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Xi'an, China
May 23, 2017 - May 25, 2017

Xi'an

There were 64 of us along with at least two Marathon Tours representatives making the 2-hour flight from Beijing to Xi'an on China Eastern Airlines. Local tour guides met us at the airport and led us to the two awaiting motorcoaches.

I did not know much about Xi'an other than that the famous Terracotta Warrior statues are located near there. Our tour guide gave all types of facts about the city as we were being driven downtown. She was a superb guide. Xi'an is a city of 8.7 million people. What was most noticeable to me were all the beige high-rise apartment buildings. There were many more bicycles, mopeds, and rickshaws mixed in with the street traffic. Just like Beijing, the drivers are aggressive. Another thing that caught my attention was the cables between the utility poles. There was so many of these cables that it looked like they could weigh down the poles.

Our guide made sure we got the most out of our visit to Xi'an. Instead of being taken to the hotel, we were already on our first tour. Our first stop was at the ancient city wall. This 40-foot tall wall has been standing for more than 600 years. It has an 8-mile perimeter. Our guide told us that sticky rice and kiwi was used as mortar to join the bricks long ago. After our grueling race on the Great Wall, more steps and a wall was the last thing we wanted to see. Nevertheless, we climbed the steps and walked around up there for a while. It was quite a beautiful sight to see. Soothing Chinese music played softly through speakers as we strolled. You can rent bicycles on the wall. Some in our group attempted to do this later that evening but the rental office was closed when they returned.

Xi'an City Wall

 

 

 

 

From the wall, we were driven a short distance to a section of town known as the Muslim Quarter. Xi'an was on the ancient Silk Road trade route. As a result, merchants from Arab lands settled in Xi'an over time. Our guide held a paddle above her head to help us follow her through the very crowded Muslim Market. This was one of my favorite walking tours because she stopped at various stalls and purchased food for us to try. These were mainly snack-like foods such as pastries filled with dates or nuts. She did not recommend eating any of the meat being cooked on the streets because of the possibility that it could make us sick. We had some time to walk around on our own. Xi'an was the first time I saw any begging or pan-handling in China. There was not much of it here but I don't think I saw it at all in Beijing or Hong Kong - not to say it does not exist those places. We would witness it a handful of times in other cities we visited. As for the rest of our free time in the Muslim Market, I never saw a mosque but I did see the spectacular Xi'an Bell Tower at the end of the street.

Muslim Market

 

 

"Try some."

 

Xi'an Bell Tower

 

 

We stayed at the Hotel Sofitel Xiían on Renmin Square. Wow! Our room was amazing! Traci and I had a suite. Like our other hotels, we had many amenities and turn-down service in the evening. The difference was that this turn-down service included a chocolate treat. We had complimentary Wi-Fi like we did at our previous hotels; however, it seems the government does not allow access to Facebook outside of Hong Kong and Beijing. As for Google, it is blocked throughout China.

Our Suite at Hotel Sofitel Xiían on Renmin Square

 

 

Not long after we got checked in, we had to be back on the bus to go to dinner. Our meal that evening was as at Defachang's, a famous dumpling restaurant. Like our other meals, it was family-style; however, this meal was memorable. The servers kept bringing dish after dish of dumplings. Most seemed to contain pork - I think? I was never really sure. Some were very good - others, not so much. I tried a black dumpling that tasted okay. I later found out from one of our Marathon Tours representatives who could speak Chinese that it was a cuttlefish dumpling made from its ink. A cuttlefish is a sea animal in the squid and octopus family. Like its cousins, it sprays ink when threatened.

Defachang's - Famous Dumpling Restaurant

 

 

 

cuttlefish dumplings

 

After dinner, we had the option of being driven back to the hotel or exploring the area and walking back on our own. Traci and I decided to do the latter. Traci's sweet tooth had kicked in and she wanted to get a sundae from McDonald's. One of our friends from the group came along with us. My mind was blown when we stepped outside the dumpling restaurant. Now that it was nighttime, the towers were all lit up as were the other buildings in the area. There were large digital advertisements. There was a large traffic circle with insanely aggressive drivers. I knew we needed to get to the other side to get to McDonald's but there was no way we would survive crossing the street. Fortunately, there are tunnels that go under the streets. They are well lit and look like subway stations without trains. They were very crowded as were the sidewalks above ground.

There were no kiosks like at the McDonald's in Hong Kong but one of the workers was handing out menus so that we could point to what we wanted without having to worry about the language barrier. Even though I was full from our dumpling meal, I could not resist trying the pineapple pie. I really liked it.

We continued to walk around the area. The weather was pleasant. I loved the vibe of the place. Traci found a Nike store. She loves visiting them all around the world.

We walked through the Muslim Market again. This time, it was super crowded. Despite the crowd, there were still people slowly weaving their mopeds through this pedestrian area.

Xi'an at Night

 

 

Things got creepy in the Muslim Market that night. Traci entered a shop. I noticed a man was walking aggressively towards her. I thought he was going after her pocketbook so I quickly got between him and Traci who was oblivious to what was going on. Everywhere Traci looked in the shop, the man would point and then tap an old cell phone on the shelf. I thought maybe he worked there. We would say no thank you and move on. We left the shop and entered another one. The man followed us. I heard our friend tell him to stop following her. I then went over to him to attempt to tell him to leave us alone. He did not said anything. He did not seem to be begging or selling anything. He would just tap his cell phone on anything he could find. He seemed to have some mental challenges. We left the shop hoping we would lose him in the crowd. I looked back and saw he was making his way through the crowd to get to us. I saw two police cars so we headed in that direction. Wouldn't you know it? The police cars were empty. Darn it! Therefore, I had to turn around and confront the man again. I donít speak Chinese so I kept telling him in English and gesturing to go away. He continued to follow so I had to do this a few more times being more animated. He finally left us alone.

It was about an 8-block walk back to the hotel from the Muslim Market. With shops closing and the crowds thinning, the street was pretty dark. We kept looking over our shoulders to see if we had a stalker. Fortunately, there was no one following. By the time we got near the hotel, we were ready to explore again. We heard music across the street. We went over there and found that it was an outdoor roller skating rink. It was such a beautiful night for skating. We people-watched for a few minutes and then returned to our hotel. Despite the creepy incident in the market, we had had a very pleasant evening in Xi'an. Continue...

 

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