With a day and half of much quieter seas we approached Shanghai, China on Windstar’s Star Legend in thick fog. It was so thick that they actually closed the Shanghai port…which is far up river from the Yellow Sea (Yangtze and then Haungpu Rivers). We were lucky as the port briefly opened, allowing us to pick up our pilot and tug, and then quickly closed behind us.
|Shanghai, China Skyline
Viewed from Windstar’s Star Legend
Before we could begin our two days exploring Shanghai, we were required to have a face-to-face immigration inspection upon arrival. It was fairly painless, but did require United States citizens to have both hands and then just one’s thumbs fingerprinted and a biometric photo of one’s face. I think that may have been curtailed when the system didn’t seem to be working very efficiently…but I am in the system! (You are also required to carry a copy of your passport with a personalized barcode which must be scanned every time you leave or return to the ship.)
There is no question that the size, architecture and number of buildings in Shanghai is very impressive. But as you know, I am not so much into buildings, but rather local people and their food. This brings up a conflict in Shanghai that I find troubling: Most of the older buildings and communities (and, therefore, culture) are systemically being torn down to make way for more modern buildings.
This, to me, made much of Shanghai giving me an initial impression of being somewhat soulless. It is a very different city than say, New York City, which has an incredibly vibrant multi-cultural population. But not to fear! I was on a journey to discover Old Shanghai and its traditional cuisine.
|Haze: Part climate, Part Pollution…But at least not rain!|
I hired a private guide for both days. Lynn, our charming and very knowledgeable, 24 year old guide, met me (and one of my clients) at the ship and we were off…and, fortunately, with no rain (though a haze that was, in large part, pollution). Our first stop was a narrow street with more traditional housing. While it originally housed one family, with Communism came housing multiple families in the same building and then, with the easing of its constraints, shops being installed on the first floor and more normal residences on the second and, if there was one, third floors,
We started out with a bit of breakfast: Garlic pancake and Egg pancakes.
which was quickly followed by very flaky, but heaving buns; one with chestnut and one with “meat”. What as more fascinating than the pastry was the number of people working together to make literally hundreds of them.
We stroll a little further and I see hanging poultry, but not the ones I normally see with glistening dark skin ready to be cut up and enjoyed, but rather being “dry aged” in the polluted air of Shanghai. And, no, I did not try to find any ready to eat! Rather, I opted to try a deep fried, and extremely hot, rice cake.
|Air (pollution) dried aged duck|
Just around the corner: Dumplings! As we watched two people quickly and with hardly a look make dumpling after dumpling, we sampled two different styles: one with a vegetable filling and the other larger one with a pork and vegetable filling. (I did manage to squirt the broth over me, but it was my only “rookie” mistake of the day!) A little bit of a sweet vinegar and a bit of chili sauce taken with the dumplings was a delicious combination.
It was then time to put our chopsticks and spoons down and spend some time in a Bird Market. No, not a grocery, but a market to purchase birds, and other things, as pets.
The most interesting pet: Crickets! Actually they are not so much pets as part of an ancient and thriving illegal cricket fighting business. That’s right: cricket fighting.
|An expensive fighting cricket|
As we strolled near the end of the market there was a small stall that was selling small stone carvings. I somehow saw some carvings made out of some sort of nut and one, in particular – a two-sided Buddhist lohan – caught my eye. The woman said it was 500 yuan…I offered 200 yuan and then we settled on 300 yuan, or about $50.
After my big purchase we went to a different area, an even older and poorer area
before turning the corner and visiting the only Confucian temple left in old Shanghai proper; though it has been significantly reconstructed due to battles and, of course, neglect and worse during the Cultural Revolution. Quite a respite from the fairly frenetic world outside its walls.
|Confucian Temple in Old Shanghai
with towering apartments in the background
|We did get stuck with a pretty touristic “tea ceremony”
but some of it was interesting.
Our tour for the day was not yet over! Time for one of my favorites and very popular foods: Soup Dumplings. We definitely ended with a very local experience. A tiny restaurant with eight cramped ancient wooden tables and stools with locals pretty much inhaling soup dumplings and then leaving. While we waited for a table we watched again as a production line of soup dumplings were being prepared. We settled on traditional pork, vegetable and shrimp soup dumplings; each with their traditional 20 folds of the delicate pastry.
|Soup Dumplings Production Line|
|Pork, Vegetable and Shrimp Soup Dumplings|
With a full stomach and a great experience, it was time to head back to the Star Legend for a bit of a rest before heading out for a walk on The Bund. Windstar’s Star Legend had an exceptional birth and, with the haze lifting a bit, the view definitely caught my eye as I was lying down on my bed.
But after all the great cuisine on the ship and in Shanghai’s old area I needed to walk, so with Facebook, Google and Google Maps working on my phone with Chinese cell service (though they do not work for the local Chinese population), I headed off to find The Bund; which was really on a 15 minute walk from the ship, over a steel bridge and into the British Concession.
|A great view while crossing the steel bridge to the British Concession and The Bund|
The Bund extends for miles and for miles I walked. Early in the evening the walk is filled with thousands of people ranging from locals to tourists to tour groups. As I walked down towards the marina area (about two miles from the Star Legend) I saw about two dozen dinner cruise ships and thinking, “That sounded like a good possibility when I was researching things to do, but I am soooo glad I didn’t book it.” And then I saw Chinese tour group after tour group boarding the ships and felt even more relief.
As I turned around to start heading back – noting I couldn’t find any place that seemed like an inviting bar or restaurant – the beauty of The Bund became apparent. All the old British buildings were lit up in a yellow gold on one side of the river and the modern financial buildings on the other side put on a light show.
|The Bund, Shanghai, China at night|
Eventually I returned to the Star Legend for an early morning start to my all day tour with our wonderful guide, Lynn, to Suzhou and surrounds in my search for more of the old culture of Shanghai. As the government is literally destroying the historical sites so they can build more high rises buildings, it was a 2.5 hour drive with traffic to arrive at the peaceful Sozhou and the Lingering Garden. While it is a bit early in the season, so the trees and flowers were not near their glory, it was an incredibly beautiful maze of beautiful gardens, rock gardens and buildings.
But where I was truly amazed and wish I could have spent the entire day was an indescribable huge bonsai garden with some of the trees being well over 100 years. Lynn, our guide, explained that the men tasked with tending to these masterpieces do not talk to any visitors, focusing on their important task.
It was then time for an early lunch (since we needed to be sure we made it back to the Star Legend before her departure, taking into account that Shanghai traffic is very unpredictable). It was an interesting mix of the familiar (such as sweet and sour pork…though not as sweet as the American version) and not so much (giant beans similar to lima or fava beans). I also tried a Snow beer that was lighter than the lightest beer I have ever had…and when I saw it was only 2.5% alcohol I knew why.
Next up was a Buddhist temple that clearly is off the tourist path. While the Lingering Garden was quite crowded with a number of tour groups, the Xi Yuan Buddhist Temple was serene. The differences and similarities with Buddhist temples, beliefs and traditions in other countries, such as Myanmar, was very interesting. There was a gallery with 500 lohan statues that was unusual and interesting.
As I told Lynn that we really didn’t need to visit the silk factory (which I noticed is included in pretty much every tour to Suzhou and smelled of being far too touristic), she opted to take us to a beautiful ancient – and surprisingly being preserved by the government – one kilometer road known as Pingjiang Road in the Gusu District of Suzhou. The area is known as the Venice of China, with buildings that have their roots back to the 1200’s, set along canals that were first used for military purposes and later for commerce.
|Not exactly a gondola, but Pingjiang Road area is known
as the Venice of China.
|The ancient buildings of Pingjiang Road have been converted into high end retail shops|
One disappointment, of sorts, was that there are coffee shops in the area that feature dozens of cats that you can pet as you sip your drink. A little bit of a culinary and culinary event that escaped me.
But on the up side, we did see a couple having their wedding photos taken in traditional Chinese dress.
It was then time to head back to the Star Legend, say goodbye to our wonderful guide, Lynn, and have a short rest before a great Deck Barbecue and Sailaway. Windstar did a fantastic culinary experience including Peking Duck (I dove into that!) paella and lobster among so many other dishes. And timing our sailaway to coincide with Shanghai’s light show was a truly memorable experience!
|Windstar’s Star Legend Deck Barbecue|
|Star Legend’s chefs provided locally sourced Peking Duck. Perfect!|
|A delicious paella with barbecued lobster tails
from the Star Legend Deck Barbecue
|Shanghai, China’s Inner Loop Bridge|
|Star Legend’s Sailaway in Shanghai, China|
Shanghai, China is an “Experience”. For me, while my time was busy and culturally and culinarily full, I believe it will be a “once in a lifetime”. Ironically, I have received inquires about doing a similar cruise on Windstar next year, but alas, Windstar is not offering it. There are some alternative, and very interesting, itineraries to consider.
Next up is a needed sea day.
If you have any questions or wish to discuss booking your own Windstar Cruise, give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!
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