We continued our travels up China's East coast with Qingdao which was a stop off point for a couple of days before going to Ha'erbin; our main travelling destination. We left most of the volunteers in Shanghai as they returned home or went elsewhere in other small travelling groups so now we were left with our travelling group of 10. We only stayed for a short time and there isn't much in Qingdao, not the most fascinating of destinations!
Our hostel was in an old observatory, which was pretty cool, and we had a huge dorm room all to ourselves which was great! Although we did only have a couple of keys between the ten of us… It was lightly snowing when we arrived, we could feel the temperatures dropping as we headed further North, but it wasn't too cold. Our journey there was great - our friends had discovered last minute flight tickets that were cheaper than our train tickets! The only reason we endure the painfully long train journeys is because of how expensive the flights are but we grabbed the deal and returned our train tickets and spent a comfortable two hours flying from Shanghai to Qingdao. Luxury. We felt pretty pleased with ourselves until we got ripped off by our taxi drivers and got dropped at the wrong hostel. Each taxi driver told his car load of people that the others had already agreed to a 150Y price and we weren't happy with everyone else for this. Of course, when we arrived it transpired no-one had ever agreed to that and we had to begrudgingly hand over the cash. By the time we found out it was the wrong hostel they'd vanished but fortunately we met a Chinese couple walking back to our actual hostel which was very close. First thing we did was check out the bar. It was a cool bar, at the very top of the hostel in the observatory's old dome with a seating area outside. On the downside, I've never seen a more treacherous bar-to-bed route. To get to bed, probably after drinking, you'd have to descend a tiny, narrow, spiral staircase then down more flights of stairs to get outside. Then to get to our dorm there were yet more steps - outdoor, concrete steps with no barriers and covered in ice and snow. Somehow, no one injured themselves. The hostel was completed with an adorable dog in the lobby, although the dog seemed bored by everyone, probaby because everyone tries to make a
We slept away the next morning and I got noodles for brunch with Nold, Henry and Pete after a ridiculously long walk to find rice. Never not been able to find rice in China before! We split into groups with all the boys, plus Naomi, wanting to go to the TsingTao brewery and the girls not caring. TsingTao is China's most famous beer and is exported internationally. Qingdao is the home of Tsingtao beer (pronounced the same but when pinyin was introduced the place name changed and the brand name didn't) and is one of the best things the Germans left behind after their control of the place along with boring architecture and pretzels. The brewery tour was rounded off with useful instructions on how to properly sample the flavour of beer and some free samples. We sat in their bar 'sampling' for a while then went to meet the girls.
They were at the seafront and here I got my second glimpse of the sea in China (the first was Hong Kong). It didn't look very appealing though being slate grey with no beach and a couple of formidable looking warships anchored close by, also grey. I was reminded how much closer we were to Japan… We tried to look around a temple, failed, and went for dinner instead. We found a very fancy Chinese restaurant and booked a banquet room. This was our 'Chinese New Year' banquet and the general consensus was that the boys did an excellent job of ordering a tableful of Chinese dishes. We did it in proper Chinese style with crates of beer and copious ganbei-ing. Back at the hostel we got ready for our night out with an all you can drink for two hours offer at the bar. We misinterpreted it and were actually left with just under an hour to drink our money's worth. I'm proud to say I did get my money's worth while eating more of their delicious pretzels.
We'd been told that Qingdao was a real party capital with amazing night life. Not so. So began a disappointing night which started with helping a Chinese woman haul her paralytic husband into the back of a taxi from where he'd collapsed at a traffic light and me slipping on ice and landing on my wrist which really bloody hurt. Things continued in this vain as we followed hopeless directions to rubbish clubs. One was packed with no dancefloor and charging the most extortionate prices ever for drinks. If I'd bought a couple of drinks there I'd have spent an entire month's salary… We headed to a different club which had the bouncy floor I'd been determined to find in China but it wasn't the bouncy castle/trampoline dance floor I'd anticipated although it was still fun to bounce on it for a while. The novelty wore off and the club was dead and we ended up outside a corner shop for a couple of hours until Ella, Beth, Cat, Nold and I had enough and went back to the hostel leaving the others to pull their all-nighter and watch some big football match.
So not much happened in Qingdao at all. I can't think of anything else! Oh yeah, I sampled a seafood sausage which was good. That really is it. To be fair we only stayed there for one day… We said goodbye to Bertie here who flew back to his family leaving us with our travelling group of 9. We also split in two again as Beth, Cat, Rob and I got the train all the way up to Ha'erbin (a bloody long way!) and the rest of them took a more expensive flight.