We had another early start today, with our train from Beijing to Xian leaving a 6:27 am, we needed to be ready by 5:30 am. Felipe at this point was getting used to the frantic pace of my travel adventures. He seemed to appreciate more the superb gifts that travelling offers. Well, it also helped that I designed, a travel points system, especially for him, to keep him motivated every day, where he could earn travel points, with every contribution he would make to the trip. He loved the idea of the game which made each day more interesting for both of us.
Train from Beijing to Xi’an
Beijing West rail station is 10 km from the city centre, so luckily that was only 25 minutes car drive from our hotel. This rail station serves mostly high-speed trains, or “bullet trains” as they are called locally. This rail station manages over 150.000 passengers a day, so it was pretty hectic just to get in.
Bullet trains, cover the 1216 km journey between Beijing and Xi’an in 4hr 20 minutes. At their top speed, they run at 300 k.p.h.
This type of trains offers three different seating options: 2nd class, 1st class and Business class. Today we travelled on second class seats, which have 3-2 seating layout configuration. Our colleague in Beijing booked our allocated seats on the two-seating side, which was comfy and spacious enough for us.
I checked also the other seating options:
1st class seating is on a 2-2 layout configuration, seats are 3 cms larger than 2nd class seats, and they cost about 40% more than 2nd class. Business-class seating is configured on a 2-1 layout, therefore more comfortable than 1st class seats and with the possibility to convert seats into a flatbed of 180 degrees. These seats cost three times more than the 2nd class (approx. £190), the space between rows is about 2 metres. Some perks for passengers travelling on business class seats are access to the VIP lounge and complimentary meals and snacks. Additionally, some trains are configured with seats that can rotate side to side, which is great for appreciating the landscape as you travel.
The only thing that I found a little problematic was to communicate with the train’s attendants because they speak very little English, which made difficult buying meals and snacks on-board (veggie and egg-free options were a challenge to request). Still, in general, the train journey very smooth and comfortable. I found useful to find power slots in the seats, as this allowed me to keep my mobile charged at all times.
Visit the Terracotta Army
Upon our arrival at Xian Train Station, we were greeted by our lovely expert local guide, Lucy, who was waiting for us at the arrival gate. We then headed straight on to visit Terracotta Army archaeological site, located at 45 km of Xian. On our way, Lucy was providing us with some valuable information about the discovery of the army in March 1974, (which you can check in the video below ) by farmers who were digging a water well near Mount Li, where the Emperor Qin Shi Huang tomb is located.
The army was built to protect the emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife, and of course to show all his glory, after all, he was the one who united the states, building one of the most dominant empires in China.
Upon arrival to the archaeological site, and as I was already expecting, it was crowded, in fact, extremely crowded, so it was very convenient having Lucy’s help, as she had arranged our entry tickets in advance.
The terracotta warriors are a true marvel of history, no wonder why its discovery is considered as one of the greatest in the 20th century! I was static at seeing each figure, so meticulously sculpted, each with its unique facial expression, I felt nearly as if they were trying to say something. My imagination went back in time, wondering the moments when they were being sculpted, and also the army of people that surely had to work on them then, their thoughts, their beliefs..
We had time to visit the three pits and managed to survive alive the “walk and push” system to make our way through and observe closely, and also to have some photos taken. However, at times we felt exhausted of the crowds.
I could see Felipe was very impressed by the warriors. He stayed staring at them for ages and “fought” his way through by advancing the Chinese way… that is pushing-advancing des-pa-ci-to..and without apologies though the crowd.
Pit No.1 contains the majority of the army with over 6000 statues, of those approximately 2000 has been restored or uncovered. The pit is formed by various corridors and it is approximately 230 metres long.
We then moved to Pit 2 where we saw the cavalry, infantry and some chariots.
Lastly, we visited the Pit 3, which was the main office area. Lucy told us that this was the “headquarters” of the army, but the sometimes jokingly called the “headless-quarter” since lots of the figure’s heads have never been found. In this pit, we identified, with the help of Lucy, some high-ranking officer’s figures.
We were also lucky to be able to observe some of the restoration processes. I was particularly astonished by the dedication, patience and work skills that restoration workers put into their task to bring the army back into its full original shape, especially since most figures were found in pieces and have been patiently put together over the years since their discovery in 1974.
We then walked around the area near the site, which is basically a shopping district, a result of the masses of people coming to the area. There are several stores and dining places. Souvenirs stalls are everywhere. There is an onsite shop exiting the archaeological site, however with much more expensive items than the ones outside.
Xi’an City Wall
Next visit was to the Xian City Wall, what a beautiful walk this was!! we were impressed by the preservation of this marvellous 14 km fortification as we walked thought its “romantic” setting of red and grey colours that nearly took me back in time. Lamps and several other decorations completed a perfect setting for our quick afternoon walk admiring the hectic pace of Xian from the wall.
The pathways are quite wide, so were told that it is common to see locals and tourist enjoying a bike ride through the top area, at this point, I wanted to grab a bike and go for it!!!, but we didn’t have enough time. We only did a little stroll around the wall and then we continued to the Muslim Quarter.
The Muslim Quarter:
We then continued to the Muslim quarter, starting at the market, one of my favourite parts because it offers a wide range of colourful street food, for all budgets and tastes. We got a bit “lost” and perplexed …of all the movement around here, so many people walking by, vendors offering their products, what a vibrant and full-of-life street. !. We also learned about the history of how the Muslims arrived here and Silk Road route and merchants, a walk past in time..
We then arrived at the Great Mosque.
The Great Mosque is one of the oldest and the largest best-preserved Islamic mosque in China. It was built in 742 AD. For me, it did look more like a landscape beautiful garden than the fixed idea I had of a mosque. A fascinating combination of Chinese courtyards and Muslim architecture. The mosque is still active as many Muslims come here to pray and attend religious events.
We then continued to visit a traditional old house called “Gao Family Mansion”. This house was built during the Ming Dynasty. It belonged to Mr Gao Yuesong, which was a government official favoured by the emperor, his noble family served for seven generations to the imperial government. The house is built of brick and wood and it is one of the best-preserved traditional houses in Xi’an. It contains fours courtyards, guest halls, ladies rooms, library, gardens, a family temple, and private school and an open-air opera house.
The strolling around the house allowed us to experience a life of old Chinese noble families, through their art, social and cultural and hierarchical way of life.
The house has also an in-house museum with historical Chinese costumes and clothing accessories from the Qin and Ming dynasties. We enjoyed a 10 minutes shadow puppet show which was held here inside this house. We then finally continued to the hotel for a little bit to rest and leave our baggage and rest, well at least for a bit before going out again..
Tang Palace Dumplings Dinner and Show
Lucy recommended us to attend dinner & show at the Tang Palace, and since this was our only day in Xian, we went for it. Well, it turned out to be a great recommendation. The show-dinner is of great quality. It cost me 418 Yuen per person, at approximately £45.
Both Felipe and I were fascinated by the spectacular dances and Felipe did enjoy very much the dinner speciality and his favourite Chinese food: Xian Dumplings!
The dance show was delightful, definitely one of the best dance shows I have ever attended. The story-show evolves through ten amazing acting, dance and singing performances, all accompanied by a live traditional orchestra.
This performance is a visual gift! Recommended if you visit Xi’an.
“Blessed are the curious as they shall have adventures. … “The greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories”