Tuesday Trip Back in Time – Qingdao, China 2010

A few days after my then-boyfriend and I arrived in Jinan to visit his family, we made a brief one night trip to Qingdao, a city that is a brief 2.5-3 hour train ride away. Qingdao is probably known best for being the city behind Tsingtao beer (different spelling, but Tsingtao =  Qingdao)! Tsingtao  beer is brewed in Qingdao and is famous for being brewed with Laoshan spring water which gives it a mild and pleasant taste. I’m not a big beer drinker, but when in Rome… or rather, when in Qingdao…

Honestly, when I think of famous beer I don’t think of China, but rather Germany and its famous Oktoberfest (which I would love to visit someday, despite being a self-professed lightweight!). And in fact, Germany had a huge role in this city! Germany actually occupied Qingdao for around 30 years and left behind a legacy of German buildings and German beer. Looking at the skyline of Qingdao there are many distinctive red-tiled roofs among the skyscrapers and modern buildings – it’s an interesting contrast. Nowadays, Qingdao is known for being a nice seaside destination, and for being relatively quiet and clean as compared to other cities in China.

overpriced and tiny portions or seafood

Being early March when we arrived in Qingdao, it was chilly, windy, and rather overcast – not exactly perfect weather conditions for sightseeing! But we bundled up and made our way into the cold with a pressing goal – to eat! After the train ride we were in need of sustenance. A local recommended a nearby seafood restaurant, but we were a little disappointed afterwards – much of the seafood was mediocre and bathed in sticky sauce and was also rather pricey. The best part of the meal was the fried chicken! And of course the chrysanthemum tea went a long way in warming us up – because, like many Chinese restaurants, there was minimal heat.

One of the main sites of Qingdao is the famous Zhan Qiao, a pier that is symbolic for the city. Tsingtao beer even features the pier on its label. The pier stretches out into the water and has a round pavilion at its end. Walking along the pier is like walking a gauntlet of hawkers and merchants – it can be a little annoying! In addition, the strong wind once we got over the water definitely made the experience uncomfortable. The wind buffeting us around might be cooling and welcome during a warm summer day, with the sun beating down on you… but on a cold March day it wasn’t fun!

From the pier you have a good view of the coastline of the city, with a long beach stretching out scattered with tourists and merchants.

Zhan Qiao with pagoda at the end

a city beach of Qingdao

at our hostel, the very common combo of toilet and shower together

I will admit, I wasn’t too impressed with Qingdao yet. I was cold and perhaps still a little jetlagged from flying over to China just a few days ago. Our hostel, which we had chosen partly for the quirk factor of it being a former observatory, proved to be quite a ways uphill – not surprising, considering its former occupation.But it also meant it was quite an uphill hike to get there! So by the time we got to our room we were chilled and tired – which called for a nice long nap! The restorative powers of sleep worked their magic, and by the time we woke up it was dark and our stomachs were grumbling for some food.

We were dreading the long walk down to the main road when we stepped out of the hostel, but as luck would have it a cab was just pulling up to let off some passengers! Our lucky cab (and very helpful cabdriver) soon directed us to a nondescript restaurant  where locals huddled inside in their winter coats eating from steaming dishes and taking long pulls from bottles of Tsingtao beer. I wasn’t expecting much, but the first dish that came, a flavorful soup with clams, really blew me away. Although it was just a simple clear broth, it was fresh and briny and absolutely delicious! My respect for Qingdao definitely increased. They have good seafood! The second dish was equally tasty, fried fish with crispy skin and just a simple rub to add seasoning. The last dish, however, was a little too scary looking for me to fully enjoy. It looked like huge fat slugs that had been cooked and then slathered in sauce. The texture was also disturbingly chewy haha…. but I was definitely a happier camper after that meal.

delicious clam soup

crispy fried fish

the world of tsingtao is a happy steamy place.

The next day we visited The World of Tsingtao, a beer factory and museum dedicated to the most famous drink of the city! It was a clearer and warmer day than the one before so it lifted our spirits. After paying a minimal fee we continued inside, where we read up on how the factory was originally established by homesick Germans thirsting for some good old beer, along with original ads for the beer in Chinese. There were educational displays as well to explain how the beer was brewed and you could even touch and walk among some of the original equipment they used to brew the beer, back in the old days. They also had creepy mannequins posed as workers – this was a little scary because the museum was pretty empty except for us!

There’s also a bottling facility on the premises, and you can see real workers monitoring the machines where streams of green bottles flow down conveyor belts, getting labels slapped on and dropping into boxes. Industry in action!

Of course, at the end of this self-guided tour you get to sample some of the beer, along with complimentary nuts! Ahh I do love free things. Since I’m not much of a beer drinker (exception: raspberry framboise) I gave most of mine to my husband, who gladly downed both glasses. We left the museum invigorated by free beer. Cheers to that!

bottle caps with the zhan qiao pier

free beer! free beer!

After our mildly boozy morning, it was on to Xin Hao Shan Park (Signal Hill Park), which used to be a German signalling station back in the days. The station is gone now, but what remains are great views of the city from up high. On our walk to the park, we saw many examples of interesting German/European architecture, with red tiled roofs and bright yellow walls. We also stopped by the European-styled Protestant Church , with its original bell from Germany!

the bright yellow Protestant Church

a view of the city from up high

Xin Hao Shan Park is a nice walk, with a well-paved path lined with knobby pine trees. Proceeding further up the hill, you get a lovely spreading view of the red roofed city and the coastline beyond. On our walk, we saw a lot of trees were tied around the trunks with rope – it seemed symbolic, but my husband wasn’t sure why. Any explanations?

Close to the pinnacle of the hill, there’s a nice fountain with dragon statues – the Five Dragon Pagoda. Perhaps to conserve energy, the fountains were actually turned off but the still water provided a pretty mirror to the sky, with the city in the background. We also passed a lover’s bridge – the Heart-to-Heart bridge where couples are supposed to bring a lock to add on, to symbolize a love that lasts forever. Sadly, we were totally unprepared – but we did take pictures!

tree trunks tied round with rope… why?

heart-shaped locks on the lover’s bridge

the five dragon pagoda, the dragon mouths are supposed to gush water but not today! i like the effect though.

viewing pagoda at Xiao Yu Shan

A short walk from Xin Hao Shan Park, we reached another small park – Xiao Yu Shan Park (Little Fish Hill Park), which is closer to the shoreline and beaches of the city. Here they have a pagoda with merchants selling trinkets and souvenirs and a small but lovely viewing area. There’s a closer view of the beach here, which despite the chilly weather still had some brave (or crazy) souls entering the water – in their underwear! From the park, we joined the folks at the beach, where the sun was shining hazily and old men were playing volleyball in their skivvies. Hardy people, the citizens of Qingdao are. Our last destination for our trip was the Qingdao Underwater World, a fairly large aquarium complex which includes an aquarium tube, with glass walls so you can see the sea creatures swimming and frolicking all around you. A conveyor belt will move you along, but you can step off on the side for more stationary viewing. It was a nice aquarium with a lot of exhibits, however I do feel like the lucky turtle that we saw was animal abuse… They put a shirt on it with the word prosperity, leading people to throw money into the water… I don’t think that’s very healthy for the turtle! Poor thing.

the #1 Bathing Beach. that’s its name!

the red globe thing on top is our hostel. yep it’s really on top of a hill!

not so lucky turtle?

lovely glowy jellyfish

All in all, it was a very fulfilling trip! It started off cold and blustery, but the second day in Qingdao really highlighted its seaside charms and the cool German architecture, from the houses to the train station. I would come again… but at a warmer time so I could enjoy the vaunted beaches!

the Qingdao Railway Station for our early morning departure!

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2 thoughts on “Tuesday Trip Back in Time – Qingdao, China 2010

  1. David says:

    Thanks for the story and pics! The ropes are there to prevent the spread of insects, believe it or not…I live in Qingdao, and got the story from a local, which we confirmed online in Chinese

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