Saturday, January 24, 2015

Xian to Beijing

Entrance to the Drum Tower in Xian.
Saturday, January 24 found overcast skies and, who knows, smog (?) quite prevalent in Xian.  Yet up we were, rarin’ to get to breakfast and be checked out/on the bus by 8:40 a.m.  Some of these mornings seem earlier than others…yet they are all pretty much the same.  How is that?

Muslim Quarter entrance.
Our plan today had several parts:  a visit to the ancient city of Xian (with the walls, that is) as well as to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower.  The Bell Tower bells rung to awaken the citizens of old Xian in the early morning   The city had quite a history within those walls including one point at which the city was surrounded by invaders who attempted to starve them out.  Scores of people died of hunger but the city prevailed.
and announced the dropping of the drawbridge/opening of the doors to the walled city and the Drum Tower drums announced the closure of the same each evening.

We watched performances of drummers in the Drum Tower (how appropriate, eh?) and then enjoyed a bell performance at the (I know, you’re catching on here….) Bell Tower.  Afterwards, we were turned loose on the streets of the Muslim Quarter of Xian where today shop after shop after shop offers a variety of wild and interesting snacks and meals.  Some on stick, some on a   You could buy almost anything in these shops, and some did, but you could also just walk along and marvel at a life we simply are not accustomed to.  All in all, it was a fascinating visit.
roll, some, well, we just weren’t sure HOW one was to eat some of these things….!

Lunch was followed by a chance to walk the Xian City Walls which today are actually a bit shorter than in previous centuries, but impressive nonetheless.  Our guide also explained that while the walls are thick with brickwork on the outside, the inside was filled with dirt AND rice.  Yup, rice.  (I’m enthralled, but the guide didn’t know whether it was cooked, sticky, or otherwise…!) 

To some, the best part of being on the City Walls was the chance to exercise by riding a single bicycle, a tandem bicycle, or just plain walk or run.  Some of us (ok, Paul, Kathy, Darrell, Christine and I) took a golf cart ride around to   Imagine riding an old bike on a cobblestone road…fun for all!
Tony and Ian head off on the wall....
enjoy the scenery and observe our students trying to figure out these bicycles!

All good things must come to an end, and thus did our visit to Xian.  Off to the “new” high-speed train station we went (a 45 minute drive from the city center) and then, crazily in my opinion, our buses parked nearly ½ mile from the station.  “What?  We unload HERE?”  “Yes, sir – this is as close as buses can come to the station itself.”  SO, off we go, schlepping thousands of pounds of luggage across a busy street, up stairs and through an expansive “square” to the point of check in.  In all honesty, my first complaint of the trip…this was dumb planning.  Who would build a beautiful station and then not allow you within a half-mile of it?   CRAZY.  I am going to write the Chinese President tonight and complain.  J   Ok, well, maybe not.  But at least it’s in the blog.

The good news is that we got through security and to our gate to board the “Bullet Train” to Beijing.  Then, what to our wondering eyes do appear?  Since Christine had heard some complaints about the train food last time around, she decided to shake things up a bit and provided McDonald’s for all prior to boarding.   Oh my, you should have seen the lemmings rush to cheeseburgers/chicken sandwiches, fries and Coca-Cola!   (I don’t want to admit it, but the first few bites tasted pretty good…)

So now, we are on a 6-hour train ride, whizzing through the Chinese countryside at 300 km/hour (180 miles/hour).   Wheeeeeeee!   It’s dark, it’s foggy, and there’s not much to see, but we’ll be arriving in Beijing about 11:00 p.m.  

Tomorrow?  Another early morning.  Uffda.   We are seeing back stage at the Peking Opera starting at 8:30……



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