Today started out on a lower note, as some members of our group got sick and have to stay in Beijing for a couple more days to recover. The rest of us travelled to the train station for our first experience with the famous bullet trains. I’ve ridden the Amtrak before, so I expected the train to be much nicer than a plan, with more legroom and more freedom to walk around, which held true. However, the train station blew me away. It felt like we were in an airport with many terminals – the place was huge! There were places to buy food and souvenirs around as well. The train ride itself was impressively smooth. It felt like I was just sitting in a car, despite the fact that the display above my head showed that the train was moving at 300 km/hr. Looking out the window, I saw beautiful mountains as well as lots of plains and some interesting valleys with red earth and green grass above. I hadn’t grasped how big China was that the landscapes were as varied as we saw, even just moving inland a bit. The fact that infrastructure like this can be built so quickly is absolutely incredible.
When we got to Xi’an, we took a double-decker bus to the hotel, and I sat up top, right in front. At first, the experience was a bit rattling, as I saw just exactly how crazy the driving is, and exactly how close we got to other cars when merging and turning. Xi’an is still very green like Beijing, but the greenspace doesn’t feel as meticulously planned out as it did in Beijing. I did notice similar architecture in the groups of high rise buildings throughout the city. Like Beijing, Xi’an doesn’t seem to have a skyline, rather, all the buildings are tall.
After settling in, we walked through the Muslim market, which is exactly what I pictured the Silk Market in Beijing to be like. There were so many different street food options from meat on a stick to fresh fruits especially cherries to Instagram trendy ice creams. There were jewelry stands and stands just to sell combs and even places with kiss fish to eat the callouses off of your toes! We saw goat feet for sale and taffy being stretched out all in the middle of this street crowded with rickshaws and what seemed like a million people. We then went up the drum tower and looked down at the packed streets of the Muslim Quarters. The drum tower, which I can spot looking out of my hotel window, has these intricate details on the ceiling beams which resemble that of the Forbidden City. After that, we headed to dinner, which was a dumpling banquet at a 1300 year old restaurant. I found it funny that the table favorite was actually the free pork dumplings which we tried with vinegar. So far, I like Xi’an more than Beijing, and I’m excited to get to know it better this weekend.