Deep in the Syria Desert stood one of the most splendid cities in the ancient world. Due to its strategic location on the Silk Road with Persia, India and China on one side, and the Roman and Greek world on the other, Palmyra was a significant cultural and economic hub in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. In 273 AD, Palmyra was razed to the ground by the Romans, and had never fully recovered since then. The archaeological wealth from the ancient city was Syria’s most prominent tourist attraction and UNESCO’s World Heritage site. Palmyra faced its biggest nightmare in May 2015, when the ISIS launched a huge offensive attack to capture the desert oasis. Between mid 2015 to March 2016, Palmyra was controlled under the notorious terrorists when precious treasures and artefacts were looted or destroyed. The Temple of Bel, Temple of Baalshamin, seven Tomb Towers including the Tower of Elahbel, and the Monumental Arch were blown up to pieces. Uncounted artefacts were looted and smuggled into the black market. Archaeologists were beheaded. Before they were forced out by the government army, ISIS planted thousands of landmines and bombs in the ruined city. On 15th April, 2020, two children were killed by a landmine in Palmyra, four years after the ISIS was driven out. Despite the de-mining effort since 2016, Palmyra remains a dangerous place to visit and an endangered World Heritage site seven years in a row. Memories of our 2006 visit seems so far far away:
At around 14:30 we finally arrived at Palmyra, the ancient desert metropolis since the times of Alexander the Great. We checked in at Citadel Hotel. The hotel staff arranged a car for our visit to the funeral towers. The staff asked if we wanted to hire a car to visit the tomb towers. At the village museum we bought the admission tickets for the tomb towers, and sardined ourselves (6 of us) in the little red car for the journey.
Our hired guide from the museum waited for us at the entrance of the Tower of Elahbel. He told us some history of the towers, unlocked the door of Tower of Elahbel and led us in. Many tomb towers in the valley were badly damaged by earthquakes throughout the centuries. The Tower of Elahbel was an exception. Inside we could see the slots on the walls where coffins were once placed. We walked up to the third level, saw a number of sculpted busts of the deceased, and the beautiful fresco of stars and constellations on the ceiling. After, we visited an underground tomb with well preserved frescoes. I was able to recognize scenes of the Trojan War with Achilles and Odysseus from one of the wall paintings.
After the necropolis, we moved on to visit the Temple of Bel. It was the largest building in Palmyra, and one of the largest temples in the Classical world. Bel was the main god of Babylon. The temple was erected in the first century, with influences from Classical Greece and Rome, Ptolemaic Egypt, and ancient Syria. We walked through the main gate into a huge courtyard that was once surrounded by Corinthian colonnades. At the centre stands the ruined Sanctuary of Bel, where we could admire the exquisite relief carving of the ruined building.
Tomb towers at Palmyra are unique examples of Classical necropolis. Some tower tombs dated back to the Hellenistic period. Most were found in the Valley of the Tombs below Umm al-Bilqis Hill.
Inside the towers, dead bodies were placed on landings and stacked stone shelves, marked with a sculptural bust.
Before its brutal destruction in August 2015 by the ISIS, the Tower of Elahbel was a great place to learn about funeral architecture of Palmyra. Inside the tower there was a narrow staircase reaching the upper floors.
Some of the larger towers could hold up to 400 corpses. Chinese silk yarns dated to 1st century AD were discovered in the tomb towers, revealing the evidence of Silk Road trading two thousand years ago.
The Temple of Bel was the largest ancient temple complex in the Middle East. Built upon pre Roman temples, the Temple of Bel was founded in 32 AD. The temple was later converted into a church and then a mosque.
Most of the Temple of Bel has been blown up by the ISIS. Now it has become a large pile of rubble.
Magnificent carving of the temple are probably gone even if archaeologists can restore the general structure of the building.
Walking around the enormous temple complex was a great pleasure.
Ceiling details were particularly well preserved at the Temple of Bel.
Beautiful relief and rows of Corinthian columns once stood in the temple courtyard.
Some of the relief carving of the central sanctuary were on display in the temple courtyard.
Handsome Classical columns stood proudly in the courtyard before the destruction.
Our guide gave us a little talk on the temple’s history at the courtyard.
Outside the temple walls, we could see the palm trees east of the ruined city.
Along with sone other destroyed buildings, the government is planning to restore the Temple of Bel using original materials from the existing debris.
At last, our little red car drove us up to the citadel behind the ruins of Palmyra, where we could watch the sunset. The citadel also suffered major destruction by the ISIS.
Up at the citadel we could fully appreciate the scale of the barren landscape in all directions.
Seven Tomb Towers are lost forever.
The Temple of Bel, the enormous walled complex east of the Great Colonnade of Palmyra, was almost completely destroyed by the ISIS. As satellite images showed, there was hardly anything standing at the Temple of Bel.
Day 11 (1/2).
Maybe it was the city’s grid road system, or the influence of Massachusetts Professor William Clark who came to set up Sapporo Agricultural College and whose teaching “boys, be ambitious” has become a motto for not just Sapporo but the entire Hokkaido, or the pioneer heritage developed in the 19th century when Japanese came to settle on this northern island of native Ainu, or an ambience generated by the many Western buildings in Downtown Sapporo, Sapporo does to a certain extent resemble the United States of America. Looking at some of the city’s most well known buildings, such as the Clock Tower (時計台) and the Former Hokkaido Government Office (北海道庁旧本庁舎), a strong sense of Western touches reveal a pristine version of the American dream enrooted in the Japanese soil over half a century before the end of WWII.
It was the last day of our Hokkaido journey. We had half day of time before leaving for the airport. Leaving behind our luggage at Cross Hotel, we headed two blocks west to the forecourt of the Former Hokkaido Government Office. Nicknamed the “red brick building”, the American Neo-Baroque building has housed the seat of Hokkaido’s government for over 80 years. Through its display of artefacts and old photographs, the Former Hokkaido Government Office is a popular attraction for tourists to get a brief understanding of Hokkaido’s history.
The famous Sapporo Clock Tower reminded us of the American Midwest.
Nicknamed the “red brick building”, the American Neo-Baroque building has housed the seat of Hokkaido’s government for over 80 years.
The building has gone through a few renovations throughout history until the current red brick appearance.
Inside the building, the beautiful wooden staircase is one of the biggest features of the architecture.
The wooden details of the stair at the Former Hokkaido Government Office.
Not the most ornate wooden stair, the building interior reveals a certain simplicity and rawness of the pioneer era.
The building was the seat of Hokkaido for over 80 years.
For us, old photographs in the building which told the pioneer story of Sapporo were perhaps the most interesting display.
The “pioneer” train carriage was once filled with the dreams and stories of the early Japanese pioneers in the nation’s wild wild west.
* * *
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)
Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)
Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)
Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)
Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)
Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)
Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)
Staying the night in Shinjuku provided us the convenience to take the 7am Super Azusa limited express train to Matsumoto (松本) of Nagano Prefecture (長野県). Matsumoto was our entry point into the Japanese Alps. The reliable rail service enabled us to reach Matsumoto at 9:40am, giving us a couple of hours to explore the laid-back mountain city before continuing our journey to “Japanese Yosemite Valley” Kamikochi. After putting our backpacks in the lockers, we stepped out of Matsumoto Station in a fine Saturday morning. A small line of people were waiting for public bus outside the station, but we preferred to cover the small city on foot. We planned to visit Matsumoto Castle, Art Museum and Performing Arts Centre before the 14:30 train/ bus departing for Kamikochi. To avoid the crowd later in the day, we first headed to Matsumoto Castle, the city’s primary attraction. It took us 20 minutes to reach the castle park, a parcel of green space with the moat surrounded Matsumoto Castle as the centerpiece.
12 castles still standing in Japan today. Along with Himeji Castle (姫路城) and Kumamoto Castle (熊本城), Matsumoto Castle or Matsumotojo (松本城) is considered one of the three premiere castles in the country. Built during the Eisho Period of the Warring States Period (戦国時代) by the Toda Clan, Matsumoto Castle is the oldest extant five structures/six story castles in Japan, dating to the late 16th century.
We entered the castle park from the south entrance, and were immediately struck by the beauty of the contrasting black and white castle and its reflection in the moat.
Through the Kuromon Gate (黒門),we entered a nicely maintained courtyard in front of the imposing castle. The five structures of the castle clearly appeared in front of us. They were (right to left) Inui Keep (Inui Kotenshu), Watari Tower (Watariyagura), Great Keep (Dai-Tenshu), Tatsumitsuke Tower (Tatsumi Tsukeyagura), and Tsukimi Tower (Tsukimi Yagura). The Inui Keep, Watari Tower and Great Keep were built in the Warring States Period when defense was the utmost priority. The Tatsumitsuke and Tsukimi Tower (Moon Viewing Tower) were constructed 40 years later in the peaceful Edo era with almost no defense.
Staff in historical costumes posed for tourist photos in front of the castle.
The well maintained timber interior and structure of Matsumoto is a rarity for the surviving Japanese castles. No shoes were allowed during the visit. Visitors were allowed to climb to the top floor in a one-way route.
The Great Keep was built with high level of defense with small slot windows.
115 gun and arrow slots were provided on the structures for defense.
Among with weapons and artifacts, warrior armors were also on display. This typical armor is equipped with a sword, a ramrod for loading bullets on the back, a bullet case on the waist, and an ignition agent case hanging from the shoulder.
Small amount of paintings were on display illustrating the bloody history of the castle during the Warring States Period.
The third floor is a concealed level, and was used as a warehouse and war shelter.
The fourth floor was the living space for the lord.
All stairs were narrow and steep and sometimes slippery. Most visitors took their time to climb and descend each step one by one. The steepest one was between the fourth and the fifth at an angle of 61 degree.
The fifth floor was characterized by the gable windows. This floor was used as a strategy meeting room.
The sixth (top) floor offers nice views to all directions. The view of the Hida Range of the Japanese Alps is particularly lovely.
The Toda Clan of Matsumoto Castle worshiped the 26-day old moon. A small spiritual decoration could be seen in the ceiling of the top floor.
We passed by a photo spot while exiting the castle courtyard.
Below the castle, the castle park offers many pleasant resting spots under shade.
The view of Matsumoto Castle and the moat is spectacular. We walked along the moat to the photogenic red bridge at the far side.
In the water, hungry carps came to the surface whenever someone approached the water.
We were lucky to see the beautiful inhabitant, the swan, in the castle moat.
After taking photos at the red bridge, we walked along the moat back to the park entrance and moved on to our next destination in Matsumoto.
* * *
CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)
Our departure schedule to Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港) was far from ideal. It was a red-eye flight departing from Hong Kong at 1:50am and arrived in Japan at around 6:30am. At the airport, we picked up our pre-ordered Haruka Express ticket from the JR ticket office and rushed to the platform for the Kyoto bound express train that was about to leave. The train sped past towns and suburbs along Osaka Bay and reached Osaka in about 40 minutes. From Osaka, the train took another half an hour to reach Kyoto. Opened in 1997, the current Kyoto Railway Station is a futuristic building made of glass and steel trusses, with an enormous atrium and a huge stepped plaza reaching multiple storeys up to the sky garden 70m above ground. We stepped out the station for a quick peek of Kyoto Tower, the city’s tallest structure opened in 1964 coinciding with the Tokyo Olympics. Together with the modern railway station, the tower often comes as a surprise for tourists who come to Kyoto expecting to see an 1200-year-old ancient city.
We took the escalators down to the subway, topped up our Icoca cards that we kept from our previous Kansai trip, and managed to board the train with our suitcase and backpack. Our designation was Higashiyama Station (東山駅) on the Tozai Line. We reached Higashiyama Station at a peaceful residential neighborhood sandwiched between two of Kyoto’s popular tourist areas: Northern Higashiyama (Nanzenji, Ginkakuji, etc) and Southern Higashiyama (Gion, Kiyomizu-dera, etc). At Higashiyama Station, we purchased a city bus pass for the day and picked up a handy bus map. We crossed the street and walked into a quiet alleyway right beside the crystal clear Shirakawa River (白川). We reached Eco and Tech, a 2-star budget hotel that we would call it home for the next five days. After checking in, we immediately headed out to the bus stop near Sanjo Station (三条駅) and Kamo River (鴨川). Before arriving in Japan, we had already decided to begin our Kyoto visit at the northwest part of the city where the cluster of three famous temples Ryoanji (龍安寺), Ninnaji (仁和寺) and Kinkakuji (金閣寺) are located. According to online updates of the autumn foliage at Kyoto’s main attractions, Ryoanji (龍安寺) and Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) were two possible places where we might still encounter peak autumn foliage. Because of the recent cold weather, the autumn foliage of 2016 came earlier than usual. By the time we arrived on Dec 3rd, the fall foliage at most places had already passed the peak. The bus ride took over half an hour. It was sunny and we took a brief rest on the bus under the late morning sun.
Our plane landed at Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港) at about 6:30am. Despite a sleepless night, we were very excited upon arriving.
We left the airport and over to the railway station for JR’s Haruka Express train.
Upon arriving at Kyoto, we were overwhelmed by the steel trusses and overhead catwalks at the huge atrium of the futuristic Kyoto Station.
A large Christmas tree on the organic shaped platform looked small under the huge atrium roof.
Across the street from Kyoto Station stood the tallest structure in the city, Kyoto Tower.
Advertisements on the subway train reminded us that the special night visits to a number of temples were available during the autumn foliage season until 4th of December. Arriving in Kyoto on the 3rd of December, we made just on time for the night visits.
Many Kyoto’s attractions can be accessed only by public bus. We picked up a bus map from the ticket office at Higashiyama Subway Station, which proved really handy over the next few days.
We managed to carry our suitcase up the stairs and finally reached the exit of Higashiyama Station.
Following online instruction, we crossed a bridge at Shirakawa River (白川) on our way to our hotel.
A local couple dressed in traditional costumes were taking photos on a stone bridge at Shirakawa River (白川).
Eco and Tech Hotel is located in a quiet residential neighborhood away from the tourist crowds.
Eco and Tech Hotel.
We checked the website http://souda-kyoto.jp/travel/koyo/ for the autumn foliage at Kyoto’s main attractions almost daily for at least a week before departure. We decided to head to Ryoanji Temple on our first day because of its peak colours.
We walked to a bus stop near Kamo River (鴨川) and Sanjo Station (三条駅) for Bus 59 heading towards Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺).
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan
In Mid-October, we had the opportunity to reunite with two of our travel buddies for a short trip to China. It was the week after the week-long Chinese National Holiday. We had a simple travel plan consisted of two distinct parts: Xian (西安) for history and Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝) for natural scenery. Xian, historically known as Changan (長安), was the ancient capital of China for 13 different dynasties, spanning a total period of over 1200 years, including the golden age of Han and Tang Dynasty. The ruins of ancient royal palaces and tombs, such as the magnificent Terra-cotta Warriors of the First Qin Emperor, revealed the former glory of ancient China. Jiuzhaigou, on the other hand, has been renowned for its out-of-this-world alpine scenery. It is located at the north of Sichuan Province (四川) where the plains of Eastern and Central China begins to give way to the Tibetan and Qinghai Plateau.
After a minor delay, we flew out of Hong Kong in a Saturday afternoon. It was already dusk by the time we landed at Xian Xianyang Interational Airport. We took an airport bus into the city, and taxied the rest of the way to our hostel south of Xincheung Square (新城廣場). Our taxi passed by the well-preserved Ming city wall and the brightly lit historical Bell Tower. After getting off, it took us a while to find the alleyway where our hostel was located. We were delighted to find our hostel room clean and comfortable. After checking in, we headed out immediately to grab a quick dinner. According to guidebook, an old famous restaurant of Shaanxi Muslim food called Lao Sun Jia (老孫家) was just five minutes of walk from our hostel. We found our way to the restaurant at the fourth floor of a retail centre. It was about 21:00 and there was only one table of guests finishing off their beer and noodles. We sat down and ordered the popular paomo (泡饃), or crumbled flatbread in either mutton or beef stew.
After dinner, we wanted to checked out the beautiful Bell Tower (鐘樓) right at the historical heart of Xian. It was another five minute of walk from the restaurant. The tower was already close for the day, but we could still admire the historical architecture across the street from the tower’s roundabout. This handsome piece of traditional architecture was an icon of Xian. In the old days since the 14th century, the tower’s main function was to mark the moment of dawn with its bells. A few blocks away, we noticed another historical building prominently lit up. It was the Drum Tower (鼓樓), the building that originally housed 28 drums to mark the day’s end at dusk. Around the corner from the Drum Tower, we entered a busy pedestrian streets packed with snack vendors. We had entered Beiyuanmen (北院門) Street, the core of Xian’s Muslim Quarter. It was almost 10pm but the street was still busy with visitors. There were a number of vendors selling barbecue lamb kebabs, mutton or beef sandwiches, local pomegranate juices, traditional sweets, nuts, persimmon cakes, and many other kinds of desserts. After the filling meal of paomo, we gave it a pass for the street food. We slowly walked back to our hostel, hoping to get some good rest. In the next morning we would exit Xian and head eastwards to the foot of Lishan Mountains to check out the most popular tourist attraction of Xian: the First Qin Emperor’s Terra-cotta Warriors.
Mutton paomo (泡饃) at Lao Sun Jia Restaurant (老孫家).
Beef paomo (泡饃) at Lao Sun Jia Restaurant (老孫家).
Heading towards the icon of Xian, the Bell Tower (鐘樓).
The Bell Tower stands at the centre of a large roundabout.
The 14th century structure is lit up with atmospheric lighting.
The Drum Tower at a distance, and in front, the public square between Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The square is flanked by local restaurants, a department store, and a Starbucks.
Signage at the Drum Tower.
The mighty Drum Tower near the entrance to the Muslim Quarter.
Street vendor of lamb kebabs at the Muslim Quarter. There were terrifying lamb skeletons hanging in front of each kebab store.
Beiyuanmen (北院門) Street, the main pedestrian street at the Muslim Quarter.
Vendor selling regional pomegranate juice.
Rose cake, another kind of local dessert.
Kebab stores were the most popular.
Muslim beef sandwiches.
Vendor handling of sweet being heated up.
Persimmon cakes and a friendly smile.
Our posts on 2016 Xian and Jiuzhaigou:
DAY 1 – NIGHT ARRIVAL, Xian, China
DAY 2 – QIN EMPEROR’S TERRACOTTA ARMY, near Xian, China
DAY 2 – BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA (大雁塔), Xian, China
DAY 3 – HAN YANG LING MAUSOLEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – SHAANXI HISTORY MUSEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – GREAT MOSQUE (西安大清真寺) AND MUSLIM QUARTER, Xian, China
DAY 3 – MING CITY WALL, Xian, China
DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 5 – ARROW BAMBOO LAKE (箭竹海), PANDA LAKE (熊貓海) & FIVE FLOWER LAKE (五花海), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – PEARL SHOAL FALLS (珍珠灘瀑布), MIRROR LAKE (鏡海) & NUORILANG FALLS (諾日朗瀑布), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – LONG LAKE (長海) & FIVE COLOURS LAKE (五彩池), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – RHINOCEROS LAKE (犀牛海), TIGER LAKE (老虎海) & SHUZHENG VILLAGE (樹正寨), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 6 – ASCEND TO FIVE COLOUR POND (五彩池), Huanglong (黃龍), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 7 – FAREWELL JIUZHAIGOU & XIAN, China