… and today I got up on one, unsteadily, for our guided bicycle ride around Beijing. I like the idea of seeing Beijing by bike, but the traffic did prevent me from actually seeing a lot because I focused on not being hit by a car. There are a lot of bike lanes, but since they are used by other bikes, pedestrians, scooters and the occasional parked car, biking is not a pleasant experience in Beijing. (even before crashing into a traffic cone. ouch). But you do come around the city faster than on foot.
The bicycle tour took until lunch, and after having a lovely lunch at a restaurant close to our hotel we walked to the forbidden city. The complex is huge, and we spend a couple of hours walking around. It is huge! When we tired of walking around, we went to a park opposite the forbidden city, where a hilltop functions as a viewpoint where the entire forbidden city can be overlooked. After walking around in this park, we walked to one of the shopping streets in the area where we visited a lovely tea shop and went out for Peking Duck.
In the forbidden city
Baijing by night
We got up to a chinese landscape (more green than the mongolian had been) and a lot of tunnels through mountains. In the middle of the afternoon we arrived in Beijing and were picked up by our guide, who took us to our hotel in the center of Beijing (very near the forbidden city). After checking in, we walked to a park northwest of the forbidden city, and spend some time walking and relaxing there. Then we went back to the hotel, and had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Pagode in the park
We got up very early on the day of our departure from Ulaanbataar. The receptionist at our hotel arranged for a taxi to the train station, where we stood shortly in the light snowy weather before our train came in and our train steward let us in the train (a lot earlier than we anticipated). Leaving Ulaanbataar in the snow and entering the dusty Gobi desert was a contrast. The air in the train became dusty and dry (could be due to the other turists opening the windows all the time), which was unpleasant as we had to moderate our liquid intake (we knew the toilets would be locked for 5 hours during the border crossing). Early in the evening we arrived at the border and were checked by both mongolian and chinese border patrols. After crossing to the chinese side, we had to change wheels on our carriages, because the chinese rails are more narrow than the russian and mongolian rails. This was done by lifting the wagons, and changing the entire undercarriage of the train. Afterwards the train was rearranged for some time, before finally leaving the chinese border station (and unlocking the toilets!). After a quick dinner we went to bed.
On our last day in Ulaanbaatar, Kristian and I went out for breakfast at the same cafe where we had breakfast the day we came. The food was still lovely and reasonably priced, the tea was hot and sweet and outside large snowflakes fell to the ground. After eating, drinking our tea and talking, we ventured out in the city, where the snow had stopped.
The day before we had passed a fabric store, and being the amateur seamstress that I am, I had to check it out. The shop was abundant with beautiful fabric, both silk and synthetic, most embroidered gorgeously. Chosing what I wanted (and then finding an ATM as the shop didn’t accept card) and sending longing stares at the rest, we left the shop with a slightly heavier bag than we came in. Then we went back to Cashmere House to browse some more as well as meeting the others, before lunch. After spending some time touching lovely cashmere blankets, scarfs and clothes we walked to a different part of the city and had lunch at Millie’s Café (recommended by Lonely Planet). The food as well as the atmosphere was nice and we left the café full and content. Now the weather had shifted to rain, but not heavily. From here the others went to see the winter palace south of the city, while we went to the State Department Store to look at a camel wool plaid (since I made friends with the camels two days previous) as well as stock up for our next train journey. We returned to the hotel to pack, before meeting the others for dinner and walking through the light snowy weather in the mongolian evening.
We woke in a cool, but not cold Ger. Having the fire relit at 5 in the morning really helped keeping the Ger comfortable. After breakfast we got in the car, and drove back to Ulaanbataar. Returning to the hotel, we got new rooms and went out for lunch. After lunch we walked around a bit, before walking to the part of the city where we were planning on seeing a cultural show. It took some time to find the place, as it was located in a complex of buildings, looking very decayed. When we arrived the place was very empty (we were 45 minuted early), but gradually more and more people arrived and ten minutes before the show started we purchased tickets. The show was a mixture between traditional dancing, traditional music (played on traditional instruments), folk songs, a contortionist and mongolian throat singing. Some of the music was very good, the throat singing wa impressive, almost unnatural, as was the contortionist – bodies are not supposed to bend like that!
Decorated furniture (they really like the orange colour)
Hustai National Park
We woke up in our ger tent, freezing. Our fire had gone out during the night, leaving the tent very cold. Despite the cold, we got up and met the others for breakfast (deep fried biscuits were my favourite item). Then we packed our things and drove off. Our first stop was seeing a nomade family moving their livestock (goats and sheep) and seeing them set up their Ger. While walking towards them we noticed a little goat kid, left behind by the flock. The bleating was heartbreaking, so we decided to catch it and take it to the nomade family. Thorbjørn being our livestock expert (he also carried a lamb around in Scotland) caught it, and we took it to the nomade family, whom we hope reunited it with the mother.
The day before we had passed a stripe of sand desert that our guide called Mini-Gobi. Here we stopped today and Amaraa arranged for us to be taken over the desert-stripe by camel. Riding a camel was a new experience for me, and slightly unnerving (large animals make me uneasy). But our local guide had control of his camels and the overall experience was very fun and positive (especially after descending the camel).
After riding the camels we went on, and had lunch in the same village as the previous day (mutton). We drove on again, and in the afternoon we reached Hustai National Park. This national park is where the once extinct mongolian wild horse was succesfully reintroduced from zoo’s in the 1990′s. There is a camp site at the entrance to the park, where we were spending the night. After leaving our luggage in our ger tents, we drove into the national park (a somewhat bumpy ride) to see the wild horses. Besides the horses we also saw mongoose, birds and deer. After admiring the horses for a while, we went back to the camp to have dinner (beef), watch a short movie about the national park and see their small museum. Then we retired to our gers, hoping for a not quite so cold night (Amaraa had arranged for someone to come at 5 o’clock and restart the fires).
Thorbjørn and his little goat
Little lost goat
Raising a Ger
On the camel
On the camel
After breakfast at the hotel, we met our guide, Amaraa, in the hotel lobby. Along with our non-english-speaking driver, she was taking us out of Ulaanbataar and into Mongolia. The first hour or so was spend getting out of Ulaanbataar, where the traffic was jammed due to road repairs. But when we entered the countryside we saw slightly green hills, livestock (horses, cows, camels, goats and sheep) and lots of birds. We stopped in a small village for lunch (mutton) before driving on, stopping occasionally for pictures. In the late afternoon we reached Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century. Now there is a rebuildt temple site made from the stones of Karakorum. Here we had a tour of the different temples, and enjoyed the warm weather. Afterwards we drove to our Ger-camp, close to Karakorum, where we got arranged in seperate Ger tents. Here we had dinner (mutton) and afterwards took a walk in the area. The Ger tents were very nice, but got very cold after the fire went out.
Our Ger tent
At the Ger camp
The Ger camp
at the Ger camp
Near the camp
Inside the Ger
We got up very early, and looked out the window at snow. The train was arriving early in the morning in Ulaanbataar, and we got of with all our luggage, tired and slightly cold. There were no official taxis at the station, so we decided to walk a little, in the hopes of finding a ride. When no taxis showed up, we went into a hotel where a very helpful receptionist called a cab for us, to take us to our hotel. Our receptionist was sleeping when we arrived (5:30 in the morning), but woke up at gave us our keys so we could get a few hours of sleep before going out in Ulaanbataar.
After sleeping a little, we went out for breakfast. After walking around for a while (and catching a military parade in front of the parlament) we decided on a cafe, shere we had pancakes, scrambled eggs, smoked sausages and bacon. Delicious! Full and content, we walked to the national museum where we saw the exhibitions about Mongolia and Mongolian history. Afterwards we found lunch and walked about in Ulaanbataar. The city is actually very nice, but the traffic is not pedestrian-friendly! We went to a monestary in the city, where it seemed like every pigeon in town lived! The site was beautiful, with snowcovered mountains in the distance. Then we shopped for our trip into Mongolia, before finding dinner.
Snowy mountains in the distance
Spending an entire day on the train is a lot less boring than it sounds. Partly because your sense of time changes and you don’t really register the hours going by while reading and watching the changing landscape. Partly because crossing the Russian-Mongolian border provides a break in the monotomy of the train ride. We had absolutely no problems at the border (we were slightly worried, because our train stewardess stored citrus fruits in our compartment), the only inconvenience was the locking of the toilets – I will never appreciate that part. But after reaching the border in the early afternoon it took more or less five hours before the train continued in Mongolia, bringing me into the 32nd country visited.
My trusted camera bag
On our last morning in Listvjanka, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast, before heading out to buy the last souvenirs and look at the lake once again, before packing and preparing to be picked up at six o’clock. The weather was cold, and we had a little snow before lunch. After lunch it cleared and for the first time we could see the opposite side of the lake. The day was spend relaxing and packing, before we said goodbye to our very kind hostess, were picked up by our driver and taken to the station in Irkutsk. We boarded the train, ate a little dinner and went to sleep.
Sun over Baikal
Snow-capped mountains on the opposite shore