Early in the morning, I get to Hongqiao Railway Station. I get a printed copy of all the tickets for the rest of the trip. After waiting more than half an hour at Suzhou station to buy a ticket, it seems sensible to avoid queues in other stations. There are specialized windows to sell tickets, to exchange on-line purchases, and to present reclamations. The exchange window has a shorter line and moves faster, so, I am done in a couple of minutes.
The high-speed train passes by many towns that lay along the rails. These cities have similar buildings and layouts and look old. Even in factories and warehouses, the older structures are not well maintained. Meanwhile, complete new neighbourhoods are under construction. It seems like people does not care too much about their current building as there are already newer better ones being built. Probably it’s not true, but it is a fun thought. China takes care of its ancient historical sites and makes new incredible places. The country has not yet figured out what to do with the in-betweens. For now, what is not classical or modern decays and is replaced. It will not work like that forever.
I will stay just one day in Xuzhou, so, I do not waste my time. After leaving the backpack at the hotel, I take the Metro Line 1 to the Western Han Dynasty Terracotta Warriors. The original location of the emperor’s tomb hosts the museum.
When I arrive at the museum, I find the ticket office closed. As I do not know what else to do, I enter the site anyway as there isn’t ticket validation. People are enjoying the park in different activities.
It is not until I try to enter the first building that a guard tells me, mostly by gestures, that I need to purchase a ticket. I go in the general direction that the guard pointed towards and find an open ticket office. It a sensible decision to let citizens enjoy the park and that the ticket is only needed to see the exhibits.
The tomb is simple but impressive in size. It is nice to see historical artefacts, but it is even more inspiring to see them in their original locations. It feels more real and provides context.
At the excavation site, there are hundreds of terracotta figures. One of the pits has not been opened, yet. I marvel at the thought that there are even more discoveries below the earth waiting for future generations with better technics to unearth them.
The terracotta horses are in an even more impressive location. The exhibit is inside two buildings in the middle of the lake. I go below the water level to see them.
I have finished seeing the main exhibits, but I have time left to continue exploring the park. I take a look at the map and decide to reach the top of a close-by hill. It is part of the park, but the path to get there is not very clear. I cross thru a temple and walk up several stair sections. I get to the top to find myself at the feet of a big pagoda. It is the same pagoda that dominates the view of the park.
While going back down, I find two guys walking up the hill. They ask me a question in Chinese. I do not know the words, but I understand thy mean. ‘Is this the way to see anything interesting at the top?’ I take my phone and show them the selfie I made with the pagoda. They smile and give me a thumbs up. Reassured that the path is worth it, they continue ascending.
I go back to the subway. My next stop is a twenty-minute walk from my destination.
I enter what it seems a tiny town. There are tens of buildings. All of them share the same architectonic style. The place is cosy but labyrinthic. It reminds me of the cities in games designed to waste your time wandering around. I guess that the original inhabitants know it like the palm of their hand. I use the ubiquous signs to know where to go. Traditional decorations fill the rooms. The place is quiet, and there are just a few other visitors. I feel myself going back in time.
It’s four o’clock, and I have one hour left before sunset. I visit the Xuzhou museum in a rush. The exhibits have some beautifully painted terracotta warriors and gorgeous horses. The artefacts are better than in the original site. I guess that it is a matter of access. This museum is inside the city, but you need to travel to the town outskirts to get to the original tomb location. I pass by all the exhibitions in half an hour. If I have had more time, I will have to spend twice that time.
As the sun sets, I get to the big lake that has some of the best views in the city. It is possible to walk all around the lake, but that path would have to wait for another visit. For now, I look at the lake and snap a couple of fast pictures. It is now dark, and I want to get back to the hotel to rest.
I stopped in Xuzhou just to split in half my train journey to Beijing. It has been a worthy experience.
In Xuzhou, I have booked a hotel at less than 10 minutes from the station. I quickly recognize the building from pictures on the reservation. The entrance looks just like any other entrance to an office building, not so much like a hotel. I am the only person there. I take the elevator to the 15th floor. It feels like the lift has not passed any inspection, probably, since it was built. Once on the hotel floor, I quickly check-in in what looks like an office more than a hotel reception. I get surprised by a modern and comfortable room. The overall feeling of the place had lowered my expectations. Still, there is a problem with the Internet connection. It requires a phone number to identify yourself, but my Swedish phone seems not to work. I guess that not many foreigners stay in this place. The price for one night of sleep was excellent, thou.