This was a transition/travel day, but we still had one more stop before leaving Xi’an, the ancient city wall. Xi’an has the most completely intact city wall of any city in China. The original wall was 26 Km long and built in 194 B.C. The current structure dates from the Ming Dynasty (1370 A.D.), and its 13.7 kilometres circle the central city, with entry points at the four primary gates facing each of the four directions of the compass.
We had the option of cycling the wall, but we’d had plenty of exercise in recent days, so we opted instead to just walk a small section. It’s an impressive structure, built with a core of rammed earth and a “veneer” of brick and stone. It’s 12 metres high and 15-18 metres thick at its base. (photos)
After walking the wall, we were whisked off to the north end of the city to catch a high-speed train. When we first learned we would travel by train, we didn’t know quite what to expect. The itinerary just said we were booked for “soft seat,” which was at least somewhat assuring. Our first surprise was the train station, which was as large, spacious and comfortable as any small airport in North America, complete with the ubiquitous KFC and McDonalds. Our next surprise was the train itself, which offered spacious seats with more than ample foot room and a footrest. Even though our journey was only two hours duration, we were offered a snack similar to what one might get on a Westjet flight. (No, they didn’t have Bits and Bites, but yes, they did have cookies.)
Looking at the map, we assumed the train ride would take some time, perhaps five or six hours. But we weren’t banking on it traveling at 290 Km an hour. All in all, it was a far more pleasant way to travel than any plane ride we’d had in our lives.
I had thought I might take some pictures on the drive, but the speed of the train made that an impossibility. So did the haze. We had assumed that once we made it to the countryside we would escape the smog that had been so prevalent in Beijing and Xi’an. We were wrong. It followed us all the way to Luoyang, our next stop, and, if anything was thicker in Luoyang (an industrial hub) than in Xi’an.
When we arrived, we met our guide, a middle-aged man who introduced himself this way: “Hi, my name is Lee; you can all me Charlie.” Lee/Charlie turned out to be a former History teacher who had been guiding in the area for over thirty years. Over the next few days, he would regale us with many tales of acting as tour guide or interpreter for foreign dignitaries, including Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Apart from being a bit OCD and having a tendency to micromanage, he was very knowledgeable and had very good English, so no complaints.
Charlie informed us that we were ahead of schedule, so he proposed we visit the White Horse Temple (68 A.D.) the place where Buddhism was originally introduced into China (at least according to one version. (photos)
After that we went back to our hotel in Luoyang. Charlie had directed us to a good restaurant directly across from a school, but when we finally found a school (Which was this place. Would you send your child there?) there was no restaurant across from it. We figured he must mean the restaurant beside it, so we tried that. It turns out we were totally off base, but the food was all right, the price was great, and we didn’t end up shitting our pants, so, score one for good luck.