Holiday – China (Day 8): Tour of Ancient Pingyao City

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Evening all! We have just a single day here in Pingyao, so we’re making the most of it with a walking tour of the ancient city tour hosted by our Guide, Mona. Later this afternoon, we’re on the ‘bullet-train’ taking the 302 mile journey to Xi’an.

Today, we welcome guest-blogger, Mrs P as I’m all ‘templed-out’ 😫

After last night’s evening check-in, in the morning light we were able to see our hotel in all its glory! Built around several courtyards, it was truly a unique design, externally and internally.

Breakfast was a ‘voyage of discovery’ where we stumbled across many dishes! Eggs were handled by two members of staff and provided fried or boiled or boiled or fried! ‘Sweet treats’ included something that looked like a cake but contained potato! Oh joy, what a surprise! Coffee was the greater challenge, with the NescafΓ© instant coffee machine under repair, it left another member of staff to create each cup individually from an impressive looking industrial scale coffee machine. A slow process, but ultimately rewarding! 😁 Coffe is a rare thing in China, it seems!

Checking out… (unfortunately!)

After breakfast at 8, we checked-out around 9.15, leaving our bags for later retrieval… Let the Tour begin! 😁

Tour of Pingyao

Our guide Mona met us at 9.25am and we started our 3 hour walking tour of the city. Pingyao is the best preserved city in the whole of China – and it shows! In a word ‘Beautiful’… in two: very beautiful!

It’s quite a way southwards for many tourists and I think we only saw a handful of western faces all day. The city is recognised for its extensive city walls, 72 watch-towers and numerous temples. It is constructed of rammed earth, clay and brick (just like the Great Wall), and stands 33 feet high. It is also the home of the chinese banking industry.

First stop on our tour was the original Rishengchang Bank. It built 32 branches across China and was established in 1823. At its peak during the 19th century it controlled nearly half of the Chinese economy. The two original founders eventually had a falling-out, leaving one of them to set up a rival bank.

No Securitas then of course, instead, the various branches were connected by fast horses, allowing merchants to deposit money from trading silks and other commodities. Nowadays, Shanghai and Hong Kong are the banking and financial centres for the country, but this sleepy old town, was the centre of wheeler dealing for 150 years until the Cultural Revolution.

As we wandered out into the main area, we could hear what sounded like rockets being fired. Surely not! Actually, it was a Chinese Wedding procession. No sign of the bride and Groom, but at least we saw the rocket launcher and a traditional Bride’s Carriage.

We then walked through the impressive Bell Tower to climb up high to walk the well preserved city walls, passing numerous watch towers, cannons and battlements, ready to repell any revolting peasants or greedy robbers.

Whereas yesterday was ‘all about Buddha’, our first temple stop today was the ‘Confucius Temple’, the oldest one in China (but not the biggest), dating back to 1158. Confucius was a celebrated thinker and teacher, and opened the first private school here in China to help the population improve their knowledge.

This was built during the Tang Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Tiazong (considered to be one of China’s greatest emperors). The temple was granted UNESCO World heritage Site in 1997 and is built of wood, held together without any nails, and its roof was spectacular, and you could ring the original temple bell for good luck.

We climbed up onto the library balcony, which gave a great view of the surrounding streets.

Next stop was a temple worshipping Daoism (not to be confused with Taoism). The former focuses on an ordered universe, yin and yang, ‘Earth’ and a ‘Heaven’ and a ‘Hell’.

In short: It’s ‘Heaven’ for you, if you are kind and generous in life.

…or if you’re a Brexit fan/Manchester City supporter – you’re going to Hell! πŸ˜†

Ouch!

The scenes of ‘Hell’ were pretty gruesome, depicting disembowelling, garrotting, crushing and de-goolie-ing – all without anaesetic! 😫

Apparently, I’m a monkey!

There was also a touch of Chinese astrology here too, with each animal carved-out in stone.

Lunch!

By now, the temperture had dropped significantly and our extremeties were telling us to seek out a warm retreat. It coincided with lunchtime so we headed for a cosy restaurant and another traditional Chinese lunch, where Mona again guided us through the menu.

The meal was delicious, and one of the best we’ve had so far. Mona even found out the wifi password and that put us back in touch with the outside world.

Beautiful!

One of the surprising aspects of our eatery was that it was also a hotel with a delightful courtyard out the back

After our excellent meal, we didn’t feel the cold quite so much (must have been the chilies!) as we wandered back in the direction of our hotel. We had a little bit of time to spare, so we grabbed a drink opposite at a Starbucks lookalike/soundalike!

Mona, meanwhile made arrangments to get us to the railway station. After a bit of a wait outside in the cold, our turbo-charged golf buggy from yesterday made its re-appearance. Driven by Mr Rick Shaw (not really!) travelling again at about 1000mph through the narrow streets, we hung on for dear life! In a new personal best, 27 seconds later, we were at the city gates transferring our belongings to more traditional transport driven by Mr Wong (yes, really!).

Bizarrely, he was the only driver we’ve had so far who obeyed the speed-limit!

To Xi’an…

We still arrived at the Station in good time! 😁

Err…

Mona was on a different train, in order to prepare for her next tour, so we said our goodbyes and each headed for our respective platform. The train-timetable didn’t make much sense, but Mona had briefed us well, and we knew that we were looking for the ‘D2565’.

After some initial confusion about exactly where to stand for our carriage (we’re travelling First-Class don’t you know!), we only had a short wait, as our train touched-down exactly on time (East Midlands Train kindly take note!) and we were soon gliding on the elevated track to our stop – Xi’an.

I think that’s about 2s. 6d. in old money!

Our train journey was a long one – two-and-three-quarter hours – but given the distance covered, it was still impressive aswe rocketd along the track – no didley-dum here… just one long diddle! 😊

For comparison, the alternative would have been the standard train where the journey would have been between 10 and 12 hours!

The train was packed, but no-one had taken our reserved seats, so that was a bonus. There was far too much luggage for the racks available, but the helpful staff exercised their re-stacking skills and managed to fit everything in – they deserve a job at Sainsbury’s! The various announcements were in Chinese and English (thank goodness) and it was pretty relaxed in every sense. The seats were very comfortable and of the reclining variety. There were charging points for anything electrical and a desk that folded out similar to an aircraft’s. As you might expect, there wasn’t a spec of dust in sight!

Our new Guide – Nina – together with our new Driver – Mr Su – were waiting for us as we passed through the exit-barrier of the station. We were soon on-board our new ‘battle-bus’ heading for The Hilton Hotel in Xi’an.

The traffic was heavy and typically Chinese, with every driver trying to wipe out his neighbour to gain an extra inch of road. Again, working headlights were an optional extra, making target practice more difficult!

Nina gave us a quick history lesson of the area including the fact that “you can tell where a Chinese woman is from from based on her dumplings” πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

I think she meant it factually, but at least one of us ‘heard it differently’! 😁

Tomorrow, it’s the highlight of the holiday for us – The Terracotta Army… and more! πŸ˜ƒ

More photos (and none of my chat!) HERE