Wednesday 9th March
We arrived virtually on time and leaving the station it was amazing how many hundreds of people were all moving to the exit with our two faces, again, being the only European ones in sight. This has been the case since leaving Frankfurt! Somewhere to the left in this mass of humanity is Xi’an Railway Station.
After a swift unpacking we were out exploring Xi’an. Our hotel is within the walled city so the major sights are reasonably close, though the old city is really a large one compared to some old cities in Europe. The Bell Tower is a huge building which surprisingly is now in the middle of a roundabout and pedestrian access is by an underpass. When this was shown, along with other sights, on a recent Michael Wood programme for BBC2 there had been very skilful editing to give an impression that it was not surrounded by the 21st century. The Tower dates from the 14th century and was rebuilt in 1739.
Close by is the South Gate of the city walls making Xi’an one of the few cities in China where these are still visible. The walls were built on the foundations of the walls of the Tang Forbidden City during the Ming Dynasty.
We actually went on the walls after lunch and accessed them by the North Gate. They form a rectangle with a perimeter of 14km. On each side there is a gateway and over each gateway stand 3 towers. At each of the four corners is a watchtower and the top of each wall is punctuated with defensive towers. The walls are 12m high with a width at the top of 12-14m and at the base of 15-18m. They are made of finely cut blocks of basalt which contrasts with the modern concrete buildings that surround them, though modern buildings near the gates are designed with appropriate gateway features.
In the Muslim Quarter are stalls cooking almost anything that moved and craftsmen preparing noodles and bread. Some of the queues at the stalls were very long. To the south of the busiest street in the Muslim Quarter is the Drum Tower where each night the drum was sounded to announce the curfew.
This man is cleaning the street with what looks like a feather duster but on closer inspection it is made of thin plastic strips. Everywhere you go there are people cleaning the roads and pavements. The main road outside the hotel is frequently sprayed with water from a tanker that plays a tune to warn pedestrians and drivers. There was even a different tune for the plant watering team!
We have eaten twice today in the Muslim Quarter with this evening’ s Chinese meal being particularly good. Our chopstick skills are improving dramatically!