Day 10: Xian
We woke up to rain. AGAIN. After checking out of the hotel, we left our luggage with the desk and went out to explore more of Xian. Today we were headed for the ancient city wall, which rings the city and was once used as a military defense system to guard against enemy invasion. It is the most complete city wall left in China, and having been restored several times, it is now a popular tourist destination. We wanted to bike around the entire wall (9 miles) and check out the city from above.
At the top, we found ourselves almost entirely alone; the weather seemed to keep the visitors away. A few bicycle taxis passed by, and there were a couple of men flying kites, but otherwise, we had the place to ourselves. Unfortunately, we couldn’t rent bikes due to the rain, so we decided to walk one-quarter of the wall, from its South Gate to its West Gate.
Stationed at various points along the wall were artillery towers, lookout points, and sloping passages once used by horses to reach the top (now used by the bicycle taxis). Daily life proceeded below, including an elementary school with classes in session as we looked over the edge of the wall and observed the city.
After descending the wall, we walked through the city checking out more shops. Spotting a bakery with gorgeous pastries in the window, we took a break from the rain and sampled some.
We ended up back in the Muslim Quarter, where we looked for different snacks than we’d tried the night before. Today we bought a bag of roasted, salted walnuts in their shells, two different kinds of flatbread, and a crepe filled with green onions, beef, and egg.
Our train was scheduled to leave at 8:16, so by 6:00 we were back at the hotel to get our bags and find a cab. We asked the desk agent to call us one, but he said there was no way we’d get one with the rain and that it would be better to take the bus. However, the prospect of a rush-hour-packed bus with no English and two suitcases did not sound promising, so we stood on the curb and finally managed to hail a cab ourselves. Twenty minutes of ridiculous traffic later, we made it to the station.
The train station was a big confusing mess of people and luggage, and the rain certainly didn’t help. We managed to find our train number on the digital display, pushed our way through a luggage screening area, and found ourselves inside the main station. Trains and their corresponding “gate area” were posted on another board, but ours wasn’t; we showed our tickets to a guard and he pointed us to the “Soft Seat Lounge”, where they finally told us we were in the right place.
I chatted a little with the ladies next to us and showed them our tickets to see if they were going to Beijing as well (they were not). Our train had finally been posted on the display in the lounge but did not have an assigned platform yet, so we waited. Suddenly, following an announcement in Chinese, the ladies motioned for us to get up and follow the crowd; apparently our train was boarding, though I’m not sure how we would have figured that out. Through a door in the back of the lounge was our train, with a helpful sign on its outside reading “Xian to Beijingxi (Beijing West)”. We had made it. 🙂
The soft-sleeper berths each had four bunks (which locked from the inside), with bedding, slippers, and boiling water provided. Matt and I had an upper and lower bunk, and we arrived in our car probably to the great amusement of the guy who’d gotten there before us. There were no lights on yet, so we unloaded our luggage and got settled in the dark. The fourth passenger arrived, a businessman named Kevin (from Delaware, of all places), the lights came on, and we talked while the train was loading. At 8:16 on the dot, we left the station, and by 10:00, Matt and I were reading quietly and the other two were asleep.
The train tickets cost a total of $120, which is definitely cheaper than two plane tickets and a hotel room would have been. While the train may have been slightly more confusing than flying, it was nice to go to sleep knowing that in eleven hours and 750 miles, we would wake up in Beijing.