This is another day of travel. I spend extra time at the free breakfast at the hotel. And I check out later than usual.
When I get out of the hotel, at almost nine, I see my mistake. Yesterday rain cleared the air, and the sky is blue. The gloom effect of the smog is nowhere to be seen. Instead, it is possible to sharply see distant buildings. I have lost the opportunity to wake up early and see a better version of the city.
I take the G89 to Chengdu. At least I enjoy the view of the countryside. I keep my camera in the backpack, and I make many pictures with my phone.
After check-in, I walk to the closest park. The place offers way more than I expected. The greenery is well maintained, and I am struck by the magnificent bamboo forest. As I have been travelling to the South from Beijing, the warmer weather helps to keep my spirits high. It is now when I also notice that the days have gotten perceptibly longer. The garden is probably well known as I see a bus full of Western tourists leaving the place. I guess that most Western travellers will come to China in summer, as the bus is a rare sight. Even rarer has been to see tourists going on their own instead of tour groups.
I stop by breakfast. Instead of using a dessert spoon, I drink yoghurt with a straw. It feels strangely exotic.
It is a dark rainy day, I welcome it. The lack of light gets compensated by cleaner air.
Shaanxi History Museum is a very recommendable visit in Xi’an. Is impressive how advanced was pottery ten thousand years ago. But, it seems that there was little improvement for centuries. Used to the XX century fast science and engineering progression, the slow pace of development thru history is baffling.
The Shaanxi Kingdom causes an increase in the complexity of religion, art and governance. More people and better agriculture allow for more magnificent art and needs for a more efficient ruling. Communication is also improved. At this time in Europe, the Roman Empire raises. Both empires will know about each other existence, but they will not come into direct contact.
My understanding of the terracotta warriors is challenged. As I knew the famous ones, it is a realization to see how prevalent the terracotta figurines adorn emperor’s tombs across China. Xi’an warriors are impressive for their number and size, but far from unique.
I have extended my time in the museum waiting for the rain to stop, but I finally decide to go outside anyway.
The Muslim quarter is also recommended in all guides. I walk in the rain. The streets are alive with people buying food and spending their time gazing at the shops. Mixed with local cuisine stands and crafts, there are many tourist gift shops. Many people are dressed in traditional Muslim clothes that have a distinct design. Lamb is also more common in the many food stands than in any other place. I snap some pictures of the colourful streets.
Going back to the hotel, I stop by a supermarket. I find it difficult to find prepared meals. It is difficult to find prepared meals, even in convenience stores a sign that many people will cook at home or eat in the many affordable restaurants. I buy some fruits and try some packaged food. Lacking a kitchen makes it impossible to even attempt to lear any receipt for cooking myself.
To get to the Xian Terracotta Warriors and Horses location, I will take the 307 bus. It was possible to book on-line tourist busses that go directly, but I have decided on a line bus. Many faster busses pass us in our way to the excavation site.
Groups of tourists get down from private buses. But, the parking lot is ready for way more visitors. One perk of travelling off-season is to have more space. I see many western tourists, that is interesting for a change. The Xian Terracotta Warriors and Horses is famous enough to attract tourists from the West even in low season.
The mausoleum consists of three different excavations sites. I start by the two smaller ones and then move to the big one. I feel an increasing sense of awe. The big one is the most impressive.
Broken pieces of pottery pile up in the ground. Farther away, archaeologists are recomposing the warriors as if it were a three-dimensional puzzle. The amount of work to create the terracotta warriors is impressive. The dedication to bringing them to their original glory is admirable as well. After looking at the figures for a long time and taking over two hundred pictures from a myriad of different angles, I am satisfied with the visit and ready to move on.
I get into the 307 again for my next destination, the Huaqing Hot Springs. An impressive pool with water pouring out of a dragon’s head is one of the several hot spring pools in the complex. After visiting several historical buildings, I start my ascension to Mount Li.
I cannot see the top of the mountain but just stairs going up. I walk up some stairs. I continue going up more and more stairs. Once more, the views are less-than-good. A thick smog covers the foot of the mountain. I continue ascending, anyway. Many hikers are in what it looks like a pilgrimage to the top. As the stairs become more and more steeply groups of people stop to rest. I continue pushing for the top.
I finally get there. The prize after so much effort is a reproduction of a vigilance tower. Now that I am here, I go up several more stairs up to the last floor. The views would be incredible if it were not for the fog.
As I walk down, I can see the hope in the eyes of the first hikers I see. They had seen me go up a few minutes ago, they realize that the summit has to be close by. I smile back acknowledging their realization.
For my way back to the city, I want a faster bus. As I approach the stop, there is a bus waiting there. A woman harries me to get in. I only have time to say “Xi’an railway station”. I get a nod as an answer. The bus is packed, the next stop is the last one, and a couple of travellers sit in a couple of folding chairs as there are no more sits remaining. This bus is an express that only stops a couple of times before arriving at Xi’an. I got back to the hotel. It has been a challenging but fun day.
I spend most of the day travelling. So, I decide to not stop by the hotel and go directly to walk the city. I will carry my backpack around.
I start walking without a clear direction until I find myself close to a starred location on the map. I walk towards it. It is the entrance to the city wall. I pay for a ticket and start walking.
The first part of the walk I see a lot of exciting things. The city buildings lay at the feet of the towering wall above. A small museum showcases white ceramic artefacts. Remainings of the original wall can also be visited. Many people rent bikes to hike the wall.
After that section, the main reason to continue walking is the trial of going around the complete wall. I had done the same at the Great Wall in Beijing, pushing forward as a challenge. I wonder how healthy it is to walk in such a dense smog. But, there is no much I can do about that.
I finished exhausted but satisfied with completing the challenge. It has been an over 13 kilometres walk carrying my big backpack.
When looking for things to do in Zhengzhou, the Longmen Grottoes is a top option. But, I almost discarded it. I look into it in the early stages of the trip planning, and I was not knowledgable of how Amap works.
A quick search on how to get from Zhengzhou to the Longmen Grottoes returns a four hours route. That is too long to be able to comfortably go and come back the same day.
But, after using it for a while, I learned the ropes of the app. The default search does not include railways. The first time, I missed that detail. So, I looked for the specific train tab. It just takes just 30 minutes from Zhengzhou East to Luoyang station!
Nowadays, I use mainly Amap to move around China. I find it more useful than Apple Maps, as it seems to have up-to-date or even real-time data.
The Longmen Grottoes like the Terracotta Warriors are far from unique. There are other caves around China with similar carvings. But it is a first-timer for me.
As I walk along the side of the river, I see the first carvings. The site has a mini-museum, gift shop and easy access to all the carvings (unless you need a wheelchair).
The Buddhas are far from the most elaborated that I have seen. But it astonishes me its sheer number and the variety of forms and sizes. Many signboards explain the symbology of the figures, and there is much symbolism.
While admiring the big central statues, another tourist asks to take a picture with me. I am the only western tourist, and my beard helps to get people’s attention. I get asked twice more to pose for selfies in twenty minutes. And, I lost count on how many times someone took a picture of me from a distance. My guess is that many of the tourists here are part of some group from the countryside as they do not seem so used to see western visitors.
In these circumstances, I always ask for a photograph back. It is a way of getting unique pictures and to show that they may be as strange to me as I am for them.
The carvings are in different states of preservation. The most elaborated sculpture-like Buddhas in the exterior are the most damaged as their protuberances are worn down by the elements. Some carvings are closer to two-dimensional drawings and less prone to erosion.
From the upper stairs, the views of the Yi River (伊河) are disappointing. The river is a wide, beautiful and full of life. Birds fly over the water and stay around in big flocks. But, the fog tones down the view to a dull grey. What it seems a layer of smog has been present since I arrived in Zhengzhou.
Back in Zhengzhou, I visit one of the new neighbourhoods. Chinese cities are growing so fast that academics can study the impact of city design in a way that it will take decades in any other part in the World. Many people are walking towards a modern-looking mall. Western brands are trendy, the clothes are made here anyway. But, there are also many Chinese labels with unique designs.
Going back to the hotel, I visit a close-by mall. Many shops are already closed. I go to the upper floor where I find a supermarket. But, there is no cashier, the place seems empty. As I get out, I see a China Central Television sign. I suspect that I got into a TV show set without realising. The supermarket was fake. It is not the first time that being in a mall, I end up in an offices area. At New York, I got to Google’s offices. I leave without anyone noticing.
Early in the morning, I will visit my las museum in Beijing. And, then, I will take a train to Zhengzhou. I planned for a slow day, so I do not need to hurry to the train station.
The Beijing Capital Museum is hosted in an impressive construction. I take my time going from room to room. I find that museums are an easy and engaging way of learning a country’s history. I will need to study to be able to remember the different Chinese dynasties, for sure. But, I am getting an intuitive understanding of the various historical periods and becoming familiarized with names and locations. And most importantly, paintings, sculptures and rest of artistic artefacts are worth admiring.
After taking my time to go around, I have more time left than I expected. The extra time allows me to visit the last place. I choose the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution. The only reason for this is that the museum is in my path to the Beijing West Railway station.
All museums represent some level of national identity view, a military museum will not be different. One section shows the mighty of the Chinese army, another, in the lower level, celebrates Chinese history, highlighting battles thru the ages. For the weapon exhibitions, I had a hard time reading any political message. Allied and enemy weapons are classified by characteristics without much context. Having seen most of the museum, I leave for the railway station.
I walk the short distance to the Beijing West Railway station. As easy is to find the station as difficult to find the actual entrance. Once inside, the station is like any other station, which makes it easy to find my way around. In no time I am in my way to Zhengzhou.