We left Beijing by train (from the busiest train station imaginable!) and headed to Xi'an. The ride was supposed to be 12 hours long so we thought we'd take the cheap route and go for the "hard seat" option. Unfortunately we hit some rain and the track was washed out in one place. To make a long story short, our 12 hour train ride stretched to 23 hours...on a hard seat...good times!
Xi'an was just as smoggy and hot as Beijing. We certainly enjoyed the sites in and around Xi'an though. This included the Terracotta Warriors, the Banpo Neolithic Museum, riding bikes along the top of the old city walls and bartering in the Muslim quarter.
We got a start on our Tibetan Travel Permits in Xi'an...ahhh the sketchiness! The process included 10:00pm visits to our hotel room from our "travel agent" while he made several rather angry sounding cell phone calls in Chinese. Anyways, it all worked out because we did in fact make it to Tibet.