Leaving Beijing behind, we travelled southwest to Xi’an, once the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. We opted to travel this leg of our journey by high speed train in order to see more of the Chinese countryside. Cruising along at 300 km/hour, the ride was smooth and comfortable; like flying without ever leaving the ground.
For the first part of the trip, flat farmland divided into a myriad of small fields stretched as far as we could see. At the speed we were travelling, it was difficult to identify the crops but we did see some rice and lots of corn. As we travelled further from Beijing, the flat plain gave way to more rugged terrain. The train passed through many tunnels and wherever possible, small fields were carved into the hillsides. Land that would be considered unusable here in Canada was being cultivated to help feed China’s more than 1.3 billion people.
When we reached our hotel inside the city wall in the heart of Xi’an, we were delighted to learn that we’d been upgraded to a larger room. We’re not sure if this was simply good luck or if the fact that I’d complained to our tour organizer about the Beijing guide and the unreasonable schedule that she’d planned for our first day there had something to do with us receiving special treatment. In any case, the “larger room” was actually a beautiful two room suite with a big bathroom that housed a deep soaker tub, the first bathtub I’d seen in China! As one who prefers baths to showers, I was in seventh heaven!
The hotel was within easy walking distance of both the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower which were spectacularly lit at night. As in other ancient towns across China, these structures served an important role in the days before people had clocks in their homes. The huge bell was rung at dawn while the drum marked nightfall.
It wasn’t until after we’d returned from exploring the area near our hotel and photographing the towers that we discovered that the air conditioning in our suite wasn’t working. Though someone from hotel maintenance worked on it twice and assured us both times that he’d fixed it, it never did work properly and we spent two very hot nights in Xi’an!