What looks like a short drive into the city centre, according to the map it is about 37km, turns out to be a bit difficult. After a short night we happily start our first cycling stage. The sun is shining, it is warm, it couldn’t be any better.
First thing we do is looking for an ATM at the Bank of China, knowing that even in China we can't get along without cash, especially since we don't have an account in China. Foreign credit cards are only partially accepted. The local population has it much easier in this respect. They only need the mobile phone with the appropriate app to make most of their payments, be it in the restaurant or hotel, in the shop, for purchases of any kind. In that regards the Chinese are much more advanced than Switzerland. Anyway, it doesn’t take us much time to receive the money.
As you know, international airports are not designed to have access roads for the few cyclists arriving or departing by bike. Rather, highways or motorways lead to or away from the airport area. The big question is: How are we going to get out of this mess of streets? Markus switches on his maps.me and enters our final destination in downtown Xi’An. We cycle off and follow the navigation. But it won't be long before we reach the first dead end. A fence prevents us from continuing our journey. So we turn and try the next road. But again, we are not successful. We get to the access road of the express way, cyclists are not allowed! I already consider taking a taxi that drives us downtown. Markus doesn’t want to give up. So we go for the third attempt. We are passing places we already passed some time agot. Finally, when we try to enter a parking lot a nice lady is able to give as directions on how to pass the three Airport Terminals and get on a side road, on which also bicycles are permitted. Alltogether It took as about one hour and 10km to get on the right path.
The journey to the centre of the city is easy, without any stress. The many wide cycle paths are wonderful. Even if these cycling roads are occasionally occupied by parked cars, we hardly care. Rather, we are amazed how quiet the traffic goes on in a city with over 8 million inhabitants! Nobody seems to get upset. Drivers honk a lot, but only to attract attention, less to push someone away. We are also surprised about the small amount of cars, buses and mopeds considering the size of the city. It is also striking that there are hardly any small cars. We mainly can see middle class or luxury cars. The scooters are all electrically powered in Xi'An, so the traffic noise is limited.
We get already many impressions of China during this short drive. New districts are emerging, skyscrapers are growing into the sky, reinforcing irons are standing in rows, parks are partly already designed, only the residential buildings are still missing, huge building areas are newly developed by razing old houses to the ground... New Year decoration from the Chinese New Year is till hanging along the streets and illuminates them in the evening. Many people are busy providing the decoration for the first of May celebration. Huge stages are built, flower arrangements arranged, flags hoisted. Soon we will experience, what else is to come.
The drive to the centre is entertaining, but we are glad to reach our destination after 50km. We stay in a beautiful hotel within the city wall as we don't know yet how many times we're going to enjoy a little bit of luxury. We don't do much more this evening. After all that travelling, we are a bit tired. We have dinner in a nearby restaurant called Cycliste, before we fall into sleep after 2 short nights. We get up again 11h later. It seems we needed this sleep badly. The next 3 days are reserved for Sight seeing. Of course, the terracotta army is at the top of our list. It is very Impressive to look at this army with it’s generals, officers and infantrymen in clay, as they stand there in rank and file, especially if one considers that they were built by the emperor of the Qin Dynastier over 2000 years ago. 2000 pieces have been restored since the accidental discovery by farmers who dug for water in 1974. The remaining 6000 pieces are not excavated yet. So far, no method has been found to preserve the color used to color the soldiers. More than 6 million people visit this attraction every year.
We stroll in what we consider to be a very touristy Muslim quarter. A lot of food is offered here, souvenir shops are lined up. We also visite the bazaar as well as the mosque.
O course we don’t want to miss the 13km long bike tour on the city wall of Xi'An. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take our own bikes, we have to make up with some rented bikes. For this short distance it is ok. The Wildgoose pagoda is also on the programme, including climbing the 11 levels.
Last but not least we use the time in Xi'An to get some food to take along and above all to buy a local SIM card. After all, we want to stay in touch with the rest of the world during our stay in China. The first attempt to buy a SIM card in a mobile phone shop fails. But we don't give up that easy. Thanks to maps.me we quickly find the nearest China Unicom office. The seller ris very service oriented and takes all the time needed to handle our request. He takes care of all formalities, makes copies of the passport, concludes the 4-month contract with us. The queue behind us is getting longer and longer, but the salesman does not let himself be stressed, although one or the other customer leaves the shop. When everything is done and we insert the SIM card into our 3rd mobile phone, which we had taken along, we get disappointed. We can only make phone calls with our mobile phone, we cannot download data. We have no other choice but to buy a Chinese mobile phone. After all, now we are prepared, everything works.
On Monday, April 23, the cycle routine starts again. As Markus and I like to say: “We are back at work”. As interesting as Xi'An was, we are happy to leave the city.