Monday, February 04, 2013

Shanghai-Lights: Private Bike Tour

I love bike tours. We try to do a tour in each City we visit, like in South Africa, Paris, Barcelona and Dublin.  I found Cycle Shanghai on TripAdvisor and visited their website to book a tour.  I never heard back from them following the online booking. A few days before I arrived in Shanghai, I emailed them directly asking for a tour of Old Shanghai Saturday morning at 10h00. The next morning I received a confirmation email, along with the name and a map of our meeting place. We took the Metro and arrived right at 10am and found our bikes and our guides waiting right where they said they would be.

We completed the obligatory paperwork and found that we were actually doing a private tour, not a regular public tour.  We had a guide and a guide trainee. They asked what we wanted to see and then built the tour around our interests. I was a bit concerned as we started out as it didn't seem like they had a plan on where we were going, but after about 15-20 minutes that feeling was gone.  I told them we love architecture and wanted to explore the French Concession and Old Shanghai. And we're off.

We met at Central Plaza, hopped on our bikes and road down very busy streets talking briefly about the history of the area.  We had a few stops on the trip where we hop off the bike and explore an area on foot.

Our first stop was Tianzifang - an arts and crafts district in Shanghai. This area had many little restaurants, shops and galleries.  The streets/alleys were narrow and it was really a walking area. No motor bikes, no bikes and very few carts.  It was pretty quiet when we were there, but evidently it is quite hopping later in the day and into the evening - which I can totally see.








As we walked around Tianzifang we saw many stray (or wandering) cats. One of my favorite photos is of this police (army?) man taking time to stop and pet a stray cat on a motorbike.


Before I left for Shanghai, I read many articles about restaurants and More Than Toilet was mentioned in several of these articles. While I would never has sought out this restaurant, we did stumble across it in Tianzifang.  This restaurant has a toilet motif, with urinals on the walls, the seats at the tables are toilets and food is served in little toilet bowls. Oh and the food also looks like poop. Gross.






Our guides demanded we get our pictures taken here.

Throughout the tour, our guides would ask what else we wanted to see and each time they would ask, we'd agree. We want to see everything! I'm in Shanghai for 50 hours, I want to see and do it all.  One of these options was to visit a home that was used as a training center for the young Communists in Shanghai. The house was well maintained, but not-surprisingly very Spartan. We were not allowed to photograph the interiors, but we could take pix outside in the garden.





As we continued to say "YES" to everything our guides offered to show us, she asked if we wanted to see the Great Wall of China -- which we knew was thousands of kilometers away, but we agreed, to see her response. She was taken aback -- then she had an idea and we were off again. She brought us to the old City Walls of Shanghai.  Well played.




Our Tour Guide Trainee
Old Town Shanghai with Shanghai Tower in the background 


Throughout Shanghai there are these old mansions from the Colonial Era that are being rehabbed and turned into very high end vacation rental homes.  Our guide was very adamant that we get our photo taken in front of this home with the skyscrapers of Pudong in the distance - you can see the Oriental Pearl Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center.


Our guides. One taking a photo of MS, the other exploring the area.
Taking a photo of someone taking a photo.
Just steps from the rehabbed house, we found a young couple getting their wedding photos taken.  I love this guy's jacket.

SMILE
Not sure why they are leaving forward, but all
the wedding couples were doing the same thing...
...so we joined them for a quick photo!
One of the last stops on our bike tour was an old slaughter house -- and for some reason out guides highly suggested we pose like we are animals clawing or getting ready to attack...not sure why, but who are we to argue...here is our best attempt.

We aren't very good at being ferocious animals...
Taking a quick break in some wicker chairs at the
slaughter house -- how often does one get to say that?
 As we left the slaughter house we found group of people trying to unfurl a banner on this building. There were about 40 people around the base of the building screaming in Mandarin -- I assume they were giving advice on how to fix the unfurling issues...


Our tour started at 10h00 and was scheduled to last about 3 hours, but our tour lasted until about 15h30 - all for the same price of 400rmb per person.  We visited a few markets including a food market and a plant and pet market.  We also had lunch at a street market all part of this tour (we paid for our own food).  I'll review the markets and food in another post.

We really had a great time on this tour. We were able to see so much of Shanghai. Our tour guide was very good - her English, while not perfect, was excellent. She had to ask for the word a couple times, but it caused no problems with the tour.  Our trainee guide had never been on a tour before and she needed a bit of work. She always tried to ride next to me or MS, instead of behind us, so when we'd go through tight areas, she would be bumping into us.  She also didn't have a whole lot of knowledge of the areas or the building we visited, but she was eager to learn - and our main guide did a great job.

The bikes were fine - they were comfortable and relatively well maintained, although the biggest issue was the brakes.  The brakes were a mushy and you really had to keep a keen eye open and anticipate any issues ahead as the brakes don't allow you to stop as quickly as you'd like.

Would I suggest you tour with Cycle Shanghai? Absolutely! I thought these folks did a great job - they weren't quite as polished as the folks in Dublin, but it was a fantastic way to spend part of a day in Shanghai - DO IT!

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