Xi'an

Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
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Trip End Apr 10, 2009


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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hi everybody,
 
A lot happened since my last posting on this never boring trip so far. So here's what happened since Ulaan Baatar.
 
I wrote the last posting in an internet cafe waiting until we could go to the police for a police report. This police report I got quite easily. After that I burned my pictures which were on the USB stick on 2 CD-roms and I sent them home (from Beijing). That night we had a good meal in a fancy restaurant and we got rid of our last tugriks (Mongolian currency). We were dining together with the Swedish couple Klas and Tina and they basically paid the rest (which they didn't mind because they were on a short holiday). After the restaurant we went for some drinks to an Irish bar.
 
The next morning we left Ulaan Baatar which we didn't mind at all. We were really looking forward to Beijing and China. The countryside was quite boring: a vast flat steppe-like region which continued for hours. The Gobi desert we didn't see, because we travelled that part by night. The border took about 6 hours (including the changing of the wheels). I woke up just before Datong and an hour or so after that we saw in the distance the first bits of the Great Wall. We arrived in Beijing around 2 o'clock and checked in in a hostel just across from the train station. Pretty soon after that I went shopping for the same camera as was stolen from me a few days before. I saw a few of those camera's, but they we even (way more) expensive compared to the one I bought back home! One shop could order one for me, which would last 2 days. In the evening we walked to Tian'anmen Square or the Square of Heavenly Peace, which is the largest public space in the world. Large it is, pretty it is not. Although we liked the many kites in the sky. We walked past the Gate of Heavenly Peace and then back to the hostel.
 
The next day we slept in a little bit and I went for another camera quest. This time I was lucky and found my camera and for a slightly better price as compared to back home as well. I met Inger again in the main shopping street and we walked past a street called snack street, where they sell all kinds of things on sticks, for example crickets, scorpions, mice, intestines, etc. (some animals were still alive on the sticks before they were deep fried). Interesting to watch, but we chickened out and didn't buy let alone eat one of those treats! After this we took the subway and changed to a bus for the Summer Palace. This took about an hour and a half and we arrived at the Summer Palace a bit after 4 o'clock. We rushed through the park (thinking it would close at 5 o'clock), but later we figured out that the entrance gates would be closed at 5 o'clock. We walked quite a bit and took some great sunset pictures.
 
The next day we decided was Great Wall Day! We woke up very early to get a tourist bus from the tourist bus station. But, the buses to where we would like to go (Simatai) did not run that day. So we rushed by subway to the Dongzhimen long-distance bus station and got on a minibus to Miyun, a city where we then would change transportation to Simatai. Our crazy driver raced us out of Beijing, but then just out of Beijing we got a flat tire. We quickly changed to a regular bus to Miyun. This driver looked less crazy, but we changed our mind when he - while avoiding a traffic jam - went driving on the wrong side of the road (although it was only for about 500 meters). But we arrived safely in Miyun. Here we changed to a superminibus which brought us to a illegal taxi, which brought us to Jinshanling (we quickly changed our mind in Miyun and now we would walk for about 10 kms from Jinshanling to Simatai. After about 3,5 hours since Beijing we arrived in Jinshanling. We were both quite stunned by the beauty of the Great Wall and were walking on the Great Wall like Yes, yes, we are here! and Look how beautiful it is! It was also much quieter then we expected. The whole surrounding was very peaceful and we had a great time. Even the weather was great and we walked in t-shirt and shorts. After we about 5 hours we arrived in Simatai. Here we took a flying fox cable car (great fun!) to the parking lot. The whole ride back took us about 2,5 hours. What a great day!
 
The following day we took it a bit slower and we walked through the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City complex (former home of the emperors of both the Ming and Qing dynasties) is massive with enormous temples and gates, but we liked the smaller courtyards and alleyways the best (less crowds, more intimate). Sadly, quite a few buildings had scaffolding around them, so we couldn't enjoy their beauty. We spent here a few hours and after that we went to the park behind the Forbidden City for great views of both the Forbidden City and the rest of Beijing, which is very large! We continued walking north and arrived at the Drum Tower, where we were just in time for a drum concert. After the concert we also wanted to visit the Bell Tower, but that just closed when we arrived. From here we took a cycle rickshaw to a restaurant and we had a good meal.
 
The last day in Beijing we hired bicycles and cycling through Beijing is quite an experience. Crossing an intersection can be quite confusing and the traffic lights don't help much: it can be as safe or unsafe to cross a street with the lights turned on green or red. But we are still alive! We cycled a bike route as was written in the Lonely Planet and cycled past the Forbidden City and through the hutongs (old city with a lot of small alleyways). After the bicycle tour we wanted to visit the remains of Mao in the Mao Memorial Hall, but it turned out that the hall was closed in the afternoon, probably because of a big Communist Party meeting which was going on while we were in Beijing. That same evening we went to the Beijing West train station to catch a train to Pingyao. This train station is as big as a big airport terminal. This certainly the biggest train station I have ever seen, with huge waiting lounges for each platform with hundreds of people. On the train to Pingyao we had hard sleeper, which turned out to be not so hard at all. The only difference with the other sleeper trains we had on this trip is that the compartments were not closed.
 
After a good night's sleep we arrived in the early morning in Pingyao. Pingyao is a small town with a perfect city wall. The city within the wall is still quite intact as an old city, so no ugly modern Chinese architecture here. It's a great place to wander around, which we did. There's also a lot of souvenirs here, and we (mostly Inger) did buy quite a few souvenirs. The next day in Pingyao we had a little walk and after that we basically waited for the train to leave in the evening, while sitting in the sun, reading. Great relaxing day. The train ride itself was fine again.
 
We are now in Xi'an. The first day here we did the sight in town and amongst the best of them was the city wall, which is about 14 kilometers long. We cycled on top of the wall the whole circle (read square) on a tandem bicycle and that took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes. We also visited the Big Goose Pagoda and the temple complex around it and that was quite interesting as well. After the Big Goose Pagoda we went to both the Bell and Drum Tower and saw a short concert in the Bell Tower. North of the Drum Tower is the Muslim Quarter and here we walked around for a while and ate a lot from street stalls (some very nice good, some not at all).
 
Today I went to Hua Shan Mountain (Inger stayed in Xi'an and did some shopping and relaxing). Hua Shan is one of the 5 Taoist holy mountains in China. I walked a long way (about 6 kms) up: it took me just over 2 hours (the Lonely Planet says between 3 and 5). This was quite steep, especially the last 2 kms, which had a lot of steps. After I reached the spot where the cable car also goes, the amount of Chinese tourists became enormous. From here pretty much steps all the way. There are five peaks here: North, East, South (the highest), West en Centre Peak. Apart from the Centre Peak I visited them all. The scenery here was fantastic and it was a very sunny day as well, with clear views most of the day. Near East Peak I met 6 young Chinese (2 girls, 4 boys) and I walked with them the rest of Hua Shan. About 3 of them spoke a little English, but enough to have an entertaining conversation. They were very nice and we had a great time. We took the cable car back and they drove me all the way back with their private car to my hostel. Here I picked up Inger and the 8 of us had a local meal. After that we said goodbye. This was another great day!
 
Tomorrow we will go to the world famous terracotta army. I am curious!
 
Bye bye again. Zaijian!
 
Michel.
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