I knew precisely zero about Xi’an, the city closest to the Terracotta Warriors, before arriving there. With some basic research, I realised there were two things I needed to experience: the Muslim Quarter for dinner, and the surrounding city walls.
I contemplated going out to the city boundary on my first day, but experiencing horrific pollution, I decided against it. I was struggling to breathe just casually walking down the road in the dense smog, and as I had every intention of cycling the walls, I decided to wait it out.
On my third and final day in Xi’an, my flight back to Beijing wasn’t until 4pm so I braved the bloody awful weather and walked out towards the edge of town. I walked down into the subway entrance under a busy main road and bought an entry ticket.
To get onto the walls you first have to walk under them, through an enormous walkway lined with red lanterns and patrolled by police. Within the walls are huge swathes of space holding various buildings and temples, and thankfully, somewhere to buy a hot drink before making my way to the cycle hire post. You can hire single bikes and tandems for two hours, but with the fear of losing your deposit if you go over. So that was my challenge! 14km in 120 minutes, including time to stop for photos and catching my breath. I put the hood up on my neon pink raincoat, put my earphones in, and set off.
As the walls were built as a defense system there are parapets and drawbridges, and four gate towers, one on each corner of the rectangular wall. Work on the wall started in 1378, but obviously it’s undertaken extensive restoration over the years.
Looking down on one side is the main road out of Xi’an, and on the other side I could see back into the city. Yet right next to the wall were laundry lines, apartment balconies, tiny alleyways leading to the regular homes of regular people. Further down was the Guangren Lama temple, shining out from the grey sky and brown walls.
But that doesn’t make for smooth cycling The ground was uneven and bumpy literally the entire way around. The bikes don’t exactly have much suspension, and as a result I earned myself a a rosy pair of bruised butt cheeks by the end, but I did make it back within two hours. I hadn’t done such consistent exercise in quite some time; I’m sure the endorphins had kicked in as I had a delirious smile on my face the whole way around.
Or maybe it was because, again, I had a unique travel experience that was all my own, thanks to my stupid/brave risk of ditching my life to explore the world solo.