Today we woke up at 8:30am to go bike the Xi’an city walls. We had obtained a late 2pm check-out from the Sheraton Xi’an North City Hotel, so we planned to come back to the hotel, pack, and shower before checking out.
We took the metro down to the Yongning (South) Gate station, but then had lots of trouble figuring out how to actually access the city wall. We wandered for about 40 minutes before finally finding the ticket office for the city walls. Xi’an has certainly not been great with regards to English or intuitive signage. And since the South Gate is the most popular for tourists, it was really surprising that we had so many problems finding the city wall entrance from the metro station
We bought our city wall tickets (¥54/person) and then climbed the stairs up to the top of the wall. We walked clock-wise and quickly found one of the five bike rental booths on the wall. There are two booths at the South gate, and then one booth at the West, North, and East gates. We paid ¥45/bike for a 120 minute rental, and also left deposits of ¥200/bike. However, we found it comforting that if you happen to keep your bike longer than the 120 minute rental, it is just ¥5 for every additional 10 minutes. Do be careful to check your bikes before departing – the bike originally given to Katie had a weak rear brake and an un-adjustable seat while JT’s bike was just generally in poor shape.
Once we were happy with our bikes, we began riding clockwise on the wall. It was certainly a fun activity, but we wished we had brought more drinks, as the heat was high on the wall and the drinks for sale at the bike rental stores, vendor booths, and vending machines were all expensive. The ride was also extremely bumpy at points! But overall, we whole heartedly recommend it.
It took us 98 minutes to bike all the way around the wall at a comfortable pace and with stops at all four corners. However, we skipped climbing any of the towers and also passed over most of the informational signs (which were in both Chinese and English). We’d also recommend bringing some gloves for biking and a first aid kit with tape and bandaids, as Katie’s hands got pretty damaged by the rough grips on her handlebars.
We returned our bikes from the same booth we originally picked them up from (but it seems you could return them to other booths), and easily got our ¥200/bike deposits back. Then we walked to the Bell Tower metro (which is actually closer and easier than the Yongning (South) Gate stop), and took the metro back to our hotel.
Once back at the hotel, we attempted to extend our check-out until 3pm (since it was already 1:30pm) but we were denied. Hence, we hurried to our room and each quickly showered and packed. We got ourselves and our belongings barely back to the lobby by 2pm. Then, since we were both tired from the biking and JT from being sick, we decided to relax and work in the Sheraton Xi’an North City Hotel lobby until our night train. It was a good 3.5 hours of planning transit for Beijing and catching up on blogging for Katie!
JT went to print and scan one document at 4:45pm, and did not return until 5:30pm! This cut into our dinner time, but we still decided to go to Pizza Hut for another stuffed crust Hawaiin Pizza feast (¥143) before departing.
We knew we might be short on time, so we got the bill quickly and headed outside to try to find a taxi. After wandering a bit with no luck, we started to panic. We eventually walked back to the hotel and they tried to make us wait inside while they called a taxi. JT successfully conveyed that we had a train in 40 minutes, and the bell hop and concierge ran outside to help us find a ride. They quickly found us a motor-rickshaw, which the concierge told us would be ¥10, and we piled in with our big backpacks, day packs, computer pack, and robot heads. But then a heated conversation began between the driver and the concierge. Eventually we took off, and we just had to hope for the best. We wound through alleys and back streets, with the poor motor-rickshaw seeming likely to sputter to a stop at any moment. Katie dug out her phone to see how close we were on Google Maps, and was very happy to see that we were very close. The motor-rickshaw dropped us at the end of an alley and motioned for us to go through an underpass. We paid him ¥20 although he only asked for ¥10 since he got us there and our weight (between us and our baggage) probably damaged his vehicle.
We hurried through the underpass and realized we had just went under the train station. We waited in a long ID check line, and then got into an even longer security line with just 15 minutes left until our train departed. After watching many other people push their way ahead in line, we did the same by showing people our tickets to convey our urgency and apologize for cutting in line.
We finally got through security check, found our special `soft sleeper’ lounge and dedicated check-in, and ran through an underpass and back up at our track. We saw our Z20 (¥398.5 top and ¥415.5 bottom) direct Xi’an to Beijing West train sitting there, and were about 13 carriages away from ours. We had no idea what time it was, so we ran down the train towards our car. They would not let us board at an earlier carriage, so perhaps this meant we had enough time. Not wanting to chance it, we continued to run. We finally reached car 1 and boarded – sweaty, huffing, and puffing – with what ended up being about 3 minutes to spare!
After our previous overnight train car had all Chinese passengers, imagine our surprise at seeing multiple white people on our carriage! Katie was thrilled to arrive at our compartment – red faced and completely out of breath – to find an older Dutch couple. They were very nice, offering us water and fanning us to cool us down and friendly words. We ended up chatting with them on and off for the next couple hours.
They went to sleep around 10pm, and we followed suit shortly after.