Our day started early, with an 8:00 train ride from Beijing to the next city on our trip; Xi’an. Located to the west and in a more rural area, Xi’an had a reputation for feeling older and more traditional than the sprawling cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
I was looking forward to passing through the countryside during the train ride, as up until now I had only seen urban areas of China. However, despite being on a train traveling at 300 km/h, it took well over an hour before we escaped the endless apartment blocks of greater Beijing and passed through anything that looked remotely rural. It really imparted just how huge the cities are in China, and how you could go for many miles in any direction and still find yourself in an urban area. This is definitely in contrast to the United States, where even in big cities the countryside is never far away.
As we got closer to Xi’an, we passed by some impressive looking mountains, and some scenic farmland. Before long we were in the city itself, which—with 8 million inhabitants—was considered to be on the smaller side for China. That afternoon we took a walk down to the Drum and Bell towers, located at the center of the city. These buildings seemed very well preserved, and I had the chance to see them lit up when I later went back to the area at night. After a group dinner consisting of multiple rounds of dumplings, we walked back through the Muslim Streets section of the city, which was packed with street vendors, restaurants, pedestrians, and locals weaving through the crowds on motorized scooters at startling speeds. It definitely felt like I was stepping back in time compared to Beijing, and it was interesting to view this very different aspect of China.