Shanghai Here we Come - Part 1

This is the first of my journals written about my experiences in Shanghai during my trip in June, 2012. I have covered the airport, hotel, and dining experiences. There are more journals to follow so keep your eyes peeled.


Hope next time is better

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Praskipark on July 16, 2012

Hope Star restaurants seem to dominate Terminal 1 in Pudong International Airport having three restaurants on the top floor above the departure area. There are other small restaurants but these mainly serve fast Chinese food. It was around 11am when we decided to look for something to eat having spent the night in one of the airport hotels for the night. This particular hotel called itself a motel. I am never really sure what the difference between a hotel and a motel is but never mind on with the story. Motel 168 didn’t serve breakfast so this is why we were mooching around in the airport looking for food. At this time I didn’t fancy a bowl of Chinese food or a burger. I wanted a sandwich or something with bread. Hope Star came to my rescue.

Hope Star are a Chinese franchise of sophisticated looking restaurants with a central semi-circular bar, cream leather chairs spread throughout with lacquered wooden tables. The floor is carpeted in a shade of brown, palm trees have been planted very nicely in large Chinese pots; ones with dragons painted on the front. I noticed lots of sweet scented lilies and the slate grey thick vases they came forth from. I also liked the stone water features which were minimalist in design. The gentle sound of water trickling is very calming in a restaurant.

There was a large number of staff walking around cleaning up debris from the tables. It wasn’t long before one young girl caught our eye and came straight over with a menu. This particular waitress was dressed very smartly with her long black hair tied in a plaited bun on top of her head; she had a very nice manner and seemed to enjoy her job.

The menu consisted of a selection of teas, coffees, cakes, soups, sandwiches including ham and cheese which I love when I am starving, Chinese dishes and desserts like blueberry cheesecake.

I thought the prices for beverages were about right for an airport. Coffees ranged from 39CNY (£4) to 45CNY (£4.50) for a 330ml cup. Teas are of the leaf variety and are more expensive. Yellow Label Tea costs 68CNY (£6.80) for a pot. I ordered a Cappuccino which was served in a pretty blue and gold cup. The milk was creamy rather than frothy; the coffee was very strong and piping hot underneath the cream. The waitress also brought me a glass of water. This happens a lot in Chinese hotels and restaurants. Water is available freely and there always seems to be a jug on every table. My husband stuck with the water as he doesn’t like to drink a lot of hot beverages. We both chose a cheese and ham sandwich. The order took about 10 minutes. From writing it down on a slip of paper the waitress gave it to a young man and off he went down the concourse outside the restaurant. The food is prepared in another part of the airport and delivered by trolley. I was excited when I saw our sandwiches; 4 triangular double decker sandwiches with a covering of corn chips on the top. The wholemeal bread was toasted on the outside and inside was a layer of lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise, cheese and ham. The layers were skewered together with cocktail sticks that had coloured endings of blue, red and orange. We both really enjoyed these sandwiches costing 31CNY which is the equivalent of £3. Very good value, I think.

Having had good service once we went back to the same establishment later on in the day for a proper meal. This time the waitress was a bit frostier but efficient. She took our orders speedily. We ordered 2 Chinese beers which were served immediately. The taste was fine but they were weak having an alcohol content of 4% only. We both liked the look of the set meal consisting of a soup, snack and main dish. The soup was meant to be a chicken soup only my husband didn’t find any pieces of chicken and I only had a couple of small pieces that looked like pieces of neck. My husband said his looked like greasy dishwater and left it.

For our main dishes we chose one beef with vegetables and rice and one beef curry. I had eaten noodles most of the week in Shanghai and fancied a change so opted for a rice dish plus I wanted to practice my chop stick technique. The main dishes took about 10 minutes to arrive and when placed on the table looked substantial although I did think the beef and sauce looked like it had come out of a tin. Having tasted the meat I was sure my first instinct was correct. The beef chunks were definitely from a tin with fatty bits included. The beef and vegetable dish consisted of 2 pieces of red pepper, I piece of yellow pepper and two triangular slices of cucumber. Rice was and sticky and presented from a mould. I liked the taste of the rice, it was scented and spicy. My husband’s beef curry was extremely hot but tasted more of curry powder than any other spice. He also thought that the meat was tinned and too fatty. He left quite a few pieces. The food wasn’t revolting; it just wasn’t what we were expecting. It filled a gap. At the end of the meal my husband marked his meal 5/10 and I gave my dish 6/10.

I think the Hope Star restaurant is very attractive and the service is good. The sandwiches we had in the morning were enjoyable and very filling. However, the set meal was a bit of a disaster, I forgot to mention the snack; a couple of cubes of ginger and two pieces of carrot, both of these were stale and had seen better days.

Although the last meal wasn't too good I am prepared to give Hope Star another chance next time I visit Pudong Airport. I liked the atmosphere of the restaurant, the décor and the waiting staff were very good.
Hope Star Restaurant
Pudong International Airport
Shanghai, China

Tea for four in Old Shanghai

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on July 20, 2012

On our last day in Shanghai in June of this year our hosts, Mr Wang and Viva Du offered to take us to the airport but before doing so they wanted to take us to a traditional Chinese Teahouse. There are many teahouses in Shanghai but this particular one situated in the Old Town on Middle Fangbang Road is ancient and considered to be one of the best.

The building the teahouse is situated in looks slightly run down from the exterior and there was work being carried out on the front façade so we had to be careful when stepping over the huge stone step to reach the lift to take us all to the second floor of the building. I expected the tea house to be crowded and was surprised at how few people were sat drinking tea and eating.

I could hear Chinese singing voices and the melodious sounds of traditional Chinese instruments being played. Escorted into the heart of the teahouse by the head waiter we were then given a table in front of a small stage where a lady and gentleman dressed in traditional clothing were performing a Chinese Opera. Sadly, we came into the teahouse at the end of the show so only caught a few seconds of this entertainment.

The atmosphere in the ancient building was one of peace and tranquility. Tinkling sounds of water droplets falling into rivulets behind our table was a wonderful sound. Looking behind me I saw carp and other fish swimming gently amongst orange and white lilies.

The décor was heavy with dark blue walls and heavy carved wooden furniture featuring Chinese vases and other ornaments. Items from the 1930s were hidden in corners; old typewriters, sewing machines and old fans. I loved the stone lions that guarded the entrance; a sign of Good Luck.

We were given a tea menu written in Chinese with the English equivalent underneath. Choosing a tea was a difficult task as the selection was so extensive. I had tried Jasmine tea in the hotel and enjoyed it so decided to try it again. My husband was going to have black tea but because he had been suffering from a cold and sore throat over the last few days Diva VU advised him to try chrysanthemum tea. She said this would help as black tea makes you perspire too much. He took her advice.

The food buffet was situated in another room near to the entrance. A selection of hot and cold dishes were on display; sweet and sour pork, chicken neck and wings, fried zucchini, shitake mushrooms, egg fried rice, noodles. There was plenty of fresh fruit to choose from like melon, grapes, papaya, figs, apple, banana and apricots. The etiquette is to take one large plate for hot food and smaller wooden bowls for fruit.

Different teas are served in glass mugs and an extra jug/flask of hot water is placed on the table for re-fills. These are fresh leaf teas and the taste is very strong. My husband’s chrysanthemum tea was very attractive to look at with white and orange flower heads floating around in the clear hot water.

The food was absolutely delicious. I chose sweet and sour pork with a side portion of fried zucchini, noodles and fried rice. My fruit selection consisted of apricots, grapes and sliced melon.

After we had finished eating we talked for a long time and then had the last glass of tea. We raised our glasses with a toast for a bright and prosperous year. Time passed so quickly and soon it was time to leave for Pudong International Airport. I enjoyed our visit to the Old Shanghai Teahouse and wished we had found it during our stay before the last day. We will definitely visit again in September on our return to the city.

You can find The Old Shanghai Teahouse at 385, Middle Fangbang Road. Metro stop, YuYuan Garden
Old Shanghai Teahouse
385, Middle Fangbang Road
Shanghai, China

An animated and sophisticated restaurant in Shanghai

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on August 7, 2012

On our recent stay at the Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel we chose to eat in the Yu Garden Cafe rather than any of the other three restaurants in the hotel. It seemed that this was the most popular place to dine in mainly because of its large size and the wonderful views outside of South He Nan Road.

The Yu Garden Café is on lobby level, open from 6am until midnight daily; a pretty funky place and one I fell in love with from the first time we sat down for lunch on the first day of our trip. It has a real 80s feel to it with orange and yellow plastic cylindrical lights decorating the central aisle where food is displayed. There is an L shaped fruit section where you will find bananas, kiwi fruit, water melon and freshly squeezed juices. Another section displays cheeses, hams and also a sushi section. Both of these sections are very lively with chefs stood inside the areas squeezing fresh fruits to make up smoothies and juices. I was fascinated one morning watching a young chef cut up slices of cheese. He used an enormous knife to cut the smallest of slithers.

Cross over to the other side of the restaurant and you come to the main cooking area, a very attractive area with a green backdrop where shelves of jars containing spices and herbs are displayed. Three or four chefs are always doing something whether it is making noodles, preparing curries or cooking scintillating dishes like shrimp a la Shanghai, sweet and sour Mandarin fish, black bean chicken etc. Here, there is an aisle with high tables and stools with wacky lights hanging above shaped like corn husks, kitsch but effective.

You can choose from the buffet selection or à la carte menu but I think the buffet is better value and obviously you can mix hot and cold dishes and eat as much as you wish. I did try a couple of meals from the à la carte, they were okay but the portions were small and sometimes the vegetables weren't cooked enough. If you choose the buffet selection in the evening a prepared drink is included in the price; a liqueur with coconut milk served in a coconut shell. One evening we sat down to eat the buffet and fancied a bottle of wine. It was a bit of a drama as the young waiter on duty wasn't sure if we were allowed to have a bottle of wine because we were meant to have the coconut drink. In the end the head waiter said it was okay but they looked a bit baffled. I would say that most of the Chinese people I met during my stay didn't drink a lot of alcohol and certainly not wine.

This is the same room used for breakfast and generally a buffet is displayed from 6am and replenished up until 2pm in the afternoon. Breakfast choices were very good, there was a section serving croissants, different breads, cakes, cereals and shrimp patties. These were gorgeous, the pastry was soft and really did melt in your mouth and at the same time you got a kick of shrimp. I had to have one of these every morning. There is a cooked breakfast section for international guests. Here you can choose eggs, bacon, hash browns, mushrooms, baked beans. All the ingredients used in a typically English fry up. I didn't try the cooked breakfast as I didn't like the look of the bacon; it was dried up and glistened with oil. Freshly brewed coffee was available every morning, sometimes one of the waiters would come to the table, fill your cup up or leave the percolator on the table with a jug of hot water. I always had to ask for real milk which was served in a small white jug. Sometimes my husband had a pot of tea. This was elegantly served from a small white porcelain pot on a tray with a dainty cup and saucer and a jug of hot water.

We both loved the Yu Garden Café. There was always a gentle atmosphere with a touch of sophistication. The food preparation areas were animated with chefs preparing Chinese dishes in an artistic way. Waiters and waitresses were friendly, smiley and extremely helpful. There was a great choice of food and although I would say the standard of cuisine was only mediocre the meals were beautifully presented and served with panache.
Yu Garden Cafe at Renaissance Shanghai
South He Nan Road
Shanghai, China

Renaissance Yu Garden Hotel - I love you

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Praskipark on August 7, 2012

This attractive 4 star hotel belongs to the Marriot chain of hotels, located on South He Nan Road in the Huangpu district of Shanghai. The location is excellent near to the Yu Yuan Metro stop and within walking distance of the Old Town and Yu Yuan Gardens & Bazaar. The Bund and water front is only about 30 minutes away; one of the top attractions of Shanghai.

Arrival at the hotel was a blessing. We were exhausted and overheated; all we could think about was having a shower. Our hosts for the week went and checked us in which was a nice gesture.The reception desk is based in the lounge, a long desk attended by 4 or 5 efficient Chinese staff. Passports had to be handed over and checked and my husband was then called over to sign a form displaying all our details and the reason for coming to China.

We both liked the look of the hotel immediately. It's rated as a 4**** and think this is a true rating. Our assigned room was on the 18th floor which is reached by a black and chrome lift.

The design of the room was contemporary mixed with a touch of Chinese retro Art Deco. I particularly liked the lacquered cupboard which the flat screen TV stood on with its glass and chrome windows. What was a bit off putting was the large transparent glass panel between the bathroom and sleeping area. Luckily, we could close the venetian blinds. Whilst I am all for walking around skimpily dressed in such humidity I am not sure I wish my husband to view me seated on the loo at 7am. Once the blinds were closed I felt much more relaxed.

We had a very large double bed with a medium to hard mattress and six pillows in total; three giant sized, displayed upright on the cream padded leather backdrop followed by three smaller in the front. The first evening we threw four out on to the jazzy turquoise carpet although half way through the night I did reach out for an extra pillow so I could make myself comfortable. We set the air conditioning on low to cool the room down but the blowing noise got on our nerves so in the end we left it at room temperature.

As my husband had to do some written preparation for his conferences he was grateful for the use of a desk with telephone, reading lamp and super fast internet connection. He was pleased with the cream leather chair too. My writing area was opposite his desk, a blue velvet chaise longue with two colourful cushions and a small marble table facing the window. The view from the window was spectacular; I could see the Bund Centre, Westin Hotel and other amazing skyscrapers. This was my cosy corner and I was very happy lying here with my notebook perched on my knee writing up my adventures of the day. I loved the view of the futuristic buildings especially about 4pm when the sun eventually peeped through the grey clouds leaving amber shadows on the tower tops.

The bathroom was very smart and a good size. There was a large standing bath with a mat so you didn't slip and bang your head, an enclosed shower unit with two shower heads, one the size of a sunflower and the other a normal size. The taps were contemporary and very shiny; they looked brand new as did all the fittings. In the shower there was one central device which turned both shower heads on. You pressed the device forward for the large head and backward for the small head.

Underneath the square wash basin was a bamboo coloured unit with two drawers, one contained a hair-dryer placed in a velvet bag and in the other was a selection of toiletries. Two large, very soft, white towels, two medium and two small were rolled up and placed in the middle section of the unit. Good job there was a leather bound tissue box with tissues in as my husband had a stinker of a cold during our stay. There was also two chunky glasses with two medium sized bottles of mineral water. Also, nice to see a spare toilet roll just in case of any upset tummies.

If you are the kind of person who likes a cup of tea or coffee as soon as you wake up then you will be pleased to know that there was a two door cupboard at the back of the desk which had two drawers containing tea, coffee, jasmine tea, sugar, brown sugar and powdered cream. A funky kettle, coffee percolator, ice bucket, glasses and cups are also tucked away in the cupboard as well as a bottle of Berringer red wine from the Napa Valley in California. The price of this will knock you back 150CNY (£15). A litre bottle of Evian mineral water costs 80CNY (£8.50) which is expensive. It is much cheaper to buy a bottle from a local shop. We did look in the fridge but weren't tempted as the prices of beer were too expensive at 35CNY (£3.50) for a piddling can of local beer. I found a shop that charged only 5RCNY (50p) so I used to smuggle a few cans in every night.

The dining room or main restaurant is called the Yu Garden Café and is on lobby level, open from 6am until midnight daily. The lobby/lounge area is the place to sit and have a pre-dinner drink; a luxurious lounge with a bar and some very abstract ornamental features. There is also a wonderful view of the back of the Yu Garden bazaar with its Ming style architecture. At night when all the curly roofs are lit up it is pretty outstanding and a view I'll remember for a long time to come.

You can choose from the buffet menu or À la carte menu. My preference was for the buffet as there was more choice and just seemed better value for money.

Breakfast is also served in the same room

There are three other restaurants in the hotel; Yu Sushi, Yu Bar and China Bistro. We didn't try any of these out as we were both happy and relaxed while dining at the Yu Garden Café.

The waiting staff were very nice, courteous, very good at organising guests so they find the correct seats within minutes of entering the restaurant. We were treated well at this hotel and it seemed nothing was too much trouble. Most of the staff could speak a little English but only phrases they had learnt. As soon as you entered into conversation they looked baffled. However, they all tried very hard and I could see they were pleased to communicate and wanted to speak English so much.

Every night and sometimes in the morning at breakfast the manager of the hotel would walk around the restaurant and have a little chat with guests. He was a lovely man who was originally from Hong Kong. He always looked interested in what people had to say, he wasn't just making conversation because it was his job.

The Renaissance Yu Garden Hotel has top facilities like other international hotels; a business centre, fitness centre including swimming pool, 24 hour room service, navigator, club lounge, shoeshine, laundry services and even a pillow menu where you can choose your own favourite kind of pillow.

There are designated smoking areas within the hotel, if a guest is found smoking in an area where it isn't allowed there are charges applied to the equivalent of one night's stay.

In theory check out time is noon. We didn't have to leave for our flight until 4pm so we asked if we could leave the luggage somewhere and collect it just before leaving for the airport. Luckily, we were told that we didn't have to vacate the room and we could stay as long as we liked before our departure.

The hotel was booked by our business colleagues in Shanghai; they took care of all costs. We could have had full board if we wanted to. My husband did sometimes have lunch especially on the days he was running the conferences. I generally only had breakfast and evening meal with a couple of beers beforehand and we shared a bottle of wine with our evening meal. My husband asked his colleague the price of the room including all the extras. He said that it worked out about 110 pounds per night for both of us.I think that's an amazing price and extremely good value.

Summary

I loved this hotel, the location, restaurant, the room itself, and all the staff. I have never stayed anywhere where I have felt so relaxed and cared for. The views from the room and lounge are out of this world. I can't wait to go back in October.
Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel
159 South He Nan Road
Huangpu District, Shanghai, 200010
86-21-23218888

A touch of futurism in Pudong

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Praskipark on July 5, 2012

Having never travelled before to Shanghai I didn’t really have an image of Pudong International Airport in my head and no idea what the facilities were like. Taking into account the size of Shanghai and the land space I had an inkling that the airport would be on a grand scale and modern. Indeed it was grand and very futuristic. The roof alone is very impressive; it looks like a giant blue metal pin cushion with white steel pins coming forth from the top holding the large expanse together.

On arrival I was very pleased that the temperature was 28 degrees centigrade but I hadn't really prepared myself for the humidity level. Warsaw is very humid in the summer but Shanghai is a different story. Pudong airport officials were slick and professional when it came to processing 450 passengers from Amsterdam and by the time we had passed through immigration and picked up our bags I was soaked with perspiration. Not the best way to greet two business colleagues who had invited us to their city and were going to be our hosts for the next few days. I very nearly missed Mr Wang and Diva Vu because I was too busy helping an Indian lady and gentleman with their toddler. The man was struggling to wheel the wayward pram with one hand while the other hand was steering the largest and lumpiest suitcase I have ever seen. Poor child wasn't sure where she was going to end up and my pram steering wasn't the safest turning corners at a rapid speed nearly throwing the child out of her safety belt and pram.

The airport is quite away from downtown Shanghai, at least 30 kilometres east of the city. The grey China Sea is right behind the airport and on a misty day the sea blends in with the steel covered terminals and on the day we were there the boats seemed to drift away into oblivion.

Pudong has two terminals and is very easy to navigate. If you are dropped off at the wrong terminal by accident you will have a long way to walk to the correct one. Departures are on the top level and arrivals on the bottom level. Drivers dropping passengers off have to follow in an orderly fashion and be quick about exchanging farewells as police are stood in a line moving people on. So don’t hesitate while removing your luggage from the boot of the car. There are parking lots located at Lot 1 F1 Exit.

If you are familiar with other forms of transport and want to travel by public transport there are several options; shuttle buses connect to both terminals as do long distance buses. A new funky way of travelling is on the Maglev train but this doesn’t actually take you straight into the centre of Pudong only to Longyang Road Metro Station. I didn’t travel on the Maglev but would have liked to. I hear it is basic inside, travels very quickly but smooth only bumpy on turns. Another cheap form of travel is taxi. Shanghai taxis are available all hours. Prices vary due to time of day and how many kilometres you travel. I am told Shanghai drivers are friendly and won’t rip you off so that’s good to hear. On this trip we were driven everywhere so we didn’t have to worry too much about getting to and from the airport. Next time I will make sure we travel on public transport just for the experience.

Our experience of the airport was connected more with our departure than arrival as on arrival we were soon whisked off to the delights of Shanghai and our hotel so we didn’t spend much time in this area.

Lifts will take you to check-in areas, these are easy to operate and very spacious. Terminal 1 has International Check-in marked with the letters E-L. Domestic check-in is marked A-D. You find Terminal 1 on 3F Departure Level. There are 9 Ladies and Gents toilet points situated along the International and domestic concourse. I know as I counted every one. The sign for toilet depicts a figure of a man with a line separating the figure of a female. I am pleased to inform you that all toilet facilities are spotlessly clean, with low level sinks, plenty of white toilet tissue, automatic taps and hand towels from a machine on the wall that automatically perforates. There are disabled toilets and facilities for Mother and Baby. I had a peep in one of the Mother and Baby rooms and was surprised at how jolly the room was all decorated in pink with pictures of Hello Kitty dotted on the wall. My Granddaughter would have loved to have seen this.

Escalators are in use as well as some travelators for some parts of the concourse. Information desks can be found by looking for a sign with a question mark. You will find that most airport staff can speak English so don’t think you have to quickly brush up on your Chinese.

In each check-in section there is the opportunity to check in online by using a machine. You can only do this 3 hours before flying. Usually for international flights there is a separate customer care desk outside so if there are any problems you can deal with them here. Seats are available for each area and there are priority seats for disabled, elderly and children. We sat in the appropriate check out area for a long time seeing that we had another long wait due to a mistake I made when booking the flight. That’s another story for another time. I can vouch for the relaxation quality of the chairs although I didn’t lie down on them. There are spacious aisles so I was able to stretch my legs out. I enjoyed my time in this area as there was always something going on whether it be police officers whizzing around on bikes or walking around with sniffer dogs or a group of twenty employees from Spring Airlines marching into a circle to take part in a morning’s training course. They didn’t practice any Tai chi but they did sing at the end of the course.

Like in any airport there is a vast selection of shops and restaurants selling mainly Chinese goods. Not a great selection of restaurants and all serving Chinese food. You could buy a sandwich and ice cream with an International touch but mostly food was strictly Chinese. On one of my walkabout trips I noticed several Chinese people holding giant size pots of noodles. I was intrigued by this, I assumed they were eating the food dry until I saw a machine dispersing sterilised drinking water and then it clicked; this is where they filled their pots up with warm water.

A couple of times we moved to different boarding gates; the first gate we sat and waited at was very peaceful except the smell of aviation fuel was too powerful for me and made me feel nauseous. I was pleased we moved to Gate 17 where there was a TV lounge and an area with 4 computers and internet connections. I was amazed that this area wasn’t packed out as the Internet was free. This area also had some very stylish shops selling hand made goods from south China, designer shoes and handbags. I am glad I bought those designer chop sticks as I have got the hang of using them now and can’t wait to tuck into my bowl of rice every day.

Gate numbers seemed to change frequently and I couldn’t find any information boards in the departure area so you really have to listen to the sing song announcements which are spoken in Chinese with a delay and then English. The Chinese language is very soothing at an airport and it can sometimes send you to sleep so try not to nod off or you will miss your flight.

Two large international airports in the space of 6 days. Which one do I prefer? I think I like Pudong more than Schiphol as it is so spacious, easy to relax in, not as many announcements and not as many shops and activities which means you can save some money. I loved the minimalist design especially in Terminal 2 where you can walk for miles and the only decoration is a row of single monuments representing different races of people. The roof is wonderfully wacky too.

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