Pastries & Mermaids in Copenhagen 🇩🇰

Returning to Copenhagen on the train from our trip across the Øresund, we dropped our bags off at the Cabinn City Hotel and eagerly headed out to explore this historic capital city.

Only staying for a couple of nights, it would just be enough time to get a taster of the place, so we had to prioritise what we wanted to see and eat and with city map in hand, we set off.

To get our bearings, we made our way to the City Hall Square or Rådhuspladsen a huge public square that was full of people making the most of the sunny weather, little craft stalls and food huts created a welcoming atmosphere. We did a quick loop of the square, passing the city hall building, the dragon fountain, and the Hans Christian Andersen statue, planning (but failing) to return later that weekend.

High on my list of things to see was the Little Mermaid statue at Langelinie Pier. Erected in 1913 the statue commemorates the fact that the Hans Christian Andersen story was not only written but also published here in Copenhagen in 1837 and is now a top tourist attraction. Made even more special for me as I reading it and more of Andersens fairy tales during my stay, as I often like to read a famous book or two from places I am travelling in.

Disclaimer – I look back now and realise just how much we missed on our whistle stop tour, but it was more about 2 friends reconnecting and having a quick city break, than a full on sightseeing weekend, but reviewing the photos 5 years later, I know I need to return to see more.

At the time, I had a colleague who had family living in Copenhagen, so before the trip she had given me a list of places to eat and drink, so in need of a good pastry, we made our way to one of the branches of The Coffee Collective.

A danish pastry and cup of mocha, Copenhagen, Denmark
Mocha and a Danish, Coffee Collective, Copenhagen

With a chain of shops all over Copenhagen, including one housed in an old telephone booth, the collective have won numerous awards including gold in the world barista championships and with the coffee freshly roasted on site, you would expect it to deliver, and it did. If I had brought a bigger travel bag, I would have been tempted to taken a jar back home, but instead we ordered our pastries and sat back to soak up the culture.

It was only a short walk from the coffee shop to Assistens Cemetery but probably not far enough to burn off the pastries unfortunately. So we explored the tree lined paths across the park, making time to pet any local dog I could find, before locating the graveyard. Famous for being the final resting place of many notable Danes, including Hans Christian Andersen, disappointingly though his grave had been defaced with graffiti.

There are three rectangular lakes in the city, so with the sun still shining and our feet holding up, we followed the locals and went for a afternoon stroll around the waters edge, crossing bridges, admiring the incredible buildings along the shoreline and dodging cyclists of which there were plenty.

That evening we lost ourselves in the magical wonder of one of the most visited amusement parks in the world, Tivoli Gardens. Built in the 1800’s parts of the park, (deceptively right in the heart of the city centre), have a vintage feel, the fountains, the flowers, the food stalls, the gardens. But don’t be fooled, there are some serious rides here too, like the Demon and the Golden Tower that shoots you 63 meters high up into the sky, before dropping you back down again.

Visiting at night time, we got to experience the more sedate parts of the park, especially with the gardens all light up, it was serene and quiet, until the loud roar of a rollercoaster nearby rudely brought you back to reality. We then spent far too much time deciding which stall to eat dinner and which stall to eat dessert, it was a tough job but we finally went for the family run Vaffelbageriet for a late night treat of sugary pastries and hot chocolate. Then to work off the sugar high, we explored the shopping area, from the Lego store, to the souvenir shops and trying not to fall in love with absolutely everything on display in the Danish lifestyle stores, I absolutely love all things Scandi when it comes to homewares and design and it felt like we were at ground zero. I made a mental note to increase the shopping budget for my return trip.

We started our 2nd morning as we meant to go on with more pastries, how could we not, being in the land of the multilayered, sweet breads known at least to outsiders as ‘the Danish’. We headed to another recommended bakery for our breakfast, the delicious and organic Emmerys.

We then spent an hour indulging our Nordic Noir obsession at the time, by visiting some of the sites featured in both The Killing and The Bridge, including the Police Headquarters only a short walk from our hotel. Many tour guides now offer bespoke Nordic Noir walking tours if you really want to get deep into the genre, but again we were short on time and our budget was tight. We had achieved our goal of travelling across ‘the bridge’, so a few photos of recognisable buildings and streets would have to do for this trip.

One place I did want to make time for was the unique, alternative community known as Freetown Christiania. Originally a former military barracks, when they moved out in 1971 local homeless moved into the vacant buildings and the families from the nearby neighbourhood transformed some of the land into a children’s play area. Within a few weeks, the entire space had been proclaimed a free town, appealing to people across many communities, including ‘hippies’, anarchists, artists and all people looking for a more communal and collective way of living.

50 years on, this place has now become one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. You can take guided tours, or a take a self guided walk, as we did, exploring the amazing and colourful self built dwellings, workspaces, craft shops, art galleries, concert halls, nightclubs and cafes. We cautiously walked along Pusher Street, the notorious area where cannabis is bought and sold, obeying the rules to not photograph a single thing, took a lovely sunlit nature walk around the lake, admired local art on display pretty much everywhere and finished up with lunch in a cafe.

It was late afternoon by the time we were leaving, passing by the spiral topped Church of Our Saviour, adding yet another thing I need to visit when I can make a return trip.

With a few gifts left to buy, we explored the fascinating and colourful area of Nørrebro which had piqued our interest the previous day when we visited the cemetery. As well as little independent stores and vintage shops, coffee houses and restaurants, there was some incredible street art too, there was a real vibrant feel to the place, too much to explore in the short time we had.

Our final stop had to be the world famous flagship Lego Store, not to buy anything particularly, but to marvel at the largest toy company in the world. Inside as well as boxes and boxes of every kind of lego block you could image, there were large scale replicas of pirates and cycling Danes, as well as reconstructions of local landmarks of the city all built from those little plastic infamous blocks, it felt like the perfect place to finish our sightseeing for the weekend.

Settling down for our final meal and a local beer, I tried to take in all that we had squeezed into our long weekend, covering two different cities, across two different countries. Short and sweet, increasing my fascination and appreciation for all things Scandi, while quietly hoping I would be lucky enough to return someday to explore some more.

COFFEE AND CAKE – the Coffee Collective we visited was the one on Jægersborggade, only a short walk from Assistens Cemetery. We loved Emmerys too, with a number of locations both in Copenhagen and Århus, they serve both breakfast and lunch, with an amazing selection of cakes and pastries.

EATS – If you are visiting Christiania, definitely plan to stay for lunch, there were some quirky indie places to eat and drink, we ate our lunch outside at Grønsagen and had their buffet lunch. We also combined our trip to Tivoli with our evening meal to save time, the Tivoli Food Hall is slightly separate to the actual gardens, so you can enter here for free to eat and drink, paying an entrance fee only if you then want to venture into the amusement park itself. Next time though I am saving up to try and get a spot at the world famous Noma.

TOP TIP – Plan for at least 3 nights, which we didn’t, ha! Writing up my travel journals on this blog is just a personal place for me to reflect on all my journeys to date, but this particular post has made me realise there was so much more I have to see, so hopefully there will be a Copenhagen part 2. Copenhagen is an expensive city though and although there are lots of cheap flight options, accommodation prices are often anything but. If you go when the weather is likely to be warm, there are loads of free things to do outside, all the parks, lakes, markets and if you are staying for a few days, and want to cram a lot in, its probably best to invest in a Copenhagen Card.

ALWAYS BE POLITE – Tak – ‘Thank you’, Hej – ‘Hello’, you can also use Hej Hej for ‘Goodbye’

Crossing The Bridge to Malmö 🇸🇪

It wasn’t my first trip to Sweden, I had actually been a couple of times previously, out in the countryside, close to the Norwegian border, when my parents used to visit a couple of times a year to hike and canoe. I was never as into outdoor pursuits as they were though, and I remember one cabin we stayed in, it was a 30 minute drive to the nearest town, my parents loved it, but for me it was too remote.

So I had always fancied returning and to somewhere a bit more lively and after a friend and I became obsessed with the Scandi-Noir TV show The Bridge, we booked a two centre long weekend, to visit Copenhagen and then travelling across ‘The Bridge’ to visit Malmö.

Although Malmö does have an airport, there are no flights from the UK, but luckily for us, there are many cheap flights from its neighbour over the water in Copenhagen. Once you land, you can catch the train from Terminal 3, and in 24 minutes costing only £11 you can arrive in Sweden’s 3rd largest city.

Of course there is the small matter of Øresund, the 73 mile body of water acting as the border between the two countries, but that’s no bother for the train, as it travels across on the the Øresund Bridge. As seen on the TV show and what prompted my interest in visiting this region, the bridge allows both car and train travel across the 7.5 miles from Copenhagen Airport to Malmö. But what I really loved and was excited about was that for the first 2.5 miles after leaving Copenhagen Airport, you travel underground through a tunnel. Once you pop up and into the daylight, you are on the manmade island of Lernacken in Sweden in the middle of the strait, with the final 5 miles spent travelling high up on the bridge itself, before returning to dry land in Malmö.

By the the time we arrived it was mid afternoon so we dropped our bags off at the hotel, and as it was warm and sunny we grabbed a local beer, people watched and took in our surroundings, happy to be back in Scandinavia.

We didn’t really have an agenda for our trip, if I had been travelling solo or with mum, we would have had a long list of everything we fancied seeing, all the local historic sites, traditional restaurants etc. But this was a semi-relaxing city break, with my friend who was coming out the other side from a painful divorce, having to renew her passport just to come along. So our plan was to chill, soak up the local culture, geek out on Scandi-Noir television and catch a few historic sights along the way.

We spent the remainder of our afternoon exploring Gamla Staden the ‘old town’ and wandering though the 3 main squares and along the canal. It was June, the weather was beautiful and everybody seemed keen to enjoy the outdoors and the warm temperature.

Along our travels we passed a proud statue of famed Swedish business man and founder of Malmö, Frans Suell. We spotted the The Knotted Gun a poignant non-violence statue which was erected after the murder of John Lennon and intrigued by the twisted skyscraper dominating the skyline, found ourselves curiously wandering around the base of the Turning Torso. All the while exploring local market stalls, gift shops and stopping for the obligatory coffee and cake along the way.

That evening, we found a lovely local restaurant with stodgy food and decent beer and got stuck in, finishing the night off with a walk through Lilla Torg, the historic small square for a nightcap.

The next day we started slowly by going for a swim and then sauna, although the home of sauna is of course its neighbour Finland, Sweden does still have a real appreciation for the practice. I had many happy memories of my previous trips to Sweden when we stayed in log cabins complete with saunas, it became a daily ritual, one that I still miss to this day.

Once cooled off and fully clothed again, we headed out and ended up window shopping in a large mall, the food court was pretty impressive and so we stopped for coffee and pastries, as hunger started to hit after our earlier swim.

By early afternoon the sun was out and it was glorious, we were to leave later that day, but still had time to take a walk along the waterfront and through some of the parks, including the Kungsparken and Slottstradgarden. All around the area was full of dog walkers, cyclists, families picnicking and children running around, it had a real friendly, welcoming feel. We passed beautiful fountains, a windmill, and saw Malmö Castle, which we didn’t have time to explore, but I know Sweden is a place I have to see more of, so I made a mental note to return in the future.

Taking one last look across the Strait, the Øresund Bridge glistening in the sunshine, I could see the cars and the train making their journeys between the two countries, that I had seen so many times on TV. Then it was our turn, we took a quick detour to collect our bags, then returned to Malmö Station ourselves, to board the train and cross the bridge back over to Denmark.

TOP TIP – If I’d had a bit more time I definitely would had visited Malmö Castle which is now a cultural heritage museum. I also would have popped into Absmaland for some sustainable home furnishings (I will have to bring a bigger bag next time) finishing off with a vegan lunch in the cafe.

EATS – We ate at Bullen which had a great specials board, including meatballs with lingonberries and an impressive beer list. Next time though, I’m heading to The Veganbar for a burger!

COFFEE AND CAKE – We enjoyed coffee and cake in the food hall at Triangeln shopping mall, although Café Holmgången is on my list if I return, its vegan and dog friendly, always a double win in my book.


ALWAYS BE POLITE – ‘Tack’- Thank You, Hallå – Hello.

Pandas, butter tea and ear scooping – my trip to Chengdu 🇨🇳

I don’t quite know where to start with this post, Chengdu was memorable for so many reasons, obviously seeing the panda’s for sure, but Chengdu really overdelivered on all fronts.

First of all, I really wanted to travel overland from Wuhan, but it was an 8 to 10 hour train journey, which is pretty much an entire days sightseeing, and with a flight taking only 2 hours and for not much more money, we went with the flight option. The internal flight itself was an experience, a shaun the sheep video, followed by the most terrifying government information film on drug smuggling, the inflight entertainment was varied, I’ll give it that.

We arrived at our hostel, Lazy Bones, early evening and had a wander in the local area, going straight in for some very spicy Sichuan food at a local restaurant and spent the remainder of the evening swapping tales with fellow backpackers at the hostel, the hostel was incredibly cheap, but super modern and one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in for price, friendliness and location.

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The next morning, we got up early for our pre-booked guided tour (booked via our hostel) of a place that has been on my bucket list for years, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. With no direct buses or trains to the research centre, your best bet besides booking a tour is to take a taxi, taking roughly 30 minutes.

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Starting in 1987 with just 6 giant pandas, the breeding and research centre just outside of Chengdu now has 83 panda’s living their best life, along with the ferocious little red pandas. It was just magical seeing the pandas in real life as we wandered down the bamboo lined paths, taking us to the nursery, research centre, cinema, the giant panda kitchen, the veterinary centre and of course the outside enclosures. So magical indeed that I threw up in a cluster of bamboo trees, I think it was a combination of overexcitement, far too many Sichuan chilis the night before and strong black coffee on the early morning drive over.

 

 

We got to watch the pandas play, eat, and sleep, all while learning about the incredible work that the researchers are doing to ensure that the conservation of these fascinating bears continues. Those with extra cash to splash can pay to meet the pandas in person, but for us, we managed a quick selfie with a giant panda and a quick photo with a curious red panda, curbing the urge to give it a tickle, as these small red bears are known to be a bit aggressive. What a privilege to spend the morning there, seeing these endangered but beautiful animals in their native China and meeting those who have dedicated their lives to their survival, it’s a trip I will never forget.

 

 

That evening, after a restful afternoon, settling my stomach and feeling much better, we booked tickets for the Sichuan Opera House through our helpful hostel, for a display of shadow puppetry, magical face-change theatre, as well as traditional singing and dancing. Oh, and unlimited cups of green tea, every single time we finished our cup, a waiter would instantly re-appear to fill our cup again, causing us to sip a bit slower to avoid a trip to the bathroom mid performance!

 

 

Next morning, revived with a bowl of porridge from the hostel, we caught a taxi 15 minutes through the manically busy traffic to the People’s Park, also known as Renmin Park. It’s a popular and busy park filled with both locals and tourists, and it showed an incredible insight into everyday Chinese life. Around every path was an open space filled with people taking dance classes, tai chi, aerobics, a karaoke session and we even spotted a man practicing his Samurai sword moves along a hidden path, and so began another day of memorable experiences.

 

 

But Renmin Park was just the gift that kept on giving, it is here where you can experience the ancient tradition of Tao er or Ear Scooping. Within seconds of sitting down at a table, a serious looking man came over with some serious looking instruments and before I had time to change my mind, I handed over my money and he set to work. It was not uncomfortable, he sort of twirled and scooped his way around the inside of my ear.  It was like someone was giving you a light tickle inside your skull, he also used a vibrating tuning fork (like I use on patients back home) which gave the most unusual, but again not uncomfortable feeling, the funniest thing though was watching my friends reaction as I sat there oblivious to what he was doing.  Then it was her turn, and I got to experience it from the other side, then with our newly cleaned ears we sat and drank our Jasmine Tea, watching other slightly cautious tourists and seasoned locals take their turn.

 

 

We exited the park east to explore around the huge Tianfu Square, the largest open square in the region, a giant statue of Chairman Mao presides from the sidelines, with skyscrapers, shopping malls and cafes stretching off in every direction. We shopped, ate dumplings, petted the cutest of dogs and even got a photo with yet another golden horse, as the final days of the Year of the Snake wound down until it was the horses turn again.

 

 

I had just about recovered from my spicy Sichuan dish from our first night, when it was time for the hostels weekly hot pot evening. We arrived in the dining room  to be greeted by a large sizzling pot in the middle of the table, surrounded by thinly sliced meat, vegetables and a whole array of dipping sauces. Unfortunately for pretty much all of us, including a traveller from northern China, it was just too spicy for us to enjoy. We all really tried our best to eat it, but it was blow your socks off, turns your tongue numb hot, luckily the accompanying beer was cool and refreshing and after admitting defeat, we all set off to buy yet more dumplings from a local street vendor up the road instead.

hotpot

On our final full morning in the Sichuan province, we got a taxi to a little piece of the Himalayas, or rather Little Lhasa. Chengdu is a popular starting place to travel onwards to Tibet, although it’s over 2000km’s away, it’s the closest Chinese city to the Lhasa, so many overland tours to the mountainous kingdom begin here. Little Lhasa or the Tibetan Quarter is mainly based along Jinli Pedestrian Street, and is full of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and little market stalls. With over 10,000 Tibetan’s living in the city, the area is a cultural hub, full of people walking in traditional dress and monks making their way to the temple, there is an obvious increase in police presence here too, a constant reminder of the many restrictions these people face on a daily basis.

 

 

 

Tibet is famous for many things, one of those things being Yak Butter Tea, so we headed up a steep set of stairs to a cosy little tea shop, full of kittens for some bizarre reason. We ordered a pot of this buttery, slightly salty hot tea, settled into the comfy couches, people watched and played with the kittens for probably a good hour, another one of those memorable moments from the trip.

 

It was an early evening of more dumplings for dinner, before my Welsh Mandarin speaking travel companion and I were to part ways for a few days. She had to return to Wuhan and I was travelling onward alone by train to Xi’an, until we were to reunite in Beijing for the new year celebrations. The adventures continued . . .

EATS – Hot Pot is the dish to try when in Sichuan, just maybe have a back up, if like me you couldn’t handle the chilli. Hot Pot restaurants are all over, our hostel provided us with our very own hot pot experience, but also had plenty of recommendations if you wanted to go it alone. I also picked up some dumplings at little road side stalls, always hot, always fresh and always delicious.

COFFEE AND CAKE – After not having too many sweet things so far on this trip, we found the Taiwanese chain 85 degrees at various spots around the city, selling both hot and iced coffees along with cute little cakes, it made the perfect pick me up.

TOP TIP – If you have time, a popular day trip is to the UNESCO Leshan Giant Buddha I really fancied it, but chose to spend my final day seeing more things inside Chengdu, but you always need a reason to go back right?

ALWAYS BE POLITEKāfēi – Coffee, Hǎo  – Ok. (there are many different ways to say Okay depending on the context, next time I visit, I am taking a translation app!)

 

Tea, dumplings & a marriage market. Adventures in Shanghai 🇨🇳

When my friend Polly messaged me to say she was moving to China to study for a year and would I like to visit, I started researching flights possibly before she even bought her own.

We planned to meet up during China’s New Year Spring Festival in 2014, when my friend would have 2 weeks off, along with the rest of the Chinese population. We arranged to meet in Shanghai, then travel by train and plane across a few cities, finishing up in Beijing for New Years Eve.

But first things first, I had to get a visa and luckily for me, I was living in Salford at the time, so it was a short tram ride to the Manchester Chinese Visa Service where after a nervous wait, clutching all my evidence, I was issued with my visa.

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I landed in Shanghai at a ridiculously early hour, after travelling via Dubai, and was greeted by my friend who had landed an hour earlier than me from Wuhan (yes that Wuhan) where she was living.

After dumping our bags at Shanghai Blue Mountain Hostel we headed straight to the waterfront, known as The Bund.

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The Bund is a one mile stretch of land alongside the Huangpu River, full of historical houses all in varying styles of architecture, showcasing just how important and influential Shanghai’s old waterfront used to be. You can spot Gothic, Renaissance, and Art Deco buildings all along here, with important trading houses and banks from all across the globe making the Bund their home. This established Shanghai as a major financial hub in Asia from as early as the 1860’s. Impressive buildings we spotted included the Customs house which has it’s own version of Big Ben, the HSBC building with its mosaic interior ceiling, and the red bricked Russian Consulate, although a lot of the buildings are now high end shops and hotels its still makes for a fascinating wander.

Although the majority of the old buildings are no longer being used for their original purpose, Shanghai is just as important as ever as a major business and financial hub. Directly across the river from the historical centre is an incredible feast of skyscrapers all jostling for position in the new financial district, particularly the Oriental Pearl Tower with its two colourful spheres and we knew we had to make a visit there later in the day.

Time for something more peaceful, we made our way over to the old town and to the beautiful Yu Gardens. Built in the Ming Dynasty in 1559, I really felt like I had been transported back in time, with the beautiful Huxinting Teahouse, sitting on stilts in the middle of the lake. We spent a good chunk of time, ignoring our impending jet lag to explore the gardens, with each turn and crossing of the little bridges taking us to new discoveries like the koi ponds, the Jade Rock, colourful pavilions and ceremonial halls.

The whole place had been decorated too for the New Year, full of vibrant red ribbons and lanterns, with the star of the show, a large golden horse in the centre of the courtyard, as this trip was back in 2014 and it was about to become the year of the horse!

Next door is the City of God Temple, which has been standing even longer than its neighbour the teahouse. Now a Taoist centre, it has been providing a place for peace and prayer since 1403.  It felt a welcoming place as we explored the grounds, breathing in the woody smell of burning incense and as we rang the prayer bells, it felt like there was no better way to start our Chinese adventure.

It’s pretty chaotic once you leave the confines of the temple and gardens, the immediate area is full of shops, stalls and markets, and the place was awash with even more bright red, as locals stocked up ahead of the new year celebrations just over a week away. We grabbed some incredibly sweet toffee covered strawberries squashed onto a long stick and headed back to our hostel for a rest.

The evening brought with it one of the main challenges we faced, as we travelled across the country independently –  food. Luckily my friend Polly spoke pretty good Mandarin and was able to decipher most menus, as some of the English translations didn’t really inspire much hope. When the first place we looked at for dinner served ‘deep fried smelly bean curd’, I thought I may struggle to adapt to the diet, but then we discovered fried dumplings and I was in heaven, in fact I ended up having some of my most favourite dishes ever on this trip, that I still rave about today.

That evening we jumped on metro line 2, over to Lujiazui and the new financial district, where we took the elevator a quarter of a mile up to the observation deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower. The views from up high were unreal as we rather unnervingly realised we were higher up than most of the surrounding skyscrapers, all of whom were lit up and glowing in the night sky. As well as a revolving restaurant, shopping centre and an indoor roller coaster (no thanks!), we got our adrenalin rush from standing on the transparent 1.5 metre glass walkway. The views down below made a little queasy if I’m honest, especially when Polly starting jumping up and down on the glass – eeek, after a while though, I plucked up the courage and managed to pose for a quick picture before returning to the slightly less scary wooden platform.

As we headed back down to the lower ground, I think the adrenalin rush faded and jet lag arrived with full force and it was back to the hostel to collapse in a heap and rest for the night.

The next morning we started off with a street food breakfast as we explored the famous Nanjing Road, a pedestrianised street, full of both designer shops and local traditional stores selling tea, jade, herbs and more. It was here that we almost got scammed by a seeming innocent young women, who stopped us in the street and after a brief introduction and announced she would love to take us to a local tea house. But Polly was wise to her within a few minutes, and unbeknownst to the women, had also been living in China for about 4 months at this point so was already well versed in popular tourist swindles. Like the true Brits we were, we kindly thanked the women for her invitation and intention to scam us out of our entire holiday budget and headed off in the opposite direction.

Walking south, we arrived at People’s Park, this huge park and popular tourist attraction has 8 gates, a tea house, a theatre, dance house and museum of contemporary art. There were locals playing chess on stone benches and yes just like in the movies, people practicing Tai Chi.

One thing I wasn’t expecting in the park was to stumble into a Marriage Market, I had quite clearly missed reading that chapter in my guidebook, but apparently it occurs every Saturday and has done since 2004. Standing around both parents and grandparents show off pictures and a brief written profile or biography of their single child in the hopes they get a match. Tinder it ain’t, and if I’m honest the whole thing felt weird and clinical, but it’s not my culture and so not for me to judge, it was just another one of those unique experiences that I will remember forever on this trip to the Middle Kingdom.

That second evening a bunch of us from the hostel headed off to a popular dim sum restaurant, and between maybe the 10 of us, managed to order a good portion of traditional dishes from the menu. With Shanghai’s location close to the East China Sea, seafood is commonly served with such delights as sliced eel and hairy crab to be found, but also chicken and pork meatballs heavily feature too. If like me you don’t eat meat or fish, you still had lots of choice with steamed noodle dishes, spring rolls, fried dumplings and soups all offering veggie options. I did try a little piece of the famous 100 year old egg dish, which is basically a black egg sat on a plate, though I had to quickly wash it down with a Tsingtao beer, never to be tried again.

Fully stuffed on dumplings and beer we headed off on what became one of the more surreal nights out I have ever had, in a nightclub in the middle of a Shanghai shopping mall. On a hot tip from the hostel reception, we arrived all dressed up (as much as you can do when you are living out of a backpack) and were treated like A list celebs (or foreigners with money) as we stepped out of the elevator and escorted to our own private booth for the night, with table service, free snacks and lots of champagne. Slightly worried it was another scam, we were relieved to learn that no, this was all legit, and we danced and drank and snacked on skewered fruit till the early hours.

After making arrangements to meet up with some of our fellow hostellers later in the trip in Beijing, we got ready to travel onward. But not before we found a back street food stall and devoured a breakfast bowl of noodles to help remedy our hangover from the night before. Then it was off to the massive Shanghai train station to continue our journey across this magnificent country, I couldn’t wait to experience more.

EATS – Eating at little stalls and tiny cafes is going to be the cheapest and most likely the tastiest option, but if your language skills are limited to 2 phrases like me, then ordering something specific could become a challenge. I was lucky travelling with my friend who was able to order on my behalf. That said, restaurants in the heart of Shanghai do cater to foreigners with menus featuring photos of the most popular dishes and often with English translations, which although rarely translate into something you would recognise, are incredibly funny. Our big meal out though was at the Dim Dim Sun Hong Kong Style Cafe with free wifi and a massive selection of delicious dumplings.

COFFEE AND CAKE – Although I usually try and avoid the obvious coffee chains both at home and abroad, there is no mistaking China’s most popular coffee shop, and that’s Starbucks. For the first day or two I got my caffeine fix at either a Starbucks or a Costa (of which there are also plenty) because they had a diary free option and I wanted to gently adapt to the diet. But I got braver as the trip continued and was drinking CoCo Milk Tea by day three when I discovered they had a diary free creamer in their milk tea and I was smitten!

TOP TIP – Don’t presume pedestrians have the right of way, even if the traffic lights are on red! I almost got run over at least twice during my trip, heart stopping stuff, when you cross the road, you take your life in your hands.

ALWAYS BE POLITE –  Xièxiè – ‘Thank You’ – I really struggled with the correct pronunciation of this word, so I’d recommend you listen to it on youtube or a translation app, I kept saying ‘shayshay’, but often just got a blank stare in return, which my friend thought was hilarious, at least I tried . .