Last weekend, I took my first overnight train in China to the ancient city of Xi’an. My friend Aly, who has lived in China for 4 years now, is a huge fan of train travel. It was her birthday weekend, and her only request was to take an overnight train somewhere for 14 hours. I happily tagged along. As someone who travels a lot, I am surprisingly lazy when it comes to initiating trips. But anytime anyone invites me to go anywhere, 90% of the time, my answer is “yes, please”.
Aly’s theory of a 14-hr train travel is as follows: it’s just the right amount of time to sleep, but also to hang out on the train a bit before arriving to the destination. It’s much less stressful because train stations are typically in the center of the city. You hop on the train, you hop off, et voilà, you are there. She was totally right. Our 14- hour journey up to Xi’an was much less stressful than the 7-hour flight back to Shanghai.
Weekend trips are amazing because, in mere 48 hours, you are transported into a new place, absorbs the new environment – the culture, the people, the whole deal, and then you are back.
Since we were only staying one night in Xi’an and it was Aly’s birthday, we splurged and stayed in a hotel that resembles an ancient palace (Tang Dynasty Art Garden Hotel). I believe prior to being a hotel, this building was an art museum. The attention to detail was really impressive for a Chinese hotel. It was in a great location – right next to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (大雁塔). English translation of Chinese destinations is always a quasi-fail. Somehow, poetic names in Chinese turns into really bizarre names in English. Some things simply can’t be translated, and Chinese names are one such thing.
The weather was surprisingly nice – that crisp winter/fall air just cold enough to bundle up in fashionable fall outfits, but warm enough to still wander around. As we stepped out of our hotel, there was a water show right in front of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (not to be mistaken with the Small one, which also exists in the city). I very luckily caught a beautiful rainbow amidst the water – what a pleasant way to kick off our weekend.
Unlike in Shanghai, the fall foliage was in full swing in Xi’an, and we had a blast playing with crunchy leaves and soak in the beautiful fall colors. We wandered through a college campus and made our way to the ancient city wall. The wall was originally built to prevent the outsiders from raiding into the city.
Impressively, this old wall has been very well preserved, and on top of the wall is a well-organized bike rental to ride around and see Xi’an from above. We arrived at dusk and began riding. I suppose most tourists shy away from darkness, and as the sun set, there were barely anyone left on the wall. Aly and I were free to roam around the wall on our bikes, letting the breeze blow through our hair and feeling the freedom that life has to offer. It was truly relaxing, and I felt a million miles away from my hectic life in Shanghai. Moments as such inspire me to take a few more weekend trips.
In the evening, we visited the Muslim Quarter and had some delicious street food. These kinds of areas can be rather overwhelming, but it’s a part of the experience. What I found most fascinating actually were the various foods offered, but instead these strange massive telescope that one can pay a fee to view the moon on the side of the street. It was a full moon that weekend, and I was almost tempted to give it a go. Almost, but not quite tempted enough.
The next day, we paid a fee to check out this Big Wild Goose Pagoda. This wasn’t really worth the money. It was a bit of a scam where you need to first pay to enter the compound, and then another fee to climb the stairs up to the top of the tower. I am always somewhat wary of paying fees to visit a religious establishment, much less two fees. It was interesting to get a view of Xi’an from the top of the tower, but the pollution clouded the view, and on the whole not that impressive…
What little I experienced of Xi’an was fascinating. The culture is very different from the southern part of China, where Shanghai is located. This is a city that I would definitely return to check out the more local scene, and to discover more of ancient history.