We woke up early in the morning so we could get to Xi’an North station and take another bullet train over to Shanghai.
Every station is a little different. In Xi’an things were less organized than Beijing. At the ticket pickup rude people attempted to cut lines. I had one English speaking woman try to appeal to me that her train was leaving earlier than ours so could she please go ahead of me in line? Uh, no. I was already so sweaty and frustrated with the number of people successfully jumping ahead that I had no patience to help anyone. I deliberately dragged Addam and G out of bed early so that we could be on time for our train. At every step we had to learn where to go and what to do without speaking or reading the language. There was no way we were going to miss our train because others had poor time management skills. After a long, one hour wait I finally had our tickets, we went through security and boarded our train.
The train from Xi’an to Shanghai is almost 6 hours but it was a fairly pleasant journey. They sell meals, drinks and snacks, have free wifi and large windows to view the passing scenery. The toilets are a disgusting mess but so are the toilets on any train so I can’t fault them for that. The attendants on the train do a great job cleaning up after everyone. A lady comes down the aisle to collect trash about every 15 min. After people board the train, at every stop, another person mops the floors down the aisle. I saw them clean the toilets too so I shudder to think how gross they would have been without regular cleaning.
After arriving at Shanghai we got a taxi downtown to our Airbnb. I picked a 2 bedroom “Plus” apartment with a super host for $140 a night, just a block away from a metro station and within walking distance of many restaurants. Our host was awesome. She provided us with detailed instructions in English (and accompanying photos) for how to find, and access the apartment. This kind of thoughtfulness really had me thinking about the way we treat foreign speaking tourists in Australia and America. (Hint: we suck)
The street looked pretty rundown, but the apartment building had a security attendant and there was literally no place in China where we ever felt unsafe. There are good reasons for this but I won’t get into politics.
The interior of our Airbnb looked vastly different compared to its exterior. It was impeccably decorated with Dali prints and art pieces (a nice little throwback to our last trip to Spain). It also had the best air conditioning we experienced in China (aka it actually worked).
Geneviette was a huge fan. I tried to book places where she could have her own space and a real bed (not an uncomfortable sofa bed). At this Airbnb she had her own room, a Queen sized bed, and a pretty spectacular view of Shanghai from her window. Plus the decor was just very inviting and comfortable. Personally it was a relief not to deal with checking into a hotel in a foreign language. We were able to gain access through a lockbox and I was able to communicate with my host via WeChat.
We arrived in the late afternoon so we decided to go out for dinner. Addam forgot something in the apartment, and while G and I waited outside we saw a couple of tiny kittens running across the street. One little white and ginger kitty with a messed up eye ended up in the driveway to the apartment when one car, whose driver clearly couldn’t see the kitten, drove in. G and I both were horrified. We could have sworn we heard something being squished. Our faces were. The driver saw our faces and froze. His passenger looked out her window. And right then Addam walked down the driveway. The driver couldn’t see anything and looked like he was about to keep going when Addam indicated for him to stop. Then he rushed over and reached down. From where G and I were standing we couldn’t see what he was doing. I didn’t want to look, surely he wouldn’t pick up a squished kitty, but if it was alive why wasn’t it meowing anymore? Then finally we saw he had pulled up a perfectly fine kitten. It started to squeak again as Addam brought it over to a garden bed, away from the street. Poor little thing looked to be just days old. I included a picture of him/her waddling its little butt down the street.
We started to walk to the restaurant and laughed about how Addam is an international protector of animals. When we were in Ireland he saved a lamb from certain death after we found it stuck between a fence and a water trough. So silly.
As we walked through the streets of Shanghai we couldn’t help but compare it to Beijing. In Shanghai government guards are not posted every few feet, the buildings are modern, lights and color fill the city skyline, and the people are fashionably dressed. Women particularly dressed more conservatively in Beijing, whereas in Shanghai they wore shorter skirts, dresses and generally more fashionable clothing. I really enjoyed Beijing, but the political weight of the capital casts a shadow over the city. Shanghai felt like the cities we are used to, and honestly even puts New York to shame. Later that night we walked through a shopping district with every major high end brand you can think of: Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Versace, even a Givenchy! I felt extremely underdressed and if I ever go back to Shanghai I’ll be packing my finest dresses.
As we got closer to the restaurant we ended up beside a group of Americans who were going in the same direction. We hadn’t heard Americans for a few days and their accents cut through the air like a knife. They were a large group so we let them go ahead, and found ourselves suddenly in a little European alleyway. It was very jarring.
We kept walking and all the sudden the alley led to a big piazza bustling with hundreds of people, sitting in modern, terrace restaurants finely decorated in the Western European style. It took our brains a little while to catch up. It honestly felt like we had taken some wormhole portal through to Europe. We were delighted.
The restaurant we picked is called The Refinery, and serves Italian and American food. We’d been eating Chinese food since we had arrived and thought it would be a nice break. The whole experience was lovely. They had fans going, the piazza was shady, and very inviting. As the sun set street lamp lights lit up the restaurants and the path through the piazza.
We were instantly in love with Shanghai and we had barely explored it yet.