xi'an - Where's Byrne?


16.02.2012 – 18.02.2012 Cloudy 8 °C

You’ve probably never heard of Xi’an, I certainly hadn’t until I came to China, but if I was to say ‘Terracotta Warriors’ to you, you may know what I’m on about? Back in the 1970’s a group of farmers came across the biggest discovery in China’s History. Thousands of life-size stone warriors created hundreds of years ago were found and dug up. The Chinese threw up a museum and made the dig site viewable and we now have what the tourist attraction is today. The fact they are still digging them up isn’t made clear and I didn’t know this until we got there but more on that later.

Arriving in Xi’an at 7am on our overnight train, we got off and were greeted by bitterly cold weather and Chinamen (and women) hocking back phlegm and gobbing it where ever they liked. Disgusting. It’s something you really don’t get used to. Out of the station, we went and experienced something we haven’t had yet in China; touts. Taxi drivers and hoteliers were nagging and following us trying to get our business but they were relatively League Two as opposed to Thailand etc who were Premiership so not too much hassle. Up pops the big yellow M again, so in we go for coffee and to warm up. The place we found on booking.com is 500m from the railway station and it’s the third road on the right straight down Jie Fang Lu, the road opposite the station. Easy. Or so we thought. Three hours later walking around in the arctic temperatures we found The Bell Tower hostel right next to – The Bell Tower (and a KFC), having given up on finding the original place some time before. 500m my arse. We were freezing and our backs ached from carrying our backpacks around. ‘Next time we taxi it’ I said to B, her pointing out it was only my stubbornness that prevented us from cabbing it in the first place. Thanks. Nice place this, not. The reception was grubby and floors two and three were covered in graffiti from previous guests. There was no lift, the receptionist was quiet, unconfident and spoke little English and the Wi-Fi was only available in reception or the bar next door which was filthy. Dingy doesn’t come close. At Y140 a night it was acceptable but the real gem was the room. Steaming hot shower in a wet room, huge soft bed and cable TV with CCTV News in English. The rad was hot too and the room warm. Two nights please.

Back to the station that day to book our tickets to Beijing for a few days time. Luckily there was a help desk with a Chinese girl who spoke broken English. We told her we wanted a train for Beijing for three days time and she pointed us to desk five. A small queue dissolved and we then had the fun and games of trying to explain to the girl behind the glass what we wanted. Luckily between the two of us, her and the girl on the desk next to her we managed to get two tickets, but soft sleepers, and it cost us. Y884 (£89) for the pair of us. We took ’em.

Big Goose Pagoda. Not on our list of Xi’an things to do but we inadvertently drove past it on a wrong bus we took. Wikitravel gave us the bus numbers we needed to get around, namely 609, 610 and 611 which all circled the city but within the walls. The city itself is enclosed with the appropriately named, Xi’an City Wall, an ancient wall built fuck knows how many years ago to fend off would be attackers. It looked old, this is the first thing you see coming out of the Railway Station as it is just outside the wall. We jumped on a 611 for a tour but was alarmed when we drove straight out of the city and to the middle of nowhere. ‘Don’t worry’ I said, ‘They must be on a route, we’ll just wait for it to circle back’ as we were yelled at in Chinese to get off, we’d reached the end of the line. Crossing the road though, there was another stop and along came another bus, which we just hopped on and hoped for the best. Twenty-minutes later we sailed past the Big Goose (check that off) and towards the city wall, where we jumped off at the south gate. The goose didn’t look particularly impressive but I only had a fleeting look and time to take a picture.

Xi’an City Walls. By far the most impressive thing about the city of Xi’an has to be the huge wall around the city. It has a real medieval touch to it and looks amazing. You can walk or hire bicycles to ride around the wall. Up the steps, the wall was 20ft wide with cobbled paving all around. We’d read about the Lantern Festival on until the end of February for Chinese New Year and thought it would be nice to see but never actually made any plans to see it. Outside the gate they were flogging tickets at Y60 each (£6) but we didn’t know what for so we just bought them and again hoped for the best. Walking towards the entrance in the south gate we were ushered up steps and on to the city wall, where, you guessed it, the Lantern Festival was being held. Impressive too, huge lit dragons were everywhere (Chinese year of the Dragon). Very snazzy. I just couldn’t help wonder how long it took to put all this together but knowing the Chinese they threw a thousand people at it and got it done in a day. We inadvertently ended up walking half the eight mile wall. Half of the south wall, all the west wall and half the north wall. We had to get off at the central north gate because of closing times, and because my feet were killing me. Xi’an City Wall, done. Verdict: Well worth it, even with no lantern festival. Try biking it in the day, I’d imagine that would be even better.

Terracotta Warriors. We caught the 611 bus to Xi’an Railway Station where the buses heading to the Terracotta Warriors were. Green and white bus, number 306, east of the station, were the instructions from Wikitravel, and they were right. A huge queue of Chinese were waiting to board but there were four buses queueing themselves to pick passengers up so it wasn’t long before we were on our way. Y7 each, bargain. The bus emptied out at about stop six, outside what look liked a university. Upon paying more attention the bus was rammed with students and suitcases, must have been the beginning of term? A few more stops and we arrived in a huge car park with a KFC in the background. Original. The Chinese woman told us to return there to get a bus home, which was nice of her. As we walked towards the ticket booths, through what seemed like hundreds of gift shops and restaurants (past the KFC and further up, a Subway) we had tour guides approaching us everywhere but not as many as the Chinese were getting, presumably because not all the guides could speak English. Who needs a tour guide around a self explained museum? As it happens we could have done with one. A female battle-axe tour guide in particular followed us to the ticket booth, waited while we bought tickets (Y120 each – the whole time trying to tell us how handy she would be) and then followed us towards the gate. I tried to be polite but then got stroppy and told her where to go, to which she violently relayed some Mandarin back. Bitch. A further ten minute walk through yet more gift shops, with some harrowing stock, dog furs proudly hanging up outside, mainly Alsatians and Huskies, we arrived at the entrance. It’s a huge place, big open paved walkways everywhere. Round the corner were rooms one, two and three, which had the Warriors in. We decided to head around the museum first though to get some background info before we saw them. The museum was a bit disappointing, half of it dedicated to a Chinese artist who remade the four horsemen who were dug up back in the 70’s, in life-size form. The rest consisted of pictures, interactive screens which didn’t work and some exhibits behind glass of things dug up. There were four warriors lined up next to each other though which were impressive, I had high hopes after seeing them. Leaving the defunct museum we went into room two first, which unsurprisingly being room two, had the second biggest amount of Warriors in. It wasn’t great and I was starting to feel ripped off. Most of them were still in the ground where they hadn’t finished digging or were just laying on the dusty soil. Not great. Next up we entered room one, the big daddy. I don’t know how many Warriors were in this room as the museum failed to tell us of the basic facts but there were loads, with more to dig up, if I remember rightly. The room was like an aircraft hangar, filled with stone Warriors all facing front in groups. Between the groups are soil walkways and towards the back it’s like an archeological dig site, with lamps, ladders, tarpaulin and various tools lying around. We managed to get a few decent pictures but you are so far away, they weren’t great. The cinema was closed too. Presume this would have shown a film about the history and the dig site so that was a real shame. You could however, have your photo taken and have it superimposed on to the background of you standing with the Warriors, available at further cost (yawn). Onto room three, which was arguably better than two yet equal to one. You were a lot closer to the Warriors dug up here although many of them hadn’t been restored to the level of rooms one and two. After two – three uninspiring hours and a feeling of paying over the odds, we were ready to leave but not before seeing an attractive Chinese girl arm in arm with her boyfriend hock one back from the depths of her throat and flob it on the floor, her boyfriend seemed to be encouraging her whilst in the act and they both started laughing after. Fucking vile. Bus 306 turned up after fifteen cold minutes and back to the hostel we went. Verdict: Tricky one this. Xi’an itself is a really nice place so if you look beyond the Warriors it’s worth the trip but if you dash in, see the warriors and dash out again, I’m sure you’d be disappointed.

Bell and Drum Towers and Muslim Street. These were by the way stops whilst waiting for our train to Beijing at 7pm. Dashed around the Bell and Drum Towers (they were both basically the same and I had no wish to pay to go in) took some photos and went to the Muslim shopping street which was interesting. There was so much food available, we started to feel sick towards the end. We always try as many of the snacks and food as possible, to an extent where the stall sellers look a bit pissed off when we ask for one of everything – but we might not like it! Most of the snacks were rank, a slippery jelly stew thing, that looked like potato was vile along with many of the deep-fried things on sticks and rank squares of god knows what sprinkled with sesame seeds. The dried fruit was OK though. Then, we stumbled across a fantastic burger-type thing. Round pita-type bun, stuffed with pinky-reddy, basically fillet steak with a bit of fat or oil poured on top. Amazing. So good we went back for another later on. Could have been dog meat for all we knew but it tasted unreal.

We still had another few hours to kill before our train left so went and sat in the grubby bar next to hostel to ponce about on the computer and charge all our gear up. Sitting there I had a sudden urge for the toilet. Thinking about it, it may have had something to do with ‘the best burger-type thing’ I had earlier. Walking to the toilet I felt a bit more urgency with each step until I got there, shut the door, turned round and saw it was a fucking squat bog. It was now or, go in my pants, so I made the best of it. Squatting there like a true Asian my first thought was how am I going to get back up as my knees seem to have locked in that position and the pins and needles had got so bad I could no longer feel my feet. My next thought was how am I going to clear up the bomb I’ve just let off behind me. I looked behind me, and there was the cardboard of an empty toilet roll. As in the Philippines, but probably not as bad as that, panic overcame me in waves of heat. I had only 1 solution. Sacrifice my boxer shorts. Luckily there was just enough clean material to sort myself out. Could have been worse. I could have gone commando. Again.

Heading to Xi’an train station to catch out train to Beijing (wearing no pants) wasn’t a pleasant experience. We were herded through barriers like cattle and the Chinese have no sense of queueing whatsoever, it’s every man for themselves. Luckily, being the big 5,11″ strapping lad I am, with backpack I was five inches taller and double the width of everyone else so putting B in front I pushed back every time I felt any pressure on me. Having made it through the crowds (whilst listening to gobbing noises in full 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound), our bags were scanned and we got on the train, settling down for the night in our soft sleeper beds. Unfortunately, we were split, B in one cabin and me in another. I wasn’t bothered but she wasn’t happy at the thought of spending the night with three Chinese people. Verdict: Nice. Worth the trip if you have a few days for the actual city of Xi’an as well as the Terracotta Warriors. Going to Xi’an just for them, not worth the overnight journey there and the same back. Next stop Beijing.

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