Tuesday morning two weeks ago Calvin, my host from the night before, just texted me and excused that he messed up the meeting last night. He invited for a cup of coffee to say sorry, and I accepted for sure. Unfortunately my next train already left at noon and it took longer than expected to get to the meeting point. Hence, in the end we just met for 15 minutes at the subway station and took a quick coffee there. It’s a real pity, that we couldn’t stay longer.
As there were only high-speed trains during the day, I picked the cheapest one for this drive of about three hours. This area is really densely populated and after several minutes we stopped in a city, with each of it alone seems rather huge. In the beginning we crossed also the Yangtze river, as it was very fast, it doesn’t seem very huge. But nevertheless the river ships on it were looking pretty huge. In Shanghai we arrived at the largest railway station of Asia. It was crowded, but as there was enough space it didn’t felt really packed. I tried to buy my next train tickets. One of them couldn’t be sold and for the other, I needed to queue at another ticket counter. Well at least I was able to purchase on of them. In the evening I headed to the subway station where my host Axel picked me up. This day, everything went fine.
Monday morning two weeks ago I went to the railway station and picked up my ticket, before I rook my next train. The beginning of the train drive was quite interesting landscape. The track went into some mountainous section, through various tunnels and crossed narrow valleys, before we reached some kind of flatland again. In the late afternoon the agriculture changed, somehow suddenly, from corn fields to rice fields and the according soil looked always wet.
In the late evening I arrived in Hefei and took the subway to my host. I needed to interchange the lines, but already at half past ten, the subway was no longer operating. Welcome to Hefei, the capital of the Anhui province, but nevertheless behaving like a provincial town. So there were enough taxi drivers nearby, all wanting too much money. In the end I negotiate from about I guess 40 RMB, if I remember wrong, down to 15 RMB. But during the drive the driver started to asking again for money. But as we had a deal, there was no reason for me to pay more. Well…then I was at the place of my host. But he didn’t answered to my messages, and even when I tried to call him…no reaction. So I wait, and tried several times again calling him, until there was the automatic announcement in English, that the battery of the phone which I called was empty. Well OK, now I need a plan B…immediately. With the help of an app I found a cheap hostel and 24 hour reception about 2 km away. I decided to walk and even passed a street food bar. With the help of Google translator and communication by hand, I got my late dinner shortly before midnight. The hostel was a bit hidden in a narrow aisle, but it was not that complicated to find. So in the end, everything turned out to be fine.
Sunday two weeks ago I just made a city tour in Xi’an, which was actually the capital of China in ancient times. Therefore probably also the and point of the silk road. Bilal, my host, is from Pakistan and just doing his PhD in Xi’an since about a year. He asked one of his friends to go to Huashan mountain but his friend declined, as he said one would need two days. It is about a two hours drive (one way to get there) and at this time I was also not interested to do so…unfortunately. Because later I discovered that there is this exposed board walk at the south side of the Huashan mountain and also the soldiers path uphill. Both sounds like easy going via ferrati, which I would have liked to make…But anyhow, I just had an easy day in the city.
First I headed to the Han Cheng Hu. This park is somehow dedicated to environmental issues, water management in the soil and reafforestation. But surprisingly to me, at Sunday afternoon, this park was pretty empty. Maybe these topics are not interesting enough for ordinary Chinese people…I don’t know. Also the buildings there seemed to be closed anyway, but the park itself doesn’t look, like it is really old. Afterwards I took the subway, as Xi’an is larger than one would expect, and went to the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. The water games infront and the pagoda itself were illuminated at night. I just walked around and had also a look at the various dancing groups, before I headed back to Bilal. He booked the next train ticket directly via WeChat for me, without any additional service charges. I wasn’t even aware that this is possible. I got a reference number and just need to pick up the ticket at any railway station. Afterwards he invited me to have a dinner at some of his Pakistani friends, where I had a nice conversation. But they told me also about a Pakistani student who was just recently murdered in China. So it could become even worse, maybe much faster as one thinks.
Saturday two weeks ago I went to the Army of Terrakotta Warriors. This site is also popular for Chinese tourists, but I’ve also seen some western tourists as well. Basically there are three Pits, with Pit 1 the largest and Pit 3 the smallest but maybe most powerful one. I spent strolling around for some hours and quenching in between the crowds. The most enjoyable time was about half an hour before closing, because the guided groups already left and only some individual visitors left over.
After heading back to the city I went in the evening to the muslim quarter, which is inside the (restored) city walls of Xi’an. It was a very crowded place in the evening. First I went through the Fake Market, you could guess which cheap articles you could buy here, to the great mosque of Xi’an. As Xi’an is the end, or the beginning?!?, of the silk road, there has been since long a large muslim community. I didn’t want to pay an entrance fee for the mosque, so I skipped that and was walking further along a side street. This one was abandoned, but once I took the next turn, I was, surprisingly, again pretty much in the crowds. I tasted some street food, before I went back to my host.
Friday two weeks ago I headed to my next train. As my original host in Xian declined my stay just in the morning, I was looking for another one on a short notice. The first leg was pretty long and I was just heading south to Luoyang. Luckily I had my reserved seat as it was Friday and the train was absolutely packed. There were lots of people just staying in the aisle, or even had there small folding chair with them. Additionally in the K trains the non-smoking policy is not really strict. So people are just staying in between the waggons, doors are open and after some time also the waggon is filled with smoke. Not a nice experience when you travel a long distance. But on the other hand, K trains cost much less than G or D trains in China.
I just stayed a bit more than one hour in Luoyang and was luckily accepted by another CS member. So I didn’t had time to visit the famous Longmen Grottoes nearby, as everybody asked me afterwards, when I told them that I was in Luoyang. At the second train ticket, I just saw that there is no seat specified, only a waggon number. And indeed when I purchased that ticket back in Beijing, the woman at the ticket office sold me a standing ticket. So as was a bit upset, as my app said there are still seat tickets available, and I didn’t got it, when I was buying the ticket. Luckily a local man just helped me to get a seat, and I could stay there for the first 3 hours. The last hour it was like a “Musical Chair” game to head for a seat, but it was OK. It could have even been worse. Finally I arrived a little bit after midnight in Xian.