Just before booking our flights from Geneva to Taipei, we found a flight connection for the same price with a stopover in Shanghai. Thankfully, there is a new rule that allows a visa-free transit in Shanghai (and a few other Chinese cities) for 144 hours/6 days. Of course, we had to take this opportunity and make a quick stop in the city that we called home for two years to see friends and literally revisit the past! When we were about to board the plane, the air hostess got really nervous as she wasn’t sure if the 144 hours transfer rule was still applicable and called several colleagues, before they would let us board the plane. When we got to Pudong Airport’s immigration, however, the staff was easy-going, just glanced at our flight ticket departing Shanghai, and that was it. Phew!
It has been a year since we left Shanghai for Yokohama and from the moment we landed at Pudong Airport, we just felt pure excitement! I logged onto the airport wifi with my WeChat account, opened Alipay and paid for water at the supermarket – check! Having just come from (probably) the biggest cash societies in Japan and Germany, it felt great being able to use my phone for every payment. The taxi system at the airport is really efficient and we were able to get a taxi without waiting.
We stayed in a beautiful European style (although with a lot of Chinese touch) hotel in the Former French Concession, which had been our favourite area while living in Shanghai. Just dropped our bags and we were immediately greeted by one of my friends who took us out to Shanghainese breakfast: noodles with lots of different toppings. She kept telling us that we look really fresh, but after no sleep on the 10-hour flight, we were ready for a nap. When we left the hotel again, we went out in the tropical evening heat that gave us that relaxing holiday feeling. First stop: Costa Coffee on Anfu Lu! As we don’t have this coffee chain in Japan, we really missed it for their high-quality coffee and this location in particular brought back memories, as it’s only a 5-minute walk from our old neighbourhood. Funny enough, we bumped into two old colleagues there! Walking down these beautiful tree-lined streets in the French Concession, we stopped in a few boutique shops on our way to one of our favourite restaurants in Shanghai – Sichuan Citizen – where we were about to meet our Chinese teacher for dinner. Throughout the past year, we continued our Mandarin lessons with her via FaceTime and it was a great feeling to finally see her in person again. It was a great atmosphere in the restaurant, however, the food was a bit better in our memories!
On our second day in Shanghai, we revisited my favourite bookshop – Garden Books – which I like for its extensive selection of English books. Alas, having just come from Germany, where the books are half the price, I wasn’t willing to splash out and buy all the books I liked (they have a great section on books written in/about Shanghai and China) and we just sat down to have one of their delicious coffees while enjoying the calm atmosphere. Shanghai is such a vibrant and kind of crazy city with all its scooters and street vendors, but the French Concession manages to calm everything down and provides a quiet neighbourhood surrounded by the craziness. There are certain life skills that you learn when first moving to Shanghai, that thankfully I hadn’t forgotten, for example: how to cross the street without being run over by a scooter!
One of my friends insisted to go to Dim Sum Garden for lunch, a restaurant we hadn’t been to before, and it was just incredible! My friend also insisted on ordering A LOT (the waitress stopped her at some point and asked us to remove at least one or two items from our order) and we had black buns with a sweet golden filling, shrimp dim sum, pork pancakes and lots of other delicious things. 非常好吃!!
A foot massage, manicure and pedicure later, we met another friend for dinner at an Qimin Organic Hotpot restaurant (you see where this is going, right? We love to eat out in Shanghai!). This is a great hotpot place if you crave healthy food and my friend ordered lots of high-quality meet to put into our pots (at this restaurant everyone has their own pot, and you can choose the broth type) and even treated us to dinner! The last time I saw her on my last working day, I was really sad to say goodbye, but this time we parted with a feeling that we will see each other again very soon.
On our last day in Shanghai, we met two of my former colleagues at a restaurant called Xibo for lunch, that serves Xinxiang cuisine (another place in China high on our travel list). After an extensive meal, and again way too much food, we took a taxi to Jing’An to have a coffee and walk-around and later realised: that was the only time we had left the French Concession during these three days! The hours flew by with jetlag-napping, taking photos at every street corner and suddenly it was already late evening and we found ourselves back at our favourite beer place called Daga Brewpub. Ah, their beer selection is just incredible and we enjoyed many milk stouts together with another friend, revisiting past stories of when we lived in Shanghai and sharing future plans.
Overall, it was a successful and exciting trip to Shanghai and we really cherished every moment of it, meeting with friends, dining at our favourite restaurants and most importantly, walking around our favourite streets in the French Concession. It is really a different feeling when you visit somewhere and you don’t live and work there, as you can see it in a different light. For now, my heart is full of old and new Shanghai memories and I know that we’ll be back soon.
If you are reading this and considering a 1-6 day transfer in Shanghai, I would say go for it! It was very easy and nothing to worry about on the lack of visa front. In fact, the customs queue is much shorter for transfers! Although we were mainly meeting friends and eating out in the French Concession, you could equally hit all the big tourist sites such as the Bund and Yuyuan Gardens with a few days to spare. It helps to know where the good spots are in Shanghai though, so don’t be afraid to ask us for recommendations! Also, don’t be too put off by the summer weather and thunder clouds every day on Apple’s weather app. There are usually a few brief afternoon downpours and it can be cloudy (and will definitely be hot and humid) in the summer, but it was actually quite pleasant with some nice sunny spells. Also, Shanghai has excellent air con everywhere, unlike in Europe! We were very sad to leave Shanghai, but I am sure we will be back!
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