This is the first part of the holiday outside of Suzhou. Apart from an overnight stay in Disneyland Shanghai on 29 December 2021, this is the first trip outside Suzhou since venturing to Beijing at the start of October 2021.
Since falling of the horse at the end of June, I have finally got my mobility back and the ability to lie on my back at night. I have faded bruises on my backside and the swelling the size of an apricot now – it has decreased in size – a lot! As soon as I fell and landed up in hospital, the holiday to Sanya was called off. Martin didn’t want me flying and while I knew I was fine, it has taken me a couple of weeks of doing very little to get back to something approaching normality. Since the beginning of June we had dared to hope that we would be able to travel to Xiamen and beyond with our friends who left Suzhou at the end of June for a life in Shenzhen.
We already delayed the journey by 3 days due to passport issues and handing them over to the authorities to process visas etc and as each day passed all the adults were looking at daily covid numbers. A spike in either of our cities or in the places we are visiting would have rendered this holiday null and void. But on 14 July each family departed their city for Xiamen by train.
From Suzhou to Xiamen on a D class train took about 9 hours. The train’s top speed was 247km/h and at some of the stops the train stopped for 8 or so minutes allowing passengers time to get off, and stretch legs on the platform. Or, allowing food on the train that people had ordered from local restaurants. At Fuzhou we received our pre ordered food of a chicken burger. A Chinese train glides, none of the jolting feeling that you get from being on a British train. And there is plenty of leg room, the luggage rack above the seats allows large suitcases to be stowed, you always face forward and it is air conditioned. With 40 degree heat outside I hadn’t brought a jumper or shawl or anything to keep me warm and my only complaint was that I was cold!
We had ensured that we had covid tests done before the train. We had a 24 hour test result and 48 hour test result. I was apprehensive getting off the train. We had heard stories of friends being escorted out of their train and train station by local police, or being escorted into a penned off area after getting off the train during their journeys across China. However, our friends arriving from Shenzhen had had no issues. On our arrival, we got through the ticket barrier and then we presented our tracker (where we had travelled in the last 7 days) and our health code. Both of which for us were green and we hadn’t been anywhere that was medium or high risk. However, I don’t think the man even looked at my phone. He saw my passport and my face behind the mask and escorted us off to an area that had workers in full PPE. I had been expecting it. Remaining calm, I presented all our documentation, including our last entry stamp into China. 13 March 2020. I told him where we lived which then had him look up a book of our city and province. He told us to test twice in three days, I showed him all of test results and that then sparked him giving us green cards and sent us on our way.
I was very grateful to Martin who had the foresight to just get a driver arranged from the hotel. All of us had been anxious about being escorted away and then to have had to deal with getting a taxi to the hotel might just have broken us all – especially in humid searing heat. Reunited with our friends we went to bar street – recommended by the Italian chef at our hotel. We had a drink at the Londoner and then inveigled the Londoner to let us sit outside the pub and eat in the neighbouring Tapas restaurant, Ay Manuela. That food and wine was superb, so great in-fact, that we ate there twice. The seafood is locally sourced (Xiamen being on the coast) and the iberico pork is imported. The Albariño white wine was paired perfectly and the meal ended with a Vermouth that tasted of Christmas.
The next day, we sussed out the local covid testing site and then went for bubble tea and ice-cream. In the afternoon we went to Huilishan Cannon Fort. We got in for free- now whether this was because it was an hour before it closed, or because there is an initiative from the government that certain tourist sites are now free to encourage travel within China, I don’t know – but either way we didn’t pay.
The fort built in 1894 during the Qing Dynasty has over 50 iron cannon, the exhibit also includes a 280mm Krupp cannon imported from Germany. It has a purported range of 10 miles and in 2000 went into the Guinness Book of Records for the oldest and largest coastal artillery of the 19th Century.
That night we went back to bar street (Guanren Jie) and to a Yakitori, a Japanese bbq selling skewered chicken- all parts of the chicken. Our resident foodie in the travelling team had spotted the restaurant the night before and had booked. They had lived in Japan and at the end of the night, were praised for ordering some dishes that other foreigners may not eat due to squeamishness. Eleanor – to her credit – tried testicles but did not swallow due to an unpleasant texture. There were a lot of puns that night!
Xiamen is a port city and was British run as a treaty port. My research (ok – a Wikipedia) tells me that in China there were 5 treaty ports- Xiamen formerly known as Amoy, Ningpo now Ningbo, Shanghai, Canton now Guangzhou, Foochow now Fuzhou, they were established as part of the Treaty of Nanking, 1842 which also handed over Hong Kong. Many of the foreigners lived on Gulamgyu and as a result this island just 15 or so minutes off the coast of Xiamen is a must see visitor attraction. The island is pedestrian only. Its architecture is mainly European in style and is reached by ferry. That is all I can tell you for I did not go on the day trip. The heat got to Eleanor and so we bailed at the ferry terminal.
However, what I can say is that tickets were bought in advance on an APP, but that was not enough, there was then a queue to get into the ferry terminal and then a queue to get a physical ticket. It was all of this queuing that ensured raised blood pressure at wondering whether enough time had been left to secure a seat on the ferry. But fortune favours the brave and the 10:30am departed with 2/3rds of the party. Eleanor went back to our hotel and slept and I read my book.
Just 4 hours later the party returned – hot, dripping with sweat and confessing that Eleanor and I had the better end of the deal.
Our meal that night was back to Ay Manuela for more tapas. We had been treated well for food, sadly our last meal in Xiamen was not to be fondly remembered. We had opted for brunch at Gregs. Just off bar street it looked good from the outside, but having left in plenty of time (our car was collecting us at 1:30 for the next part) we left 2 hours for lunch but in the end we had our main course in 10 minutes before being collected by our didi. We ended up slowly baking in a restaurant where the air conditioning was not functioning well, and where the chef turned up half an hour after we had ordered. The food we had was lovely, but they forgot a few of the orders and we just ran out of patience. The heat also meant that our appetites dwindled. We left having had to cancel our deserts. However, our taste buds would be more than adequately catered for at our next destination.
Throughout our trip to Xiamen we have tested regularly. We have been surprised that on the last two occasions we have produced the right registration code for the testing site when locals have not. Testing at the Children’s hospital has not involved queuing and we can only assume that testing here is not as regular as it is elsewhere in the country.