26.10.2011 - 31.10.2011
(more pictures have been put up on the last Beijing blog)
The reason for including Xi'an in our travel plans was so we could include what the Chinese refer to as the 8th Wonder of the World, The Terracotta Army.
We left Beijing almost reluctantly, it's not a place I could see myself living, but we spent the longest period of time there out of anywhere so far. I think we had become settled after the travel so far and we allowed ourselves a few days to relax. We took a taxi to the train station, luckily leaving enough time as the roads in typical Beijing fashion were gridlocked. Once arriving at the station we located our platform and walked to our train, through the windows we could see all the sleeper compartments which looked quite alright, but we did not pay for a sleeper. We eventually got to our carriage, it was packed! There were people already sitting in our seats, but luckily they did move. There was also so much luggage initially that we couldn't keep ours anywhere but the walkway and had to keep lugging it onto our laps when people needed to get by! Great we have 13 hours of this!
Gradually people started to leave the carriage picking up deals on the sleeper cabins which were empty or not full, allowing us to put our bags in the storage areas and get a little more leg room. I can't say it was the most pleasant trip I have encountered, and I only managed about 30 minutes sleep, but I expect it could have been worse, luckily the people around us were ok and kept themselves to themselves.
Arriving at Xi'an we were accosted by people trying to offer us lifts, but we went straight to the bus stop to head to the hostel. With minor difficulty we found our hostel and decided to get a private room to get some good sleep without snoring and the luxury of a private toilet and shower.
The following day we headed off to explore the city and in particular the Bell Tower and the Drum tower. Both were interesting, they are two separate towers that are located close to one another emerging from the smartly built up areas of Xi'an. So they say the Bells were rang at dawn to see in the new day, an the drums were struck at dusk to exit the passing day, now they are only used during special occasions.
(the bell tower)
(the drum tower)
Xi'an is a walled city, or at least its epicentre is. The city sprawls much further that the ancient wall but most of the interest to a visitor is inside. The wall surrounding the inner city center is 8.5km long so we decided to go up and take a look. Once up there we found that you could hire bikes to ride about the wall for only the equivalent of a couple of pound. So with our new modes of transport we set off to ride the wall. There are areas which are very smooth and some were a bit more of a challenge, but apart from stopping for photos and photos that Chinese people wanted of us, we conquered the wall, riding the whole thing and descended from it with tired legs.
(taken with smiths camera with his little tripod he bought in Beijing)
(taken using the tripod)
You cant come to Xi'an and not visit the Terracotta Army, so we did just that. Paying for a guided tour at our hostel, the following day we were picked up for the tour by our crazy Chinese tour guide Jaja, or as she called herself Lady Jaja! Unfortunately for me I was sitting right by her, an after initially struggling to pick up some of the things she said in her broken English, so she decided to test to see if I had been listening in front of the coach! A great source of amusement for everyone, and I tried to shift the blame to some of the other tourists, who I could tell were as clueless as me! This set the tone for the style of the tour, were I was regularly pulled out to help with questions and even a demonstration, which sounds more bizarre that it was. The Terracotta Army is located in three sites, all enclosed by their individual museum buildings. Some are still being excavated, and are not as impressive as the last colossal airplane hanger of a building which houses the ones that are produce those world famous pictures of those regimented terracotta warriors. The collection of terracotta sculptures are depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China which he ordered the construction as he believed after his death he would rule one way or another back on earth and wanted to make sure he had a army to protect him. They date from the 3rd century BC. It's an incredibly impressive collection of individually sculpted figures, and naively due to the scale of them I had always beloved them to be small, but they are not, the Emperor had asked them to be constructed larger than his own Army so they would be even stronger.
(the kneeling lucky archer)
An interesting fact about the army is that the first one found has been nicknamed 'the lucky archer'. This is mainly due to the fact that he was the most intact warrior they have ever found, and he still has some of his original colour, as they were all once upon a time painted. During the tour, we even met the farmer who discovered the army in 1974, he was nonchalantly smoking a cigarette as he signed books for tourists. Lady Jaja pulled me forward and made me shake his hand. A little while later there was another gift shop with a man claiming to be the farmer who found the army too. I'm not sure who to believe! During the tour Lady Jaja gave Kailey a little Terracotta warrior as a present, and on the coach she gave me a 'the lucky archer' for my help during her tour. A few days later she knocked on our hostel room door and gave Smith a Terracotta horse so he didn't feel left out which was very kind.
One of the days we went along to the Small Goose Pagoda, and had a look round the gardens that surround it, and in the evening headed out to the Big Goose Pagoda to watch the water fountain and light show which they hold every evening. It turned out to be very good, and it was bustling with people. Everything was lit up, and it made for some good photo opportunities!
(small goose pagoda)
We had a good night out during our time in Xi'an with a British guy and two Americans all teaching english as a foreign language. They taught us a Chinese dice game that people play at the bars, as well as getting some street food with them, arguably having the best Chinese dumplings I have ever had.
For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may recall the section during the Great Wall tour explaining about the Silk Factory in Beijing, and their Poopoo pillow. We were treated to one of these in our private room in Xi'an. If you were thinking of investing, don't, they are quite literally crap!
Next stop Shanghai!!!