Woke up at about 6am on the overnight sleeper train. Slept surprisingly well! The rocking motion of the train knocked me right out, although I am glad I brought my ear buds; some people struggled to sleep properly with the noise of the train engine. The view we woke up to was incredible – we were flying past snow-capped mountains and ‘small’ Chinese cities (only a couple of million people per city = small). We arrived in Xi’an at about 08:30am and went to meet our tour guide and bus. Jessie introduced herself to the group wearing her characteristic rainbow jacket and carrying her yellow flag, which we would learn to follow around for the next 3 days. We took 10 minutes out of our schedule to grab some breakfast if we were hungry (McDonald’s always saves the day) and hopped on the bus for a drive to the Yuan Family Village. Jessie explained some bits and pieces about Xi’an – a city that has so much history that it is entirely normally for farmers to accidentally dig up thousand year old relics – and then suggested we all have a quick nap as the bus ride would take about an hour (the entire bus obliged and was out within a few minutes).
The village was interesting. It had been a traditional village that rebranded itself as a tourist park after struggling financially for a few years. We had a group lunch and then got to wander around and explore. Lots of old Chinese architecture and souvenir shops, and for some reason, life-size robots you could wear and ride around in. Because you’re in China so of course there are life-size robot suits at an ancient village.
Headed back to Xi’an and checked in to our hotel and we had a few hours free. Most people were wrecked from the train and wandering around the village; it seemed as though the entire group were in agreement – it was nap time. We were meeting up again at 7.30pm for a tour of the Muslim Quarter. By the time I had a shower and watched a movie, it was time to go. Bill led us through Xi’an to the Muslim Quarter and then because of the nature of the street market type area, we broke up into groups and did our own thing. It’s not the first time I’ve travelled, or the first time I’ve been to a street market but this was absolutely insane! The sounds, the sights, the smells – it was sensory overload from the moment you crossed the road in to the area. There would have been thousands of people crammed into the space of a few blocks, vendors on either side of the street selling their wares and locals and tourists eating their way through their Saturday night. It was predominantly a food market, and the area was run by the minority population of Xi’an; muslim people who had settled in Xi’an thousands of years ago in the Silk Road days. The food was Chinese with a distinct middle eastern twist – the only way to understand it was to eat everything in sight… which I was happy to do. I can’t put this place into words, and every time I try, the description looks so lame compared to the sense of being there. I might stop trying and just say that it was a one of a kind experience in a unique part of China.