By Tuesday morning we were both feeling a bit more human!
We were able to keep down most of our food from dinner the night before (a bowl of rice and some vegetables) and breakfast this morning (a plain white dumping and a banana) so we booked our train to Taiyuan to leave in the early afternoon.
Train to Taiyuan
Two hours into the train journey something was announced over the loud speaker. Everyone stood up at their seats and proceeded to walk into the aisle. We knew this train was meant to take four hours to our destination so there would be no way that we could have been at the final stop already. We watched as people pushed a button on the aisle seat and spun their compete row around to face the seats in the opposite direction. Clearly the look of confusion on both mine and Leah’s face gave away the fact that we thought everyone was a little crazy so a few people stepped forward and spun our chairs for us. I understand now that it was so that people don’t have to face backwards on the train but it seems a little excessive….
To add to the farcical situation of the chair flipping, my rucksack strap had got stuck in the centre point where the row of chairs rotated! We tried to pull it out but it was really wedged in so the only way to release it was by spinning the row of chairs backwards. We tried to explain this to the people nearby but they thought that we just enjoyed doing it so much that we wanted another go…. 5 minutes before we reached our stop they finally understood us and my bag was freed!
Train to Pingyao
We had to get one more train this afternoon before we could relax in our hostel. After the 4 hour train to Taiyuan we needed to get another train for 30minutes and then we’d be at Pingyao train station. We had about 45 minutes wait in between trains so went to the food court in search of something to eat.
It’s actually unfortunate that we didn’t have much of an appetite because this was the best variety of train station food that we’ve seen so far in China. Some of the food actually looked appetising! Instead we bought a bowl of rice from a fast food restaurant (not Dicos because they refused us…)
Getting to Pingyao
After exiting the train at Pingyao train station we made our way over to the taxi rank and was just about to get in a taxi when we remembered that we wanted to buy our next lot of train tickets. We’d just walked down a steep ramp with our rucksacks – leah wheeling hers- so had to walk back up the ramp to the ticket office.
All of the direct trains from Pingyao to Datong were sold out for the next few days! Instead we had to buy two tickets each; one to Taiyuan leaving Pingyao at 9pm and then a soft sleeper ticket from Taiyuan to Datong leaving at 11.20pm (the second part of the journey would take 6 hours…)
After we’d successfully booked our tickets we attempted to get in a taxi to our prebooked hostel. By now our experience with taxi drivers at train station is never usually positive. They see that we’re white/ foreign and try to charge us a heavily inflated fare. Pingyao was no different. There was just under ten men standing around by their taxis, waiting for business at the empty station and they tried to charge us ¥50 without even asking where we needed to go! Obviously we refused! We told them to put on their meter (we’ve had to have this conversation far too often!) or we’d find another way there. After some raised voices, coupled with Leah and I waking towards a police man, one of the guys finally agreed to drive us.
It’s a shame that he was being unreasonable at first because he was really nice afterwards. He pointed out different parts of the town on route from the train station and even telephoned the hostel owner to meet us at the city wall (he wasn’t able to drive into the main part of town).
Free Heart hotel
The owner of the Free Heart Hostel was an adorable women who seemed really happy that we wanted to stay in her hostel. From the moment she came and met us she was smiling and making conversation all of the way to the hostel (about a 15 minute walk), pointing out the different parts of the town, showing us where the main sites were and how we could buy tickets.
Because we’d booked and paid for our next set of train tickets we were a little low on cash. We told the women this when we arrived at the hostel as we asked where the nearest cash point was and she offered to let us pay for our room after we’d topped up our cask supply! She was so nice! We had enough on us so paid for our room (no deposit) and then went to drop off our bags on our beds…
I say on our beds because there wasn’t really any room on the floor for them as the room was so small!
The double bed basically took up the whole of the floor space, the table was even on the bed because there wasn’t any where else for it to go.
It was very compact to say the least….
Pingyao – first impressions
We headed out pretty much straight after we entered our room, walking around the little streets looking for an ATM. The streets were lined with red lanterns outside all of the old shop front which made up the majority of the town. It all looked so pretty and festive at night! We passed a few ATMs and banks but they rejected our Master Card – only accepting Union Pay (it’s like China doesn’t want to facilitate foreigners spending money because it keeps putting red tape and barriers in the way!).
We finally found one through the east gate, just outside the city walls!
Although we were walking around for over 30 minutes we were able to have a little explore of the town at night time. The stalls and shops were busy but not too full of customers so you could actually have a look in as you passed by which was really nice! Most were selling little trinkets but some were selling stone sculptures, wooden carvings, handmade scarfs and ponchos….
Dinner was the first proper meal that we’ve eaten in a few days so we wanted something tasty. Unfortunately we chose to eat back in the restaurant of our hostel and were really disappointed with what was served.
We both ordered vegetable noodles but two different varieties; mine were just regular noodles whereas Leahs were the Pingyao special. They were both pretty grim, we only managed to eat a few mouthfuls….
The women in charge was really nice so we didn’t want to offend her by leaving so much food. After she’d proudly brought us our dinner we really couldn’t swallow another mouthful… We went to the front desk to pay the bill, before she could see how little of the dinner we actually ate.
Getting into the bed that night was a little cosy but surprisingly really comfortable.