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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Audrey Hepburn

We had a busy few days catching up with friends and contacts in Wellington before grabaseat (Air New Zealand's budget offers) took us up to Auckland. There we stayed with Merton friend Helen, her partner Tim and their splendid cat, Audrey Hepburn. Ms H is a rescue cat, who has survived the trip here from London and taken up residence post quarantine with great aplomb. She rules the household with a paw of iron and claws of steel, and delayed our departure for some time on Tuesday by honouring Pip's lap with her presence.

Places and people
Back to Rivendell

In 2008 we visited the Kaitoki reserve jus up the road from Upper Hutt, where Pip's mother lives. It was a our first revisit to NZ bush, and also the site of Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. We didn't repeat the lovely guided bush walk, as Beryl's knees are giving her grief, but did the short walk across the swing bridge and through a stretch of the forest. Big ferns, pohotukawa, lianas, the sounds of tui. Back in NZ!

Places and people
Frost and fog

Lucky us! We got an upgrade to Premium Economy on our ANZ airpoints. The luxury of better food, lots of legroom and metal cutlery. Obviously violent customers only fly in Economy, where the knives and forks are plastic!

New Zealand, which has just passed its midwinter, was enveloped in fog. Flights were being cancelled out of Auckland. For Wellington though, they kept the planes going, and we arrived only one hour late. Brrr! It's cold here.

The picture is actually the international terminal (we came in to the domestic), designed by Studio Pacific Architecture and Warren and Mahoney was officially opened in late 2010 in the capital city. It's been controverisal, but represents a major step forward in designing major transport hubs to be environmentally friendly. Of course, an eco-airport is somewhat of a contradiction in terms, but we're hardly in a position to be picky about that.

Places and people
Some practicalities before leaving (including advice to cruisers)

Noonsite says there is 'a berth for foreign yachts' under the Oriental Pearl Tower. We couldn't see any space there, but there are a few pontoons with motor cruisers in that vicinity. There aren't any charts (that we found) available online, and the pace of change suggests that UKHO Admiralty Chart 1601 will need careful checking. Noonsite also points to a requirement for a pilot and advance warning to the Chinese authorities, but seems to dismiss Shanghai as only a provisioning stop en route to the offshore islands. That's a bit like saying that Rome might be convenient on the way to Sicily! Despite all the challenges, in the extremely unlikely event that we cruise the China Sea we would definitely try to spend time in central Shanghai.

We reckon you could buy or get made almost anything in Shanghai that a boat could need. There is a fascinating conglomeration of small workshops, tool shops, sources for wires, cables, clips, pumps, ties, pipes and all sorts of other things. It runs from the corner of Fujian Lu and Beijing Lu, immediately south of the Suzhou creek. We spent a long, hot hour hunting through the piles, including examining a jewellers tool shop in great detail. Sadly (for the vendors) we didn't buy anything this trip, but space will be required on our way back to Roaring Girl.

The currency is yuan or renminbi, currently running at a realistic conversion rate of about 9.2 to GBP1. (It looks better on the screen but that's before conversion costs.) You can buy it outside the country if, like us, you like to arrive with a little cash. You will get a better rate from ATMs in the country, and they are everywhere.

We felt Shanghai was very safe. Of course it's a huge city, and there are poor and desperate people here. Just like London, Paris or Auckland. But we came much closer to having our bags dipped in Pisa this June than anywhere in China.

Transport around Shanghai is easy. The main centre east of the river is roughly square, and the streets run north/south and east/west in a grid pattern. The older warrens would be easy to get lost in, but we only ventured into the touristy areas, rather than some of the side streets between the grids that you can still see in parts of the city. Every street has a clear sign on all edges of every junction in both Chinese and English. The Metro is simple, bilingual and covers a lot of the city.

Mind you, the buses (allegedly only RMB2 to go anywhere) were only signed in Chinese and we chickened out of them! Taxis in central Shanghai seemed to be standardised at about RMB15, except in the rain when the price was anything the driver thought he could get away with. Getting to or from the airport seems to be a given opportunity for taxis to try and rip you off, but should cost about RMB180 from the centre of town. The maglev train costs RMB100 each and is quite hard work with big cases; if you will still want a cab from the inner station, it is probably worth getting one straight from the airport itself. (The maglev is great fun though, and travels at 300km per hour!)

Air conditioning was essential in Shanghai in July. The residents were complaining about the heat (caused by a high that seems to have taken up residence over Southern China) and humidity. If you go there at this time of year, make sure your accommodation has air conditioning.

Food is an adventure. We had both good and bad, and found the famed street food limited, especially compared to Hong Kong. You can find food not only from all over China but across the world, from America to Turkey. We were happy to point to a menu in Chinese or Korean, and see what came. If you want to know a bit more about what you're putting into your mouth, find a restaurant with good pictures or an English menu.

The general advice is not to drink the water. It is technically potable, but is said to contain heavy metals from the river. It certainly tastes disgusting. Every corner has a shop selling bottled water. Buy the Chinese water with a white label with red characters: it is a quarter the price of Evian.

Places and people
Wonderful Shanghai Museum

The major museum in the city is a huge collection of important treasures from all over China, housed in a relatively new building. Yes it was busy - this is still China - but it's so well managed that you never feel crowded. And it is free!

A cong is a jade tube which is square on the outside, with a round hole. The juxtaposition of the square earth and the circle of heaven is common in Chinese symbology, and is reflected in the design of the museum itself. This one has pin sharp edges incised into the hard white jade, which is difficult to grind or cut even with modern metal blades. It was made in eastern China somewhere around 3000 BC, and nobody knows how it was done. It is exquisitely beautiful.

The museum has a great array of these jades plus extraordinary bronzes dating from 2000 to 0 BC. And furniture of the Ming and Qing dynasties, costumes and pieces from the many minority peoples of China, a detailed history of currency and much, much more. It needed far more time than we (or our feet) could manage.

A friend (thanks, Mike) had also said the Museum has a great shop. That's true, and a lovely black silk jacket with a silver lining joined us for the next stage of our adventures.

Places and people
On the river at last

On the Tuesday night we finally made it on to the river cruise. Our batteries were poor so our pix were taken with Pip's phone. This one was taken by a Russian couple. Another measure of the speed of change: a smartphone picture taken by a Russian couple travelling independently in China of us - a lesbian couple also travelling there without a State chaperone.

It was fun to do, but actually quite hard to manage. Shanghai badly needs some advice on catering to the non-group-organised traveller. The Bund, for example, is beautifully designed to enable freedom of movement that the authorities cannot support. Lots of signs point down escalators and stairs to the ticket hall, but are firmly closed off. It took us a good 20 minutes to find the one open door, which is actually down on the street and not signposted at all. We never thought we would miss the pavement touts of Valetta, Roma or Barcelona but they do at least give you a clue as to what is happening and how to access it!

Places and people
Big boys toys

The Urban Planning Exhibition showcases Shanghai's extraordinary growth. Sarah will be writing more about this on her own blog at (not accessible in China) soon.

Even for the non-regeneration specialist it was fascinating. The picture is the enormous model of the city. It is taken looking (on the city's axis) north east; you can see the sharp elbow of the Huangpu river under the Pearl, and the sharp tower of the World Finance Centre. The supporting material includes pictures from the 19th and 20th century. In 1984 - less than 30 years ago - there was almost nothing on that side of the river except marsh and paddy fields. All of that enormous city has gone up in the time since the UK's miners' strike.

Places and people
Tianzifang aka Camden

On Wednesday we went in search of a different art street and shopping area, known as Tian Zi Fang. Unlike Xantiandi, this is not a rebuild but a warren of shikumen houses now operating as lots of little boutiques and shops. On the way there, we saw this magnificent door, but we don't know where it led.

The market itself is reminiscent of Camden Market in London: there are occasional excellent spots with bags or clothes made locally by Shanghai-based designers. But most of it is the same stuff that you see in NYC, London, Mumbai or Auckland. One of the most telling signs was a shop advertising 'ethnic' goods - meaning from the sub-continent. What does that tell us about relationships within the BRIC countries?

We did have some success finding pressies, and a rather smart travel case for the ipad, but again, we would not say it was the home of the original or unique output of Shanghai creative workers.

Places and people
Not all the lights are brands
02/07/2012, Shanghai (high up!)

We are staying at the Grand Central Hotel, centrally located on Jiujiang Road. It is the second in a chain, of which the first, Central Hotel, is next door. This splendid confection is the lights on the top of the Central. (it doesn't actually lean: that's the bus!) Very appropriate!

The Grand Central is a business hotel, run to 5* standards, with all mod cons (except wifi in the rooms. This blog is updated using their Ethernet.) We got it at very good value through, having read reviews on tripadvisor.

Places and people
The lights of booming China
02/07/2012, Shanghai (high up!)

We spent much of the rest of the day on the buses, which was good after Sunday's and Monday's marathons. One of the excellent staff at Indigio had told us that the temperature jumped on Sunday and was now very high by local standards. Hah! It looks as if our weather change powers are undiminished by our travels. We got to Malta, Greece and Italy in turn the day before the temperature jumped for summer. Now we are concerned that our arrival in NZ will plung Wellington into deepest snow.

The night bus tour was great fun, with sparkly lights everywhere and the bus full of smiley happy people. (The ticket's good for 24 hours, so it's fine to keep riding.) We felt that the lights of Shanghai make both London and New York look - well - dowdy!

After good noodles and beef in a local 10th floor restaurant we staggered back to our hotel room to recover, and prepare for shopping and museums tomorrow. (And maybe even that spa!)

Places and people
The highest observatory in the world
02/07/2012, Shanghai (high up!)

It had to be done. The Shanghai World Finance Centre is 100 floors high. There is a huge gap in it, between the 95th and 100th floors, which makes it look like an enormous tent peg from across the river. For RMB150 each they will put you in a elevator and take you to the top of the third highest building in the world.

In fact, they bow politely and say something charming in Chinese as the doors close. It's rather disconcerting, as if you are about to be shot to the stars from the top as part of the solution to population pressure. Of course, the doors open again on smiling faces welcoming you onwards and upwards.

At the very top the views must be astonishing on a clear day. (Does Shanghai have clear days any more?) Even today you get a magnificent vista across Shanghai, the confluence of the Suzhou Creek into the Huangpu, and the ludicrous bauble that is the China TV tower.

Places and people
The tiki tour

We chose instead what we probably should have done in the first place: the open top bus tour. We want with a company that operates two routes: a red one which stays to the east of the Huangpu and has about 15 stops, and a green one which crosses the river to Pudong and has only about four stops. We started with the red one, which was very useful in orienting oneself around the city.

During it we hopped off at Xintiandi. This is a famous area of alleys and streets, often touted as the uber-trendy home of Shanghai style, particularly in fashion and food.

It was something of a disappointment. Xintiandi could be anywhere with some nice doorways. Architecturally it is modelled on the local shikamen, which were a form of terraced housing thrown up in their thousands here in the nineteenth century. They came in rows, all facing south, and had big granite door frames housing brass doors, giving rise to the common name of 'stone gate houses'. The very small area of such housing at Xintiandi is entirely reconstruction, done to a very high standard. The detailing and quality of the work are excellent, giving a lovely context. So far so good. The content however, is clone town Shanghai. Every unit is branded, and the vast majority are international chains. There were a few, a very few boutiques, and even they were largely selling standard stuff. (Sarah will be doing a further rant on the subject of regeneration and economic development over on her blog soon, but there is no word/press access here!)

The far end of the south block of Xintiandi is often dismissed as it is a modern glass and concrete mall. Inside however, there are some of the better emerging designers. Sarah bought a lovely silk scarf in the sale at Woo, and we had an excellent dim sum lunch. But otherwise, it really wasn't worth the visit.

Places and people

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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