Sunday, July 22, 2018

Paris: La Defense, Centre Pompidou, Notre Dame, Galeries Lafayette and the Eiffel Tower (sort of)

Hello! I’m back in Sydney as I write this, looking back through photos on my phone to jog my memory. Versailles was a Saturday, and on Sunday I had a more leisurely day, taking the metro out to La Défense where they have a GIGANTIC Arch office building that’s set on the same line as the Arc de Triomphe (which you could see in the distance) and another arch further along. It was pretty hot, so I took a few photos and then retired to a café to do some work (Paris was supposed to be my Work city). Then I found a FNAC (a bit like a Borders) where they had a very, very large record section, and bought a few French YA books, one of which I later found out was translated from ‘l’americain’… ah well.
My next stop was the Pompidou Centre, a building near the Ile de la Cité (where Notre Dame is) that houses a museum and library. It has a massive sloping plaza out the front, where lots of people were enjoying the sun, and is (I think) the first building to have services visible and on the outside – when you see exposed piping in a new building as an artistic architectural sort of thing, it’s because of this building. Even the escalators are on the outside, in tube sort of things that step their way up the side of the building.
You have to pay to get into the museum, but I went around the back (where the line for security was much shorter) and went into the library. It’s huge, with many many large desks at which many, many people were sitting, as well as lines and lines of bookshelves. I found a spot all the way down the end and worked until it was time to walk to Notre Dame for Vespers.
I’ve visited Notre Dame before (I may even have recounted the visit on this blog), and I remembered waiting in line for a long time before being funnelled around with hordes of chattering tourists. It’s a beautiful building, but difficult to really take it in that way. This time I’d decided I’d attend a service, and found that there’s a separate, very short line to get in for ‘messe’ (mass) where they pretty much wave you straight through. Then you get to go into the main nave of the church and sit in the pews at the front and get more time to really appreciate the space and reflect. They have a service in Gregorian Chant on Sunday mornings, which I was not really ready for after my late night, so Vespers it was. The bishop (or at least, the most senior clergy person) came down the pews before the service, very smiley, welcoming people there, before returning to the chancel (front) for the readings and psalms.
We’d been given sheets with words and music in French and some Latin, and most of the service was based around singing from the congregation and the readers, though there was no choir. The organ rang out from behind us and it was quite an experience. After the service, I left the nave and joined the mass of tourists in the aisles (the tourists had continued walking through during the service, but because you were a bit away from them it didn’t detract from the atmosphere too much). I’d kept my camera in my bag for the service, but now I could take it out and take some photos.
There are a lot of creperies around here (as well as souvenir shops), so I got a banana Nutella crepe on my way back to the hostel, and ate it beside the Seine 😊
The next day I had to move to a hotel closer to the Gare de Lyon train station, so I spent a few hours working in a café there (with a really bad coffee…) before heading to the new hotel which had a CAT draped over one of the chairs in the reception room. I said hello to the cat, sorted my stuff and found a metro station that would take me to the Galeries Lafayette, which I’d seen a picture of and thought it would be a cool place to go.
The Galeries Lafayette is (are?) a MASSIVE department store, which had a sale on many many things including handbags. I like handbags. I managed to make my way through the 40% off handbag section (I do not need any more handbags, even if they are Gucci and 40% off) and found the main atrium, which is round with incredible gilt balconies going up about 8 floors, domed with a stained glass roof. I waited my turn to take a photo from one of the top balconies, and enjoyed some macarons with sparkly gold dust on them.
My next goal was the Eiffel Tower, where I have never been to the top floor. I braved roadworks, construction works (they’re making a really nice park with a little waterfall, a bit like Versailles, beside the tower), the security line and then the main ticket line (all the while reading my ‘traduit de l’americain’ book) to find that the top floor was closed… So I left the ticket line and walked along the Champs de Mars instead, had Vietnamese for dinner and went to bed early to get up for my 6.30am TGV (train à grand vitesse/high speed train) the next morning… which I caught!
The TGV took me through the Alps to Turin, where I had lunch and caught another train to Venice… which is for the next post 😊

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Paris de l’Europe: Versailles

As I write this I’m sitting in a restaurant beside the Grand Canal at Versailles, waiting for the gardens to open for the evening fireworks. I've managed to do a little bit of work today (my plan for Paris was to do half a day of work, and sightsee the rest of the time), which so far has kind of worked.

Day one, I wore my new sandals and did a few hours work by the Louvre. Then I went to buy sticking plasters for my sore feet and went back to my hostel (where they seem to have given me a two person room with ensuite, which is nice, especially as there was no one else there the last two nights I spent there). I decided to call off my Eiffel Tower trip to give my feet a chance to heal, and did some more work at one of the tables in my room (there are two tables).

Day two was Versailles. I'd managed to figure out how to get the normal travel card to add to my collection (‘Navigo', cheaper than the tourist one, but it only runs Monday- Sunday), and caught the métro and then the RER train out to Versailles, where a lot of people were also going. It was a warm day, and I was extremely glad I had bought timed tickets for the palace, which meant I could just show up at the door at a time of my choosing rather than spend an hour or more waiting in the sun to get in. I got a coffee, madeleine and salad, did some work at a café with many separate named rooms to eat in (I chose one with sparkly gold panels) and then presented myself at the palace at 1pm. Apparently you sometimes wait up to thirty minutes even with timed tickets, but I got straight in, went through security and picked up my audio guide (I'm a big fan of audio guides - otherwise you get sore eyes reading all the labels on things, and it also means I don't feel I need to read ALL THE LABELS which can get a bit over-the-top).

The palace, is, of course, amazing. I was a bit disappointed with the plain decor in the first few rooms detailing the history of the palace, but then we got to the main rooms and the effect (and amount) of gold and muralling and sculpted ceilings was just incredible. I've visited a few castles this trip where they said the king/queen etc had wanted to imitate Versailles, and it was completely clear why. The Hall of Mirrors is enormous and beautifully filled with mirrors (of course) and chandeliers and rich paintings and marble (marble is everywhere). There are more rooms, smaller but similarly richly decorated, and then you get to the vast Hall of Battles, with its skylight running the length of the room and expansive paintings detailing more than thirty great French military victories in chronological order from about 700.

I wandered through the gardens a little and enjoyed a musical fountain, then visited Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon (her small house which, while quite small compared to the palace, is a lot bigger than my house). She ordered an English garden alongside the house, which meant excavations to make little hills and valleys and planting of trees to make it look 'wild', and also a working farm and accompanying tiny village. It reminded me a bit of Hobbiton, especially with its lake and rolling hills, and the idea of a constructed pastoral scene. I also saw two otters, which are quite different from the Malaysian otters I've seen in zoos in NZ.

After dinner (aforementioned) I went back into the gardens for the night fountains and fireworks, which you have to pay extra for but which I think was worth it. It runs on Saturday nights in summer, and you wander through the gardens in the dusk light enjoying baroque music (I think) and enjoying the fountains, some of which are decorated in smoking dry ice and coloured lights. I think my favourite fountains were the colonnade fountain (dry ice and lasers in a ring of pillars), the Mirror Fountain (the fountain spouts move! I want to know if they moved in Louis XIV's days) and the Ball grove, which had fire a waterfalls with lights in them, as well as dry ice. Apparently there is no water source at Versailles, so the amount of engineering needed to make all the fountains work is quite incredible, especially done centuries ago. Much, if not all, of the piping is original.

The finale was a fireworks and flame show by Groupe F, with a line of flaming torches going off in patterns up the main 'perspective' as well as fireworks, all to music. Louis XIV probably would have enjoyed it.

Then it took two hours to get back to the hostel, half an hour of which was spent packed on a train waiting to leave Versailles (people clapped when the train finally started to move). But it was worth it.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Copenhagen: city of rollercoasters

As a kiwi, we have very few rollercoasters to choose from - unless they've added some I don't know about, the Rainbow's End rollercoaster is the only one I can think of. Copenhagen has not just one amusement park, but two: one directly beside the central station (Tivoli) and one out in the forest (Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world, since 1589). They both have multiple excellent rollercoasters, including some of the oldest in the world: Tivoli's is from 1914.

I spent my first evening in Copenhagen at Tivoli, wandering the park and going on as many rides as I could. The Daemon rollercoaster was probably my favourite, though the Odin Express rollercoaster, aimed at people under twelve, was actually pretty good too - every time you rolled through the station, the attendants waved at you and there was no line. I spent the whole time looking for the old wooden rollercoaster, and realised afterwards that I'd actually been on it; they've covered it in a mountain since I was last there, which was the original design.Walt Disney apparently came here and it helped inspire Disneyland, which you can really see with the beautifully tended gardens, fountains, little lakes and plethora of restaurants of all different types dotted amongst the rides and gardens. The evening was a good time to go, especially since it was still light at 11 when the park closed: shorter lines, and the view from the top of the rollercoaster with the towers of Copenhagen and the slowly-setting sun was breathtaking.

The following day, one of my lovely hosts met me in town after my morning canal cruise. She'd brought a Christiania bike with a box thing in the front of it, and a young Labrador she was looking after who was extremely well-behaved as we cycled through the streets, over bridges and to Christiania, a free town in the middle of Copenhagen where the police turn a blind eye to the selling of various things, much like Amsterdam. It's an incredible contrast between the extremely expensive townhouses and buildings on one side of the 'border' and the free streets, graffiti and jerry-rigged and repaired old buildings on the other, and amazing that they've been able to keep it free for so long right in the centre of Copenhagen.

It was over thirty degrees, very rare for Copenhagen, and we decided to cycle back into the older parts of the city and split ways at the Round Tower, which has an observatory at the top with a great view of Copenhagen. The dog and my guide cycled home into the cool and I walked up the tower on the wide path that winds around and around the core pillar of the tower. They have cycle races to the top, apparently, and you could easily take a horse up.

My last visit for the day was the new Danish Architecture Centre, which had a great exhibition about Danish housing. My plan for the next morning was to get up early and visit a few places in North Zealand (which, coincidentally, looks quite like New Zealand), but in the end I didn't reach my first stop, Frederiksborg Castle, until midday. It's a pretty impressive castle with a moat and richly decorated halls, a beautiful cathedral and paintings everywhere. It also serves as a history museum, taking you through Danish history for the past few centuries.

My plan after Frederiksborg was to go to Henlsingør (Elsinore) and Kronborg Castle where Shakespeare set Hamlet. There was trackworkwith the trains, however I managed to figure out a train-bus route that wouldn't take too long, and ran for the station to catch the first train. Then, a few stops into the journey, for some reason I got off the train... (I think lots of other people were getting off, so I thought I would too). Unfortunately there was no replacement bus service to Helsingør from there, so I did a bit of a tiki tour around the countryside on different buses, deciding in the end to just go straight to Louisiana Art Museum (excellent) which was my final planned stop. I'll have to go back to Helsingør next time I'm in Denmark...

I met my hosts at Bakken for dinner (which included kangaroo), and convinced everyone to go on the 1930s wooden rollercoaster, which was really good too. So, all up, my Denmark rollercoaster tally is four. We walked back through the king's former hunting grounds and saw some deer in the dusk light.

On my way to the airport my last day in Copenhagen, I stopped at the 8 House to walk up and take photos from the top. It's an apartment building in the shape of a figure 8 where many of the apartments open right onto the path that winds its way all the way up to the top, which was pretty cool to see. And then I found my way to the airport, where I was onto Paris... it would have been nice to stay a little longer in Denmark I think. Next time!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Walking around Stockholm

So, I lie, I probably shouldn't have titled this post 'walking around Stockholm' because today I walked, kayaked, took the tunnelbana (metro), a ferry, a tram and a funicular/cable car as well as an escalator down a hill (I didn't notice that you could take it up the hill until I was already at the top). I also might have been able to ride a pony, but I think that was only for children. No buses today (though I got lost on the tunnelbana with my suitcase yesterday and had to take a bus to my hostel).

The hostel is in a former prison, and there is a guillotine outside my cell. The cell window is quite large, and I assume it would have been well-criss-crossed with bars originally, but now you can swing open the window and get a breeze through the trees, and potentially jump out if you don't mind the two storey drop to the ground outside. After I'd sorted my stuff, I walked into Gamla Stan (the Old City) along the north edge of Södermalm Island, passing dozens of beautiful boats tied up under the trees (maybe willows?), larger boats with floating restaurants and hotels. The view across the water to central Stockholm is amazing - the city hall building looks a lot like it's on the Piazza San Marco in Venice - and many towers poke up from the older buildings below. In Gamla Stan, I got a hot dog for 15 krone at the newsagent (it seems to be a standard newsagent product, along with cinnamon rolls, much like IKEA) and wandered through the winding streets and lanes, browsing the many shops. Gamla Stan is built on a hill, and some of the lanes are quite steep and full of tourists taking photos. It's also built on soft clay, and they're currently trying to figure out how to stop some of the old buildings subsiding - a few of them are on a slight lean. As the kayak guide told us the next day, the workers going down into the basements and reinforcing the foundations have to get lots of vaccinations and wear good protective masks and gloves, because they find old animal remains and sometimes human remains when they're digging, and potentially could be exposed to very old diseases.

I found the royal palace and walked through richly decorated rooms with framed paintings and ceiling murals and two thrones. Many of the rooms are still used quite often, for many different purposes - Avicci had a concert in the ball room, and the guide said that, the day before, all the palace staff were called into the ballroom to jump up and down, to make sure the chandeliers downstairs would make it through. I spent a bit long wandering around the palace and was too late to visit the treasury and a museum - but I enjoyed taking my time in the palace.

As soon as I left the palace, I heard the sound of a brass band, so followed the sound into a cobblestone square outside the Nobel Museum. A large military band was giving a concert to a crowd of people (and a few dogs), wth music ranging from almost-recognisable upbeat marches and waltzes to Creedance Clearwater Revival, Mambo Number 5 and the Circle of Life front the Lion King. After listening for a bit, I realised the Nobel Museum didn't close until 8pm, so went in to have a look around at the relics (including Alexander Fleming's pennicillin pétri dish and Malala's scarf) as well as watch the quite-good short documentaries about Nobel Prize winners (nice to rest my feet!).

I had a kebab for dinner in a little place in the old town, then walked back to the hostel in the evening light.

The next morning I'd booked a kayak tour, choosing the short one that was fine for beginners (though, on reflection, I've actually done quite a lot of kayaking), rather than the 4 hour one that would take up lots of time and might be too much exercise... The beginners were quite beginnery, though, and we spent a while doing circles in the harbour and fighting with the wind before finally setting off up towards the island where Absolut Vodka used to be made - apparently Sweden used to have a big problem with alcoholism (the liquor stores are still state-owned) and the owner was asked to move out of the city. This island was far enough away, but still close enough that people could come in boats with their bottles to be filled up with vodka... It was a beautiful day to be out on the water, or sunbathing on the little jetties (as many people were doing) and despite our slow start I really enjoyed the paddle.

There was a market happening at the edge of the water, with food trucks (the fish tacos were good) and jewellery and bric à brac, that I walked through on my way back to the prison to change. My afternoon plan was to get the ferry to Skansen, an open-air museum/zoo on an island where they have replica or real houses and cottages and shops from different eras in Sweden, with guides dressed in period costume and, for instance, making cheese in a cast iron pot over a fire. It's a huge place, and I wandered through the Swedish animals section (saw some well-camouflaged wolves, a happy lynx lying on its back having a nap in a cave, bears, bison, reindeer, elks, pigs, wild boar, a seal... I almost went to see the cats at the children's petting zoo, but decided I could probably see cats at home. Possibly not Nordic cats... instead I went down the hill on a small green cable car and checked out the town buildings, with a printer's, grocer's, blacksmith and more.

I caught the tram back to town and descended into the metro to take pictures of some of the most interesting station artwork - all the stations have some kind of art in them, and some of the stations are like caves, with amazing patterns on the walls and roof. I think the rainbow station (Stadion) was my favourite, though the blue line platforms at Stockholm Central are pretty good too.

And then it was time to go back to the hostel and get ready for my 8.20 train the next morning.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Sweden! Uppsala

I'm sitting in a train on the way to Stockholm after spending the week in Uppsala, a small city north of Stockholm. It's just past midsummer, so it never really gets dark and - OH I JUST SAW A STEAM TRAIN, puffing its way across a bridge with olde carriages. Here is the steam train:

Now we are going really fast past a lot of fields, definitely faster than Sydney trains and much faster than NZ trains. Anyway, I’ve been in Uppsala at a conference (which was good), and in the meantime have been wandering around the older parts of the city, which has a canal, lots of cobblestones, many many bikes and very few cars. We had 30 degrees ones day, which I was not prepared for, but then it fell to 17 the next day so I suppose it balanced out.

Uppsala also has the largest cathedral in Scandinavia, with construction starting in the 13th century and several rebuilds since. The stone interior has been painted with beautiful repeating patterns of flowers and other motifs, different in every small chapel to the sides of the cathedral, which at first I thought was original, but then found out it was repainted in the twentieth century, so more in the spirit of the original. It made me think about buildings as living, and wonder why many of the buildings from the English reformation haven't been renewed - perhaps to do with continuity of use and political stability, as well as displaying the scars of the past.

Eating out in Sweden is quite expensive, apparently due to the high tax on luxuries. There are lots of restaurants beside the canal that runs through the city, looking out to the water and the small bridges that cross, some decked out with flowers. The route from my hotel to the conference venue took me along the canal, beneath the castle (pink), along cobbled streets around the cathedral, and past some grand old apartment houses (one painted sky blue). People in Sweden tend to live in apartment houses in cities in Sweden, with parks nearby and a very compact form with fields not far from the centre of town. There are trees everywhere and rough paths through the parks which gives everything a sort of half-wild quality. Linnæus of the botanical scientific naming system lived and worked in Uppsala, so there are lots of references to him - cafés, a tourist walk, and of course his house and garden. We went through the garden beds where he cultivated a whole host of different plants, for instance about ten types of thistle in one bed, laid out by genus and Latin name.

Dinner one night was in the state hall at the castle, which we found out later is not generally accessible to the public. It's a huge space, with a musicians gallery around one corner, and long tables with candelabra. The waiters were extremely well-rehearsed, at one point carrying in silver platters of icecream over one shoulder, turning to stand in a line with military precision and lighting the flares sticking out of the icecream. We were also treated to some musical comedy (spex) by a male choir with their mascot, Flora the cow skull. They'd chatted to one of my colleagues outside and now asked for her to come up to the stage so they could sing her a love song, but she hid so they asked for volunteers, and ended up singing their song to a guy, with much feeling.

As I write this last bit I'm in a train on the way to Copenhagen at 200km an hour, passing fields and forests, red farmhouses and little lakes. The weather's beautiful, with blue skies and a crisp morning. I'll get onto my Stockholm adventures in the next post :)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Shanghai Museum, Tianzifang, Yuyuan Gardens, French Concession and the Maglev :)

There are many, many milk tea shops in Shanghai, some with long queues outside. It's a little more difficult to find coffee shops (especially ones that aren't Starbucks or Costa) but we managed to find a good one near People's Square and had coffee and a muffin for breakfast on Saturday, then wandered through the park at People's Square, admiring the extremely impressive giant floral sculpture before checking out Shanghai Museum. We saw ancient bronze artefacts and jade ornaments, beautiful pottery from ancient times up until the late nineteenth century, calligraphy and lovely paintings. There was also a visiting exhibition of landscapes from the Tate Britain, so a whole range of things to see.

We found a nice restaurant and had dumplings, shallot pancakes, rice cakes and Chinese broccoli for lunch (so much food) then wandered through Tianzifang, which is an old area of former workshops, now with many small shops ranging from boutiques and art studios to souvenir shops and little craft businesses. There are winding alleys like Xintiandi, but many more of them and not so perfectly manicured, which gives it more of a charm I think.

Mr Dr L was on shopping duty at the Baby Sale to End All Baby Sales, so we had running updates through the day on the 70% off deals for baby Dr L, arriving in September. We met up with him in the evening to go to Yuyuan Gardens, where the ancient temple of the city god is, but the main attraction here was the newer streets of old-style buildings with lights on all the roofs and shops and food everywhere. The place (like most places in Shanghai) was buzzing, and we spent a while trying to find the best place to get a stone seal carved with my name in Chinese. In the end, the best price and the nicest stones were from a man at a little store, who power-drilled the characters into the stone and demonstrated the seal on gold-leaf-sprinkled rice paper.

People were wandering around with large dumplings with straws sticking out of them, which I had heard of before and wanted to try. They were sold out at one busy food court place, but we found a small restaurant that did them for 20 yuan (about $4 Australian), which Mr Dr L thought was expensive, even for a large dumpling. It was good though - crab soup inside that you suck up the straw, and then pull apart the rest with chopsticks. I also tried Nanjing rice balls with sweet sesame filling which were pretty good, served in a clear soup.

On the way back to the metro station, we passed several large groups of older people line dancing to multiple sets of loud, duelling music. Apparently this is outlawed near many residential buildings because of the noise it makes, but it's extremely popular with older generations, and the younger generations complain about the noise and people dancing late into the night...

My final day in Shanghai, we went to find the French Concession, which is actually a very large district that contains Xintiandi and Tianzifang (so we'd actually already been there multiple times). After a good brunch in Xintiandi, we walked down streets lined with plane trees and tiny shops to find a neighbourhood of some old French Concession buildings, Si Nan Mansions. There was a market on with stalls of jewellery and tea, as well as a man who was making candy floss flowers. Most of the buildings here have been converted into shops, restaurants, breweries or Starbucks/Costa, though some still seem to be lived in. We came upon Zhou En-Lai's house, which is now a museum describing the shaky times in the 1940s when the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party were vying over rule - the Kuomintang posted secret spies across the road, which the CPC guards had to keep an eye on.

After some more wandering we found Bridge 8, which is an old car factory now turned into a creative district with a huge art and design bookshop with books all up the three-storey walls, but which was invitiation only (a bit frustrating). Across the road there was an art gallery with an exhibition that Dr L said was from Korea - I didn't realise until later that she meant North Korea. The many, many paintings were beautiful, but a huge range of styles all mixed up together, with impressionist cherry blossom scenes, idyllic farmland, happy workers in a factory, stylish young women in traditional or modern dress, horses, mountains, romantically crashing waves upon cliffs... I was particularly struck by a wall-sized seemingly-dystopian painting of Blade Runner-like modern towers at the edge of a harbour with traditional fishing boats moored below, wreathed in mist, juxtaposed with a natural landscape on its adjacent wall. Definitely an experience, and one I quite enjoyed.

Next up was Fuxing Park, which is one of the oldest public parks in the city and beautifully manicured. There were lots of families running around on the main grass area and people flying kites, people sitting under wrought iron arches with ivy running over them, around fountains and the swirling rose garden beds. By this time we were getting quite tired, so we looked for a cafe that wasn't Starbucks or Costa and managed to find a beautiful one in an old house near the park, filled with interesting antiques, a verdant bricked courtyard and an upstairs with a bar, Tiffany lamps and 30s music.

Soon it was time to get my bags and make for the airport for the next leg of my trip. Dr L and Mr Dr L kindly took me to an easy transfer point for the maglev train to the airport, which takes 8 minutes to go the 30km to the airport. Some of them are express trains and go over 400km/hr, but unfortunately I didn't get one of those and we only got up to 301km/h. Amazing to see everything speeding past like you're in a plane about to lift off.

And then I was onto my 18 hour trip to Stockholm...

Sydney to Shanghai: the plane, Xintiandi and the Bund

Every few years I do another post saying 'Wow! It's been X years since I last posted! I should do more on this blog!' So here's the latest one. :)

Wow! It's been 5 years since I last posted! I'm on my way to Europe via Shanghai for a conference in Sweden and roadtripping with my bro and his beau and friend, so I thought it'd be good opportunity to document some stuff :) I went to the US for the first time in the middle of last year, and Austria in November/December (coincidentally, about the same time I was there in 2012) but the travel diaries from there are on paper and scrivener... such as I did them.

In any case, I'm now sitting in my seat taxiiing down the runway in Sydney while the safety video plays and everyone ignores it. I was going to walk to the airport (I live half an hour walk from the Sydney International Terminal which is awesome!) but it was kind of raining and cold and my clothes are geared for summer so I took the 2 minute $18 train ride instead. I successfully checked in and notified the airline I'm doing a 144 hr TWOV in Shanghai (transit without visa), and have been reading the inflight magazine, which informs me that China Eastern now flys directly to Stockholm! Unfortunately I've booked with Air France, so will have to stopover at Charles de Gaulle... There's lots of interesting tourist information about Sweden though, with such gems as "A winter's day is long and cold in Sweden and life cannot be without cheese".


Almost there! I've watched Woman in Gold (excellent), Mermaid (a Chinese dramedy involving mermaids, also excellent in a very different way), done a reasonable amount of work and have been practising my Mandarin. So far I've got hello, thank you and good bye down, but still working on I'm sorry (duì bù qî) and 'how much is this?' (zhège duōshao qián?).


I successfully managed to get through the 144 hr visa queue and get my 'transit without visa' visa! Then, with the help of my friend Dr L on the other end of the phone, I managed to get a taxi to her place :) I found out from some small print on the back of my departure card that I needed to register myself as a temporary resident within the first 24 hrs, so our plan for Friday was to check out Xīntiandi and the police station, then the Bund and Oriental Pearl Tower.

After xiaolongbao and soy milk for breakfast, we took the subway to Xintiandi. This area is a former residential area of Shinkumen (stone gateway) houses which was redeveloped into a boutique-restaurant-cultural quarter, with the building that was the site of the first meeting of the Chinese communist party at one side. It's an incredibly successful development that with a mix of historic buildings and new additions, alleyways and hidden corners to explore. We had lunch at a nice Spanish place, then went to find a police station.

Registering as a temporary resident is something your hotel does for you if you stay in a hotel, but if you stay with a friend you need them to show proof they own the property you're staying in...! We think it's probably the same procedure as for long-term temporary residents, and they haven't caught up wth the new short transit visas. It was a bit of an adventure, because we had to go to the police station twice, once to find out all the documentation we needed and a second time to hand it all in, with photocopies. Then we retired to Dr L's and had hot chocolate before venturing out in the rain to the Bund.

The Bund is technically 33 buildings built in different European styles by invited architects, lining the west side of the Huangpu River. Reclamation in the last few decades created a wide promenade beside the water, from which you can look across the river to the newer Pudong district and see the Oriental Pearl Tower and Shanghai Tower (over 600m tall). It was just on dusk when we arrived, with light rain, and we wandered along the promenade admiring the brightly-lit older buildings on one side and the phantasmagorical light shows playing out on most of the modern buildings. Some of the buildings have advertisements, as if they're Times Square billboards at 100:1 scale, and some have beautiful patterns, like the building with a golden butterfly slowly moving its wings. We took the ferry across the river, which is a really good way to see the lights, especially given it's only 4 yuan, but halfway across the river, I realised I’d lost my camera somehow. Once we got to the other side, we asked the ticket office man to call back to the opposite bank ticket office, and waited while they checked to see if they could find it. Luckily, they did! I've now attached my camera to a lanyard, which makes me look more like a tourist, but at least I won't lose it. Though I probably shouldn't jinx it by saying that...

We met up with Mr Dr L on the Bund side of the river for Shanghai fried buns (really good) and dodged the rain (not very successfully) back to their place for the night. I got pretty excited in the metro, because they have flashy light displays on the tunnel walls that show ads as you're speeding past them. It must be something similar to a frisbee I had once where you could make it spell out your name as you threw it, but a lot more sophisticated... unfortunately it doesn't photograph or video well...