Tehran: Salom, Iran

The plane from lovely Kuala Lumpur airport to Tehran was quite interesting. I could start observing locals and, after a while, I started seeing some tourist heading to Tehran at the same time. Iranian people seemed to me extremely beautiful. Gorgeous manly men and women that were even more beautiful. Almond eyes, Persian faces… An attractive bunch of people. Something that relaxed me was to see most of the women without a scarf on their head and some even in short sleeves because I had been thinking all day about the protocol and my overalls.

Once in the plane, I could see how every foreigner was speaking to a Iranian quite friendly. I wasn’t because I had nobody else in my row, which I considered really good for an eight hours flight with night time until I had someone changing seats to my row. It happened to be some footballer, famous or not he showed me a few pictures of him and he was delighted to hear that I was from Spain and didn’t waste any time before saying Xavi Iniesta. The guy saw me writing stuff in my computer and organising pictures and he probably thought I was having Wi-Fi because I don’t know how many times he asked me if there was any Wi-Fi. I was quite surprised when the food kart came in and brought him a juice and a double vodka. But he was so nice that he offered some vodka for the fake Thai coke that AirAsia served me. I refused the free alcohol (how much a person change!) and we kept exchanging a few words now and then.

At my arrival to the airport, I quickly went to get my visa on arrival with all the documents on hand to try to get it done as fast as I could because it was already past midnight. The process was smooth and after paying the fee that I happened to carry exactly in Euros (luckily for me because all I carried was dollars and I hadn’t foreseen that the payment would have to be only in Euros) I was free to get a taxi to the hostel I had booked for the visa. Otherwise, I would have not booked anything because I had a lovely Iranian woman offering to host me.

It surprised me the seriousness of the taxis over the airport. No haggling, no scamming…just a fixed amount to be paid to any taxi driver wherever you were going in Tehran. No fuzz, no mess. What a contrast with the rest of Asia! The problem came when the driver didn’t really know where we were going. I had the address, the address in Farsi and the phone of the hostel and even after calling them himself, he took me somewhere else. I immediately realised and told him it was not Amir Kabir Hotel, but Amir Kabir Street where the hotel was. I had to explain it to him several times and another phone call after he took me to the correct place. And what a nice surprise to have the whole dorm room for myself despite how late it was!

The last days I had slept in two different airports and two different planes. It was about time to get a bed and to have the dorm for myself was like being in paradise. I slept and slept until I could not sleep anymore, 8am the next morning. And just a bit after a new roomie arrived, a lovely girl from Indonesia. We had a chat and then I couldn’t wait anymore to get breakfast and went to the rooftop to enjoy a simple breakkie with nice views to very brown mountains that I absolutely loved. There, I met a Tunisian guy that had been also travelling for a long while and was finishing his trip in Iran. We chatted a lot and although at the beginning we connected quite quickly because we had the same views about life back home after travelling, and similar stuff, we chatted about travelling around Iran, where he could give me some tips. The first ones were cool. Then he told me not to hitchhike (I wasn’t going to in this country, but I guessed he perceived my hippie style), and then continued saying to me not to say anybody I had a boyfriend. As I told him, well, I don’t have, so I won’t. He explained to me that it could be seen as being open, word that they were using here for sexual workers and similar stuff. As a Western woman with boyfriend, the most traditional people only could see that there was sex before marriage and therefore, you were open and therefore, certain things would be okay…I got it, I got, but let’s not be so radical. Then, I explained to him what I always do: I say I am engaged. Which eliminates a lot of questions and bad thoughts and also gives me some property (being me the object, sadly). I make it fun, anyways, I have had plenty of fiancés in India. This guy liked the strategy.

After the harsh words I have had to listen, I was ready to go out and worry about the first thing and more important thing: money. I had to change my dollars to rials because I had no money that I could use. So, I was about to get out of the hostel when I heard a few words that I didn’t like to say (especially coming from a man): “I don’t think you can go out like that”. And by “like that” he meant my super conservative over sized short sleeved T-shirt. Because I was already wearing a scarf and baggy-loose-Aladdin-long pants. I changed to the only long sleeve shirt I had and, resigned, made my way out. The atmosphere outside didn’t make it any better. The neighbourhood was basically full of shops with car parts, tires and car related stuff and full of men. Some of them, looking at me like a piece of meat. I felt a bit intimidated by the surroundings and I was looking at everybody with mistrust.

But I finally got to change my dollars and after having money with me and having an old man telling me in a very warm way that he loved Spanish football and that I was beautiful with a true and warm smile, I started feeling better. After that, I waited in this square for Mary, the Iranian woman I was going to meet with to get some clothes and do stuff together. She was amazing! She took care so well of me. We took the metro together, help me with the bills because I couldn’t understand them, with the prices because of the same (Arabic numbers plus they have two currencies! How crazy). We hit the bazaar and she was asking everyone to make sure we were going where the clothes are. First place I saw something I liked, she was asking for the price and if I could try it on. I invited her inside the fitting room and we got to eat a couple of cherries and a peach without nobody knowing. She was amazing, I know I am not easy to go with to buy clothes and although in this situation all I was looking for was cheap clothes proper for the country, I can be a bit specific about what I want but she put up with everything and helped me to find cheap stuff and to choose appropriate things. Because, here it is something I don’t understand: the shops were having short sleeve T-shirts, tank tops and all kind of things that you actually cannot wear here. I even saw a shop with sexy-time night dresses! Anyways, I couldn’t be happier with my acquisitions and I even got a new beautiful scarf that no doubt was the star of all of them. To finish it up, I got an eyeliner because all women were looking extremely nice and using lots of makeup and I thought I would use a bit as well. I was missing this one out so much…

She was lovely and helped me out a lot when I was asked for my passport at the exit of the metro by some militars. Apparently there had been a bombing less than a week ago in Theran and 14 people had died, so things were a little shaken up and more controlled than usual. I felt so grateful that she was there with me!

The day continued in some park we were started taking selfies and doing silly things like two teenagers! I was surprised she had 38 years old and a daughter, actually. Then, we were seeing the birds in the park and we continued to take a metro to somewhere north in Tehran where I would have to decide to see a big tower that you could go up and enjoy the views of the city or a bridge. To go to the tower we needed to take a taxi after the metro and when I saw the huge traffic jam there was, I decided on the bridge. A super nice bridge that happened to had been managed during its construction by a 28 years old Iranian woman. Girl power!

IMG-20170612-WA0010

Mary and me

We finished it off with a sneaky ice cream we got in the park and then it was time to get back home to rest a bit and wait for the restaurant and places to open up and get some real food. That was the first day, intense, full of different emotions and I will stay with the positive feeling it ended up with and with the beautiful scarf I got.

For the next day, I had breakfast, checked out and got to get a SIM card because locals were insisting so much on it that it seemed necessary. I am always against getting a SIM card if I am not staying in a country for a long period and I am even more against having data on my phone because it keeps you from whatever is going on in the place you are to transport you somewhere where you are not. I am fine with it for short periods but I don’t like to have it all day, simply. But in this case the deal was too good to let it go. After that sorted, I went to visit the Golestan Palace. It was a magnificent palace with halls full of fine mirrors in a mixture of Persian and European architecture at times, with gifts from all over the world to Iran at an old time. At the very beginning of my visit, lost trying to find the restrooms, I managed to ask a man that kindly took me to the right place. Coincidentally, I met him again on my way out and we talked about the visit since he was working there and I had learnt previously that he was also a Master’s teacher in the university of Architecture teaching restoration. He then asked me if I wanted to visit some other museum and I asked him which one, because there are tons and tons of different museums in this city. He invited me to go with him to the glass museum and I felt curious and couldn’t refuse to be his guest, as he named me.

P_20170613_135141

Golestan Palace. Part of it. 

We went to the glass and ceramic museum and entered for free. Cooool. He seemed to be an important man. I didn’t find the museum especially impressive or interesting but he was fun and making jokes about which piece I like and okay, I will take it later as a souvenir for you. We found an artefact that he took the bother to explain me and I found particularly interesting. They were kind of bottles with the shape of the eye at the top of them. They happen to be used for collecting the tears of the wives of the sailors while they were gone from home. At their back, they would get this as a present and the wives would get presents from the sailors.

Right after this museum, he offered me to go to the National museum. I had been advised that the museum was not really worth the ticket price and there was not much there but since I was with this super important man and he also could explain me stuff quite interesting I thought of giving it a go. On the way there, we had to cross some really busy street (it was busy but it wasn’t Saigon, or Delhi, for me it was not such big deal) and he decided to take my hand to help me crossing. He repeated this at the next crossing and then I started not liking the gesture, as much as it was to help me, because I don’t think it was right for this country. At the third time he tried the same, I avoided his hand. He realised and asked me why and started telling me that it was something very normal in Iran between friends and to show friendship and bla bla bla… I told him it didn’t feel right to me and in my country only couples do that and since I was engaged it was not right. He insisted but I had already made my mind. I hadn’t seen anybody holding hands and also, I didn’t want to hold hands with a man I had just met, plus, I didn’t know what kind of signs is this sending in this country or how it is perceived. But it is the most restrictive country I have ever been to, so… Not a chance

The museum was cool, the same procedure for the entrance happened: he exchanged a few words with someone and…happy days, doors are open! The museum was nothing special but there was a famous skull and leg almost totally conserved in salt because this miner had been trapped in the salt mine. In the way here and there, we exchanged emails to write each other and to practise his English. I was happy to, I like to receive random stuff from people all over the world. He also offered to take me to some other palace next day but that very night I would be on a bus to Isfahan, my next destination and would not be possible this time. But I will be back to Tehran, so who knows.

P_20170613_173208

Miner´s head, conserved in the salt

After the museum he accompanied me a little bit to my hotel to show me some cool buildings on the way and that I was thankful for, because due to some images of soldiers at the entrance tiles I would have never dared to take a picture or get in to snoop around. You have to be very careful here with military sensitive buildings. During the walk inside, he insisted very much on holding my hand for a while and then I started getting pissed off because I don’t like to repeat myself that many times… What a pain in the ass. I got off the situation the best I could, shook off his hands, said this new word I had just learnt for saying goodbye and God provides that we see each other soon and went back to my hotel. He was nice and had offered me to give me a lift to the bus station that night and everything but the hands things bothered me a bit too much, especially him insisting that much because I wasn’t sure what was behind it.

P_20170613_174955

Some cool buildings around

Back at the hostel I chilled a bit and waited for 8.30 pm, the time when fast is broken and all restaurants open. I have had an apricot and a plum during the day and hunger was real now. And after food, I hit the bus station. It was a mess, buses and people screaming everywhere. Only that I didn’t even know what they were screaming. I was caught by someone just on my way there and they helped me to get the bus ticket. I had my doubts about if they were touts, if they were doing the correct thing or simply scamming me and if the ticket I got was valid. They wanted me to get in the 10pm bus but I knew it would be too early and I would end up arriving in the middle of the night to Isfahan so I tried to negotiate a later bus. I only could get as late as 11pm although I was looking for the one around midnight. Anyways, I wanted the regular bus and not VIP because I was already over budget and I was worried about the money (cards don’t work here, you only can count on the cash you bring).

For the price of the ticket, I had my very serious doubts, but someone called me to put my backpack in the bus priory indicated and then I relaxed. They told me to wait half an hour more until 11.30pm and when I was chilling sitting down, I had the guy coming to me and giving me ANOTHER ticket. I didn’t understand. After a while, I had the guy from the beginning coming to me in a rush because it was almost 11pm, to get me in a different bus. WHAT? I indicated him with my best rushed signs that my backpack was actually already in another bus. He run to get the guy from that bus, they opened the compartment, took my bag and took me and my bag to this other bus. There, I got in and found that the front was where the women were sitting and also, it was completely full. I kept going until the back to see myself completely surrounded by men. I had something clear: I was not sitting down next to a man. If local women were not, I wasn’t. What I saw as an advantage, because that meant I would not have anybody else sitting next to me and therefore I would have two seats to lay down a bit the whole journey. I took my two seats and prepared myself for what would be a dreadful journey, because I didn’t get much sleep and one of the seats was broken and falling apart all the time, which resulted in an elbow bleeding. But it is not the first time a journey was leaving me injured (I just remember the worst possible journey I had in India and this one was looking just fine). And yes, I had to sleep with the scarf.

Beijing, without time for everything

After a fun overnight train where I had fun before going to sleep and I still managed to attract everyone´s attention after waking up because I had to stitch my small backpack a bit and they seemed to be overly curious about everything I was doing, after all that,  I finally  arrived to Beijing. Without any couchsurfing to do because I couldn’t find anybody to take me in, I had booked the cheapest hostel in the city and copied the instructions on how to arrive on my phone. Unluckily, I was distracted with more stuff in my phone and I managed to take the bus in the opposite direction. After a while, I realised and took the right bus and eventually got to the hostel.

Luckily, they allowed me to check in earlier and I could leave my stuff, take a shower and then go to Tianmen Square to have a look because it was quite close and although tired, I didn’t want to bed just yet. The square overwhelmed me, its dimensions made seem that there were barely any people around, but don’t fool yourself, in China there is people everywhere. I decided on checking the museum, as I considered it was already late to start seeing the Forbidden City and that was something I wanted to do with calm to enjoy it. And in the funny moment of the day was starring the security staff of the museum. I was already used to pass security everywhere, in every metro I was taking and any public building. But here they were beyond everything having me taking the big bottle of water that I always have with me out of my backpack. I wondered what was going on, because as always the language barrier was there. They asked me: water? “Yes, water”, I answered. Then they said: “drink”. What? I have to drink it now? I cannot go inside with water? I was confused. They repeated: “drink”. I tried to understand and seeing that we couldn’t get to an understanding and I could not continue with it, I took a long sip to the water before leaving the bottle there. The minute I started drinking they said okay, okay, okay! I had to stop. I didn’t understand. They pointed inside the museum, as I could continue the way. And then I understood: they just wanted me to proof it was water by drinking of it. As in Medieval times! I spent like 5 minutes laughing at it alone.

After that, I spent the whole afternoon in the museum. I don’t think I got to see even half of it. It was huge! But I was kicked out and also tired so I have to leave it alone and be happy with what I saw, which still was a lot.

That was the first day done. The second day I woke up more than decided to get to the Great Wall. I had been doing a minimum research and from what I could see there were different sections of it to be visited. The most difficult to get was also the wilder, the further from Beijing, the more expensive and obviously less crowded. I wanted to avoid the crowds, but I couldn’t afford to take a taxi o get a car by myself and also I didn’t feel I had all the time in the world to do this. I didn’t feel like overcomplicating it so I decided on the Badaling section, the most visited and easiest to get.

So I took a tourist bus, full of Chinese people as tourists as myself, to take me there. As usual, there was lack of understanding but I got there, got my ticket and found out the way to walk up, because I didn’t want to take the cable car. Just while in the bus I had the chance to gaze the Great Wall and didn’t disappoint. But to be there, with the amazing surroundings…the terrain going up and down everywhere around and the wall on top of each, going up and down with the mountains until your eyes could reach to see. Of course it was crowded but nothing like too much. There were a couple of groups together, one of Europeans and another one with American school kids. Once I managed to get detached from them, it felt better. Also, I took the section going through 8 towers which seemed to be longer and therefore more crowded. But at lunch time, when I came back to the starting point and decided to do the other section with 4 towers, it was practically empty and the sun came out and everything was simply perfect. I got a bit of a sunburnt, something I thought I was over with, but well… And I finished the visit with a quick look to the museum, to give some insights of its development through different emperors, its construction, reform, use and other curiosities that I missed because my knowledge of Chinese is limited to hello and thank you.

P_20170608_132621

It doesn’t look too crowded!

After such day, I was tired from climbing all the steep parts of the wall and I did nothing else. For next day, I slept in a bit to enjoy a bit more of sleep (the previous night I have had a bear or something similar to a man snoring on the top bunk) and then I headed to the Forbidden City or the palace. What I thought it would take a few hours, took all the day and I would have enjoyed one or two more hours there just to check everything that it is inside. I wasn’t expecting the amount of halls, palaces and buildings that there were and each of them was architecturally beautiful. The only thing that bothered me was the extreme heat and the difficulty for finding some shadow most of the time. We hit the 40 degrees that day and I was already a bit sunburnt from the previous one. Nothing serious though, at this stage I am over the pale Irish skin syndrome I had been suffering some time ago. The funny story of the day was I asked a foreigner to take a picture of me right at the entrance. To what he answered: “To take a picture with you or of you?” I naturally said: “men, why would I want a picture with you?” It was came alone and without thinking but it seems that this was all very natural to him as well because he said that he had been asked for pictures a lot and I answered to him that I was very sorry he was not that exotic to me and if he could take a picture OF me. The result:

P_20170609_125004

I eventually got tired of taking so many pictures in the Forbidden City, it was too big, too vast, too many things… To end up the day and knowing it would be my last full day in the city I decided to try the local delicatessen: Pekin duck. I asked in the hostel reception for a good place to have it and they recommended me the oldest one and I think the expensive one. Of course, they were charging per duck and I wouldn’t eat a whole one despite I barely had lunch that day. The receptionist recommended me to get some friends to share it or try somewhere else. Before the impossibility of getting friends that I had come across (for the first time) I decided to take a walk and find a place.

I got to a nice restaurant and, seeing the price and comparing it with what I had been told by the receptionist, I thought I would get a piece of duck. I asked, several times, but there was no possibility of communication, so I gave up and ordered it. The whole duck came. I only managed to eat half of it and got the rest to take away to do “something” with it because I always refuse to dump food.

P_20170609_194844.jpg

The more than famous Peking Duck

The next day was the last day in the city; I checked out, left my bag at the hostel and went to explore certain park and the Heaven Temple which was inside it. I didn’t know what it was about but sounded interesting and I discovered a huge place where people used to pray for the harvest and make sacrifices and all that. It blew my mind to see it all and try to gather in my mind what once had been going on there. They even had the “ovens” and funerary pyres and the holes where the blood and hairs of the animals were going. It was superb.

With the thought that I could have spent a whole week in Beijing and still would be having stuff to do and see, I came back to the hostel to take a shower, chill and prepare until the heat had deceased and I was ready to go to the airport, where I had some stuff to do.

P_20170610_115231

The Heaven Temple

Once at the airport, I panicked a bit when I tried to withdraw money from an ATM and I couldn’t because after 2 or 3 steps everything was coming up in Chinese and I wasn’t able to figure out where the “withdraw” button was. It was an important part because in my next destination, Iran, the cards would not work and I needed to carry enough cash with me for the whole time I was planning to be there. I had some but I needed some extra for emergencies. The panic attack was gone when after a while I found a different ATM and I was successful in the transaction. The next thing I needed to do was to make sure where I needed to head for the check thing and, after that, I was ready to find the nicest possible spot for me to sleep a few hours before doing the check in. The departures area was impossible. So I could only consider the arrivals area, as messy as it was. I spotted some people that seemed to be living there or at least staying for a long term and thought I was in the right place but I needed to find something somewhere else to avoid any problem. But all the chairs had armrests and it seemed impossible to find a place where to lie down a bit. I was thinking of finding a hidden corner to sleep of the floor (it was not going to be the first time) and then I saw a nice padded continuous seat going around some big plant and a person already laying there. That was my place! And I accommodated myself for what it would be 4 hours of pretty good sleep despite the continuous arrivals, noise and airport calls. Because it was free of snoring, finally.

I woke up at 3 am, get my stuff together and hit the counter for checking in, where they were not even sure which country was represented by the initials ESP and were asking each other in Chinese while I was there, just asking them to get the boarding passes to my final destination because with a 7 hours layout in Kuala Lumpur, I didn’t want to waste time going through immigration and security again.

A more than 6 hours flight after, I was back to KL Airport. Back to Malaysia. I have no idea how many times I had been here or how many times this airport had been my house but for this time it would not be from the landside. I took the time to catch up on facebook, to post stuff, to write, to text and to take a nap in some cosy carpeted corner I found with the sign of ATM but without an actual one. Which gave me the advantage of having a plug in there for myself as well and charge my gadgets.

After 7 hours of layover, I was taking my plane to Iran, the very final destination of the day. I would only arrive there at night but a whole day travelling is now bringing me to a new area of the world where I expect to live more adventures. I am feeling excited and the fact that I am coming closer to Europe is not making me sad as a few months ago it would have made me. New goals, new feelings, new stuff to figure out and I can’t wait.

Xi An, a better surprise!

My train arrived to Xi An on time. Despite it was an early arrival, people woke up me even earlier (6am) and then the coach assistant woke me up again at 6.30 for changing my card for the ticket I had changed when taking the train. I never found out what the card was and there was no door in the compartment because I obviously was travelling in the cheap class.

After a sweet or two everything looks better early in the morning and I went to the tourism information office outside the station to ask for a map and information about what bus I could take until the Westin hotel where my host was working and we had arranged to meet. The personal was as helpful as usual (very little and also very rude) and I went in the other side of the station to get a ticket to get out of Xi An in a couple of days. There were no tickets for sleeper and I didn’t feel as adventurous as taking an overnight train of 14 hours in a seat, also because I knew how the seats were going to be and I decided to stay one more day. Anyways, accommodation is free and it was raining that day so I could take it easy and relax. I had enough days and although I was taking a day from Beijing I felt it was fine.

Once everything was sorted I felt ready to take the bus to the Westin hotel. I arrived there with my shorts, my sandals, my raincoat and soaked. An overly nice guy welcomed me the minute he saw me and asked me to see if he could help me. Wow. This is what happens when people pay, they get the service as well. And now I do because I am here. I told him I was meeting a friend there because she was working there and I would text her by the free public Wi-Fi in the hotel. He invited me to sit down and in between, a couple that was getting married left the hotel with the whole show of the fake rose petals all over the place. Anyways, Huiyuan, my host, answered me and told me she wasn’t working but she would come to pick me up and I waited for her. She arrived in a taxi and we went to her place after eating together something that would be between breakfast and lunch for me. We arrived at the house and we relaxed and fell asleep. I had a great siesta, it had been a very long time since the last one and I was tired enough to manage to sleep two hours no problem. Also, I had planned to climb mount Huasan, but it was further than I thought and the rain wouldn’t allow. Apparently it is a quite dangerous climb already… So I desisted on my first ideas and preferred to sleep

I only woke up thinking that maybe she wanted to do something and I was going to be sleeping all the time…but she was chilled as well.

Then, she asked me if I was hungry and as every time I take a nap, I was. We went for food although only I ate and then she told me she would call her friend that speaks Spanish and I could speak Spanish. I was happy with that and an Indian guy living in China and speaking Spanish appeared 10 minutes after. After speaking a while, seeing that it was only the two of us, he invited me to go for a glass of wine to his place, just 14 floors above in the same building. I rarely say no to wine and we went up and were chatting about life in India, because I never get tired of it and because you can speak about this for hours and hours and it never ends. We also talked about my host, how they met each other and that typical stuff and I confirmed what I already suspected: she was a daddy’s girl getting a lot of money from him. She was great anyways, and always asking me what I needed and if I was feeling okay and all. Really thoughtful.

After a couple of glasses I felt I was getting too happy and told him I wouldn’t drink more and I was tired which I actually was. He dropped me back to Huiyuan’s place and after, he was going to get some food and as she wasn’t going to eat anything, I came down with him to grab some noodles to take away and eat them back at his apartment. Then he dropped me downstairs again and I prepared to go to sleep also again. Another guy that was sleeping in the other room was around as well but he didn’t say much and the situation with him seemed weird for some reason even though Huiyuan had told me “my friend is staying here, sometimes he does sometimes he doesn’t I hope you don’t mind”. He didn’t seem his friend but I wasn’t sure about the situation and didn’t want to ask.

By next day my host woke up super early and I of course stayed in bed. I enjoyed the feeling and sleep and sleep and… God, I had to get up and do something with myself, I couldn’t spend ANOTHER day sleeping!

So, I got up and got my shit together. Had for breakfast the leftovers from the previous night that became handy to help me because I was still feeling tired and made my way out. I closed the door, locked it and outside the building I decided I wanted to take some food from the street stalls for later. Or not because then I realised I forgot my wallet in the house and there was no way in back. In the drowsy stated I was that morning, I could have left my head, but fortunately that one is attached to my shoulders (for no purpose). I thought about what to do and came back up to knock the door of the Indian guy, in case he was staying there and could help me out. But he wasn’t. Then, I came back to Huiyuan’s to get Wi-Fi from her apartment and text her. She wasn’t answering and I knew she was at the Westin, so I told her I would go there but it would take me a while because I would have to walk as I had not a single coin for taking a bus.

Almost an hour later I arrived to the Westin hotel, where they received as friendly as always and then managed to talk to Huiyuan. She offered to give me the keys of her house but as I told her, I don’t have money to go to your house again and then I need to bring them back to make sure you can go to your house once you finish work. Maybe it would be possible to borrow some money instead? She immediately agreed asking me how much I needed and I gave her a high number because I wanted to go to see the Xian terracotta warriors and that had been my plan for the day. I asked for 200 yuans that she very quickly made 300 just in case. I felt terribly bad because I absolutely hate asking for money and having any kind of trouble because of such a stupid thing as money. I tend to think money gets the worse of the people and creates many more problems than it solves. So it made me a bit paranoid of what she could be thinking of me or if I was up to something or… who knows. And I assured and reassured her that I had the money home and the minute I was back I could get it back to her. She was as chilled as usual and that made me relax a bit.

And like that, after all the stress and thinking I had ruined the day because it was also raining and it was not a good day to wander around the city, everything was sorted and I took a bus to see the warriors! Hurray! Firstly, I saw the two bronze chariots of which I had no idea about their existence. Then, I got to the pit number 2 and what I saw blew my mind: The whole site, the excavations, the warriors, the immensity of it….Even the fact that you could see so clearly how things are still going on. It is the most impressive thing I have seen in the last two months. Maybe three. The only thing I didn’t like was that it was crowded, as any other attraction in China. Then, I kept going and I saw two lads that were more than happy to see a foreigner, me, in between the crowds and invited me to high five. I exchanged with them the typical “where are you from”, they were from Australia and thought I was American first and then British, which is happening a lot lately for some reason (especially American).

P_20170605_144158

Terracota warriors at pit 1

I could go on with the feelings it brought to be there, I will just say that I enjoyed it very much and thought very penny had been worth it. Then, I went to see the actual tomb of the emperor, which result that was only a hill with no access that was a nice break from the crowds and had a few more pits around although not as impressive and big as the first ones. I had to rush my way there because I didn’t want to miss the last bus to Xi An and I didn’t even have enough money to find a solution to that if happening.

I decided to go back to the house despite I was starving and ask Huiyuan if she wanted to go for dinner or something, to spend some time with her, but when I arrived, and it was not late, she was already in her pajamas and in bed. She gave me the key and I managed myself to get some spicy noodles and a few skewers Chinese Muslim style.

The next day was my last day in Xi An but I had all day ahead before getting into a sleeper train. So I did the best thing I could do: sleep it off and wake up to take it easy in the house, get my things ready without any rush and with all the space and then make my way out because I had no food and I was about to die of starvation (again).

I went to the train station to leave my bag there and then I had a nice walk around the walls of the city. Only part of them because Xi An happens to have the biggest city inside a wall in the world. Then I decided to go to the Muslim Quarter and what a nice place! I loved the Chinese Muslim combination and had a great time walking by the street markets. The food, the people, the stuff around… it was all different and kept me entertained for a good while. There was a mosque but I didn’t get into because I will be in Iran in a few days and I am expecting to see beautiful mosques. By the way, I think mosques are my favourite building to see and visit, at least architecturally speaking.

P_20170606_150312

At the muslim open market, anybody a lamb skewer??

Then, I thought I would try my luck finding some clothes for Iran and I got to try a dress quite nice. I was about to take it but the bargaining didn’t go the way I wanted and I had my doubts about it. Firstly I wasn’t sure it was okay because it didn’t cover my ankles although it did cover everything else and second, I was almost sure that I would never wear it again after Iran because it was making no shape at all on me, which was good for the purpose that meant I wouldn’t pay too much for something I was only going to use for a very short period of time.

I continued to walk around, kind of upset because I wanted to buy but at the same time I didn’t want to buy it. Until I ended up back in the station, all ready to take my train to Beijing.

I had a blast at the first two hours of the journey. Firstly I caused a human traffic jam at the corridor, but everyone acted very nicely and patiently. I couldn’t believe it! And then, I got a very good seat by the window to see the sunset and have dinner, because my life is romance. That is where everything started. While I was watching the sunset of a cloudy sky with some lightenings and decided to get some hot water poured on my noodles, the mate in front of me, a lovely old Chinese man thought of having his noodles as well. He was absorbing them really loudly and so did I, just for the craic. Both of us were about to finish when the conversation started. I don’t know what kind of conversation, because he was speaking Chinese and I was speaking whatever I wanted that usually is a mix between English, Spanish and body signs. My Chinese is limited to two words: hello and thank you. So it was impossible that I was understanding and he couldn’t either but somehow I explained I liked China, I was from Spain, I was here for two weeks and my itinerary. The hardest part was to tell them where I was from. They initially thought I was English, in a misunderstanding where I told him I only knew English and not Chinese. Then, he was wearing a Rome jersey so I pointed at his jersey trying to make him guess that my country was Spain and he got to guess Italy, France… no Spain. I was disappointed. Half of the compartment and two more people of the compartment next to us got in the conversation until someone got it and made the bull sign. Yessss, that’s Spain! Bulls, bulls.

The situation became hilarious. Everyone was trying to talk to me in Chinese and then they decided to make use of the few English words they knew: hello, good afternoon, one, two, three, four, thank you and good.  And repeat them randomly. Funny as it was, it got better and someone got a phone to translate Chinese into English. The first question they got to ask is if I was a student. I said no and the next was: then you must be a boss, which company so do you work, can you talk about it? I couldn’t stop laughing. No boss, no boss! I said. But they (the phone) said: “no no, your look is like the one of a boss”. They were taking the piss and I couldn’t stop laughing. Then, I managed to explain I was an architect (that was a tough one and I ended up using a dictionary). And they recommended me to see the buildings in Beijing, where we all were going. In between I was offered fruits by the wife of the guy that started everything, lovely as she was she insisted on the fruits.

The situation more or less went for over an hour and made me think how much I enjoy this stupid stuff, especially in trains. It made me sad that I was not doing the transmongolian, where I had planned a 55 hours train and left me wondering how many things like this might had happened in that train.

And like this, I might get some sleep now that everything calmed down to see what tomorrow has ready for me in Beijing.

Nanjing, getting up early

My train arrived to Nanjing as the night was falling and the first thing I did was to get my ticket out of the city. Lucky me I did because there were no tickets left in the trains I wanted and I had to take one leaving a bit earlier and arriving quite early in the morning. But it is done.

Next thing was to take the metro to the station where my host lives. I had agreed with her to meet her up in a KFC quite close to the station, where I could get Wi-Fi and wait for her to finish her late meeting. As I had time I also had dinner in the meantime and after an hour or so, she picked me up. Her house was really close and after getting a shower we could catch up a bit with our lives. She gave me some maps and some hints of where I could go the next day and that was it, because she was working the next day and I had to leave with her. Which meant I had to wake up at 7am.

I had a nice sleep in her couch but the wake up was dreadful and I quickly got ready and left the place with her. At the corner of her house there were several food stalls where we got our breakfast for the way. She asked for me a roll of red rice with other stuff rolled inside and she got rice porridge for herself that I wanted to try as well so I got one for me as well. It was weird to have salty food for breakfast, I mean, I was used to the noodles and the rice but this was different… I missed nutella sooo much. And then I missed coffee.

But the real revelation of the morning was to see the metro at pick time because if it had shocked me to see how many people were in the street at that time, the metro was something else. Yvonne knew the exact time that a metro was passing by empty and we waited for it. I couldn’t believe how people run to get a free seat as they were running for their lives. I didn’t get one and stood next to her, who was trained in the art and sitting down. I got off a couple of stops after Yvonne to go to the Purple Mountain. A mountain where lots of imperial tombs had been built and where it seemed to be nice to wander around. I had absolutely nothing ready of what I wanted to see when I arrived to the city and no idea what there was around but this had seemed a good idea the previous night. But it was too early to have any feeling close to joy. I used to be a morning person but surely I am not any more.

After taking my time to get to a point where I was something closer to a person, I started my hiking around the mountain and got lost here and there and got to check different of small museums, a garden where some old people were making Chinese music and singing and also got to the free tomb. I was not interested in seeing them all and I also felt that I have had a very good experience with this in Vietnam and was way much better because I was with my friend Phuc who also was an architect and made the experience very cool. Yvonne told me that the other tomb was very worth it in autumn but it is almost summer so it was decided. It was cool and there were good views although not perfect because of some fog around that I wasn’t sure if it was due to the humidity or the pollution.

P_20170601_121013

Climbing to the top of the tomb

On my way back I really needed some food that I got covered with part of the breakfast but then I got a craving for sweet because I had been thinking of it all day and I went to look for some shop where I got some milky tea I getting addicted to. Since I left the mountain, I decided to check out some part of the city that seemed interesting and I had marked in my map and I happen to come across a huge museum. I got in and it was more than worth it, it had a bit of everything, very well sectioned and it surprised me the most when I got to some recreation of an old Nanjing, with shops, a tea shop and… A Chinese opera performance that I stayed to enjoy a bit. Although it was obvious that I couldn’t understand anything, I got to gather that the first performance I saw was something similar to Romeo and Juliet. The other one I was not sure but I stayed to hear them, to see their makeup and dressed, to listen to the music and to be amazed by their gestural performance in general.

P_20170601_151705

Watching Chinese opera

Then, I realised there was some free Wi-Fi in the place and I sat down to have some rest for a while and also to download pictures and make something nice to wish my sister a happy birthday later on, once I had called her. That made me waste a lot of time, although I also needed to rest a bit, and at the end I didn’t have time enough to climb to the viewpoint where the funicular was going, but I suppose it was alright because of the fog anyways… And after they were closing down the museum I only got to a lake at the foot of the mountain where the sun going down was reflecting, making a too romantic scene for a person alone.

I went back to the closest metro station to go back home and the mess started: I had to find the building and the apartment and they all were the exact same. Also, it had been to early in the morning to have a fresh good memory of my exact steps when I left the building with Yvonne and I only had written down the apartment number, the floor and the building number. The building numbers were in Chinese so the last piece of information was pretty useless. I also knew the front door of the building was supposed to be unlocked all the time because it had been broken in some fire event… I went to the first building where I was almost sure I left this morning. But the front door was locked. Well, I thought it could have been fixed just that morning. And I waited for someone entering the building to sneak in with them. I went to the 12th floor and… the number of the apartment I was looking for wasn’t there. So I was in the wrong building. As this seemed the last building in the row of buildings, I went back and tried my luck in the one before it with the same tactic. Once in the 12th floor, I found the number of the apartment but something seemed odd in the exact location of it. It was like in the opposite side of the building as I was remembering. I had my doubts but there were also some red Chinese stickers on the door as Yvonne had at hers. I turned on the Wi-Fi on my phone, as it should be connecting to hers immediately but nothing. Okay, not here. I was not knocking this door if I was not entirely sure simply because I wouldn’t be able to explain the mistake. I went down and checked the building before but just looking at the entrance I knew it wasn’t it. I thought of going upstairs again but I was afraid people started noticing me too much and this is full of police everywhere checking your bags, your key and everything and I was feeling like a terrorist. So I went back to look for Wi-Fi in the KFC where I met her the first day only that I found it closer and then I texted her to come and pick me up. When we arrived to her building I saw what had been my mistake: the first building I sneaked into was the one, only that it was split in two and I never got to see the other entrance where the apartment was. So close!

I was expecting a bit more of interaction with my host that night but I don’t think she was in the mood and she kept on her phone and went to her bedroom to watch something so I did my own stuff.

Next morning we woke up at 7am again and the same procedure only that I got something different for breakfast (some fried stuff with sesame that seemed more tolerable than the rice porridge) and I also got a seat in the metro. Things were improving but by the time I got to the Confucius Temple some of the shops around were not even open. Which made me realise of how early it was again and I went to get some milky tea and free Wi-Fi while I watched the square getting cleaned up. When I felt like, I started walking around the buildings, the bridges, crossing the river and appreciating the nice area I was located. And then I got in to the Confucius Temple and I took very long there because firstly it was big and secondly there were tourists but it was not loaded up with them and that was something new. I felt so comfortable there that I sat down on a bench in a side of the temple and then felt inspired to put words to some things that had been going on in my head about going back home, which will happen but not with immediate effect. I spent like an hour just writing stuff and thinking.

P_20170602_113713.jpg

Some family praying in Confucius Temple

Afterwards, I felt ready and hungry to move on. Got some food, had a surprise lunch because after 10 minutes trying to get an understanding I preferred to point something on the menu randomly and got some rice with pork, green peppers, fried peanuts and soya beans in some spicy sauce. It was spot on and I continued my way to a huge park in the area full of memorials and gardens where I got lost the whole afternoon. Here I must make a special mention to the public toilets. So far it had been okay, consisting in squat toilets where the toilet paper was absent as usual but also there was no bum gun. But just now I remembered the conversation on toilets I had with a couchsurfer in Hong Kong. It was almost comical but I still didn’t feel like laughing: no doors so as you find your “toilet” you see other ladies squatting doing their business and no toilet, as nothing made of ceramic but a built-in trench where…there is no need to be more explicit as much I like the topic.

I decided to go back to the place I was staying a bit earlier with the desire of having time with Yvonne and get along with her a bit more. On the way I got pissed off with some stuff back home and debated myself in between not seeing anybody and continue my plan and put my mind off it. I continued with my plan, found the apartment easily this time and asked Yvonne to go for dinner because I didn’t have anything and I wanted her to show me something local. She thought a walk would be a good idea and went somewhere close for local noodles with pork´s blood, pork´s liver and tofu. She was surprised that I liked it and I was delighted to pump up my iron intake. Then we took a walk and I got to see around the shopping centre the karaoke cabins, where 3 people were in singing at that moment; the kids area with lots of activities like dance studios, battery classes and so on and the gym. We also went for a milky tea and maybe it was the sugar overdose or how pissed off I still was, that when I heard she wanted to get her hair cut and there was a place at the corner of her house she wanted to check because they were doing 5 RMB (0.65€) haircuts, I told her: If that’s truly the price, I will do it with you! And it was.

I had a hard time explaining how I wanted my hair, but I was doing nothing too crazy and anyways my hair will be covered in a week for a while so I had not much to worry about. The excitement of doing this kind of stuff always gets me back up and a change in the hair is always the answer to a change in your life or something to face.  I didn’t adore the result but only to get it washed it was worth it. Then, we went back home and she wanted to watch a movie, which happened to be a Spanish movie. It was great because it was in Spanish and subtitled in Chinese but it was a pretty bad movie and she went to bed and I stayed because my bed was the couch and finished the lame movie. Next day I didn’t have to wake up early because it was Saturday so it was fine!

By the time I woke up next day, I had breakfast, packed my things up and prepared to leave because Yvonne had already asked too many times when I was going to be gone. I had the feeling she didn’t want me around more time and I didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable so I left. The only thing that bothered me was that she didn’t really care if there were no lockers to leave my big bag and I didn’t understand what the hassle was leaving the bag at her place and coming back for it later, considering she had told me she was going to stay home and had no plans. But well, I would figure things out then.

Once at the train station, I asked for lockers around and some guy paid me attention and offered to help. I did my best with my body language to explain to him what I was looking for and he was only answering in Chinese. Difficult understanding between us. He offered something, started taking me somewhere and once I realised that it wasn’t leading to the train station I knew something was wrong because nobody here had been so helpful before and I apologised and made my way there on my own. I asked a police man in the middle but he just pointed the entrance. After asking many times with no proper answer, I came across that the lady checking my ticket at the entrance spoke some English and could understand me and clarify me a few things. I finally got a locker.

Feeling light, I could walk around the lake and the islands in the middle of the lake and enjoy my day until my train was due. I even walked around college and once back to the station, the mess started again because I took the Southern entrance and I couldn’t find the way to the North area where the lockers where. I asked so many people in the station. In addition, I suspected something was wrong with my ticket because the lady checking tickets at the entrance had said something to me 3 times and pointed repeated times to some words in my ticket that were in Chinese so I was not understanding anything.

P_20170603_133802.jpg

Lotus Fairy from an island in the lake

After a while I gave up and exited the station to go around it and enter by the North Entrance. By the notice at the walls with the trains, I could see how this was also the entrance for my train, because before in the other entrance it was listed but instead of a platform assigned to it, there were two Chinese characters. Just on time, I could fetch my bag and then find my train, where I would sleep for the night, just like the old times. I was exhausted after so many early mornings, so much walking and rushing up for the last hour with all the stress of not understanding anyone. It seemed like it was going to be a good sleep.