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A fantastic day in Xian with my favorite Chinese warriors.

Xi'an Travel Blog

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Sitting in the aisle, enjoying my milk tea.
Woke up in my sleeper cabin this morning feeling less than refreshed. During the night my three room mates were snoring inharmoniously, plus there was a loud rattle next to me, plus the loud train sounds and horn blowing... not a good night.

The train has one toilet per car (it's pretty gross, but I have certainly seen worse) and a washroom with three sinks. There were no men hacking up phlegm in there, so I tried to fix myself up as best as I could. From the photos you may suspect I simply avoided dealing with my hair, and you would be right. Seems like I was the first one up, as I had the whole place to myself.  Then I sat on the flip-down seat in the aisle, ate my peanut butter sandwich, and watched scenery fly by. That sandwich was so darn good I had another.
Wake up, we're almost there! Lisa on the sleeper train.


Steve and Lisa soon woke up and joined me in the aisle. We made hot beverages using the scalding water from a spigot at the end of the car. It all wasn't so bad, but... a shower sure would have felt good. I was groggy from sleeping poorly, but that didn't mitigate my excitement to see the Xi'an Warriors. I have been waiting years to see these guys!

Xian is a large, rectangular walled city. It is the capital of the Shanxi Province, an area incredibly rich in history. It was once the most populous and prosperous region of the world, back in the 700's under the Tang Dynasty. There are many things to see and do here, which I didn't realize until I read the Frommer's entry ... I really thought they just had the warriors and little else.

Our train arrived at 8:30am and we were greeted by a beautifully warm, sunny day.
Pork sandwiches.
Many people tried to sell us maps, but I didn't see any English on them, so we made do with our 6-year-old Frommer's rendition. We walked south for a while, along a street lined with food stalls selling all sorts of interesting items. The specialty food here is a sandwich -- pork between two disks of white bread that look like oversized English muffins. They were also selling noodles, with big bowls of vegetables and sauces to add to your noodle dish. It all looked pretty tasty. I didn't get many shots, as people kept waving me off. One woman got really pissed when I photographed her sandwiches!

While out and about in Beijing, we have taken to visiting the big American hotel chains to use their nice bathrooms.
Yummy breakfast at the Hyatt.
Our first destination in Xian was the Park Hyatt. It was at the other end of the city, so we grabbed a cab. They are even cheaper here than in Beijing!

The Hyatt was fantastic. We went to the cafe for a basket of various breads and some yogurt. My tea was delicious, and Steve exclaimed loudly several times over the coffee -- it's the first real, brewed cup of coffee he's had since we left home a month ago. It was a nice break.

Our plan was to then take a bus to see the terracotta warriors. So we took a cab back to the bus station and along the way our cab driver (a very merry man who perhaps had his breakfast from a bottle) convinced us to pay him instead. "Bus bad, cab good! ha ha ha!" He would take us to the warriors, then to a museum, for about $30.
Smirking warrior.
What the heck, it's nice to run on our own schedule. Deal!  "Ha ha ha! Cab good!!"

The Xian Terracotta Warriors were discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging his well (who was, by the way, in the book store while we were there). They were put in place by an Emperor who was attempting to recreate his empire -- in full scale! -- for his afterlife. The story is that over 700,000 workers participated in this project, and our hired guide said that the Emperor was cruel to his workers and especially unpopular with farmers. Oh, and this all took place over 2,000 years ago!

The warriors themselves are full height (averaging 5' 11"), constructed of terracotta. Each has a unique face, wonderfully expressive. The warriors were reportedly created from all around the empire, so there is much diversity in face type and hair style.
Good little soldiers.
The detail on the bodies (which our guide said were "mass produced") is completely amazing! When the guys were first excavated, they were brightly painted, but this faded after about 10 days from exposure to oxygen. Consequently, there are several unexcavated areas...our guide said they are waiting for new technology that will help preserve the paint. That made me feel good, like, These guys really know what they are doing here.

Enormous buildings have been constructed right over the archeological site. Our first stop was Pit 1, which has columns of hundreds of restored warriors in battle formation. Most of the warriors were broken up and scattered about when they were found (our guide said the roof that had been covering them burned and collapsed, smashing many of them).
Pit 1. For a sense of scale look at the tiny people on the other side.
Along the back of the hall, you can see where a number of partial pieces are grouped together for reconstruction. I have no idea how they figure out this huge puzzle. I can say it is done by some very patient, diligent people and is not a job for me!

Next we went to Pit 2, constructed later and lacking the nice skylight that Pit 1 has (I wonder if they discovered the sunlight damages the warriors?). Along the side, some of the better warriors have been displayed in cases. There was a seated archer, in perfect condition. Not even a crack! There was also a standing archer, and a larger general, who was bigger than the other soldiers. The generals ate better and are bigger than the rank and file guys. It was great to see them so close up...I loved everything about the warriors and how they were displayed.
Young Standing Archer. What a great expression! He was my favorite.
Everything was done perfectly in my opinion!

Pit 3 was smaller, and the warriors lined some halls as if to greet the emperor.  It was darker in here and hard to get good photos.

There was also a hall that displayed two bronze chariots that had been painstakingly reconstructed from over 3500 pieces! Amazing, really. Just amazing. There were other items on display, such as the horse hardware and some tools. We looked around as our guide waited outside for us.

After that visit, nothing could spoil my day. I had no idea it would get even better!

From there we went to the Shanxi History Museum, which the Frommer's writer was in ecstasies over. We tried to tell our driver that we wanted to stop for lunch along the way, but that just caused confusion.
Our lunch spot. It looks clean here, but it wasn't.
So we just walked to a restaurant near the museum for a bite before going in. The place was none too clean, and there were no patrons (but it was late -- 2:30). The kitchen workers were having their lunch, slurping big bowls of delicious looking noodles. The bathroom was horrifying -- I decided to wait for the museum. Steve had spicy chicken with peanuts, and Lisa and I shared a tofu dish (smoky tofu, which we don't like), and a mushroom/bok choy dish which was good. We also had noodles in a light tomato broth - yum! The whole thing was less than $10.

Then to the museum. I was frankly not too excited to see a bunch of pottery. This type of museum does not usually interest me all that much, because they are often done on a local level and can be pretty rinky dink.
I'd be angry too if I had a chicken on my head.
But this place was absolutely world class. The items were completely fascinating to me... 2,000-year-old water vessels, highly ornate and rich in detail -- in perfect condition! Warriors, horses, statues of every form and function. There were amazing things at every turn (organized chronologically and grouped by dynasty) and I found myself completely sucked into this place. Everything was SO beautifully displayed... as Steve said, it was "top notch."  It really was. 

We had let our driver go home rather than wait three hours for us. So from the museum we grabbed another cab to check out the Great Mosque, founded in 742. We were let out in the surrounding neighborhood, populated by Chinese Muslims selling food and wares in small shops along the street.
Muslim neighborhood near the Great Mosque.
I felt I had stepped back in time. Everything was being hand made right there -- from bread dough to sweets to shoes. Fascinating. Photos were not welcome though, so I have few.

We had a hard time finding the mosque, but enjoyed the search as the area was so interesting. Finally we found the right path (a series of small winding streets), and did some shopping in the stalls that lined the area. I have never seen such terrible knock offs! We didn't buy anything.

The Mosque itself was very Chinese in style, with some Arabic touches. There were several buildings -- dark and ancient -- with flowers growing on the roofs. An expansive garden-like courtyard tied it all together. It was really, really nice. Another thing I would highly recommend. Xian was really good to us today!

We were hungry and it was time to start thinking about getting to the train station for our overnight back to Beijing.
The Great Mosque.
So we took a cab up there and went into a restaurant near the station. There were several food stations along the walls selling everything imaginable. You were supposed to buy a card in advance, then points were deducted at each station when you made your order.  Of course, we had no idea what we were doing and bumbled around making a huge spectacle. Soon every employee in the place surrounded us, trying to be helpful. The English here was better, plus some young female passers-by helped out by explaining everything to us (and giggling a lot in the process).

Finally we got some food -- greasy and not very good. The chopsticks were recycled and also greasy and disgusting. The draught beer was pretty good though.

Then back on the train. I was soooo tired from a lack of sleep and a busy, exciting day.
Steve in our sleeper car.
Lisa, Steve and I were all in the same cabin this time... much better. Lisa and I chatted a bit with our roommate, a Chinese man on his way to a business meeting. He had perfect English and was well traveled (he recently went to Vegas and lost $1600!).  Steve diligently practiced his Chinese characters. He is getting really good at recognizing various helpful words!  At 9:00 I was nodding off...so tired... would I finally get a good night's sleep?

cmgervais says:
Thanks for your comments and kind words!

Portia: Yes, I wish we HAD stayed overnight (at the Hyatt!)...I had no idea Xian would have so many things to do and see. Three days would have been much better!
Posted on: Apr 26, 2008
portia says:
wow, a great and busy day trip! you should have stayed overnight. I loved the city walls, ancient Chinese style, you can walk on it, or rather ride horses on it. But I didn't go to the Museum... Sounds wonderful. Have to look through your photos now.
Posted on: Apr 26, 2008
sandra-kids says:
Amazing!! This was really educational! The pictures are fabulous!
Posted on: Apr 26, 2008
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Sitting in the aisle, enjoying my …
Sitting in the aisle, enjoying my…
Wake up, were almost there! Lisa …
Wake up, we're almost there! Lisa…
Pork sandwiches.
Pork sandwiches.
Yummy breakfast at the Hyatt.
Yummy breakfast at the Hyatt.
Smirking warrior.
Smirking warrior.
Good little soldiers.
Good little soldiers.
Pit 1. For a sense of scale look a…
Pit 1. For a sense of scale look …
Young Standing Archer. What a grea…
Young Standing Archer. What a gre…
Our lunch spot. It looks clean her…
Our lunch spot. It looks clean he…
Id be angry too if I had a chicke…
I'd be angry too if I had a chick…
Muslim neighborhood near the Great…
Muslim neighborhood near the Grea…
The Great Mosque.
The Great Mosque.
Steve in our sleeper car.
Steve in our sleeper car.
Steve and his coffee granules.
Steve and his coffee granules.
Steve and Lisa in matching outfits.
Steve and Lisa in matching outfits.
Noodle vendor.
Noodle vendor.
We bought some banana chips and we…
We bought some banana chips and w…
Dried fruits for sale.
Dried fruits for sale.
Lisa behind bars, in the cab.
Lisa behind bars, in the cab.
At the Terracotta Warrior museum.
At the Terracotta Warrior museum.
Lisa and our guide.
Lisa and our guide.
The calvary?
The calvary?
There are thousands of them.
There are thousands of them.
The soldiers in the front line wer…
The soldiers in the front line we…
Me and my favorite warriors.
Me and my favorite warriors.
Look how different their faces are.
Look how different their faces are.
Skinny warrior!
Skinny warrior!
Different heights, hair, and facia…
Different heights, hair, and faci…
Enormous Pit 1.
Enormous Pit 1.
Close-up.
Close-up.
Warrior pieces ready for restorati…
Warrior pieces ready for restorat…
A work in progress!
A work in progress!
Injured soldiers, being patched up…
Injured soldiers, being patched u…
Work in progress.
Work in progress.
Partially restored warriors.
Partially restored warriors.
Replicas. For a small fee you can …
Replicas. For a small fee you can…
He looks serene. The light was per…
He looks serene. The light was pe…
Warrior close-up.
Warrior close-up.
Soldiers in a line.
Soldiers in a line.
Pensive warrior.
Pensive warrior.
A soldier lost his head!
A soldier lost his head!
Pit 2. Soldiers lined up to receiv…
Pit 2. Soldiers lined up to recei…
The warriors were once brightly pa…
The warriors were once brightly p…
Kneeling archer, in perfect condit…
Kneeling archer, in perfect condi…
Kneeling archer close up.
Kneeling archer close up.
Our happy cab driver.
Our happy cab driver.
Sweet potato snack in the taxi.
Sweet potato snack in the taxi.
Me and a noodle.
Me and a noodle.
Lisa and I at lunch.
Lisa and I at lunch.
Bok Choy and mushrooms for lunch.
Bok Choy and mushrooms for lunch.
Noodles in tomato broth. Yum!
Noodles in tomato broth. Yum!
Steves chicken with peanuts.
Steve's chicken with peanuts.
Tofu dish.
Tofu dish.
What does that second figure mean?…
What does that second figure mean…
Lisa at the Shanxi History Museum.
Lisa at the Shanxi History Museum.
2,000+ year old pitcher.
2,000+ year old pitcher.
Bull shaped water vessel, a couple…
Bull shaped water vessel, a coupl…
They sure had ugly dogs in 220 A.D.
They sure had ugly dogs in 220 A.D.
Another terracotta warrior, in the…
Another terracotta warrior, in th…
There a lot going on here. Tang dy…
There a lot going on here. Tang d…
My favorite lady in the museum. Lo…
My favorite lady in the museum. L…
Bread man makes a sale.
Bread man makes a sale.
Muslim neighborhood near the Great…
Muslim neighborhood near the Grea…
Tired man in the neighborhood near…
Tired man in the neighborhood nea…
Me, checking out some sweets.
Me, checking out some sweets.
Woman peeks out from her store nea…
Woman peeks out from her store ne…
Street near the Great Mosque.
Street near the Great Mosque.
Steve in th shops near the Great M…
Steve in th shops near the Great …
Steve shopping.
Steve shopping.
Lisa shopping.
Lisa shopping.
The Great Mosque.
The Great Mosque.
The Great Mosque roofs had flowers…
The Great Mosque roofs had flower…
The Great Mosque roof detail.
The Great Mosque roof detail.
The Great Mosque.
The Great Mosque.
The Great Mosque roof detail. Love…
The Great Mosque roof detail. Lov…
The Great Mosque.
The Great Mosque.
Steve at the Great Mosque. Love th…
Steve at the Great Mosque. Love t…
Me and Steve at the Great Mosque.
Me and Steve at the Great Mosque.
Icky dinner. But the beer was good.
Icky dinner. But the beer was good.
Our dinner spot.
Our dinner spot.
Xi'an
photo by: Deats