Biking in Shanghai - more enjoyable than you might think...Jim's Deals of Day
SHANGHAI – The orange colour kinda stood out. And the fact that the seat was maybe 14 inches off the ground. But I had a chance to take a bike ride through the French Concession district of this city of 20 million people on Friday, and it was a ton of fun.
Bikes are still hugely important in Shanghai. It’s not uncommon to see a mass of 60 or 80 bicycles and motorbikes pulled up at an intersection downtown, waiting for the light to turn green so they can venture out and avoid getting smacked by drivers who think “I guess I can turn here, the light was green for me eight or 10 seconds ago.”
Sounds a little scary but it actually was quite tame. You just have to take your time and look ahead – carefully – to make sure you’re not limiting your options and that you don’t swerve out into traffic at the wrong time. The good news is there are so many bikes here that drivers are constantly reminded of cyclists. It’s not like Toronto, where commuters on bikes are a bit of an afterthought.
The French Concession is a great spot for it as there are hundreds of beautiful, old buildings from the 1920s and 1930s; solid mansions that have been turned into glorious restaurants, shops and museums. The building on the left is now a Teppanyaki restaurant with a beautiful garden that's popular for weddings.
It’s a wonderful part of town. I had a chance to visit the former home of Soong Ching Ling, the wife of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the “forerunner of China’s democratic revolution," and to have lunch at the Shanghai Old Station Restaurant, a former beauty in the Xujiahui region.
Soong’s house is a perfect treasure of Chinese political history, complete with some of her old records and a silver tray given her by former U.S. President Richard Nixon. There also are photos of her in the house with Chairman Mao, so it’s pretty cool. The Old Station serves some great Shanghai cuisine, including bamboo shoots on bok choy, braised fish, jellied pork, crunchy vegetable spring rolls and perfectly crispy fried duck.
THE BEAT GOES ON
This place is nuts. Friday night (it’s now Saturday morning here) I was out on the Bund checking out the new Peninsula Hotel and one of the nearby bars (just for future reference). It was around 7 p.m., and I couldn’t help but notice there were dozens of workers on the street laying out sections of pipe.
It’s now 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning and I’m typing away on my laptop, high on the 63rd floor of the Grand Hyatt in the Pudong district, and I can distinctly hear the clanging of construction equipment down below. New York is the city that never sleeps? I don’t think so.
They’ve gone construction mad in this town. Pudong was nothing but rice paddies and a few scattered homes 20 years ago. Now, it’s a dizzying display of skyscrapers; offices and hotel and condo towers that rise 500 meters or more in a huge cluster of “I’ll show you whose is bigger” machismo.
I can look out (well, not today because of the fog but yesterday) and see four or five massive towers in various stages of development. And that’s just Pudong. Over on the Bund the Fairmont Peace Hotel is about finished. The Peninsula just opened a few months ago. And there are dozens of new roads, transit lines, airport terminals and train lines opening up in a mad rush to get ready for Expo 2010’s arrival in less than 50 days.
The Grand Hyatt is a great spot, with the lobby on the 54th floor and nearly a dozen bars and restaurants, most with incredible views of the city. Had Italian food at Cucina on Friday, including a terrific Spaghetti di Frutti di Mare. The hotel atrium rises about 40 stories, I think, and it's quite something.
JIM'S DEALS OF THE DAY
US$79 - Hotel in Walt Disney World Resort, w/breakfast & Disney Days Bonus
$325 - Toronto to Havana, Cuba, 1 week spring getaway ($535 w/tax)
$14.99 per day - Weekend Special Car Rental Rate with Enterprise