China Travelogue: Train travel, Pingyao and Shanghai I
Posted on Jun 28, 2013 by
Forwarded on behalf of Fanny, New York City Overnight train travel, Pingyao and Shanghai According to my itinerary I was supposed to leave Beijing for Pingyao on the 22nd. Well it didn`t happen, all the trains were sold out and all I could get was a hard sleeper on the 23rd. Not knowing the difference between a hard and soft sleeper I accepted the ticket, figuring all it meant was comfort level. Not quite, a soft sleeper has 4 to a compartment and a door that closes, soft sleeper 6 bunks and no doors.
Was also advised ,that there were buses to Taiyuan which were frequent and fast from Beijing. One morning I took myself to the bus station which was very far away, as
everything else is in Beijing, and tried to find out time schedules. The women at information had extremely limited knowledge of English. After an hour using the dictionary,
including a large part of the population at the bus station, who were very intrigued by this laowai, putting in their 2 cents worth in Chinese. I found out that the bus takes 7
hours to Taiyuan, and then it is another 1 ½ hour to Pingyao. The bus to Taiyuan runs every 30 minutes to Pingyao there are only 2 a day. Since I already had my train ticket
it didn`t seem worth changing. Especially since the train ride was approximately the same amount of time. I arrived at the train station after my wonderful sightseeing day in Beijing and immediately ran into two of the Swedish girls who had been on the trip to Mutinayu. They were on the same train as I going to Pingyao, and were very helpful in watching my luggage, while I got something to eat, since I had not had time to eat during the day. The variety of food and freshness was really a surprise since rail road stations are not exactly known for their cuisine. It was time to board, the train was leaving at 5.10 pm and it turns out that I am sharing with 5 men, not one of them who spoke English. However they had great fun with my dictionary, and I think that their friends were in the adjoining compartment,all these men kept on joining us. I did manage to find out who was sleeping in the bottom bunk and was able to switch from the top to the bottom. At one point Malin and Erika came to visit me, the men were
somewhere else, all of a sudden this older woman sits down and starts to converse in Chinese with us. I did get that she said Hong Kong is very large and Pingyao is very small, she herself lived in Shanxi. No I don`t speak any more Chinese now than I did when I arrived, but sign language works great, most of the time. Finally she said goodbye, the girls left, and it was time to go to sleep after all it was after 8 pm. I put in my ear plugs, donned the eye mask and swallowed a Benadryl. Next thing I knew it was time to wake up, we were approaching Pingyao at 3am. The conductor was very solicitous to make sure that I knew which door to exit through. In general the service on the train was very good, food and drink carts going through as well as thermoses with hot water for tea were constantly offered. Another thing that really impressed me was that the men at one point had bought a bag of sunflower seeds but did not throw one hull on the floor. The cleanliness on the train was impressive, including the tablecloth on the table under the window.. As promised the car from the hotel Tian Yuan Kui was waiting for me, and when I arrived they had a a bunk bed outside the owner`s bedroom available, so I could get some more sleep, since the hotel was fully booked. When I woke up and went downstairs I knew I wanted to stay in this place for weeks. The hotel is in the center of town and in a very old building from 1791, to get to my room I walked through a classic courtyard and an outside corridor to enter a very comfortable room. The staff was lovely, as was the owner and I was in heaven. The girls arrived at 9 am as we had arranged, very distraught, the hostel they had booked into was freezing and they decided to leave that night for Xian. Pingyao was founded during the Ming dynasty and is surrounded by the only completely intact city wall in China. It prospered during the Qing dynasty as a banking city and it really is a historical museum, with all the old buildings. We hired a driver to take us to Shuanglin si a Buddihst temple founded in 571 there were thousands of the most amazing statues dating from The Song, Yuan ,Ming and Qing dynasties, a definite highlight for me. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shanxi/taiyuan/shuanglin.htm When we returned to town it was time for lunch. We found a place on one of the side streets that looked nice and we had a delicious lunch for approx $3 each. We then bought our city tickets,120 RMB, mine at half price because of my venerable age of over 60. If I was over 70 almost every place would be free. When this trip is over I am going to sit down and figure out how much all the entrance tickets cost. They are definitively a large part of any budget, and should be considered. We walked ½ the wall and thoroughly enjoyed all the backyards and looking down on the old buildings. We then wandered the streets just admiring the building styles. Of course here as everywhere else most of the shops on the main streets looked like Panjiayuan market in Beijing. Said goodbye to the girls and went back to my lovely room. That night I borrowed the DVD of "Light the Red Lantern" a sad story of a concubine, which I watched in bed on my laptop. The movie was shot at an old compound called Qu after the family that owned it. It is on the way to Tiyuan airport. The next morning I awoke to glorious weather and walked around town, trying some of the street foods and visiting many of the historic buildings, including climbing up a gate in the middle of town. They say you should walk stairs instead of taking elevators, I have climbed more stairs on this trip than I care to count, and I think my knees are stronger. So I guess they are right. Before going to the airport my charming driver took me to Qu`s compound, to get there you walk through a street lined with vendors. On one side there was what appeared to be a parking lot, lined with corn kernels drying in the sun. Two little children were having a great time playing with them. The compound was old, crowded with Chinese and as usual no signs in English. I walked through it, took lots of pictures and tried to imagine what it had been like to live there 300 years ago. Then it was time to leave and re-enter the 21st century in Shanghai. I cannot really comment on Shanghai, since I was only there for one day. It seemed much edgier than Beijing, a lot of
beggars, in particular women with small children, sitting on the side walks. Many more westerners on the streets and incredible shops Did manage a few meals, I stood on line for the very light and delicious dumplings (xiao long bao) at 90 Huanghe Lu, which was very near my hotel. Thanks EKS for the tip. Later I met my friend Mimi who was having brunch, with her family and friends, at the Westin hotel. If you are in Shanghai with children on a Sunday that is the place to go, it probably costs close to a small fortune, but what a spectacle. Apart from the buffets on two floors, unlimited champagne, there were jugglers, magicians, acrobats, singers and musicians performing. There were also wandering entertainers for the children, I had declined the invitation to eat with them since I wanted to see the Shanghai museum which was stupendous. Mimi`s husband and children went home we went shopping, at some small mall that one of the young girls had heard of. I broke down and bought a Hermes belt for 30 or 40 RMB, I don`t remember the exact price. It was time to say good bye and for me to go back to the hotel. Dinner was had in the old section of town, in a restaurant that President Clinton had gone to. A word of advice, stay away from restaurants with pictures of celebrities. I shared a table with a man from Mexico City, who imported machinery from China. I tasted his Xiao Long Bao, no comparison in quality to that morning`s breakfast. He tasted my beef which in my opinion was no gastronomic epiphany.