The 22 hour train ride from Beijing to Xi’an passed without incident (0nce we’d finally found each other at the different station entrances!) and after a surprisingly good nights’ sleep in a four berth sleeper cabin we were ready for a roam around the sights. We weaved our way back to Shuyuan hostel at the south gate of the city wall (with free pick up from the train station) to unpack and freshen up.
The hostel was beautiful – the best so far. Built in an old Chinese courtyard – the traditional features and Hutong style layout made it a perfect resting place for the next part of our China adventure. The food was great (if a bit pricey) and the incredibly helpful English speaking staff could arrange everything from towels, to trips down the Yangzi and train tickets (for a small fee).
After a big feed we headed out to explore what Xi’an had to offer. It has a very chilled, laid back feel about it – possibly due to it relinquishing its capital city status around the 10th Century and it being the original terminus for the Silk Road, so well used to welcoming a variety of travellers, vendors and visitors from around the world.
With a mere 4.2 million population it felt much less crowded than Beijing and had a real charm.
The Bell and Drum Towers within the city walls gave us a great opportunity to feel the sunshine on our faces and enjoy the blue skies we had missed in the hazy and polluted Capital. Both offer great elevated views of the city and if you time it right you can enjoy a traditional drum performance.
From there we took a leisurely stroll around the rest of the city, eventually finding ourselves in the cobbled streets of the Muslim Quarter. Dodging bikes, scooters and tuk tuks and marvelling at the many market stalls crammed together with a huge variety of food – live, fresh, dried, skewered, powdered – meat, fruit and vegetables – anything you needed or wanted in any form was available from around the world.
The beeping and shouting, the smoke and the sickly sweet smell were a serious assault on the senses, so were happy to spend a very relaxing hour at the Great Mosque, which we stumbled across completely by accident. A beautiful, tranquil place with traditional Chinese architecture mixed with Islamic features and scriptures.
Before heading back to the hostel’s underground bar for a few beers, we topped of the day with a fantastic tandem ride around the famed City Wall. Bikes can be hired for around 25 Yuan per person, with a negotiable deposit. The trip takes around an hour and a half (at a fair pace without any photo stops!). A great way to while away a sunny afternoon – even if the bumps and basic bike seats do bring a tear to your eye!
Make a stop in Xi’an if you can, you won’t be disappointed…