A Travellerspoint blog

China

Xi'an

sunny 5 °C

From Beijing, we took an overnight sleeper train to Xi'an. The station we went from was like an airport it was so big. After you had entered the station you went to a waiting room until it was time to board your train. There were about 12 of these waiting rooms and our room alone was as big as any station concourse in the UK. It was a fascinating place to sit and watch people.

We were travelling in soft sleeper class which would be our equivalent of first class (there were no cheaper beds available) which meant we were sharing with 2 others (two young Chinese men). Alice and I both had bottom bunks which were comfortable. The journey was about 11 hours but by the time we had eaten a pot noodle and sorted our things we went to sleep. In the morning we were woken by the train guard with a cup of tea and chocolate biscuit. Alice was not impressed by the state of the toilets in the morning and came back and almost vomited!

Monday 14th January

We were met at the station by the hostel who drove us to our accommodation. After having a really nice, warm, powerful shower we went to a market which was only open on Mondays. What we didn't realise before setting off was the scale of our map so we ended up walking for about 2hrs to get there. The market was mainly selling antiques and there were cabins which every vendor had - lucky we don't have a house to decorate otherwise Alice was ready to start buying... As we had come this far outside the city, we went to the nearby Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a Buddhist temple which was serene compared to the manic streets outside. On our way we went to a restaurant called First Noodle Under the Sun, where the specialty is a 6cm wide, 3.8m noodle served with two broths. After a couple of minutes trying to master eating the noodle, the waitress spared our blushes and cut and dished our noodles into the broth - we both felt like kids having to get someone to dish up our food! At night we went to the Muslim quarter for dinner and tried kebabs and flatbreads as we meandered through the area.

Tuesday 15th January

From our hostel we took a bus to the train station where we caught another bus to the Terracotta Warriors. Travelling on the roads is an experience - the Chinese standard of driving is abysmal and they like to use their horns alot. Signs don't mean much either (a recurring theme). Nevertheless it was a very cheap way to get there (70p for over an hours journey). We walked to the entrance rather than pay 50p for a golf cart to take us there. The warriors were discovered in 1974 by a local farmer who was digging a well in a period of drought. Since then, they have been excavating and they are no where near finished. As we were recommended by our guidebook, we did the pits in reverse order and to be honest we were both a bit underwhelmed by the first two pits which were largely unexcavated. However pit 1, the biggest, was an amazing sight with hundreds of warriors on show. The detail of these figures was amazing and each warrior apparently has a different facial features. For dinner we went to a local restaurant and tried chicken kebabs which turned out be chicken gristle, leeks fried with chillies and bacon and garlic which was very much like a western bacon and leek dish.

Wednesday 16th January

Today was our last day in Xi'an before we took another night train to Shanghai. We had a lazy morning and then cycled around the city walls on a tandem which was great fun and gave a lot of Chinese people the opportunity to point and laugh. The walls are 14km long and about 20m above the ground level which provided another view of the city. Outside the city walls, skyscrapers are going up everywhere so it was a big contrast between inside and outside the city walls. In the afternoon we walked around the Muslim quarter and had lunch. We were both convinced that in a large pan which most vendors had was potato however we were very mistaken when we took a bite into it to discover it was some sort of fat! This is the only food so far we have been unable to eat - neither of us could manage more than a taste!

Posted by duncan-alice 23:24 Archived in China Tagged xi'an Comments (1)

Beijing

semi-overcast -5 °C

Tuesday 8th January

We arrived in Beijing at about 1700 local time after an uneventful flight. It was surprisingly easy to get to our accommodation thanks to the constant English signs. The first thing we did once at the hostel was to go to the train station to book our tickets out of Beijing. Once we had adjusted to Chinese queuing system getting a ticket was simple. We had originally planned to go to Pingyao, a traditional Chinese town, however there were only standing tickets available for the 12 hour journey and neither of us fancied that! Instead we decided to spend an extra day in Beijing and go to Xi'an next. From the station we went for a walk round the city and managed to get lost. We tried to ask two parking attendants to point out on a map where we were but they completely blanked us! Eventually we found a metro and headed back, stopping off at a family run dumpling restaurant for dinner where the staff couldn't help but laugh as we ate. Nevertheless, they insisted we put our comments on a sticker which they proudly proceeded to put on the wall - must have been first non Chinese to eat there and still be smiling at the end!

Wednesday 9th January

We started off by going to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We couldn't believe how big they were - there were a lot of hawkers but they mainly left us alone and targetted the Chinese tourists who vastly outnumbered us. Tiananmen Square was heavily guarded but less so in the Forbidden City. The palace buildings were impressive but quickly became a bit monotonous. At the top of the city were two parks which we visited giving great views over the palace buildings - it was then we realised we probably missed half of it out. At Beihai Park, the lake was frozen so we had fun watching the mothers and children play on the ice in chairs with ski poles! For dinner we went to a night market which was serving Chinese delicacies such as snake, scorpions and locusts - we were only brave enough to have lamb and some chicken dumplings!

Thursday 10th January

Our first port of call today was the Summer Palace, a manmade royal garden, which encompassed a huge lake and palace. We had great views over the frozen lake from the palace and over the city to the south. We then walked by the lake, plucking up the courage to walk on the ice. For lunch we had a pot noodle type box (which is becoming a staple food) from a cafe on the side of the lake. In the afternoon we went to the Bird's Nest and Olympic Park where the 2008 Olympics were held. The site was very impressive but it laid idle apart from the men offering Chinese tourists their photo in front of this national landmark. As we wandered around the back of the acquatics centre, Alice got "assaulted" by a man dressed in Mickey Mouse costume who wouldn't leave her alone (and obviously wanted me to pay for the privilege to take his photo with her). I wasn't much use in this situation but a loud squeal from her scared him off! Dinner tonight was the local Peking duck at a nearby restaurant. It was very nice but didn't live up to either of our expectations.

Friday 11th January

We had planned to go to the Great Wall today however Alice's knee has been playing up so decided before we got on the metro it wasn't worth risking hurting it further. Instead we went to the Temple of Heaven, some religious buildings in a park to the south of the city. The park was massive and full of locals doing their tai chi to (what sounded like trance) music and playing keepy uppy with an object not to dissimilar to a shuttlecock. The temple was impressive but we were in need of some warmth so went into the market opposite to see what it had to offer. It was basically like a department store but there were lots of different stalls but no prices shown. We were offered a pair of Beats headphones for equivalent of GBP10 which was dropped to 8 when we walked away. As it was still before lunch, we headed to the Lama Temple, the largest Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It was packed full of Chinese praying to the Buddhas with incense. After a Chinese style fast food lunch (very good and cheap!) we relaxed in the hostel in the afternoon. At night we went to nearby Ghost Street for dinner. The street is packed full of restaurants so we randomly chose one based on the claim they had English menus. The restaurant was packed and we were taken to the back room, passing tanks of live fish, to be seated. We chose a "safe" chicken and walnut dish and a fish dish. The fish was freshly "caught" from the tank and brought to our table for our approval. The chicken dish was the best we had in China - crispy and full of flavours although a bit sweet and sickly (we couldn't finish it). The carp was sliced in two and then cooked in a tray with (lots of) garlic, leeks, celery and beans. It was good but nothing in comparison to the chicken. Just after we finished eating, a lady carriered over her young son, held him over the bin near our table and he peed through the gap in his trousers (babies in China seem to wear outfits which allow them to do the toilet whenever and wherever by opening their trousers) - I was just glad we had finished eating by that point!

Saturday 12th January

For the second morning in a row we got up at the crack of dawn with the intention of going to the Great Wall. Alice had doped herself up on ibuprofen to make sure we could go so we set off early for the train station. We had decided to go to the nearest, and most touristy, place on the wall for simplicity of getting there. Buying a train ticket was simple enough and we managed to get on the train OK, all of 60p for a single journey lasting just over an hour (and alot cheaper than the tours at GBP20 the hostel were offering!) It was interesting to go through the suburbs of Beijing and see the developing expansion of the city. As we meandered into the hills, we saw some sections of the wall and it was a 10 min walk from the station at Badaling to the "entrance" to the wall. We could walk in either direction along the wall but decided to walk towards the cable car in case Alice's knee wasn't able to cope. The wall was extremely impressive - climbing up the ascents was tough enough, thinking of actually constructing something of this scale was something else. We had the option to get a sliding car down back to the town (a tobogan ride is a possibility at another part of the wall) but as Alice's knee was holding up we went back towards the other side. Today was the first hazy day so not sure if the photos will reflect the wow factor. Once back in Beijing, we went to two pedestrianised shopping streets which had been designed in traditional style - it was a bit tacky I thought. After a nap, we went to a nearby restaurant for some food. Today's "safe" option was chicken and peanuts and the risky option we don't know what it was, but involved a lot of fat, along with some fried dumplings. The food was nice but not as good as last nights (but a lot cheaper so we couldn't complain - GBP6 for three dishes and two beers)

Sunday 13th January

Today is our last day in Beijing before we take a night train to Xi'an later this evening. In the morning we went to the Drum and Bell Tower and for a walk round some local hutongs (traditional narrow streets). That didn't take as long as we had planned so we got a metro to another market which was very similar to the first one we visited. In the afternoon we came back to the hostel for warmth, upload some photos before leaving for the train station later for our first experience of a sleeper train in China!

To end on the weather: it has been very cold here! Highs have barely been above 0C during the day and -5C at night. As long as we keep moving and are layered up (6 is Alice's record) the cold is manangeable. Handwarmers have been a lifesaver for Alice! The first two days were cold but very clear and not a cloud in the sky. As you may be hearing at home, the pollution / smog in Beijing is very bad at the moment so visibility is low (but not as bad where we are as BBC is showing).

(PS Alice is winning 4-3 on the "request for photo with a white person challenge"!)

Apologies for the boring photos but more will follow. Uploading them here is a nightmare!

Birds Nest

Birds Nest

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

DSC00017

DSC00017

Posted by duncan-alice 00:02 Archived in China Tagged beijing Comments (3)

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