Well, time to say goodbye to Beijing, and hello to Xian. But first I have to actually get there.
There are 3 ways to get the airport from the city centre. The first is a taxi, which was going to cost me close to 180 yuan, and was therefore unfeasable. The second was the shuttlebus, which was cheapest…but didn’t come anywhere near my hotel, and third was the underground connecting to the airport train. Although it was a good 20 minute walk to the station, I figured that was my best bet.
As it happens, the walk was the easiest part of the whole trip. In order to get to the right station, I had to transfer between 4 stations. On the plus side, it only costs 2 yuan for a ticket, on the down side, by the time I was halfway there, rush hour had hit. I literally had to shove my way onto the train, which when carrying a very wide backpack and daypack is not easy. Even when I got to the airport express train finding a seat was impossible – ended up just sitting on the ground next to the door to catch my breath.
I left the hotel at 6:40 in the morning – and when all was said and done I didn’t get to the airport until 8:30. Thankfully I’d realised it might take some time, and had made it in plenty of time for my 10:25 flight. As such check in was easy enough, and collapsed in a Costa Coffee (of which 80% of the customers were western) to recover until it was time to go through security. Ended up eating while I was waiting too – a fried egg and some spicy beef noodles that were expensive for what they were, but when it’s airport food anything goes.
I was still a little annoyed that I’d been talked into taking the flights instead of going with the trains, but got to admit, once that flight was in the air my tune soon changed. The view was incredible.
Almost no clouds – in China its more a case of mist shrouding the mountains, giving you a spectacular view of China’s landscape from the sky. As far as you can see there’s just mountains, and deep inside little ribbons of roads leading to tiny little villages deep inside crevices. When we got closer to Xian the mountains became scarcer, but you started to find huge ravines…and little cities right on the edges. Looked like a cat had been using the ground as a scratching post and the cities had just lost whatever had been on the edge. Never seen anything like it.
I’d considered getting an airport transfer for Xian, but I was already going to have to get one for Guilin, so had been looking at alternatives. I’d swapped my hotel so I could meet up with two of my former tour mates, and some research a few days before had unveiled shuttle buses that would drop me off within walking distance for a quarter of the price. All I had to do was pick up my bag and then head to the first counter outside of security – 26 yuan later and I was heading straight for the city centre.
Techically the bus is supposed to stop off at the Bell Tower in the centre, but mine seemed to stop off at a hotel nearby (The Melody Hotel). The Bell Tower is in the centre of a very busy roundabout, so it wasn’t that surprising. In order to cross it, I had to used an underground pass that seemed to go in every direction. Naturally, I went through, and after ten minutes of heading down one way checked my compass. I’d gotten turned around and was heading in the wrong direction. Again.
Thankfully, it wasn’t completely out of my way, and a quick look at my map found me an alternative route. Took me an additional 15 minutes but got onto the right road…where my next problem began. My map had the correct address, but hadn’t mentioned that the hostel was down a back street. So I spent a good 15 minutes walking up and down a main road trying to find the right number. It was sheer dumb luck that I found a road sign declaring the street I was looking for and the hostel I wanted.
As it happens, my two former tourmates had checked in that morning, but hadn’t done much as one of them was very sick, and had just stayed inside. I was tempted to go out myself, but by the time I’d gotten to the hostel and checked in it was 3 in the afternoon. Winter timetables meant just about everything would be closed in the next 2 hours. So instead ate at the hostel and caught up. Discovered it was the birthday of the sick one, and mentioned that I’d spotted a cake shop to the other – ended up not buying a cake, but did go out to have a look. Also found a pharmacy which sold deoderant, which in China is astonishingly hard to find.
We all agreed to go to the Terracotta Warriors the next day – the hostel offered a tour, but since one of our number wasn’t feeling well we decided to do it ourself so we could push it back a day if necessary. Also figured it would be much cheaper if we did the transport ourselves. After that, the two of them called it a night, while I returned to my room to blog. Didn’t get much done though, as my new roommates appeared not long after, armed with food from the Muslim Quarter and invited me to join in.
They were all from Korea, but studying in China. Most of them had limited English, with one semi-fluent who did most of the questioning and translating. Asked me about Scotland and how much travelling I’d done (and admiring that I was very good at holding chopsticks). I in turn asked them about Korea, where they’d been travelling, and admitting that if the chopsticks were plastic I would not be having as easy a time as I was.