Some photos of the trip so far
Trip Start Sep 10, 2007
11Trip End Dec 20, 2007
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We are currently having a bit of R&R time in central China, so what better opportunity to send through a quick update and a few photos.
Our trip started with a jaunt through Russia on the train, stopping off at 5 places along the way. It was nice to break the trip up, and our longest journey was 'only' 30 hours or so. The train rides were great fun and very relaxing. Amazingly, there never seemed to be enough time on the train either, as there was always lots to do: reading, cards, journals, photo editing, eating, drinking, etc, etc. The compartments were really comfortable, 4 to a room, but as there were 3 of us (Mark, Natalie and Meds) we often had all of it to ourselves, very nice indeed.
Russia was a fascinating country, with great variety (as you'd expect given its size!). The European-like city of St Petes, the gigantic Stalinist buildings in Moscow, the functional (or hideous, depending on your viewpoint!) apartments blocks throughout the whole country, the wide open plains of Siberia, the wholesome and hearty food, and of course attempting to master the Cryllic alphabet (which we could just read by the end of our time there!). The people were quite unemotional on the outside, but as we got to realise through our trip they are actually very sharing and kind underneath these cold exteriors, and we had a great time with the different guides we used along the way.
Mongolia was next on the journey. We had planned to spend four nights in gers in the middle of the country, two of those with a nomadic family in their ger. However, as we headed out for our first night in the country the snow started coming in, so much so that visibility was effectively zero, and with the 'roads' in Mongolia not always being easy to follow our driver said there was a very good chance we would actually get lost. This meant we turned back for another night in Ulan Bator, which by chance meant we were able to see the NZ-France rugby game, but enough said about that. The next morning we awoke to beautiful sunshine and the trip went ahead as planned. It was beautiful steppe (photos attached), just so open and no real infrastructure to speak of (except the mobile phone coverage was actually better than our coverage in London!). Staying with the nomadic family was excellent, not easy at the time (the toilets were au naturale, and it was very cold in the ger when the fire went out, but I'm sure nowhere near as cold as in winter!!), and you really appreciated how hard working they are.
We then headed into China, but not before we went through a bizarre wheel-changing trick. The rail lines are conveniently different widths in Russia / Mongolia and China, so the carriages had to be picked up one-by-one, old wheels removed first, and then put back down when the new wheels were in place. The Chinese put on a very slick show though, and we were all done in an hour or so.
We have now just spent 5 nights in Beijing, which was excellent, arguably one of the cities we have enjoyed most. We really enjoyed the classic sights (Great Wall and Summer Palace), but even more so the parks in the early morning with locals doing their daily exercise (tai-chi, sword waving, stretching, running in circles, a game similar to hacky, and of course table tennis!). We also managed to emerge from the markets not too badly beaten. After Russia, and to a limited extent Mongolia, everyone in China is so friendly (even when you don't buy something from them!), smiling all the time, and because there are not that many tourists they get a real buzz from saying 'Hello' to you in English. We have also been asked to pose with Chinese tourists for photos lots of times, including yesterday when a whole busload of teenagers wanted their photo with Mark so they could measure how tall they were against him!
From here the plans are starting to settle. We are soon off to Tibet (hopefully that is, we are still battling with Chinese beauracracy on that one), and then overland into Nepal, where we meet friends from London for an 18 day trek into the mountains.
Anyway, hopefully this hasn't dragged on too long :) Hope you are all well and we look forward to hearing from you!
Love Mark and Natalie