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Far East Youth Hostel

Friday, October 15th, 2004

East China.gif

The last time I was in China it was freezing cold in January 2003. The weather is fantastic this October day in 2004.

After slogging it out across Russia and Mongolia, we soak up creature comforts at the friendly Far East Youth Hostel located among the back alleyways of one of Beijing’s ancient hutongs where young backpackers pick the cheap dorm rooms next to the self-catering kitchen and laundry room in the basement and we, of course, choose a double room upstairs with all the Chinese tourists for about $25.

Downstairs is a “coffee bar” featuring a wide screen TV for viewing one of scores of dvd movies, three high speed internet terminals and a book case full of tattered novels and old travel guides.

Several tables of travelers share experiences and information…one with an Israeli guy trying to explain his country’s posture regarding Palestine to a couple of doubting Norwegians (Europe is generally pro-Palestine which is one reason the Europeans have trouble with the U.S.)

The compound includes a courtyard across the alley with a budget restaurant where I tried to order soy sauce in Mandarin (chiang yo) and got rice instead because of the tone I used.

On the back end of the courtyard are even cheaper dorms housing mostly young male West Europeans. After setting up the tiny computer speakers and coffee pot we step outside the doors of the cozy hostel and find ourselves dodging old men on bicycles between humming dumpling shops and cheap clothing stores blasting Chinese hip-hop and techno. At dinner we laugh at the English menu…among the choices are “Hot Pot of Old Duck With Chinese Medicine” and “Soup Of The Ox Reproductive Organs.” This is as good as it gets. If home is where the soul likes to be…I am there…at least for now.

And then…Bob packed up…and left.

Last Leg Through Mongolia

Thursday, October 14th, 2004


Out of the train window, just before departure from Ulaan Bataar to Beijing on the last leg of our trans-siberian train trip, we watch about 30 Mongolians…brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents and who knows who else on the platform wave a tearful goodbye to three girls waving back at them. Bob and I chuckle and agree that we would be lucky if we could muster up just one person to see us off anywhere these days. Nearby, an older woman is waving goodbye to…husband…father…uncle? She takes a spoon and throws what I later find out is milk-tea at the train that just ends up staining the platform white…finally throwing what was left of the empty bottle and then tossing it over the fence behind her…for “safety and good travels.”.

Our companions in our cabin for our day and a half train ride through the moon-faced Gobi desert are a slim good-lucking Mongolian guy, Khurelsukh, (“I am 23 years”) and a Chinese man fluent in Mongolian. Khurelsukh has a sweet girlfriend (Saraa) in another cabin, however, who ends up joining us for most of the trip…snuggling together for the night on one of the bottom bunks we give up to them. He was born in Russia when his parents were engineering students there. He is still a student in the university in Ulaan Bataar but says he is going to Beijing on business to see about “lingua techna” machines to use for teaching languages. Saraa’s mother is a teacher and is advising him, I think I understand. I also think, however, that this trip to Beijing over the weekend is going to be much more…”you will go to discos, I ask.” He grins broadly and says “yes!”

“Mongolians don’t like Chinese,” he says later out of earshot of the still-unnamed Chinese guy.

When the train nears Beijing we all pile out to get our first glimpses of the remnants of the Great Wall and take pictures. Back on board Khurelsukh asks us why we think the wall was built…”to keep out the Mongolians,” we exclaim…watching for his reaction. “Yes, to keep out the Mongolians,” he says with a glint in his eye…probably wondering if we get the irony.

Reflections on the Steppe

Tuesday, October 12th, 2004
GyTjn0QZP9l6Qu21TubskM-2006198062551304.gif We are lucky...days are brisk but sunny...the sun glints off bare hills covered in golden fall grass. This feels like fall in southeast Oregon where I grew up. I soak it all in ... [Continue reading this entry]

Message from Ulaan Bataar

Saturday, October 9th, 2004
GyTjn0QZP9l6Qu21TubskM-2006198062551304.gif Greetings- Have been in Mongolia for the past week--initial few days in a ger bordering on a national park--lazy, relaxing days with hiking and Mongolian pony riding (when on the horse my feet nearly reach ... [Continue reading this entry]

Lingering Images of Russia

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Siberian countryside with endless kilometers of grassland and golden pine and white birch trees... small wooden, weathered, unpainted, picturesque, single story bungalows throughout Sibera with blue painted shutters-the banya (toilet and shower) in ... [Continue reading this entry]

Grueling Border Wait

Friday, October 1st, 2004
The wait at the Russian-Mongolian border is a grueling 5-6 hour wait for customs to go through each carriage and take our passports, return to the office to fill out forms and then return with our passports. Olga takes ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Tajik and Olga

Thursday, September 30th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The Tajik and Olga In Irkutsk, when we find our seats on the train to Ulaan Baatar, we find a good-looking 40 year old Muslim man from Tajikistan in our cabin. He has studied ... [Continue reading this entry]

Queuing In Russia

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004
Urr0g6ZfQ7ttYL19duYJfg-2006170133924757.gif Back in Irkutsk we watch women walking swiftly always carrying a plastic shopping sack or two (ovoiska from the Russian 'ovois' meaning 'just in case') of varying brands that have to be purchased)...a hold-over ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hiking Olkhon Island

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004
Urr0g6ZfQ7ttYL19duYJfg-2006170133924757.gif Back at Nikita's "resort" I spend half a day taking care of monkey business while Bob goes hiking around the island. It is the end of September but Siberia lives up to it's ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hanging Out On Olkhon Island

Sunday, September 26th, 2004
Urr0g6ZfQ7ttYL19duYJfg-2006170133924757.gif After hanging out a couple days...glad to be off the train...Gregory, a former University teacher of German, drove Bob and I, three Germans and a Pole on a half-day excursion to the north of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Five Hours to Olkhon Island

Saturday, September 25th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The next morning we are picked up at our homestay in Irkutsk by a sullen driver who drives us five hours over pot-holes, through the taiga and across a bay of the beautiful blue ... [Continue reading this entry]

Irkutsk…”Paris of the East”

Friday, September 24th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Off the train again, we dump our luggage at Nadia's, our homestay and look for a cafe where there just might be an English menu. We find one...not too expensive...that looks full of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Goodbye to Vladamir

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
Vladamir makes crying motions with his fingers running down his cheeks as we prepare to leave him on the train. Astrakhan in 2--5 he writes on a piece of paper...Astrakhan in 2005 we say to him as he helps ... [Continue reading this entry]

To Irkutsk With Vladamir

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The evening we are to leave Yekaterinburg on the train, Bob loses his change purse containing a credit card getting out of a mini-bus. Olga's son drives us in his car to the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hot Train Carriages

Monday, September 20th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Most carriages are of East German origin solidly built and warm in winter. Each carriage is staffed by an attendant whose "den" is a compartment at the end of the carriage. She ... [Continue reading this entry]


Sunday, September 19th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Yekaterinburg is most famous, however, as the place where Tsar Nicholas II and his wife and five children were murdered by the Bolsheviks in July 1918. Having seen where the bodies were interred ... [Continue reading this entry]

Falling Out of Bed in Yekaterinburg

Sunday, September 19th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif This autumn of 2004, our second time around the world, our train wanders through a rolling fairy-tale landscape in Siberia filled with gentle grassland (steppes) and Birch trees (the forest is called taiga) with ... [Continue reading this entry]

To Siberia & Lake Baikal

Saturday, September 18th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Video We boarded a Moscow train at midnight. We are headed across Russia on the trans-siberian train system. However we will be breaking up the trip by getting off in Yekaterinburg and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Free-Wheeling Moscow

Saturday, September 18th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif Video 2004-09 Like in the big Central European cities we visited, there are cranes everywhere... old soviet buildings built during the Stalin era are scheduled to be razed and new one modern ones put up. ... [Continue reading this entry]

St. Petersburg Homestay

Monday, September 6th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif A Homestay has been arranged for us by our tour company, White Knights, with Elena who lives in (and owns) a 3 room very cluttered flat four flights up in a poorly maintained government ... [Continue reading this entry]