Thursday, December 25, 2008
China Trip Day 3: To Xian
Christmas day got off to a nice, relaxing start, but quickly turned south. We both woke up around 8:30 and grabbed some breakfast. Then I took a shower, which there didn't seem to be any hot water for, and packed. We headed downstairs to check out a bit before 10:30 and while checking out Janet asked for them to call a cab to take us to the airport while I checked our flight status. Today we were taking a flight from Shanghai to Xian. Everything was looking good with the flight and the hostel offered to take us to the airport in one of their vans form about 200 yuan, which was less than a cab, so we took them up on the offer. Here is where the day turns sour. The driver of the shuttle missed the exit for the airport! So he got off at the next exit, presumably to turn around, but he proceeded to get lost and couldn't find his way back to the highway. So here we are with a flight to catch riding around dirt roads, trying to get back to the highway, and getting nowhere. We even stopped to ask several people for directions.

It takes about an hour to get to the airport and we left the hostel at 10:45. This means we should have arrive around 11:45 for our 1pm flight, but we passed the airport around 11:45 and didn't make our way back until about 12:30. We ran to the Air China desk to try and check in but they refused to check us in so we hand to book another full far ticket and received no refund on the ticket lost. We tried to track down the hostel driver, but he was nowhere to be found. Talk about a rip-off! The flight we had to buy tickets for was leaving straight away so we had no option left but to suck it up and get on our new flight.

We rushed to the gate only to find that the flight had been delayed so I took that time to call the hostel and complain. I was also pissed at Air China for not letting us on to our original flight, as we would have made it on time. The person on the phone at the hostel kept feeding me BS such as the asked the airlines who said we checked in even though the people at the gate were telling us we couldn't. After a lot of back and forth talk the lady took down my email and said a manger would contact me. I also tried asking at least 6 times the hostel in Xian as we arranged for a pick up from the airport and I needed to tell them we would be late. No one ever answered the phone and the plane started boarding so I finally gave up. It was all really stressful and put a huge damper on the rest of my vacation. We were out not only $70 each for new plane tickets, but ended up missing out airport pick up and had to pay for a taxi to take us to the hostel.

Once the plane headed out, we ended up getting further delayed waiting for a take off time, so we got to spend even more time just chilling on the plane. We did have 3 seats all to ourselves though, so that was nice. Once at the airport we looked to see if the airport pick up person was still there, but no luck. Then we tried to find a taxi at the info booth but could not find one, so we tried calling the hostel again, but the pay phones would only accept IC cards, which we did not have. At this point I was really frustrated and cursing out the whole of China in my head. We finally ran across a car shuttle service (legit, with an airport booth and everything) who said they could take us for 150 yuan, a great deal. So we did that. It took forever to get to the hostel. Traffic was really bad and the driver was constantly honking his horn and flashing his lights for some reason.

My first impression of Xian was that it was ugly and way to crowded, at least, outside the city walls. Once we got inside the walls, it was amazing! I even started taking pictures while we were in the cab. Once getting to the hostel, we made our way through the hostel's bar as the car dropped us off at the back entrance. The hostel itself is really col and is in a really only building. Feels very authentic, but at the same time, quite modern. We made it to the front desk and they sort of got on our case about missing the airport pick up until we explained the situation and how we kept trying to call but no one ever picked up the phone. They seemed like they wanted to charge us anyway, but after I explained how many times I tired to call them, they let it slide. And it was a good thing to cause we were both a lot poorer than we thought we would be at that point due to the extra plane ticket cost and neither of us would be willing to put up with any more crap that day.

After we paid for the hostel, we also booked a tour to see the Terra cotta warriors for the next day beginning at 9:30. It was the recommended tour so I hope it will be good. The someone showed us to our room, which was nice because the hostel's setup is a bit confusing and I just know I would have gotten lost if let to my own devices. The room itself was gorgeous. Better than host hotels I've ever stayed at and had a good ambiance. At the Shanghai museum, there was a furniture exhibit and I swear that the chairs in our room looked like the could have been part of it. The bed was really comfy and had a cool look too. Yay! Something was finally going right on this trip. We settled into the room, then headed up to the main desk area. I checked my email to see in the Shanghai hostel manager had gotten back to me, but, of course, no email. Then we went off in search of food.

We didn't have to go too far. Right next to the hostel was a really busy restaurant. Janet's rule for eating out is always that it has to be a full or busy looking place because that means the food is most likely no stale and the ingredients and fresh. Always a good plan to have. So we went into the restaurant, sat down, and then awkwardly stared at the menu that was sort of hard to understand as there were no pictures. Japan has spoiled me in this regard. After much back and forth between a really nice, attractive, and helpful waiter, we settled on an order and hoped for the best. One of the biggest problems was the menu was pretty much only a la care and there weren't any set menu type stuff to pick from. It was sort of a hot pot/shabu shabu style place, but Chinese style. Basically they bring out a spicy broth with garlic, peppers, and onions. Then you take all the stuff you ordered and put it in the pot, which is set on a burner in the middle of the table. We ended up getting mushrooms, tofu, lettuce, pork, and lab for ours. It was really good and the wait staff were super helpful. One of them spoke some with Janet and they always seemed to be hovering around our table. They also served a house tea that I really loved. The food was all super spicy and it was so much food that we weren't able to finish it all. When we got the bill it was only 70 yuan which is only about $5 a piece. A great deal for such amazing food. Also, I asked about being about to get some of the house tea. They didn't have any to sell, so I was going to leave it at that, but as we were leaving the restaurant, they came out with what was essentially a grocery bag full of tea so that I could take some with me. It was really, really nice of them and after having had such a crappy day up to that point, made me feel much better about being in China. We went to our hostel right after and poured the tea into our hot water pot than was in the room. This was quite a feat as its not easy to pour tea from a plastic bag.

After our tea escapades, we went for a walk around town. Everything was all lit up and it was super busy with stalls everywhere. We made our way to the bell tower and then to the drum tower and walked up and down the Muslim Quarter which was full of interesting food, but we had already eaten and were quite full so we made plans to return the next night and try out all the tasty looking things. The walk was nice and the town inside the city walls is almost Disney-like. It's hard to tell the shops apart form the historical sites. I stopped in an actual Louis Vuitton shop to check on wallets form my mom. I was hopping to get a real one for her as a surprise present, but it would have cost something like $630, so I think I'm gonna pass on getting the real thing. It's the thought that counts, right?

The only downside of the evening was the beggars. The shop people were fine, occasionally calling out for you to look at stuff, but there were a bunch of people just straight out begging with bowls who would follow me around and tap me with their bowls, over and over. Most of the beggars were really old or had a kid with them. There were also kids with bowls too. Janet yelled at these people in Chinese several times and she wasn't keen on getting hit by bowls. Apparently its a bad idea to give these people money. They usually at part of gangs and just pass any money they made to the gang. Almost all the travel guides we looked at warned against giving them any money. I tried my best to ignore it, but it was quite unpleasant. On the way back to the hostel we were trying to find a convenience store as we wanted to pick up food for the tour the next day as it did not include a lunch. It was harder to find one that we thought it would be. Luckily Janet was paying attention and found a rather hole in the wall type place. We picked up some sweet bread and rinks. Not much, but at least its something. On our was back in, some of the hostel residents where having a fake snow ball fight with 'snow' from a can. It was a sight to see, but we refrained from participating cause the fake snow had a really bad smell to it. I also check my email, and there was still no word from the Shanghai hostel manager. I will find some way to report them if they don't get back to me and make amends.

While most of this day sucked, at least it ended on a high note. I'm really looking forward to the tour tomorrow and seeing more of Xian.

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