29th of August
In the morning we met with Masha, our tourguide who introduced us to Kevin, a local tourguide that took us to the Forbidden City and Tianamen Square. Kevin was very carefully selecting his words when he introduced us to Tianamen square and adviced us to not take pictures of soldiers and not use our cameras if a policemen would “re-educate” someone.But he asured us that that would happen rarley anymore. Tianamen Square is enourmes in sice and used for official ceremonies by he political partie. it is also home of Maos tomb and people que up for up to two hours to see the upper part of his torso. Only two other leaders are preseved and displayed in a similar way, Ho Chi Min in Vietnam and Lenin in Moscow. The forbidden city once was home for the king, this family and many many concubines (one king had up to 3.000 concubines. Most of them would be given as presents to the king by leaders of local tribes etc. The forbidden city has more then 9.000 bedrooms and it sure must have been a logistic nightmare to keep that giant palace afloat. Most of the interior is gone, and was taken to Taiwan, where it is in a Museum, but of course the buildings remaind and are an impressive testemonial to the once great king. The last king actually became a gardener after he was overthrown by the communists. After a nice lunch at a cafe near the palace a small group of us walked back to the hotel, which was a proper hike of about 50 minutes, but Bejing is very easy to navigate as it has a similar layout like most American cities. In the afternoon I went for the pearlmarket and Allen helped me bargain for watch. that I went to the palace of heaven and wonderd around the park for a bit, before heading back to the hotel and joining the group for a acrobatic show and a nice dinner at a local tea house.
30th of August
I had to get up early to see the Great Wall, a good 1,5 hour drive away. The weather was very cloudy, which created a mystical atmosphere, but blue sky would have been just have fine. I and a fewllow group member did a fair walk on the wall and actually managed to visit about 8 watch towers. After our return to Bejing I tried to visit Chairman Maos Mausoleum, but that lazy bastard is lying in this coffing 24/7 and still only works about two hours a day – from 10 am till 12 am and he even gets monday off! Well, since Mao did not want to see me I hoped back on the underground and for two yuan I was on my way to the Olympic Center. Its a vast area and the stadium really is an impressive sight. After that I joined Allan and Michelle for the food market, but after beeing offerd scorpions (alive on a stick alive before beeing deep fried) and snakes and all sorts of insects for dinner we eventuella ended up at a korean restaurant for a decent meal.
31th of August
To catch the Trans Mongolian we had to get up early and meet at the lobby of the hotel. Fortunatley our hotel was located just across the trainstation so we just took our bags and walked over. After sitting around in the waiting hall it was finally time to board the train. The train adventure was about to start. The chinese carriages are basic, but since beds where and even the meals at the restauraned turned out alright – meatballs and vegtables for lunch and chicken for dinner. On the train there is not much to do but talk to fellow travellers, have a few beers or even hand over 45 yuan for some chinese white wine called “the great wall”…
1st of September
We arrived in Ulaan Baator in the early afternoon and where greeted by Julia, our tour leader that would stay with us all the way to St. Petersburg. She gave us a little tour around the city and as we walked down the street I had my first attempt of pickpocketing as someone tried to grab stuff from my backpack while walking. It would later happen again as I walked into the postoffice an got stuck in the revolving door with a young kid, who sneeked into the with me. Unfortunatly for him the door got stuck and I turned around just to see him when he had his hands in my backpack. I gave him an angry look and he disapeard quickly after we finally made it out of the door. At night we met Mosho and Julia again.
2nd of september,
In the morning we visited the Gandan Khiid Monestary, home of a giant Buddha statue (about 26,5 meters high). There are many monks around the compound, praying for what every you pay them for. Religion, especally buddism is on the rise again after it had been oppresed by the Russians for a good portion of the past century. It was a little bit odd seeing a lot of the monks, praying and at the same time checking there phone. I think I even saw one monk, using his brand new Android phone to check facebook. Not the kind of Buddist monk one would expect. Compared to China, Mongolia is well developed in terms of internet access. Lots of places have free Wlan and Facebook and other services are not blocked. After the Monestary we headed for the Winter Palce, which was used by the last King of Mongolia, Jebtzun Damba Hutagt VIII (what a name). The stuffed animals the king collected have seen better times, but in all it was a very interresting place and slightly different to the European castles I’ve been too.
We conclued the guided tour at a monument for the Russian soldiers who fought along the Mongolian Army when Japan tried to invade the country. At night we went to a Monolian BBQ, and visted the sky bar on the 17th floor for a cocktail and watch Asian business men entertain themself with a flock of cute looking girls. The scene could have been right out of a James Bond movie…
3nd of September.
In the morning we headed out of Ulaan Baator and into the Terelj Natinal Park to stay at a Ger Camp. Along the way we stopped a few times to have a look at camels. In 2006 a giant Ghengis Kaahn monument made of stainless steel was constructed to attract tourists. Fortunatley for us, mass tourism has not yet kicked in and there where only a few other busses at the place. But in a few years time this could be a hot spot on the map of many tours, as there are also plans underway to build a ger camp with around 200 tents around the statue among a few other attractions for a so called Ghenigs Kaahn amusement park. In the early afternoon we arrived at the Ger Camp where we had lunch and went for a little horse riding tour to the Turtle Rock. I and two other travellers witnesses the slaughter of a sheep there. The sheep was fighting the guy who was dragging it close to a tent. There, three men put the sheep on its back, and one of them made a cut to the sheeps abdoman and but his hand right into the sheep, most likley reaching for the heart and killing the sheep. The scene was not gruesome the three men then blessed the sheep before it was prepared for dinner. We did not stay for that long and headed back to our camp where we joined our fellow travellers inside one of the tents for a few drinks next to a cosy fire place, as it gets very cold at night. The day finally concluded with me, Allan and Jenna sitting outside our tent and having a cigar while looking at the stars .
4th of september
Before we headed back to town we tried our luck with a mongolian bow and arrow. I spent the rest of the day walking around Ulaan Baatar, sending of some postcards and stocking up on Vodka and food for the trainride to Russia. In the evening we boarded the train to Irkutks. Our group shared the carriage with three other companys, Vodkatrain, Intrepid and Sundowners mostly Australians and Kiwis, but also a few Germans. A few Vodkas with the my fellow “Vodkatrain” companions resulted in an early night and a good sleep.
5th of september,
In the morning we arrived at the border, of Mongolia, where Toiliets are 150 Turiks and nothing muc going on except waiting for the passport to be processed. We had a couple of hours on the russian side as well, which we used to walk around the border town and have a little lunch and stock up on some food. I bought some caviar and bread to celebrate my arrival in Russia and shared it with my fellow travellers the same night. Around 11 the train arrived in Ulaan Ude where most of the passengers got of the train and only our group continued on to Irkutsk. Unfortunatly going around the lake at night also meant that we would not get to see the lake along the tracks.
6th of september
Arrival around 8 am in the morning, short stop at the hotel, bus to Listvayanka and stay at private home with an elderly couple, the landlady prepared a fantastic breakfast with nice pancakes. After that we met at the lake Baikal Museum for a guided tour and finally walked for about 40 minutes to the center of the city where we had a late afternoon lunch at a local market. I even got a taste of hot smoked Omul there, a really tasty fish from the Baikal lake which kinda tastes like salmon.
Around 4:30 we went to local celebrity, Nikolai, who runs a Banja (Russian Sauna) and the B&B Baikal Dream. After three rounds in the sauna, every time beeing wiped with a branch of birch we headed back to our host and got dinner. In the evening we visited the Lake Baikal hotel close to our apartement and had drinks there. September seems to be already off season as we where the only guests at the bar.