21 October: We had a very early morning wake up call (5am) so that we could catch our flight to Xian. We were excited about visiting the panda research center. The streets were empty as we headed to the airport. Our taxi driver overcharged us and I even saw the meter skipping numbers. The ride came to 96 RMB. He ran off to get us a luggage cart and I was so temped to drive off with his car! LOL! I also hadn’t paid him yet and I wondered if he would have chased us down if we simply walked into the airport and got mixed into the crowds. He came back with the cart with all smiles on his face. I handed him the 100 RMB bill and he smiled to thank me. I smiled back and raised four fingers and then the palm of my hand. He kept smiling as if to thank me for the 100. He went to his door and I followed him with my hand still out. He continued to smile and this went on for a couple of minutes until he place a 1 RMB coin in my hand. I smiled and kept my hand out until he gave me the other three, one at a time. I thanked him for ripping us off and walked away.
We had a good 2-hour flight to Xian on an airbus plane. Upon landing, we were shocked to see such thick pollution in the air. We when landing, the pilot had practically no visibility and landed IFR (instruments versus visual). I didn’t see any ground until a few seconds before hitting the ground. Reenie and I just stared at the pollution. Unbelievable. I took a few photos from the window. I had read that Xian has some of the worse pollution in China, which is why I had changed the itinerary from 3 nights to 2 nights.
It was an easy ride to the city on the airport shuttle (27 RMB per person), which dropped people off at the Melody hotel. From there it was just a few minutes to walk to the Bell Tower Hotel. Our room (#441) was not ready, so we dropped off our luggage and explored our area. Both of us bought a crepe for lunch, which was filled with a chopped pickled hard boiled egg, cabbage, mushrooms, and hot sauce). It was filling, tasty and only 3 RMB.
Not too far from the hotel was a very small temple. I didn’t get the name of this temple. It was so peaceful and quiet, away from the traffic and congestion of people.
Reenie found a teashop where she bought a teapot. She didn’t want a whole set, just the pot. Up until then, I didn’t want to buy one, but hers was so pretty that I decided I wanted one too. The store didn’t have any other teapots, so I would start my search later.
On a small street corner, we picked up a bottle of wine. The old couple running the store enjoyed meeting us, as we tried to figure out which to buy. They hand gestured the prices, smiled, and seemed like they wanted to help us. As we walked away, we decided to turn back and get our picture taken with them. They laughed and seemed pleased. The man, at first, didn’t want his photo taken, but agreed after his wife harped on him. We showed them the photos and we got more smiles from. It would have been nice to go back another day to say hello to them.
Back to the hotel, we unpacked a few things. We had a great view of the Bell Tower from our room, which had a narrow balcony. The room was pretty basic. It had twin beds, desk/chair, large t.v., and a small bathroom. The carpeting was very old and dirty (thank goodness the hotel provided room slippers), including the carpeting in the hallways. The hotel really needs to replace all of it. The beds were slightly firm but comfortable.
After unpacking, we visited the Bell Tower, which had an expensive entry fee, 40RMB, compared to the other sights we visited. There was a short performance in the main room: five or six people playing various musical instruments and bells and a dancer with extra, extra long sleeves. It was entertaining and helped offset the entry fee. Not much else to see since the views were hampered by the pollution.
The Muslim quarter was nearby, so we went to check it out. There were lots of food vendors and people shopping for souvenirs. I found a place that sold teapots and I bargained: less than what Reenie paid for hers! I’ve done this twice now underbidding her.
We met up with Jasmine, a young woman that I met on VT. She had given me suggestions on getting to the Terra Cotta Warriors (TCW) by local bus. She took us to a restaurant near our hotel (Du Du Family Cuisine), about a 10-minute walk. We ordered five dishes but should have ordered four, but we ate most of it: baked eggplant, squid with celery and bamboo shoots, beef with cucumber, vegetable rolls (my favorite!), and a plate of various mushrooms with green and red bell pepper. It was an excellent dinner! 83 RMB for the three of us.
Back at our hotel we said our goodbye’s to Jasmine.