As usual, I have taken hundreds of pictures, so I'll start at the beginning, and work my way forward.
First, the train trip. For the first leg of the trip, I was too late to get a sleeper, so I got what is called a "hard seat". Underneath the gray slipcover is a straight wooden bench, with about half an inch of foam padding covered with brown naugahyde.
The seats hold two passengers on the left side and three on the right side of the train; with four people in this space, we had to actually interlace our legs with one another carefully to move them at all. We got pretty good at it by the end of nineteen hours.
The miniature table was much smaller than the length of the bench and so we took turns sleeping with our heads on the table. Nineteen hours in this bench seat was truly miserable; I don't recommend the hard seat travel for a long trip at all. One could not get up to walk around because the aisle was full of people who didn't even have seats, and their luggage. I kept repeating to myself that I was lucky to have a seat.
The train toilet. The floor got more and more disgusting as the journey went on - it's really a challenge to pull down your pants while also making sure the bottom of the pants legs don't touch the floor! I just rolled mine up to the knees before going in. No doubt the Chinese thought I was nuts.
Some kids at an elementary school, watching the train taking on passengers at a stop.
The holiday crowd all rushing for the stairs. This is apparently "nothing" compared to Chinese New Year, so it looks like I won't be able to leave China right away when my contract ends because the Chinese New Year holiday period lasts for a couple of weeks.
I also found it interesting the kind of baggage people carried - everything from designer luggage to giant plastic sacks.
On the way home, I was lucky to have a "hard sleeper". As you can see, it's still just a board with a little padding and Naugahyde, but at least I could stretch out and lay down. There is a duvet and pillow supplied, but since Xi'an is not the first stop, they were already used by the time I got on the train, I wonder if you get clean bedding in the soft sleeper. There are six bunks in each cubicle (not enclosed, you can see the aisle there and the mini-table with folding seats). The top bunk is at the level of the luggage rack so they can't see out of the window, and hard to climb to. I am happy the bottom bunk was free.
The hostel was, like the others, quite good. I met a lot of interesting fellow travelers. This hostel was great about helping arrange tours and so on, and had some kind of entertainment each evening.
The rec room was an enclosed patio with a pool table, a couple of sofas and a miniature garden with some pets - bunnies, a mouse, some reptiles and crustaceans, and a one legged giant green cricket in a tiny cage.
Apparently the cook is quite the pool player, as there is a running contest against him. All the youth hostels here seem to offer hookahs with strange flavored tobacco. To each their own, I suppose.
The interior of the hostel was decorated beautifully, a very nice atmosphere.
Sadly, the view from the windows seems to be another thing all the hostels have in common...
The rooftop garden was really the nicest I've seen. It had a jungle of plants, a ping pong table, a stereo, swing chairs, private cubbies with loungers for sunning, a tiny putting green, a sauna, a yoga room, and of course, more pets: three caged birds and a ginger and white cat. Downstairs was a sweet brown poodle named "Teddy".
to be continued