Day 24 / Day 8 of ACEC
Our sleeper train destination from Shanghai was Xi’an. After some breakfast (Dave paid to eat at the hotel, I do not like Chinese breakfasts much as can’t face noodles and rice in the morning and as there was no Western option, I thought better to stick with snacks!) and checking into our rooms, we all headed to the Wild Goose Pagoda with Jackie via a packed public bus. She had kindly organised for a local volunteer guide, Lee, to take us around.
The entrance fee was nominal, our guide highly informative, and the pagoda complex itself quite interesting to walk around. We saw some absolutely fantastic jade sculptures (I think finished in the nineties or early noughties) depicting the story of the Buddha’s life, which I particularly enjoyed, as well as some wooden sculptures and also a sneak peak of some as yet unfinished beautiful golden dragons.
At the end of our guided tour, we were taught a little about Chinese calligraphy by Lee, who wrote each of our names in Chinese using an ink-and-brush technique on some rice paper. These we got to keep for free as mementos, and then afterwards, we looked at a wide range of Chinese paintings (we were being encouraged to buy as well as look but we did not feel pressured), including smaller pieces that were quite reasonably priced. Dave and I purchased one of these as a souvenir – you could see the individual brushstrokes and how the painting differed from others similar to it, and it was clear that it had actually been painted by a local artist (though not one yet famous haha!).
In the afternoon, Jackie took us for a yummy local noodle lunch (during which she herself ordered what I can only describe as a Chinese pork burger – she let us try it, and it was very good – both the noodles and the burger were local to Xi’an and had their own distinct taste and flavour) and then to see the local bell and drum tower – I can’t remember if I mentioned during my bit about Beijing, but I think almost every town and city has a bell and drum tower of sorts – which are both, in Xi’an, situated near the Muslim quarter, in which there are hundreds of market stalls, selling everything from candyfloss to kites.
By the afternoon, this area of Xi’an was absolutely packed. This was due, in part, because of the tomb sweeping festival, currently ongoing. As a result, Dave and I didn’t brave actually visiting the inside of the bell and drum towers, but we did slowly inch our way along the market stalls in the Muslim quarter, and I bought some candyfloss – no ordinary candyfloss, but a multi-coloured giant 3D flower which I got to watch being made. The British lady in our group also picked up some wonderful silk kites for her grandsons.
In the evening, we went for a pancake dinner – name to follow! Rather than the Beijing duck, this involved rolling all kinds of different fillings, from tasty veggie options to spicy pork, in two sorts of pancakes, wheat and egg. As all my wraps kept falling apart due to overenthusiastic filling, I ended up eating them the same way as I do chapatti and veg or curry – tearing bits of pancake with my hand and scooping up little morsels of filling. Nobody cared that I did this – I don’t think there were strict rules. Chopsticks were provided though I don’t think many people were using them!
After, just before turning in, we went to go and see the bell tower once more, this time unmarred by hordes of people, and lit up for the night. It presented a very pretty picture and some great photo opportunities – much like lit-up cathedrals in England by night.
Day 25 / Day 9 of ACEC
This was a day that had been highly anticipated by everyone in the group, Dave and I no exception, because it was the day that we were going to go and see the renowned Terracotta Army!
The day dawned cool and drizzly, and we set off in the morning with Jackie and a local guide (a girl in her twenties, like Jackie) in a private bus to drive to the site of the Terracotta warriors.
There is a fee to get in, but the price was included in the cost of the tour for us, this activity being included. The actual Terracotta museum consists of three pits, two of which have been completely dug up, and the third and most impressive of which is still in the process of being excavated. We saw that one last.
There were many tourists visiting, but this did not detract much from my personal experience. The first thought that struck me on looking down into the first pit, in which some clay soldiers stood but more had fallen and still more were missing limbs, was that it felt as though I was looking into a mass grave, and that these were actual bodies. I think this is a testament to the creators of the army, but also makes sense given that these were, in the historical context, replacements for what originally would have been actual slaughtered soldiers, sent into the next life with their Emperor.
The final pit was indeed especially impressive, and this time, as most soldiers are standing (or have been propped into standing positions, limbs painstakingly fixed back on), you genuinely felt like you were looking upon a vast, vast army. The actual traditional exhibit-and-caption museum building was informative, with detailed English captions accompanying displays.
To complete the visit, we watched an interesting documentary about the Terracotta army in an Imax style cinema. My only criticism was that there were no benches to sit on during this. But this is a very minor point during an amazing day.
The day was cloudy but it’s worth noting that the surrounding scenery is rather beautiful, with hills and mountains rolling into the distance, and would be even more so on a clear day.
We had lunch out near the Terracotta museum at a local family’s, much like we did in Hutong in Beijing, for about $3 each. The food was excellent and there was far too much of it. Of especial note was the dessert – syrup coated apple slices which were heaven itself…
In the evening, we didn’t feel like doing much (it was quite a long day), and had another pot noodle dinner, after failing to locate the nearby KFC which I’d sworn I’d seen near the hotel the previous day…
The next morning we flew to Chengdu, home of that famous hotpot I mentioned in the last post.
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Next post – Chengdu!