The advantage to an overnight sleeper, assuming that it is a comfortable berth, is that you arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to face the day. This in theory should have made the task of finding my way to my hostel an easy one but in practice it hardly seemed to help at all. I wandered about outside the station , unable to even locate the taxi rank, and called Stephanie – the teacher who, with her husband, worked near to the city. She had booked the hostel and, crucially, could speak Chinese so that I would be able to just hand the phone over to the driver if it came to that. As I was doing that my friend from last night came past and with Stephanie on the phone and Elen helping I eventually managed to take a cab to my hostel. More accurately to the wrong hostel in an adjacent street but it was still not quite ten O'clock when, checked in, showered and changed into fresh clothes, I was able to get myself out onto the streets again for a walk around.
I had a map obtained from the hostel but had determined to leave it in my pocket as much as I could and simple stroll along a route that would, eventually leave me precisely where I started.
The streets of the city, the part within the city walls at least, all run either North-South or East-West so that getting lost is virtually impossible.
I started with a northward walk along the central street that leads – via the Bell Tower from the South Gate to the North Gate.
My hostel, the cheap and comfortable Xiangzimen, was very close to the ornate layer-cake structure of the south gate which was, for the festivities, surrounded by large red and gold decorations. I walked past the elaborate facades of the hotel on the street corner and turned onto South Avenue. Everywhere the ground was littered with the piles of red paper and ash that were the remnants of last nights New Year festivities. There was the constant acrid smell of the smoke still lingering and as I approached the Bell Tower it became obvious that the festivities would continue in their more noisome form throughout the day. The constant explosions from firecrackers filled the air and here and there clouds of dense smoke from the more intense fireworks rolled along the pavements. As was my intention I chose to eat not in a Chinese shop but in MacDonalds and as I munched on my MacBreakfast the loudest and longest series yet started just outside. The noise was amazing and the street was invisible from the smoke. I waited until it had finished and continued on my way.
My walk took me under the subways of the Bell Tower and down to the smaller Drun Tower where I turned off to head through the Muslim Quarter where the narrow streets are lined with a curious mixture of local food shops and tourist souvenir stalls. Side by side there are shops filled with ornaments and pictures and tea shirts with shops selling cuts of meat hanging on hooks, are flatbreads piled up on tables.
From there I wandered through the pleasant Lian Hu Park before continuing around the other two sides of my large square route and then turning to head back parallel to the South Wall to my starting point. Half way round I took my lunch in KFC and when I got back to the hostel I discovered, with some surprise that I had been out for almost seven hours.
I decided to eat in the hostel and take an early night. Sadly the food was the only negative thing about the place. It wasn't that it was bad but it was small and ordinary and, compared to anywhere I might have gone if I had gone out, rather overpriced.
Although I had slept reasonably well on the train I didn't feel completely rested and my long explorations had tired me so, though I briefly considered going out, I decided against it in favour of an early night.