Xi’an Day 2

This post is being written in cloudy Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 7 (more than a month after the fun below actually happened).

When we were emailing back and forth with Lily our contact at China Highlights about how to spend our time in Xi’an, she suggested we might enjoy a bike ride on the city’s wall. Hmmm, wonder if the bikes will be big enough? Will we end up falling and breaking an arm (or at this age now maybe we need to start worrying about a hip?!). Lily suggested we plan it and if upon arrival we just wanted to walk them that would be ok too.

Rocky picked us up bright and early at our hotel and we drove to the north gate (there is one in each compass direction). Xi’an is one of the few larger Chinese cities whose walls thankfully haven’t been demolished to make way for new buildings or roads. While Rocky bought our tickets to mount the wall, we looked around the base of the gate. This was our first (but not last) time seeing how hard the Chinese work to keep places clean. They use the old fashioned brooms everywhere. With tickets in hand we went through the tunnel and into the courtyard and up the stairs to mount the wall.

The wall is well preserved and one could circumnavigate the entire older part of the city on it, a distance of about 9 miles. It was originally built in the 1300s. It is about 40 feet tall and just as thick at its top and even thicker at the base. In addition to the four towers at the gates, there are towers every 400 feet or so along its length. The walls were relatively empty when we arrived shortly before 9 am but by the time we left an hour and a half later they were becoming more crowded with folks taking morning walks, sightseeing, a company morale boosting run celebrating National Day. the towers were decorated for the Holiday as were the battlements at the corners.

We ended up deciding that the bike ride would be a great way to see more of the wall and are so glad we did. Not only did it give us a great overview of the 1/4 of the wall we rode, it got us some exercise in before our afternoon train ride to Bejing. Turns out the bikes have easily adjustable seats so they were able to fit even me! The bike ride turned out to be a real highlight of our time in Xi’an.

After returning our bikes, we went to a city market where Rocky (we apparatuses don’t have any pictures of him 😢) pointed us in the direction of ten souvenir sellers and advised us on how to bargain. He said however that he wouldn’t join us for this portion as the vendors blamed him if we ended up not buying something. We think we did ok buying chopstick sets for “bread & butter” gifts for our friend Andy in Seattle and Jeff & Ken who we stayed with last week in Tucson. The market reminded me of a single alley in Istanbul’s huge bazaar. The vendors all try to get you to buy their stuff as it’s better than everyone else’s even though it’s pretty obvious it’s all coming from the same manufacturers. When we did t have enough small bills to pay for what we bought, our lady pretended to not have any change and wanted to give us the change in merchandise until we started to walk away….then suddenly her vendor neighbor “loaned” her enough to make change. 😂

Rocky met us at the end of the market and we then headed to the food portion. He explained to us what each of the foods was and we had some delicious fresh squeezed (crushed?) pomegranate juice.

Even though it was a little early, we had lunch in one of the local’s restaurants in the market. Rocky ordered on our behalf and we had “soup” dumplings. We had heard about these before our trip and were excited to have them in person. The “soup” is broth made from bones and then chilled into a gelatin which is chopped up and mixed with the dumpling’s stuffing. When the dumpling is cooked, the broth liquifies. Theybare eaten by tearing a small hole in the dumpling, draining the soup into a spoon and drinking it. Then you eat the dumpling after dipping it in the ponzu sauce served in a small bowl along with the basket of dumplings. Delicious!

Rocky also wanted us to try “Chinese” hamburgers. These were steamed buns with a chinese meat filling that reminded me of pastrami. Not a hamburger but certainly tasty. We finished with the local fried dessert made of yams and filled with nuts.

After lunch we were driven to the HUGE railroad station newly built just to handle bullet trains. Rocky left us after making sure we (and some other gringo tourist) made it correctly though the first security check. We had to go through another to get to the area of the stations for trains headed to Beijing (perhaps extra security for the holiday?) where we faced hundreds of people waiting for the gates to open to let us go downstairs to the platform. After a short wait, the crowd finally started moving and we made our way to the train where the platform seemed relatively empty compared to the chaos upstairs!

The train trip was uneventful. Speed was slightly greater than on the Japanese trains and we got some snacks though most weren’t very tasty and were left behind! Legroom may have been a little less than in Japan but the lack of a footrest meant it was just as comfortable. Even though they didn’t bow, the attendants were just as pleasant and even better dressed. Unfortunately, unlike the Japanese, the Chinese don’t think it impolite to chat on their phones or sing/hum along to whatever song they are listening to over their earphones! 😱

We arrived in Beijing just before sunset and after wandering around the station for waaay too long (apparently there was more than one Exit 3) we finally found our guide, “Coco” and after basically retracing our steps, we got to the van and were driven through the heavily decorated streets to our hotel for the next three nights.

Just before we left for Japan, Lily our contact at the Chinese travel agency emailed me to inform me that due to the holiday, our hotel near Tinammen Square was no longer available and she suggested another hotel. After checking TripAdvisor and finding poor reviews, we looked to see if we could find another hotel. We found a great rate for the Crown Plaza and asked her about booking it. She did but I order to get a king room we paid an additional $20 a night. Upon arrival, apparently they had given away “our” room so we were upgraded to a huge fancy corner room with an entry hall, separate toilet room, and big shower/tub room. So glad we “splurged” for the extra. I think even with the extra the room was under $80 a night!

After checking in, we had a snack from the mall next door and quickly went to bed. Tomorrow we attempt to conquer The Great Wall!

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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.