Posts Tagged ‘Sauna’

Xian – ancient city of central China

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Relaxing after a 90 minute aromatherapy massageThe apartment hotel where I stayed with Thorbjørn in Beijing was a bit of a  step up from where I’ve stayed earlier. I had my own bedroom with a queen size bed, and my own bathroom. In the basement there was a gym, a swimming pool, a steam bath and a sauna, and also a spa that offered massage and aromatherapy at a discount for guests at the hotel. One night I figured I’d go check it out. I spent an hour in the pool/sauna/steam bath, before I had a 90 minute aromatherapeutic massage… I didn’t know an hour and a half could pass that quickly! I actually think I fell asleep there for a while…
The remaining days I stayed there, I went to the pool and sauna every night. 😉 It is most definitely the best way of winding down after a long day of walking around in one of the world’s most polluted cities!

                               On Saturday night I got on the train to Xian. In 11 hours, I went 1200 kilometers headed southeast into central China. Xian is quite different from Beijing. For one, it’s much smaller, only around 5 million inhabitants. If Beijing can be compared to New York, then Xian is probably more like Rome. True, Beijing has a lot of historic sites, but when you’re moving around town, you don’t really notice them, because they’re all walled in. Xian on the other hand, has the historic buildings right here in the centre for all to see. I am in a youth hostel right on the central square, and out the window I can see the old Bell tower and Drum tower. They used to ring the bell at dawn, and bang the drum at dusk. Up to about the 10th century, Xian was the most important city in what is now China. It is the beginning and end of the Silk Road, and as such has had a lot of contact with the rest of the world. One of the museums here has a tablet with a Christian (Nestorian) inscription, dated 781 AD. The muslim community is thriving, and today I visited the Hui (Chinese Muslim) quarter in the city. For                                about a hundred meters down one of the narrow streets, every single shop that wasn’t a muslim restaurant was a Halal butcher! The Great Mosque was also fascinating. All outward appearances are that of a Buddhist temple, down to the Spirit Wall at the entrance, that is meant to keep out the evil influences. The Minaret looked like a Pagoda, it had the typical Chinese arches and architecture, and there were Chinese symbols on big tablets over the arches, just like in a Buddhist temple. The first hint that it wasn’t Buddhist, however, lies in the fact that it didn’t point North<->South, instead it pointed west, towards Mecca. Also there were inscriptions in Arabic mixed in with the Chinese. In the main Prayer hall were the familiar rows of muslim prayer carpets, but the dead give away, however, were the bearded men walking around with their little round hats, sitting in side rooms reading Quran, and kneeling in prayer on some of the mats. They weren’t Arabic, however, so their beards weren’t the full, shiny beards of Arabs, but the thin, stringy beards of the Chinese!:D

Tomorrow I’m planning to go see the sight that this city is definitely most famous for; the terracotta warriors! The first unifier of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, is buried with thousands of life size terracotta footsoldiers, officers and even horses! Some claim he was afraid of the spirits of his vanquished enemies, waiting for him in death, but most archaeologists agree
that he simply expected his rule to continue in the afterlife, and he wanted to have as great an army there as he’d had in this life… Like real soldiers, they are lined up in ALMOST (but not quite) the the same position, and like real soldiers, not two have the same facial features! Their weapons were real, and therefore are mostly gone after 2000 years, and some of the horses had real chariots, which have also all but rotted away. More on that later.

I’ve unearthed a couple of American CS’ers that want to do the same tour as me, at the same time, in Tibet. They’d found out that the rule against travellers of different nationalities travelling in a group together is no longer in effect, so maybe we can split the cost of car and guide, so the trip won’t cost an arm and a leg, only a few fingers and toes from each of us…

MOCKBA – a true metropolis

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Ok, so I haven’t had time to write for a while, so I’ll do a quick update.
In Novgorod I was hosted by Aleksey and his family, but unfortunately Aleksey was very busy and had to work the whole weekend. On Saturday I spent the day in the centre of Novgorod, which has a beautiful historical Kremlin, or Fort. (The Novgorodians call it Detinets, “Young Men’s Compound) Next year the city will celebrate its 1150th anniversary, so unfortunately everything was undergoing renovations. Still, I got to see a museum with archeological finds from the town, dating back to it’s viking heritage, (it was called Holmgard, the capital of Gardarike), complete with a viking sword and viking dragon broches! It also had an impressive collection of russian icons.

On Sunday, Aleksey drove me and his mother and father out to a small monastery  a place called Peryn, outside the city, dating back to 995 AD. Then he drove us to St.Yuryev Monastery, where he left us because he had to work. His mother works as a tourist guide, and knew very very much about everything we saw that day. Unfortunately, she didn’t speak much English, so there was very little of her knowledge that she managed to communicate to me. Being a guide, she also knew the people at the ticket stands, so we got in everywhere for free! We hitched a ride with a tourist bus from St.Yuryev to the nearby museum of wooden architecture, where I got to try my hand at weaving and spinning, and try some old Russian children’s toys!
The buildings in that museum were moved from 26 different locations in the Novgorod region, and dated from the 16th to early 20th century. In the museum we also met a Swedish girl, who turned out to be Aleksey’s swedish teacher in university!

After catching a bus back to the centre of Novgorod, we also went back to the museum where I’d been the day before, but this time I got to see the treasury, which had so much gold, silver and jewelry that one could get almost dizzy! Last we went to the St.Sophia cathedral, which is the oldest stone church in Russia, almost 1000 years old, and still standing, still being in use! I’d been there the day before, but this time, with Aleksey’s mother, I got to go to a place that tourist normally can’t get to; up on the choir’s gallery! There were some amazing iconic frescoes, almost as old as the church itself!

Sunday evening I took the night train to Moscow, and I arrived here Monday morning at 5:32am. I was supposed to meet my host, Jimmy, at 7:30, but my phone didn’t work in Moscow, so I couldn’t get hold of him. Eventually, when the shops opened, I managed to get myself a new sim card, but by then Jimmy was at work, he works at the American embassy, and he couldn’t meet me before 5:30pm, which meant that I lugged all my belongings around Moscow the whole day! When I finally met up with him, we also met with Luka from Italy, with whom I’ve been sharing a room the last couple of days.

Soon after we arrived in his apartment, a huge place in a secure area, where many of the foreign ambassadors live, he got an sms about a couchsurfers’ meeting at a Banya, a Russian bath house, that same night. I really needed to relax after carrying all my stuff around all day, so I decided to go. I met some really nice people, and we had a lot of fun. We had a private area all to ourselves, with a pool table, karaoke, two sitting groups, a Turkish steam bath, a Finnish sauna and a cold water pool. One of the girls, Arina, were celebrating her birthday, and there was a lot of vodka and beer going around. After a while some of the guys cooked up a plan to have a strip show as a birthday present for Arina, but I don’t know if she was more flattered or embarrassed… 😛 The only thing that was a little disappointing, was that it wasn’t a REAL Russian banya with the Venik (bunches of birch twigs with the leaves still on), so I’ll have to try again later.  😉

Yesterday I was in good shape, since I’d managed to turn down most of the vodka in the Banya, but I was still too exhausted from carrying around all my stuff, so I stayed in, relaxed, washed some clothes and uploaded some photos and log posts. In the evening I went out to the weekly CS meeting in Moscow, and met some of the people from the banya, and many other couchsurfers. The Moscow CS community is very active!

Today I’m going to go around the centre of Moscow WITHOUT all my luggage, and just enjoy it. I’m meeting up with a couchsurfer I met yesterday, who’s helping me buy a train ticket, seeing as that is apparently one of the most difficult things you can do as a foreigner in Russia…