A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Beijing

July 5th

sunny 37 °C

Feeling empowered with our map of the underground we headed off to the Summer Palace, built by the last Chinese dynasty in the 1700's, with temples and shady pathways. Lots of beautiful traditional views, Chinese do roofs really well! The palaces of China are much more focused on the outer design and decoration than their interiors. Sadly much of the beauty and grandeur was burned and smashed in 1860 by the Anglo/French attack during the the Opium Wars, this included the beheading of hundreds of ceramic Buddhas which decorated the outside of a temple, it is believed that the soldiers took them home as souveniers.
The temperature is unbelievably hot and the humidity makes it feel like the air is thick with moisture, sweat runs off you in streams.
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After a rest we again took to the Metro, this time to travel to an old area of Beijing called Hutong, this word denotes clusters or groups of houses built around a central area then joined to others, often around a well. It is a heritage area and very pretty with lots of interesting shops. We found a copy of Mao's Little Red Book there in English translation, sounded quite reasoned and rational! A guide explained to us that during the cultural revolution ((1965-1975) this would be read daily at the meal table.
John ate some barbecued, spiced lamb on a steel skewer which looked like a sword and I had Crab, Dumpling soup which is a large dumpling a bit bigger than a tennis ball, the inside is filled with crab meat in a broth which you drink through a straw , then finish by eating the shell with the remaining crab meat, not bad but not outstanding.
This particular Hutong is on a river, with Dragon Boats travelling along it, there were also many rickshaws to carry tourists.
We planned to explore further but saw the umbrella sellers start to appear in numbers, the most predictable sign of a change in the weather.
I also had a challenging experience with a toilet there, on finding one I found that it was merely a long space with several squat toilets side by side (no cubicles) and one western toilet at the end!!!
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Travelled home again on the metro, I am loving the metro, we even managed to buy our tickets from an automated machine, very easy to work out once you get the hang of it and fascinating watching the passengers on the train. John is quite intriguing for young children; an ageing westerner with a white beard!!!

Posted by Seniorcitizens 06:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tiernuman Square and The Forbidden Palace

July 6th

sunny 38 °C

Walking with a local guide, Kristy, we headed first to Tierniman Square and then the Forbidden Palace . Holidays have just begun in China so it was very crowded with Chinese from distant Providences who had come to stand in a queue for over 2 hours to view the body of Chairman Mao in a crystal coffin, they are moved on after 1 minute. T Square is very large and is surrounded by all the historic gates and walls of the Ming Dynasty.
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Onto the Forbidden Palace, from the Ming Dynasty which is decorated with so many powerful symbols created by people who believe that they are god-like and have the power of life and death over all their subjects. This was where the movie 'The Last Emperor' was filmed and we saw the school room where Johnston his English tutor instructed him.
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We also saw the rooms of the powerful and despotic dowager Empress who was the second last ruler of China.
Everything about the palace had significance, from the numbers of gargoyles on the roofs to the feng shui in the positioning of buildings.
One story that intrigued me was about a marble carving that was in one continuous piece up a gigantic stair case. it was carved from white marble quarried about 50km south of Beijing in I think about the 1400's and it was moved in a solid piece. In preparation they dug wells all along the proposed route, then they waited until winter to move it. Men would go along to the next well, bring water to spread over the road, wait for it to freeze and then slide it along until they reached the next well.
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Card alert: John lost his first card to a hungry ATM

Posted by Seniorcitizens 07:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

Start of the Trans-Siberian

July 7th -8th

sunny 28 °C

With a 5 am start, we headed off via the metro to Beijing Central station where we started seeing a few more westerners, some young backpackers, but a predominance of ageing 'hippies' (like us spending their children's inheritance).
As we left the built up areas the view from the window was of craggy rocks and low level hills covered with scrubby vegetation, gradually it gave way to flatter ground with sparsely spread trees, hardly any animals and few crops....as we continued west it began to resemble the Mallee and still further west the land was dead flat and very dry, like Coober Pedy but not as red.

There were lonely clusters of buildings every so often usually built around a rusting cement manufacturing plant; these places looked very lonely and I feel that life for the Chinese living here would be very different to that of the cosmopolitan Chinese of the big cities.
Toward the end of the day it started raining and by the time we stopped at the boarder it was pouring.

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We arrived at the Chinese/Mongolian border at about 10:30 pm their time and we had to produce our passports and had a very long wait. The Chinese military greeted us, standing to attention on the platform in their protective rain gear. One of our fellow travellers took a photo of them and immediately two soldiers leapt on board the train to track him down and insist he delete the image. While there John discovered Harbin beer and had to try one (mainly because of Caitira who resides there at the moment)

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Crossing the boarder took, all up about six hours as we went through various passport checks and the train was lifted off the Chinese tracks and put on the Mongolian tracks the gauge in Mongolia and Russia is narrower, you can feel the difference too as the train shakes along the narrower tracks.

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Passing through Mongolia the view continues to change, it is still very flat, the Steppes, but there is a gradually increasing coverage of of green and we are seeing more cattle and horses. Along the route there are small groups of houses (about 4 or 5) but everyone has a playground for the children.

Our compartment is small but sufficient with four bunk beds and a small table between.
Arrived in Ulaanbaatar about 2.30 pm after 31 hrs on board we bartered with locals for a cab. The Mongolian driver picked my case up as if it weighed nothing!!! Negotiating downtown peak hour (pop. about 1 mill) we found our first Airbnb. Met by a very friendly lady, and finished the day with a meal in an Irish Pub, yes I know!!!!!!!
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 06:02 Archived in Mongolia Tagged china leaving # Comments (0)

In the footsteps of Genghis Khan

July 9th (Hvar's 2nd Birthday)

sunny 24 °C

IMG_20180709_102350.jpgWe spent an amazing day with a guide visiting some of the highlights Mongolia has to offer. First we travelled to the giant statue of Genghis Khan, they spell and pronounce it Chinggis Khan (Khan denoting King) The site is historically significant and when you climb into the viewing platform on his horses head you are looking out over magnificent rolling hills with a large sky and not a tree in site. Below the statue is a fascinating museum with interesting displays about Mongolian lifestyle their Yurts (Ghurs) how they are built and how they lived. We also stopped to see some camels, two humps, not one and stunning birds of prey, eagles and vultures; they have a long history of falconry.
Traditional Mongolian lunch in a Ghur; fermented mares milk, dried curd ( we saw it drying on the roof, mares cream'butter, weak milky tea with salt and what we most enjoyed; these meat treats with lamb, onion and garlic wrapped in a deep fried pastry, quite reminiscent of our meat pie, John even had tomato sauce from a squeeze bottle on it.
From there we watched them milk the mares using all their wiles to keep them calm and still. Then fearing for our sanity we headed of on a horseback ride through the Tejkie National Park which reminded us of the Grampians, minus the trees, stunning views, sweeping gullies and beautiful granite rock formations. Horses were and are still extremely important in their culture and lives..
Along the track John spied a rock formation that looked somewhat like an Easter Island Statue and was determined to have his photo taken alongside it with possibly a caption like " so which one is John?" In his rush to get there I slid down some loose gravel injuring my left wrist and causing a few other cuts and scratches!!!!!!!!
Finished the tour by climbing this 'ridiculous' hill to see a Buddhist meditation temple built in the Tibetan style. When I reached there I felt I had some insight as to why they may go there to meditate, it was all I had the energy left to do. The setting is sublime though and very conducive to peace and reflection. We finished off eating a very tasty Mongolian meal (don't ask me what - we just pointed at the pictures on the menu)
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 07:34 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Forward Ho!!!!

July 10th

rain 28 °C

It is pouring in Ulaam Baatar and we need to get ourselves and our luggage to the station, we take good drainage for granted in Australia but where
we have travelled within minutes of the rain starting you are wading ankle deep through water that means our luggage as well. A mini panic on the platform, as we prepare to board the train, John can't find his passport anywhere, so in the rain on the platform he proceeds to unpack his bags!!!!!!!! he eventually found it. I carried it from here on!
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We are now travelling in a Russian train and were greeted very warmly by our Russian conductress who seemed to be going all out to dispel any
image of sullen Russian officials.This cabin was smaller than the last one, just two beds, but much more comfortable, we continued through Mongolia, a little more mountainous but still bare of trees and still quite a few yurts dotted along the way.
About midnight we reached the boarder, the Mongolian inspector checks all our paper work and then departs. Official people are coming and going then the Russians come on board, our documents are all checked and stamped, more officials coming and going. We are then asked to leave our cabin and a young uniformed Russian woman looking like a temptation that James Bond may encounter enters assisted my another official with a ladder, she climbs up to the ceiling and with a special tool undoes panelling in the ceiling, then pulls down these contraptions bolted to the wall either side of the door (we had been puzzled by what they may be) which became a step ladder to climb up to a space up high!!!!! The process continued for a couple of hours with officials getting on and off and other people having to leave their cabins while other things were checked. This all finished about 3am .

We awoke the next morning in Eastern Siberia and saw a large body of water to our North, it wasn't the sea but you couldn't see across to the other side and it just went on and on without seeming to end. Later we found that this was Lake Baikal the largest freshwater lake in the world - it contains 20% of all the worlds fresh water - it is stunning.
Looking out of the train we saw increasing numbers of homes, all with amazing veggie gardens in the back, there were green houses for the winter and well ordered rows of a variety of different crops. Siberia is more heavily wooded than Mongolia with Birch, Larch and Cedar trees.
We arrived in Irkurstk about mid-afternoon in......you guessed it....pouring rain, and Siberian drainage is no better than the Mongolian variety. We were expecting to be collected by our Air B&B hostess but as no one arrived and we had the address we decided to hire a taxi. The car was ancient and when he opened the boot to put our luggage in it was full of a whole pile of garbage including some old wheel rims which he just dumped by the road, we squashed in and he 'took off like the clappers'. I am sure that it had had working breaks sometime in the last century. He was diving into puddles that would wash up over the car when it wasn't being showered with muddy puddles as the other cars did the same to us.
He eventually dropped us off at some derelict looking courtyard which did not look very promising to say the least. A long tale ensued that included climbing multiple staircases in crumbling Soviet style buildings and landing in a Hostel called Rolling Stones during the recording of a promotional video,. We went to everyone in the street but no one knew the address. I then located a Hotel nearby so we made our way there, still in the pouring rain, they were fully booked!!!!

An hour later and feeling somewhat the worst for wear we found ourselves in a very nice Hotel named for the Agarra River where they were warm, inviting and sympathetic and I at last could fall into bed while John went out to reconnoitre.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 06:55 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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