It was a pleasant morning playing for the Chengdu-Xi’an Train Skip-bo championship and Michele was the eventual winner.
The train passed along side and through mountainous areas which had minimal farming but had the signs of quarrying. The soil was quite clay and there were areas where people had carved homes and storehouses in the hills. As we came closer to Xi’an we passed more areas of construction with vacant high rises and others still under construction. This area is the home of the famous three gorges project with whole towns and villages being relocated along the three rivers to areas around Xi’an.
The train from Chengdu arrived about 1230 and we pulled up the instructions for the hotel on the iphone. We were staying at the Xian Qixian 7 Sages Youth Hostel which proudly boasts that it’s “One of the Worlds Ten Most Spectacular Hostels”, oddly enough Christian and Carolina were staying there too. Free pickup from the station wasn’t a taxi or transport, what it means is one of the staff will meet you and you have to walk (so we didn’t bother). It’s not far really only about 4 or 5 blocks but it would be challenging if we were carrying heaps of luggage.
The hostel is supposedly the former barracks of the Red Army, which has been converted and looks quite nice. The front desk staff were friendly and served us a cup of green tea on arrival and while we were waiting for the room we looked at the local tour prices. Like all hostels, the staff throughout Asia promote their own local tours, however most places have tours that are cheaper or at least comparable to outside tour operators. The cost of tours from the hostel is really pricey, up to ¥520.
The room was quite compact and surprises us when we book a double room it doesn’t come with a double bed but as a twin, maybe something is lost in translation. After a shower to freshen up and putting some washing on to wash (¥10) we headed to the restaurant for lunch. After rave reviews about their pizzas we ordered two. We can’t remember a time when we’ve left almost a whole pizza but this was a first. The Mediterranean pizza wasn’t cooked properly, cold in the centre and as it was covered in seafood, (the prawns still had the shells on). The Hawaiian wasn’t much better, chopped apple and banana on a pizza covered in cheese but not cooked through. We tried to use the free Wifi but the coverage was only in the reception area and in the courtyard near the restaurant so when we moved onto the next courtyard the Wifi dropped out. Well one thing my dad always said was self-praise is no recommendation and another thing he always said was first impressions are lasting impressions. Our first impressions aren’t really positive. I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m whinging but when people make bold promises they’d better be prepared to back them up.
We headed to the Lian Hu Park which was only about 1 km away. It was an odd park with a section full of fun fair rides, and a small lake which looked pretty stagnant and choked with rubbish. There were heaps of people and different stalls selling the usual trinkets and food. There was a group doing choral practice in a hut overlooking the lake, an old Muslim bloke who’d taken his bird for a walk with it was happily singing away in its cage, young people trying to find a spot to be alone, and families picnicking.
The Muslim quarter wasn’t far away so we walked through to it. The streets were filled with people wandering through checking out the shops filled with spices, fruits and veggies. There were shops making noodles, small restaurants and we spotted two blokes with sledgehammer like mallets bashing away at some toffee filled with peanuts. Two young local boys were bullying two local girls demanding they hand over what looked like money. Michele told the boys to stop and leave the girls alone but they were persistent every time the girls would move the boys would stand in their way. Michele took the girls by the hand and walked them down the street where they disappeared into a shop, the boys running off down an alley. It was almost a scene out of an old Chinese movie with the stand over guys demanding money, but these were 8year old punks.
The Muslim quarter led to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower, two large structures, which of course had entry fees. We checked out the coffee shops, firstly the Pacific (a large stylish cafe with long lines and poor service) and after waiting way too long to be served walked down to the Starbucks. Starbucks had about 10 people waiting to pick up drinks and another 10 waiting in line so we didn’t linger. Our next choice was Haagen Daaz (the ice cream place) which was beautifully laid out with plush furnishings. We were ushered to comfortable lounge style chairs and waited, and waited, and waited. The manager came over about 10 minutes later and after hearing Michele’s order found someone else to take her order. Very odd???
It was amazing watching what everyone was ordering, they were ice cream artworks. The most popular seemed to be like an English High Tea, with all sorts of ice cream and desserts on a three tiered cake rack. One waitress was extremely lucky when she slid on the lacquered floor and almost fell over. She lost some of the cakes but they were quickly replaced.
It seemed strange watching the decadence in a “communist country” the platters which were most popular were ¥300 each. It reflects what we see in the streets where there are very rich and very poor.
We decided on an early night so that we can be up early for the bus to the Terracotta Warriors.
Michele wasn’t feeling well this morning, one of those things when you’re travelling. Unable to have a steady diet, different sleep patterns, trying to sleep on trains sometimes it catches up. After yesterday’s lunch we decided to give the restaurant another try, by ordering breakfast. When breakfast arrived it looked nothing like an American breakfast (unless Americans have stopped eating eggs and bacon) A small ham steak with a few pieces of diced pineapple, two very small frankfurters (sorry frankfurt for describing them as one of your own),a very small hashbrown and two slices of bread toasted. Michele she read the fine print and ordered toast and two boiled eggs.
Although we had a late start we decided to head out to the Terracotta Warriors. The local bus left from near the station so we walked there. We started looking for the 306 but in the excitement caught the 603, ooops and ended up heading in completely the wrong direction. We realised our mistake and caught the bus back in the opposite direction. When we arrived back at the station we noticed a big map which indicated where all the buses left from. The 306 bus left from near the entrance to the station (or east of the station) just outside the city wall. The 306 bus (which is not a normal city bus) to the Terracotta Warriors costs only ¥7. The bus out only took about an hour stopping at a few places including the university’s in LuAhn.
On the way out we passed heaps of newly built high rises and more under construction. The bus passed a big power station with hot gases pouring out of the tall chimneys and heat exchangers, we wondered if this was one of the culprits causing the thick smog covering the city.
Entry to the Terracotta Warriors was¥150, as we went to the ticket booth a little Chinese guide, Mimi, latched onto us. Firstly offering us her services for ¥150 but dropping to 100 when we just ignored her and kept walking. She was trying to be nice by showing us the shortcut and chatting away to Michele but I wasn’t convinced we needed a guide. We’d read a few comments by people who’d been to the terracotta warriors and called it “the most underwhelming tourist attraction on the planet” so we were prepared for the worst. When we entered the first shed there was a big diorama showing the Lu “Black Mountains” to the west, the Bahe River in front, and the 8,000 soldiers. The Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb was not far away. It was situated using perfect Feng Shui, with a river containing gold at the front (for prosperity) and mountain containing the finest black jade (for long life) at the rear. He was not the only emperor buried there. Mimi showed us inside and told us of the 1000 warriors we could see. Every face was modelled off real soldiers so no two faces are the same. The heads are solid and the bodies hollow. When they were originally built they were lined up in trenches with one line facing out in defence. They were all armed with bronze bladed weapons with wooden shafts, and they were all painted. There were wooden chariots attached to teams of four horses. When all the work was finished the pits were covered with a wooden roof and covered over. Unfortunately for the builders, when their contract ended they were put to death.
So the location was forgotten until a farmer digging a well in the 70’s dug up a terracotta head. Over the hundreds of years the roof had rotted and the soil on top had caved in and broken the warriors all except the lucky archer who had escaped undamaged. The big jigsaw puzzle then started with archaeologists piecing together 1,000 warriors for display. At the back of Shed One is an area with warriors in various stages of reconstruction. We crossed into Shed Three where there was some excavation of the headquarters with some warriors facing inwards ready to receive commands. There were also areas where excavation had started but had been postponed. They had unearthed a painted warrior who after a week had lost the colour due to oxidisation and the impact of air conditioning. The archaeologists were waiting for better methods to be developed before proceeding.
Shed Three was the home of the lucky archer in his glass case. There were also reconstructed officers and a horse.
Mimi ushered us into Shed Two where the newest discovery was on display. The two chariots of the emperor. They were only 1/3 size of real which didn’t matter in the spirit world. They were made of bronze, with 4 horses, bells on the wheels to warn heavenly hosts of the emperor’s approach, and one way windows so that commoners couldn’t see in.
Mimi supplied lots of facts and figures throughout the tour and we even got to meet the farmer who made this amazing discovery. The only thing that annoyed us was exiting via the gift shops, although we learnt the difference between real and fake jade bracelets. Rub two bracelets together and if they’re fake they’ll smell like burnt plastic. Another way is to hold it up to the light and see what’s inside, normally it will have some minerals showing.
We parted ways with Mimi and after ignoring her advice about restaurants had some god awful noodles. We caught the 714 back to Xian which took forever as the conductor was busily drumming up business all along the route.
As it was still early when we arrived back, we caught the bus out to the Wild Goose Temple. At 830pm there was a light, and water show. They have a massive line of fountains descending through a park which leads to the temple. It was spectacular going for 30 minutes with all the fountains in time with the music and lights. There was a huge crowd three or more deep lining the fountains edges.
It was a really nice way to end the day. We caught a battered old Tata bus 5 back to the main station and walked the short distance back to the hostel.
Tomorrow is our last day and we spend the day in Xian before heading to Beijing in the overnight train.