We took off on Sunday afternoon from Terminal 5 at Heathrow (yes it’s not in use yet). There was a problem with getting their plane to a Terminal 3 gate so they bussed us out, via some ellaborate air-side road tunnels under the airport, to where they were holding some Virgin Atlantic planes. As you will see from the photo the holding area itself is within the grounds of the brand new Terminal 5 comples.
After a fairly pleasant 10.5 hr flight, we landed at Pudong International Airport on the outskirts of Shanghai. The first thing that strikes you about Pudong airport (other than the fact that it has 28 runways) is how modern and efficient it is.
Upon disembarking the airplane and arriving into the main terminal building, we had to walk through a narrow gap which had a number of heat-sensitive cameras trained upon it. Men in white coats were carefully studying the monitors to check for any passengers who had a fever or high temperature. I believe that’s an anti-SARS measure.
Actually “getting into China” was much easier than I thought. Despite having to fill in a number of arrival forms on the plane (customs declaration, health/quarantine form and a general arrival/departure form) these were all readily accepted by officials with a cheery smile rather than the suspicious looks and a lines of questioning that I had been expecting. Already I was realising that it was time to drop my unwarranted stereotypical assumptions of China.
Both friends and our guidebook had suggested that the best way to leave the airport is by MagLev train, and so that’s just want we did. At 431kph (269mph) it’s the fastest train in the world, and takes just 10 minutes to cover the 20 miles to the outskirts of the city (the alternative being a 45minutes journey by road).
Without wanting to be too crude, the MagLev train was fecking awesome. The ultra-modern, spacious, bright carriage in “ordinary class” would have been a welcoming environment to spend several hours in on a long-distant journey (I didn’t even see what first class was like). In addition to this, smartly uniformed female train assistants (with handsfree earpieces in their ears to-boot) walk up and down the train to ensure you are comfortable during the journey. It almost seems a waste considering how relatively short the journey time is from airport to Longyang Road station.
Our hotel, The Magnificent Plaza Hotel, is located in the Nanshi (“Southern City”) district of Shanghai. This the last remaining quarter of the “Old Chinese City” that Shanghai once was before the development boom.
Most other hotels seem to be located in the Bund part of town (in fact our guidebook, which was published in 2003, claims that’s where all of the hotels can be found although I think that must be wrong, even for then). However we quite like our off-the-beaten-track location. From our corner hotel room we can see North through to East, taking in the complete central Shanghai skyline.
Despite being located in the Old City, the hotel is one of a number of new buildings that have been put up in recent years. Around us is what’s left of the traditional wood, red brick and bamboo homes of the Shanghainese. The new trend is to raze these areas in preparation for the building of more skyscrapers and also green spaces. The poor residents who once lived there are relocated to the suburbs, which seems a little sad.
In the evening we took a little stroll up to the Huaihai Road (Shanghai’s equivalent to Oxford Street). The shear number of skyscrapers and shopping malls is absolutely mind-blowing, particularly when you consider most of them are barely a few years old. Clearly the ever richer Shanghaiese need as many places to spend their money as possible.
The Huaihai Road seems to cater for every pocket, with domestic chains of discount clothing stores located adjacent to upmarket boutiques such as Givinchi, Hugo Boss and Bally. East meets west is also reflected in the choice of eateries, with multi-level malls comprising of just traditional Chinese restaurants competing for business against massive McDonalds, KFC’s and Pizza Huts.
Even Starbucks makes an appearance – which sadly required a visit due to the effects of jet lag that were beginning to occur! Yes, I’m sorry, the first place we visited having arrived in Shanghai was a Starbucks. I do realise that that’s no better than the equally vulgar (and often mocked by myself) behaviour of visiting a McDonalds upon immediately arriving somewhere new. But the need for caffeine just got the better of me!
Tomorrow is our first full day in Shanghai, and I’m hoping we might either visit either the famous Yu Garden bazaars in the Old City or possibly the Bund area which is the promenade of 19th and early 20th century buildings that look out over the River Huangpu that mianders through the city. I’ll let you know tomorrow.
(PS: Don’t forget I’m dumping shed loads of photos onto Flickr)