Off Again, on a Train and a Plane

Our early-morning wakeup call was even earlier today than yesterday: 06:30 hours, and we had to be ready to leave by 08:00am.  Fancy coming away on holiday just to be up earlier than you are when you have to go to work!

We had our breakfast, a mixture of Chinese and Western style buffet food, then finished packing as we were leaving Shanghai today to fly to Xi’an, China’s ancient imperial capital city, and home of the Terracotta Army.

We left the hotel and followed Robert-the-Rep across the road to where our waiting coach was ready to take us to the train station.  Robert carried the British Union flag on an extendable pole so that wherever we were we could see him.  We were going to experience a ride on the Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT), a magnetic levitation train (where the train hovers above the tracks instead of touching them) and the fastest train in the world.

We arrived at the station and had only a few minutes to wait until the train arrived.  Once seated inside, it set off and its rapidly-accelerating speed was shown on an LED display above the door.  Faster and faster it went until you felt as though you were on the edge of your seat.  The countryside sped by as the digital readout crept towards 431kph, or 268 miles per hour.  The time when we really knew we were going that fast was when another high speed train passed us in a blur lasting a fraction of a second!  Wow!   🙂

The ride to the airport only took 10 minutes, then we got off the train and, with a sense of déjà vu, queued with the rest of our group at the China Eastern Airlines desk for the two-hour flight to Xi’an.  We had about an hour to wait until our flight was called, so we went to the little airport shop and bought a couple of cans of Tsing Tao beer and waited around.

Once again, the announcement came over the PA that our flight was delayed.  Apparently the Chinese air traffic control change the aircraft flight schedules at a moment’s notice, so no-one should really believe what they read on the departure board.  The Chinese all seemed to take it in their stride, but I could just imagine the mutiny the airport staff would have on their hands if this was a regular occurrence in the UK with British Airways!

So I sat and played on my Nintendo DS, read my magazines, had another can of beer, and eventually we were called to board the Airbus A320.  After another delay, the plane was eventually airborne.  🙂

As it was an internal flight there was no AVOD, so after the drop-down screens had shown the in-flight safety advice, there was a showing of the children’s programme “Shaun the Sheep” followed by a gossip programme featuring the top-10 celebrity divorce settlements.  The programmes were in English with Chinese subtitles.

The cabin crew came around with drinks (no wine !!!) and a meal of…. pork with rice or chicken with noodles.  We ate the starters and the bread, had some of the meal (which was singularly unappetising) and ate the fresh watermelon chunks for ‘dessert’.

Eventually we arrived in Xi’an airport and followed Robert and his flag through the throngs of people to get on the bus, where were were able to get our first glimpse of the city streets of Xi’an.

At first, the area looked pretty uninspiring.  There were rows and rows of identical, towering grey blocks of flats flanking the sides of the carriageway.  Eventually the flats gave way to some shops and other commercial buildings, and after about half an hour the bus pulled up at a huge gate which provided the entrance to the famed city walls.

We alighted from the bus and waited while a Chinese woman, in traditional dress, greeted us and welcomed us to the city.  There were several guards standing at each side of the heavy wooden gates.  These portals were opened ceremoniously, and each of the esteemed guests (i.e.us) was given a satin cord with a ‘golden’ key to the gate, an an honour bestowed upon us.

Inside the gates, the men and women in traditional costume did a dance, a parade with flags, and some singing, all to welcome us within the fabled city walls of their ancient capital.  The whole of our group then posed for a photo with the dancers, which we could buy as a souvenir.

We then had some free time to climb up onto the city walls, which are wide enough to carry eight horsemen rising abreast.  Trevor climbed up onto the walls, but it was too hot and sunny for me, so I sat down on some steps and waiting for his return.

We then got back on the bus for the ride to the King Dynasty Hotel, where we would be having our dinner.  We arrived at the hotel at 6.45pm and Robert said dinner was at 7.30pm, so once again there was a muttered protest (among the women!) that 45 minutes was not enough time to get ready.  Our luggage followed behind us in a van.

We pulled up at the hotel, and our first impressions from its lobby was that it was very nice; all marble floors and statues.  We queued for our room key card and were assured that our luggage would be delivered to our rooms.  We were allocated room 2010.

After waiting ages for the lift, with time ticking away, we entered our room to find two suitcases had already arrived.  The only problem was… they weren’t our cases.  Any hope I now had of washing, changing and going down to dinner on time was rapidly diminishing, as Trevor went down to reception to take the cases back and find out where ours were.

After a few minutes, I heard Trevor’s key card in the lock and the door to the room opened.  Only it wasn’t Trevor, it was another couple who, by mistake, had been allocated the same room number as us!  Just as well I hadn’t been standing in my underwear or just come out of the shower; I don’t know who would have had the bigger shock!   🙂

Eventually Trevor returned with the correct cases, but now his key card wouldn’t work!  I let him into the room and decided I would just have to go down to dinner late.  He got sorted out in record time and went down to the dining room, but I was able to get a quick wash, freshen up my hair with the straighteners and change into a cotton maxi dress, so I was half an hour late getting to the dining room.

Again, the meal was a selection of Chinese dishes, all served onto the large Lazy Susan in the middle of our table.  The dishes were hot and tasty, and there was a wide selection of beef, pork, chicken and fish as well as fresh vegetables and sweetcorn soup, rice and noodles.  We also enjoyed a freezing cold glass of beer, followed by a refreshing cup of fragrant Jasmine tea.

After dinner, some of our party had arranged to go and see the Tang Dynasty show, and others were taking a trip to the Muslim quarter in the city to experience their night market, but neither option appealed to us.  It had been one of those long days where you don’t actually do much, but end up pretty tired just the same.

So we went along to the hotel bar but, once again, it proved difficult to buy just one glass of wine (you have to buy the full bottle), so I had a rum and coke with lots of ice instead.  We watched some of the London 2012 Olympics on the large TV screen in the bar, but it was hard to keep my eyes open.  We both slept soundly as we had another early start in the morning.

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