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Published: March 27th 2011
Six or so hours on the 9am bus will take you from Pingyao to Xi’an when there are no tickets available for the overnight train. This probably suited our situation best anyway, having booked an extra night in Pingyao “to be on the safe side” and only being able to check in later on arrival in Xi’an. Once again, there wasn’t much to see out of the icy windows, but we were however treated to an alternative sensory overload in the way of eardrum piercing, Chinese singing contests (on the T.V., that is, think X-Factor but twice as obnoxious and double the sequins). But the real highlight was the delicious fare available at the halfway rest stop. Dried kiwi; tasted like fish. China’s version of “Pringles”; tasted like fish, with a texture like carpet. Num num num…
The sun was shining upon our arrival in Xi’an, and the vultures were circling. We immediately became prey to the local jack-the-lad and his unwashed entourage operating as an illegal taxi firm. Feeling tired and becoming a little claustrophobic from all the attention we were receiving, we quickly jumped into the cab.
Thankfully, we arrived safely at the beautiful hotel complex which
would be home for the following few nights and we were quickly introduced to “George” the concierge who was so pleasant and so kind to us, and so helpful in arranging our onward travel. We were in a great location, situated a short walk from the Muslim Quarter which was our first port of call for dinner. Here, we embarrassingly underestimated portion sizes and ordered more food than we could sit on our table, never mind fit in our bellies! But it was delicious, spicy and as always, cheap. An interesting item on that particular menu was meat “in the burning scent of urine”, sounds delightful, but maybe next time…
The Muslim Quarter itself is a hive of activity and exactly my type of place for the reason that, although there are sights to be seen, such as the Drum and Bell towers and the Great Mosque, it is a place rife with smells, colours, sounds, people, traffic; you could sit and watch all day long, engrossed in what must seem very little on paper but in reality is overwhelming animal limbs hanging from meat hooks and flies buzzing, pomegranates halved and toiled over, motorbikes carrying a family of
four, street vendors frying huge pans of unknown ingredients which you know could make you ill by morning but you’re tempted anyway, hawkers in the crowded bazaars selling “pashmina-one-dollar” and over priced t-shirts that are (would you believe it?) 100%!<(MISSING)i>real cotton! The Muslim Quarter has atmosphere, to say the least.
Day two in Xi’an and it was time to see the famous Terracotta Warriors for which we rented a taxi for the return trip and then an insightful tour guide once at the sight. So, the Terracotta Warriors were discovered years ago by a farmer who was simply digging in the field; they have the poor old cigar smoking bloke on hand should you want a copy of his autographed book. Apparently, he was paid the life changing sum of £30 for his discovery! The warriors were put in place thousands of years ago to protect Emperor Qin’s tomb and therefore his soul in the afterlife, as a river of Mercury and other such deterrents inside his actual burial chamber (which has not yet been uncovered) was simply not enough. The warriors are found in three separate “pits” and seeing them, they really are impressive. As it is
well known, each Terracotta Warrior is individual in terms of facial features, hair, height, weight, rank and even the tread on the bottom of their shoes! Our guide informed us that it takes two archaeologists two years to restore just one warrior, and also that many of the warriors remain uncovered as they are waiting for the technology to be able to preserve the fantastic colours painted onto the warriors that sadly disappears minutes after they are unearthed.
We spent two hours walking around the three pits and listening to our guide as she educated us on ancient Chinese history, feng shui and jade mining. When we’d had our fill we sat down for tea. I’ve enjoyed herbal, fruit and flower teas for years, but since visiting China I’ve become a borderline obsessive and have happily introduced Chris to the simple pleasure, in fact I believe he’d pick a Ginseng Oolong over PG Tips any day of the week nowadays.
That night we could not sit down for a proper meal as we spent the afternoon gorging ourselves in the Muslim Quarter again, making a point to stop at every food stand and try something different; dough bread
in hot spices warmed over coals, fried pitas stuffed with spring onions and egg, indiscernible meat on a stick (but that was just Chris, I might add). We also spent some time at the Great Mosque found hidden amongst the alleys of the bazaar, which looked all the more beautiful in the evening light.
Unfortunately, Chris and I did not get around to much more sightseeing in Xi’an, as I’ve been feeling a little under the weather recently, but Chris’ parents Ann and John walked practically the entirety of the walled portion of the city on a sunny day and were amazed by how modern Xi’an was, with it’s expensive shopping malls and many western brands, especially coming straight from Beijing and Pingyao.
On the day of our departure we made it back down to the bazaars for some last minute souvenirs and food to get us through the (very) long train journey to Shanghai and we had quite an unexpected encounter when John bumped into a man in the narrow alleyway. “Doesn’t he look like Batman?”, he said. Much to Chris’ film-buffing delight, we’d come across Christian Bale in the most unusual of places. Although Mr. Bale
features regularly in Chris’ “respectable DVD collection” we thought it best not to satisfy Chris’ urge to congratulate him on his recent Oscar, (we’ve all seen or heard about the videos on you tube) but it’s an interesting anecdote from our trip nonetheless.
All that was left for us to do in Xi’an was get ourselves backpacked and to the station on time, which we did. The station was busier than you could imagine, and here I had a lengthy conversation with a hyperactive and curious 5 year old boy, largely in Chinese with minimal reciprocal understanding, but a friendship was formed through the medium of chocolate biscuits...
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