After some confusion with the hotel bellboy not quite understanding that we wanted two of our bags out of storage, and one of the others out for long enough to swap stuff round, we got ourselves changed into some clean clothes for our train journey. As it turned out, I don’t think we should have bothered.
We got a taxi over to Beijing West Railway Station, and were unceremoniously dropped on the wrong side of the road to it. I don’t think the taxi driver wanted to negotiate the circuitous route in and out; however, I was very impressed by him doing a Rubik’s Cube style puzzle whenever the traffic stopped, so I’ll let him off.
We’d been warned that Beijing West was big, and they were certainly right about that. It’s huge! However, it’s very different to UK railway stations. All tickets are bought in advance, and you have to show your ticket (plus passport for sleepers) to get in to the station. Once inside, it’s more like an airport: there are shops and restaurants, and signs tell you which departure lounge you should wait in for your train.
Because we had soft-sleeper tickets, we could wait in some comfy chairs in a different departure lounge to where we’d otherwise have to wait, once we managed to find some space. We knew that boarding would start about 30 minutes before departure, so about 15 minutes before then we headed to our ‘proper’ departure lounge, to find a massive queue already forming at the ‘gate’. After about 20 minutes or so, we started moving forward as they checked tickets again before letting people on to the platforms. Because of the way this is done, the only people on the platforms are those getting on or getting off trains.
Of course, we ended up on the platform at the wrong end of the train so had to walk most of the length of it, but easily found our carriage and our sleeper berths. Despite it being a 4-bed compartment, we were sharing it with another three: grandad, grandma, and grand-daughter, who was too small to need a bed of her own. They had, however, pinched three of the four sets of slippers before we got there. They seemed to be travelling very light, having just a couple of carriers bags of supplies, and no apparent change of clothes.
There’s not much space for luggage in these compartments, and the holdall we’d decided to take turned out to be just slightly too high to fit under the bottom bunk, which meant Clare had to share the bed with it all night. After scoffing the left-over bread products we’d got from 85C the previous night, we quickly realised that there wasn’t much space to do anything other than lie on the bunks, so we got changed into our pyjamas and settled down with our Kindles.
The granddaughter spent most of the early evening playing with every control she could find on the train, and the grandparents didn’t seem to care what she was doing, which meant we ended up with the “train radio” on full-blast until it thankfully turned off at 10pm. I don’t know if the air-conditioning turned off at that time too, or if granddaughter had turned it off, but the cabin just seemed to get warmer and warmer all night; I don’t know how they thought anybody would need the provided duvets.
We both slept on-and-off, but at least we did sleep. If it hadn’t been so ridiculously warm, it might have been quite pleasant. The train seemed to roll along at 95mph most of the time (according to my GPS), but it seemed to be very smooth compared to UK trains (not that I’ve ever tried a bed on one).
Once it was clear that everybody was awake in the morning, I got up and watched the world go by the train window for an hour. There are fold-down seats in the corridor outside the compartments, as there’s really not enough room for everybody to be in them at once unless everyone’s in bed!
We eventually got to Xi’an about 45 minutes late, and everything seemed very chaotic as soon as we got off the train and headed towards the exit: crowds and crowds of people, and lots of them asking if we needed a taxi, which we wouldn’t have accepted even if we did! Our guide turned out to be quite easy to spot, once we got out of the station (where it was still just as crowded), and he led us off to find out driver who would take us for an early check-in (and late breakfast) at our hotel.