Another 06:30 start, and suitcases had to be sitting outside our doors by 07:00. As we had to be checked out by 08:00 this gave us plenty of time for breakfast.
Leaving the city of Beijing behind us we were at the airport by 08:30, and through security by 09:00. The hand luggage appears to only be weighed in Heathrow, so removing cameras and computers from our bags to lighten them was pointless. However it did make going through security a little quicker as Beijing seems to like cameras to go through security individually as well.
The flight left at 10:30 and arrived in Xi’an at about 12:00 with a quick snack of some sort in-flight. It’s difficult to describe what it was like, but the best comparison would be a hotdog that had been cooked at the same time as the bread. As we’d be going to the welcome ceremony at the wall we had lunch at the airport to save time. I would describe the food, but it was pretty much the same as the previous days. This time though there were coconut biscuits for dessert which was a very welcome change from the usual water melon.
There was then a 35 minute drive to the city wall. The city wall is pretty much complete with some small sections having been restored and some having had new openings made for traffic. This means there are now around 12 gates instead of the original 4.
At the wall we were greeted by a lady who welcomed the group and this started the Imperial ceremony welcoming us into the city with various acts and dancing. There was a group photo for 80 yuan but I was a little unsure about it’s quality so opted out of it’s purchase. On entering they put a key around your neck and pass you a sort of hardcover Chinese leaflet, though I wasn’t sure what it said.
We were then given a short while to wander around the city wall to take pictures and look around. The wall is 10 miles and where we were was one of the original city gates. Along the wall we did see some people cycling, and I wasn’t too surprised either – it was a very wide and flat surface. The coach ride was then only 20 minutes to the hotel.
The Jianguo Hotel has a very impressive lobby, and upon arrival we were all given orange juice whilst Rosemary sorted out rooms for the group. We were then told our luggage had been delayed by the van breaking down, but had been met by another van so would be another 45 minutes until they reached the hotel.
On the way to our room we stopped by the hotel’s shop and the gifts there were so much cheaper than in Beijing. For example a terracotta soldier measuring around 20 centimetres was only 260 yuan, so a rough approximation in English money would be £26.
When we got to the room we found it reeked of smoke, so rather than accept it, we headed back to reception and after a debate with about 6 employees of the hotel and our tour manager they changed our room for another on the non-smoking floor. There was still a hint of smoke in this non-smoking room, but nowhere near as bad as the previous. It seems that the Chinese ignore signs telling them what they can and can’t do and just do whatever they want.
By the time we were in our rooms we still had 2hr30 to kill before dinner. During this time we had to wait for our luggage that had suffered a delay not just from the broken down van, but it’s replacement being in an accident as well. Apparently the accident was bad enough to involve the police, but as far as we know no one was injured. This was time enough though to review the days photographs and get ready for the evening meal.
To get to the hotel’s restaurant it’s a quick walk outside. The choice in food was pretty consistent, but also served Lotus root – quite a sweet dish that tasted a little similar to pineapple and had a similar texture. We didn’t get much time though as we had to be in the lobby by 19:30 for the optional excursion to the Tang dynasty opera. This meant getting back to the rooms as quickly as possible in order to pick up camera equipment.
The opera cost 230 yuan, and was only 20 minutes away from the hotel. This opera was nothing like the Peking opera and was pretty amazing. The whole performance lasted only 1hr30 but was full of light, colour, and was incredibly rich with Chinese culture and the external influences it has had over the years. For those wondering if it’s worth seeing they should forget its called an Opera – it isn’t one, and is far from being anything like the Peking Opera. Out of the various “operas” we saw on this trip, the Tang Dynasty show was by far the best.
One curious difference between this show and others you might see elsewhere in the Western world is that they don’t mind people using camcorders – they actually allowed me to record the whole thing using a tripod. I did find the experience to be quite helpful too as it helped me to improve my use of full manual mode on my 5D.
We made it back to the hotel just after 22:00.