Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Xi'an and the Terracotta Army

Arriving in Xi'an at night was quite an experience, the city was bubbling with life.  We were dropped off a few blocks from the Bell Tower which is a massive and impressively lit Pagoda set in the dead center of the city. Apon arriving in Xi'an we did not really know what to expect, other than a day trip out to see the Terracotta Army.  We were met with the pleasant surprise of a walkable old walled city!

The wall itself is about 40 feet thick (wide?) and 8 miles around. You can walk, or bike, along the top of the wall, a pricey activity which we obviously did. Word to the wise: before spending a whole days worth of sightseeing money to rent bicycles in a cobblestone situation, check to be sure they do not use the least comfortable cycling racing seats imaginable. It will not make for a comfortable ride. However, after bitching about our sore parts for a bit in the scorching sun, we remembered that we were cycling on a 600 year old wall in China, and then we were happy again!

That evening, we took in some of the sights around Xi'an: the Bell Tower and Drum Tower (gorgeous from the outside but beyond our budget to go in) and the nightly water show outside the Wild Goose Pagoda. We had heard that some travellers at our hostel were "not impressed" with the nightly water show, but if you can imagine enjoying the water show outside the Bellagio in Vegas, but bigger, closer, and in front of a 1300 year old pagoda, this free show is for you! Oh, and bring an umbrella. It gets a bit...misty.

Nightly water show at the Giant Goose Pagoda
Obligatory Photo of Tomb. See? Totally not worth the visit.
The next day, we joined a tour at our hostel to go out to see the Terracotta Army, built for the Emperor Qin Shi Huang in around 210 BC. The tour started with a trip to see the actual tomb mound where the emperor is buried. If you have to pay extra for the trip to see his tomb, don't bother! Our delightful tour guide kept saying, "there is nothing to see there. Don't get excited!" and then when we arrived at the side of a big green hill, she pointed to a tomb marker and said, "take your pictures and we'll go see the army!" Since we're rule followers, we took our obligatory picture...see?!

We got back into the van and made our way to see the army. We had read in guidebooks to do see the pits backwards (so that the most complete, impressive pit is saved for last) and it was the perfect way to do it. Our favorite things we learned along the way:
- Of the thousands of soldiers and horses found in the 3 pits, only one has been found completely in tact, and has been thus named the Magic Archer.
- We had heard that each soldier had a different face, but we were surprised at just how different all the figures were, from different pants, shoes, hairstyles, and faces. We were told many of the faces are modeled after the carvers, as they used each other for inspiration to carve. 

- I was impressed by how much you can decipher about each figure, based on the shape of his shoes (less powerful soldiers had flat toed shoes, whereas generals had toes that pointed up significantly), marital status (men who were married had nails carved in the bottoms of their shoes because their wives made the shoes for them), etc.

Here are a few of our favorite photos:

Check out the different outfits, hair styles, and shoe toe heights!

The sheer number of figures was amazing!

Hand cut noodles...yummy!

Other than the wall and the army, Xi'an has some really fun food! There is a significant Muslim population in Xi'an (and a really fun Muslim Quarter) and their food is a cross between Chinese and Middle Eastern food. One of the most common dishes in town is a hand-cut noodle dish topped with a variety of ground meats and vegetables, and finished with a pungent broth. Delicious!!

Overall, we really enjoyed Xi'an.  If you want to visit china and have a limited amount of time, Xi'an provides a unique, well-traveled, but very authentic experience with a lot of very well preserved high impact sights very close by (Terracotta Warriors, City Wall, Giant Goose Pagoda, and Huashan...post to come!). 

More photos from our trip to the Terracotta Warriors:
A meeting with a Bunny PrincessP9021740P9021759P9021770P9021775P9021802

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