We had an early checkout this morning ready for a full day of travel. Hotel Housekeeping were extremely on the ball though; in the ten minutes between us checking out and boarding the coach, someone had checked our room and sent a message to ask whether we had deliberately left the two beakers we’d got with our chicken burger meal in Shanghai station. We had, so there was no problem, but I was left wondering why the rooms got checked so quickly; is it purely a service to the guests – which is undeniably beneficial – or was it the hotel making sure before we left the premises that we hadn’t trashed the hotel room…?
Our itinerary involved another bullet train to Beijing and, from there, a coach straight out to a guesthouse by the Great Wall.
Whereas we’d arrived at Xi’an Main Station, in the heart of the city, we departed from Xi’an North, a large and modern station a few miles from the centre. Very much like a modern airline terminal, it’s spacious and brightly lit and a definite improvement on the Shanghai Central station we departed on Tuesday. As we hadn’t had time for breakfast at the hotel, almost the entire group headed to McDonalds for breakfast. I can report the consensus was that the Sausage & Egg McMuffins have a stronger, saltier flavour in China – and that Fries and Hash Browns aren’t normally available at fast food outlets.
The train journey went smoothly; I mostly used the time to catch up with writing my blog posts. The train was a little slower than the Beijing to Shanghai service, but got above 300kph from time to time and we all took photographs. We travelled Second Class today; it was a little more crowded with narrower seats in a 3-2 configuration, but there was a surprising amount of legroom and power at each group of seats, so I’d say it was at least as good as British services and better in terms of the cleanliness and service.
I think today it was more the rain than any pollution haze obscuring the landscape, but either way, we didn’t get many great views. My enduring impression is of cranes atop partially completed tower block complexes; a sight which appeared frequently along our route.
We arrived to a drizzly Beijing and a 19-seater coach which was waiting to whisk us away into stationary traffic for an hour or so. Once we’d cleared the city centre though, the roads were mostly clear and good.
This was the “homestay” element of this trip and we’d been warned to expect all kinds of basic facilities here; shared showers and squat toilets but, although it was more basic than our hotel in Xi’an, it was newer and cleaner – and we each had an en suite shower and pedestal toilet. Even in the rain, it was a pleasant spot; the rooms were on the first floor around a little open-air courtyard area containing covered seating. Downstairs was the public/dining room.
Before dinner, we took a stroll along the main street of what looked like a recently built village. It followed a section of river filled with water lilies and many of the houses either had a small herb patch out front, or a large field of vegetables out back. Peter seemed to be in his element pointing out the different varieties of everything.
At several places through the village there were loudspeakers attached to poles, loudly playing what sounded like a radio station. I asked Peter about them and he confirmed it was a radio station being relayed. He was less clear on whether they existed at the request of the local citizenry or some level of government had required their installation. Given the level of technology we observed (the village had free public Wi-Fi!) and the age and quality of the cars (shiny and newish) we observed parked outside the houses, I didn’t think the villagers lacked the means to listen to a radio station privately if they wanted to, so I tended towards thinking this was some mandated thing, although it didn’t sound like a particularly propaganda-heavy channel. Go figure!?
As per every other night, we had a communal dinner around a Lazy Susan. Tonight though, between the sound of the rain and the cheap beer (only ¥10/£1/$1.60 for 600ml), we lingered after eating and had quite a social evening telling jokes and stories about other travels. Eventually the evening came to a close and Brett gave us an acapella rendition of A Parting Glass to say goodnight.