Day 6- From Ancient water town to modern sky scraper- Shanghai highlights

Day 6- Exploring Shanghair from ancient water towns to modern skyscrapers: We wanted to see all we could in a day of what the Shanghai area had to offer. 

The train from Huangshan dropped us off just short of 8AM at the Shanghai station.
*Note there are a few “shanghai” stations as well as airports so it’s important to know which one exactly you will be arriving at. 
 First matter of business was dropping our big packs off at a luggage storage so we wouldn’t have to lug them around all day. We took a random exit from the train station and found one right at the exit. (I think there are multiple) It was about $4/bag/day so we sorted out what we’d need for the next 2 days and said sayonara to our bags. 
Next order of business: Mcdonalds for Breakfast. We went to a very cool underground Mcdonalds… you could say we felt very “hip” going here. Fed and happy we were ready to start exploring. 
So now onto the fun stuff: Zhujiajiao Water Town! Don’t pay $200 for a private tour here, it was super easy to get to! (as easy as any metro goes that is) Unfortunately we were heading out during Shanghai’s morning rush hour, so it took us over 30 minutes to buy our tickets from the kiosks. * TIP: Pay attention down there to the top of the machine and whether you can pay with bills or need coins! 
Tickets in hand, it was easy to follow the metro map, we only had 2 train transfers to worry about, but it still took around 90 minutes of travel to get to the Zhujiajiao station. Then it was another 10-15 minute walk using Google Maps as guidance to the start of the town. 
*The cat statues pictured above signified our turn down to water town. The train station had signs to put you on the major street walking down, but then the signs were all gone and we had to rely on google. 
Beautiful waterway right by the train station 
Crossing the giant bridge into the water town 
About Zhujiajiao
Zhujiajiao is a water town on the outskirts of Shanghai, and was established about 1,700 years ago.  There are numerous water pathways (no roads!) and thus many stone bridges: 36 in fact! Each one more beautiful than the next. While we visited for the bridges, other points of interest include:
North Street: the best preserved ancient street with buildings that date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)
Kezhi Yuan Garden: garden dating back to 1912
Qing Dynasty Post Office: exhibits include old post cards of Shanghai and letters written on bamboo
Fangsheng Bridge: The main bridge coming into the town. It was built in 1812 and is said to be the largest stone arch bridge in Shanghai with five arches, about 230 feet (70 m) long, and 19 feet (5.8 m) tall. 
While maybe not having a ton of other stuff to do activity wise, this little town is one peaceful village. We picked up some beautiful art for souvenirs, had a few drinks/ snacks as we meandered, and watched the little boats go up and down the canals. (We didn’t ourselves take a boat tour this time… it was just too hot, but if interested here’s some info:
Boat Trips/Gondola Rides:
 Each gondola can hold 6 people. There are two kinds of trip – short distance and long distance.
The short distance trip only takes passengers up and down the main canal
price is about 80 yuan/per boat for about 10 minutes.
The Long distance trip goes all over the town and back
Price is 150 yuan/per boat.
Tickets can be bought in the small wooden ticket booths by the docks

Views along the walkway. Some of the bridges are only 1 meter or  under 3,5 feet wide!
If you are interested in visiting the gardens, post office, temples, or other historical buildings there is a small fee. The town/ bridges/ etc are free to enjoy visually but if you want to go in any of the historical buildings, visit the tourist info center for combo tickets. 
Here’s a map of the “attractions” for reference 
Highlights for me: Bridges and Willow Trees 

Roof of the Buddhist Temple. 
Time to head back to Shanghai
A carving we came across at one of the entrance points to the water town 
Waterways you pass walking to and from the train station. The area is pretty scenic all around! 
We headed back to the train/metro station which was a 10 minute walk back, and a short wait and then we were headed back to the city. We got off at the Dongchang Road Station and started exploring the skyscaper financial district. 
. There are 2 buildings you can go to the top of in Shanghai that are popular: the older Shanghai Pearl TV station tower, and the newer Shanghai World Financial Center. The latter was cheaper so that’s the one we chose. We bought our tickets and walked through a short exhibit for the building itself, and the massive growth of Shanghai over the last couple of years. 
Display at the start of World Financial Building tour
Then you hop in the elevator and ride (very quickly) to the 94th floor. Here they have a couple more exhibitist that are part of a different ticket, and you take the escalator up to floor 97. You can peep out the windows here, but the view is much better from the 2nd elevator ride up to the 100th floor so you may as well hold tight.
The building was also currently hosting a Studio Ghibli exhibit and so there were references to the movies in a few places along the normal “100th floor” visit. The exhibits were separate and fairly expensive so we held off on visiting figuring one day, we will visit the main exhibits in Japan/ 
Lots of people at the “very top”
It was crowded and hard to get any decent photos with me in them, but it was cool to look out  at the sprawling expanse of buildings that make up Shanghai. (though I could’ve done without the smog which lowered the visibility somewhat) 
You can see the other popular building, the Pearl TV tower in the background
After gawking at the view for a little while, we made the journey back down and found a pizza place in the restaurant/mall portion of the building for a lunch/dinner
More Studio Ghibli exhibit references on the escalator 
After eating our fill, we headed out to continue our trek through the financial district to the river where our next stop was: The Bund. We walked to the Lujiazui station to ride one stop to the East Nanjing Road station. Since the Huangpu river is so wide, there aren’t any bridges in downtown! And so the only way to cross the river is via metro in a tunnel! 
Amazing buildings we passed on our walk to the station 
From the East Nanjing station it was a short 5-10 minute walk through shopping areas to the Bund photo area. 
Made it!
From here we got to admire the buildings we’d just come from (and visited the top of!) which was very cool. We’d considered doing a night cruise on the Huangpu river (which is generally considered a MUST DO) but we had a decent trek out of the city for our hotel that night so we called it a day around 6:30 and headed on our way… 

Lots of people and other cool buildings at the Bund 
Panorama  
Heading back to the station
Unfortunately we were headed to our hotel… in the MIDDLE OF RUSH HOUR. 
Never before have I stood so close to other humans, or narrowly avoided being guillotined by subway doors. We had 2 connections we had to make and at both of them we had to wait for 2 trains before we could squeeze our way on. That being said, it did finally start to empty out after we cleared the main city center. We even ran into an end station for one line where everyone got off but us and we sat there like confused idiots when the train returned to the station we had been at prior. *facepalm BUT the next time we realized in order to continue on our line we had to GET OFF the train and cross the platform. Oh boy. Other than that, painless to take the metro all the way out to Disneyland Shanghai. 
Once there, we walked out into the dark and after a little walking we found a lot of cars lined up that were essentially like uber taxi drivers. Our hotel was only 3 km for Disney but we didn’t want to chance walking in the dark so we paid a couple bucks to have a drive take us. Our hotel was sort of a converted house into a B&B and when we got there, no lights were on and there were several buildings to choose from. Our taxi driver looked at us like we were crazy when we got out… and we thought we were too. (seeing as there was literally a dude bathing outside at one of the buildings, and dogs barking at us everywhere)
Eventually after e-mailing and calling the property (about 10 minutes) the hotel owners came out to guide us in. And everything was peachy from there! We settled into our little room and prepped for our next Disney adventure exhausted but satisfied with everything we saw in one day. 
Day 6 costs:
Breakfast $6.63
Luggage check for the day $8.74
Metro to water town $2.33
Water town souvenirs/ drinks $30.61
Metro back to city $2.33
Top of the Shanghai Financial Center $46.64
Lunch/Dinner $26.23
Metro to Bund $0.85
Mcdonalds treats $3.65
Metro to Disney $1.45
Taxi to hotel $4.35
Hotel: Hua’s Cottage $45
Day 6 Total: $178.81 for 2 people

The Beijing to Mount Huangshan Adventure

*Disclaimer, this post was written to set an example of how CHALLENGING it can be to travel in China with only English and google translate. Read if you feel like being amused, but mostly the take away is if you’re trying to visit Tangkou/ Mount Huangshan- take a damn taxi.
*Also skip to the bottom for the hotel we stayed at in Tangkou. It rocked.
Day 3, ahh the most stressful day of them all. We were up and at Mcdonalds again for breakfast round 2. This time we avoided the sandwich all together and ordered the “big breakfast” which was basically the makings of a sandwich but with scrambled eggs and a hash brown. No ketch up in site and a little more food although it cost more than twice what the previous day had cost. We stopped at a store for some snacks and then checked out of our hotel and headed for the metro. Getting to the train station was relatively painless but once there… we were a bit lost.
We wandered to 3 different corners of it looking at the giant screens for our train number. The easiest way to think of it is like an airport and you have to look for your gate. Once you find your waiting room/”gate” you wait until about 30 minutes before departure when you “check in” and queue to go out to the platform. Once we managed to find our actual room and go through security, it was pretty easy and locating our seats was a cinch as well. We were at the front of a cabin which was nice for leg room, but bad as we hardly had any window.
First High Speed train ride!!!

The train ride took 5.5 hours with a few stops but overall the train traveled at 300 km/hour or 187 mph. I mostly read my book, played with my camera, and people watched to pass the time. Once we arrived at our destination, HuangshanBei (north) we got off like normal and started looking for the bus to the scenic area Tangkou (which is the town right before entering the park’s gate) There were NO signs at all in English besides a “welcome to Huangshan” and tourist information sign. We found what looked like the bus area and translated signs that appeared to say “scenic area” but went to the information center to verify. Well they spoke no English either and just sort of pointed in that direction when we asked for Tangkou. So we went back out there and boarded the first bus that pulled up. I asked the driver “Tangkou?” but he was distracted and I don’t think he understood what I was really asking but he nodded so we paid him and found our seats.
Selfie on the mysterious bus not sure where we were going….
WELL I should’ve been suspicious when the fare was only 2 rmb/ person but as we watched our progress on google maps it became apparent after 30 minutes and turning the wrong direction onto the main highway that we were headed into Huangshan town instead of North to the scenic area. We waited until we were close to the main train station in town (thinking there would be buses from there), to get off with a short 10 minute walk from the stop we got off at. Well, it was SO hot and while it wasn’t a long walk, by the time we got to the train station I had already sweat buckets. The station was fairly deserted with no buses but had a sign in English at least that said “to Scenic area”. After no buses came for a while we walked into the station to ask about it where a little old woman told us (in chinese) repeatedly “tomorrow” (as we LATER found out) and lead us to her backwater hotel behind the station. I had a feeling that she was trying to talk us into staying the night there but hadn’t realized yet that she had meant there would be NO BUSES until tomorrow! Once we used a translator and found that out we wandered back out front of the train station and hope started to disappear, replaced by pure frustration. HOW WERE WE SUPPOSED TO GET TO OUR HOTEL? At this point we wanted to take a taxi but had no idea how to call for one (their uber is DIDI and is only in Chinese)
Thankfully a taxi driver stopped to drop people off at the station and we asked if he could take us which he could! Hurrah and he had a wonderfully air-conditioned car to take us there in. Driving to Tangkou took just around an hour and it was much cooler and rainier up at the town. We tipped our driver 20 RMB on top of the 200 fare because really.. he saved the day and after only an extra 1.5 hours of being lost in Huangshan and another 1 hour taxi ride, we made it to our destination!
Check in was a breeze and our hotel for the night was really lovely. We both took quick showers and changed before heading down to look for food. The restaurant looked pretty good so we decided to just eat there and boy we were glad we did. This was hands down the best meal of our entire trip. Braden got a sweet & sour pork and I ordered a more regional beef stew as well as a sort of appetizer bread that comes with a stuffing. Our meal started with a traditional green tea (we didn’t order it, they just bring it to you first before you order any drinks or food) And then it all pretty much came at once. Braden’s pork was fantastic! Perfect taste, texture, everything. And my stew was right about there as well! We also finally started to make a little progress with our chop sticks so that wasn’t as painful. Overall, we ate until we were completely stuffed and then headed out. I stopped at reception as the front desk girl said she would give us some tips for the mountain.
WELL she straight up pulled out a tourist map, circled the hotel I said we’d be staying at, and then proceeded to walk me through a complete 2 day itinerary complete with 2 colored markers for day 1 vs day 2, prices and hours for the cable cars, expected hiking times, and points of interest. Her English was very good and while I had done a LOT of research before-hand I learned from her that one of the trails I had planned to do down was actually closed part way! So it was definitely helpful and we used that map non-stop.
Then we headed out to walk around the town a little which was cute with neon lights everywhere and lots of shops. We bought some snickers and souvenirs in one of the stores and then headed back to our room for the night.
NEON everywhere! This was across the street from our hotel where we bought some food and souvenirs.
Sign in front of our hotel that is where the CORRECT bus drops you off and where you connect to the scenic shuttle bus service.
This map is important as it shows all the stops the scenic bus will take on the way back.. Should’ve pulled this up on our way back as we totally got off at the like 2nd stop. *face palm* More on that later…
In our room it was the most comfortable of the trip, super clean, and while we didn’t have a bath tub (just a shower) they did provide a foot soaking tub complete with a green tea foot soak that was wonderful after the walking and traveling we’d done.
So all in all, what was a pretty stressful travel day ended in our favorite hotel of the trip and by far the most delicious meal we had. Read the next post for our epic Huangshan hiking days!
Day 3 costs:
Breakfast $7.29
Store $5.83
Metro to train station $1.17
High Speed train (2nd class seats): $181
Taxi $32
Dinner $23.32
Store (souvenirs) $12.39
Hotel: Cheng Jin Hotel $33
Day 3 Total: $296

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Visiting Meteora

Greece Day 3: One of my most highly anticipated days of the trip!!!! METEORA

Not even kidding guys, I have been wanting to experience Meteora FOREVER. It’a short and steep climb ( on a bus! hehe) from the town to the first monastery St. Stephens which is.. by far the most accessible as there are NO STAIRS to reach this one, only a narrow foot bridge.

 There are monasteries everywhere you look, perched here and there, some of which I have NO idea how you get to
 St. Stephen’s monastery from the road. 

The inside of the monastery was soo peaceful and undisturbed as we were one of the first groups to get there in the morning. If you can picture any sacred place and invoke that feeling in your mind, you will understand how we felt exploring these beautiful monasteries.
For reference, the monasteries, as most churches in Greece, are Greek Orthodox and are still in operation today by diligent nuns AND monks.

To add to that, I’d also like to point out that St. Stephen’s is a Convent so it is run by nun’s. This is important as the monasteries only would not allow us females in on tours! So…. we visited the Meteora convents I should say. As they are first and foremost churches (not tourist traps) it is required to dress modestly with longer skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. (Women HAD to wear skirts, pants were not permitted however they did have wrap skirts you could borrow at each monastery)

Looking down on Kalambaka from St. Stephens. We are PRETTY sure this is the one monastery we could see from the town/ our hotel room! 
There were so many peaceful gardens within the monastery complex. 

We started our tour in a church which ABSOLUTELY took my breath away. If you have ever been in an Orthodox church then you know what I mean. Floor to ceiling gold and colorful paintings of the icons and the most ornate furniture and wood screen to hide the altar I’ve ever seen. I think the part that also blew me away was how devoted the monks must have been to build something so beautiful and devoted to God in such a challenging landscape.

It was also an incredible experience to witness the devotion STILL of people today as they moved around what I’m positive is our annoying tour groups, and worshiped within the small churches. It is to be noted that Meteora is a place people will consider pilgrimages they need to go to.

The entrance with the very narrow bridge to enter St. Stephen’s. 

 Brief history of St. Stephen’s Monastery: The foundation dates back to the 12th century, approx 1191 however the church within St. Stephen’s is recorded as being rebuilt in 1545 when many of the other buildings were added such as rooms for the monks. The monastery was also very heavily hit and damaged during WWII and the following civil war within Greece so a majority of what we saw/ pictured was recently done in the 20th century and in 1961 it was re-dedicated as a convent. While the grounds are not huge, the walls contain 2 chapels (only 1 of which we were allowed to visit) and enough room for 28 nuns to live within.
Operating hours (if you wish to go on your own) are daily from 9:30-1:30, 3:30-5:30 and closed on Mondays. I do recommend going with an organized tour however, especially if you are not familiar with Greek Orthodox as it was an amazing experience to learn about not just the history of the places, but the beliefs and reasons for the way they decorate the interior of their churches.

Another view of the monastery from the road. 
Other stunning monasteries from the road. (we unfortunately only visited 2) 
It will take a lot of stairs to reach that one I’m guessing! 

Taken from the bus. We were about to visit one of these 🙂 
Not only are the monasteries amazing, but the rock formations themselves are out of this world! 

The entrance to the 2nd monastery convent that we visited: The Holy Monastery of Varlaam. This one… had steps to get up to it but I will say it wasn’t too bad and if you look at the picture below.. the view while you climbed up was amazing and it was a lot more fun (to me) to feel I was making a climb for something so special.

The view of another monastery as you climb up to Varlaam

The beautiful courtyard at the top of the stairs and main entrance. You can see the road cutting along the cliffs across the way (how we got up there). I think there was a period of time when we could see as many as 4 or 5 monasteries at a time in the distance.

As we were not permitted photos within any of the buildings, this is the only photo I could get with artwork (as it is only the covered entrance to the church, we weren’t inside a building yet. AND YES I still asked permission before taking this photo) 

History of Varlaam: In 1350 a daring ascetic named Varlaam ascended to the rock. The monastery was named after him. He built three churches, a small cell and a water tank. After his death the rock remained abandoned for about 200 years. In 1517/1518 the two founders of the church, began to construct additional buildings. They renovated the little church of the Three Hierarchs and they erected the tower (more on this structure later). They also built in 1541/1542 the central church of the monastery dedicated to All Saints (which is the one guests are permitted to visit). The transportation of the materials lasted 22 years and the building only 20 days. 


“Since 1350, the ascent to the monastery was made by wooden ladders, each of which had about 25 rungs. The ladders were hanging from the rock with the help of pegs on the north side of the church and a gap was created between them. The monks often had to jump from one ladder to another risking even their own lives. This difficulty was due to the peculiarity and the morphology of the rocks. There were about 4 or 5 ladders consisting of 95 rungs at maximum. “

With the addition of the tower that was built, the monks and materials were hoisted by hand in a rope net using a pulley system. It was not until the 1920s when the stairs which we use today were carved into the rock to allow for easier access.

Although this is the 2nd largest monastery, only 7 monks currently reside and run the day to day functions. Again, women are required to wear long skirts with shoulders covered. Men are also required (in all monasteries) to wear long pants. No shorts permitted.

Buildings within the monastery to note: the old refectory( which is now a wonderful museum and not to be missed), the tower where you can see the old pulley system, behind the church is a room storing one of the MASSIVE barrels that they used to collect rain water, and the chapel of Three Hierarchs which “is a small aisle-less church with very beautiful frescoes and it was built in 1627.”


 The tower with the pulley. To the right of this building is where the ladders for the monks would’ve been
A beautiful spot behind the church

I also forgot to mention that in both monasteries there are “modern” restrooms available. (for women with our long skirts be aware these are of the “squatty potty” variety where there is no toilet but merely a flushing hole in the ground)
Hours for Varlaam Monastery are daily from 9AM to 4 PM and it is closed on Friday.

Between the 2 I enjoyed Varlaam more as the experience to get in was much more exciting, the museum is a lot larger and has a lot more information contained, the church itself has frescoes from the 1600s that have NOT been retouched at all so that is really cool. (St. Stephen’s as mentioned before the chapel was rebuilt as WWII so while the frescoes are a lot more vivid in color, they are  A LOT less old), the views look out to other monasteries instead of down on Kalambaka, and I do feel as if there is more open to the public to explore. There was also a very friendly monk that would smile and speak to me in Greek everytime we passed by and eventually asked “Ameria?” to which I said yes and that the monastery was beautiful. All in all so welcoming and friendly!

The main courtyard. The central church we are permitted to visit is the tallest building on my right. 

Ok a little information on the area: It is still a bit of a mystery as to how the Meteora rocks were formed but the most recognized theory is that they were deposited by an ancient river which once the river was gone, erosion did the rest. This is theorized by the make up of the boulders (sedimentary rock) and that they found pebbles that dated back to the same age as the larger boulders. Either way these rocks are unlike anything in the world.

Looking up at Varlaam Monastery from our bus heading back down into Kalambaka. 
We finished up at the monasteries just before noon and headed into Kalambaka for lunch where we had an hour however they dropped us off and recommended the restaurant Meteora restaurant which is family run. You enter into the kitchen where there are 10-15 giants pots containing a variety of meats and sides for you to choose from. There is an adorable grandma who explains which each dish is and will dish what you select up for you. Most plates range from 8-12 euros depending on how much meat you want but for 1 meat dish and 2 sides it was 10 euros. Then at 1 we were back on the bus headed to Athens through very mountainous terrain so I recommend bringing some motion sickness pills. (I was pretty miserably sick for 2 hours until we had our first rest stop) There weren’t any interesting points of interest to stop at however from the bus our guide pointed out the small city of Thebes and the town/lake Marathon which is 26 miles outside of Athens (yes this is where marathon races are derived from). Also as you follow the coastal road down to Athens, there are many islands and one of which was pointed out is where they filmed the movie Mamma Mia. We were dropped off at the main bus stop Syntagma Square around 7:30 and grabbed some dinner with new friends we had made. (Shout out to these wonderful new Friends, Aaron and Dean if they ever read this blog!) I tried a meat and potato tart as well as a kabab pita sandwhich for dinner. Then we took the bus from Syntagma to the airport to catch our midnight flight to Santorini where we had a shuttle waiting to take us to our next hotel. More on that later though. 
Day 3 costs: 
1.5 liter Water bottle from a Kalambaka market: 70 cents 
Breakfast: was actually delicious and included in our hotel stay
Lunch: 10 euros at Meteora Restaurant
Dinner: 8 euros in Syntagma Square
Meteora Monasteries: Admission was included in our tour costs but if you go on your own most monasteries are under 5 euros each
Bus from Syntagma Square to airport: 6 euros
Flight with Ryanair from Athens to Santorini: $40
Transfer from Airport to hotel Villa Manos: 15 euors which we split between 3, making it 5 euros pp
1 night at Villa Manos: around 56 euros. (19 pp)
Total cost for day: 88.70
Now also I’d like to claim that I remembered all of these facts from our tour guide but that would be a lie, so I’d like to cite and thank the below websites for filling me in on the gaps in my memory. Feel free to visit these sites to learn more not just about the 2 I visited but the others in the area. 
https://www.kalampaka.com/en/
https://www.visitmeteora.travel/en/