To Xi’an & beyond…

There is no beyond, we just went to Xi’an and back but it doesn’t have the same ring to it…

Second round of visitors (only 10 days after the first) arrived safely. After a 13 day tour of China, Joel’s parents Richard and Tracey, took a high speed train from Beijing to Guangzhou. They had a surprise greeting by us at the train station and we arranged a van to pick us up, hoping that some extra space would be appreciated for the hour long drive into the city. Unfortunately this was lost in translation (or something like that) and our vehicle was a sedan. Luckily the two suitcases fit in the trunk and three of us squeezed in the back. The in-laws took this in stride and had no complaints about the cramped conditions of this car ride (I had enough for all of us I think). After 2 days of rest at our apartment we headed off to Xi’an for a long weekend. Luckily our van was organised and delivered. No cramped ride to the airport. Smooth travels up (no delays) and easy taxi ride to our accommodation. This is where the fun starts. We decided to get an Airbnb so we had more space to spread out and room to hang out and play cards at night (which we did every night). We also wanted to be in a good location, able to walk around easily and not rely on taxis. The only positives to this stay. The apartment, while spacious, was a bit dingy on the outside, giving our guests some apprehension about where we decided to stay. Once inside we discovered an apartment with two decent sized rooms, a nice sitting area and a bathroom with an opaque window. How lovely for 4 people to share a place with a view into the loo. The beds also were misleading as they weren’t mattresses, they were the hard base of a mattress. While the window to the toilet could be covered with taped up papers, we had to suffer on the beds for 4 nights. Again, our fellow travellers took it in stride and had very few gripes and groans (mine were enough for 4 people). Once I got over the fact that this apartment was not up to our standards, I was able to enjoy the reasons for taking this trip: to be a tourist!

We visited Terracotta Warriors (along with 30,000 other people), the Muslim Quarter, The City Wall, Muslim Quarter, The Bell Tower, The Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter,  a brewery and the Muslim Quarter. A favourite spot was definitely the Muslim Quarter.

On our way to the Terracotta Warriors, we stopped in to a factory where they make the souvenir warriors. Quite impressive with the detail and hand-crafting that goes on with each warrior.

Once at the ‘museum” as our guide called it, we were awed and impressed by the sheer vastness of this army. Of course I don’t remember any of the actual numbers of each or size or importance of this terracotta army, it was still amazing (even if it was my second visit).

Before launching into everything awesome and amazing about the Muslim Quarter and why we visited multiple times, I’ll share the other activities we did while in Xi’an:

We made it 2/3 of the way around the City Wall of Xi’an. A two hour rental is not enough to make it 13km, with a gift shop stop or two, signs to read and people to dodge on the wall. It was enough though as a few of us had not been on a bike in many many years (sore bums were not uncommon after this activity).

The next activity we did was visiting the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The history of this city amazes me. We live in a relatively “young” or “new” city. Things here just aren’t old. All old things have been destroyed, torn down and built over, then a new version of the old temples, family halls or buildings are reconstructed, usually including neon lights of some sort. Being in a city that has held on to it’s historical sites and attempted to preserve them (with enhancement of neon lighting) makes you appreciate the true and vast history of this country. We are faced with the manufacturing and trading, markets and shopping and plenty of factories here and forget that this country has been through a lot and has a lot to offer. Xi’an opened our eyes up to that and it was a great experience.

 

Another amazing piece of history we heard about, then stumbled upon, was the Great Mosque. Although we were in the middle of a bustling city and market area, once inside the gardens at the mosque, everything was peaceful and quiet. Amazing pieces of architecture covered the grounds and we wandered through the gardens amazed at the age of the entire mosque. While I enjoy a bit of history and stories about the past, my favourite part were the playful kittens, of course.

So we hit the big tourist spots of Xi’an, mostly inside the city wall. Between visiting those places, we either wandered through or stopped to eat in, the Muslim Quarter. Have a look at the link to read about it. The history is very interesting, it is very unique to China and makes for a great place to visit (over and over again). We enjoyed the street food several times, although never daring to eat the meat (which hangs on hooks in the street). There was plenty of places to shop at, with a mix of tourist trinkets and art and traditional Chinese items. Because we were staying just down the street from this area, we were able to visit time and time again, trying a new food each time, or repeating a favourite (potatoes for Joel). During the day the area was relatively calm, however at night the streets literally filled up with people (locals and tourists alike) queuing for a Chinese hamburger or skewers of (what we assumed was) lamb. Amongst the crowds were also motorbikes, zooming through the narrow streets, blaring horns and occasionally yelling at people mesmerised by the energetic food holders calling people in (or maybe only focused on their phones). Either way, it’s chaotic. Bright lights also stuck out from every restaurant front, flashing neon words in Chinese. Overwhelmed was an understatement for me. Let’s just say I stuck to daytime visits. Plenty of stimulation for me there. Minimal photos because we always had food in our hands.

We had a great family trip to Xi’an. We all survived. No one got lost, and most importantly both our flights were on time (this is a very big deal in China).

Did I mention they like their bright lights on the ancient buildings? Not much of a heritage site, but it sure looked pretty!

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A ginger in Xi’an…

This ginger has travelled China…successfully. This is a loosely defined term, successful, because China is safe and mostly easy to travel in, but there are elements to travelling here that make a simple trip so much more eventful and nearly unsuccessful.

But I will begin by first explaining why I travelled in China, and not with my husband. Again, this being a major reason why this trip could have been unsuccessful. He is my guide, my rock, my leader, when travelling. When I am unsure, he becomes super confident and takes the reigns, allowing me to have a freak out and he to have control. Therefore, travelling alone is tough for me, and in China, that is a whole other ballgame. I was lucky though, I did have a travel buddy. She is a colleague of Joel’s and now one of my buddies. And she’s Aussie. Again, can be unsuccessful when travelling with little to no Chinese in China. We were borderline unsuccessful in that area. But I need to clarify, this was successful. Not only did we get up to Xi’an with minimal delay, we got back from Xi’an with minimal delay (flights here are notoriously delayed, warning to those planning on visiting and travelling around the country).

The purpose of this trip was to represent K2Fit (the company for which I am coach) at a government sponsored fun run around the area of Xingping, just west of Xi’an. This region is attempting to increase their tourism and apparently fun-runs are the way to do it. Which includes having non-Chinese faces on stage for the warm-up. This was our job. Perform a few songs before the race to warm up the crowd and pump them up for their 7km run. Here are a few of the highlights of doing this: sitting in a bus for VIPs with top government officials and two Olympic weightlifters, standing in the freezing cold while the intro speeches take way too long, going on stage after a handful of skinny cheerleader/dancers wearing next to nothing, and top on the list of that morning’s events: messing up the entire routine. This was due to them cutting time (10 minutes to 5), rushing us on stage with my microphone barely attached (not important because I spoke English, participants Chinese) and me starting on the wrong foot. Literally. In this routine we needed to start with the right foot, I was so messed up that I stepped left, and that was the beginning on the end. But the fiasco was done in 5 minutes, because once the song ended, the runners turned around and the horn blew and off they went. I hopped off stage as fast as I could, hung my head and trudged back to the VIP bus. It was not the flashy, well choreographed set I had planned and practised umpteen times. It was a disaster. Luckily my trusty side kick was by my side and followed along and gave me a semi-positive review. Both of us were just glad it was over. I don’t think the runners minded so much as once they started coming back in, we were asked by plenty of participants for pictures. It’s fun being a no-one that people think is a someone.

Just to see what it was like, here are some pics…

 

Well that was Sunday morning. We arrived Saturday afternoon so we had nearly (once we got to the hotel and found a taxi) an whole evening to explore. But we were pretty far out from the city center. I didn’t know much about Xi’an, and still don’t to be honest, but I will say what I did see and experience was amazing and I know I will be going back. But the bits we did see were the Muslim Quarter, known for it’s street food. And street food it was…

The feel of the small streets filled with vendors selling all types of food (see above) and trinkets and tourist toys, along with the motor bikes whizzing through nearly knocking people over, made this area really feel like you imagine China. GZ has yet to show me any areas where you feel the culture and the experience it, Xi’an did that in one short evening.

We didn’t get to actual visit it, but this spot looked amazing as well…the watch tower.

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Once our evening outing was completed, we headed back to the hotel (via a very nice taxi driver that did not drive down the wrong way on a freeway on-ramp. Yes that happened on the drive to the city. The most Chinese driving experience I have had. And no one honked when we drove directly at them obviously going the wrong way. Frightening yet interesting and a bit exhilarating.

After our Sunday morning silliness (the nice way to describe it, I have other words not blog friendly), we were invited to lunch with some of the organisers (Helen is the main one, whom we were pictured with above) and a few local government officials. We had a beautiful lunch and were even given a special noodle dish only shared with people welcomed into the family. My buddy and I were quite humbled. Once we finished our tasty noodles (along with many other delightful local dishes) we rushed off the see the Terracotta Warriors. Helen had not yet been so she said she would take us as she also had a flight to GZ that night and we would all go together. This was a great idea because it meant we didn’t have to pay for a car to and from and we even got our tickets to the attraction paid for (it’s all about who you know!). The Xi’an trip was working out great, until traffic stopped. We sat in a parking lot on the freeway for what seemed liked hours. There was a terrible accident (when we passed in eventually we did see how terrible it really was) and it nearly stopped our trip to the warriors. But because we had an awesome driver that really wanted us to see the biggest tourist attraction in his hometown, he made sure we got there, even for a quick 25 minutes to nearly run through exhibits. But I did see them!

The warriors were amazing. Or there probably is a better word but that is what I am sticking with now. Thesaurus aren’t worth it. Top tourist destination in China when you visit. And this was just the tip of the tourist iceberg for the city.

The second most eventful part was rushing through the airport to make sure we got checked in. Made it by one minute. Lines for security (same protocol as going international as I described in a previous post) were long and luckily there was a line for flights soon to be departing. In this line we had to deal with “cutters” as we would call them back in elementary school. A group of men thought their flight was more important than ours and tried to push in. Sometimes in China this happens and no one cares. Not this time. At least 5 in the line gave some harsh words to these people and shamed them into going to the end of the queue. Faith restored. Made the flight with a couple minutes to spare. No wine, but the tea was nice.

So there is it, a ginger went to Xi’an, had a mostly successful trip there and back and in the middle too. I don’t recommend travelling without your rock though, sometimes you need a hard place to lean against when it all gets to be too much in China.