Sunday, March 11, 2007

Trip: Xi’an, China

As Chase’s first birthday is right around the corner, we decided we would surprise her with a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors, just outside of Xi’an, China.

Xi’an is located in the Shaanxi province; it is considered the heart of China. Xi’an is known as the Grandmother of Chinese cities, as it is the oldest. It is also known for being the Eastern end of the Silk Road, and for this reason there are strong Buddist and Islamic influences.

There were enough sites (smells and sounds) to keep us busy, we ran from place-to-place all weekend. Luckily, we found the city easy to navigate. The people were friendly and helpful - Chase definitely got her fair share of attention. We were there in the “low” (a.k.a. cold) season; the skies were grey, and heavy with pollution. I can’t imagine what it must be like there during the Summer months when the air is still and temps top 30 centigrade.

Day One

We caught the first flight from Dalian (bright and early), which put us in Xi’an at 10 a.m. After checking into our hotel, we went directly to the Shaanxi Museum. A classic Tang style building, the Museum housed a fabulous collection of relics and artifacts dating back to prehistoric times. We saw a skull that was 1.5 million years old!! We were also happy to find the museum sold genuine artifacts with certification and export cards.

Next stop – The Big Goose Pagoda, a Ming style building built by Emperor Gaozong around AD 648 (Qing Dynasty), in memory of his deceased mother.

We then decided to go for a little stroll to see the locals in action. We stumbled across a calligraphy exhibition and a fun park, and a guy who created edible spun sugar designs.

Then we hopped a cab, which drove us right through the City Wall, en route to the Bell Tower (dating from the 14th Century). Along the way we saw...

The mango man:

The woman with too many boxes:

The traffic cops:

And finally, the Bell Tower ...

Next stop was the Drum Tower...

From there, we took a right and found ourselves in the Muslim quarter, the home of the Hui community. There were narrow lanes, old mud brick houses and lots of little shops selling “antiques,” miscellaneous goods and food. I was struck by the number of birds in cages. They hung from (and between) the street lamps and filled the air with bird song. It was so lovely.

After this, we headed back to the hotel – exhausted. Ordered room service and watched some bad, American cable movies.

Day Two

We awoke early and met Lucy, our Terracotta Warriors tour guide, in the lobby of our hotel. Lucky for us, we were the only ones in the tour group.

The Terracotta Warriors were discovered in 1974 by three peasant farmers who were digging a well (they are over 2,000 years old). Our tour guide indicated there were 8,000 warriors, but my lonely planet guidebook stated there were 7,000 figures. (I’m not sure how they are counting them, as many still remain buried and broken under layers of clay and soil.)

What I found most impressive was that each figure was different. Each was made by hand. Some were tall, some were short, some were fat, and some were skinny. Some were Northern Chinese (characterized by high, sharp, cheek bones), while some were Southern Chinese. Each had unique head, heart and life lines on the palms of their hands. Each was originally painted brilliant colors. (When the Chinese first found the warriors, they still had the original color, which sadly faded within a week of being exposed to sunlight. As the Chinese have not been able to find a way to preserve the color, they have left more than half covered by dirt and clay).

Tragically, all of the warriors (except the one pictured below) were broken and burned shortly after the Emperor Qin Shi Huang (whose tomb has yet to be excavated) passed away. (As an aside, Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a very interesting man. While his was the shortest reign of all Chinese Emperors, he accomplished a great deal – from ordering the construction of the Great Wall to standardizing China’s currency.)

Originally built to protect him in his afterlife, the warriors were destroyed by peasants fearing they would come to life after the death of the Emperor. Each warrior held real swords, spears, etc. – almost all were taken by the revolting peasants (surprisingly they found a couple which had been left behind – and they were still sharp!)

All in all it was simply amazing. I’m so happy we went before the “international village” was completed. The “village” was comprised of empty buildings, which will soon be filled with more shops selling terracotta replicas, over-priced restaurants and even hotels.

From there, we went to see the natural hot springs ....

...and then back to the hotel (we stopped at Hee Hee’s Noodle House to pick up lunch).

Exhausted, we all took a rather long nap and when we awoke, we decided to try to fit in a couple more sights.

We hopped a cab to get onto the City Wall – it was closed when we arrived. So back to the hotel we went. Later, we decided to try a restaurant in the city. Hubs had seen a lot of Spanish in the markets, so we decided to try our luck at a Spanish restaurant. The concierge indicated there was actually An Austin House restaurant – so we thought Tex Mex, let’s give it a whirl. Well, when we got there, it was actually an Oyster House (think I’ll pass on Oysters served in the center of China!). So back to the hotel we went – at which point, we called it a night.

Day Three

Awoke early. Went back to the City Wall. Paid to walk on top, but should have walked through the park that is just below it. Much more going on.

Next we tried to catch a cab to a local craft market. Sadly, our cab driver could not find it. So we ended up getting out and taking another stroll, this time through what I can only call the Chinese version of the Boston Public Gardens – complete with Duck boats!

And just outside the garden was a woman selling cotton candy from her bicycle ...

From there, we went back to the hotel, rested our aching feet (and backs – my, my Chase is growing!), checked out and made our way back to the airport.

What a great weekend!

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