We awoke fairly early on the train, ensuring we had enough time to get ourselves sorted before arriving at Xi’an. I found the bed a bit hard, and didn’t get a good night’s sleep, but the overnight train was overall a fun experience.
The area outside Xi’an train station was packed with people waiting to meet the arriving passengers, but we found our local guide “Lucy”, who led us through the throng to our minibus. Our driver had parked outside a hotel, and one of the attendants prevented us leaving without paying for parking, despite the driver trying to persuade him with 5 yuan. After returning from paying the fee, the driver said something to the attendant as we drove past, and the row took off again. It could have dragged on if it weren’t for the fact that we were blocking the exit so someone else came over to move us on. It was refreshing to see some dissent for once!
We arrived at our new hotel without further incident, and had breakfast while Terry checked us in to our rooms. After eating we headed up to our rooms for some rest and much-needed showers We met up at noon and went to a local restaurant which specializes in noodles and dumplings. The food was really tasty, and Rachel and I tucked into the delicious noodles, dumplings, and other tasty dishes, while Adam and Cora made short work of the rice and sliced meats.
After the meal there was a demonstration of how to make dumplings, and everyone had a go. We saw how to make standard dumplings as well as the special ones used for new year’s eve that are shaped according to the filling. Adam and Cora chose one each to take with them – though they didn’t last too long before becoming shapeless blobs!
After stuffing our faces we visited the old city walls. They are still standing because after one of the Emperors moved the capital from Xi’an to Beijing no-one attacked the city walls any more. We climbed up the Southern Gate and had good views of the old city – only 3km by 4km. No tall buildings are allowed within the city walls, and new ones must conform to traditional designs. In contrast the buildings on the other side of the wall are tall modern skyscrapers, especially to the south. The wall is a great place to see the contrast.
The day was much cooler than those previous in Beijing due to the threat of rain. Sure enough the showers began just as we were about to hire bikes to cycle along the top of the wall. A combination of the weather and lack of bikes suitable to accommodate Adam and Cora meant we took an electric car along the wall instead. It felt a bit like cheating really!
Finally we visited the Muslim area of the city. Xi’an used to be the end of the Silk Road, so many middle-eastern traders remained, bringing their customs with them. We walked through a busy alleyway full of stalls that led to the mosque. While the mosque itself was closed to visitors, the courtyards and gateways leading up to it were open, and they were really calm and peaceful – a real island of tranquility among the surrounding commercial hubbub.
We were all tired from the early start and the train journey, so we returned to the hotel to take it easy before heading out to dinner.