Monday, November 5, 2012


The fortified city wall is the first thing we noticed upon emerging from the train station- and its amazing to see- with numerous garrisons atop the 200 foot walls decorated with lamps and flags it has a staggering effect.
Couldn’t wait to explore it further on our planned bike ride that afternoon. Our hotel was a member of the Best Western chain- best room yet for space, cleanliness and facilities—shampoo, hair dryer!!!

We checked in, dropped our bags and hit the streets- stopping first to scarf down some delicious fist-sized vegetarian dumplings from a street vendor--incredible! We strolled along the bustling city centre---Chinese brand stores on one side and Western on the other. Many jewellery shops, but no reasonably priced gold dragons in any of them.

Who needs drive thru?

 We visited first the epic Bell Tower. In ancient times, the Bell Tower was used to mark mark the time for citizens during the day and the Drum Tower (which we also visited) was used to mark it at night. The bell or drum marked each of the 12 time periods of the Chinese day. The Bell and Drum towers in Xian are among the very few still in existence in China although all large towns and cities had them in ancient times.

Bell Tower, Xian

Famished, we ducked into the Muslim Quarter where we enjoyed big bowls of steaming hot lamb and bread soup. The bread was crouton-sized, gummy but not gelatinous, and the soup also boasted super-long, clear, thin rice noodles with the razor-thin slices of tasty lamb. Thick red chilli sauce and pickled garlic cloves were served on the side. It’s cold here in Xian- I needed my sweater and jacket and that soup really hit the spot.

We afterwards browsed and bargained through the Muslim Quarter Market area where we scored a few souvenirs ,then stopped for refreshment at the nicest Starbucks I’ve ever seen- post and beam construction, outdoor patio and a big gas fireplace inside.

Lamb and Bread Soup comin' up!

After our much-needed quality caffeine fix, we made our way through the crowd to the South Gate of the Wall. Just under 14 km in total length, the Wall completely encloses the Old City in a rough rectangle. The view from the top is great but the wall itself is even more attractive.
David and Helen decided to walk along it ans Suzanne and got a tandem bike since I had never ridden one.
A shaky start, and we were off impressing (scaring?) the locals with our bicycle prowess—taking the up ramps and bumping down the stairs while they lamely walked their bikes around these obstacles.
 We stopped several times to take photos of the city below and red-circled a promising bar/café district for later revisiting.
 We watched two wedding couples being photographed here, both the bride AND groom rents their wedding outfits for a photography session booked far in advance of the actual ceremony- so alien to us!

Xian City Wall

 After our bike ride of an hour and a half, we ventured to a café we'd spied earlier and spent the afternoon sunning ourselves and drinking iced mochacinos. On holiday for sure!
We walked back through the Artist’s Market and admired the beautiful paintings, calligraphy and yak bone carvings on display.
Ravenous, we gobbled down our supper of beef and potato (very stewlike), sweet and sour pork, chicken and peanuts, bok choy and eggplant- yummy!
Couldn’t get the much-needed heat working in my Arctic Circle room, so after much arm waving and head shaking with the heater remote control, they changed me to another one. Dragging my luggage and wet laundry down the hall was pretty darn fun but I soon fell into a comfortable sleep—tomorrow the Terracotta Warriors!!!

Met a couple of well-dressed gents down by the South Gate--not really my type...

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