After the sprawling metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai we arrive at the comparatively village like Xi’an with a paltry 6.5 million people.
Unlike Beijing and many other cities, Xi’an possesses a complete city wall that provides a 15km long perimeter barrier around the old historic centre and this is one of the attractions that the area is famous for. The reason that this type of installation is rare is due to a combination of Mao encouraging people to destroy “old things” and the speed with which China is expanding means that many old areas are knocked down in the name of progress.
The cost of entry to the walls is a reasonably steep £6 per person, but for that we do get to see a slightly naff music and dance representation of the type of military guards that would have been based here but it’s doesn’t stop you feeling it is a little over priced.
Walking the walls would take up most of the day and presumably not that popular with the masses, so the option we (and many others take) is to increase the cost by another £4 per person by hiring a bike to circumnavigate the structure. The walls have been subject to some restoration work, but the paved floor is still pretty bumpy and with the lack of padded clothing you are grateful for the suspension fitted to the bikes. Whilst the walls themselves are a worthwhile sight and the ride enjoyable, the view of the city is less positive as it provides yet more glimpses of cranes, scaffolding and construction sites.
Following our exertions we get time to explore the other main highlight of the city, the Muslim Quarter, which due to the public holiday weekend is teaming with life. Street food of often unrecognisable origin provides an entertaining form of sustenance and then you can spend a long afternoon strolling through the alleyways of shops and stalls (where I buy a kitsch Chairmen Mao watch complete with ticking arm that sadly fails to operate for even 24 hours).
The final tourist attractions are two almost identical towers, one the bell tower, one the drum tower. In days gone by they were used to wake the town (bells) and signal the end of the working day (drums) but these days provide tourists an elevated view of the city and a chance to watch a musical performance, and whilst short the percussion skills on show at our chosen venue were a splendid way to end our day in the city.