10:52am - I am on the jet now. I am on the left side behind the wing. Not much leg room here. Most of the people boarding this plane are Chinese and they are all speaking in their native language. There are also quite a few Caucasian people on this plane. Iím already getting culture shock. The announcements are given in both English and Chinese. Fifteen hour difference between San Francisco and China. We were moving a minute ago. They are still giving announcements.
The route the pilot is taking is up the coastline of California, Oregon, Washington and then up the coast of Canada and Nome, Alaska. I fell asleep for about ten minutes, then woke up. We were over land for quite a while, now we are over the ocean heading north up the coast. Itís a sea of clouds now. You canít see the water or the land.
It looks like we are over the Canadian Coast. It looks like a lot of islands. It looks quite a bit like maps that Iíve seen of the Canadian Coast, but there still are a lot of clouds that obscure the view. I heard the pilot say that we would fly over the Aleutian Islands and also Russia. Lunch was ok. I had teriyaki beef and mashed potatoes along with fruit and vegetables.
4:45pm - I finally got a little sleep. We still have a couple more hours left on this flight. Regarding this big jumbo jet: we are cramped in here like sardines. Itís not that comfortable in economy class. The bathrooms are especially cramped. There is no extra room.
There is a Chinese guy next to me who doesnít speak English. When I wanted out of my seat I first got his attention, then pointed to myself and then to the aisle. He got the idea and climbed over the kid next to him and I got out.
We are traveling at 35,000 feet. The monitor shows that we are passing over the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and on toward Russia. Below I can see land and ice that has broken up in the water.
5:19pm - We are flying over land now. I donít know if this is Russia or what. I think it is. There are many lakes below. There is also a long winding river that leads into a large lake. There are hundreds and thousands of lakes. Now there are small mountains further inland. I wonder if anyone lives down there. The mountains have a little snow on them. Now the mountains end and there is more flat land with rivers flowing through it. Another large lake. Itís huge with a massive island in it. There must be life down there. It looks like there are man-made canals down there. The lakes and rivers are getting fewer and fewer. The land is now more solid. More hills and mountains.
6:29pm - I asked the stewardess which country we are flying over. She said we are flying over the Providence of Negadon in Russia. We are going 532 miles per hour. We should be flying over China soon.
7:01pm - It is now very cloudy below. Canít see any land. We are still flying over parts of Siberia. We are flying over the Sea of Okhotsk.
7:41pm - We about to fly over China. We should be there in 30 minutes.
7:50pm - We seem to be descending now. We must be close to land. There are still clouds. There is a lot of turbulence.
7:57pm - I can see land now. I think we are close to Beijing now. We are over water again. I donít know where we are. I can see land in the distance. More clouds cover the whole terrain below. We are definitely going down little by little. We are over China now. The clouds are thinning out and I can see land.. Not many clouds now. There is a lot of haze. I can see roads now and towns. We are slowly losing altitude. Clouds are dotting the landscape now. The towns seem to be few and far between. More turbulence. The rivers are brown. Now we are going over large towns, more populated areas. We are definitely descending now. Cars glittering in the sun.
9:23pm - We are at 35,500 ft. I guess we gained altitude. I changed my watch to Beijing time, 12:30pm. We are supposed to arrive at 1:50pm. Seattle time is one day and three hours behind Beijing time. Altitude is 10820 now. It is very hazy out there now.
1:35pm Finally we are descending. The temperature in Beijing is 88 degrees Ferinheit. Canít see the ground. There are a lot of clouds. We will be going through them soon. Still canít see the ground. Before this the ground looked dusty. We are going through clouds now.
1:54pm - We landed.
As the jet descended lower and lower I could see the places where these people live. Some of the buildings looked to be made out of stone. Many had walls around their backyards. The houses had the typical Chinese look about them. This was where some of the masses lived. The Jet taxied over to the terminal. When the time came we all got up and filed out.
I had no idea what to expect. There were a few people holding up signs of peopleís names. There was no one there who had a sign with my name on it. Someone spoke over the intercom system and stated that our luggage would be at carousel 1. I was feeling cool and calm. I was ten thousand miles from my home, in a country that was different from my own. It is a communist country no less. I donít speak the language. I proceeded following the crowd of people.
There was a form that you had to fill out. It had all the usual information about your passport, and other information like where you were from. It was a very short form. After this was done you gave it to a person who was at the entrance of another very large room. Here you had to get in line and give the person seated behind a counter a piece of paper (which looked like rice paper) that we had to fill out in the plane. It was the same information that we had basically just filled out. When my turn came I stepped up to the desk where the customs worker was. I gave him the piece of paper I filled out on the plane and pointed to a question that I didnít understand. He took my passport and wrote something on the paper, then handed the passport back. I asked him where carousel 1 was. He looked at me puzzled and said something in Chinese that probably meant, "What?!" I just smiled and said "Thank you" and proceeded on.
I went down some stairs. This room was the place where the carousels were. I was hoping that I had heard the announcement right about our luggage being at carousel 1. I went over. I didnít recognize anyone there as being on my flight, but I had confidence that this was the right place, all I had to go on was what I thought I heard them say. I searched for my bag. I watched the bags come off the conveyer belt on to the carousel. Many of the bags looked like mine. I was still feeling confident that everything was going to be ok, but I thought maybe my bag was lost, maybe on another flight to somewhere else. I walked around to the other side of the carrousel and was going to start looking at bags that had been there before I came. Then I saw my bag come up with my tags on it. I walked around and then broke into a run as the bag dropped from the conveyer belt onto the carousel. I grabbed it, pulled the handle up and started pulling it to the door in the middle of the building that led outside.
The air sultry, not too warm. It had been raining earlier. Outside this door there were many people standing. There were many people holding up signs with peopleís names on them. Some in English and some in Chinese. There were also taxi drivers. I walked through the door and saw a little yellow card that had the word MIR written on it, and a guy of about 35 years old. He looked somewhat like the picture I was given of our tour manager, Paul Schwartz. I made eye contact and lifted up my index finger to him. "Are you Michael Bailey?" He asked. I said "Yes". I felt very relieved. Just then a well-fed Chinese man asked me if I wanted a taxi. I said, "No". Paul came under the ribbon that he was standing behind and came over and guided me behind the crowd of people. He introduced me to Yang, who would be our tour guide while we were in Beijing. I let them know how glad I was to see them. Paul told me that I was the first one to arrive from our tour group that he had found so far. He told me that all the rest of the people would come later. We waited a little longer and Paul left to go somewhere while I was left with Yang.
He told me twice that if I wanted to smoke that I had to go outside. I told him twice that I didnít smoke. Yang is a native of Beijing and knows the city very well. After a few minutes Paul came back with Fran A. and Alene L; two members of our tour group. Then Paul and Yang led us over to a touring van that was parked not far away. We were all excited and we all started talking and sharing our past experiences in traveling. Yang said that it would take about an hour to get to our hotel which was in the heart of downtown Beijing.
I was never so happy. It would give us a chance to see a little of the city and the people. I was not disappointed. It was like a living documentary of scenes of China being played out before our very eyes. We were in rush hour traffic and so our driver was maneuvering through the traffic trying to get us to the Peace Hotel. Yang said that the City of Beijing is constantly changing. If you would come back in 3 years, it would be different.
The next morning I got up and went downstairs to the restaurant and had breakfast. They had a variety of everything. Some Chinese food and some Western food. I had fruit and yogurt, then sausage and some Chinese noodles.
After that I went for a little walk with my roommate, around the block to see if we could find any hutongs. We did. We found a few not far from the hotel. Many people were already on their way to work, walking, riding bicycles and driving cars. Some people stared at us. Westerners are still an oddity to some of them. We walked down an alley way and found a few hutongs, or family compounds. There is usually a main house with other buildings connected to it where family members live.
The day we went to the Forbidden City we all sprang out of bed and went to the restaurant off the lobby of the hotel and had a quick breakfast.
After that a van was waiting to take us the short ride to the Forbidden City. On the way we passed shops and apartment buildings. Each of the houses had a tv antenna on its roof. Before long it seemed, we were parked near the Meridian Gate, This is the southern entrance to the Forbidden City.
We walked to the red outer walls of the city-within-a-city. We were led into a gate which led to the Meridian Gate. As we walked along the outer walls toward the entrance we were accosted by hawkers. They were very eager and persistent for us to buy something from them. The prices for packets of postcards were very cheap. Only a few yuan.
We walked through the courtyard that led to the Meridian Gate. First of all you notice that all the doors are red with brass studs. I was immediately impressed by the beauty of the place. We are standing before this forty foot structure. It is a three-sided quadrangular court. The gate was massive. All the walls were red and decorated with various artifacts. The roofs of the palace are all yellow. We all just paused and tried to take it all in with our eyes. We made our way to the gate. There are three tunnels at the Meridian Gate. The walls are 35 feet thick beneath the the central tower, and two smaller entrances curved within the masonry of the two embracing arms of the building. We went through the long, dark tunnel. On the other side there was another massive courtyard.
We had just entered the Court of the Golden River. Itís four sides are enclosed by high red walls, colonnaded porches of low buildings. There are four gates. Before us there were four white bridges over a moat of golden water. In the background was the Gate of Supreme Harmony. We walked over the bridge that the Emperor himself would have walked over. As we walked toward the Gate of Supreme Harmony, I noticed the art objects that were displayed here and there on the grounds. Then we came upon two great lions that guard the gate. It was explained that the male lion has his right paw on a ball. The lion is on the right side of the door. And the female lion has her right paw on a baby lion.
This lion is on the left side facing the gate. We went through the gate into another massive courtyard made of brick. At the other end of the courtyard there stood the Great Hall of Supreme Harmony. There was a massive 3-tiered staircase made of marble in front of it. Each terrace was higher then the previous one. This was encircled by marble balustrades carved with dragons and phoenix designs. The dragon is the symbol of the emperor, while the phoenix symbolizes the empress. There were buildings on the side. The walk was about 2 football fields long. Finally we got to the Great Hall. There are 18 bronze incense burners that represented the 18 provinces of China during the Qing Dynasty Here we could not go in but were able to look in the windows. The emperorís throne is surrounded by art treasures that are symbolic of nature. It stands on a sumeru dias two meters high and enclosed within six thick, gold lacquered pillars. The base of the throne and the throne itself are carved out of sandalwood. The floor is paved with golden bricks which are baked for 136 days and then are immersed in tung oil to polish them permanently. Around the throne stand two bronze cranes, an elephant-shaped incense burner and tripods in the shape of mythical beasts. On the ceiling there is a design of 2 dragons playing with pearls. They are made of glass and painted with mercury. We walked around the Great Hall of Supreme Harmony to the smaller Hall of Central Harmony. As we walked on our guide pointed out to the left the Garden of the Palace of Benevolent Tranquility. It looked magnificent from a distance. Then behind that Hall of Central Harmony down another cobblestone courtyard we came to the Gate of Heavenly Purity. Behind that was the Hall of Union. We were still in the Outer Court. Now we went through the gate and entered into the inner court. This is where the Emperor lived with his wives and concubines. We went down a long walkway to this area. Outside the Emperorís quarters we pressed close to the windows to get a look inside. It was a three-roomed palace. Inside the building on the left side was his bed and some of his belonging on tables and stools that were in the room. There were silk curtains on the windows, and silk on all the walls and the room was decorated with elaborate furniture. The middle room was where he had a throne. And then there was a room on the right. Down a little way from here was the place where the concubines lived. There were about 8 rooms together. The concubines lived here in very small quarters. There were also doors in the rooms that led to the other concubines' rooms. After this we made our way to the Palace Garden towards the rear of the Forbidden City. The Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility is the end of the inner court and leads to the Imperial Garden. This garden was built during the Ming dynasty and covers an area of over 12,000 square meters. The Hall of Imperial Peace stands in the center of the garden surrounded by a rectangular wall. It was built in the 15th century. Two gilded unicorns stand at the entrance. They are supposed to protect the hall from evil spirits. The hall stands among trees, rockeries, flowerbeds, pavilions, terraces and bronze incense burners. We walked on a decorated walkway through the garden and admired the architecture. There were several pagodas which had different meanings. The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Springs stands in the east of the garden. It was built in 1535. This pavilion symbolizes spring. The other pagodas symbolize summer, fall and winter.
There were odd shaped rocks everywhere. There is one place called Gathering Beauty Hill which is an artificial mountain with a cave. It is located to the northeast of the garden. There are a few fountains around it, and the Pavilion of Imperial View is on the top of the mountain. The emperors of the Qing dynasty used to climb to this spot and enjoy the view during festivals. We looked at these things for a while and then went out the back gate. Here some of us stood for a few minutes looking at the landscape. Behind the Forbidden City is Prospect Hill. On the hill is a large pagoda. It was there where the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty committed suicide by hanging himself.
July 5, 2000 - We left Beijing at 7am. We are on Car 11, compartment 15 & 16.
We are now on our way to Mongolia. We will not arrive there until early in the morning I am told. At that point we have the option of getting off the train and watching the Mongolians change the gauge of the wheels.
Yesterday we got up early and had breakfast at the hotel, then went to the Forbidden City. It was great. After that, we went to the Great Wall of China. Before that we had lunch in what is called a Friendship Store. It is run by the government. All the meals in China for foreigners are all the same. You sit down at a round table. There is a lazy susan in the middle of the table. The waitresses come and put many different dishes on the lazy susan. To get something to eat you turn the lazy susan and you get what you want with your chopsticks. The plate before you is small, about the size of a saucer. You keep eating and turning the lazy susan and put more on your plate, Meanwhile the Chinese girls are bringing more plates of food. During all these meals, our group never finished all the food.
After the Wall and lunch then we took a long drive through a somewhat mountainous region.
At 12pm we had our first meal on the train. It was some sort of beef chunks mixed with chunks of fat. Cabbage was on the side, and then a little bowl of rice. The rice here in China seems to be overcooked. There was a spice in the meat that I canít identify. I did like the cabbage. It was shredded and boiled I believe. When it was lunchtime we all went down to the dinning car. Once we got there we had to wait in line and eat in shifts. Then you had to wait for people to finish their meal before you could sit down. Once seated the girl came and put food in front of you. You were given chopsticks. For drinks you got your choice of soft drinks and water. I had a coke. Coke was written on the can in Chinese. The people here still have the old-style tabs on their soft drink cans. The kind we used back in the 70ís. We are passing all kinds of landscape. There are vast farmlands. There are fields of corn. Corn is what is planted the most. They are also growing some sort of beans. There was also quite a bit of cabbage. In between the farmlands there are villages. Each house in the village is brick with 2 or 3 chimneys. The roofs are tile. Sometimes Chinese writing is on the building nearest the tracks. Maybe this is the name of the town. I asked someone what kind of stoves did these people have. I was told they have an open fire. But many in the population have stoves. I also noticed along the countryside north of Beijing there are many beehives. This was also true yesterday on the way to the Great Wall. Many times by the side of the road, usually in front of a field of corn or something else. There would be 15 to 20 square, wooden beehives standing in a row. There was a tent near the beehives. I presume it is where the beekeepers live. The whole operation looked portable, like they could pack it up very easily and go to another area.
At the moment peaches and watermelon are in season. There are stands of these fruits everywhere in the countryside outside of Beijing. Watermelon was served at most of our meals yesterday. This time of year is rainy season in this part of China. The rain is greatly needed. It rained hard last night, and was raining when I woke up this morning about 4am.
July 6, 2000 - We have been passing through big sky country for the past three hours or so. Just lots of grassland. We pass an occasional ger (traditional Mongolian house). There are still Chinese houses, but not so close to the railroad tracks anymore. Most houses here are off in the distance. We also have seen sheep herders, and some horses that seem to be on their own. The landscape is very different now. There are no longer mountains in the distance like there have been throughout this train ride.
Earlier today we passed a few Chinese graveyards. They are mounds of dirt with a headstone at one end. In other areas there are no headstones, just mounds of dirt.
July 7, 2000 - We spent the latter part of yesterday going through Inner Mongolia, which is controlled by the Chinese. Later in the evening we got to the border of outer Mongolia. We were let off the train because we were going to watch the Mongolian workers change the grade of the wheels. This would take several hours we were told. I watched for a while. First the cars are released from the wheels. Then jacked up and the wheels were rolled out from under the car. Then they are raised by a crane and turned around on the tracks and put back under the cars which were being held up by a hydraulic jack, and reattached. I watched all this until I found out I could go back to the car and go to bed. The other people in my berth did this also. After a while the custom agent came around. I was awakened. We had to fill out some papers and show them our passports. After this I went to sleep for a couple more hours. Then the custom agent came again with more papers to sign. By this time everyone was awake. They stamped our visas. I went back to bed. We slept for a few more hours and there was a knock at the door. We were informed that the custom agents were back. We were given more papers to fill out and sign, and then went back to sleep again to the sound of the Mongolian workmen changing the gauge of the wheels. Finally we were left alone to sleep. The next thing I remember is the wind blowing in my face from both the overhead fan in our compartment and the window. I got down and shut the window and turned the fan off and pulled the curtain and finally I was left to sleep for the rest of the night. When I finally woke up, it was light. I got up and came out to look out the window, which is what everyone spent most of yesterday doing. During the night we went through most of the Gobi Desert. Outside for mile upon mile in all directions there is nothing but parched ground with a little greenery growing out of it. We passed a few horses grazing in the fields parallel to the rail-road tracks. A few ger also dotted the landscape.
For lunch we had beef, rice, and cabbage. For dinner we had chicken, rice and cabbage with the leftover beef from lunch dumped in, It was terrible. Now that we are in Mongolia we have a whole different dining car, and a new cook, new dishes and everything.
July 8, 2000 - Yesterday we made it to the capitol of Mongolia, Ulaanbaater (the red hero). This is the largest city in the country. On the way into the city we could see many gers and Russian style houses. We could also see some children practicing some of the horses for the up-coming Naadam Festival, the most anticipated festival of the year. When we arrived at the train station there were many people waiting I did not notice any platform or building at the station. It was just at the edge of town. Porters helped get our luggage off the train and met our guide, Baskar, an early 20ish young man who teaches college subjects in one of the universities in Ulaanbaater. He led us to the waiting van not far away. Suddenly it started to rain. The 3 Washingtonians on the trip felt that we brought the rain like we had done in Beijming. It started raining there shortly after we arrived. After we got to the van we tried to leave, but there was a huge traffic jam. We were at a dead stop. Cars and trucks were blocking each other as each tried to go in the opposite direction. Finally the police came and sorted everything out and we were able to leave the station area. The people in Mongolia, and especially in this city are wild drivers. We arrived at the hotel.
We arrived at our hotel and put our bags in our rooms and went down to the dinning room where lunch was being prepared. The lunch was very good. It started out with an appetizer made from shredded lettuce and shredded mutton. It was very good. The main course was different. It was penne noodles with chopped up hot dogs with a little red sauce. The whole thing was peppery. Very Italian. After lunch we got in the van and went on a tour of Ulaanbataar. Traffic is brisk. People are crossing the busy streets wherever they like, walking right into traffic and dodging cars, but eventually making it to the other side of the street. The guide pointed out the various points of interest. The 24-hour post office, the many Russian buildings that comprise the town. Most of the buildings were built by the Russians during its many years of communism. The Russian buildings are all very large and spacious. After this quick tour of the city we went back to the hotel and had a little free time and then got into a van and went to two museums. The first one showed the history of the country. It showed the national dress, the costumes of this ancient people. In the museum hangs the original picture of Ghengis Kahn which I have seen quite a bit on the internet. In this museum we saw how these people bury their loved ones. They do not cremate their dead since there is plenty of land to bury people in. After this museum, we went to the other museum that houses dinosaur bones that were unearthed in Mongolia.
Later in the evening we went to a restaurant called Restaurant de France. I had Beef Burgundy and rice, with chocolate mousse for desert. When we left it was dark, and we went back to the hotel and went to bed.
One of the meals when we first got to Mongolia, I found this soup to be very good.
7-8-00 - This morning we all got up and had breakfast at the hotel. It was the usual. Everything Americans like: scrambled eggs, hot dogs, bacon, juices like tomato and orange. I tried some tomato juice. It was very heavy and concentrated. They also had some kind of a roll with rice and vegetables and meat. They were pretty good. They also had coffee (instant), a large sugar cube is served with coffee. After breakfast we all piled into four jeeps. I was in the lead jeep with the tour manager, the Mongolian guide Baskar, and the driver. The driver fought his way out of the treacherous traffic in the city of Ulaanbataar.
We finally made it out of town and onto the road that leads out to the wilderness. About 10 miles down the road was a kiosk, which we stopped at. Kiosk originally meant a place where you buy newspapers, but in recent times it means any place where you can buy supplies. This stop was on the side of the road. There were a few gers, and in a row were little wooden sheds with windows in front where they had their wares on display. There would be various kinds of soft drinks, including Japanese Pepsi and a Mongolian brand of alcohol, cup o' noodles, and things like that. I ended up getting a soda.
There was also a pile of rocks which our guide Baska told us was connected with shamanism. You are supposed to walk around it in a clockwise manner, otherwise it is bad luck. One of our drivers, as he passed by it, picked up a rock and put it on the pile. After a few minutes of rest we all piled back into the jeeps and once again headed for our ger camp way in the interior of the country. The roads are bad in Mongolia. The road we were on was paved, but had many potholes in it. Consequently, the driver spent his time dodging those potholes. There were other vehicles doing the same thing. Our driver felt that he had to do this driving just as fast as he could. Sometimes other vehicles would be coming straight toward us, and it looked like we were going to have a head on collision, but at the last minute he would swerve out of the way. We were told that this driver had 20 years of experience in driving these roads. There were no seat belts, and Paul and I were tossed around in the back seat like a couple of rag dolls at times. The scenery was spectacular. Rolling hills at times and endless sky. The clouds were puffy cotton balls. Off the road were the traditional Mongolian houses. Sometimes one, and sometimes there would be other gers near. Sometimes we would come upon a herd of goats in the middle of the road. Sometimes there were horses, and sometimes cows. Our first stop would be a park where wild horses are studied and monitored. To get there we had to go down a long dirt road. It seemed like quite a few miles off the main road. When we finally got there we came upon a square, western-style building and a ger was not far away. The ger served as a museum. When the rest of our caravan got there we were met by a slight woman who led us to the ger where there were various pictures of wild horses, graphs, maps and other data regarding the horses. She gave a talk on the horses and answered questions. Then we went outside and got in the jeeps again and went to the place where the horses were. It was not far away. When we found them the lady instructed the driver to park the jeeps where the horses couldnít see them, otherwise they would come running up. The horses were off in the distance in a little shelter keeping their heads out of the direct sunlight. The back ends of the horses were exposed to the sun. After a minute a few of the horses came out and we were able to see them through binoculars. We watched them for a while, and then went to another area and saw more horses. When this was finished we went back to the museum and had lunch. This time it was Mexican cuisine. The lunch was so big I could not eat all of it. It was very good. I must say, the Mongolian people are the best cooks.
After lunch we all got in the jeeps and after avoiding a flock of sheep in the road, made it back to the main road and continued to the place where we were going to spend the night. Once on the main road, it was more of the usual: going at top speed, being bounced around in the back seat avoiding pot holes, barely missing other vehicles, and looking at the beautiful scenery. Children playing next to a ger off on the side of the road. People going about their daily business. Every once in a while there was the rotting carcass of a sheep, a goat, a horse or a cow in the field. The skeleton bleaching in the midday sun.
Once in a while we would pass a little town that had regular Russian buildings, but also gers. Some of the buildings had fences around them. Some of the towns would have a gas station. I saw two of them along the way.
While we were driving along the country road we came upon a bunch of little horse racers involved in a practice race along side the road. There were about 50 boys on horses ranging in age between 8 and 12 years old. Their horses were going at top speed kicking the dust beneath their feet, and the whips of the boys were waving wildly in the summer air. We just glided by very slowly looking into each round, ruddy Oriental face, each with the determination of Ghengis Kahn. Some were dressed in the traditional Mongolian wear called a del. Some were wearing the Mongolian hat, called a loovuz. Some of them were wearing racing shirts with a number emblazoned on it.
We finally made it to the camp way off the road. At one point the driver got off the main road and drove on the land. This was a short cut to the dirt road that led to the camp. As we drove along we could see the ger camp way off in the distance. After about 20 minutes of driving we finally arrived at the camp. We got out of the jeeps and got our suitcases and bags and went over to the gers where we could take our pick of which one we wanted. My roommate and I picked one out and put our stuff in it. After we were settled in a little bit, it was time for dinner. Again the food was great. It was very tender beef; you could cut it with a fork. We had potatoes and rice, and salad of shredded cabbage and carrots. Dessert was a wafer stacked in between frosting. At sundown the most beautiful sky appeared. It was purple. The clouds in the sky turned purple. By the time it was dark I was exhausted. I think by the time my head hit the pillow I was asleep.
7-8-00 - Today we got up at the ger camp. We went down to the restaurant ger and had fried dough. This is almost like a donut, except it had no hole in it. This is eaten with butter and jelly. It is not a bad concept. Paul, the tour manager says that the Russians eat this with sour cream. We also had coffee which was very good with the meal. After breakfast we got all our stuff into the jeeps and headed west again. This time we were going to see a monastery. It was quite a few kilometers down the road. We finally reached the monastery after a little drive. It is a fortress-like structure. A huge wall surrounds it with stupas at proper intervals. It was built in the 15th century and was founded by one of the sons of Kubla Kaahn. Inside the walls of the monastery there are ancient pagodas dating from the period it was built. After a little negotiation with someone connected with the monastery we got a tour from a lady who came out of the art shop. She could not speak English so she would talk to Baska and in turn he would tell us in English what she said. There are many pagodas inside the walls of this Buddhist training ground. The guide started opening doors, unlocking the padlock at each door from a key around her neck. We were instructed in how to enter into these sacred shrines: you had to place your right foot in the door first, and once inside you must move around the building in a clockwise fashion. We went into our first temple. Inside there were huge gilded and painted Buddhas made of clay. They are at least 8 ft tall. Only the head, and in some cases the hands are exposed. There is clothing that covers the rest of the body. Some of the Buddhas depict the childhood of Buddha, his middle years and the future of Buddhism. There are also original paintings by monks on the walls of the temples. Many of the scenes painted on the walls show the daily life of Mongolians. They are painted with horse hair brushes. Some are done with a single horse hair. We went into almost a dozen of these temples. Each had Buddhas in them. Most had the Buddha in the middle with someone else on either side. Sometimes they were all Buddhas.
After all these temples we went into the heart of the monastery, where the monks were chanting. Inside the semi-dark altar room the monks all wore orange robes. The younger monks sat furthest from the altar, and the oldest sat closest to it. We all went in and watched the proceedings for a few minutes. We walked around clockwise to the front of the altar and past the presiding monk. The young monks were looking around to see the foreigners. Some were chanting while others had a book open to a page in their prayer book. After a few minutes, the monk who was presiding over the service took 2 bowls and started to ladle up fermented mare's milk into the bowls and serving it to the older monks first. Later I asked Baska why they were serving alcoholic beverages to the monks while they were chanting and praying. He said it was for refreshment, to clear their throats. We walked out of this session and started walking toward the jeeps. We came across the largest Mongolian I had seen in the country. He wore a huge stately decorated del. His face was fleshy and dark from the intense Asian heat. He seemed like he may have been an esteemed teacher, but someone of higher rank than the monks. There was an air of dignity about him.
We made it back to the jeeps. Then we continued on our journey to a different ger camp. This camp is a little more modern than the last one. Each ger has electricity and a light in the ger as opposed to a candle like in the last place we were. It also has linoleum-like floors. After we got all our stuff in the ger, we had lunch. We had the exact thing we had the night before: steak, rice, potatoes and gravy with a salad as first course.
The next little trek was to go to a turtle-like statue made of soap stone. It was right near the monastery. Then the next thing we did was to go to a private ger and ask permission to see how they live in it. We all waited in the jeep while Paul and Baska talked to a lady about showing us her ger. She gladly let us come in to see her home.
There were two small boys and 4 girls, then another woman. She invited us inside. There was an old woman sitting on a Chinese bed. She was fingering beads in her hands. I came in and sat on a couch. It was also Chinese. It was wooden and painted with very ornate designs. There was a stove in the middle of the ger, and a table with drawers next to it. Next to the couch was another table with a board with pictures on it. The pictures were photographs. They were set under glass. Other than this, there was nothing else in the ger. We all came inside, and one of the younger girls immediately started to take bowls out of the drawers at the table next to the stove. Then thermoses of hot tea were produced and poured into the bowls. These were passed to all that came in. The tea was white, as this was a mixture of milk and tea. The taste was very strange to my palate, but I drank it all. Then I gave a postcard of my city, Seattle, to the lady, and asked Baska to tell her that this was where I live. One of the little girls looked at it and then took it over to where their pictures are and put it on the glass. The lady asked me through Baska if I had seen the monastery. I told her I had. She asked what I thought of it. I told her it was great. We stayed for a little while longer and then we left.
Instead of going by jeep a lot of us elected to walk back to our camp. I walked with our guide Baska, and asked him many questions about his country. I was amazed that these people donít plant gardens. He told me it was too inconvenient for these people because they are nomads and are constantly on the move. They could never stay long enough in one place to grow anything. I noticed that there were many rocks sitting on the surface of the ground. I told Baska that I would like to make a design with them. We stopped and I started placing rocks to make 3 concentric circles with them, with Baskaís help. Meanwhile the others in the group continued on ahead of us. I asked him what people would think if they came upon that. He said they might think some children did it. He told me they use stone markers to tell other people that a certain place is saved, and not to set up on it. We continued on our walk and passed some yaks and other animals. We then came upon a ger with a pen near. The pen had sheep in it. There was a lady with her son. She was milking the sheep. When she would finish milking one sheep her son would get another one and put it down in front of her.
She held the pail between her legs as she stroked on the udder of the sheep. Outside of the pen was her other son. He was shearing the wool off a sheep. We stopped there and watched this scene for a while and then continued down the hill. And passed a river where Baska said there was a large species of fish living in it that people caught and liked to eat. Before we knew it we were back at the ger park. We went to the restaurant and got a soda.
7-10-00 - Yesterday after a breakfast of bread, butter, jam and tea, and deep fried dough we got into the jeeps to make the long trip back to Ulaanbataar Hotel again. On our way back our driver calmed down a little bit, especially after we came upon a wreck on the road. The vehicle was upside down in the road. I didnít see any bodies of people as they were in the cab of the truck. All the sheep in the back were dead. When someone gets in an accident like this it is usually fatal. There are no ambulances, no hospitals, no doctors, and it is miles from anything.. We were able to get by the accident and proceed on our way. The scenery was nice. We passed one hill after another. Off to the side of the road was the ger that these people lived in. On the way we stopped by a river and had a light lunch of hot dogs and bread with some kind of relish that was made in some Russian country. One of the drivers who prepared the meal, made sandwiches of butter and raw bacon. None of us Americans would touch the bacon. We gave it to one of the drivers who gladly ate it all. Our hot dog sandwiches were good. After lunch we proceeded up the road and stopped at a goup of kiosks and got ice cream from a freezer that sat in front of one of them. After that we got back in the jeeps and continued on to Ulaanbataar. After a four hour ride we were back in Ulaanbataar, back at the hotel.
After taking a shower it was announced that we had to go to a different room. I guess someone made a mistake and we were put in rooms that were already rented to someone else. Our new room is much bigger. It has two rooms and a refrigerator.
I decided that today was wash day since I had a few dirty clothes. Here is the method that I used: I put my clothes in the bath tub and started running the water. I added soap. When there was a fair amount of water in the tub I turned on the shower and took a shower at the same time stomping on my clothes with my feet. I did this for a while, then emptied the tub and filled it with fresh water, and stomped on the clothes some more until they were all rinsed out. Then I wrung the clothes out as best as I could and put them on hangers and hung them around this hotel room.
After we rested a little and got our showers and clothes done, we climbed on a bus and went to a monastery in Ulaanbataar. Here we were accosted by some locals who were trying to sell us snuff containers, coins and wood hats. No one from our group bought anything. All the buildings of the monastery were closed, so we were unable to go inside any of them, but we were able to look at ancient architecture, and also learn a little about it.
After this we climbed aboard the bus again and went to a Japanese-run restaurant. There was plate after plate of fruit and vegetables. Things we hadnít seen since we left China. I made my dinner on these, plus potato salad. There were tomatoes, green peppers, orange slices and watermelon. I had a feast on these things.
Later when we got back to the hotel I went out looking for Kodak film, since I ran out at the monastery. I went out on the street but couldnít find Kodak brand film anywhere. I will look again today. If I canít find any I may have to settle for Konica.
7-11-00 - Yesterday we got up and had a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bread, tomatoes and whatever else we wanted of what they had at the hotel. Then we all got on the bus and headed to a place called Terelj, which is on the edge of the Gorkhir-Terelj National park not too far from Ulaanbattaar. On the way we saw the familiar scenes of Mongolian life. Red- faced young men walking along through a field with maybe a bag on the back and walking at a slow steady pace, never in a hurry. Everywhere you go in Mongolia you see herds of cattle far off the road, and sometimes in the road. The driver rarely honks at an animal on the road. I believe out of respect for nature. Another sight often seen in Mongolia is the site of a lone horseman with a horse prancing along. The horseman sitting high on his saddle. On the way to the park we passed a fairly large military compound. The walls that surrounded it looked ancient. Some of it had crumbled away and had been repaired, but not to its original state. At the entrance of the camp is a picture of Ghengis Kahn, the ideal of every Mongolian male.
We stopped just before the edge of the park to look at the scenery. We got out of the bus and climbed up a small bluff. On the top there was an ovoo. There was a stick stuck in it with blue cloth attached to it and flying in the gentle breeze. We walked clock-wise around it commenting on the gods and looking at the different skulls that lay in the heap. There was a ram's skull and a horse skull in this ovoo.
I had not seen any trees anywhere in Mongolia, but in this area south of Ulaanbataar there are forests of birch, pine and fir on the tops of the hills. We got back in the bus and continued to the park. There was a ger camp, with a restaurant ger and other buildings. In the parking lot was a round blue sign marked with a ďPĒ in white paint. The driver parked the bus and we all got out. We were met by the curator of the place.
All of the group except three people were going to ride horses. I couldnít because I injured my arm. I was afraid if I fell it would cause some internal hemorrhaging. Gene E. and his son Daniel and I went on a hike instead. The scenery was beautiful. There were rock formations that formed the mountains to the right of us and in the distance. The sun was shining and it was hot, but there was a cool breeze hitting our faces. We walked and took pictures as we went along and we had a conversation as we walked along. We talked about a lot of things and how fortunate we felt to be on this trip and to see the many things we have seen and done. We walked and walked on a trail made by a four-wheeled vehicle. On the ground were the unusual little flowers seen all over Mongolia. The weeds were also unusual. They looked like common succulents, something a sheep, horse or yak would love to sink its teeth in. We continued walking and went around a bend and down a hillside. In the distance over the trees there were some of the gers which always dot every field. I wanted to go close to one of the gers to try to get a close up picture of it. As we got down near the foot of the hill in a little wooded area there was a Mongolian man getting water from a stream. He was filling 2 small buckets. When he saw us, he got up and taking the pails by the handles he walked off toward his ger. We continued walking over a little brook and through the wooded area, then out into the open field where cattle was grazing. Most of the animals in the field were yaks. We continued to walk a little further and then decided we had better go back. Just then we looked up and saw the Mongolian man coming back to the brook with his pails to get more water. On the way back we started talking about the accident we had seen the day previous. Daniel thought that the people in the truck probably walked away from the wreck unhurt. Gene and I thought that anyone in the wreck must have been killed. We didnít see any bodies or blood, so we will never know. I started telling them about the 2 helicopters I saw collide in Vietnam, and other things I had witnessed there. Then we became so engrossed in our discussion of things that we looked up and we were back where we started. In Ireland they call that shortening the road.
When we got back Fran and Alene were sitting on the porch of the building adjacent to the restaurant ger. They were drinking a beer. We went up and sat with them and talked about our experiences in the ďland of contrastsĒ. I went into the restaurant and got myself a beer also. Next lunch came and we had beef, rice and salad and butter cake for desert. After all this we loaded back in the bus and went back to the hotel in Ulaanbataar.
Later in the afternoon we went to a park high on a hill called Zaisan Hill. It overlooks the city of Ulaanbattaar. There is a statue of a woman carrying a flag. This is one of the many monuments made by the Soviets during the communist days of this country. From this sight there is a great panoramic view of the city below.
Since we are leaving for Russia tomorrow we shopped at a large government store before going back to the hotel. I bought some cookies, tea and water for the train trip.
Later in the evening we went to a ger restaurant. It is the largest ger in Mongolia. There they served more beef, but this time mutton also. While we were eating we listened to traditional singers dressed in traditional costumes playing on traditional instruments. Some of them are throat singers. I loved it and will always remember it.
I see it is raining, hallelujah. Just like Seattle. It will be a cool day for the Naadam Festivities.
7-12-00 - Today after breakfast we went to the Naadam Festival. We went to the large stadium in the city of Ulaanbataar. We had to enter the building at the foreign entrance. We got there quite early so we got a good place in line. After a while a group of French people tried to butt in line ahead of us. Paul took the tickets out of their managers hands. There were some sharp words. Some Americans from another group told them to go to the end of the line. Finally I saw Paul give the tickets back and then shortly after they went to the end of the line. Finally after a little wait the gate opened and we all filed in. We got in an area that had a roof This shielded us from the sun. Finally the festivities began.
The president of the country came to the microphone and welcomed everybody. He is a Communist. He was just elected into office recently I was told. After that an army regiment came out and marched using the goose step. I liked their costumes.
They were the traditional style. Next the orchestra played the national anthem, and then other songs. All this took place quite a distance away from us, but it was still enjoyable. After this a bunch of men landed in the field via parachute to the applause of everyone. Then the wrestlers came. They walk along in a funny dance imitating some kind of animal or bird. After a while they started to wrestle. This part of the festivities ended and everyone started to leave. We left at this time, While others did other things I went outside the stadium where all the stalls were and went around the place taking pictures. I went around the stadium about three times. I got some good shots. I continued to wander around until it was time to return to the gate. I went over there as arranged and didnít see any one. Finally Baska came over. He told me that everyone else wanted to leave early. We took a taxi back to the hotel. We rested for a while and then got on the bus again and went to the archery contest. We watched them for a while and took some pictures. I decided to take my umbrella to these events. Having lived in the Orient before and knowing how hot it gets and how uncomfortable it is with the sun pounding down on you, an umbrella was just the right thing.
After the archery we went to the horse races farther down the road. It was a carnival atmosphere. This is one of the biggest events of the year and everyone looks forward to it. Once off the bus we walked over some dry parched ground to where there were great crowds of people. We couldnít even get near the race track. And it was about a half mile away, so I just spent my time taking pictures of people on horses that were riding here and there.
We were about the only Americans there. Taking pictures is not a thing that people do much in Mongolia. So when you take pictures it is like you are doing something unusual. Most people didnít mind getting their picture taken, but others didnít like it.
Instead of having dinner that night I went down to a fruit stand near the hotel and bought some plums. They were very good. After dinner it was time to go to the train station and get on the train that would take us to Russia. After waiting at the station for a little while we finally got on the train and the train departed. We have been going all night. I slept pretty good because I was pretty tired after the day's events. It is now 0631 and the train has stopped. We are sitting near the Russian border waiting for customs to come.
0804 - We are still waiting here at the border. Iíve already had a couple glasses of tea. Outside there are a few locals waiting around the otherwise deserted station. The buildings are made of stone. At one point I went to use the bathroom at the station and had to pay to use it. There was an attendant at the door collecting the few Chinese coins that they required.
0920 - The customs people finally came through. They stamped some of the passengers' passports and gave them back to them. They took mine as well as a few other passengers'. I donít know why they took it. I guess to check it out. They checked under the bottom bed in our cabin to see if we were harboring any stowaway there.
0932 - They came back with our passports. Paul thought maybe the woman was training the soldier that was with her. Once we get an engine on this passenger car we can be on our way. This town in Mongolia is called Sukh-Bataar.
1006 - We have an engine and it seems like we are about to get going. Itís taken us several hours already at this little border town.
1015 - It has started to rain. We are moving now.
7-13-00 - It was raining when we finally arrived in Russia by train. There we had to wait some more. Eventually the custom agents came. They looked grim, but they were pleasant. They had a dog. We thought that they would have the dog sniff our luggage, but it ended up the dog never came into our car. In the end we waited about 9 hours on the Mongolian and Russian sides. When they got all our passports and visas and looked at them and brought them back, we were free to go. We got all our luggage and got it off the train. Our Russian guide Marie came with a bus and driver. Everything is different now. All the houses are made of logs. Shutters at every window. Wells are used for water. No bathrooms. They use outhouses. The people here rent from the government. The government owns all the land, unless a person has enough money to buy the land. Every house has gardens surrounded by wooden fences. Growing in the gardens are potatoes. The potato plants are all in flower. Our guide said that many people from this town just packed up and left when the government collapsed in 1992. There is nothing in this town except the place where cars come over from Mongolia. That is the only employment.
We left the little town and proceeded to another town. On the way we stopped and had lunch. Lunch was half sandwich of ham, cheese, tomato and cucumber, with no mayo or other condiments and an apple. We all got back on the bus and proceeded to the other town. We arrived and went to a museum in the town. Marina is the curator at the museum. She is an attractive lady of about 35 years. Dark brunette hair nicely kept. Rosy cheeks and white face with red lipstick. She spoke in Russian while Marie translated into English. She talked about the tea that was brought over from China, through Mongolia, and into Russia. There are many artifacts from China here. After this we went to 2 Russian Orthodox churches in the area to take pictures.
Now we are on our way to a Buddhist monastery. On the way we had to stop at a river to take a ferry across. Workmen were building the bridge, which looked very primitive. We all got out of the bus and walked over the bridge and waited for the bus and driver to make it over by ferry. This was a little bit of a wait. It was about 45 minutes before the bus made it to the other side as progress was slow.
Back on the bus, our next stop was a Buddhist monastery. One of the few that was not destroyed by the communists. I believe they destroyed 108 others. The oriental people in this area are Mongolian who came around the time of Ghengis Kahn who conquered all this area and up to Moscow in his time. It has since gone back to the Russian people. These Mongols are heavier than those in Mongolia. Some of them have intermarried with Russians and white people. They all speak Russian. And not Mongolian.
After the monastery we went to a community of Mongolian people who are called Buryats. When we first arrived at the village. We picked up the leader of the town who was waiting for us near the school house. We went to the sacred mountain where guests are greeted. They have the pole with flags flying similar to what they have in Mongolia. We got out of the bus and walked clockwise around the pole, and then you were supposed to put a coin in the cup there. Someone from our group put a Buddhist prayer on it. After this we left the sacred sight and went to the school where the children of the village put on a performance of singing and dancing.
Then we were led to a feast of the traditional foods of the area. There was meat salad, which is potato salad with meat in it. They had green salad, dumplings, tomatoes and many other things. They had traditional tea with milk which I liked. After a little gift giving we left. Now we are on our way to another town which is four hours away. The vastness of Siberia is amazing. There are little towns dotting the countryside. Sometimes the bus had to slow down because of cattle in the street. Here the people are white with blond hair and blue eyes. The houses are all the same. They are very attractive. Log houses with blue shutters on the windows. Fenced gardens with potatoes growing. When it got dark I noticed that no lights were on in the houses and the shutters on all the houses were closed. I was told that they were asleep at this time of night. They are farmers and they had to get up early the next morning. As we traveled we did come across some that had lights. We arrived at our hotel quite late, got our rooms and I think I fell asleep. I was exhausted.
Here is a sign in the bathroom in our hotel room:
If you want a towel exchanged, leave it on the floor, please. If you hang it on a towel horse, it will be left for further use. Thus, we could reduce the amount of sewage and unload waste water treatment facilities. We are grateful for your appreciation. The Administration
Today I got up bright and early and went down to the restaurant and showed the people there my meal ticket. They handed me a menu and motioned to sit down. I went to a corner table. Pretty soon the blonde-haired waitress came over and asked if I would like sausage and eggs. I said yes, but asked if I could have hash browns. A little while later she came over with a plate. On it was two hot dogs and a pile of buckwheat. I have heard of buckwheat before, but I had never eaten it. One of my fellow travelors, Sabine, who was at my table had had it before and said to sprinkle sugar on it. It did. It wasnít bad. The hot dogs were ok but they looked funny on the plate. When the waitress mentioned sausage I had envisioned the kind we get back in the States. These were about as unattractive as you can get.
After breakfast I went to get some money changed into rubles. I was told by the people in the office which door to go into have the money exchanged. I went to the door and tried to open it. It was locked. I knocked on the door and soon an Oriental lady opened it. I told her in English that I wanted to change some dollars into rubles. She went around to her desk behind a window and started typing on her computer. She seemed to have forgotten I was there. I stood there and waited not saying a word. I remembered the last time I bucked the system here, I got buckwheat instead of eggs. Finally her attention turned to me. She asked me how much I wanted to change. I said $25. I placed the $25 in the drawer, and then she asked for my visa. I gave it to her in the drawer. She pulled the drawer to her side of the window and took the money and visa. She wrote something down on a piece of paper and then printed a form out from the printer. She ripped it off the printer and put 2 checkmarks where I was to sign. I signed it and gave it back to her. She counted out some money in rubles and put it in the drawer along with the visa and shoved the drawer over to me. I took the money and left.
The next thing we did was get on a bus and drive about 20 miles or so to a monastery. On the way we passed the many log houses with shutters, and tin roofs and fenced gardens. People walking on the sidewalk. Both white people and Buryat. After going down a road that was lined with larch trees we came into a clearing and we could see the monastery in the distance. Soon we were there. In the center of the complex was a large Oriental building. This is the main house of worship, and then there are other smaller buildings. We started by entering the gate and walking clockwise around the grounds. Our guide Maria began to explain the various functions of the monastery. We came to various Tibeten prayer wheels which we spun, also clockwise. We made our way around the whole complex with Maria explaining everything.
She explained how it was predicted by a fortune teller that Buddha would be a very great person. So Buddha as a young man began to enroll himself into various schools in India trying to learn many things. Then he learned about people and their suffering. Then he tried to experience all the suffering that people go through.
Then we came upon a building with large windows. Inside was the same species of tree or bush that Buddha was sitting under when he was enlightened.
Then we made our way over to the main building which housed the Buddhist statues. There were no special instructions as to how to enter the prayer house, but it was very important not to turn your back to the gods. When you left the front alter area, you are obliged to walk backwards until you come to the center of the building. After that you can turn around. The main Buddha was large. It occupied the center place on the alter. Around him were his disciples on either side, who also were enlightened, then even smaller Buddhas occupied the shelves behind these disciples. They represented the disciples of the disciples. The tables in the monastery are at different heights. The taller the table meant the greater the rank of the monk who sat there. There is a special place for the Dali Lama to sit when he comes there. He has already visited the monastery and there is a picture of him as well as an oil painting. When we got around to the other side we could buy souvenirs, etc.. Then when we got outside we were taken near other vendors who were selling other souvenirs.
Our next stop was lunch in a little cafť in the city of Ulan Ude. There we were brought some kind of soup that had ham strips in it and small sections of lime. The soup also had green and black olives, pickles and other things. You add sour cream to it. It was very good. The main course was chicken. That was also good.
Our next stop was a park/museum that showed the earliest people who lived in this region. They were called Gravestone People because of the unusual way they buried their dead and the stones they used to make their graves with. We were shown the various ways in which they made their graves. Then we were shown some later people who made teepees with the bark of trees and also the skins of animals.
In this park it also showed the way the Mongolian people who are now known as Buryats in Siberia made their gers out of logs instead of felt. In Russia they call them yurts instead of gers. Then we were shown how a group of people called Old Believers lived. These people's ancestors were exiled to Siberia by Catherine the Great because they would not conform to her wishes.
In the middle of the park was a beautiful old Russian Orthodox Church which is not being used as a church at the moment. It is wooded and had the onion-shaped domes on it. It was magnificent.
After this we were invited to go have dinner with remnants of the Old Believers. We met them at a sacred mountain called The Sleeping Lion, because at a distance it does resemble a sleeping lion. The bus stopped on the road at the foot of the mountain, and we climbed up and met them on the top. They sang a few of their traditional songs to us, and they welcomed us to Russia. All of this was interpreted by our guide Maria. Then we were invited to the fantastic views which were seen at the highest point of the mountain, the lion's head. After this we descended the mountain and were off to the place where some Old Believers lived in a village about an hours drive away.
When we got there we at first went to a community center where we were entertained by them again with songs and a description of their history. After hearing their interesting stories we went on to the house where we were going to have dinner. Upon arriving we were shown their garden in which was growing garlic, onions, tomatoes, kolarabe, watermelon, berries and other things.
After seeing the garden we were invited inside to a table laden with Russian style pizza, cucumbers, tomatoes, fish that was caught at Lake Baikal, potatoes and many other delicacies. The people all sat around and watched as we ate their food. It was very interesting and showed us many things about these people. I was able to try a mildly alcoholic beverage made from brown bread. We also had wine and homemade vodka, which is the national drink.
After this we went back to the hotel. It was still light so I decided to take a walk. My intention was to take a walk around the block, but the streets just didnít work like that. I ended up going as far as I could around the block, but then ended up backtracking. I felt like a foreigner. I did not look like or dress like the people around here. I was met with a few stares. One person asked me for the time. I showed him my watch, then he asked for a cigarette. I told him I didnít smoke. Another time someone asked for a light. To this I just spoke a little English so he would get the idea that I didnít speak his language. I walked on. It was starting to get dark so I was glad to make it back to the hotel. God knows what happens in this area after dark. It didnít seem like a safe place to be walking around in after dark. Once in the room I tried to watch a little TV. There are about five channels, all in Russian. I took a shower and went to bed. There was talking and shouting and footsteps out my window for a while after it got dark. Then all was quiet.
7-14-00 - I got up this morning and went down to breakfast at 7 when the cafeteria opened. This morning I had 2 eggs sunny-side up and three cucumber slices and coffee. After that we all got our bags together. The porter came to the room and got my big bag, and brought it down to the bus. After that we spent about 4 hours getting to the train station near Lake Baikal. On the way we stopped and got some smoked fish from a lady who was selling it on a card table beside the road. The fish was smoked with the pine cones of the area.
We also saw some strawberries being sold; we stopped, but found the people were picking the berries before they were ripe, so we didnít buy any. We passed little towns along the way. All the little villages have the same kind of houses. I found out from our guide Maria that the people rent the land from the government, but own their own houses. They build them the way they want. The people also have to pay for electricity and water, if they have it. There are wild flowers all along the road side, daisies, Queen Anne Lace, fireweed, chamomile, crown veitch, and wild sweet pea. The countryside abounds with this along with thistles, lupin, wild raspberries, and little blue asters and elderberries. Yellow poppies, white poppies and cotton wool and cotton tree, blue bells, yellow lupin, calengula, nettles, wild rubarb, lespedizu, and then larch trees, birch trees and pine, and aspen.
We stopped at a little town on the shores of Lake Bailak. We got our car and got our luggage and put it in our car. It was a railway car that had no seats in it. It was open. When we got on we had lunch of the fish with bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, ham, instant noodles and chocolate.
The train car didnít have the usual seats. It was open with a couch on one end and a bar on the other. Some of our fellow travelers bought wine and we had a couple of glasses. I spent most of the time standing up at one of the windows with my head hanging out looking at the scenery. There were many campers along the way. They had their tents up and their fires going. Many of them waved as the train went by. There were many small villages and the usual log houses with the tin roofs along the way.
Finally we reached the little resort alongside the railroad tracks and on a little bluff just above Lake Baikal. All the buildings look new. There is no inside plumbing in any of the buildings. There are two large outhouses across the track. They are the usual Asian-style toilets. It is a hole in the floor. This toilet paper had a very different consistency. It was more like butcherís paper, but now shiny. They turned the electricity on 20 minutes after we arrived because it is so expensive. The place where you wash after using the outhouse is interesting. There are 6 sinks, there is a small tank above each sink that holds about 2 gallons of water. There is a garbage can filled with water at one end of the sinks, and a dipper. You dip water out of the garbage can and fill the tank. Then you release the water by pushing up on the metal rod that goes through a hole in the bottom of the tank that serves as a plug. You push up on the rod and water falls out. There is soap there and you can wash your hands.
There is also a sauna on the grounds. You donít wash in the sauna. You wash in the room next to the sauna. There are two garbage cans of water. One hot and one cold. You take a dipper and put the desired amount of hot and cold water in the basin that is provided, and then you wash yourself. When you are finished you throw the water against the back wall, and the water escapes through holes that are drilled in the floor.
Soon after the electricity was turned on it was time to eat dinner. The place where you eat here is a building between 2 guesthouses. Inside is a square ďUĒ shaped table where everyone sat. The cook served the dinner after she cooked it. This evening we were served pork which was very fatty, and mashed potatoes with some kind of reddish gravy and a small amount of grated carrots. I found it to be very good. After dinner vodka was poured and we toasted many things. After dinner I went to try the Russian sauna. I went in and took some birch branches, which are very fragrant. You are supposed to put them in hot water and then hit yourself with the boughs. Many people take turns lightly hitting each other with the birch branches. The birch is supposed to help open the pores of your skin. I sat in the sauna until the sweat was dripping from my face and whole body. Then I got up and went to the other room and took the dipper and put some cold water into a basin and then splashed it on myself. After that I went back to the sauna. I sat for a little while longer and then went out of the sauna and dried off and went back to my room. I felt very invigorated. After I got to bed I immediately went to sleep. I woke up the next morning at 6 am when my alarm went off. We got up and had rice and wieners for breakfast. We got all our bags and brought them to the railroad tracks where a man had a little flatcar on the track. We piled all of our luggage on it. We then walked down the track with the man guiding the luggage on the flatcar. We went down about one fourth of a mile. Then we got all our bags off the flat car and went down some steps the led to the dock. After waiting on the dock for a while we could see the boat in the distance coming toward us. Soon it was at the dock. When the small ship landed at the dock the boatman jumped off with his rope and hooked it to a piling. Our luggage was loaded first, and then we got on. We were greeted by a MIR representative. After all the initial greetings finished, the rope was pulled off the piling and we were off. It would take us an hour to reach the village of Listvyanka which was where we were going. Most of us sat at the back of the boat and talked and recalled some incidents about our trip and we were eager to go on to the next phase of our adventure. Then I was invited down to the galley by Maria to have tea. I got down there and ate some fish that was caught from Lake Baikal just a few hours earlier. After a little while we arrived at Listvyanka. We all got our bags off the boat. This would be the end of the line for Maria. She was going to get a ride back to her town of Ulan Ude. We all said goodbye and hugged. We put our luggage on the waiting bus and we got a new guide. It is a lady of about 30 or 40. She seemed very knowledgeable about Lake Baikal. She was very nice also.
The first place we went to was St. Nicholas' Church which was not far away. It is a modest church, but didnít have the large onion domes on top. We went in and there was a baptism service in progress. It was a beautiful scene. There were icons all over the walls of the church. They were of different scenes of early church history and the life of Jesus, and also of St. Nicolas. There were people in the church. Lots of people on the left and the right. They were all standing. The priest was on the left swinging his incense. It was here where the tour guide decided we had better leave since the women in our group didnít have scarves to over their heads. The Russian Orthodox Church is very strict. We didnít know that a church service was taking place until we got there. It was nice that we got a glimpse.
From here we went to the Lake Baikal Museum.
7-16-00 - Here our new guide told us all kinds of facts about Lake Baikal. There are 366 rivers flowing into the lake and one going out. The water in Lake Baikal is fresh, yet there is a species of seal that lives there. The lake is a mile deep and it holds 20% of the world's fresh water. It holds more water than the Great Lakes put together. It has animals living around the lake unique only to this area. The water in the lake is pure. There are crustaceans that clean the lake. Drinking water is pumped from the lake and bottled. The lake may have been a salt water lake at first before the ice age millions of years ago. The lake remains a mystery and that is why it is still so fascinating. After touring the museum and watching a video on the lake, we all got in the bus again and went down to a place where they sell souvenirs. We spent a little while looking at the tables of cut glass, wooden painted boxes and other wares. Across the way there were people who had little wood stoves going where they were cooking fish. I walked around a little and bought a little painted box. Soon we were on our way to lunch way out in the country. On the way we passed many Russian scenes: young men cutting grass with a scythe along the edge of a forest. I saw an elderly gentleman walking in the forest with a pack on his back, possibly foraging for mushrooms or other foods that can be found in the forest. Finally after going for quite a while our bus turned off the main road and down a little dirt road, past some very expensive-looking dachas near a place called ďIn The Pines Guest House.Ē It is 2 primitive looking log houses. We got out of the bus and were met by 2 girls who offered us bread and salt and vodka. I was the last person in line and there was an extra vodka so the girl gave me two.
There was also a young man with a baby bear cub whose mother died in the forest. The cub was found and brought to this little outpost in the woods. Some of the people in our group let the bear suck their fingers while it made a purring sound. I petted it and played with it for a bit. It was pretty strong for being such a little guy. After this we went inside and sat down at the table in the log restaurant. It was fairly dark inside. There didnít seem to be any electricity. By then the vodka was hitting me and my head was swimming. The first course was soup which was very good. It was similar to the one we had the other day with pieces of lemon in it and olives. There was shredded meat of some kind and a very tasty broth. Next came the main course. This was Chinese food, they said. It was a sautee of chicken and mushrooms. Next was pie made from berries of the area. During this meal we drank more vodka. Afterwards came tea. When this meal was over with we got back in the bus and started for Irkutsk. On the way we passed the familiar scenes of Russian villages. As I have mentioned before, each house had a garden and growing in the gardens were potato plants with white flowers. I found out why they are growing potatoes. It is what they make vodka from. We passed a section of town where workmen were building some very expensive houses. This is where some of the newly rich were going to live. The tour guide felt that if they had so much money they should spend a little more and have the house look better by hiring a better architect.
Once in the town there were very nice buildings, but they were in bad need of renovation and paint. I only saw a few new buildings in town. They were pretty impressive. The people here dress as we dressed in the late 1950's and early 60ís. The first place we visited was the Church of our Savior. We got out of the bus and took pictures of it at different angles. A Polish church was kittycorner from it. On the Church of our Savior was a painting on the side of it which is very famous. I have seen it in books. It is of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. After this we drove around a little more and then went to a church called The Church of the Holy Sign. It is famous for the icon of Veronica with a cloth in her hand with the face of Christ on it. At the front of the church were old ladies asking for alms. Inside the church were the usual icons all over all the walls and over the altar. It was very spectacular. While there I bought a few icons that were for sale and a few other religious articles. I got back to the bus and we were off to another museum.
This museum concentrated on some information about the people who lived in Siberia before the Russians came. It was very interesting. It showed their mode of living, their dress, the shape of their skulls, etc. After that we went to the public market in the center of the city. This was nothing like the Russia I had heard about all my life. It was a very busy and crowded market. There were lots of goods. There was anything you would want to buy. We were stocking up on supplies for the upcoming 3-and-a-half-day train ride we would soon be taking to Moscow. I bought some instant coffee, some noodles; the kind that you add hot water to and wait 5 minutes. I bought dried prunes, oranges and tomatoes, and a bottle of wine. I had no trouble at all in buying these things. I didnít feel that anyone was taking advantage of me. It was a very pleasant experience . After this we went to a very fancy restaurant. Only one other party was there besides us. I didnít like the food so much. There was a salad of carrots, etc., and squid. Then a kind of potato salad with peas. The entree was fish with skin, head, tail and fins all with cheese inside and outside of it. It was just fish. Nothing extraordinary. Ice cream was for desert. When we got outside it started raining. We got back to the hotel. It was raining harder.
July 16, 2000 - Breakfast was pretty good at the Angera Hotel. I went down to the 3rd floor and to the restaurant and gave the lady my blue ticket. She signaled me to go ahead and eat. There was a large table with all kinds of food on it. There were plates of fresh baked Russian bread, carrots, beets, boiled eggs, mayonnaise, salami, baloney, cheese, yogurt, cucumbers, tomatoes, coffee, tea, etc.
After breakfast there was a little time to walk down around the city. I went with a few of our party. We walked down near the river past a church where people were coming out after a Sunday morning service. We ran into Sabine. She wanted to show us the Polish Catholic Church. We went in. There was a service in progress. We didnít want to disturb it so we went back outside. Then Fran and I went walking around looking for interesting things to photograph. We saw a lot of wooden houses with very festive shutters on the windows.
We made it back to the hotel to collect our bags and put them in the bus. When that was finished we had about an hour to kill so I walked alone in the opposite direction toward the center of town. To ensure I wouldnít get lost I walked in a straight line down the street our hotel was on. When I came to a very busy street I turned left. I made a mental note of a sign in English on a shop window. It read, ĒEnglish CollectionĒ. I walked down the street about 10 blocks taking pictures of buildings and people as much as possible. After a while of this I turned around and went back to the sign I was looking for. I turned right and walked back toward the hotel. As I walked I noticed some of the sidewalk was blocked off. The only thing I could think of was because maybe parts of the building was falling onto the sidewalk. I made it back to the bus a few minutes early. Everyone was there. After a few minutes we left for the train station.
At this point Paul informed us that he couldnít get the second class seats like we wanted. So we had to go 1st class. That meant two to a cabin instead of four. It didnít take long to get to the station. Once there a tractor with two wire trailers came, and some porters put our bags on them, then we made our way up the stairs that led to the train. Some of the stairs were dark so it was hard to see. We went up some stairs into the sunlight. A train must have just emptied because we were met with a crowd of people pushing their way off the cement platform. We were warned earlier of pick-pockets, but I didnít have anything in my pockets.
Now we turned around and went in the opposite direction and went onto another platform where we found our car. Soon after the tractor with the luggage came along with the 2 porters. My porter looked typically Russian, a little shorter than myself. Not to stocky, but strong, white-skinned, ruddy, blonde, short hair, gold in his teeth about 23 years old. He smiled and seemed happy about bringing bags to the cabin. Once inside the cabin I proceeded in getting the clothes I had washed earlier in the shower with my feet as I did in Mongolia. I rung them out as best as I could and rolled them in a towel and put them in a laundry bag.. I got the small rope that I had packed with me and strung it over my bed, and laid my wet clothes on it. My roommate and I got all the things we would need for the next few days and put them in easy reach. Soon the train lady came around and gave us our sheets for a price. I think it was a few rubles.
They said this first class section was air-conditioned. That means the windows arenĎt to be opened. This creates a problem for me. I would much rather have fresh air then air conditioning. Here is what we see out the windows of this train:
We had a nice dinner. We were at first to beware of the food in the dining car, but that is where we have been having our meals every day. Dinner yesterday started with soup. It was similar to the other soups we have been having since we have been in Russia. Black olives, green olives, a little wedge of lemon. Meat stock, carrots, cabbage and potatoes. The soup is served in a tall bowl. It is about 5Ē high, 4Ē round with a lid on top. The bowl has handles. This was served with unsalted bread. We have also been getting unsalted butter along with the bread lately. Next came the main dish. It was baked chicken leg and thigh. It tasted very good. Along with it came potatoes with flat leaf parsley and chives. For dessert it was vanilla ice cream with chocolate bits.
When we got back to our cabins, we were all still excited about the scenery so we all watched out the window till it was dark.
On this train they donít allow the windows to be opened like on all other trains we have been on this journey. The reason I am told is that it is bad for you. There was no real reason other than that, and itĎs supposed to be air-conditioned. They turn the air conditioning on for a few minutes at a time and then turn it off. Before we went to bed we had to change the time on our watches because we will be in a different time zone by morning. The first night it was very claustrophobic with the windows shut. It was kind of hot and you just felt like you were being smothered. I woke up one time with a claustrophobic feeling. I sat up and opened the door. There was no cool air, just hot air. I realized there was no changing the system so I fell back to sleep.
I got up this morning and went to breakfast. The menu was 3 eggs sunny side up in the metal dish in which they were cooked. There was dill and cilantro on top. Bread and butter was also served along with coffee and tea.
We made two stops today and got out of the train. I took as many pictures as I could. One of the places was called Krasnoyarsk. There were many old ladies. They call them babuskas. They are grandmothers selling food, garlic, onions and other wares.
For lunch today we had borscht as the soup, then some kind of hamburger and potatoes. Ketchup was served with the meat. Also a few peas were served with this meal.
We stopped at a city called Novosibirsk. Paul and I went into the train station. It was a very busy place. People milling around everywhere. It was too rainy to take pictures, so I tried to drink it all in with my mind. Upstairs there was a large area where people were waiting for their train. There must have been at least 500 people. They were all sitting in chairs. I didnít know what I looked like to them. I donít think I look American. I have a Fu Manchu mustache with a goatee. I wear dark clothing with no writing on it. My arm is in a sling.
This brings me up to the present time. It is 5:48 pm. We are passing miles and miles of villages, people, forests. Sometimes it has rained and sometimes the sun has been out. Itís all very beautiful. Itís all Russia.
For dinner we had halibut with macaroni topped with dill and flat leafed parsley.
July 18, 2000 - We have gone through at least 2 more time zones for far. Last night we had to set our watches back 2 hours. As we get close to Moscow I have noticed a few changes in the scenery. For one thing, there are more fields under cultivation. They are not the usual family plots like you see deep in the interior of Siberia. Now there are acre upon acre of something growing. It could be some kind of grain. In some of these fields there are the round bales of hay made from farm equipement as opposed to stacks of hay made by hand like we saw earlier.
There are more stone buildings and brick buildings. They all have tin roofs like we have seen all along this trip. I have seen more sun flowers in full bloom in peopleís private gardens. I have also noticed in some areas the houses are bigger and more modern. Some even have vehicles parked next to them.
This morning for breakfast we had 3 crepes with butter, jam, cheese, ham and coffee. It was very good.
I have read of the horror stories about the bathrooms on these trains. That there is no toilet paper. The bathrooms are terrible I admit; they stink like the urine of 1000 people all concentrated together and itís not very pleasant, but there always has been toilet paper on this car. These Russian people need to learn about toilet deodorizers. Other than that, our car ladies have been great. They speak and understand a little English. They are young and attractive and are always smiling and seem to be in a good mood. I have heard the women who used to work on these trains were down right mean, big, fat, smelly and bossy. These women are just the opposite. They are pleasant and hard working. Each shift vacuums the rug outside the cabins and you can see them kneeling down scrubbing the floor on both ends of the car where there is no rug. If your door is opened they will vacuum your rug and straighten it out. Outside in the hall where there is a long rug they have another piece of cloth that they lay over the rug. I think it is to save wear and tear on the rug underneath. They are constantly straitening that out. I noticed today this cloth is gone. They are probably washing it.
We stopped at a town called Tyumen for about 15 minutes. There werenít as many ladies selling food as there were at Krasnoyarsk yesterday. Tyumen is the place where Czar Nicholas ordered some peasants killed back in 1917.
There are some soldiers on the train who are on their way to Afganistan. Many of them have walked through this car in the last few days. I have seen them on the railroad station platform and took pictures of them yesterday.
Two Korean journalists came in our cabin with a movie camera and started taking pictures. There is another film crew from Poland that we met a few days ago in the dinner car. We drank some vodka with them for a while. They had been doing a documentary of Lake Baikal for the last few weeks.
I just saw a spectacular scene a few minutes ago. It was a town of simple cottages with tin roofs and fenced gardens with potatoes growing in it. Then off in the distance the most magnificent Russian Orthodox Church. White with blue onion dome spires. It was awe inspiring. It was pristine in its beauty. That town was called Tyumen. The oldest settlement in Siberia, founded in 1885.
This is how they stack their hay stacks: first they put a pallet of logs down on the ground. Then they nail a pole to the middle of the pallet, and then they nail 2 boards as support for the pole. Then they start stacking the hay around the pole. This, I think, is to make that stack more sturdy. When they want to move the hay they hitch a horse to these logs and pull it to where they house the cattle. When the stack is finished they put birch twigs on top. I donít know why they do this, but it is everywhere in the country.
Our car lady is named Oxanna. She lives in Irkutsk.
For lunch we had a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers with mayonnaise. Also onions were added this time. Then came fish soup with carrots, potatoes and rice. It wasnít bad. I didnít get any fish, just a little fish skin which I picked out. Then came turkey leg, mashed potatoes and tomato slices and cucumbers. Then for desert it was wafer cookies and coffee.
Our next stop will be Yekaterinberg, named for Katherine the Great. This is the town where Czar Nichols and his family were murdered by the communists. The U2 airplane was also shot down here. Boris Yeltson was also born here.
3:30 pm - We just entered Europe. There is an obelisk at the 1777 marker on the left side of the track that tells us that we are at the border of Europe and Asia.
Itís a sunny day, so many people are out with their scythes, pitchforks and rakes making hay stacks.
There was some graffiti on a building. It said, ďfock offĒ. The buildings of the common people here on the European side are about the same as on the Siberia side. There are the 100-year-old log houses. Some are sinking into the ground. Since it is such a nice day people are out everywhere. They are in the fields, sitting and standing by the railroad tracks of the villages we pass. Sitting in the woods. Everywhere out the windows of this train are the scenes of Russia. A Grandma Moses type painter is needed to paint these old-fashioned scenes.
One thing that is very popular here in Russia is the motorcycle with the attachment where someone sits as a passenger. You see these all over the place. We are seeing more Russian Orthodox churches now. Every time someone sees one they call everyone to the window to see it. They are few and far between on this train route, but they are worth seeing in this setting.
I saw a couple old houses that had wooden boards on the roof instead of tin. The boards were placed vertically from the peak of the roof to the bottom. I think they put tarpaper on the boards and then maybe tar. I havenít seen a complete roof the way they used to do it, only remnants of the tarpaper on some of the older buildings.
At each station I noticed that there was a tower made of brick, some had ornate clapboard work on it. They had what looked like TV antennas on top. I've asked several people what they are. So far nobody has been able to tell me. One train lady said maybe they are technical buildings. Maybe they are used to spot oncoming trains. It thought maybe they were used for some kind of surveillance during communist times.
Clackity-clack, clackity-clack, clackity-clack. That is the noise the train makes. There are a lot of greenhouses all along the way in Russia. This is where the tomatoes are grown since there is such a short growing season. Cucumbers may also be grown this way, The greenhouses are made of clear plastic rather than glass.
Tonight for dinner we had salad. It was finely chopped cucumber, corn, mayonnaise and imitation crab meat. The main entree was pork goulash with sour pickles. It was very good. For dessert it was vanilla ice cream with jam. That was also good. And, of course, Paul brought some vodka which he has every evening. I had 3 shot glasses of that and a glass of wine from Gene, which was very good. We all came back to the cabins and set our watches back 2 more hours. Now it is time to start getting ready for bed. We stopped at a town called Perm for about 18 minutes. Someone was selling postcards for $1.00. This guy was the only one on this trip that wanted American money. Thus far I had been buying everything with rubles. Nobody seemed to want American money except him.
July 19, 2000 - I woke up at around 4:30 this morning. It was light out. I got up and started looking out the window as usual. Not many people were up at that hour. I did see a few out cutting grass. The landscape is more of the same thing we have been seeing all along.
Breakfast was ok, brown bread with cheese. Then some kind of fried cake with cheese in it. This was served with sour cream on the side. Jelly was on the table. This was very filling. Then came coffee. We also had some kind of orange drink with this.
After all that we came back to our cabins. There are a lot of clouds in the sky, but the sun is shining now. We are due to make a 15 minute stop soon. After that we have one more stop and then itís a straight shot to Moscow. We should be there at about 3pm. It is 9:32 at present.
10:54 pm - We spent the day watching out the window as usual. Watching the scenes of Russia go by. We had lunch. The salad was an egg cut in half with mayonnaise and a few peas. Then came soup, which was a regular cabbage soup with one piece of beef. Then the main entree was pounded beef with potatoes and gravy. Dessert was chocolate. After lunch I got all my stuff ready. I put everything in my suitcase and carry on bag. Then I alternated standing at the window watching Russia go by and sitting in the cabin watching out the other window. There were more of the purple flowers than at any other time on the trip. We are starting to see more and more of the onion-domed Russian Orthodox churches. They are awesome. Some of them way out in the country were crumbling and in bad need of repair. As we get closer to Moscow we see better and better houses. I guess Russia has no middle class. There are the rich and the poor. We are seeing more swimmers in the streams and rivers. People in boats. As we pass by villages we see people tending their gardens, pumping water out of a public well, coming out of the forests with buckets of berries. Then we started to come into Moscow. This train line we are on also serves the local line, so there were people standing and sitting and walking at every station. Then we got closer and closer to the end of the line. Finally the train came to a stop and we could see the people outside who were to meet us. The porters with a carriage to put our luggage on. We all got off the train and the porters put our luggage on the carriage and we were off to the waiting bus. Moscow is a city of 9 million people. Quite a bit bigger then Seattle. There were people everywhere. We passed the taxi drivers who were standing in the middle of our path asking everyone who was passing by if they wanted a taxi. I felt much better in a city. There were many kinds of interesting people passing to and fro on the street. Old, young, middle aged dressed in all sorts of ways. There were the old peasant women wearing dresses, with scarves on their heads as is usual. Old men wearing pants, shirt and jacket. Young men wearing modern clothes, young women dressed in tight dresses to show off their good figures, and bright red lipstick on their lips. And there was everything in between. Once all our stuff was in the van and we were in it, the driver backed out in the traffic and we started making our way toward the Ukraine Hotel which was not far away.
It was a huge impressive place. I guess Stalin had it built along with several other buildings that look similar. These buildings are called wedding cakes since they kind of have that look. We got checked in and were given our room on the 11th floor. The hotel is massive as is everything else in Russia and Moscow. The huge window in the room opens up to a beautiful city scene below. The Moscow river flows in front of the hotel, and on the other side of the river is the Russian White House. We were unable to take a shower on the three day train trip, so a shower felt very good, and a change into clean clothes.
The next thing we did was go down to the 3rd floor to a restaurant to have dinner. It was a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers. Then chicken with rice, and finally chocolate and vanilla ice cream with some kind of jam on it. Then coffee. After this we went to our rooms for a few minutes and then met in the lobby. Our first excursion was to the subways; we were going to Red Square. We walked to an underground walkway to get to the other side of the street. In the underground passageway we were met by some gypsies. It was a woman and a couple of young girls. They would come up to us with hands together as if in prayer. They kneeled before us, and then put hands out begging for money. We passed through them with no problem, and they left without too much interference. At this point Paul warned us to beware of pickpockets when we get to the subway. Next we took a path that went in between some apartment buildings and then across a massive 8 lane boulevard. After that we walked a little further and we were at the subway station. Inside there was a huge escalator that must have been as long as a city block that took us down to the trains. The place was crowded with people. The escalators move fast, so you have to watch yourself getting on and off of them. Once on the bottom we were shown the painting on the walls depicting scenes of Russian life. There were also large chandeliers that hung from the ceiling. There are many stations in this network, and each one is different from the next. Some have bronze statues of Russian life, some have mosaics depicting the life of Lenin and communism. After a little wait our train came. We all piled in. The car wasnít too crowded. Some of us stood, while others found seats. We got off at the 3rd station and exited the train. Then we got on the massive escalators again that took us to street level. Again the streets were filled with people of every imaginable description, size shape and stature. They were all speaking Russian. We walked a little further. We immediately went to Red Square. There was the Kremlin on the right, St. Basilís Cathedral at the far end of the square. Leninís tomb near the Kremlin and GUM department store on the left and many other church-like buildings. Since it was late in the evening we didnít see anything. We will do that tomorrow. We left and went back to the subway. Here we were shown three more stations. After this we went back to the hotel. After an exhausting day I was glad to see a bed and a huge Russian down pillow, and with the noise of the city below fell right to sleep.
July 21, 2000 - Yesterday morning I got up and went down to the restaurant on the first floor and handed the doorman my ticket and then had breakfast of tomatoes, cucumbers, little tiny hot dogs, rolls, butter and coffee. Then I went for a little walk looking for film. I went across the street to a little store. There was no film there. I came back to the lobby and found that they sold film there but the kiosk didnít open until 9am. That was the time we were due to leave on our tour of Red Square. I went over to the other kiosk that was open on the opposite side of the lobby and bought a book in English on the city of Moscow and some post cards.
At 9am the tour guide came and we all filed into the tour van and we were off to take a quick drive through the city. The tour guide had a microphone and was directing us to look at the buildings on the left and to the right. The former KGB headquarters, the Tass building, the statue of this famous person, the monument of that person. The driver was going up and down the streets dodging cars left and right. The people drive wildly in this city and are very aggressive, but I didnít feel that our driver was reckless at all. He was a good driver. After going up and down many different streets all over the city and passing Red Square 2 or 3 times we stopped across the river from the Kremlin where there are quite a few domed churches. Their domes are all gold, and they are very stunning. After this we went around to the front of the Kremlin and got out. The changing of the guard for the tomb of the Unknown Soldier was soon going to happen. There were three soldiers already on guard at the tomb, standing at attention. After a few minutes 3 more soldiers were seen down at the far end of the Kremlin about a city block away to the right.
They were goose stepping on a walkway toward the tomb. When they got to the entrance of the tomb they stopped, mounted their rifles on their shoulders and proceeded to change places with the guards at the tomb. By now a medium-sized crowd had assembled to watch. The new guards relieved the old, and the old guards goose stepped back down the walkway, got off of it and then marched back to their barracks.
By this time a crowd had gathered at one of the front gates of the entrance of Red Square to see Leninís Mausoleum. We quickly went over and got into line. Immediately after we got in line more tourist groups began to come. We had to file through a gate where a guard had a metal detector in his hand. We were told that once in the Mausoleum there would be no loud talking, laughing or other noise. Once past the guard we walked a little distance to the black marble Mausoleum. Again there was a little waiting at the entrance. Once inside it was dark except for a spotlight on the ceiling that shone down on a guard that was standing to the left before you get into the place where Lenin is lying. It was quiet now and we went around a corner. At this moment I caught my first glimpse of Leninís head. Lights from the ceiling shone down on the waxlike form in the glass case where he lay. Then the line slowly moved around , first to his right side, then the front, and then around to his left side. The light on his body made it look like there was a light within his body that made it glow. I looked first at his right hand and noticed his fingers curled under. Then I looked at his face, his moustache and his beard. It looked like the same Lenin statues I have seen throughout this trip in Mongolia and Russia. Here was the man who toppled the Czar and all the bourgeoise society and tried to rebuild it under communism. He was lionized, and almost deified for 70 years until communism crumbled in 1992.
Once outside we went behind the Mausoleum near the Kremlin wall where many famous Russians and presidents are buried. There were many that I didnít know, but the ones who I have heard of were Brezhnev and Gargarin, who was the first astronaut in space. His ashes are in the Kremlin wall. Brezhnevís body is buried just in front of the wall. There is a bust of each of the famous men in front of the wall. If they are cremated, then the ashes go in the wall behind a plaque. After this we were able to walk around Red Square for a little bit. I went to the GUM state department store. It is a massive mall. The building was very impressive. There are many souvenir shops and other types of stores. All of them were open for business and seemed to be doing good.
Next we went as a group to St. Basilís Cathedral. We were about the first inside the church since our guide Irene was very good at getting all the red tape finished. We entered St. Basilís Cathedral and first went to the place where St. Basil was buried. It is a room filled with icons and the walls are decorated with very colorful designs. The floors are very uneven cobble stones. After this we went up a very steep staircase that led to the first chapel. We all filed into the cathedral. The first sensation I recall was the musty smell of the place. Second I noticed all the icons painted on the walls. The light was dim and some of the icons were dark, but I recognized many of them from books I have looked at on icons over the years. We were in the first chapel. It seemed small. There were no chairs or benches as everyone stands during the services. There was a door that led to the holy place where only the priests were allowed to go. The common people are never allowed to go in there. There is still some renovation going on. The walls are being repainted with the colorful and artistic patterns. There are niches in the brick and stone walls where the rich people of Moscow used to store their valuables since there were so many fires.
The tour of St. Basilís was very short, but very impressive. We went out the back entrance and met our van in a parking lot outside the Kremlin walls.
Next we went past a building where Leo Tolstoy used to come, and passed the graveyard where Nikita Kruschev was buried. We went to Sparrow Hills, which is near Moscow University which is a good place to take pictures of Moscow at a distance. It is a very popular site among Moscovites. Usually couples who are just married go there to have their pictures taken. There are also numerous souvenir hawkers. Their tables are all set up with the usual Russian souvenirs. Everything from watches, to Russian tea pots, to little boxes with decopouged pictures to all kinds of knick knacks, dolls and good glass ware. The tables are lined up the entire length of the place which is pretty long, about 1/4 of a city block.
The next thing we did was go to Arbat Street. It is a street filled with small cafes and souvenir stands. I set off down the avenue to look around. I walked up to a souvenir stand. Immediately the purveyor started to speak to me in Russian. Then I told him that I speak English. Then he started to speak English to me and wanted very badly for me to buy something from him. I told him that I was leaving the next day and I couldnít fit one more thing in my suitcase. He wouldnít stop trying to sell me something, so I said "spesiba," which means 'thank you' in Russian and walked away. The souvenirs at all the stands were just about the same. Little Russian dolls dressed in traditional clothing. The wooden figure of a woman that fits one in another. The crystal glass with churches, animals and other things carved into them. I passed a guy selling icons that looked very old to me. They looked very good. I would have bought one of them, but they were probably more than I had and I donít know if I had enough room in my suit case. I passed the various cafťs and shops, and then came upon a street singer. He was playing guitar and was singing a very passionate song in a deep, rich baritone voice. He looked as though he had been up all the previous night drinking vodka. His hair was oily and his face was drawn, but the passion of his voice was very striking. I imagined that he was singing about how Russia was changing and the old communist ways were fading out. A few people had stopped here and there to listen to what he was singing about. It was kind of touching in a way to be in Russia at this time in history when Russia is undergoing such changes. I kept walking past Russian fast food vendors. Every time I walked past the souvenir vendors they would try hard to sell to me. They must have known I was American because they would speak English. I would stop and look at things, then move on. At one place I saw that they were selling Coca Cola, so I stopped and asked if they had any cold coke. She didnít, so I bought one anyway. A gypsy girl saw me buying the Coke and immediately started to beg very persistently. I kept going. I stopped at a place selling icons and asked the purveyor if they had any of St. Nicholas. The elderly nun said they didnít. After that I decided to get something to eat.
I went down to McDonaldís to get a light lunch. When I got there it was crowded and there were lines, so I got in line. I had only 10 rubles left in bills and some pocket change. I had a few American dollars, so I thought maybe I could use those. I waited in line as one by one the person just served would squeeze their way out from the front of the line. Finally it was my turn at the counter. I spoke in English and suprisingly enough she knew what I was talking about. She rang everything up, it came too 64 rubles. I took my American money out of my pocket and asked her if she took it. She shook her head, no, so, a little disappointed I turned around and squeezed my way passed the other people in line. I went back out into the street and started to walk once again. I walked past 2 guitar players. They were young guys about 20 years or so. They were more clean-cut then the last singer. The one with no shirt started to sing. Again it was a deep masculine baritone voice filled with passion. His guitar playing was very fast. I also imagined he was singing about the new Russia. I stopped for a few minutes and then went on.
This is an art museum. It houses the paintings of Russian artists. There is a very famous painting of Pushkin there. It is also his favorite of himself. He is Russiaís most beloved poet. There was also a picture of Ivan the Terrible killing his son. He killed his son in a moment of anger, and then regretted it afterwards. There was also a section of icons that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was raining when we left the museum. It was warm out, the sky was overcast and the rain was warm.
Later in the evening we were invited to some peopleís house for dinner. The building was like many other apartment buildings in Moscow. It was built in the 40ís or 50ís. It looked ok from the outside. Irene rang the door bell outside the building. Pretty soon there was a Russian voice of a woman over the intercom. We were buzzed in. Inside it was dark. The elevator button was pushed and soon it came, but it was so small only 3 people could fit into it. The first three people got in it. The place was only on the 3rd floor so the rest of us decided to go the stairway. The stairway was also dark so you had to watch your step. The staircase was stone, but some of the edges had been chipped off and was pretty jagged. One could have gotten hurt if you werenít careful. We made it up to the 3rd floor and the door was open. The hostess was there ready to receive us. We were invited to the kitchen were there was a large table laden with all kinds of Russian appetizers. There was brown and white bread, a large platter of tomatoes cut in half and whole, wedges of cucumber, cilantro, parsley, a bowl of liver and red beans, a bottle of vodka, white wine, salmon caviar on buttered bread, cabbage piroskis and mushroom piroskis and coleslaw and cured salmon. We were immediately offered wine and vodka. The vodka was poured into a little shot glass, whereas the wine was poured into a wine glass put in front of us. The feast began and we started to sample the dishes. The hostess spoke a little English, but not much. The host made sure our glasses were full. When we had sampled all that we desired we were told that the pumani was almost ready to serve. This is a dumpling filled with different kinds of meat and cheese. This was boiling in water on the stove as we were eating. Finally it was done and the hostess ladled them out with a slotted spoon onto a dish. We each took as many as we wanted. When this was eaten the dessert came. This was homemade gumdrops that they call marmalade. There were also different kinds of cookies and cakes. There was the traditional poppy seed cake, and another kind of cake. After this was coffee and tea as is usual. We talked and ate for a while, and then it was time to go. We all graciously thanked the host and hostess and went into the dark hallway and down the stairs again and out in the midsummer Moscow night.
I didnít wake up until about 4 in the morning the next day.
By seven I was ready to go. I was supposed to meet Paul in the lobby of the hotel at 8:45. We were to take a car to the airport and leave for Seattle. At 7 the restaurant opened in the lobby of the hotel. I went in and had a breakfast of tomatoes, small hot dogs, eggs and pancakes and coffee and hot milk. When this was finished I went upstairs and got my bags and went to the lobby to wait for Paul. Paul came down at about 8:46. He spotted me and we went out the door to the waiting car. It looked like a Mercedes Benz, fairly new. We drove off to the airport. It took just under an hour.
At the airport we went through customs, then we had a little time to kill, so we went upstairs to a cafť. I had a cup of coffee while Paul read the English version of the Moscow Tribune.
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