Sunday, November 18, 2012

Adventures in China: Nanjing (Part 1)

Hello all and welcome back!

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the historical city of Nanjing, about two hours north of Shanghai.  Even though I was only there for two days, I have a lot to write about, so I've decided to make this a two-day/two-part post. Thus, I will commence with my Day 1 adventures...

Transportation and Trains...

Before my departure, I had one of my local co-workers assist me with booking my train ticket. In China, there is no online, guaranteed method of booking a train ticket (allegedly, there is an online system, but it's not user friendly); thus, one must buy a ticket either 3 days or 10 days in advance (depending on the rules of that journey).  I purchased a high-speed train ticket two days before my departure with no problems, and finally, my departure day arrived bright and early last Wednesday.
Free Bottles of Spring Water

Waiting for my train to be called

I managed to make it to the train station in one piece and once I arrived, I was in shock! The train station was nice and modern and easy to navigate. Much to my surprise, there were attendants issuing free bottles of water (Amtrak, please take notes). I was almost impressed by the cleanlliness until people started hacking and spitting on the floor and a small cockroach made a home not to far from me (I mean it is China after all), once the announcement was made for my train, I followed the crowed and managed to find my seat quite easily.  Just like the station, I was impressed with the trains which were sleek, clean and comfortable. I was going to arrive in Nanjing via one of the new bullet trains which go up to 330 Km/ hour (205 miles/hour).  Since their arrival several years ago, these trains have made traveling in China easier and comfortable (I can only imagine how train travel was before...but then again, I did do developing nation train travel while in Egypt and that was no fun). I was expected to reach Nanjing in only 90 minutes, so I pretty much read and looked out the window at the images that whizzed by me.  Before I knew it, I heard the telecom announce that the train had arrived at Nanjing Train Station...
Inside my train car

Nanjing: The First Day

Upon leaving the train, I followed the masses to the arrival gate and to the taxi stand.  Despite the long line, there were taxis arriving every few minutes and I arrived at my hotel with no problem (since my hotel was kind enough to send me the address in Chinese characters), and I met up with two friends who had arrived the day before.  I took a nap and refreshed myself before embarking on an exploration of the city.

Overall, I was surprised that Nanjing was very modern. I was not expecting the amount of people, restaurants and shops before my eyes. Nanjing will be hosting the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, so the city is building and modernizing itself at a very rapid pace (for example, they have recently started a subway transportation system with plans to build several lines by next year). There were tons of different western restaurant chains (McDonald's and KFC were on every block) and even a Super Wal-Mart. The girls and I made our first stop to "Ladies Fashion Avenue" a series of underground shops and stalls located in the central and trendy Xinjiekou area of Nanjing.

Ladies Fashion Avenue...gotta love Chinglish!

Streets of Nanjing

Xuanwu Lake at Sunse
I managed to bargain and score myself some goods and the girls and I got mini-manicures for just $3 USD! After two hours of shopping and beauty treatments, we decided to get lunch (which was delicious) and we took a walk to one of the local universities (one of the girls taught English there several years ago). After exploring some hella run down dorms (after the sight of those, I really cannot complain about my Freshman year living arrangements), we made our way to Xuanwu Lake and took a stroll around the area.  After our stroll, it was off to the Confucius Temple as well as, a bit more shopping (I managed to find some souvenirs and a scarf for myself at bargain prices). Getting to the temple was a bit of an adventure since every time we noticed a booth and a sign, we thought it was the temple (I'm still learning to read Chinese characters) but low and behold, it was something else. After 20 minutes of wandering, we finally made it to the temple and the area surrounding it was quite lovely with all the lights and people hustling and bustling about. After some pictures and another stroll, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the evening festivities...

Forrest around Xuanwu Lake

Nanjing Nights

Busy Streets near Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple

Classy Rickshaw Service
Since I had been up that day since 5 a.m., all I really wanted to do was lay down and go to bed until tomorrow, but I forced myself to put on a cute top and jeans and get myself somewhat decent for dinner.  We were going to a really well-known and delicious western restaurant in Nanjing named "Swede and Kraut" which was known for its delicious and hearty portions. Despite my reservations, I ordered a stuffed chicken breast, fries and a side salad (I've arrived at the realization that western food will def not compare to my thoughts or taste), however, the meal defied my expectations and it was amazing! The portion was so big, I had to leave some of my meal behind and I had no room for dessert (the restaurant is also known for it's amazing desserts). After such a filling meal, I managed to drag myself to a bar called Ellen's for a bit of Nanjing nightlife.  The bar had a relaxed/college style atmosphere with cheap drinks, good tunes, and graffiti covered walls.  We were warned not to consume the hard alcohol since it was rumored to be fake (only in China). I stuck to my $1.50 USD bottles of Tsingdao (which were close in size to a 40 oz) and sang to some of the music one of bartenders was cranking out (which was quite good).  We stayed briefly since: a.)We were still full, b.) It was quite loud and smoky, and c.) We were genuinely tired.  We managed to haul a cab back to the hotel and after some chatting, I went right to sleep since I had a full day ahead of me the next day...

Night boats on the river

Well, that was day one in Nanjing, stay tuned for day two coming soon!

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