would think given the amount of time that person is devoted to the job. Their life as a weaver is limited as it does have an impact on longevity of their eyesight. It looks like an ideal industry to automate.

We ended up buying the obligatory pillow cases as a memento of our visit to Shanghai and a silk duvet for our super King bed. The price for both was so much lower than we anticipated. If we had more room we’d have bought at least one more.

Next came Confucius’  school where a delightful young lady, a graduate of the school, gave us the background to this famous man. The thing that amazed me was he lived 5,700 years BC. I bought a book whilst there of his Analects and am very impressed with the logic behind it all. What a wonderful creed to live by. No wonder he is still revered.

We moved on to the Jade Buddha temple where we got a taste of China’s version of the Indian God. There was so much history here too, and so many beautiful carvings. It was almost a repeat of yesterday with the silver Buddha. They use teak to accentuate the backdrop of all of their carvings. The actual Jade Buddha is only 100 years old but very revered, so much so no photos can be taken. Downstairs was the reclining Buddha which arrived with the Jade Buddha. This one is around 400 years old. However the traditions surrounding the larger one is obviously more compelling. Many worshippers here also.

Then onto a Pearl Shop where we were taken through the life cycle of fresh water pearls. These are harvested locally and are promoted as more hardy than the ones taken from the sea. Interesting but by now we saw it was just another opportunity to try to get us to buy something. “Just for today 30% off!” Yeah right. No purchases here.

After that, we made our way up the steps to walk along part of the Bund, the area bordering the Huangpu river – what an amazing spectacle! A memorial to the people’s uprising in 1949, with a Russian inspired sculpture and one for the end of the Cultural revolution. So many tall buildings can be viewed from this point and a perfect presentation of old meeting new. Barges and ships are constantly moving along the river and one thing that is noticeable is the lack of bridges – there are only 2 and these are high and large. There are quite a few crossings under the river and this makes for a much more uncluttered view.

The temperature at this time had climbed to 32 degrees and the warm wind along with the humidity made it quite uncomfortable to stay on the viewing footpath for too long. At this stage I was interrupted for a full minute by a deranged individual berating me in Chinese for not letting Taiwan come back to the Chinese republic. We figured he must have thought I was an American.

All too soon the tour came to an end. It was a fascinating experience but quite changed from what our travel agent advised it would be. We missed a couple of museums and art galleries. Obviously those missed didn’t present buying opportunities for which a commission could be paid, which is something for the unwary traveller to be aware of.

If we were to do such a tour again I would be checking in advance the itinerary with the guide as nothing was handed out locally confirming what the tour entailed.

Back to our hotel and after freshening up down to our local watering hole on the edge of East Nanjing Rd – a fascinating place to watch the locals stream past. Not many Caucasians which is why we were regularly approached by people wanting to sell us something. Unfortunately they don’t understand the word “NO”. (Note to self -“learn such words in advance of visiting these countries in future.”)

On our tour earlier in the day, I was impressed with the way Lisa managed her selfie stick when taking photos. I’ve been quite dismissive in the past but she showed a subtleness that made it more obscure to other people around us. I decided to relent and go walking up E Nanjing Rd after I had had my beer. I didn’t need to wait that long as before I’d had my first mouthful a local approached me to sell a selfie stick. Long story cut short I bought two for ¥90 which equates to around $NZ9.00 each. I was happy.

With all of the walking, heat and concentration it has been a tiring day. Time for a couple of wines back at the hotel and as we were still full from lunch decided to have an early night in preparation for our early start tomorrow heading to Amsterdam.

Impressions on the side:

Shanghai, a city of 24 million only has 4 million cars. I would have thought a lot more but as the traffic is horrendous anyway another million would bring the city to a halt. The quality of driving is exceptional. That isn’t to say they are good drivers – they are not. However the manner they merge and make way for each other is again something that must be seen to be believed. They even barge across pedestrian crossings and the pedestrians make way with ease. There must be another 4 million plus motor cycles and bicycles, all old and dusty. Many of the motor cycles are battery powered as well so that will help lower the pollution rate. Motor cyclists and cyclists drive with even less concern for pedestrians. They constantly ring their bells or honk their horns warning pedestrians they are coming through. The volume of wares they carry on their cycles is amazing. We saw a bundle of polystyrene 3 metres wide, 4 metres high and 2 metres long on the back of a 3 wheeler cycle. How it didn’t topple over is beyond me.

On pollution: every day had a brown haze in the air but it was still clear enough to see for miles. All cars are in pristine condition and clean. No dust or mud on them. In the whole time we have been travelling here we haven’t seen one petrol station. Heavens knows where they are as the majority of vehicles would be ‘gas guzzlers’.

Condominium buildings: Photos do not do the volume and size justice. It is the only way they will be able to fit so many people in this area. It has implications for the future of Auckland.

Would I come back? Absolutely, yes. There is still so much to see and experience. Although the majority haven’t a clue on our language they all try to understand what we are saying. With the way China is developing this city will continue to constantly evolve into a world city more welcoming of foreigners.

Day 1

The day has finally arrived. We’re off to Amsterdam for our 21 day Baltic cruise. However we have a three day stopover in Shanghai to break the journey.

I’m all for late night flights as there really isn’t much to see from 35,000 feet. Our Air New Zealand flight departed at 11.00pm and after a late night dinner whilst watching a movie we settled down for a sleep. These dreamliners that Air New Zealand now use are amazing aircrafts – so quiet and comfortable. The efficiency and friendliness of their staff show why they are usually rated in the top tier of passenger airlines.

Our inflight service manager Ebe Chan who, when hearing of our stopover, put together a montage of sights we should try to take in. Luckily many of them matched the day tour we will be doing on Day 2. However she gave so much more useful information on the city and what to be aware of and to try. First class.

We landed at Pudong International airport, Shanghai at 6.15 am. Even at that time of day, the temperature was up into the high 20s. The sight of this enormous city on approach was something that must be seen to be believed. Literally thousands of houses and blocks of condominiums up to 30 stories high. Housing like this is the only way they manage to cram the equivalent of Australia’s population into this one city.

Our travel agent had arranged for a transfer to our hotel in downtown Shanghai and warned us the journey even at this early time could take up to 1 1/2 hours.

Although we travelled at a reasonable speed to start with when we finally hit the traffic – OMG – Auckland has nothing to worry about! On the trip in we were able to see so much more of the suburban sprawl that is Shanghai – row after row of high rise condominiums. Not just a couple together but sometimes well over 10-15 30 story structures grouped together.

As we got nearer to the city it was obvious we were viewing older structures, as their condition seemed to deteriorate the closer we got. It seemed a fascinating insight into the level of pride (or not) the locals have of their dwellings.

The city itself at 9.00 am is a bustling hive of activity with cars and scooters filling all available streets. All of the drivers are aggressive and in this thick traffic, you need to be. Surprisingly, there were not too many horns honking as they all merge in a reasonable fashion. Also, the quality of cars was surprisingly high – the majority appeared to be luxury Mercedes, Audi, Volkswagen, Lexus etc etc. Again, a large number of them were hybrid, so they must be getting the message on the impact of pollution. There is a lot of it in the air.

Our driver dropped us off at our hotel, and after settling in we decided to see some of the sights Ebe had recommended.

Luckily we found a metro train station nearby, so off we went to try this very popular mode of transport. There are over 15 separate lines in Shanghai and most of it is underground. It’s very efficient and if you have cash, there are no problems buying tickets. Most of the ticket machines have an English option that displays a map of the choice of lines and the stations available. The trains appear to run every five minutes, so if you miss one the next isn’t far away.

First stop was the Jingan temple which houses Buddha in various shapes and sizes and materials. The biggest was solid silver weighing over two tonnes. They are currently getting donations to help erect a solid gold one.

What a great day.