XIAN – China
If you are planning a trip to China, don’t miss spending a couple of days in Xian.
We chose a small hotel with authentic Chinese charm – The Tang Art Dynasty Hotel – for our three night stay. It’s located in the Qujiang area and true to its name, the guest suites are arranged around garden courtyards filled with flowers and beautiful sculptures. The breakfast features a traditional Chinese buffet, which most Westerners would consider to be a lunch buffet. Many staff members only speak Chinese, but they are kind, helpful and eager to please. The location is great, and the hotel is an oasis of calm and beauty in a busy, bustling city. A great place to return to after a day of uncovering Xian’s sights.
I highly recommend using a good tour company to get the most out of your visit and avoid the time wasting hassles of finding taxis or using public transport. We used China Tours who provided an excellent guide and a driver.
After a day of sightseeing, we would take walks either in the park adjacent to the hotel where enchanting, oversized, hand-painted, replicas of opera masks are on display; or in the direction of the landmark Wild Goose Pagoda, along pedestrian streets where bronze statues depict scenes from daily life during the Tang dynasty. Little stalls, where calligraphers are engrossed in their work, and others where fans, souvenirs, and Chinese confectionary are for sale, add to the charm of the area.
The Buddhist Wild Goose Pagoda built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty faces onto a square which in turn faces a boulevard lined on both sides by stores and restaurants. Along the central axis of the boulevard, lies an extensive outdoor ‘art gallery’ of massive bronze sculptures – depicting generals, horsemen, poets, writers, musicians, and philosophers, from the Tang Dynasty. On the North Square of the Wild Goose Pagoda, are Xian’s famous musical fountains, where viewers gather after dark to view the sight of the colorful fountains dancing, swaying, and prancing to music.
Xian’s renovated ancient city wall, which was built to surround the Old City, makes for a terrific bicycle ride, jog, or long walk covering a distance of 13.75 kilometers. From that elevated vantage point, one has a fantastic view of the city, the soaring skyscrapers, the spectacular neon billboards advertising top of the line brands of watches, cars, and clothing stores. Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana, Chanel, Armani, etc., etc. all have a presence in Xian. Then there are the views of parks and the older atmospheric streets shaded by leafy trees where tiny stores and eateries (that are jammed side-by-side) bustle with activity.
Nearby is Muslim Street where throngs of people stroll; bakers turn out mouthwatering wheels of flat Mediterranean bread; men wielding heavy mallets pound nuts, which are the essential ingredient for sweet halva; delicious smelling ‘creepy-crawlies’ (strange looking critters) roast on open fires; and tea houses and candy stores are packed with customers.
Down a little side street is Xian’s Great Mosque. The oldest mosque in China. It’s a masterful blend of traditional Chinese and Muslim architecture in a lush, tranquil, garden setting, where pathways lead one through courtyards and small pergolas to the main prayer hall.
Not to be missed is an early morning visit to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. The Pagoda itself is nothing special, but in the surrounding park, fit and trim seniors go through fluid dance routines set to music; others practice Thai Chi; and in a small open-sided pavilion we came across a female opera singer, practicing with three accompanying musicians.
We were enthralled by the exquisite collection of artifacts that are housed in the basement of the new Museum of Culture, which is a short walk in the park from the pagoda.
Of course, I’ve saved the best for last: A visit to see the army of Terra-Cotta Warriors, one of the man-made wonders of the world that beats description. It simply takes one’s breath away. Try and get there early, just as it opens. It’s well worth the effort to have an unobstructed view of this unforgettable sight!