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Trip Report China Trip - 2 Cities + Lakes, Rivers, and Rice Terraces!

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On our list of places to visit, China was definitely in the bottom third. We love Europe and have traveled there almost every year. Non-western trips include India and Sri Lanka with a glorious week in Hong Kong when it was still under British control. But when friends from London announced that they would be living in Shanghai for a year, a trip to China suddenly became our top priority. Several months of reading and planning lead us to decide to do part of the trip on our own - our airport cities of Shanghai and Beijing- and the middle part would be private tours and transfers to Suzhou, Hangzhou, Longsheng Rice Terraces, Guilin, and Yangshuo. We arranged the private tour package through a friend we had met on the Rick Steve's travel boards. Ron helped us select China Advocates as our China travel agency and we were more than pleased with the plan they put together. Further reading (including many posts here), meant we were ready for hard beds, pushy crowds, and a more Westernized feel. Traveling in late June would also promise bad air quality and/or monsoon weather. Combined with a general indifference for Chinese food we thought our expectations were low enough to be realistic. We were ready for everything except for what really happened - we fell in love with China.

Flight to Shanghai-
Our son recently moved to Seattle so when I saw that Delta was beginning a new non-stop from Sea-Tac to Pudong Airport, I jumped on tickets for the first day on the schedule. 3 days of glorious weather and Washington wine tasting helped bring us a few hours closer to Shanghai time and an easy flight deposited us into a VERY hot, very smoggy city. Our friends picked us up so we didn't get to ride the maglev train but we welcomed the a/c in the car. After dropping bags at their apartment in the Pudong area we took the subway to the office building where our friend works and had a great meal at a branch of Din Tai Fun, the well known Taiwanese dumpling restaurant. It was a perfect introduction to "real" Chinese food and we started to think maybe we wouldn't fare so badly eating-wise after all!

Shanghai-
With our friends off to work, we were on our own to explore the city. The day started off hot and got hotter and wetter. We walked around People's Park but quickly sought refuge in the Shanghai Urban Planning museum. We are real estate developers so maybe this held our interest more than the average visitor, but we loved reading about the history of the city's development and seeing the large scale model of Shanghai. With the heat still very oppressive, we decided to continue our indoor touring with the Shanghai Musuem nearby. This was a highlight for us-the beautifully arranged collection of paintings, jade, sculptures and ethnic costumes took us 2 hours to see and we still missed a great deal. With the heat and lingering effects of travel upon us, we started back home walking along the Bund and then took the "tourist ride" under the river. The psychedelic light show was hilarious though we're still not sure we got the point of it! Dinner was at M on the Bund-an incredible Mediterranean/European restaurant with a rooftop bar that gave us great views of the neon skyline of Pudong.

Shanghai -French Concession
The next day was cooler and more overcast with better overall air quality-actually felt pretty good-so we decided to visit the French concession area. We walked through Xintiandi, the newly redone shopping area, and went into the Museum at the site of the first meeting of the communist party of china. We saw gardens, the Bird and Insect market, and had our first bargaining experience buying "silk" scarves and a Mao statue (can't believe my husband carried this around for the next 10 days!). We liked the more Chinese feel of the streets and just enjoyed walking and looking at everything. Dinner was at a restaurant that served Szechuan cuisine with our friends and some of his colleagues. It also featured a "Changing Faces" show (look for this on YouTube-we thought it was amazing!). In general we found Shanghai to be an exciting, vibrant mix of old and new. Lots of young people, lots of "foreigners", lots of English signage, great subway system. All in all an easy way to be introduced to China.

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