Xi’an

This post is being written in Sedona AZ on Halloween more than a month since we were actually in Xi’an. Wow, how time flies!

Rocky picked us up at 8 am (so we didn’t get much time to sleep in that extra long bed!) and our first stop was the Big Goose Pagoda. This would be the first of many Buddhist Temples we would visit in China. All temples have a “Happy” Buddha near the front-he is the smiling big bellied one. And always the guide would point out that Mike or I or we both were like happy Buddhas!

At one point, Rocky and I were walking along and suddenly realized Mike wasn’t with us. We turned around and found him surrounded by middle school kids. Turns out an English teacher brings his students to the temple and asks tourists to speak English with the students. It was such a hoot to see shy Mike center stage trying to come up with simple questions for each kid. Even funnier was watching the kids helping each other try to answer. This was the first of many interactions we had with Chinese folks wanting to practice their language skills. We were often stopped and greeted with “Hair-row, how are yu?” When we responded we were off to the races with a fun conversation!

We left the pagoda and drove an hour or so out of the central part of town to see what had brought us to Xi’an, the Terra Cotta Army. These clay statutes had been made and built as part of the tomb complex of China’s first emperor. They lay buried for over 1600 years until they were accidentally discovered by farmers digging a well. There are three pits which are now contained within three separate buildings where the army is found.

There are estimated to be over 8000 soldiers plus chariots and horses. All but a few were in pieces due to the collapse of the wood roof that protected them (initially) from the dirt under which they were buried. When the wood rotted, the dirt damaged them. There is a large group of anthropologists who have worked continuously since they were found piloting them back together. They number each piece and where it was found and use plastic bins to keep pieces together. Each warrior is unique so it’s a huge jigsaw puzzle. It’s estimated at their current rate they will finish putting back together those currently unearthed in another 100 years. Of course there are many that have yet to be uncovered.

In a separate building there is a museum display of the few figures that were intact. You’ll note that they (and the rest of the warriors) are missing their weapons. This is because the 2nd Emperor opened the tomb and had his soldiers steal them! This is also when some of the figures were damaged.

In the second picture above you can see that the figures were originally colored. The back if that warrior has the original color. Apparently, unless these colors are protected immediately after being exposed to air, the color fades.

It is impossible to adequately describe the magnitude of this place and its impact when you walk around. To think about the amount of work it took to create this army is mind blowing. Hopefully these pictures give you a little idea.

After having our picture taken with the army, it was time for a late lunch. Ricky took us to a local place and helped us order. OMG, it was so good-I had been told that we wouldn’t like real Chinese food. That Chinese American food was very different and that real Chinese wouldn’t be tasty. Not so! It was similar but so much fresher, better!

Rocky wanted us to order more than we did, thank goodness we didn’t! We had leftovers which he took home. We had pork buns, dumplings and sizzling beef stir fry and then a fried dough with a molasses sauce for dessert. The stir fry was served on a thin aluminum pan sitting on a very hot plate.

After our late lunch, we drove back to the city and were dropped off at our hotel where a nap may have been taken. After our naps we went and explored the neighborhood around the hotel. It was busy with shopping, food and folks just out enjoying the evening including the two twenty somethings in their crazy Little Bo Peep outfits. We were a few blocks from the center of Xi’an which is marked by the Bell Tower. This tower is lit every night but was surrounded by special decorations in anticipation of the National Holiday a couple of days away. Each town has a bell tower and a drum tower. The bell was run in the morning to get work started and the drum in the evening at the end of the day. That is Xi’an’s drum tower in the distance behind the Bell Tower.

While we weren’t hungry after our huge lunch it was fun to check out some of the street food. We did eventually go back to the room and munch on some chips we had left from an earlier visit to a store and a pomegranate. Pomegranates are grown in this part of china and we had seen them along the road. They put plastic bags over the immature fruit to keep bugs out while still on the tree. Then the bag also makes for an easy way to tote it home! It was tasty though a bit messy to deal with in the hotel room.

Tomorrow we are going to see Xi’ans City Walls and then head towards Beijing!

To China

This post is being written from Las Vegas about our trip from Japan to China on September 27th. Sorry I have fallen so far behind.

The picture above is Mike in Kyoto as we boarded our bullet train to the Osaka airport for our flight to Xi’an China. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After our long day to, from and in Hiroshima and knowing we would be going non-stop for the next 7 days we decided to take it easy on our last day in Kyoto. We had thought about seeing another sight or two but the remaining ones required a trip away from the city so we decided…”next time”.

After sleeping in, we had a tasty last lunch in our hotel’s buffet restaurant. We hadn’t planned on eating there but after peaking in and seeing it was all locals, we decided to try it. Very tasty salad makings and Japanese versions of European dishes but also some delicious tempura and other Japanese noodle dishes. It was interesting watching the locals use chop sticks and raise their plates to eat non Asian dishes.

We had originally intended to use the same luggage service to take our bags to the airport and for us to take the subway to train station. But we found out we had to send the luggage two days ahead and that the cost of a cab was cheap much less than the luggage service, we decided we would handle the bags ourselves. The hotel called us a cab and I’m glad we had that experience.

Like so much in Japan, it is still old school. The driver wears gloves (some wear suits and hats), the cab is immaculate and the seats are even covered with antimacassars!

We arrived at the station and quickly boarded the Hello Kitty Express to the airport. Everything on the train was themed even the bathroom mirror and the antimacassars!

We arrived at the HUGE (well we thought it was huge until we saw China’s airports) too early to check in so had to cool our heels for a bit in the checkin area which wasn’t much fun as apparently half of everyone leaving Osaka was doing the same thing.

But after we checked our bags, and after spending a bit of time in the lounge we found ourselves aboard our plane for our 4.5 hour flight to Xi’an. When we booked the flight on Hainan, we discovered for less than $100 more over what an economy ticket plus the exit row seat fee cost we could be in Business (which came with extra bag weight which we needed 😢) it was a no brainer to ride up front. The service and food but most importantly legroom were all great.

We arrived in Xi’an at 11:35 pm. We had used a Chinese tour agency, China Highlights to book our hotels, tours and transfers in China. We don’t normally use an agency but as Asia was completely new to us and frankly we were a bit afraid to plan our travels without help. Thank goodness we did, as it turned out to be the National Holiday in China. If not for the advice of the agent we worked with, we would likely have been trying to see the sights along with thousands and thousands of Chinese. She advised us to arrive earlier than originally planned which we did. All of that is to say that we were pleased to see the smiling face of our guide “Rocky” waiting at the door when we exited customs. He and our driver drove us through dark but heavily decorated streets to our hotel in the center of the city where we arrived about 1 am.

Our room was large but Asian standards but when we walked in I was sad to see what I thought was a very ornate footboard. I had told Lily (our travel agent) that I was very tall and that I’d appreciate it if we could be assigned a room without a footboard. Oh well, it was only two nights. But wait, that is a strange looking footboard. What is it?

Yes, apparently the hotel had taken Lily’s request to heart and using some ballroom chairs, and extra pillows and a folded comforter, they had extended the bed! Wow, this was a new one! Mike said, “can you imagine the conversation the housekeepers must of had while setting this up!”

So after a long day, we fell asleep in a very long bed in a brand new country!

Tomorrow, we are off to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Aboard!

Aboard! After the longest wait ever for checking in for a Viking Cruise (8 min? LOL) we are aboard @vikingcruises Orion. I live that their ships are all the same design so it always feels like coming home! We were offered and accepted an upgrade to a Penthouse Veranda for a nominal upcharge and know we will like the extra room (see that big sofa!), the incabin booze and the ironing service! Looking forward to the next 15 days!

Visa

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

Poor Mike, last year he had to spend his birthday in the Copenhagen airport overnight. This year he had the joy of spending the day or at least part of it at the Chinese visa office in Chicago.

If you would like to imagine what it is like just visualize the worst DMV office you ever visited and make 85% of people there speak a different language and throw in a few screaming babies. The good news is they say the visas will be ready in four days. This is much better than the alternative which was to mail our passports to a service who would have them back in 4-5 weeks which meant we would not be able to travel to the Canadian Rockies as we had hoped. Oh and it would’ve cost an extra $200 per person!

We were very pleased when we returned to the DMV office on Monday morning and picked up our passports with the visas attached.

China here we come!

Booked!

Our original thought had been to book Celebrity Millennium’s transpacific cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo (15 or 16 days depending on how you count the dateline day), stay in Japan for eight days or so, fly to Hawaii and stay there a few days and then board Celebrity Eclipse and cruise back (11 days) to Vancouver. We had been waiting to book the outbound cruise until after final payment for those who had already booked in hopes that we might catch an even better deal than what was already been offered. We didn’t expect to book the return cruise until that ship’s final payment date which is next month.

After lots ( I mean lots!) of discussion and research and phone calls and emails and looking at our finances and other nashing of teeth, we booked earlier today the major portions of our Asia adventure.

But of course, something always comes along to mess with one’s plans! On Saturday, Mike got a promo email from Viking offering a good price (at least for for Viking) an upgrade and “free” airfare on their 14 night Beijing to Hong Kong cruise. That is when the nashing of teeth really started! LOL

While it wasn’t in our financial plan, after doing a major spreadsheet, we came to realize that while it was a little bit more money out of pocket than the Hawaii/cruise back plan that due to the extended length that it really wasn’t that much more expensive on a per day basis than what we were already doing.

How is that for rationalization?

We also decided that seeing China from the relative comfort of a cruise ship (especially a Viking one!) as well as the number of overnights that Viking does would be a good introduction to this vast country which frankly we are somewhat concerned we may find overwhelming.

So we bit the bullet this morning and are in the process of booking these two cruises, as well as figuring out the itinerary for the time between the two cruises. Right now we are looking at flying from wherever we end up in Japan to X’ian to see the terra cotta warriors on our way to Beijing where we have booked (at a really good price we believe) Viking’s two day precruise “extension” (seems like it ought to be called something else to me). Of course we are concerned about riding in the back of the bus from Hong Kong back to Seattle to pick up our car and continue our road trip…but hopefully we will be able to at least buy up to some extra legroom seats….fingers crossed!

I am still working on our plans after July 4th when we leave Illinois headed to Montana, Calgary and Vancouver, but now we are also starting to plan the Asia portion. Hope you will enjoy following along as we do so!

Oh yeah, I know, I know…I promise to post regarding our fun times after Columbus through our stay here in Canada…soon, no really…soon! LOL