Dalian was the second stop in our visit to China (if you discount the few hours spent in Manzhouli). It is a port town on the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula which juts into the north of the Yellow Sea. We had very few expectations of this city, it was chosen largely for its coastal location and because it was roughly ‘en route’ to Qinhuangdao. For several reasons it ended up being one of our favourite stops so far – in no particular order:
- Great public transport (busses, trams and a metro)
- Lots of large parks and green areas
- Plenty of protected coastline
- Cheap, good quality food
- A nice hostel, with an amazing dog
I think more hostels should have house pets, especially ones like Coco. I never saw this dog on his feet. He would lie in front of the door to the hostel so you’d have no choice but to stroke him as you stepped over him into the hostel, at which point he would roll over and start pawing the air. At the end of a hot and tiring day the gormless look on Coco’s face (plus his immaculate, fluffy white fur) was the perfect welcome home. I’m a big fan of this dog, but everyone was so I don’t think I’m overstating how great he was. And don’t try and make any jokes about him being on the menu for the breakfast buffet the next morning or something equally crass – I already made them when I first met Coco and then regretted it when I learned how great a dog he was. The scant nourishment of a canine kebab is nothing in comparison to the nourishment my soul received every moment we spent together.
Um, so, Dalian! Yeah, Dalian city is really nice. It was very warm while we were there but the proximity to the sea means that a cooling breeze is never overdue. Although it has a population of over 6 million people it never took us more than 40 minutes to escape the high rises. It is twinned with Glasgow but I think Edinburgh might be a more apt comparison in the way that rocky peaks sporadically pierce the cityscape. We climbed one of these in Xian Li park and were rewarded with great views of the city, accompanied by the sounds of a man playing the flute. It was really special to get out of the city, unfortunately our view was limited slightly by the smog.
That’s the only major downside to Dalian in my view, the air quality is not great. The reading I have done informs me that things have improved but it is still one of the busiest ports in China and there is a lot of industrial activity going on. Even before we got off the train I was feeling short of breath and we ended up buying masks for when conditions got severe. There is a quite useful app we have found (shout out to AirVisual) that gives real-time air quality information based on your current location – this helps because some pollutants, especially the finer particles, are hard to detect without the help of technology. Unfortunately it also combines the current pollution score with a graphic which can be quite spooky:
We also spent a full day walking Binhai Road. This really reminded me of the Pacific Highway in California, a winding road that tracks the contours of the coast with shimmering clear water on one side and wooded hillside on the other. The footpath also had information boards every few hundred meters explaining the benefits to physical longevity offered by the practice of “broadcast gymnastics”. After reading every one of these boards I now feel confident in giving the following advice: exercise every day at the same time for the same duration at the same intensity level, remember to stretch (stretching includes twisting and swinging, as well as traditional stretches) before and after exercise, focus on maintaining leg mobility as once your legs become less mobile the rest of your body is sure to follow suit and go swimming because swimming is great (as long as you acclimatise yourself to the water first and don’t swim on a full stomach).
We had arranged to meet a couch surfer from Dalian for lunch. He introduced himself to us as Andy, following the very accommodating practice that Chinese people have of giving themselves a western name which we have a chance of pronouncing. He took us to an excellent restaurant that served Jjiangsu style food (a southern Chinese province). The food was incredible and Andy was very knowledgable about the city – he showed me the location of a bookshop which sold english books which was a life saver (I just finished one of the books I bought there, The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, cool book – shout out to JK Rowling). One of the local dishes he ordered ended up being a scotch egg, or at least a much more sophisticated version of a scotch egg but the elements were there, a boiled egg encased in minced pork. He is hoping to do further study in Edinburgh so I told him that if he ever wants a taste of home there will be plenty of Scotch Eggs for him there.
Sadly we didn’t get a picture of Andy but we took photos of just about everything else, see the full list here: