Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pingyao and Xi'an:
Quiet Courtyards and Terracotta Dudes

After leaving the lush, Buddhist bliss of Wutai Shan, it was time to pack the bags and make our way to the ancient Chinese city of Pingyao. Pingyao is a gorgeous city with 72 distinct towers spread across the impressive city walls. Home to the first banking system developed in China, many of Pingyao's sights and museums are related to the country's early financial and accounting practices. We spent our days searching for daring street food, peeking into the well-preserved courtyard homes and ancient banks, and braving the winding alleys and hidden corners on a tandem bicycle. We also enjoyed spending time with our friends Andy and Jane, who arrived to town the same day. Our accommodation in Pingyao was a definite highlight, as we booked an excellent room at the Harmony Guest House. The photo above is of the recently renovated courtyard, surrounded by traditional rooms and suites.This local street vendor was selling a variety of pickled vegetables, sauteed noodles, fermented tofu and several variations on the theme of fried dough. However, we couldn't figure out what he was doing with the large feather duster.We procrastinated quite a bit over hiring a tandem bicycle. We'd had no problems on previous continents riding our own bicycles, but 'bike pooling' was a different thing entirely, and we found our debut tandem experience a bit daunting. With the temperature pushing 100 degrees, and me inappropriately dressed in denim dungarees, we decided it was "now or never" and had a great time attempting land speed records and chiming our faulty bell through the crowded arteries of Pingyao.

Pingyao ended up being a great place to socialize with fellow travelers, soak in classic Chinese architecture and ride our bike through a gorgeously preserved, ancient city. As we ate lunch in the Harmony Cafe one afternoon we met a kind American couple named Arvid and Irina who had recently retired from the Detroit penal system (as employees, not inmates) and started traveling around the world last November. It was great to meet fellow Americans on the road, especially two that have decided to dedicate their pensions toward their travel dream.

After a final night in Pingyao celebrating life and friendship with Andy and Jane, the four of us woke up earlier than we wanted, inhaled some banana pancakes and caught the early bus to Xi'an, the staging point for a day trip to the famed Army of Terracotta Warriors.
The six hour bus ride into Shaanxi province ended up being the most pleasant Chinese road journey we had in the previous three weeks with comfy chairs, a well operating a/c system and back-to-back-to-back Jackie Chan flicks.

Xi'an is a busy, modern metropolis, with plenty of historical sights to occupy a visitor for a day or two, in addition to the Terracotta Warriors. The Bell and Drum Towers, and the Muslim Quarter, with its unique Chinese style mosque, were Xi'an's biggest highlights.
Our hotel was located in the center of Xi'an, directly across from the famed Bell Tower. This photo was taken from the rooftop of the equally renowned Drum Tower.

As for the Terracotta Warriors, our highly anticipated visit certainly lived up to all of the hype. The underground life-size army, originally built to protect the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang, thoroughly impressed us with their freaky life-like appearance and overwhelmingly detailed facial expressions and attire.
A portion of the army in battle position.A close-up of the terracotta dudes.

The morning sun made for a dramatic effect on these archers, cavalrymen, horses and generals.

An interesting fact we picked up during our visit is that the bodies of the 60,000 strong army were originally cast without heads, as the heads had a tendency to combust in the kilns.

The day trip from Xi'an to the Army was well worth braving the crowds and heat. We were glad that one of the final sites we visited in China was one of the greatest.

A final impression left upon us from Xi'an was the Muslim Quarter. After spending so much time in Muslim countries earlier in the year, we were excited to visit the Great Mosque and witness the blend of Chinese and Arab culture. The mosque was built in the Chinese architectural tradition, with the primary minaret taking the shape of a pagoda. We found it quite bizarre to see Arab script engraved on a structure with classic Chinese design.

An archway leading from the entrance to the prayer hall.

Prayer time

Leaving Xi'an was both sad and exciting. It was the final stop on our journey through mainland China, so we knew our time was up. Having said that, the idea of new cultures and better air quality got us excited to pack up and head for Macau!

The midnight view from our Xi'an hotel room overlooking The Bell Tower.

Coming soon on Donkey Crossing:
We've come a long way since leaving Xi'an. In upcoming posts you'll read about our week in Macau & Hong Kong, our hot & sweaty time in Bangkok and our arrival to Ladakh, India (sandwiched in the northern tip of the country between the borders of Pakistan and China).


Anonymous Emily said...

Great photos, guys. That guest house looks cozy. I saw a travel show where the host (Anthony Bourdain) talked all about the yicky mouldy tofu that is so popular. Eating in the U.S. will never be the same for you. I applaud your bravery and the fact that you seek out new adventurous cuisines. Good for you guys.

I was a little behind in my reading- I cannot wait to see how you fare in the new countries. I'm sure that Thailand will seem like a major vacation- at least hopefully.



2:38 PM  
Blogger Donkey Crossing said...

Thanks for the great comments Emily! The culinary experiences in China were by far the craziest. Eating in the US may never be the same, however our mouths water for a feast at Greek Islands and tacos at Arturo's everyday!

Bangkok was another culinary adventure and we stuck to street food for the first couple days. Then we found an amazing pizzeria called "Pizza Bella Napoli" that was fantastic! Nothing like a gooey seafood pizza after a two hour massage!

We're now in the northern tip of India and have had veggie curry, garlic rice and mint paratha for almost every meal. We head out on an eight day trek in the Himalayas tomorrow with a guide, cook and six donkeys. We look forward to reporting on it in a couple weeks.

Please send our love to your family!


8:33 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Another shot packed with meaning, Chinese architecture with Arabic script.

It seems to me like you two should make a photo gallery of a) all the shots of street food vendors, and b) the shots of either Jas or Rachel seated in front of a spread of food with appropriately googly eyes. Maybe some wall art for your future abode in the USA.

But the Jackie Chan flicks made me wonder, what about the pop culture? You know, all the entertainment/art that gets consumed by everyday folks? I suppose it's hard to get into when you're there for such a short time, but let's get some screen shots of bizarre Chinese television (or wherever you happen to be) or hear about all the weird crap they push in the markets. Not high culture, but ineresting nonetheless!

5:42 PM  

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