We arrived into Xian at 5:30am, which was still early enough for everything to be dark. We had met a lovely lady on the train who was kind enough to show us where the bus was, making the trip from the station to the hostel easy. After checking in we had a nap so we could venture out at a more normal hour.
The first day we did what we usually do and explored the city centre somewhat, including seeing the bell tower and drum tower – 2 large pagodas – and the Muslim quarter. As the name suggests, the Muslim quarter is frequented by Muslim people with buquers and traditional Muslim dress everywhere. Walking down the alleyways allowed us to see shops, restaurants and food stalls that made us feel like we were in the Middle East rather than china. A truly strange experience, but one that whet our appetite for future travels to Muslim countries.
The next day we ventured off to see the Terracotta warriors. They were surprisingly easy to get to (we are still stuck in south-east Asia mode where going anywhere seems to take 587 years) and after walking through the masses of souvenir shops we arrived at the entrance. There are 3 pits containing the warriors, as well as a museum. Thanks to the lack of a map and confusing signage – a predominant feature of Asia – we went to the museum first and into a room detailing the history of the museum. Um, yeah…don’t care. We hastily left and found pit 1. Containing 7,000 warriors, it is the biggest of the pits and is massive inside. The first 20-30 rows of warriors, lined up in groups of 4 separated by earthen walls, were all restored and gave an impression of what the army would have looked like when they were first made. However some 70-80% are still be excavated and restored, with about half of the pit appearing to not be opened as of yet. There were also several tourists slightly miffed that you could not get very close to the warriors with most relying on camera zooms to properly see the statues. However after spending 3 weeks observing Chinese people, and 2 years observing Korean people, it is perhaps a good thing that they are kept at a distance as anything that is within touching distance will be touched or grabbed, regardless of signage or security.
Pits 2 and 3 held very little and appeared as though most of the contents had been removed for restoration. Pit 3 however contained some fully restored figures contained in glass boxes which you could get right up close to to observe the detail.
Overall, the experience was a little bit underwhelming, however probably due to all of the hype and the warriors we had seen on exhibition in Singapore 2 years previous.
The next day we decided to walk around the city walls. Xian is essentially classified in 2 ways: outer city and inner city, with the ancient 14km wall encompassing the city acting as a divider. Unfortunately the pollution was so bad when we were up on the wall that we worked out visibility was only about 1.1km, so there wasn’t a huge amount to see.
The rest of the day and the following day before the train was spent wandering through the city and some of the (concrete) “parks”. One especially interesting moment was lunch. We had a…um…well…it was like a pita bread full of random meat, which was very tasty. But what grossed us out somewhat was the oil. It was quite literally pouring out of the thing. It came in a paper pocket to hold it, but within seconds the paper was soaked and falling apart. At one stage Will squeezed his together and what can only be described as a torrent of grease gushed out and splattered onto the table creating a dinner plate sized puddle. Nice.
We had been looking forward to Xian more than the previous cities in China, but left somewhat disappointed. It was a bit boring with not a lot there. The warriors were definitely worth it in the end, and the Muslim quarter was fascinating, but that was about it. A day would have been ample. But now onto Beijing for 9 days so we have time to sort visas for the train.