08.11.2016 Nanjing to Shanghai (oh, and also my birthday!!!)

Got a free Americano from the hostel as a birthday present! I was stunned they had noticed and it was a really nice touch. So 44 yuan saved we made our way to the station to get the train to Shanghai

The train station was like most, very new, shiny and spacious. I went on the prowl for food, ignored KFC and went to the Chinese chain next door, and got an over microwaved savoury bun. Train stations are the same the world over, full of cheap, overpriced food. 

We boarded the train and I tucked into my birthday breakfast of croissant and mini cakes. 

It was only a 2 hr journey so we sat back and relaxed, bracing ourselves for Shanghai, and it’s 24million people and 24 hr nightlife. 

It was certainly much busier when we landed, lots of jostling and pushing, but we are getting used to it now, so we sharpen our elbows and plough through. It does seem strange to see lots of westerners around again, most of whom seem to work here as they have clean, shiny clothes and no smiles. The opposite of us! It feels like London in that there are lots of rich people around and no one looks happy. 

Still we are happy to get straight to our hostel, unpack, change into birthday clothes (anything clean) and start exploring the city. 

First off, food. Around the corner from our hostel was food street, and I had my eye of some hairy crab dumplings, there was no English menu on the outside but we went in and smiled, an English menu appeared and we ordered 2 sets of dumplings, crab and pork. We waited, for ages, they arrived and we then had to he patient and wait for them to cool before popping them into our mouths and wait for the explosion of crab and juices to hit our tongues. Yum. 

We walk down the main road to The Bund, which is just like any other shopping street. I take the fact that I was offered hashish as meaning I am still a hip, young thing (Guy murmured something about aging old hippy….).

We finally made it to the view that everyone knows of Shanghai, the buildings on the waterfront, and even though it was dull and grey the view was still stunning. A lot like Hong Kong, but bigger.

We walked down the river admiring the stunning architecture. We went into the Fairmount Hotel and gawped at the beautiful art deco fittings. 

Some more walking later and we were on the 40th floor bar of the Marriott drinking red wine admiring the view and toasting my 44th birthday. Did I mention I love birthdays?

Birthday meal was sichuanese food, however we slightly buggered up on the ordering and ordered a 3 chilli rated eel dish, along with a chicken and peanut dish (one chilli rating) rice and broccoli (for Guy). The eel was hot, too hot, and when Guy found a nail in it we hoped they would not bring another portion back, we were wrong. We got another plateful of hot, hot eel. We both sweated profusely, downed a large measure of Chinese wine (tasted like sherry) and got on with picking out the eel and leaving the chill. Below are before and after photos!!!!!

We went home to be near to a loo. 

07.11.2016 Nanjing 

Had street stall pancake for breakfast, we have had a few of these now and they are always different, today’s was full of odd looking pickled veg as well as the usual over cooked egg, soyabean paste and streak of chilli. It was lush as always!

We then walked the same way yesterday through the park to the Nanjing state Museum. It wasn’t as crowded as yesterday but there were still a number of locals out doing their thing.

We walked along the tree lined street to the museum.

Entry to the museum is free, but that doesn’t mean you can just march in, oh no, you have to get a ticket from the service centre, show your passport, get a small piece of paper, walk to the next building along and enter the museum unchecked. Glad we followed the rules!

We only had til 12 noon to view it which is usually long enough for us pair, however it was actually a fascinating museum, with lots of English explanations, and loads to see. They has even done a mock up of an old street which was filled with old fashioned shops, and as this is China, they were actual shops selling stuff to the masses. 

We were greeted with heavy rain when we left so we took the subway to Yangs Dumplings, there was a queue forming so we duly joined stand ordered our duck blood soup (Guy) spicy noodle soup (Me) and obviously more dumplings! It was crowded so everyone has to share tables and slurp noisily together. No one wants to sit with us!

The soups were uninspiring, mine had the oddest noodles in them that were slimey and seemed to increase in size in the bowl. I drank the soup and enjoyed the dumplings, just as delicious as yesterday.

I saw this sign on leaving the supermarket which made my clothes shopping options much simpler (from tomorrow!)

As the weather continued to pour down we sheltered in a cafe and had a milky, creamy green tea which sounded and looked wrong but actually tasted pretty good. 

As we dashed home we passed a good looking wine shop (is there any other???) and went in on the quest from information about decent chinese wine. The owner of the shop was chatty and informative, so we had a look around the shop and before you could say Birthday Wine we had sat down and were drinking a delicious bottle of Chinese red vino 

As the budget was now blown money was saved on tea by eating pot noodles. Mine was a purple pot with a panda on the front (hoping no pandas were inside) Guy’s was the other one. After another bottle of Chinese Dynasty wine, it tasted delicious

Nanjing 6.11.2016 – Parklife

Its two months since we left so we celebrate with breakfast bananas at a local market store. We caused great hilarity amongst locals, not sure why but laughed along with them. 

Sunny walk to a park that contained Ming era walls and lots more besides. It was 9.30am on a Sunday morning so we weren’t expecting to see much but we got…..kids practicing calligraphy with huge sponge pens, booksellers, men playing diablos, women synchronized dancing, men with kites, men twirling wooden spears in dapper white Chinese suits, dozens of pensioners ballroom dancing, people playing badminton across each other, a lady fan dancing accompanied by a lady with a sword, dozens of people playing cards or mahjong, men practicing judo, tai chi, kung fu and kendo, all in appropriate attire. A small choir practicing accompanied by a Chinese violin amplified through a PA. The noise is incredible with different pockets of music blaring in different areas. Within the arches of an imposing old gate a Chinese ensemble play, in another there is karaoke, in another a young boy has a saxophone lesson and in the last a solitary saxophone player is lost within his music. All are electronically amplified and with the stone acoustics sound momentous.

I was amazed. Genuinely amazed. For a reserved Brit, it was interesting to see people just expressing themselves, carefree and just for the fun of it. So different to a park in the UK at 9.30 on a Sunday. I find cultural differences fascinating and its moments like this that are the reason we love travelling.

Metro to the Nanjing lake, which has 5 interconnected isles in a 530 hectare park. The tables are turned and instead of us staring at people we attract curiosity.

We are initially shocked by the skyline. Buildings on the other side of the lake are shrouded in a grey haze of pollution.

There is a beautiful bonsai garden fronted by a large goldfish pond and you can buy fish food and watch a feeding frenzy. I watch for a while, fascinated, just like the toddlers.

We have had no breakfast and can’t find anything so when we come across a kids fairground Al jumps at the chance of a vienetta ice cream and I have a hotdog. I now call them gristle sticks.

Over another bridge and there is a McDs and a few local food sellers. Al has wonton soup and I have a local Nanjing special of rice noodle soup with fried tofu and liver.

There are now thousands of people enjoying their Sunday in the park so we head to the quieter west side where the old Nanjing city walls still stand. Families enjoy their picnics in tents, protecting the little ones from the sun.

Wandering home we stop for bubble tea with citrus peel and bits in.

Our hostel has a comfortable sitting area with distressed furniture, old phones and older photographs, so we relax with a pot of tea until the mosquitoes come out to play.

Sunday night in downtown Nanjing has a real buzz. Friends are shopping or eating out, sharing a hotpot or meat on sticks. Shops are all open and brightly lit, pavements are full. Al spots a ‘Yang’s Dumplings’ which we believe is a Shanghai chain. We have wonton soup and six juicy fried dumplings. Two pork, two prawn and two green. They are very good.

We wander more and find a steamy backstreet dumpling seller and have a portion of the irresistible xiaolongbao.

Finally, spotting a cleanish meat on a stick stall we end our eating fest with griddled mutton on a stick with cumin powder. Lovely.

That should be the end of the post but as we lay in bed, about to put the light out Al spots a COCKROACH. Our first one. A flip flop deals with it but we lay with the lights on for a while!

5.11.2016 Qufu to Nanjing or The Day Guy Found Coldplay

So we woke up, one of us was feeling rough and very ill. Guys stomach didn’t take to something he had last night and at first I was very sympathetic thinking it was food poisoning however it became clear the second bottle of Biaju hadn’t agreed with him, in fact he seemed well out of it still. He asked if we could postpone the train today but neither of us could face rebooking the tickets and accomodation, our Chinese barely got us a beer! 

So, I prepared for the journey in the style of Tracy Davies, I packed plastic bags for him to chunder into, and told him to get on with it. Tray is such an inspiration. 

He looked dreadful! Photos below to prove that. 

We packed and got a taxi to the station. Yes, it was 40 yuan compared to 2 yuan. The taxi turned up and the driver was happily smoking in his car, just as I thought Guy couldn’t look paler, he wilted a little more. Cigarette was extinguished and we had a 12km drive to the station. 

There have been a couple of songs this trip thay have followed us around, links are below. 

Simon and Garfunkel Sound of Silence (the irony being that is the last thing you will experience in China) 

One is Coldplay, and as you probably know Guy is not a Coldplay fan, bland, middle of the road, populist music are the polite phrases he would use, however I came back from getting 2 half litres of green tea to find him with earphones inserted, content, singing away to Paradise  I had to do a double take and check I had the right husband!!! I can only assume the Biaju had a severe affect on his mental capacity. 

We were called up to the train platform and queued in an orderly fashion. Suddenly a high speed train shot through on the next platform over. It scared the wits out of me, or as Guy put it ‘That scared the bile out of me’. At least he hadn’t lost his sense of humour. 

Train boarded and we only had 2 hours to last, Guy made it, with the help of Chris Martin and friends. 

We then needed to get to the hostel, 2 subway train journeys were required as well as long queues for tickets, he nearly flaked on the train. Photos below to proof that. 

We finally got to the hostel, only a couple of new construction projects meant we needed to make some detours. 

Amazingly there were no cafes or restaurants nearby and, of course, our hostel didn’t have one, they just sold drinks so went to the local supermarket, got 2 pot noodles, snickers and sugar drink and ate them. Guy collapsed.

I sorted out laundry and had a pot of tea and wrote this blog and whats app’d everyone to tell them how Guy was feeling. 

Guy decided he needed comfort for tea and soup and chips is what he wanted. I wanted a dirty burger! We had a very fancy restaurant alley down the road from us to wandered around the neon, chose James Bar and had a chilli burger. It was delicious, even with the westerners sitting in the doorway blowing his cigarette smoke over us.