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Published: November 12th 2009
I truthfully think that being late and rushing for things is a type of curse that follows me because no matter how much time I try and allow, in the hopes of being early or at least on time, I still seem to be late or only just on time. I was told that it would take 20 minutes to get to the train station so I set aside an hour and low and behold the epic traffic in Beijing coupled with my idiotic taxi driver who thought it would be fun to drop me and my 30kgs of luggage the other side of the huge main road to the station, resulting in an epic sprint off to catch my 6:30 train, not fun!
Thankfully I bordered with five minutes to spare but I did have to resort to purchasing some noodles from the vendor outside the train since there wasn’t enough time to buy anything else for dinner and I wasn’t too sure what would be available on the train. I had read a bit about the soft sleeper vs hard sleeper train options and I’d chatted to a couple of people and decided that I would brave it
and save a good few ¥ and as I would learn, gain a good memory in the process. A soft sleeper, while no softer on the bed front, does mean that you are in a cabin with 4 beds and there is a door, while hard sleeper means you are in commuter class with rows and rows of three level bunk beds and 100’s of people and to make it fun, I landed up being booked on one of the top bunks.
When I initially got on the train I was the only Westerner and with my blond hair, massive suitcase, computer bag, hand bag and lovely pink travel pillow, I stuck out like a sore thumb. If that wasn't enough, I managed to get in to the car at the front end and my bed was in the second to last row at the back of the cart meaning that I had to maneuver myself all the way down the very narrow passage providing a good subject for huge amounts of banter and chuckles between the on-lookers. They were even more amused when they realized that I was booked to sleep on the top bunk and were all
Riding trains in China
my bun at the top....quite interesting navigating the ladder
eagerly awaiting the moment when I tried to clamber to the top and deposit myself (all of 5 ft tall) and my mounds of luggage on that very top bunk. I have to admit the whole experience was as entertaining for them as it was for me.
Once I’d managed to deposited my bags on my bunk I then needed to tackle the noodles I’d purchased since I’d worked up quite an appetite by now. I have come to quite enjoy noodles in Asia so buying a cup of noodles wasn’t entirely the worst idea for dinner, well so I thought, until I opened these specific Chinese cup noodles! I have no idea what was in the small flavour bags but since I was hungry I just turned a blind eye, opened the packets of ‘beef cubes’ etc and mixed it all in hoping that at best the noodles would be edible. Wow, note to self, noodles in China and noodles in Korea worlds apart and these were hella dicey, I swear the beef cube things tasted like dog food!
Once my charming dinner was finished I clambered back up the steps and settled in for the long
train ride, caught up on some reading and blogging and just enjoyed watching the goings on, on the train, and once fatigue set in I hit the sack to get some sleep. Somewhere around 2am I was startled by one of the conductor ladies calling up to me. Once I’d orientated myself I realised she was asking if I had an alarm clock so I answered yes, a little confused, she then said in broken English “I think a bomb go off.” what I then realised was that somehow the alarm clock in my big bag, strategically placed at the end of the corridor since it was too big to go on the luggage rails, was somehow set and was ringing incessantly and rather loudly and I think it gave the poor Chinese train conductress a serious fright. There is nothing like having to clamber down a bunk bed of that nature in a half dazed sleep to turn off the bomb in your bag, admittedly I was just thankful that she didn’t bring in the Chinese heavies 'cause we had already had them coming round to our car earlier that evening concerned about a miscellaneous bag.
of the night was a pretty peaceful sleep and I woke up early the next morning, jostled with the facecloth on the head wearing Chinese, to get a minute at the basin to do my teeth and I then sat tight anxiously awaiting arrival in Xian after 14 hours on the train. The train ride was super fun, I have to say, it was well worth saving the extra money for the experience even if it was perhaps, by some standards, a little dicey and not for the average Joe.
I have come to realize that the mark of the experience I am going to have in a place is the feeling I get as soon as I get off the plane/train/bus, and the bustling train station ambiance in Xian set a very good tone, I just knew from the moment I stepped off the train that I was going to love it! Interestingly the train station in Xian is possibly one of the most unexpectedly busy train stations that I have visited and the outdoor ‘arrivals hall’ had even more people, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their loved ones, than many of the airport arrivals halls that I’ve
Riding trains in China
and eating dodgy noodles
been in, in major airports. Weaving my way through this crowd and avoiding being hounded by tones of dodgy taxi drivers all trying to get me to take their cabs at an exorbitant price proved interesting, but I managed to find a reputable taxi stop and in no time I was on my way to the International youth hostel, once again with fingers crossed that they had space for me. Thankfully they had a spot available in a mixed dorm on the second floor and even more thankfully they had a porter to haul my heavy bag up the wooden stare case! When the door was opened for me, by the usher, I was met by a dark room and three sleeping guys. When the porter then turned on the light, I did feel a little bad cause it woke up one of the guys who then got out of bed as a result but I suppose that’s the deal when you stay in a dorm hey.
Once I had freshened up after the long train ride and the mornings hacking I introduced myself to the guy who I’d woken up, Jay, and he turned out to be a
Riding trains in China
a pretty far way to fall
pretty chilled guy who mentioned that he was heading to the Terracotta Warriors so after a little breakfast I teamed up with him and we headed out for a little Xian relic hunting. We hopped on the 1st bus that took us to the station and then onto the 306 bus, which took some finding but which would take us to the Warriors. I had chosen to sit right at the back of the bus 'cause the bus was pretty full and as a result I ended up sitting next to this very sweet old couple. Once the bus started moving the old man pulled out his bus snack, an apple (neatly scored so that he could break off quarters) which I’m sure he had only intended sharing with his wife but next thing I knew I was sitting with a ¼ of his apple in my hand. Chinese people are really so lovely and friendly and for most of the bus ride we did some snack swapping, I reciprocated with some peanuts that I had and he then handed me a bunch of some other nondescript breadie snack, what a lovely old man.
About an hour later we
bid farewell to our old friends and got off at the bus stop at the Terracotta Warriors and proceeded to buy some tickets and then begin the walk up the slope to the site of the Warriors. Now I always try hard not to build up my expectations of any place or sight that I’m going to visit but somehow I had some serious expectations of the Warriors since they’re something I have always wanted to see and I had a very grand picture in my minds eye. To be honest, I was very worried that I was going to be disappointed but on the contrary the Warriors surpassed even my grand expectations. The excavation sites are absolutely epic in proportion and the Warriors and horses both restored and unrestored are magnificent. The Warriors are absolutely fascinating and the archaeological site and history is incredible it really is a must see if you ever have the chance!
We spent a huge deal of time at the sight and amassed another few hundred photos and then decided we would head back to the hostel. I had intentions of visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda after seeing the Warriors but the hack
of getting from the Worriors to the pagoda, coupled with the very very long day I’d already had, made me more keen to stay closer to the hostel and check out the fortress wall by night rather. At around 6:30pm Jay and I set out to try and walk at least half of the wall before closing time. Now it’s a little uncertain as to the exact “operating” hours of the wall because you can buy tickets until 7:30pm but there was no indication of exactly what time they lock the impenetrable gates. The wall we estimated must have been about 10km so we figured we would just walk from South Gate and then hop off at North gate. What you don’t realize is that between the gates there is no getting out, around 7:30 I started to get nervous that we ran the risk of getting locked in 'cause there was no one else on the wall bar us. Once we reached the West gate we looked down and saw a gate keep so we figured that we would take our chances and continue on to North gate. The wall is absolutely stunning at night with all the lights
along it and the red lanterns and we were also treated to some fireworks while we were up there, it was also a really lovely walk since the weather was so nice and warm. Once the fireworks were finished we continued to walk and walk and at one point we did find a random side gate but it was locked so I really started to worry, Jay was slightly less perturbed, but I made it very clear I wasn’t keen to spend the night on the wall nor was I keen to: either break a leg jumping down or run the risk of getting arrested by the Chinese Police if we were caught scaling down one of the inner walls so we decided we best pick up the pace and see if the main North gate was still open. Turned out the gate at North gate was locked too but thankfully the old gate keepers "pandok" is adjacent to one of North gates side entrances and he hadn't yet settled in for the night so he very thankfully unlocked the gate for us and let us out onto one of the back streets somewhere in the area of the station,
Riding trains in China
No idea about this but they take your ticket, put it in a book, give you a plastic card for the night then you hand the card back to them the next morning and get your ticket back.
I was definitely breathing a sigh of relief.
We had absolutely no idea where we were except that we were somewhere in the vicinity of the North gate so we opted to go with my instinct, pick a lane and just see what the backside of Xian had to offer. It was really awesome walking in and out of the small streets seeing how the locals live and just taking in Xian’s night life. By this stage we had been walking for hours and since neither of us had eaten very much that day we decided we would try and find some local food to eat and boy were we in for a treat. While walking we happened upon a ‘restaurant’ if that’s what you could call it. It was more like a basic hole in the wall but the food that was being made looked amazing. It was a husband and wife and they made homemade noodles which they then threw into a huge pot of boiling water and once the noodles were cooked a huge portion was piled into a bowl and topped with all kinds of interesting condiments. We were so intrigued by the way in
which the noodles were prepared and they looked so yummy that we decided to sit down on the plastic chairs outside and indulge. The meal turned out to be out of this world and for only ¥5 I couldn’t have been fuller. I am so glad that we got lost in the back of beyond Xian and discovered this tremendous dining house!
Overly full we continued back in pursuit of the hostel, my natural compass getting us back to South Gate successfully and then onto the youth Hostel. Once at the hostel Jay and I popped into the hostel pub where I saw in my Birthday playing some pool and having a G ‘n T with Bernadette and Mark and at about 1:30 I called it a night, anticipating the epic travel I had install for me the next day heading to Hong Kong. Xian is a real gem of a city and I had a really really wonderful day here and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting China!
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