Yesterday's trips out in the city ended with a rather wonderful dinner of dumplings and soup. Everyone had had a great couple of lazy days and with a week to go, conversation turned to "best meal of the trip", "worst meal of the trip" etc. It is starting to feel like the beginning of the end.
Still plenty to do though! Tintin and Deefor recced the cycling options yesterday and today at crack of dawn, nine of us were down at the South Gate for a ride.
The walls of the inner city date back to the 1300's and tower 40m over the buildings. The top is 15m wide and makes a perfect cycle track right round the heart of town. Hiring a mountain bike for 100 minutes just gives you time to do one lap of the 14km wall (or two of you are Chris ...) but you have to crack on if you take too many photo stops. (Thanks for the picture Nigel).
Xi'an is the Chinese end of the Silk Road and it was a moment to reflect as we stopped at the west gate and looked at the road down which so many caravans must have gone.
We were all glad to have started early. By 10:00 the sun was beating down and with high humidity 36C felt really hot. A quick visit to the Backpackers Hostel for fresh orange juice and milkshakes soon got us back in shape.
After lunch, a trip to the Muslim Quarter. With so much trade to the west there has been a local Muslim population here for centuries and the mosque was busy for midday prayers. It is a wonderful mixture of Islamic and Taoist temple design. The buildings are arranged along a centre line like a Chinese temple and have curved eaves and painted wood decoration but without any images of animals. Minarets are disguised as small pagodas but still blast out the call to prayer over loudspeakers. Chinese characters are replaced by cartouches in Arabic script and the last "temple" is a prayer hall facing west toward Mecca.