After all of the incredible things that I saw in Beijing, I wasn’t sure how Xi’an would compare. I mean, how do you compete with the Great Wall?
Well, by offering something completely different. Xi’an was the capital for several empires that pre-dated the move to Beijing so you’re looking at much earlier periods. In particular, the real “Golden Age” of China (and the second most significant “Golden Age”) were based out of Xi’an.
I sometimes find it difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that TWO THOUSAND years ago, humans were building some pretty incredible things. It’s one thing to read about the bronze age, but another thing to see the significant number of items that were actually made during that era of human history.
In Xi’an, the big find were the Terracotta warriors. Interestingly, I learned that the government gives the proceeds from tourism to the locals, so they’ve gone from poor farmers to desirable marriage candidates in just a short time!
One interesting theme that kept coming up regarding the history of the Chinese empires is that the emperor who brought the divided country together again was usually a bad dude, his family was the same and they didn’t last long before they were replaced with rulers who treated people better – this supports my assertion that a good wartime president isn’t necessarily a good peacetime president!
Because the guys who made the warriors weren’t well-liked, the next group torched the wooden beams supporting the tombs and the soldiers were in the below condition before being carefully reassembled.
Well, except much more colorful! The technology to protect the paints doesn’t exist yet and they have stopped excavating to preserve the others. I thought it was good news to learn that China plans to preserve some of the warriors, so hopefully future generations can see them in their full color. On the back of the archer, you see the last of his color, but there are photos up showing what they once looked like.
Then, it was off to the most fun activity I did in China – biking the Xi’an wall. You’re given 2 hours to finish ~14km. It’s fairly flat (slight inclines) for most of the wall, but old stones that are often uneven, so you must pay attention! An Asian girl went down on her bike just in front of me! There’s something about soaring along, making your own breeze and getting into your rhythm that just spoke to me though, hence my return to biking in France.
I almost skipped the ride and I’m glad I didn’t! The views from the wall weren’t anything stellar, but the ride was one of the highlights of the trip. The next day, I had the type of guide you always hope you’ll get! She changed the itinerary to get us through the Muslim Quarter and Big Wild Goose Pagoda early, before it was blazing hot. At the Pagoda, an art demonstration is optional and you’re invited to make purchases at the end, but I was interested in more Asian art, so I headed in. I now have a very nice pair of paintings for my wall, which will join the Japanese symbol for “love” which is in my living room now.
We then entered the museum just before noon, when they stop letting new people in for lunch. We started at the top and came down, meaning crowds were thin! The museum can be seen for free if you don’t mind a huge queue. Otherwise, buy the ticket for the special exhibit and walk straight in (the ticket was included in my tour). The top photo is ancient currency – imagine carrying that around with you!
Then, it was time for a late lunch! This was another favorite – making dumplings (aka potstickers) at a local home.
They claimed that I learned quickly and we finished early (hunger is a great motivator!), so I enjoyed part of a Chinese show – you can pick up a lot without knowing the language. In this case, a sketchy Chinese girl was paying way too much attention to another woman’s husband, noticing he needed a new belt and giving him a nice one for his birthday, then subtly calling out the wife for not looking after him properly. 🤣
Due to major issues with the Chinese smoking in non-smoking areas, I flew to Shanghai instead of taking the overnight train. Some sports team arrived at the same time and the airport was chaos!
“Modern” often doesn’t interest me much, so Shanghai wasn’t my favorite, but my guide was lovely. She convinced me to let her take a few photos at the tower and she did a great job!
We then went to the older gardens (from 1553), which I found the most interesting. What a lovely place to sit in the shade, watch the turtles and fish and take a little break from city living!
There were some fun stories about the garden too, like the owner using a dragon, which only the Emperor was allowed to use. When the Emperor learned of this, he paid a visit to the garden and found “sea monsters,” which had hastily lost a couple of claws!
There’s also a huge rock that was purchased by an owner, but went missing. Imagine his surprise when he later received it as a gift for the marriage of his child!
While the garden would have been lovely on my own, my guide really brought it to life with the stories. Even better, I was fortunate to get a guide, Bright, who was musically-inclined! She not only showed me how a random instrument worked, she sang a little Chinese opera at the opera stage. I ended up with a small audience for a few minutes (enjoy a sample at the video on my Facebook page).
In closing, I really appreciated that China Highlights provided a guide in advance, didn’t take me to a single tourist trap store and took partial responsibility for changing my reservations since they knew ahead the smoking would be a problem, but never mentioned it. It would have been nice to know ahead because I would have customized my package with different hotels and a flight from the start! Other than that, I’d certainly recommend them!