“A day and a half is plenty.”
“There’s not much more than the terracotta warriors.”
“We got bored on our second day.”
Seriously, when am I going to stop listening to travel reviews from other people? These were real quotes from real Westerners I’ve met in person who’ve been to Xi’an. Hearing the way they talked, I budgeted one day to see the terracotta army and one day to see the town. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Now, I realize that we move slower than most, owing to a toddler and his slow eating, slow walking, ad lots-of-napping lifestyle. But still, I turned our day into a Xi’an Death March in order to see as much as I could, and I didn’t see it all. Mary and Joel were good sports.
In the morning, we all headed to the Great Mosque. Yeah, that’s right. Xi’an has a significant Muslim population mostly Hui people. First built in 742, this is the oldest mosque in China, but most (everything?) visible today was built later. It’s a funky blend of architecture, looking far more Chinese than Arabic. (Not a single dome in the entire structure.)
Mary was impressed, but she wanted to see something Buddhist. We’re in China, after all. So we walked to the nearest temple on the map. It turned out to be something different altogether. It was a City God Temple. Just like ancient Romans, Chinese culture believed that cities had guardian deities. Just outside was a small Daoist temple. Joel gave Mary a quick review of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.
Simon was past naptime, so Joel volunteered to grab a street food lunch for the guys and head back to the hotel. Mary and I would keep exploring. We headed for the Bell Tower. The Bell Tower is the symbol of Xi’an. Like the one we saw in Beijing, it was used for centuries to measure time in a world before iPhones. A unique modern twist is that it sits in the center of a massive roundabout. The roundabout haters of Saint Peter would totally freak out over this thing. On the other hand, I have a new idea for the city’s Pearly Gates…
Mary still wanted to see a real Buddhist temple. There’s a monastery in the northwest corner of the Xi’an city wall. We decided to walk there. It didn’t look so far on the map! It was a pleasant walk down tree-lined streets, which definitely helped mitigate the heat. It didn’t hurt that we had beautiful blue skies all day, too.
Finally! A Tibetan Buddhist monastery (aka lamasery). We only saw one monk, but he was there. It was real.
By this time, we were really tired. A cab ride took us back to the hostel, where we found the guys still napping. We ate lunch in the hostel restaurant and relaxed in the quiet, air-conditioned space.
By now it was mid-afternoon and I still had one major item on my XI’an bucket list: a bicycle ride around the top of the Xi’an city wall. Xi’an is a truly ancient city. It goes back more than 3,100 years and was the capital to no less than 13 dynasties. The existing wall was started in 1364, expanding upon earlier fortifications. While many Chinese cities of that era had city walls, most have not survived. Weather, hostile armies, or enterprising recyclers have dismantled many walls. Xi’an’s wall is widely recognized as the best preserved wall in all of China.
The top of the wall creates a traffic-free bicycle path with fabulous views of the old city. We were running a bit behind schedule, so we ended up renting the bicycles a bit later than planned. It worked out perfectly. We bicycled counterclockwise as the sun set.
By the end of the 8.5 mile loop, we were exhausted and it was dark. And–let’s admit it–our butts were sore. The stonework floor of the wall is a bit bumpy and even the nice mountain bikes we rented couldn’t fully protect us. We took a taxi home and called it quits. According to my Fitbit, we walked 34,607 steps, or about 15 miles. And I still wasn’t bored with Xi’an.