July 10: Biking on the Walls
We arrived to Xian after those terrible 13 hours and we took a taxi for our hostel. It was a nice place, very typical, with these Chinese colored masks on the walls and full of Chinese people that – useless to tell – stared at us. Our friend Mathieu was in a hostel only for foreigners right next door, so we spent the day with him, jealous of his “perfect sleep on the train”, in his comfortable private coupé. The center of Xian is super nice, you have the impression to be in the real China, with all these Chinese shops and street food stands. The wall surrounds the ancient city and in the middle of the city there is the pagoda-style Cloak Temple. We visited the Temple and after a lunch of nudeln with vegetables we went up to the walls and rented a bike. It was a really funny trip, two hours of biking on the walls, in this wonderful ancient construction that allowed us to see the whole city from the above. For dinner, we ate in a place in front of our hostel. Street food: there was a barbecue and you could chose among several dishes of meat or vegetables that they cooked in front of you. For 2-3 euros we had a great dinner, beer included!
July 11: the Terracotta Army
Amazing day and amazing place, one of the most famous in China. The story of the most mysterious archaeological site in China is the following. The fist Chinese Emperor, afraid of the afterlife, ordered to build a terracotta army to protect him after his death. This army was huge, more than 10.000 warriors, each of them made by a different slave and similar to him and in human dimension. After the slave finished his work, he know he would be killed, so the construction of the tomb turned out to be a real massacre, since the Emperor also ordered to kill the killers of the slaves. And, to complicate the story, he was so afraid of dying being poisoned with mercury, that he assumed every day a small amount of mercury in order to get used to it. Guess what? He killed himself by mistake by assuming too much mercury, before the construction of the army was finished. As he ordered, the army was covered, since no one had to know about it. It was discovered only some decades ago by some peasants, and since then the Chinese have been working to reconstruct every single statue, since all of them were broken in a thousand pieces. The result of this work is impressive. There are three separate sites open to the public. In one of them you can see the rests of the statues that are still to be assembled, in an other a wonderful carriage with four horses in the middle of other warriors, and in the third one – the biggest – you see thousands of terracotta warriors perfectly assembled standing in front of you. The Chinese consider it the eight wonder of the world. We went there on our own, no more guided tours after the Great Wall! We took a bus from the central station and we got there in almost one hour by a really cheap ride.
At night, after or usual street food dinner, Paola and I went out with some guys that we met in Mathieu’s hostel. They took us to the “bar street” of Xian, to a really strange bar. Well, it looked normal: house music, drinks, a pool table, but inside there was a dog hiding under a sofa and in the outside space they had a cage with a huge white rabbit inside. Very Chinese, I would say.
July 12: Goose Pagoda and Shopping
Sunday of relax, as always. We woke up late and we went to the Pagoda Temple, outside the walls. Nothing special, but typical. That day we received a message from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warning us about a tornado that hit Shanghai and that forced an evacuation of the city. The message shocked us: we had planned to go to Shanghai exactly in those days, but fortunately we didn’t!
After the Temple we went walking on the Chinese shopping district, a nice place full of typical Chinese restaurants and souvenirs, included a pearl market. We saw how they make necklaces and earings with pearls and, of course, we bought them at a real cheap price.
July 13: Huashan Mountain
Last day in China, and last adventure in this country. Dulcis in fundo, I would say. The Huashan Mountain is one of the highest mountain chains of China and it is famous since the monks built their monastery there, passing from the so called “death path” climbing the mountain. Now there are two funiculars to go up to the top from different sides of the mountains.
We went on our own to the site: we took a train – this time with standing seats – and then a taxi to the entrance of the mountain. We also had a little misadventure with the taxi driver, that wanted us to buy tickets in his friend’s restaurant and to eat there. In the restaurant, they started asking us money for the tickets, but they did not speak English and what we wanted was just to reach the mountain, not to eat or buy tickets from them! Lucky us, there was a Chinese girl in the restaurant that spoke English and helped us to bargain with the taxi driver and convince him to take us to the mountain, not to his friend’s places! So finally he understood and he did as previously stated.
From the main entrance of the site, buses take you to one of the four peaks entrances. As Mathieu told us, the best way to visit the attraction is to go up West and go down North. So we took the funicular to go up to the West peak. It was amazing, it is the longest funicular in the world, built by the Austrians, and the most scaring and fascinating. It goes from one peak of the mountain to the other, so when you look down the earth is hundreds of meters below you. And, even more scaring, the funicular literally enters into the mountain! And the mountain is so particular, it seems made of rock but there are random trees and bushes on the top. That day t was misty so we were surrounded by this magical mist and it seemed that we were above the clouds, up in the sky, surrounded by rocky peaks and by the sacred Buddhist Monastery.
The view from the top is amazing. We got up until the West peak in the middle of nowhere, following the stairs that led us to a Monastery on the top. Thousands of red laces cover one site of the path, made by prayers that climb the mountain in their religious path.
After taking pictures and observing the amazing landscape, we begun marching North to reach the other peak. Thousands of stairs divided us from our destination, but fortunately we had to go down, not up. The walk was amazing, we passed through forests, monastery, paths on the side of the rocky mountain, with breath-taking panoramic views of the other peaks. There are no words to describe this wonder.
Finally, after four hours of walking, in the late afternoon we reached the Northern peak, where we took a funicular to go down. Next time, we thought, we have to go up and down on our own – it is a six-hour walking to reach the highest point of the mountain, but it must be definitively worth!
Of course, with our usual luck, the train to go back to Xian was late, we had to wait almost two hours in the station, and in the train we all had separate seats, so I ended up sitting near two Chinese teens that tried to speak with me in English and kept on saying “you are so beautiful, where are you from?”. At the same time, four children were running up and down in the corridor and every time they stopped in front of me and they touched me, looked at me and they even gave me candies. The same happened to Paola.
July 14: Flight to Almaty
Day of travel, destination: Central Asia! We were sad of leaving China, it had been a really pleasant trip, and unexpectedly fun, but at the same time we were so excited of going to Central Asia.
The trip to go there was so tiring that we almost regretted not going by bus or train this time. The alternative was taking a ride to Kashgar, in the extreme East of China and from there passing the border with Kyrgyzstan. We preferred to flight to spare time and to arrive there more relaxed.
For money reasons, we had bought two different flights with the same company, China Southern: me and Gianmario left earlier, with a layover of 5 hours in Urumqi, while Paola left two hours later for Urumqi as well.
The airport of Urumqi was big but rather empty, with few shops and restaurants, all super expensive. I had finished my money long before arriving there, and they did not accept credit cards, so I had to wait the next flight to eat something. After three hours of sitting on a chair we decided to pass the security and passport control, where we met Paola. After passing the security checks, we were surprised to find out that the names of the shops and the advertisements were all in Russian and Arabic, no Chinese anymore. And in Russian was the voice of the speaker that said that our flight was delayed until 1 am, five hours later! We were shocked. Five hours waiting in that airport were not sufficient? At least they took us to a hotel outside the airport, after passing again the passport control where they stamped to our passport a stamp “annulled” on the exit stamp from China. Never seen that before!
A bus took us to a hotel where they gave us a private luxury room, with super comfortable beds and a dinner at the restaurant was included. It was a buffet, so we ate so much food and we slept a bit before leaving again for the airport.
After a third passport control, a queue to receive 100 yuan (14 euros) from the company as prize and a two hours flight, we finally reached Almaty at 3 am. And our adventure did not end here. Our luggage arrived late, at the border control a lady could not recognize me from the passport picture, and the taxi driver was not able to find our hostel so he left us in the middle of the street and we started to wonder if we should try to find another hostel at 4 am or wait somewhere until the light came. The phone number that Booking.com provided was not right so we couldn’t reach the hostel. It was crazy, after all that trip we didn’t even have a place to sleep!
We went to a bar to look for a wifi and we were so lucky to meet three guys from Almaty that helped us in finding the hostel we booked, by using their local websites and managing to call the reception. So after that very long day, we finally had a bed, and the whole merit goes to these three wonderful Kazakh guys.