Our breakfast was, again, amazing and we were ready for our adventure, with our new guide, Celene, by 9:30. Our hotel was able to exchange some more of our currency for us so we didn't need a separate stop and we were off. It was about an hour drive to the Terra Cotta Warrior museum. Our guide filled us with lots of information about the city center. After 30 minutes of her sharing, we were sure this will be the place our Kayleigh returns to. Xi'an is far less congested than Beijing. It was basically peaceful by comparison. But Xi'an is the home of 20 Universities. It was home to the original university in China and also holds the cultural artifacts and relics that speak to China's long and rich history. Additionally, Xi'an is known for its beautiful dance and music performances. All things that our firstborn would find highly valuable in her future city :). We purchased her a fantastic book of the Terra Cotta Warriors (the book seller kept trying to give us the English copies and we kept insisting on Chinese) with accompanying pictures and CD's. I think she'll love it. And I hope its the birth of a deeper dream in her heart.
It was absolutely pouring throughout the entire day. So, as we walked between buildings we huddled under our guide's umbrellas. Nevertheless, we enjoyed learning how these incredible artifacts were painstakingly restored and displayed. We learned how to tell the difference between the different types of warriors, we learned how the archaeologists knew exactly where each warrior should stand (and which direction he/she was to face). We saw many many unfinished warriors assembled and waiting for those last few pieces to be found. It was truly a fascinating museum.
Our guide told us that lunch in the museum was truly spectacular, and that Xi'an is known for its special noodles (made with wheat products as that is a major agricultural product). So, we had a fantastic lunch in the museum with many many different kinds of foods. I didn't try a single dish that I didn't like. Steve found a few he could eat. Our guide helped us encourage Ben to try two bites of new dishes. He liked the shrimp chips (ha!) and rejected the specialty noodles that we were able to watch them make in front of us. It's too bad because I thoroughly enjoyed the noodles.
After finishing up at the museum our guide dropped us off at the train station about 30 minutes before boarding. We were able to get through security quickly, find our gate - grab a quick visit to the squatty potties (we are all getting pretty proficient at these by now) and find some coffee. There was no Starbucks ... we were really looking forward to that after the raining trek. BUT ... maybe in Taiyuan. :).
Our train ride was uneventful but a little more jostling and pushing happened this time. The stops were quick and were uncertain if the train ended at our stop or if there were more stops after us. So, we ready and waiting by the door to jostle everyone to get out (there was no way we were missing Joshua's stop). As it turned out there was no need and it was the last stop. We found our way through the check out/exit process and our new guide, for this critical phase in our process, was waiting for us.
Maggie has this incredibly soothing way about her. Within the first few minute she said, "I know this is a really big week for you all in the life of your family. So, please add me on WeChat and message me whenever you need me. I'm here to help you with anything that will make you more comfortable." She was as good as her word. We told her we probably didn't need food tonight, but she must have had a sense that we were lying. She brought us up to our room and told us she could order us a Papa John's pizza and it would be here in less than 30 minutes. That was music to the boys' ears. In addition she drew us a beautiful map with 11 points of critical interest that we may need to find during our next 6 days here. One of which was ... a Starbucks :). It was among the first things she pointed out. She told us where good Chinese restaurants were too and how to get there using underpasses.
According to the advice from all of our friends we upgraded our rooms in Taiyuan and Guangzhou (it wasn't that much more from a cost perspective) but we have access to an unlimited minibar (of water and soda), a gorgeous room on a very quiet floor. We have an enormous bathroom full of amenities and the technology is such that we can connect our computer to the HDMI output and pump Netflix through to the flat screen. I can't even imagine how much this could help when we need just 20-30 minutes of down time. The guide and planner took the liberty of setting up a pack and play in the room - and Ben is confident he could sleep on the couch if Joshua needed the double bed. We didn't intend to take this trip for luxury reasons, but having creature comforts as we embark on a huge journey has proven to be a lifeline of hope for us. In typical Dutch fashion, I used the extra space in the bathroom (and the laundry soap we found in Beijing) to begin immediately hand washing as much laundry as we can hang in our closet :). Several outfits should be ready to be reused by Tuesday.
We all crashed late last night and were up early. I think our nerves are getting the best of us. It's 6:01 local time and everyone is up. Steve is presently negotiating just how we can take showers in a full glass shower with a floor to ceiling window that opens to the sleeping area. Hopefully he figures out a combination of light levels soon utilizing the automatic screen or this could be a really interesting family trip.
T minus 3 hours and 53 minutes until our son is due at the Civil Affairs office.
Make that 3 hours and 10 minutes.
Not that we are counting down.