Saturday, 18 January 2020

Shanghai Stories: Old City

The next day, we visited the Old City of Shanghai. The first attraction we visited was Yuyuan Garden. Yuyuan Garden is a classical Chinese garden. The garden has beautiful greenery with many grand stone sculptures, and classic Chinese architecture. There is a beautiful pond with koi fish in the middle of the garden. Koi fish attract good luck and fortune, which is why the Chinese hold such a high regard for these fishes. At the time of our entrance, the admission fee was 10 RMB. The garden is inside the bazaar. The bazaar is a maze but the garden is not hard to find as there are signs that lead you there.

One thing we missed at the Old City was afternoon tea at the Huxinting Teahouse. It is Shanghai's oldest teahouse, located by the Yuyuan Garden. If you plan to visit, I suggest making reservations ahead of time!

We also walked around the bazaar surrounding the temple and garden. The marketplace sold local souvenirs and snacks. We stopped by a well known dumpling store, Nanxiang Mantou Dian, to try out their xiaolongbaos. Shanghai's best known snack food is the xiaolongbao, or quite simply XLBs. These little dumplings are filled with hot soup and a pork filling; they are traditionally steamed in a bamboo basket. We also visited the City God Temple, with the admission price of 10 RMB.

After spending the whole day in the Old City, we decided to head to the Oriental Pearl Tower next. The Oriental Pearl Tower is located across from the Bund, on the other side of the Huangpu river. The tower had a revolving restaurant and an observation deck with a glass-bottomed skywalk for visitors. You can purchase different tour packages to visit the tower online or in person. We opted not to go inside as we didn't have much time. The tower is brightly lit in different LED sequences at night, so we spent some time watching the light show.

There are also several malls in the area, and Shanghai's flagship Disney store. We walked around the area and visited the Disney store, but soon found ourselves hungry. There weren't a whole lot of good food choices, and the restaurant (Din Tai Fung) we had wanted to go in the area had unfortunately closed down. We ended up grabbing something mediocre in the mall to fill our tummies.

Next up: a 7-day cruise to Japan!

Monday, 13 January 2020

Shanghai Stories: The Bund

After two fun-filled days in Shanghai Disneyland, we headed into the heart of Shanghai for two days.

Cabs are extremely inexpensive in Shanghai, and we found ourselves often taking the cab instead of the Metro in the interest of time. Although, the Metro was also very easy to use and extremely efficient.

We arrived to the Intercontinental early so we dropped off our luggage, and decided to explore the area. Intercontinental is located in the heart of Shanghai's financial district, about a 10 minute Metro ride from the Bund. Our hotel was farther away from the waterfront, but we had a better rate staying further away from the Bund. The hotel was also older, but the rooms had been renovated in the past few years. I really enjoyed their breakfast - we had fresh juice every morning! We were on one of the higher floors too, so we had a nice view of the area as well. We stopped for a quick lunch at Yang's, then headed to Tianzifang, a touristy shopping area in the French Concession area of Shanghai.

After some browsing and more eating, we made our way to Nanjing Road. Nanjing Road is one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. The shopping area extends from People's Square to the Bund. We walked along the street until we finally reached the Bund.

We waited until after sunset so the city lights were bright. We spent around an hour at the Bund to take photographs. It takes quite a bit of patience and a little bit pushing to get to the waterfront. Here's what you see online vs. the reality of the crowds.

Afterwards, we had dinner at a restaurant near the Bund. It was a long wait, so we ended up having quite a late dinner. We walked back to Nanjing Road to catch the Metro back to our hotel, and grabbed dessert at McDonald's along the way. We had a slow day, but we needed it to ease ourselves back into the hustle and bustle of the fast paced city life.

Friday, 1 November 2019

First Stop: Shanghai Disneyland

It's always hard to review Disney. Each park is different and unique in their own way. I've never been disappointed by any of the Disney parks we've visited. I wasn't wowed by Shanghai Disneyland, but it is a fairly young park so I know there is a lot of potential.

One thing to note is, even though this is a Disney park, it is very much Chinese. A lot of North Americans experience culture shock when visiting China, and Disney is no exception. I am not going to sugarcoat it. There is a lot of line-cutting, pushing, and yelling. Generally, the locals will back off if you stand your ground. My husband and I were both born and raised in a multicultural city, where a lot of Chinese people live. We experience a lot of line-cutting, pushing, and yelling at home in general, so we weren't surprised by the culture and social norms in China.

Shanghai Disneyland is pretty massive. It's quite a walk around the park as the distance between lands are pretty far apart - plenty of room for expansion in the future. We spent two days in Shanghai Disneyland. It was more than enough time to ride every ride and try all the food. For guests who stay on Disney property, there is a separate entrance which is opened earlier. We didn't go early, but we did get in the park a lot faster due to shorter lines at this special entrance.

Shanghai Disneyland was nearing the end of their Spring-Easter Celebration, so a lot of decorations were still on display.

We got a lot done on Day 1 and it was a good thing we did. Our first ride was easy and calm. We rode Pirates, and we loved it. It's a very different ride and much more exciting than the snoozers in Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. We walked through the Garden of the Twelve Friends, a rest area where the Chinese zodiac are depicted by Disney characters, and watch the lively stage show ("Golden Fairytale Fanfare") in front of the castle. We walked through the Alice in Wonderland Maze and did a little window shopping. We lined up for Rex's Racer for a little over an hour, which was the longest line we experienced at the park. It was a short, but exhilarating ride! We enjoyed it. Next, we were on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which we had a FastPass for. We grabbed lunch afterwards. It was sunny and a lot warmer by this point, so we headed back to the castle for some pictures.

As we finished up our pictures, a parade - "Disney Color-Fest, A Street Party! - started. Perfect timing! Super catchy tunes too.

Tron was next, followed by more exploring and snacking, before we ended up at the "Once Upon a Time" Adventure in the castle. We had a quick dinner afterwards. After dinner, we rode Tron one more time, and Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue. We ended our night with the "Ignite the Dream" fireworks celebration.

We slowed down on Day 2 because the weather was a lot more extreme. It was over 30 degrees by noon, and it was hot. Shanghai Disneyland has very little shade. We saw two shows back to back just to seek out shade. All the shows and rides were in Mandarin. I had pretty much no idea what they were saying, but the Pirate of Caribbean show was pretty amazing. It's action-packed with great effects!

The Tarzan show was even better! I could not rave enough about this stage show. The acrobatic performers were amazing. It was like a mini Cirque du Soleil show!

We rode a lot of the same rides, with the exception of Peter Pan's Flight and Roaring Rapids. After lunch, we had to go back to hotel to cool off. We ended up eating in Disneytown for lunch and dinner. We weren't very interested in the food, but the park has a lot of interesting and delicious snacks. The pork fluff corn dog was really good, as was the tea drink in the Minnie Mouse souvenir cup. Unfortunately, the Mike Wazowski bun was pretty to look at, but it was super dry and hard.

Overall, we had a wonderful time in Shanghai Disneyland, and we would love to go back. They are already currently expanding with the first ever Zootopia-land. The park is young, so we're excited to see what they have planned!

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Say Hi, Shanghai

Hello! We're back from our trip to Japan, and I'm extremely behind in blogging. I'm skipping 2018 altogether, and I'm fast forwarding to our first trip this year to keep up with the momentum, and also my memory.

We went to Shanghai in May, and we had an amazing time! Despite the travel advisory, which had come out after we booked our trip, we felt very safe in the city and we had no problems during our time there. The Chinese were generally very welcoming. The food was delicious and the Metro system was extremely easy to use. We were able to get a lot of things done this trip, including Shanghai Disneyland and a cruise.

Our trip to Shanghai was completely spontaneous. This trip basically served as our honeymoon. We were looking for an overseas destination, and Shanghai came up on our radar with extremely low flight fares. We booked on a whim before doing any research. Getting a China visa was not an easy task. As we previously did not apply for our Vietnam visa on our own, we didn't quite know where and how to start. I don't recall the small details of our application for our Chinese Visa as it was done ten months ago, but I'll review it briefly below.

Getting Our Chinese Visas

There are quite a few steps to take to complete your application: a ten page application form, visa photo, supporting accommodation documents, etc... But after you've submitted your paperwork, it is a short wait (less than five business days) to receive your actual visa. The visa is label that is placed into your passport, so yes, you do have to submit your passport to the service centre. If you've done everything correctly, you will have no delays. It is important to note that you can only apply for your visa three months before your departure date, so be sure to submit all the correct information. You can make an appointment to visit the China Visa Application Service Centre, but expect waits of up to three hours. As previously mentioned, you need to ensure you have all the supporting documents (listed on the website) with you, or you will be asked to return on another day. The most commonly missed item is a photocopy of your passport. A lot of people didn't have this. They do have a photocopier at the service centre, but you have to pay, it jams often and there is a long line for it (probably contributing to the overall long waits). Aside from the long wait, we had a positive experience at the Vancouver branch. We opted for the ten-year visa as the cost was the same (~$150 Canadian), but it is only valid up to the year your passport expires, so my visa expires in eight years.

One of our main reasons we decided to go to Shanghai was, of course, to visit Disneyland Shanghai. The park is relatively new, as it was just built in 2016. We decided to start our trip in Disneyland. So without further ado, let me jump right in!

Shanghai Disneyland Park

We arrived on a rather cold and foggy day. The haze in the sky was thick as the sun was barely visible. We stayed in the Disneyland hotel for easy access to the park. The Shanghai Disneyland Hotel is by far the most affordable Disney hotel anywhere in the world. The details in the decor were ~magical, and the rooms were spacious and elegant.

We were extremely jet lagged, but we needed dinner. So after settling into our hotel room, we immediately took the ferry over to Disneytown. The ferry stop on the hotel side is just through the Wishing Star Park, we could see the Enchanted Storybook Castle on the other side (below right) as we waited.

The stop on the other side of the lake is just steps away from the entrance to Disneyland. Disneytown was a good size. It is not a big shopping area like the two in the US, but it had enough shops and restaurants to keep you busy for half a day. There were the usual shops like Nike, Sephora, Pandora, LEGO and World of Disney; and some Asian based stores like BAPE, Superdry and innisfree. 

We walked around for a little while to check out the stores and eventually, we had to pick a spot for dinner. All the restaurants either had a huge lineup or no lineup. We decided on a cantonese restaurant with a moderate line, and an English menu. The food was okay, nothing special, but it was cheap and it filled our tummies. After dinner, we lined up for bubble tea before heading back to the hotel on the ferry.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

A la Prochaine, Paris

The next day, we visited the Louvre. The Louvre Museum is considered the world's greatest art museum, and one of the most iconic monuments in Paris. You probably need more than a day to explore the museum, and we only had three hours. We went mid-morning and were met with an average queue through security. We did not purchase tickets in advance, but found that the queue for tickets was much less daunting than others had warned us about. There were about 5-7 people in the line with us, and it moved quickly. The Louvre was intense. We didn't know where to start, and wandered in an area.

We made it though all of the Main floor, through the Roman, Italic and Etruscan, and Greek Antiquities. We also walked through the rooms with paintings from Great Britain, USA, Spain, Italy, France and Decorative Arts of Europe. 

We eventually made it to the Mona Lisa, the main attraction of the museum, in between the paintings of France and decorative arts of Europe. It was not easy to find. By that time, our three hours were up and we were tired. The air flow and circulation was difficult to withstand inside the museum. I fully understand the climate had to be regulated to conserve and house the artwork. However, but with the crowds, it was very uncomfortable for us in the museum. It was hot, dry and stuffy so it was time to leave.

We had a few more "must-see" places on our list, so we jumped back on the HOHO bus to Sacré-Coeur Basilica. On the way, we passed by the Moulin Rouge, a cabaret. The bus stop (or even subway stop) is nowhere near the basilica. Sacré-Coeur is located at the summit of Montmartre, which is the highest point in Paris. It was a 15 minute uphill walk to the foot of the basilica, and another 10 minutes to the entrance. Quite the workout!

We ran into the annual Grape Harvest Festival in Montmartre taking place just outside of Sacré-Coeur during our visit. Northern Paris is the only place in the city where vineyards are still grown. It was very lively, and locals were enjoying the food and drink. However, the crowds made it difficult to move around, so after trying a couple of local foods, we made our way back down to the bus.

Our bus ride was short as we headed back to our neighbourhood, the Marais, to shop for a little while before dinner. It was our last night in Paris and we had our eye on a restaurant we wanted to try. We had lost track of the dates, but it just so happened to be our dating anniversary.

We ended our last night in Paris on the perfect note, with memories of the best French food and a delicious scoop of gelato. We had lost track of the dates at that time, but it just so happened to be our anniversary date.

We had a magical time in Paris, and three days was not enough! We hope to visit again in the future, there are still so many places we didn't get to visit: Mont-St-Michel, Normandy, and Disneyland Paris. Here's to hoping it won't take me another twenty-seven years to go back... Until next time, Paris!