We got an overnight train to Xi’an arriving just before lunch. It was a good journey but we had been told to expect all sorts of dire consequences if we travelled hard sleeper. You have two tiers of 3 bunks in anopen compartment, about 15 compartments in a carriage. The main problem is that Chinese people buy a ticket for a single bunk when there are 4 or more of them in a group. We had been told to expect to spend the night defending our territory and repelling all boarders but in the event it was very civilsed and we got a good nights sleep.
Xi’an is the nicest big Chinese city we have visited. The pollution does not seem as bad as elsewhere and it is a very modern place with lots of huge Western style shops, including a department store just over the road which knocks John Lewis into a cocked hat. Our hostel is very central and we explored the Muslim quarter in the afternoon. There are lots of market stalls selling all sorts of food and souvenirs. They also have crickets for sale in little cages. We also visited the Great Mosque which was very peaceful after the crowded market and also quite plain in contrast to the gaudy Buddhist temples were have been seeing recently. We met up with an English couple again who we had first encountered in Mongolia, which was nice. They are going on a cruise down the Yangtze and then going to Japan.
In the evening we went out for another culinary adventure. We went into a restaurant we liked the look of (applying the usual criteria (see previous entry). However, we were told that the downstairs room didn’t have an English menu and we would have to up to the 3rd floor. When we arrived it was obvious that upstairs was going to be far more expensive (tablecloths, napkins folded in wine glasses etc) so we ducked out again. Next door we went into another place and chose things at random from a Chinese menu (forgot the phrase book again!) and had a very good meal indeed.
Yesterday (Sunday) we went to the Shaaanxi History Museum which traces the history of the area through from the Neolithic to the Qing Dynasty. It was really excellent with wonderful displays of bronze, pottery and porcelain ( a lot of grave goods including many little pottery figures). Then we went on to the Big Goose Pagoda from which you get a great view of the city. It has become extremely hot in the past few days so we are going quite slowly. We went to the Terracotta Army today. Again this was really impressive – somewhere I had wanted to go for a long time. The site itself is very well organised and 3 pits of warriors are open to the pulic the best being Pit 1 which has been excavated to a greater extent than the others. I know some of Terracotta Warriors are going to the British Museum soon but it is the number of them and scale of the thing that is most staggering.
Tomorrow we are going to Banpo which is a Neolithic site near Xi’an. Then that will be an end to the cultural side of things for a while as we are off to Chengdu tomorrow on the train. We paln to visit the panda reserve near there and then take to the hills for a while.
All for now.