It’s pouring rain at 5:30 a.m. when we stumble off the train at the Pingyao station after a 12-hour ride from Beijing. We find shelter under an outdoor waiting area. I pull a coat out of my bag.
Another Westerner gets off the train and approaches us. Turns out he’s from Montreal. He’s not sure where to stay so a tout offers to drive him to his hostel, taking us along with the hope we’ll stay as well.
I’m surprised to find out it’s not a cab, but rather a three-wheeled contraption that looks like a few seats added to a moped with a third wheel for stabilization. We climb in and the driver pulls a plastic sheet down to shield us from the rain.
We drive through quiet, empty streets – a stark contrast to Beijing or Shanghai. We stop at Harmony hostel and someone tries to convince us to stay. Sorry, reservations elsewhere.
Around the corner, we’re dropped off at our hostel. Windows dark, closed door. We set our bags down, the roof hangs enough that we stay dry, but still cold. Our driver makes a phone call and hands me the phone. It’s the previous hostel again trying to convince me to stay with them. Tempting, but we already have reservations.
The driver leaves and we’re alone. It’s around 6:00 now and raining. Someone comes by, sees us, and bangs on the window repeatedly. Inside, we see a guy without a shirt stumble over, open the door and disappear. We walk in, Sara sleeps on the couch, I watch our bags and wait.
People come in and out by around 7, but no one seems to notice our bags scattered everywhere or two random Canadians sleeping on their couches. Finally, I get someone’s attention. Turns out we’re in the wrong part of the hostel and we’re shuffled down the street where we check in.
Beyond the cold weather and the start to the day, Pingyao is a pretty nice town. We rented bikes for 10Y each and just toured this old walled city for the day. It was pretty relaxing and also nice to have wi-fi in our hostel for the first time for a while (which again is why all these posts are a few days behind and coming from notes in my journal).
The next day we packed up for a bus ride to Xi’an. In preparation, I headed off to find snacks as Sara got the bags together. I picked up some peanuts roasted with pepper and chilis (absolutely delicious), cookies and water.
I stopped at one store and looked around at dried fruit and some large ceramic jars as high as my waste. The woman at the store asked if I wanted a sample. Yes of course, thinking it to be the tasty looking dried fruit.
She grabs a large spoon and a glass and opens the jar. It looks completely empty, but I can see her pull a clear liquid with the large spoon. I instantly know what’s coming next. She pours me a giant shot, I smell it (think nail polish remover) and down the glass. A particularly potent Chinese firewater as I suspected.
Wanting to look tough, I hold back from coughing, shake my head and walk out of the store. Wow.
On the bus at 1245 and less than seven hours later we would be in Xi’an.