Tag Archives: Lanzhou

Xiehe, back to Lanzhou, to Xi’an, China

3/8 – Up early to catch the 8:30 bus back to Lanzhou.

Xiehe has been a magical place!  Unlike our ride up, this morning’s bus was totally packed with no empty seats.

The weather was warmer today, and the ridges that were covered with snow just a few days ago now look clear.  Spring is coming!  Some of the mountains reminded me of the Painted Desert out west.  The bus windows were foggy, so couldn’t get better pix.

Back in Lanzhou, we took a taxi across town to the train station, to purchase our next tickets, to Xi’an.  The Lanzhou station ticket hall was totally filled with people standing in lines with only Chinese writing, so we weren’t sure if there was a certain line we needed to be on.  We picked a random line, and, luckily, our ticket lady had some English.  We wanted to get on the early morning train, but it was sold out in all classes, so we ended up on the 12:31 in the second class seats.  The train will get to Xi’an at 20:35.  It will be a long day.

We are staying one night at the 60 Degrees Motel.  What’s wrong with this picture?  And yes, this is the third hotel we’ve been in with clear glass bathrooms – what’s that about?

Here’s the scenic view out our window – can’t wait to be out of this dirty city!

For supper tonight we used our method of pointing to something that someone else is eating, and asking for the same.  This time we got a soup containing tiny boiled eggs (pigeon? quail?), meatballs, tripe, mushrooms, sausage, tofu, leeks, daikon, rice noodles and assorted greens.  A real jackpot in a pot!  I missed having green vegetables when we were in Xiehe – due to the altitude, all they can grow is potatoes (and yaks!  We even had yak yogurt!)

3/9 – Had a leisurely morning, as we didn’t have to get to the train station until 11am. We’re now used to the security procedures – show passport, show ticket, baggage through scanner, pat-down – so it’s just a matter of how interested they are in our packs, and how many people we have to jostle through to get where we are going.

We sat in Waiting Room 4 along with all the other people who will be getting on train Z106. A young man sat down next to us and greeted us in English, and proceeded to tell us his dream of traveling to America one day. Jiang is a 24 year old university student who studies English and wants to work in the travel industry. When our train was called, he picked up my pack (Jim now carries both packs due to my injured arm), and escorted us onto the train. Although his ticket was for a different car, he found a seat near us, and proceeded to talk and talk in thickly accented English. Jim couldn’t understand a word, but I could make out enough to keep the conversation going.


We talked about his girlfriend, who he will marry next year, his parents, and his home town. He told us what he knew about the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln – liberator of black persons – and Barack H. Obama. Florida, Hollywood, Yellowstone Park, Washington D.C. Oh my. He told us that there are no parents like us in China – old people are not encouraged to travel, as their children would worry about them. Parents save every penny to give to their children, and wouldn’t dream of squandering their money on travel. Hmmm, glad I’m not Chinese!

At some point during the 8 hour ride, another young man with much better English squeezed over (we were in 2nd class with every seat filled and people standing and sitting in the aisles) and started the whole process over again! I was exhausted from smiling, nodding and trying to look interested, by the time we got to Xi’an. As we head east in China, we will encounter more English speakers, which is definitely a mixed blessing!

Jiang hoisted my pack again, walked us off the train, hugged us and pointed us toward the street where we could find our hotel, before returning to catch his connecting train. What a nice young man!

We booked at the Vienna Hotel, which we figured would surely have its name written in English (or German) on the outside. No such luck! Once again, we walked right by it several times, then walked into each hotel inquiring until we found the right one. The desk clerks had no English, but we didn’t expect any. What we did expect was to be given a room that didn’t already have somebody in it! We tried the electronic key several times, until a man came out to shoo us away from his door. I went back down to the clerk, who giggled to say she didn’t really know the difference between a 4 and a 6 – she had written the wrong room number on the key. Sigh.

3/10 – We stayed in town today, buying our next train tickets to Chengdu (even five days in advance, all the first class tickets were sold out), replenishing our groceries, and resting my arm. Walking down our busy street on our way to dinner, I witnessed my first street crime. I watched a young girl walk up close behind another, unzip the girl’s backpack, and pull out her iPad or tablet. The second girl walked on, oblivious to the theft. I yelled, Hey, drop it! and looked the thief right in the eye, but a boy on a motorbike swooped right up beside, she hopped on, and they took off. I tried to show the girl that her backpack had been opened, but she didn’t understand. At that point I figured I’d better just walk on, or else the girl would think I had opened her backpack. The frustrations of not having the language! I witnessed a crime,and there was nothing I could do…


Lanzhou to Xiehe, China

3/5 -Got up early for the 10km taxi ride across Lanzhou back to the South Bus Station.  We arrived at about 8:25, prepared to buy tickets for the 9:30 bus to Xiehe.  Surprise – there was an 8:30 bus that hadn’t left yet!  A little man took charge of us and hustled us through security and onto the bus.  There was nothing on the ticket that was not in Chinese, and no bus number, so we hoped we were getting on the right bus!  We took two random empty seats, and the little man came on and moved us forward so that all the front seats were filled.  Very orderly.

It soon became apparent that there were no Chinese on the bus – all the folks were speaking a different language that Jim said was Tibetan, and they looked more like Native Americans than Chinese with long braids and brown, leathery skin.
We soon left the city, passing terraced farmland.IMG_7844-13


And then we were up into the mountains – Himalayas?  Without Google, I have no way of checking.  Anyway, we were heading toward the part of China formerly known as Tibet, to visit the Labrang Tibetan Monastery.
We arrived in Xiehe by noon, and hailed a taxi to take us to the Nirvana Hotel.  Jim had copied the name and address out in Chinese characters, but, you guessed it, the taxi driver couldn’t read Chinese!  Tibetan is what’s spoken here.  There was another guy in the cab, and he showed us a pic on his phone of red robed monks – is that where we are going?  Yes!  we said, right near the monastery.  He asked if we had a phone number, but we did not.  So the taxi driver picked up a young woman who looked Chinese, and asked her to read the script.  That got us onto the right street, but he couldn’t find the hotel.  Twice around the block, and I spied the name on the building in English. Stop!  Here it is!

We walked into the downstairs restaurant, to the sound of The Band on the sound system, and a western woman greeted us in perfect English – are you the McClenons? We’ve been waiting for you!  To say I was overcome would be an understatement – I burst into tears at the realization that I’d be able to speak English here!  Jim thought I’d lost my mind.
We dropped our stuff off in our lovely, if chilly, room, and went back down to have lunch.  Now Bob Dylan was playing, followed by the Eagles, the Beatles, and Meatloaf!  I was in oldies heaven. We had lovely yak and vegetable soup with rice on the side, and the first cappuccinos we’ve had since Italy. Don’t wake me up, I’m loving this dream!image
Our host Clarie, originally from Amsterdam, used to be a tour guide until she met her husband here and decided to stay and open a business.  While we were eating lunch, we met an English-speaking photographer and his wife from Shanghai, and Madelyn, an American from Oregon!  The next table over had a group of German tourists drinking beer – the first foreign tourists we’ve seen.
Madelyn had lots of info about the monastery.  Seems we arrived just in time for their New Years celebration, and tonight there will be a parade and the monks will be displaying sculptures made of yak butter!  Are we lucky or what?

Lanzhou – the Gansu Provincial Museum

3/5 – After a shower with real hot water (several of our recent hotels only had tepid) and a nap, we took a taxi to the Gansu Provincial Museum, about a 40 minute ride in a direction we hadn’t yet seen.  We passed through the modern downtown with tall bank buildings., lots of traffic, and lots of people.  We are here to see the famous first century CE bronze statue called the Flying Horse of Gansu, a horse that runs so fast, he appears to fly.  He is shown with three feet off the ground, and his hind foot stepping on a little bird, who looks up at the horse in surprise.  Here it is.  It’s only about 12 inches tall, so you can’t really see the bird.

The museum also had a Buddhist Art exhibit, with statues from various grottoes, and prayer wheels.

Those big, decorated columns are prayer wheels – grab a handle at the bottom and spin to send your prayers heavenward.

There was also an exhibit with lots of dinosaur bones.  These pix are for you, Lexi!

We walked outside to see… Snow!  Enough winter already!  By the time we got back to our hotel, everything was slippery, and I found that I am very afraid of falling again.  I think I held Jim’s hand so tight, I cut off his circulation.  Get me to some nice, warm weather, please!  We walked a block to have supper at yet another noodle restaurant – I always associated Chinese food with rice, but here in the northwest, it’s all about noodles.  Happy to report that I am acquiring some proficiency using chopsticks with my left hand – otherwise, I might starve!

Dunhuang to Lanzhou, China

3/3 – I’ve really enjoyed our few days in this pretty town.  The New Year’s celebrations are still winding down, and we hear lots of firecrackers going off in the streets.  It is the Year of the Ram.

After our day of sightseeing, we relaxed, ate noodles and beef in little restaurants (Jim asked repeatedly where we could sample some donkey meat, but the Donkey and Yellow Noodle Restaurant seemed to be the only place in town, and it was closed), and bought our train tickets for the next leg of our journey.  

We found an open-air market with all kinds of produce for sale.

I even found some wall art, showing the areas this town is known for – the Magao Caves, the Gobi Desert, the White Pagoda.

We also checked out the local supermarkets, and brought home some samples to try (with mixed results). The food here is VERY salty, but the beer is fine! (Note the old-fashioned pop tops!). We have been looking for several weeks for dental floss, which we have determined is just not used in this part of the world.

Wherever we go, people are surprised or amused to see westerners, and ask to take our picture.  We are the only non-Asian people in this town, as far as we can tell, and even at the big hotels, not a word of English is known.  Very few people – western or Asian – try to cross China overland, especially in winter. 

We are becoming experts in pantomime and planning – Jim looks up and copies out key words in Chinese into his notebook to show people what we want, before we leave the hotel.  At restaurants, we walk around to see what others are eating, and point to things that look good. At stores, we look at the register display, or the shopkeeper shows us western numbers on a calculator, to see what we owe.  This has worked pretty well so far.  

These little girls followed us down the street, shouting giggly Hellos! at us.  When I responded Nie Hao!, they just roared with laughter.  I don’t think my pronunciation is very good…

We left our hotel at 6pm to catch a taxi for our 8pm train.  The station is about 10 miles out of town, and is quite impressive.

We had a four berth compartment to ourselves for our overnight ride  – in fact, there were only three other people in the whole car!  This must really be the off-season in China.  

Arrived on time at 7:30am, and walked across the street to the bus station to purchase our tickets for tomorrow.  Was informed by the nice Information Lady that tickets to Xiahe can only be bought at the South Bus Station, 10 km away.  Okay, time for a morning taxi ride across town!

Lanzhou is a big, dirty city, that either has many abandoned buildings, or ones that were never finished.  People walk on dirt right along the main road – no sidewalks.  

In 20 minutes we were at the South Bus Station, and asked for tickets on tomorrow’s bus.  The ticket lady informed us that tickets could only be purchased for today’s bus, and to come back in the morning.  Agghhh!   Our online blog advisors had specifically warned that these tickets sould be purchased in advance.  Oh well – at least we now know that the bus leaves at 9:30am. 

Another taxi ride all the way back to the train station, where Jm had booked a conveniently close hotel.  Best laid plans and all that…  So now we are in our kinda dumpy hotel in a smoggy city, and will rest up for our long bus ride to Xiahe tomorrow.