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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Update

7/10/12 - I made it home OK.  I am back at work now.  I posted some additional days from my time in China.  I will update all posts with photos very soon.  China completely block access to all blogs.  I was not even able to send mail from there.

7/5/12 - Today was our final day in UB.  Tomorrow we leave for Beijing.  I am told gmail, blogs, and facebook are completely inaccessible from China.  So this will probably be my last post before I get home.

7/4/12 - Happy birthday USA.  I am celebrating it by spending a night in a Mongolian Yurt.

7/3/12 - We're in Ulaanbaatar.  Great internet connection today.  We're off to explore for the day.

7/1/12 - We're back in Irkutsk.  This is first decent internet connection we've had the whole trip.  New daily post and I added photos to previous days.  God bless!

6/30/12 - The hotel is still having internet issues.  I am behind the reception desk again.  I hope it will work tonight so that I can post some pictures.  God bless!

6/29/12 - Greetings from Lake Baikal in Sibera.  The hotel is having internet connection problems.  I am writing this from behind the reception desk.  They tell me it will be fixed tomorrow.  Sorry no updates today.  We are having a wonderful time.  God bless!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Flight Home


Some final thoughts.  Our tour guide for the trip was absolutely fantastic.  I don't get how he can do this 11 months out of the year.  The whole trip went incredibly smoothly.  Most of our tour group was Slovak.  That made it a bit challenging for me to understand.  We had a wonderful group and we were never short on laughter.

Our plane was left the gate at Beijing on time, but we were late getting out.  Then once we were first in line to take off, someone decided to get up and use the bathroom.  Airline policy forced us to get out of line, we lost our place and had to get back in line.  By the time we took off I had already spent 2 hours on the ground in the plane in Beijing, before starting our 10 hour and 30 minute flight.  My only real concern was catching my plane in Seattle back to Denver.  I ran through customs as quickly as I could, rechecked my baggage, took two trains to get to different gates, got my new boarding pass, and boarded the plane in less than an hour.  We'll see if my luggage made it.

With this my vacation is over and with this final flight home it completes a trip around the world in two and a half weeks.  A good portion of which was traveled on the the surface and not in the air.  I must say this was an epic trip.  Tiring but satisfying.  Now a need a rest to recover from my vacation, but I go back to work tomorrow morning.  I am so thankful that I was able to take this trip with my wonderful parents.  I truly enjoy traveling with my parents!  I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beijing Day 2


Today is our final day, but by no means is it a day to relax.  Once again we set out early to beat the crowds.  Our first stop of the day was the Great Wall of China.  My goal was to hike as much of the wall as I could.  Because of the fog an the haze none of the conditions for photos was far less than ideal.  As I started out the mass of people climbing was shoulder to shoulder, at time you were practically climbing over people.  The climb is quite steep and people stopping and sitting on the steps to catch their breath and rest just thickens the people traffic jam.  Fortunately after the first two towers a lot of people think twice and go no further.  At this point the climb was still steep and taxing, but you had more room.  I continued for about an hour and made it to the final tower you were allow to go to.
Great Wall of China from tower #13
By the time I got there my shirt was literally drenched.  Fortunately I had a larger bottle of water with me.  All along the way Chinese people were stopping me so that they could take a picture with me.  Our guide told us that for many of them we could be the first white person they have seen.  I kinda felt like a celebrity.  I was happy to pose with them.  At the final tower I climbed to the top of the guard tower and there was a large group of Chinese students singing and enjoying themselves.  There joy was contagious.  I'm not saying life in China is easy but by far the happiest people I've encountered along this entire trip are the Chinese.  After a short stay at the top I started the trek down.  I was slick but pretty easy going until you run into the human mass now mostly going in the opposite direction.  I always though that the wall was to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.  In reality the wall never really accomplished that or did it stop Mongol invaders.  The mountains the wall is built over is far more of an obstacle than the wall itself.  I think that is what made it so impressive for me.  It was an exhausting climb but absolutely work it.  I just can't imaging doing this on a sunny day with the temperature at 100F and above.

Afterward we went to a factory where they make jade carvings.  In Chinese culture jade is a very prized material.  In the past it was valued more than gold.  I bought myself a small jade article.

Our final stop of the day was the Forbidden City.  I think I was looking forward to this the most and it certainly did not disappoint.  I was stunned by how large a complex it is.  The Forbidden City dates back to about the 13th century and was the home of the emperor.  You stand in the center of one grand court yard amazed by what you see around you.  The buildings are just amazing.
One of the palaces in the Forbidden City
Just when you think you've absorbed as much as you can you pass through a gate, at the far end, and on the other side is a new courtyard that is even more amazing.  And this pattern repeats itself several times over.  Once again the foggy conditions were not good for taking photos.  The haze would already start to obscure the opposite side of the courtyard.  This definitely rates towards the top for truly amazing things I've seen!

Just when I though my exotic food tasting was done I had one more interesting sampling.  We had donkey as one of our entrees for dinner.  My mom and I took a short walk around the hotel to spend our final final bit of Chinese money.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Train day 7 and Beijing Day 1


Ever since the night in the yurt I've had a some sort of a pinched muscle in my neck and I haven't gotten a good nights rest since.  Interior China looks pretty much like I expected.  It is a foggy morning and the surroundings are very hilly.  I don't remember going through any tunnels in Russia or in Mongolia, but in China we've already gone through at least 25.  There is no question China is densely populated.  Mongolia has 2.5 million people while China has well over 1 billion.  In Datong we changed from our diesel-electric engine back to an electric-driven locomotive. The hilly terrain gave gave way to flat land and agriculture.  All along the way you could see shanty towns where the locals lived and high rise housing in the back ground.  As we approached Beijing the surroundings change to very mountainous.  The train carved its way through deep valleys.  With our arrival to Beijing our train journey was over.

The mass of people leaving the train station was amazing.  It was muggy and hazy.  I think that is a blessing because this humidity with the full power of the sun would be quite unbearable.  This city is truly a megalopolis.
House before Beijing
The city is 17 million people large, following Shanghai as the largest city in China.  I don't now to express how large this city is...suffice it to say it is ginormous.  After a short stop in the hotel to de-sticky-fy our selves, we left to go into the city.  We were sticky and sweaty again in a matter of moments.  We walked to dinner and ate at a nice Chinese restaurant.  The food was fantastic.  Then we boarded a city bus and went to Tienanmen square.  Tienanmen square sits right in front of the forbidden city, but we will see that tomorrow.  The forbidden city used to extend all the way out and actually covered what is now Tienanmen square.  After that we went to the Wangfujing shopping district.  At the end of the pedestrian area to the left there is a street with all sorts of exotic foods.  This is what I was looking for.  I sampled fried scorpion and cricket, and dog.  My exotic culinary samplings are now fulfilled.  Now I'm off to bed and tomorrow is my final day.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Train day 6


This day started with a 7:15 am departure from Ulaanbaatar.  Today's post will be kind of scant on details.  There simply is not that much going on.  We are on a Chinese train with no A/C.  It is almost the same type as our previous East German wagon car.  We are headed south on the final leg to Beijing, China.  This leg will take us through the Gobi desert.
Camels in the Gobi Dessert
It looks a lot like the southwestern corner of the US.  The crossing into China was memorable.  As we pulled into the Chinese border station the Chinese anthem was playing and soldiers lined the track standing at attention.

Just before I left for this trip I stopped by my local christian book store to pick up some reading material.  Those of you who know me, know I don't care too much for fiction.  There are enough amazing true stories in this world I don't care to occupy myself with make believe.  For this trip I chose the book “Kisses from Katie”.  I had the privilege of meeting Katie two years ago in Uganda.  What struck me the most about her was her age.  When I met her, she was 20 and had adopted 14 orphaned Ugandan girls.  She entered the mission field at the age of 18.  What an amazing story of hearing and obeying God's calling for her life.  I spend a lot of time with students because God has called me to student ministry.  I couldn't help but compare her life to the young people I know.  I asked myself if I could envision one our students doing what she is doing.  Sadly I could not honestly answer that positively.  This is my fault and a completely wrong outlook.  I should never underestimate what God can do in the life of any student (or in my life).  I need to look at every student with the potential God gives them and then do everything in my ability to help cultivate and encourage that potential.  This book exemplifies that nothing is too big of a sacrifice in comparison to listening to God's calling.  This is an absolute fantastic read and truly amazing story.  I encourage all of you to pick up a copy and read about the amazing things that are happening through Katie and in Uganda.

Today and tomorrow's train stops include:

Chojr: 152 miles (245 km) - The Chojr station has a statue of VVT Ertvuntz, the first Mongolian cosmonaut. The town was an airbase during the Soviet period. Chojr is right in the middle of the Gobi Desert.  This was my last step on Mongolia soil.

Dzamin Ude: 441 miles (709 km) - This is the Mongolian border with China.  While confined to the train I waved at a small boy and girl.  They laughed at me and were excited I responded.  It always amazes me to think that our two lives intersect at this single instant.  It was a fantasticle moment.

Erlyan’ (China) - This is the boarder town in China.  The train cars in Russia and Mongolia run on a wide gauge rail, the same as in the US.  In China they run on a narrower gage, like in Europe.  We will not be changing train cars.  At the boarder we pulled into a long building and they lifted all the train cars and changed the wheel carriage bogies to the narrower gage.  During the border crossing we are not permitted to exit the car until the last half hour.  The entire event took about 5 hours.

Datong (China): 733 miles (1180 km) - This is a large industrial city with a population of over 2 million. The city is known as an industrial center and is home to numerous coal mines. One of the main attractions is a group of Buddhist cave temples – Yungang Grottoes.

BEIJING  (China): 964 miles (1551 km) - Beijing is the capital of China.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yurt camp and UB day 3


Now I can say I've spent a night in a Mongolian yurt.  I had a restless night...I think my pillow was too small.  I'm not complaining.  It all makes me thankful that I have a bed to lie down into every night.  We woke up to a beautiful morning.  I climbed out of our yurt, hit my head on the door frame again, and the first thing I saw was a camel grazing near our abode.
Grazing Camel
I got my camera and took a few pictures.  Our camp sight was very nice, we had good facilities and excellent food.  After breakfast we took off for about a 50 minute nature hike.  We went over a small saddle back to the other side of the hill.  The view was spectacular.  Once we caught up with the rest of the group, we found a souvenir yurt and I made all my gift purchases there.  After that we all went a little further to a Buddhist monastery located on the side of a small mountain.
Buddhist Monastery
It was a little hike and a bunch of stairs.  As you approached the monastery you passed 150 signs with Buddhist sayings of wisdom.  On the mountain side as you there were symbols painted on to the cliff walls.  As you looked off into the distance you could see the valleys had a beautiful “U” shape to them.  They were formed by ancient glaciers.  The monastery itself was simple but charming.

On our way back to UB we encountered some grazing yaks.  The locals refer to Ulaanbaatar as UB.  By the time we got back we were all pretty hungry, so we stopped at another Mongolian barbeque place.  This one did not put on a show, but the food was still great.  My culinary excursion today was horse meat.  To be honest it tasted just fine.  If you had the buffet they had a tray with a goats head on it.

I still had a lot of cars to give away from “Toys for God's kids”.  We asked out tour guide where we could find a lot of children and she sent us to an amusement park.  We gave a few cars away there, but we knew a better spot.  Our hotel is located in a residential complex.  Right next door to us is a playground.  We went there and gave away the remainder of the toy cars.  To see the happy and thankful faces of the children was a blessing.  Kids are the same wherever you go.

We were able to do a little exploring on our own at the end of the day.  We were all hot and sweaty.  Our day only had a couple of activities but we didn't stop all day.  Tomorrow we get up early again and start the final leg of the train journey.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mongolia day 2


Yesterday I forgot to mention that I held an eagle on my arm at one of our stops.  What a majestic bird, but if it turned on me it would have torn me apart.

Today was another day we were on the move.  We left Ulaanbaatar and headed north.  Our first stop was the Gokturk Inscriptions.  The pillars memorialize the Gokturk Empires reach into Asia between 552-745.  The monuments were erected to leave their history and culture for following generations.  It just reminds me that every worldly empire eventually falls.

Following that we went and saw the world's biggest statue of Genghis Khan which also is the worlds largest statue with a horse.  It is over 100 feet tall.
World's largest statue of Genghis Khan.
Like I mentioned yesterday the Mongols are very proud of Genghis Khan and this statue exemplifies that.  I guess you could say it is the like the Statue of Liberty for Mongolia, but if we put it put it in the middle of Wyoming so that no one would see it.  But I enjoyed it very much.

Lastly we went to Tereljh National Park which is situated in a mountain valley.  To get there we passed Ovoo.  This is a pile of stones built as a landmark for worship near the mountain pass.  We are spending the night at a camp in the park.  Our accommodations are a simple yurt.  OK...it's a little more than just basic...we have a concrete floor, a light bulb, and a single outlet.
Our yurt.
So I am sitting here writing my post in a cross of two worlds.  On one hand I am in a dwelling that has been around for  centuries and on the other hand I am using modern technology to write about.  I can hear the rain drops gently falling on the roof.  A yurt is nomadic dwelling.  It can be torn down, moved, and re-erected in a short amount of time.  It only takes about 2 hours to set one up.  It is not made for tall people, I've already hit my head twice on the door frame while exiting.  Inside is quite comfortable.  We do have a small stove, but it is not that cold yet.  I can't imagine what it is like in a yurt in the middle of winter.  This is a very cold country, in fact Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital in the world.  The Siberian winds blow across the barren land.

I got to try my had at archery with a typical Mongolian bow.  I was also able to go horse back riding on a Mongolian horse.  They are smaller than European horses, but they are more hardy because they are used for everything.
Little Mongolian girl.
Horses were a great commodity for the Mongolian empire and still today they play an important role in existence here.

Today's excursion into exotic culinary samplings was Kumis.  Kumis is fermented horse milk.  It had a sour, bubbly, gamie, yogurt like taste.  It was worth trying but I'll stick to kefir.  I still hope to try horse meat.

Well good night from the middle of nowhere.  God bless!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ulaanbaatar day 1


We arrived early this morning to Ulaanbaatar to a sunny day.  We gathered all of our belongings and boarded a bus to the hotel.  Fortunately we were able to check in early.  I really needed a shower after the hot box at the border on the train.

Once I was refreshed we headed to the center of town to the parlement building.  It is a beautiful imposing building with a sitting statue of Genghis Khan guarding the entrance.
Parlement building in Ulaanbaatar.
Genghis Khan is a national symbol for them.  He ruled over the Mongolian empire and was responsible for overtaking much of Asia and reaching into Europe.  He is on the money, on statues, on building, and just about everywhere you look.  Then we went to a Buddhist temple and learned a bit about their customs and beliefs.  Afterward we went to the natural history museum.  Ulaanbaatar has the second largest dinosaur fossil collection on display, following only Beijing.  Most dinosaur fossils you see on display in museums are fiber glass replicas.  The displays pushed the typical evolutionist agenda.  Yes, I do believe dinosaurs existed, just not pseudo-science that goes with it.  The stop was still well worth taking the time to see it.

Then for lunch we had Mongolian barbeque.  This is something I was looking forward to, and it did not disappoint.  It was a lot of show...with fire, flying food, noise and presentation to go with it.  I sampled as much as I could without overeating and it was scrumptious!  We were able to do a little shopping today.  Then we went to a overlook of the city, to a monument showing the countries history, and a large Buddha statue.

After a quick refresher back at the hotel we went to Mongolian theater.  There we were treated to traditional music, dance, and acrobatics.
Contortionists
The throat singing is quit spectacular.  The whole thing was very entertaining.  We capped off the evening by going to a Czech restaurant right in the heart of the city.  Overall Ulaanbaatar impressed me very much!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Train day 4 and early a.m. arrival to Ulaanbaatar on day 5

Yesterday was the first decent internet connection I've had since the start of this trip.  I was able to update the blog with some pictures and daily news, but I didn't want to spend all my time at the computer wasting time on the internet.  We went to bed early because we knew we had an early morning.

We got up at 2:45am for a 3:30 departure to the train station.  At the train station we switched back to Moscow time. We boarded our Mongolian train and started the second leg of the train trip.  We got settled in our cabin and went right back to sleep. I caught a needed additional 4 hours of sleep.  I woke up to see us running parallel to the shore of Lake Baikal.  The Mongolian train is 23 years old and was built in the former East Germany.  It is a lot more basic than our Russian train, but sufficient.  I can certainly envision it being much worse.  Our guide said that our Russian train was the best he's been on, and this is the 10th time he is making this trip.  The Russian train was electric-driven when this train is diesel-electric.  When you flush the toilet you can see the flap open and spill the contents on the track below.

Looking out the window the view is not that different from western slope in Colorado and the western US.  There are rolling plains surrounded by pine forests.  The further south we head the warmer it gets and the more it starts to look like Utah.  The Trans-Mongolian express follows an ancient tea-caravan route from China to Russia through Ulan Bataar and further on to Europe.  The country of Mongolia was established, with the help of Stalin, as a buffer between China and Russia.  He feared an invasion from China.

In one of my blog posts back in 2010, as I visited Uganda, I mentioned an organization located in Denver called Toys for God's kids.  Click here to see a video about this organization.  This trip they supplied me with 100 toy cars to give away to children while on the trip.  I was able to give a few more cars away today on the train to a couple of Buryat children.  They seemed very reluctant and hesitant to accept anything, even when I told them it was a gift.  I managed to capture a few shots before I was asked not to.
Little Buryat Girl with a toy car.
Our final stop in Russia is in the town of Naushkki.  We were fortunate to be able to leave the train for 90 minutes, but afterward we had to re-board the train and spend an additional 90 minutes on the train to complete immigration and customs.  Then we crossed to boarder into Mongolia and went through immigration and customs again in Sukhbaatar, there we were not allow to disembark.  This took approximately another 2 hours.  The time we were condemned to the train was like being in a sauna, but we made the transition.  Huzzah.

Today's stops include:

Ulan-Ude: 3485 miles (5609 km); 3d 12h 20min. - founded in 1666, is a capital of the Buryt Autonomous Republic, which in the 13 - 17th centuries was a part of the vast Mongolian Empire.

Ulaanbaatar:  3736 miles (6013 km) - This is the capital of Mongolia which was founded in 1639 and was often moved along the Selenga river through Orhon and Tuul until it gained its present location. The city is strategically located on the great tea route between China, Russia and Europe.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Baikal & Irkutsk Day 3


After another very restful night we prepared to say goodbye to Baikal.  Today is by far the nicest weather we've have.  The haziness around the lake started to lift and an the sky had a beautiful blue hue.  We boarded our bus and started to head back to Irkutsk.  On the way back we stopped at a historic reconstruction of a Cossack village, picture the movie “Dr. Zhivago”.  The Cossacks are of European descent.  Their religious beliefs are Orthodox Christianity.  The local people of Asian decent are the Buryat.  The Buryat religious beliefs stem from Buddhism and Shamanism.  So there is a mix of cultures here.  As we head south in our journey we will encounter more and more of the later religious beliefs.

In the early afternoon we made our way to our Hotel in Irkutsk.  It is nice to have a toilet again were you are allowed to flush the toilet paper rather than having to toss it into a bin.  But this will end soon.  We were warned that the Mongolian train may have squatty potties.  Taking care of business on a moving train might be kind of interesting.

After settling in we had a small second tour through town.  Then we were free to roam on our own.  We stumbled upon a group of Russian Folk singers at a ethnographic documentary film festival award presentation ceremony.  It was in a typical Russian style.  I will post a video later.
Traditional folk dancers.
We have a short night tonight.  We are going to bed early, because we have to wake up at 3:00am to get ready to leave for the train station.  Tomorrow is another train travel day.  We will leave Irkutsk and head towards Ulaan Ude, and the following morning we will arrive at the Mongolian border.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Baikal Day 2

We were awakened from our deep slumber at about 1:30 am by students celebrating their graduation from school.  There was a lot of noise, fireworks, and festivities.  It was a enjoyable to be able to see the local people enjoying themselves.  So often throughout this trip we have seem gloomy faces.

Today I learned the town down by Lake Baikal is called Listvyanka.  We started the day by walking up the hill from our hotel to a local ski resort.  Not very large at all compared to Colorado standards, they only have one lift.  We took the chairlift to the top of the hill and went to a spot that overlooks Listvyanka and Lake Baikal.  This was a very scenic location.  There are many trees that look very similar to Aspens.  Many of the trees branches were covered with hundreds of ribbons.  Shamanism and Buddhism are common beliefs here.  Each ribbon is a prayer, and the belief is that as the wind blows through the ribbons the people's prayers are carried heavenward.  These beliefs were carried here from Mongolia and from southern regions.

In the early afternoon we went to the port in town and boarded a ship for a three hour cruise...the weather started getting rough...the tiny ship was tossed...if not for the courage of the fearless crew the minnow would be lost...sorry about that I just got carried away in the moment.  We took the ship to the south and actually went ashore for a little walk.  The shoreline drops off almost like a cliff to several thousand feet so the boat can ride up all the way to the shoreline.  It was a pleasant little excursion.

We we got back to Listvyanka we stopped for lunch and I had pork-kabobs and something like naan bread.  The local people here look a lot more Asian than European.  We are actually pretty close to the Mongolian boarder.  The faces and religious practices here are starting to be more eastern in origin.

Since today is Saturday the town of Listvyanka was busy and full of commotion.  The locals from Irkutsk come here for a nice weekend away from town.  They can relax at the “beach” and have a picnic, because “warm” is relative.

Afterward we went to a local museum about Baikal.  We learned a lot about the region, the lake, and the local wildlife (above and below the water).  We are in a seismic hot spot.  That is the reason for the lakes great depth.  They had a couple live Baikal fresh water seals in an aquarium.

Today I found out that my mom will video tape anything...including a dead fly among other things.  In the evening my dad and I went out on the balcony overlooking the lake.  We had a couple ice cold cokes and talked for a long time.  We are having a wonderful time.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Irkutsk & Baikal Day 1

The entire time on the train we were living on Moscow time.  The train schedule across the entire country is always governed by Moscow time.  Our final night on the train we had to go to bed early to try to get 5 hours back.

Now that we are off the train we are running on local time and have a full day ahead of us.  We took a small tour of Irkutsk.  The city is located on the Angara River and was originally a tax collection outpost for local fur trappers.  It was founded by Russians in 1652 as a major fort beyond the Ural Mountains, it was populated by exiled political prisoners sent by the tsars and communists.  For many being sent to Irkutsk was as good as a death sentence.  Now I get to experience it without the fear associated with that name.  We took a tour of the old part of town and saw dilapidated homes that existed through these dark times.
Afterward we took a bus to Lake Baikal about 37 miles east of Irkutsk.  Lake Baikal is the largest single body of fresh water in the world.  It is about 400 miles long and at it's deepest it is about 1 mile deep.  During the winter the lake is frozen over with about 10-12 feet of ice.  The water, when it's not frozen, is quite cold .  Today was a hazy cool day but for the locals is was a beach day.  We took a walk through the old historic part of town

There is a particular type of fish that is only found in this lake and now where else in the world.  I was able to sample a smoked piece of it today.  Not to bad but a little too fishy tasting for me.  I did have a lamb-kabob for lunch that was fantastic!

The hotel we are staying at is having internet issues, so I don't know when I'll be able to make make first batch of postings.  I am hoping I can do this in the morning.  God bless & good night!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Train Day 3 and early a.m. arrival on day 4

Guess what...more trees!  We are Tiaga wilderness.  I know I am witnessing all Siberia has to offer.  I am here in late June, the sunny days are long and it is beautiful.  The wilderness is seemingly unending, it is green an lush.  It looks so appealing.  To the north of us there is very little in terms of habitation and then you reach the polar circle.  I fully realize this season is short lived.  Soon the reality of short summer and the brutally long winter be realized.  This region will soon fall into a deep freeze for 8 months until next years summer.
This reminds me of a joke my boss told me...There is a man in the mid-western US while the region is in the middle of a cold spell.  This streak of cold weather has hit the US hard and lingered around for a several weeks.  He is talking to a business associate on the phone in Siberia.  The Russian inquires about the weather.  The American informs him about the cold spell and the -30 degree weather.  The Russian agree that it is brutally cold and shares him sympathy with his associate.  He says that sometimes it gets that cold in Siberia too. The American reassures him that his house has good insulation and that they have plenty of firewood to keep warm in the cold weather.  The Russian says, "Oh...you're referring to the temperature outside, I was referring to the temperature inside.".
View of the plains from the train.
Today I estimate I am on the opposite side of the world from my home.  It just reminds me that there is an entire world of people here I don't often even consider their existence.  They are also created in God's image and just as valuable to Him as I am.  Today also mark the half way to Vladivostok, but we will get off of the train in Irkutsk.

In the afternoon the scenery is starting to give way to rollings hills.  There are humble little shacks, in various stages of upkeep, nestled into the hillside.  The plains are sprinkled with little purple and yellow flowers.  It is truly picturesque.  Krasnoyarsk is certainly not what I was expecting when I thought of Siberia.
Cottages on a hillside.
Today’s trains stops include:

Krasnoyarsk: 2526 miles (4065 km); 2d 9h 20 min. - Krasnoyarsk is turning into one of the most attractive regions in Russia for both Russian and foreign tourists. The region offers a unique combination of beautiful rivers and mountains, clean air, hunting and fishing, architectural sites and the ethnic culture of a unique northern nation.

Ilanskaya – This 20 minute stop allowed us to sample local cuisine...Piroshki.  They are similar to a hot pocket.  Bread stuffed with with either veggies or meat.  And of course I had to top that off with ice cream.
Angarsk: 3177 miles (5113 km); 3d 2h 20min. - A hazardous city with unsightly landscapes. Recently the construction of an oil pipeline between Russia and China, which would begin in Angarsk, has been discussed.

IRKUTS: 3202 miles (5153 km); 3d 3h 20min. - Irkutsk has over 600,000 people and is located on the Angara River. It is the starting point for many who adventure to the Lake Baikal area because it is a major point on the Trans-Siberian/Trans-Mongolian train route. Founded by Russians in 1652 as a major fort beyond the Ural Mountains, it was populated by exiled political prisoners sent by the tsars and communists. Today, the city has become a college town with many young people attending universities there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Train Day 2

We crossed the Ural mountains in the middle of the night.  The Ural mountain marks the end of continental Europe and the start of the Asian continent.  I am now in Asia.  This is the first time I've crossed continents while on land.
Local village at a station stop.
The view out the train window is unchanging.  I have seen mile after mile of unending wilderness.  The forest are birch and pine.  The vast wilderness is broken by fairly frequent signs of life.  The signs range from shacks that appear barely habitable to quite large cities.  Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, appears to be a quite large and modern city.  We were at the train station long enough for me to purchase an ice cream cone for desert.  I have a plentiful supply of Coca Cola to keep me going (the only thing better would be if it were cold).

I am busy taking as many photographs as possible from our station stops and from the moving train.  There are certain obstacles to taking the perfect snap shot from the train, and I mean that literally.  Every time I take a picture I am virtually guaranteed to capture either a passing pole, a passing train, my lens cap, a window reflection, or I was just too slow in reacting.

Today’s trains stops include:

Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk): 1005 miles (1778 km); 1d 2h 20min. (we slept through the stop) - Russia’s third largest city and the capital of the Urals. Sverdlovsk oblast is one of the most developed and advanced regions in Russia. It is very rich in minerals and raw materials and is a heavily industrialized area. It is located far from ethnic conflict areas and is politically stable.

Tyumen: 1307 miles (2104 km); 1d 6h 30min. - Tyumen was the first Russian town in Siberia and has always been famous for rich trade fairs and skilled craftsman. The city was considered the richest Russian town in the pre-Soviet era. Today it’s an oil and gas capital.

Omsk: 1663 miles (2676 km); 1d 13h 50min. - Originally built as a fortification for Russia’s southern border by Peter the Great's guardsman Ivan Buchholz; when in spring of 1716 he and his detachment made a landing on the shore of the Irtysh, at the place where this powerful Siberian river joins the quiet Om. Thus, was founded the town of Omsk, which in our day has become the largest industrial and cultural center in Siberia.

Barabinsk: - I could not find this in our guide book.  This was our longest stop, just over 30 minutes.

Novosibirsk: 2052 miles (3303 km); 1d 21h 30min. - The Siberia region’s largest city was founded in 1893. Novosibirsk is the third main cultural and scientific center in Russia (after Moscow and St. Petersburg) and also is home to the famous University of Novosibirsk. The city is developing quite rapidly, and is considered to be the capital of Siberia. The area around Novosibirsk and the Altai Mountains hold some incredible nature for the outdoors men.
Novosibirsk train station at night.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Train Day 1

Today I woke up after about 9 hours of restful sleep.  The rhythmic clacking of the wheels on the track and gentle swaying of the train is soothing.  I feel refreshed and relaxed.  We are sharing the cabin with Martin, our tour guide.  The Trans-Siberian railway is the longest railway in the world.  It stretches 10,500 km (6,500 miles) from Moscow to Vladivostok, but we will not take it all the way to its terminus.  Siberia is the largest, mostly untouched, wilderness in the world.
Typical view from the train.
We are fortunate that our wagon car is a fairly new one.  We have an outlet in our cabin which is keeping all of our digital equipment fully charged.  The bathroom is quite acceptable.  To our surprise we are getting a small breakfast and lunch every day.  It is a peaceful journey.  There is no strict schedule.  You wake up when you are ready, eat when you are hungry and absorb the scenery.  There is plenty of time to converse and nap throughout the day.  This is my first prolonged train trip and it is quite enjoyable ... ask me again in 77 hours if I still like it.  During the day we make a handful of stops stops that are just under 30 minutes each.  That is enough time to stretch our legs, get some fresh air and sample local foods.  I will list some of the city names, distances, and transit times from Moscow.
One of our daily train station stops.
Today’s trains stops include:

Vladimir: 130 miles (209 km); 2h 30min. (slept through) - Built on the Klyza’ma River, Vladimir, founded in 995, was at one time a capital of Russia and its political, cultural and religious center. It has a reputation for its unique cathedrals, four of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Nizhny Novgorod: 286 miles (461 km); 6h 30 min. (slept through) - This city was founded in 1221 and was a trading center for people from the Orient, Siberia and Turkistan. Formerly named Gorki, it held political exiles and was closed to outsiders for many years. The city recently opened its doors for visitors and its many well preserved memorials from the 13th and 14th centuries are an amazing attraction.

Kirov: 570 miles (917 km); 12h 50 min. - Kirov has a population of 350,000 and is the seat of a great agricultural center on the banks of the Vyatka River, a navigable river that connects with the Volga.
Perm: 868 miles (1397 km); 20h 10 min. - Perm lies about 800 miles east of Moscow on the western slopes of the Ural Mountains, and stretches along both sides of the Kama River. Perm was founded in 1568 as the village, Lagoshikha. Since 1756, Perm has been a center for Russia’s military manufacturing. By 1781, it was established as the administrative center of the northern Urals and gateway to Siberia.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Moscow

We arrived in Moscow at 1 am on Monday morning.  By the time we got through customs and were settled in our hotel room it was just past 2 am in the morning.  We were asked to be ready to go at 6 in the morning.  We set our alarm for 5 am.  The sun rose at about 4 in the morning, so we ended up with just over 2 hours of interrupted sleep.  Our guide arrived a bit early and we were on the road by 6 am.  Our guide informed us that our train did not leave until after 11 pm that evening.

Our first stop was at Lomonosov University overlooking the Olympic park.  The western world boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics games in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  It's interesting to see how Geo-politics has changed over the years, and it is now the US in Afghanistan.  Following that we drove to the most recognized location in Moscow.  We arrived at the Kremlin and Red Square just after 7 am.
View of St. Basil through a gate to Red Square.
As a child of the Cold War, I remember watching documentaries of the Soviet Military parades through the Red Square displaying the Soviet might.  It was a bit eerie, standing at was the center of hard line communism.  After taking pictures from all angles we were able to ride the Moscow subway.  All the stations are unique and extremely ornate.
Station in the Moscow Subway.
It is fast and very extensive.  Now I see how Prague ended up with such a nice subway system.  Everywhere you look there are still signs of Soviet Russia.  We saw statues of Karl Marx, Lenin and memorials to former presidents, cosmonauts, war heroes, and famous Soviet artists.  It is still common place to see the hammer and sickle in addition to a red star, both symbols of communism.  The equality of poverty is the natural result of a communistic system.  With the fall of communism Moscow now has one worlds most dense populations of the uber wealthy.  We went to the Gum mall located in Red Square.  This is the equivalent of shopping in Beverly Hill, on 5th Avenue in New York, in London or in Paris.  But this wealth is reserved for a handful of people.  Governmental corruption and individual depravity keep the vast number of Russians in poverty.  Then we went to St. Basil's Cathedral.  This is the single most iconic symbol people recognize when they think of Russia.  It was more compact than I expected but still very ornate both outside and in.  I was just as impressed with The Cathedral of Christ the Savior.  What is more amazing is that it was built in less than 5 years in the mid 1990's after the Soviet Union dissolved.  The plot of land it occupies has an interesting history.  Stalin wanted to build a monument to himself there, which would have been the tallest building in the world at the time.  It would have been topped with a statue of himself upon which helicoper could land in the palm of his hand.  Stalin wanted to unite his country as one people.  In order to do this he wanted to eliminate any sense of national group identity.  His means to accomplish this was to eliminate religion and integrate the people through forced relocation.  This plan was preempted by the start of World War II.  I find ironic that rather than it being a monument to atheism and communism it is a monument religious in nature.  Afterward we went to a local cemetery where a lot of national celebrities are interred.  Then we went to Arbat Street, a pedestrian shopping district. i  There we ate dinner, I had borscht and Russian ice cream.

To finish out the day, we made our way to Yaroslavski train station.  Nearby we made our final food purchases because we did not know what to expect on the train.  Our guide prepared us for both extremes.  Either next to nothing will be available, or our conditions could be quite normal.  What you end up with is pure luck of the draw.  Since I do not subscribe to luck, I prefer to say that it is ordained by His providence.  In the late evening waiting for our train to arrive we we're all exceedingly tired.  We are running on about 2 hours sleep in the last 40 hours.  Prior to boarding the train I made a final bathroom visit.  There I was greeted by squatty potties.  I felt like I was back in Uganda or in the jungles of Peru.  Finally our train arrived and we boarded our home for the next 77 hours.  We departed just before midnight Monday evening.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pre-arrival jitters...

I am writing this entry on the plane from Prague to Moscow.  I am flying with Aeroflot Russian Airlines.  I feel like I am leaving the comforts of western civilization.  Earlier today the reality of this adventure hit me.  I don't think I truly understand what is ahead of me.  It's been been just over 60 hours since I began this journey.  This is less time than the duration of our first leg on the train.  Our train accommodations are still a mystery.  But I am anticipating the worst.  I am looking forward to Moscow...more about that tomorrow.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

2012 Jouney - Moscow to Beijing


Currently I am in Prague resting for a couple days before my adventure begins. This year's trip is something completely different than in previous years. Tomorrow evening the experience begins. I am taking a train from Moscow, Russia to Beijing, China via Ulan Batar, Mongolia. I will be travelling with my parents for the two week journey. This is the portion of the trip I am looking forward to most, since I only get to see them about once a year. We've travelled together several times in the past. We've been together to India, Spain & Portugal, Egypt, and now this. The train portion will consist of three legs. First we will take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Irkutsk, then we will take the Trans-Mongolian Railway to through Ulan Batar into China, and finally the Orient Express into Beijing. On Monday we arrive in Moscow and spend the day there. Then we board the train for the 4 journey to Novo Sibirsk. I've already determined that there is no internet access available on the train. So my updates will be sporadic. Towards the end of next week you should see burst of about 5 days of entries covering the first leg of the trip. So until then you can wait in anticipation of my updates. God bless!