Russia, Mongolia, China, and South Korea, 2015

Travels on the Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian Railways
Copyrighted  ©2015 by DRC

Life aboard the train
Life aboard the train

I traveled by rail from St. Petersburg, Russia to to Beijing, China on a 3.5-week trip, and then took a two-week tour through South Korea. The following is composed of my daily journal entries and photographs taken during the trip (please excuse the tedious and poorly-written nature of the journal). You may rather go through the thumbnail catalog: St. Petersburg, Suzdal, Moscow, Trans Siberian Railway, Lake Baikal, Trans Mongolian Railway part A, Ulaan Baatar and ger camp, Trans Mongolian Railway part B, Beijing, Seoul, DMZ and Seoraksan National Park, Osaek Minerals Springs and temple stay, Andong, Gyeongju.

8 August 2015 Saturday
It's almost 3 in the afternoon and I'm sitting in a café in the boarding area of the Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky. I'm starting my trip to Russia, Mongolia, China, and South Korea. Earlier, at 2, Anne took photos of me in front of the house with my carry-on pack and two dogs. She drove me to the airport, where I checked in, got my boarding passes, and went through security. There were only two people in front of me and so, it went fairly quickly. The fellow in front of me looked familiar and we finally figured out that we had seen each other at the state paleontological society meetings. He and his wife were heading to Ireland and then England. We're on the same flight to Atlanta.
    I'll be gone for a little over a month. I have a little red rucksack with my clothes and a camera bag with camera and books and a small laptop. Everything is carry-on. I've had the red pack for about forty-two years and it has been around the world with me on many of my trips.
    I'm flying to St. Petersburg, Russia where I will start a three-week rail trip on the Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian railways to Beijing. This trip is a tour offered by Intrepid Travels, an Australian company. From Beijing I fly to Seoul, South Korea where I start a tour through South Korea, also offered by Intrepid. I'll be in South Korea about two weeks. From there, I fly home, but not over the Pacific, but all the way back to Europe (Paris) and then across the Atlantic. It doesn't make sense, but that's the cheapest way.
    In the cafe, I had an ice tea and started my journal entries.
    I boarded my flight to Atlanta around 4 pm. Skies are partly cloudy and calm. I arrived in Atlanta and made my way to the next terminal. I found my gate and then walked all through the three wings of the terminal for exercise. I stopped at a help desk and got my boarding pass for the Amsterdam flight to St. Petersburg, which couldn't be done in the Lexington airport for some reason. After walking around I stopped at my gate area and filled out my journal.
    The plane to Amsterdam flight took off about 8:20 pm. It was a Delta/KLM flight. Shortly I was served a shrimp salad with roll and cut fruit. I gave my brownie to the lady across the aisle. I had red wine to drink. I watched "Get Hard" with Will Farrow and "Blart: Mall Cop 2," both what you'd expect.

9 August 2015 Sunday
    Midnight passed somewhere over the Atlantic. The fellow sitting next to me didn't speak any language that I knew and didn't speak English. Nice fellow, but we didn't interact much. I brought some nice headphones and listened to Bach the rest of the flight. The flight was pretty calm all of the way.
    For breakfast, I had a small croissant with jelly and cheese, plus a cup of yogurt. We landed around ten in the morning. I de-boarded and got to my next gate by 10:45. It was in the same terminal and only a few gates away. I found a seat and filled out my journal.
    I boarded the KLM flight to St. Petersburg about 12:20 local time. The flight left about 1 pm and flew across the coastline of northern Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and crossing through Estonia before landing in St. Petersburg. We were served a hot cheese sandwich which was very good.
    We arrived at the St. Petersburg airport about 4:30 pm. I went through passport control. I have a multiple-entry Russian visa that I got last year when I visited my daughter Mary. I exited the airport about five pm and found my paid ride to my hotel. The driver is a very nice fellow with two children, the oldest of whom will be starting university soon. He told me that there was a "Harley Days" motorcycle rally in the square next to my hotel. When I got to my hotel, M-Hotel (their website) on Sadovaya Street, there were Harleys and bikers everywhere.
    I'm telling the next part through vodka-infused memory.
    I got to my hotel, checked in and the counter lady, Maria, told me about the festival. She was very helpful. I went to my room, put on one of my Harley Davidson T-shirts and went out to see the events.
    The square was packed with people, tents, stages, and motorcycles. I went to a Harley Davidson tent and they had a map of Europe with push pins showing where all the participants were from. I got the last push pin and placed it on the wall of the tent and wrote Kentucky next to the pin. I definitely came the furthest.
    I saw a bucking bronco machine with lots of people trying it, I listened to very interesting Russian rock music from a variety of bands, took photos of skimply-dressed models on motorcycles, saw a custom bike show, stunt-bike demonstrations, etc. I'm sure my T-shirt got a lot of stares, it was a Harley shirt from the shop in Pikeville, Kentucky featuring the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
    After an hour of wandering around, I went back to my hotel. I got a Baltika beer at the bar and talked to Maria about places to eat. But I never got to try any of them. I went to the bar area to look at my map and finish my beer. A bunch of bikers came in. They noticed my T-shirt and started talking with me. They were bikers from Moscow and had ridden for eleven days through the Baltic countries as part of the event. I sat down at a table of five of them. They bought me shots of vodka and I recited a toast that my daughter Mary taught me. I also met some bikers from Turkey who had driven up for the rally. I have a lot of new friends and when they all come to Kentucky, they are staying at my house.
    Anyway, a crazy bald-headed biker and his wife wanted to show me around St. Petersburg, so we set off walking to Field of Mars (Wikipedia entry). We stopped at numerous places and had shots of vodka along the way. At Mars Field, I saw the Eternal Flame, a memorial for the World War II dead. Then we layed down on the field for a traditional selfie photograph. They wanted me to try some real Russian food so we went to an elegant restaurant (we were wearing biker garb). We ordered vinegret salad (Wikipedia entry) with herring, blinies with sour cream and red caviar and more shots of vodka. I was going to treat them, but they weren't going to have that, they paid for everything. They said that when they came to Kentucky, then I could treat them. They wanted to show me real Russian hospitality.
    We walked back to the hotel, talked some more and then they went back to their room. They have to leave at ten in the morning for their ten-hour ride back to Moscow. I think I have a new Moscow biker tattoo (just kidding). I went back to my room, brushed my teeth, took my pills, and went to sleep. I have no idea what the time was.

10 August 2015, Monday
    I woke up at 6:30 but had no hangover, amazingly. I wrote my journal entries. Somehow, I ended up with a Russian motorcycle flag. It will be my souvenir.
    I went down to breakfast and saw my buddies gearing up for their long trip back to Moscow. I went out and said good morning to them. I went to breakfast which was buffet style. I had potatoes, sliced cucumber, farmers cheese, cold cuts, a pancake sort of thing, egg soufflé, and lots of coffee. For dessert, I had a sort of Mandarin orange.
    After saying goodbye to my friends, I went back to my room. I tried to connect to the internet. I was able to log-on to their hotel wifi, but there was no internet connection for some reason. So I typed out my journal entries and backed up my camera files instead.
    I went to the desk and asked about the internet and Maria told me that the internet was down all over St. Petersburg, but that it might be fixed by 2 pm.
    I bought a bottle of water and took it back to my room. One cannot use tap water in St. Petersburg because giardia is present.
    I went out and walked around the side-streets to Nevsky Prospect for several hours. At six I met with my new group in the hotel lobby. Our guide is from Russia, of course, the others are from Canberra, Melbourne, Queensland, New Zealand, a lady half Australian and English and a young lady from England. We had our meeting to discuss our upcoming trip. At about seven we met again and went to the Odessa Mamma restaurant specializing in Ukrainian food. I ordered Okroshka soup with Kvas added (Wikipedia entry) and I also ordered a lard plate. I passed mine around for the others to try. The soup consisted of a broth with lots of small-diced vegetable and some meat, with distinctive kvas flavor. It was quite nice. We all ordered a bottle of Ukrainian sweet red wine and then a watery Rioja (Spanish) red.
    Our leader, Maria (Masha) suggested two bars for after dinner, however, I was the only one to go. I went to "Money Honey," (their website) a rockabilly bar featuring rockabilly music and Elvis Presley. I got a glass of red wine and sat outside. Two Russian fellows came out and sat at my table to smoke and they started a conversation with me. We talked quite a bit, they were eager to try their English. They wanted to know what my favorite movies were. I really couldn't think of any right away but mentioned "Easy Rider" and "Little Big Man." They hadn't heard of either but looked them up on their phone. They were Donald's age or younger. Anyway, there were about five people in the bar. We went inside and sat at a table. A rockabilly band started playing, they played some Johnny Cash and other American songs. They announced that there was an American in the audience and waved at me, I waved back of course. The two Russian fellows ordered several rounds of beer and chicken wings for the table. I tried to pay but they wouldn't let me. I went up and talked to the band during one of their breaks and told them that I really liked their music. We all had a great time.
    I walked back to my hotel, filled out my journal, brushed my teeth, etc. and then went to bed.

11 August 2015, Tuesday
    I got up, brushed my teeth and went to breakfast. I had coffee, cold-cuts, cheese, cucumber, and the pancake-like thing. At nine I met the others in the lobby area. Our guide for the day was Julia from St. Petersburg. We crossed Nevsky at a metro passageway and walked to Mars Field. A canal boat was waiting for us and we cruised along several canals. We crossed the large Neva River and cruised a canal around the St. Peter and Paul fortress. Then we returned to our starting point.
    The others in our group purchased tickets for the Hermitage Museum online yesterday. I have already been and didn't want to face the crowds again, so I walked back to the hotel. I made my journal entries and posted them by e-mail.
    The weather has been great. The temperature is in the 70's F, it is very sunny, and there is a slight breeze. They have had a rainy summer up till now.
    My travelling companions are very nice. There are six of us plus our guide Masha. There are two fellows from Australia, one is a farm-equipment dealer from Queensland, the other an English professor. There is a fellow from New Zealand who was a property evaluation expert. There is one lady who lives in Australia but grew up in England. She had studied to be a geologist, but became a teacher instead. There is one young lady from England, but she had lived in New Your city to work for a large corporation. She now lives in England again. Most of us are retirement age except for the English lady and the guide. The guide is from Sochi, Russia and speaks excellent English.
    I have jet lag and I took a quick nap that turned out rather long. Because I do not know where we are going to eat tonight I decided that I had better wait in the lobby area. So at five pm I went down to wait and read. I brought two paperbacks with me, both by Pushkin (Wikipedia entry). The first is a series of six short stories including "The Queen of Spades" and "The Tales of the Late P. Belkin" (consisting of five short stories). When I'm finished I will leave them behind. The second book is the classic "Eugene Onegin," (Wikipedia entry) a book told in verse with a unique and complex rhyming scheme.
    At seven, the men in our group met and we walked to the Dachniki restaurant (website) suggested by one of the counter ladies. We walked about a mile westward (looking in toward the sun) and found it right away. I ordered mutton kebab, potato wedges, sautéed onions, rye bread and we shared a bottle of chianti. The other three fellows ordered pork kebab, fish soup, and chicken kebab. Mine was good. We walked back to the hotel and I was back in my room by ten.
    Tomorrow is a travel day, so I gathered my stuff. I will pack tomorrow morning. I filled out my journal, and typed it out. I won't have internet for a couple of days, so I will send an entry out tomorrow.
    I brushed my teeth, took my pills, and went to bed.

12 August 2015, Wednesday
I didn't sleep much during the night and didn't get drowsy till about seven in the morning. It was light about four in the morning. I got up about nine, brushed my teeth and went down to breakfast. I had the usual cold cuts, cucumber slices, soufflé and coffee, about four cups of strong coffee because I am very tired.
    The rest of my group planned to go walking around the streets. I will stay in, to do my journal, shower and pack. Check-out time is noon.
    I went down to the lobby at noon and checked out. I sat in the lobby bar with my pack, and read from my Pushkin book. At a little before three everyone gathered with their luggage. We walked a couple of blocks to a bus station and jumped on the #3 bus to the Moscow train station. We boarded train #59 about 4:30 or 5 pm. We have second-class sleeper cabins so there are four bunks per cabin. The four men have one cabin and the three women are in the next cabin with a Russian lady making up the fourth.
    We were served a sack with small bottled water, cupcake, nut bar and yogurt and then twenty minutes later we were served a hot meal. Mine was a container with macaroni and baked chicken.
    Several of us walked up to the dining car and had a beer. The car was fairly hot and we didn't stay very long after we finished the beer. I went back to the cabin, wrote in my journal and started gathering my things for the upper berth.
    At dark, I climbed up to my upper bunk. One of my fellow cabin mates started snoring loudly. I had my night light on and finished reading my first Pushkin book. I slept with my jeans on but no shirt and no covers. I was comfortable all night long.

13 August 2015, Thursday
    Although I was comfortable, I couldn't sleep all night long because of jet lag. My body thought it was afternoon and early evening.
    At 3:30 am, Masha knocked on our door. We got up, dressed, packed and were ready to go by 4:15 am when we pulled into the Vladimir, Russia station. We exited the train and station and immediately found our small bus. We loaded onto the bus and drove for about 30-40 minutes till we got to our Zolotoy Ruchey Hotel (their website) in Suzdal. Because of our early morning arrival, only two rooms were available, one for the guys and one for the girls. Most of the fellows took a shower and went to sleep. There wasn't room for everybody, so I didn't take a shower. I went to the lobby, sat in a soft chair hoping to sleep finally. At 8 am I went down to breakfast and was the first there. I was served red juice, coffee, cold cuts, cheese, butter, bread, a plate of blinies with strawberry jam, and a few minutes later, a baked egg soufflé. I ate it all.
     I was becoming very drowsy, almost dizzy. We started our two-hour walking tour of historic Suzdal (Wikipedia entry). We met our local guide, Nadia, and she led us around the town-size outdoor museum of the churches and monasteries of Suzdal.
    At the end, we stopped at a mead shop and had a glass of locally-made mead. It was very nice, it had bits of beeswax and occasionally part of a bee in it.
    We walked about 3/4-of a mile to a lady's house, a baboushka. She had cooked a traditional lunch for us in her home. We were first served a salad of freshly chopped vegetables (cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, onion, ripe olives) and sautéed wild mushrooms. Next we had a cabbage soup with chicken stock and chicken pieces. Then there was the third course of boiled potatoes and balls of boiled ground port. It was all very good. John and I had a beer for drink. We also had water and her local herb tea. She went to the cellar and got a jar of home-made blueberry jam to go with her home-made pastry. It was excellent, I told her. She said that she would marry me if I could do any carpentry. We all had a good laugh at her sense of humor. After eating we went to her garden (from where most of our food had come). It was quite an extensive garden and included fruit trees and flowers as well as vegetables.
    We walked back to our hotel. I got a key to my new room, which was palatial. I took a much-needed shower, filled out my journal, and tried a short nap.
    I slept for an hour and then went down to the lobby by 5:20. The guide and Sally went to a church service and the rest of us searched for three restaurants mentioned by our guide. One, we could not find. Another, on a patio we did find. We were seated and given menus. We waited thirty minutes for service which never came despite our inquiries. We left and went to the remaining one on our list. After 15 or 20 minutes the guide and Sally joined us. Everyone ordered, there was a beef stroganoff, a flounder, a pike, tom yum soup, sushi order, etc. I just had a local draft beer because I was still full from lunch. After the beer I had a glass of chianti as the others finished. We had entertaining conversations.
    We walked back to the hotel and John, Rob, and I went to the bar/restaurant in our hotel. We had a glass of red wine each. We were the only customers. After the glass, I went back to my room, by nine pm.
    I brushed my teeth, took my pills and then filled out my journal. I could not get internet connection although I was able to connect to the hotel wifi. I went to bed shortly after. I hope to gain back my sleep.

14 August 2015, Friday
Last night was the first time I had a good night's sleep since I got to Russia. It rained for an hour or so and the sound was very soothing. I got up about 7:15, brushed my teeth and finished packing.
    I went down to breakfast at 7:30 and was served a red juice, plate of cold cuts, cheese and bread and butter, and then a plate of pancakes with sour cream. I thought that was then, but in five minutes came another plate with two fried eggs. I ate everything. I had a cup of strong coffee to drink.
    I went back to my room and filled out my journal. At 8:30 I took my pack and met the others in the lobby. We got on the same small bus with the same driver as yesterday. He is from Vladimir.
    We headed out to Moscow. After an hour or so we stopped at a truck/tourist stop. I had a café Americano and a yogurt drink. After a twenty-minute rest we continued our drive to Moscow.
    Sally gave me her book that she had just finished, "A Russian Journal," (Wikipedia entry) by John Steinbeck and Robert Capa. I had been trying to find it at home, but couldn't. So this was very fortunate. My daughter Mary had told me about this book. This particular one was a British edition. Capa's photographs were included, thankfully.
    We got ot our hotel, Arbat House Hotel (their website) on Skatertny Pereulok about 1:30I took my luggage to my room and took some photos.
    At two we met in the lobby and walked down New Arbat street till we got to a very nice self-serve cafeteria. I did only a salad bar and soup. I had a nice pumpkin soup and about six kinds of Russian salad. I had a small Baltika #7 beer for drink. I was the last to finish eating because I was the last to get my food. I talked to the fellow serving beer. He was a large black man from Cuba and had played professional baseball. He asked about my favorite team. He said he played in Moscow with a bunch of ex-pats, but not professionally here. I told him I would be able to travel to Cuba soon. John Kerry just opened the American Embassy in Havana this week.
    I did finish eating. Four of us walked south and crossed the Moscow River on two bridges (there was a big island in the middle of the river) and then through the statue park and through Gorky Park (Wikipedia entry). It was a very nice day and the temperature was about 75 degrees F. We crossed the Moscow on another bridge and headed back to our hotel. We had walked a good number of miles. I bought a bottle of water because we cannot drink tap water here. It turned out to be highly carbonated water.
    I got back to my room by six. I updated my journal and sent e-mails home. I also washed out three of my shirts and took a Pepto Bismol. I hung the shirts up in my room, I hope they dry.
    At eight, I left the hotel and walked with three others to our meeting point. We entered the famous Moscow metro system (Wikipedia entry) where each station has its own public art. We rode the metro and weent to about six or seven stations to exit the trains and examine the art. Some stations feature mosaics, some had stained glass, and some with statues. We spent about two hours travelling in a big loop.
    At about ten we walked back to our hotel and went to the BB Cafe at the hotel. We all ordered soup and a drink. I ordered the cold okroshka soup (Wikipedia entry) (diced vegetables and meat) with kvas and sour cream. I ordered a nice Valpolicello wine to go with it. It was very good.
    I went back to my room by 11:30, filled out my journal, preformed by night-time ablutions and went to bed.

15 August 2015, Saturday
    I got up at 7:30, brushed my teeth and went down to breakfast. Breakfast was buffet style. I had coffee with hot milk, two fried eggs, fatty bacon, hot dog, cold cuts, cheese, tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, and a pastry. I sat on the patio with the others of our group and it was slightly chilly. I was back in my room by 8:30.
    By nine we met and walked to the Kremlin/Red Square area. I have thoroughly investigated this area in the past. We met with our charming local guide, Yulia, while standing in line for Lenin's Mausoleum (Wikipedia entry). We went through the mausoleum and saw Lenin's preserved body, no photos of course. We walked back to Red Square (Wikipedia entry) and made our way to the busy Trinity Gate to the Kremlin.
    It was pretty crowded in the Kremlin fortress (Wikipedia entry). We saw military horsemen, a military band, and official falconer, visited one of the churches, and listened to the band play. We walked to the Armoury Museum and jet lag kicked in. I got very tired. We were given a very thorough and detailed tour through the armoury and I dragged myself along.
    We finally exited the Armoury and walked out of the Kremlin through the Saviour Gate. We were all tired and thirsty. We said goodbye to our guide and went to a shaded, patio restaurant just outside the G.U.M. building. I was still not hungry from breakfast, so I had a Zhigula beer. The others ordered food with their beer or tea.
    After out late lunch, we walked back to our hotel. I was back in my room by 4:30. I filled out my journal and checked my laundry.
    At 6:30 I met four others of our group and we walked through the touristy, pedestrian Arbat street. They settled on an American-styled restaurant called Beverly Hills (not my choice). It was 50-60's retro with American music. I had a hamburger, fries and a Beverly Hills beer (I have no idea where it's made).
    After we ate we went back to the hotel. Three of us went to the hotel's BB Café and I had a glass of red wine, Valpolocello again. I went back to my room at 9:30 and filled out my journal and started gathering my stuff. Tomorrow is the first of five continuous days on the train to Irkutsk. I did my evening ablutions and went to bed about 10:15.

16 August 2015, Sunday
    I had a good night's sleep. I got up, brushed my teeth and went down to breakfast in the BB Café. I had the same as yesterday. I sat with Rob. He and Andrew walked to Red Square to see it lit up by the lights of the G.U.M. department building. G.U.M. is a bit like Harrods in London. I had done this on a previous trip, so didn't feel the need to go last night.
    I took a shower, finished packing and sent off a journal entry by e-mail.
    We met in the lobby at 10:30. We walked to the Arbat metro station and caught a train to the Komsolmosk station. After going through security, we went to a second-floor waiting area. We broke up into two groups, one to watch the luggage while the other group went to the grocery to buy provisions for the trip. Then after 40 minutes we would shift groups. I bought a litter of water, a bottle of Russian cabernet, a box of cheap Russian red wine, a bottle of vodka, a long link of pepperoni-like sausage, a wedge of white cheese, two small loaves of bread, six bananas, and four apples.
    At 1:30 we walked to our train and boarded it. This is part of the Trans Siberian Railway (Wikipedia entry) and Moscow is the 0 km post. We are in car #9, cabin 2, the four men in cabin 2 and the three ladies in the next cabin. Our car attendant (provodnitsa) is Tamara and the male attendant asked us to call him John, although his real name is Yevgeni. When I told him where I was from he made a long, loud "tisk" like sound. Many consider the U.S. as enemies, and we are not liked. He seems alright though.
    We packed away everything. I took a top bunk. I'm the smallest of the guys. This is an old Soviet-era train, there are no electrical outlets in the cabin and it may not be air conditioned.
    The train pulled out at 1:50. The weather was cool and very cloudy and felt like it was going to rain. It doesn't matter if it rains now because we will be on the train for five days.
    Masha taped a map of Russia on the aisle wall. She also posted a schedule of stops and the average time for the stops. I had a world map and we taped that on the wall as well. While we were looking at the maps, a large fellow came up and started talking to me in Russian and pidgin English. He started talking very loudly that Russia was good but America was "mother fucker" this and mother fucker that, over and over and he got right up to my face, practically spitting on me about the motherfucking Americans. Masha told me to sit in her cabin and not say anything to him, so I went to her cabin. The fellow wandered off for a few minutes and then came back. He saw me and wanted to come into the cabin to yell at me more about motherfucking Americans and Masha said that he could not come in, but he blocked the door and she couldn't get out to get the provodnitsa. He asked to sit down next to me so he could curse me out some more. Masha said no, but he did anyway and started talking about motherfucking Americans again, but Masha was able to get out and get Tamara. Tamara made him get up and into the passageway. She asked which was his cabin and he wasn't even in our car, he was from six or seven cars down. He had heard that there was an American on the train and he searched me out. Tamara said that she would have him arrested if he didn't go back to his car. He left. So I took my motherfucking self back to my motherfucking cabin. Masha said that he was an ultra nationalist and also drunk. [Apparently their internal propaganda makes America their enemy and that America caused the Ukrainian conflict, that America shot down the Malaysian airline in Ukraine, and that America assassinated the Russian businessman/politician on the bridge over the Moscow River in Moscow.]
    After awhile I opened the 3-liter box of wine and called it our house wine. I got the sausage, cheese, and bread out as well. All seven of us were in our cabin and we ate all the cheese, loaf of bread and most of the sausage and consumed most of the wine. John shared his remaining walnuts and figs.
    We made several stops and got out to get fresh air and stretch our legs. At one of the stops, I bought a cup of black currants and raspberries, freshly picked, for 50 rubles. I gave some to Tamara. Then I saw another lady selling gooseberries, so I bought about a pint of them for 70 rubles. We snacked on some of these back in the cabin.
    At about 8 we made up our beds. It was not easy for the upper berths while you are sitting on them. It took Rob about half an hour. There is very little ventilation in the cabin and it is quite warm, and a little stuffy with four men in it. Ventilation shuts down while at the station, but is a little better while moving.
    I went to the toilet at the end of the car. The commode is a straight drop onto the track. You put your foot on a lever and out she goes. It's as lovely as you can imagine in there, you don't want to touch anything. I brushed my teeth and took my pills with bottled water.
    I went back to my bunk, turned on my reading lamp and filled out my journal while Andrew snored away. I read a little of "Eugene Onegin" (Pushkin) before I turned out my light.

17 August 2015, Monday
    The train made numerous stops during the night. At each stop the ventilation system shuts down and the toilets are locked. There must have been six to eight stops. In the morning, it was raining and must have rained some in the night, everything was pretty wet. John raised the shade about eight in the morning. I climbed down. I had about two inches of sausage left from the dinner party last night, so I had that and a banana for breakfast. I also had some gooseberries. For 30 rubles, I bought a packet of instant coffee with milk and sugar. I still had my stacan (mug) from yesterday. It was nice to have a cup of coffee.
    The train stopped at Balezino (Wikipedia entry)(1190 km) and we got out. I bought a small bag of mandarins to help break a large bill. We stopped at Perm (Wikipedia entry)(1433 km) from which the Permian Period was named. We stopped and got out for fresh air but there was nothing to see because of the trains that we were sandwiched between. It quit raining for this stop.
    When we got back on the train, we went directly to the dining car. We had pre-ordered our meal. I had borsch and a Russian "T" beer. There were two drunk Russian guys in the dining car who were hitting on Masha, but they also wanted to know about us. Masha said not to say where I was from, so as not to set them off.
    We finished our meal, paid for it and left before a scene was created. Masha passed around a very nice apple-sugar pastry called Belevskaya Pastila (recipe in Russian), with cinnamon, but no flour. It was excellent. I took a photo of the box for future reference.
    We were all in two cabins and we would group in one or the other. We played a game where we would write a famous person's name on a paper and taped it onto another's forehead, etc. and we would take turns guessing the name on our own forehead.
    We also broke out snacks, sausages, cookies, etc., tell stories and talk about past trips. All of my traveling mates are great.
    At 10:30, I filled out my journal and read some more Onegin. It is still raining.

18 August 2015, Tuesday
    I got up about 7:30 as we pulled into Ishim (Wikipedia entry)(2431 km). I brushed my teeth and by then all the fellows in my cabin were up. I had a banana, mandarin, piece of bread, the rest of the gooseberries, and a green tea. I re-arranged the stuff in my grocery bag. I still have a bottle of vodka, one of wine, one of water, four bananas, and four apples. I then filled out my journal.
    Masha's mother brought us a homemade chicken pie with a flaky crust. It was excellent. She met her mother at the Tyumen station at 4 am while we were all asleep.
    About 11:45 we arrived at Omsk (Wikipedia entry)(2712 km) on the Irtysh River (Wikipedia entry). It flows north to join the Ob which also flows northward to the northern coast of Russia. We got off the train and walked through the station to see it and stretch our legs.
    Back on the train, I climbed to my loft apartment and read some more Onegin. About 2 pm, four of us went to the dining car. I had a Solyanka soup (Wikipedia entry) with dill-pickle broth, sliced pickles, chopped hot dogs, olives, some herbs and sour cream. I'm getting to the point where soup is not soup without sour cream. I had a Baltika #7 beer, my first of one of these in a can. The dining car is almost empty because most Russians bring their food. Except, apparently for a few drunks. My total was 490 rubles. I left a 40 ruble tip.
    After this small meal, we went back to our cabins. I filled out my journal. At about 3:45 we stopped at Barabinsk (Wikipedia entry)(3035 km). We got out and walked the platforms. I bought a large cup of red currents for 80 rubles. Rob bought a bag of nice tomatoes. I wanted to buy some nice looking smoked fish but Masha said that they might not be safe to eat. I took a photo of an old steam locomotive.
    We got back on the train and headed to Novosibirsk. After awhile my droogies and I tried to see what we could put together for a light dinner. I had red currants, Bob had some nice ripe tomatoes and a tin of tuna fish. Masha had a bag of boiled potatoes, John had some sliced bread. We had what was left of Sally's boxed red wine and then a bottle of Rob's Italian red. When all that was done, I got out my bottle of vodka. I poured vodka for three who wanted it and we added red currants to it and smashed them. We didn't drink much vodka. Bob got out a chocolate bar and we had a few squares with the vodka.
    At about 7:30 Moscow time, it was already hard dark. We arrived at Novosibirsk (Wikipedia entry)(3335 km). We had almost an hour here. Masha gave us a tour of the large train station and I took some photos. At the platform, I bought six hard-boiled eggs for our breakfast tomorrow.
    We boarded the train and got ready for the night. I had an apple to clean my teeth, took my pills and caught up in my journal. I read some more of Onegan and then turned out my reading light.

19 August 2015, Wednesday
    I got up about 7:30 and had a mandarin, a banana, a few currants, and a cup of coffee.
    We stopped at Krasnayarsk (Wikipedia entry)(4098 km) and got out and walked around. I took photos of the station area. There are some mountains and hills here. [We saw mountains from here to Irkutsk.]
    Back on the train, we crossed the Yenisei River (Wikipedia entry), one of the largest in the world. I managed a few photos through the dirty window. After Krasnoyarsk, the landscape became much more hilly. We wound our way through a long mountain valley. I could see the rear of the train in some of the curves. There are fewer birches and more conifers here as well. This is part of the taiga (Wikipedia entry).
    I have not seen a large variety of birds on this trip. Most numerous are two types of crows, pigeons, English sparrows. Along the waterways I have seen ducks only, no other waterfowl or shorebird. The striking black-and-white magpies are common in the countryside. I have seen quite a few large brown kits and one merlin-size bird. The landscape from St. Petersburg to here is dominated by the effects of continental glaciation. Everything is either flat or gently rounded. The mountains and hills have been scraped to low rounded but elongated hills. Valleys are filled by outwash, sand and gravel is abundant.
    At about 1:45 pm, we arrived at Ilansky (Wikipedia entry)(4375 km). We got out, walked on the platform a bit and then re-boarded. That was our last exit from the train for the day. Back on board we immediately went to the dining car. We held three booths for our expanding group (we added a Queensland couple). We ordered. I had Solyanka soup again and a Baltika #7. The car filled up with others including some German trekkers. One couple was from Koln and were making animal dolls to sell. I drank my beer and finished it while waiting for my soup, so I ordered a Siberian beer. We talked a great deal. My soup never came but by then I was not hungry. We had to explain to the waiter that I never received my soup because it was on our bill. I only had to pay for the two beers. Back at the boy's cabin, I had sliced tomato, spam-like ham, and tube-cheese sandwich.
    I brought down my last bottle of Crimean cabernet and we drank it. We had lots of conversation and then we got ready for the night. Tomorrow is a travel day and so we must pack up.
    I filled out my journal and read some Onegan and went to bed.

20 August 2015, Thursday
    We got up about seven. I ate two bananas, some prunes and dried apricots and had a little coffee. I packed everything and was ready to go by eight.
    We arrived at Irkutsk (5185 km) at 8:30, walked through the station and found our small bus. We loaded onto the bus and drove about 2 hours, first crossing the Angara River (Wikipedia entry) and then to Bolshoye Goloustnoye on Lake Baikal (Wikipedia entry). The scenery was beautiful and I took photos as we drove. Julia is our local guide.
    We arrived at our homestay about noon and met Mikhial and his wife, Faiya, the owners. They are Buryats (Wikipedia entry), an Asian culture that has been in this area for 23 generations, Faiya says. I moved my stuff to my room and then several of us walked next door to a cafe. We had draught Baltika beer for sixty rubles each, very cheap.
    Lunch was at one. We had a very nice soup with homemade sour cream, meatball with buckwheat, Bread, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and I had tea with raw milk for drink. It was excellent.
    After lunch we walked up a big hill for a panoramic view of the village, it's on the delta plain of the Goloustnoye River that flows into Baikal. We couldn't see very far because of the smoke from the widespread forest fires. We walked down to the lake. We already had our swimming gear on and we took a quick dip in the very cold water. We next walked to a nearby cafe where we had two soft drinks, one was Baikal, made with cedar and which tastes like root beer, the other was Tarhun which was green and tasted like licorice. We also had smoked omul (Wikipedia entry), a famous fish from the lake. The fish was good and the drinks were interesting. I found that Julia works at a local university and teaches English and Russian.
    We walked back to the homestay. At five the ladies took the traditional banya (sauna) bath. At six it was the men's turn. Mikail introduced it to us. The banya has two rooms, the outer room is hot, the inner room is very hot. We took off our clothes in the outer room and hung them up. We entered the inner room and sat on benches. Mikail threw hot water onto the very hot bricks humorous times and brought the temperature up very high. Andrew was the first to experience the rest. He had to lay down on the upper bench. Mikail had the birch branches soaking in hot water. He slowly bounced the branches up and down Andrew's back and legs. He eventually started whacking him pretty hard, it seemed. Andrew then had to roll over and get this treatment for his frontside. Then he took Andrew outside (he put his trunks on first) and dumped cold water over him. Next was my turn and we were to do what Mikail had done. Rob whacked me gingerly and I told him it didn't hurt, to do it harder. I then went outside and Mikail dumped the water on me. It was very refreshing. After our individual turns, we went back in, soaped up and washed for the first time in many days. I rinsed with a bucket of warm water.
    We left the banya and put on our dirty clothes. Dinner was ready and Faiya served us a very nice cut vegetable salad with dill, baked omul fish, mashed potatoes, and bread. Everything was from this farm or Lake Baikal. It was very good.
    I excused myself and hand washed the T-shirt, socks, and jeans that I had worn the last five days. The water was quite dirty. I hung my clothes on the clothes line.
    Several of us walked to the magazin (store) next door. Masha helped us select a good Georgian dry red wine, Saperavi. We brought it back to the dining area. Mikail came in after milking the cow and six of us shared the wine till it was gone. Julia interpreted for us a Mikail asked us questions about what we thought of Russia. I told him that I had been to Russia four times and that I like Russian people and the Russian soul very much. He was very happy to hear that. He is a very smart man and knows a lot about countries around the world.
    After finishing the bottle, I went upstairs, took my pills and brushed my teeth (with bottle water of course). I then filled out my journal and went to bed.

21 August 2015, Friday
    I slept very well. I woke up at 6:30 and got up at 8:30. I brushed my teeth and went down to breakfast. We had rice porridge with milk from last night's milking, jam, homemade butter, homemade cottage cheese, bread, sweet bread, cold cuts, and I had instant coffee with fresh milk. Afterwards, I checked my laundry and it was almost dry.
    After breakfast we gathered and started our morning walk. We walked on the road for about 1.5-2 miles till we got to the base of Red Mountain. It's called Red Mountain because of the red-colored lichens growing on the rocks. We climbed a trail, part of the Great Baikal Trail (Wikipedia entry), to the outcrop of a light-colored limestone. Most of us then climbed the rest of the mountain along the rock outcrop to the top. I took photos but every vista is obscured by the smoke from the Baikal forest fires. I could not tell what the age of the rocks were because there were no fossils.
    We slowly climbed down and made our way back to our homestay. John and I had a couple of draught Baltikas at the nearby cafe.
    Faiya then had lunch for us. We had a cabbage and potato and onion solyanka (pickle juice) soup. It was very good. I added sour cream (smetana). Then we were served a plate of macaroni and meat patty plus sliced tomatoes, cucumber plus bread, etc. I added the local salsa to it.
    After lunch, I sat on our balcony and filled out my journal. At three we met with Masha and walked a mile or so on the delta flood plain and waded across a shallow distributary creek and soon came to another distributary creek with a deep hole on the cut bank. The water was pretty cool but not as cold as Baikal.
    We walked back to the homestay and shortly it was time for banya. This time it was men first. We did the same routine as yesterday but I had forgotten how hot it was. At the end, I soaped up and rinsed off and that was my bath for the day.
    I sat on the balcony porch to fill out my journal, relax, and wait for dinner. Faiya announced that dinner was ready and we all went in to eat. We had baked chicken, mashed potatoes, cut vegetable salad, bread, salsa, etc. I had black tea with very fresh milk. There were two additional guests, long time friends. One was a lady who organized many activities and festivals for Lake Baikal and she was joined by her granddaughter who was studying psychology at a university in Warsaw. The older lady gave us a short slide show of beautiful of Baikal in the winter. Faiya then also showed some of her beautiful photos of Baikal in the winter.
    John and I went to the magazin and each bought a bottle of the Georgian Saperavi red wine. We served them to the group. Mikail came in from cutting hay and milking the cow. We gave him a glass of wine and he gave us a bowl of fresh cream made right in front of us.
    We talked about horses. He loves horses and wants a herd of a hundred eventually. He has 17 now. I told him about Lexington and that he would like it because we have the horse museum and that our streets are even named after horses. I told him that I had two horses and that they were Harley Davidsons and he thought that was funny as I pretended to ride one. I gave him my tin of Harley Davidson mints as a gift.
    We finished the wine and I said goodnight. I went to my room, took my pills, brushed my teeth and gathered my stuff. I filled out my journal and went to bed. Tomorrow is a travel day.

22 August 2015, Saturday
    I woke up at 7:30, brushed my teeth and finished packing. I sat at the picnic table and had an instant coffee with fresh milk.
    We were called to eat at 9 am. We were served a sort of scrambled egg soufflé with cut up ham, vegetables and herbs. We also had sour cream, cottage cheese, cold cuts, sliced cheese, bread, homemade jam, homemade butter, a sweet bread and I had coffee with milk again.
    We had photos made of everyone with Mikail and Faiya and then we immediately loaded onto the van for our very dusty 2.5-hour ride back to Irkutsk (Wikipedia entry). In Irkutsk we said goodbye to Julia.
    We arrived at our hotel, the Angara where we all shared one day room to store our luggage, use the bathroom, take a shower, etc. We will not spend the night here. We went for a walk to a nearby coffee house for lunch. I had a large coffee with milk, a bowl of homemade cream of mushroom soup, and two blinies with cream cheese/sour cream and salmon bits.
    After lunch we walked to a Decembrist museum, the Volkonsky House museum where we learned about the fate of the Decembrists (Wikipedia entry), aristocrats who were part of a plot to liberalize the Russian government at the time of the tsars. It was an interesting museum.
    We walked back to our shared room. I tried to connect to the internet but was only able to send out one quick e-mail before the connection failed. Then I filled out my journal. I took a quick shower and then several of us went to the grocery to buy provisions for our trip to Ulaan Bataar. I bought a couple of bananas, bag of local pine nuts (with shells), small baguette, and a bottle of Crimean cabernet. I still have a bottle of vodka which has been barely touched.
    We stored our goods in our room and four of us went to the nearby Studio Cafe. I had a glass of red wine and a bowl of good borsch.
    Our ride came to the hotel by 8:30 and we went to one of the train stations. After a short wait, we found our train and were situated in our cabin a little before 10. The train left the station just after 10. John, Rob and I are in cabin 2. We may be joined by another person sometime in the night. The girls and Andrew are in cabin 4.
    I had a small paper cup of the wine which turned out to be very sweet. I also had a red delicious apple from the previous trip. I took my pills and read some more Onegin and finished it. I then turned out the light.

23 August 2015, Sunday
    At some point during the night we must have ridden through a forest fire. It became very smoky and grew steadily worse for about half an hour. My cabin mates were coughing in their sleep. I didn't sleep well and that's the case for the last two night.
    We stopped at Ulan Ude (Wikipedia entry)(5642 km) at about 6:45 am. We started off with about twenty cars, but several have peeled off along the way for different destinations. Only two of the original cars are going to Mongolia, but some may be added along the way. We are now on the Trans Mongolian Railway (Wikipedia entry).
    The attendant ladies in the car are Mongolian. There are two bathrooms at either end of this car and the attendants are restricting the one close to them for females only. Females and males can use the one in front so it is more heavily used. There is no dining car on this train so we can only eat what we brought or can find on the station platforms. For breakfast I had a banana and some pine nuts.
    I began reading Steinbeck's "A Russian Journal." I also got out my notebook computer and typed out part of my journal.
    A British fellow stopped to ask where the tea cups were and we started talking. His name is Andy and he has spent the last 3.5 years riding a motorcycle all over the world. He has a GoPro camera and a blog ( and records his travels. He has a Yamaha 600cc, four-stroke, single cylinder bike that he used for most of his travels. He has been in South America, all over Africa, the Stans, all over Russia, Mongolia, etc. He showed us some of his videos. He recently suffered a broken collarbone and had surgery and a metal plate put in. He has had very good treatment from all of the locals.
    We arrived at the first border crossing, Naushki (Wikipedia entry)(5895 km), about 1:45. We had our passports checked and then left the car. We walked to a nearby river and went swimming to cool down. We have a multi-hour wait here for customs, contraband check, and to attach another set of cars and locomotive. Andy, the biker, went with us for our walk and swim. On the way back we got a beer and had it while we waited. At four we had to board the train and it was very hot, no ventilation. Several series of Russian officials went through looking through packs, passports, etc.
    While waiting I met a very nice Mongolian family. The husband was Mongolian and worked with some sort of friendship agency. He had been to San Francisco and Las Vegas. His wife was Russian of Asian origin. He had two beautiful daughters in the early 20's. They spoke excellent English. After talking to them a uniformed man came through with a sniffing dog who was panting heavily in the heat. I wanted to give the dog water. We must have had things checked six times. Then another person came around with Mongolian forms. We traveled several kilometers, crossing the Mongolian border and arriving at the borrder control station, Sukhbataar (Wikipedia entry). There I changed rubles to Mongolian tugrik.
    After adding cars to the train we set off again to Ulaan Baatar (UB) a little before 9, local time. We had an elegant meal of sliced sausage, cheese, tomato, and bread, plus a sweet Crimean red wine. Andy sat with us and showed us some of his motorcycle videos.
    I took my pills, etc. a little before 11 and filled out my journal. Tomorrow is an early day.

24 August 2015, Monday
    I slept very well. At 4:15 we received our wake up knock on the cabin door. I was first up. I went to the toilet because it will be shut down in an hour. I packed all my things and then gathered my sheets from the bed and gave them to the attendant lady. I ate my last banana and had a cup of black instant coffee.
    The train stopped at Ulaan Baatar (Wikipedia entry) train station and we dis-embarked about 5:30. We met our drive and guide, Nemo and he took us to the J-Hotel on Avtozamchdin St., arriving by 6 am. We were able to check in this early so I went to my room. My goodness, it was nice, one of the nicest I have been to on this trip. It even has a washing machine. I plugged in my computer which was low in charge. I took a shower and changed into clean clothes. I also filled out my journal. The Mongolian use the Cyrillic alphabet (plus, they have their own) but use their own words. Most know Russian because it is taught in school.
    At 7:30 I went down to breakfast. I had hot tea, seaweed soup, fried zucchini with batter, marinated pickles, sautéed vegetables, hot dog, omelet-like thing, bread, jam and then some coffee.
    I met the others at 9:30 and we walked to the main square. I am very surprised with Ulaan Baatar (UB), it is much more modern than I thought it would be. Diana and I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum to see the famous Gobi dinosaurs. We got to the building and there were no signs, the door was locked, weeds were growing out of the steps. It looked as if it hadn't been open in years. I guess it had been shut down. Instead, I walked to the nearby National Museum (Wikipedia entry) about archeology and history of Mongolia. It was very interesting, but jet lag started to hit me half-way through. I walked around with several of the others in our group.
    We all re-grouped at the big square and met our new local guide, Timur. We walked to a ger (yurt) that a local family lived in and we had lunch of sandwiches, plus lots of milk tea, and dried yogurt of two types, sweet and sour. Timur talked about how the nomads lived, the yurt, archery, and all sorts of other things about nomad life.
    After lunch we boarded our van and crossed the river to the south of UB. We climbed many steps leading to a monument erected to honor the Russians who died defending the Mongolians in World War II. The location also offered a great view of UB and I took some photos.
    The bus then dropped us off at a cafe/karaoke bar where we had cool drinks to cool us down. We then walked nearby to see a famous Mongolian music and dance show. It was very entertaining. I took no photos because they charged a large amount.
    After the show we walked to "Modern Nomads" restaurant. We ordered large amounts of food and we all shared. I ordered Mongolian Hot Pot soup with vegetables, lamb and beef in the soup. Somebody else ordered a huge platter of beef with noodles and cabbage. Somebody else ordered a largely meat dish with lamb, beef and horse. It was all good. I had a Chengiskahn beer and water to drink.
    After all that food we wobbled back to the hotel. I took a shower and then filled out my journal while things were still fresh in my mind. I backed up some photos and then took my pills, brushed my teeth and went to bed.

25 August 2015, Tuesday
    I woke up at six and got up at 6:45. I brushed my teeth and finished packing. I went down to breakfast at 7:30 and had instant coffee with milk, scrambled eggs, liverwurst, boiled potatoes, kimchi (the first spicy thing I've had in three weeks), sautéed onions and carrots, bread, cereal with milk and lots more coffee. Several of the others came down to join me.
    We met in the lobby at nine and loaded onto our bus. We stopped at a grocery to buy some water and other items. All I got was 1.5 liters of still water. We drove for an hour or so into the country side. We stopped at a shaman site, walked around it three times, throwing a stone onto the mound with each round. There was an outcrop of flint at the site. Diana bought a nicely polished large crystal of labradorite exhibiting labradorescence.
    We entered the Terelj National Park (Wikipedia entry) where there are hills, boulders, trees, etc. We arrived at our ger (yurt) camp. The men in our group are in one big ger and the ladies are in a smaller ger. There are others here; there are two young ladies from Rotterdam, two couples from southern France, and another couple from Norway and Sweden. Ours is the only one with an organized group with activities.
    We had lunch at one pm. We were served a nice soup of meat, cabbage and broth with herbs first, and then a plate of two large fried dumplings (looking like empanadas), stuffed with shredded meat and vegetables. It also came with a carrot and cabbage cole slaw. We also had sliced white bread. I drank instant coffee with dried creamer. After a very filling meal, we retired to our gers for an afternoon nap.
    At three we went for a hike over a bouldery granite mountain passing into the next valley. Our elevation was 1750 meters. It was a very picturesque hike. We visited a Buddhist monastery and temple. Then we returned back to the get camp. I got photos of the large black woodpecker while hiking and photos of red-billed chaffs. Both the woodpecker and the chaffs look like crows at first. We also saw magpies, kites, marmots, and lots of wild flowers.
    At about 6:15 we went to a dumpling cooking class in the dining hall. Nemo taught us how to make Mongolian dumplings. We rolled out the dough into 4 inch circles, filled them with chopped meat and spices, and then used three different techniques to pinch them into various shapes. We didn't cook them, but gave them to the cooking ladies.
    A bit later, we and others at the camp were served dinner. We had a mixed vegetable salad and then five of the boiled dumplings and a type of coleslaw. The dumplings were very good. We had a sweet homemade yogurt for dessert. I had a Mongolian beer for drink.
    After dinner, we went to a filed below the gers. Nemo brought a Mongolian bow (a recurved bow) made of ibex horn and birch. The target was a calf hide stretched between poles. All of us took turns trying to operate the bow. I managed to hit the target, which was not easy. It got too dark to continue so we left.
    I went with some of the others to the dining hall and had a beer. After the beer, I walked back to our get and the light was off. I had to wake the two who had gone to bed early to turn the light on. I prepared for bed with my weak flashlight. I slept off and on all night.

26 August 2015, Wednesday
    I got up at about 7:30 and preformed my morning ablutions. I filled out my journal as well (there was no light last night). We went to breakfast at nine. We were served sliced dark bread, jam, cream cheese, fried bread (I took a photo), fried egg on bread and a hot dog. I had instant coffee for drink.
    I went back to my ger and packed up. We go back to UB today. We loaded onto the van but took a different route back to UB. We stopped at a roadside kiosk and had fermented mare's milk (airak) which tasted like sour butter milk, and also had horse intestine and horse meat, which tastes better than it sounds.
    We drove on till we got to a huge stainless steel statue of Chengishkhan on a horse (Wikipedia entry). It is pronounced Chengis instead of Gengis as we were taught. We went into the statue and climbed steps to an observation platform on the horsed head. We then went to the basement and walked through two museums and a video showroom. Nemo explained a lot about the Chengis Khan period. I went to a souvenir shop and bought a Mongolian hat pin, my first-purchased souvenir.
    We drove back to the J Hotel in UB and I got the same room that I had before. I took a nice hot shower.
    After the shower, I walked to a grocery store on Peace Street and bought food for our next two days on the train. After taking the groceries back to the room, I decided to walk around downtown UB. I walked for hours in the hot sun and got a little burned. I stayed pretty much in the tourist area. I must have put in quite a few miles. I did stop for water.
    At seven we all met at the big State Department Store on Peace Street. We walked about 10 or 15 minutes till we got to a Mongolian grill restaurant. It's very similar in operation to the chain we have in the States. I had two servings till I couldn't eat any more and I made the mistake of ordering the big beer which turned out to be a liter. Too much of everything.
    After dinner, we were pretty far from the hotel, so three of our group elected to take a cab back. Four of us walked. We stopped at an Irish pub about half way for a drink and the got back to the hotel by 10:30.
    I did my evening ablutions, gathered my stuff, filled out my journal and then went to bed. Tomorrow is a travel day.

27 August 2015, Thursday
    I got up at six and took a shower, brushed my teeth and packed everything.
    The group met at seven in the lobby. We loaded onto Nemo's van and he drove us to the train station. Masha is sick, has a fever and a hoarse voice. Nemo went to the pharmacy to get her some medicine. So far, I'm the only one in our group that hasn't gotten sick with the cold that is going around. It will probably hit me later (actually, I never got sick).
    John, Rob and I are in cabin 3. We were joined by a German lady whos name is Dagmar. She is from near Koln (Cologne) and about 50. The girls and Andrew are in cabin 9. The train pulled out about 8 and I made up my top bunk. I had a banana and some peanuts for breakfast. The samovar is not hot yet, not even warm.
    This car is pretty much like the Russian ones, perhaps even Russian made. Our window does not open but there is an oscillating fan which works (but not at stops). There are two toilets at each end of the car. There is no toilet paper and the toilets are locked when near stations.
    The landscape got steadily drier and more desert like as we went south. This is the Gobi desert. We saw a number of Bactrian camels but none close enough to photograph.
    At one, we went to the dining car (we had made a reservation earlier, which was smart). I ordered a meat dish with cheese, egg, plus sides of sautéed vegetables, carrot cole slaw and roasted potato wedges. I had a Mongolian beer (I couldn't read the script).
    We made a couple of stops and walked on the station platforms. The cars became pretty hot when they stop at the station.
    A little after seven, we stopped at the Mongolian border station. They took our passports and immigration cards for awhile. After an hour in a hot and stuffy cabin, our passports were returned. John and Rob prepared dinner, brown bread, butter, cheese, sausage, tomatoes, and my vodka. The car became hotter and hotter and still we waited, perspiration flowing down our faces. After an hour of this, the train went 20 km and we were at a Chinese border station. We turned in our passports and arrival cards to the Chinese officials. Our cars entered a large structure where each car was lifted and the wheel sets (bogies) were changed to a different gauge. Another German lady came to sit with us. She was Katarina from Berlin (I think that she wanted to speak with another German). I told her that Berlin was one of my favorite European cities. We are supposed to be here four or five hours.
    Eventually, we started again. I was already in my bunk. I slept off and on. The temperature was much better after we started moving and the air temperature cooled down some too.

28 August 2015, Friday
    I got up out of my bunk about 8. We passed through many tunnels, some, very long. I had my two remaining bananas, instant white coffee, cup of kimchi noodles and a sandwich of sausage, cheese, butter and bread.
    We passed several coal-fired power plants and mountains of coal next to them. The scenery is totally different compared to Mongolia. Every available space is farmed, mostly with corn on these flood plains. Of course, they get more rain here too.
    We saw spectacular mountain scenery as we progress southward and I took many photos. We must have gone through a hundred tunnels.
    We arrived at the main Beijing train station around 11:30 and caught our van ride to our hotel, King Parkview Hotel (their website), about noon. This is located on the eastern side of Coal Hill (in Jingshan Park). I carried my stuff to my room and took some photos.
    In 15 minutes, we walked down Wusi Street to Beiheyan Streets and then along several smaller streets. We entered a restaurant and Masha ordered about six dishes for us, served on a lazy Susan. It was all very good and included sweet and sour chicken, a beef dish, several vegetable dishes, rice and I had a good Chinese beer which I couldn't identify. We equally divided the lunch and my part came to 43 kuai.
    We walked back to the hotel. It is pretty hot. I took a shower and changed into clean clothes. I made a pile of laundry and took it to a laundry down the street that Masha recommended. I pick up the laundry at three tomorrow. I tried to get cash at the hotel ATM and the transaction wouldn't go through. I went to the same bank ATM that the Australians tried successfully, but it also rejected my card. I hope this is not the case for the rest of my trip. It worked alright in Russia.
    At around 5, I decided to walk around the neighborhood. I walked through a series of narrow streets where the people lived and bought their produce on the streets. This was very interesting. In my wanderings, I came across Rob and John. We walked between the northern part of the Forbidden City and the southern part of Coal Hill (Jingshan Park). We entered Beihai Park (west of Coal Hill). It was very scenic in the evening light and I took some photos. We got a bite to eat at a restaurant at the park. I had some kind of green bean dish. It was getting dark, so we walked back to the hotel. I was in my room by 7:30, but it is hard dark here.
    We have to get up early tomorrow, so I will go to bed early too. I did my evening ablutions and took my pills, and then watched some Chinese war movies (in Chinese, but I could get the jist). This is the 70th anniversary of the end of the War against the Japanese Aggression--we call it WWII. In all of this celebration, there is no mention of anybody else helping against the Japanese and no mention of the rest of the war in Europe. This is a shame because there were hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers who died in the struggle against the Japanese (not to mention in Europe and elsewhere). I went to bed after watching one of these old movies.

29 August 2015, Saturday
    I got up at 6:45, brushed my teeth and got ready for the day. I had a cup of hot jasmine tea and a Snickers bar I had bought on the train in Mongolia.
    I met the others in the lobby at 7:30 and we loaded onto the van. We drove for an hour or two till we got to the Mu-tian-yu segment (Wikipedia entry) of the Great Wall. I had been to the Ba-da-ling segment in 1987, but I couldn't believe how commercialized it could be since that time. We got our tickets and paid extra for the cable car. We rode up to the #6 Watch Tower and then climbed the Wall to the #14 Watchtower. It was hot and somewhat humid. I took a bunch of photos, of course. I had the option of taking the chairlift back down, but my ticket also allowed me to take the toboggan or chute. That sounded more interesting. There was a line of people in front, but I eventually got on a toboggan. One can control the toboggan speed with a brake control stick between your legs. Photography was not permitted, unfortunately. I started out going pretty fast, which was great. Unfortunately, there were some very timid ladies in front of me and we had to creep down the mountain at a very slow speed. This would have been great if there had been no people in front.
    I walked to the Subway restaurant, our rendezvous point. Half of our group was already there. We ordered a set menu of Chinese food for lunch which included beef with broccoli (tasteless), tomatoes with egg (very good with the fresh, ripe tomatoes), kungpao chicken (spicy, but not great), plus rice and drink. I had a good coffee and milk.
    After lunch we walked to the van and drove back to our hotel, arriving at about 3.
    I took a shower and headed out to the laundry. My laundry, one pair jeans, one button, short-sleeved shirt, two T-shirts, and two pair of socks, came to 50 kuai. I took my laundry back to the hotel, got my passport and some pure US$20 bills and went to the local bank. I saw the exchange counter with no line, and submitted my passport and dollars in the tray. The cashier started to get them, but a manager said that I needed to get a waiting number. He gave me a slip that had #13 and I sat down to wait. No one was waiting at the exchange counter. After five minutes of waiting, my number was called and I submitted my passport and dollars to the same lady again. She took them and after filling out about ten or twelve forms, she gave me my kuai plus several receipts. After that, I went to the hotel and locked away my passport and money in the room safe (the first one on this trip).
    I walked around the neighborhood and saw two Chinese massage stations. I love Chinese massage even though it is pretty painful. I examined both of the massage places. With my keen observational skills, I determined that both of these places specialized in marine biology and were most likely famous for eels--you might say that they had eel repute. I backed out. Later I asked Masha about massage and she suggested a place that she goes to. Tomorrow three of us will got there.
    I took two years of Mandarin at university many decades ago, but it is slowly coming back to me, much of a surprise to the Chinese. Of course, they respond too fast for me to understand.
    While waiting for our 7:30 meeting I watched another movie about war times. A Chinese girl and boy were sent to a school in Russia at the time the Germans were invading Russia. This one was in Russian with Chinese and English subscripts. The good guys were the Chinese and especially the Russians. The bad guys were the Germans and the KMT (Kuo Ming Tang, Chiang Kai Sheck's group).
    At 7:30 we met in the lobby and walked to our last group dinner. We had two additional people, a couple from the U.S. working in Hong Kong. They were Sally's friends (very interesting to talk to). We had Beijing duck, kungpao chicken, beef dish, pork-belly dish, broccoli, spinach with peanuts, salad, mushroom dish and several other items I've forgotten. I had a Yanying(?) beer to drink. At the end of the meal, we were all full and there was a little food left. We had a lot of conversation and it was great fun. John gave a warm toast to Masha and gave her an envelope with our combined tips. This is her next-to-last tour, she is quitting to raise a family with her future husband, Val.
    We walked back to the hotel and said our goodbyes. Masha and several others are leaving in the overnight hours.
    I filled out my journal, brushed my teeth, took my pills and watched a little TV until I went to bed.

30 August 2015, Sunday
    I woke up early but got up about 8:30 (late for me). I did my morning ablutions and then sent out a journal entry e-mail. While doing this, I watched the CCTV Chinese channel for an English audience. In the news they did mention some American help in the early days of China's war, which started two years before the German invasion of Poland. Hopefully, the Chinese audience gets the same story. There was no mention of other allies.
    I met up with Andrew in the lobby. We waited for John but he never showed up. Sally left us a note that she was going to the Temple of Heaven with her friends. Andrew and I took off, heading south on Wanfujing St. I found the Bodhi massage place that Masha recommended, but it was closed. We continued to a large and busy pedestrian series of blocks with large commercial buildings filled with shops. We went to the Oriental Tower Plaza to look for the Harley shop. The information staff had to "google" (not Google) it to find that it had closed a year before. We next went to a camping gear store for Andrew. We found the building, went to the fourth floor where it was supposed to be, but found that it had also been closed for a long time. By then it was raining pretty steadily. We got our umbrellas and parkas and wandered around the neighborhoods for a few hours. It rained for about half an hour, but was pleasant after that. We made our way back to the hotel by 3:30.
    I took a shower to get the street grime off. I got on the internet, but it is heavily censured. I could not connect to Youtube, Facebook, Google, New York Times, Yahoo News, etc. The only news that I'm getting is from China CCTV controlled by the government.
    In my room, I ate four wedges of cream cheese, part of a loaf of bread that I had bought in Mongolia and had a Beijing beer. I started gathering my stuff and packing it. Tomorrow is a travel day and I have to get up at 3:30. After brushing my teeth and taking my pills, I watched a little TV and then went to bed early.

31 August 2015, Monday
    I woke up at 3:30, took a shower and brushed my teeth. I finished the last bit of packing and had a cup of tea while watching CCTV English channel. Oddly, they request that you "like" them on Facebook, or watch them on Youtube, both of which are completely blocked in China. At four I went down to the lobby and checked out. I filled out my journal in a darkened seating area. My airport transfer came at 4:30 and we left the hotel in a light, steady rain. There was very little traffic this time of night. I got to Terminal 2 at the airport and the check-in counter by 5. The counters were not open, so I had to wait. When the counters opened, I was first in line. I quickly got my boarding pass. I then went through passport control, very detailed security, and got to my gate by 5:40. My flight to Seoul is at 8:10.
    I read some Steinbeck till I got too sleepy. The plane loaded at 7:30 and took off a little after eight. I was served a Sprite and a bit later an egg and noodle dish, some cut cantaloupe, a fruit jello type thing, and a candied date (dates don't need to be candied, in my opinion). Seoul time is an hour later than Beijing time, it is further east.
    It was not a very long flight, perhaps two hours. We landed at the Gimpo International Airport (there are two international airports here) at 11:30 and I was through passport, health, and customs control by noon, local time. I didn't have to wait for baggage, so I just walked out to the public part of the airport. I didn't see any airport-hotel shuttle services, so I got a taxi from a counter. My driver was Owen Park from Seoul, he was Donald's age. He talked about Korean history during our 40-minute drive to the hotel. I paid by credit card in the cab. I completely forgot to tip him. I feel badly about it.
    I went into the I.P. Boutique Hotel (their website), up quite a few notches compared to where I've been staying. I went to my room on the tenth floor. Wow, this is way too swank for me. It's a very nice room and I took a number of photos. And I know you'll be interested in this, when you sit on the commode seat, the exhaust fan automatically turns on, and when you get up, it automatically flushes.
    This area of Seoul is called Itaewon (Wikipedia entry) and it seems to be one fairly long street lined with small shops catering to international tourists. I don't think there are many Korean restaurants among them.
    I unpacked my stuff and filled out my journal and I typed it out so that I could send e-mails.
    I went out and walked around Itaewon. It's very interesting, lots of little shops and restaurants in all the nooks and crannies. I spent several hours strolling through the main street and many of the little side streets. A shopper would really like this. There are all sorts of small restaurants of various ethnicities, coffee shops, bars, and all of it is aimed at international tourists.
    I got back to the hotel and took another shower. My hotel had a special discount at their restaurant, so I checked it out. It was a very up-scale and extensive buffet and included wine. I sat down, got the buffet and spent a lot of time very slowly sampling small amounts of everything. I had scallops, oysters, shrimp, crab, snails, mussels, octopus, salmon, bbq (grilled only) pork, teriyaki chicken, phad thai, kimchi, and many other items. I only got a small sample of each, but it took awhile. I charged it to my room.
    I went out for a short walk, but was back in my room by nine. I did my evening ritual and went to bed fairly early, I seem to be on this schedule for some reason.

1 September 2015, Tuesday
    I woke up at 6:30, brushed my teeth, and made a cup of coffee. I watched CNN on the television, nice for a change. Today is another free day, my tour of South Korea doesn't start till six in the evening tomorrow night.
    I left the hotel and walked a very short distance to a Starbucks and had our usual coffee. They gave me a sweet cookie sandwich thing. I walked to a Turkish bakery, but it was not open yet. I went back to my room to get my hat and Harley T-shirt to start my morning walk.
    I had a good morning. By way of Google, I found where the Harley Davidson shop was located. I walked down Itaewon street and took a number of pedestrian underpasses and overpasses and found the shop. I bought two Korean Harley T-shirts. I then walked back to the hotel.
    After a short while I decided to go walkabout again. This time, I walked through streets I hadn't been on before. I came across a Beograd (Belgrade) Serbian restaurant-bar. I met the couple who operated it and spoke Russian to them. They thought I was speaking Serbian at first (they are both Slavic languages). I ordered a beer and asked how to say cheers in Serbian. They said something like "Shivela" and I answered "zah vas." Soon a young man came in and was speaking to them in English. Their English was better than my Russian, so I switched over to my mother tongue. The young man, Chris, was from Sydney and he was some sort of manager. I talked to him for about an hour. Apparently the husband is a great chef for Serbian food. I'll have to go back for dinner at some point.
    During the conversation, Chris asked if I had been to a Jjim-jil-bang (Wikipedia entry), a traditional Korean sauna. I said no, so he suggested one to try close to my hotel. I thought I should try. I said my goodbyes and thank yous.
    I walked till I found Itaewon Land sauna (Booking website). I went to the counter. Entry to the sauna was 8,000 Won and a 90-minute massage was 100,000 (very reasonable). I paid my money, put my sandals in a footwear locker, and was given a key and thick cotton pajamas. Luckily, several of the attendant men steered me in the right direction. I went to the men's floor. I went to my locker number and took off my clothes, stored them, and went to the men's showers and jacuzzis. I took a shower to get off the street grime (typical protocol for this kind of thing) and then looked around. In the big room, there were five or six stone and brick jacuzzis with the water temperature shown. I entered the 37 degree C pool first and then the 43 degree C pool. This was pretty warm. I next got into the cool water pool, very slowly. There were dry and wet sauna rooms on this floor as well. After another shower rinse, I exited that room and dried off. I went back to my locker and put on my thick cotton pajamas. I went to the next floor up, which is for both sexes (hence the pajamas). A tiny elderly lady was waiting for me. I gave her my massage ticket. She took me to the massage rooms and I took off my shirt, the bottoms were left on and towels were added. She gave me a 90-minute oil massage which was the best massage I've had in a long time. It was fairly deep tissue, but not as deep or painful as a Chinese massage.
    I put my top back on and went to the third and fourth floors common areas (after washing the oil off). I first entered an oven-like (domed firebrick structure) that was very warm. I stayed there for awhile till I got bored and then I went to another room with warnings in Korean. I opened the door and had to duck very low to enter. It was very, very hot, apparently wood-fired and shaped like a brick igloo. The floor was covered with mats. I could only stay there for a few minutes, I think it is somewhat dangerous. I also went to an air-conditioned room, an ice room (covered with quartz or glass pebbles to look like ice), quartz pebble walking room, salt room, charcoal room, pine-board room, and many others that I couldn't really figure out.
    I went back to the ultra hot room and really generated a lot of sweat (sorry, perspiration). I then went back to the naked-man floor, showered, and jacuzzied myself and finally dried off. I put on my street clothes. I don't know how long I spent there, but it was very entertaining and cleansing.
    On exiting, I talked to a lady at the counter. I asked for a brochure, so that I could advertise this place. She spoke very good English and had lived in the States for 13 years. She had even heard of Kentucky. Her name was Kim, very friendly and nice. I took photos of the entrance and her. Obviously, I couldn't take photos inside the sauna areas.
    In order to negate all the health benefits that I had just gained, I stopped off a O'Reilly's tap room for a late afternoon IPA.
    I got back to the hotel by 5:30 or so and filled out my journal. I went down to the hotel restaurant for the discounted dinner buffet. Another very nice buffet, much the same as last night, but a few extras as well. I had a very leisurely dinner. I went for a short walk for dessert and then went to my room to add to my journal and type it out.
    I did my evening ablutions, washed a shirt and pair of socks, watched TV and went to bed by 9:30.

2 September 2015, Wednesday
    I woke up at 6:45, brushed my teeth, dressed and left my room. I went to Starbucks and had our usual coffee order. It came with a macaron. I read the English-language Korean newspaper. I went back to my room, showered, and then sent out an e-mail. I also backed up my photos.
    I set out once again. I decided to head south to Banporo and the bridge across the Han River. The road turned into a heavily-trafficked and loud seven-lane road. There were no shops, just a wall with barb-wire fence and a brick side walk. I think this is part of a small military base next to a series of embassies. Very uninteresting walk except that I came across a rock garden along the way with gneissic boulders (gneiss mylonite, Wikipedia entry), some exhibiting boudinage. I took some photos. I came across a pedestrian path with fitness and exercise stations. Apparently there is a large sewage vent here. I call it Sewage Odor Park. I got to the bridge, but there certainly wasn't anything to see from my vantage point.
    I turned back and decided to meander through the many twisting and winding streets till I got back to Itaewon Road. I was hungry for a hamburger and I remembered seeing "Jucicy Bergers [sic]" on one of the sides streets on my first day here. I got the Volcano burger platter and a Red Hook IPA. The burger looked nothing like the one in the photo and was missing some of the listed ingredients. It did have jalapeño chilies and hot sauce. After I finished it, I continued my walk.
    A nice thunder storm appeared and there was rain, thunder, lightning, etc for about 30 minutes. I ducked into a series of shops and bought a Korean flag hat pin for my alpine hat.
    After the rain, I walked back to my hotel, took a shower, and filled out my journal by 3:30. I typed out my journal and added some photos to Facebook.
    At six, I went to the lobby to meet my new guide and fellow travelers for our Korean tour (Intrepid Travel's "Classic Korea"). The guide is a young lady named Seony Kim. Not all the travelers are here today, some will arrive in the next two days. Seony went over our trip and accepted our insurance forms. She then left. Five of us decided to go eat together. A Viet Namese lady wondered off on her own. A Swiss couple went to their room.
    My companions for the evening were Dick, originally from Netherland, but lives in the North Island of New Zealand; Warren is from Sydney; Aidan; and Alisha are from Melbourne. We went to the Maple Tree (their website) after wandering around a bit. It is a Korean BBQ place. We ordered two kinds of raw pork, two kinds of beef, some vegetables, and I had a Cass beer. A lady came to our table and cooked everything for us on our table-top grill. It was very good. I paid for mine and left a little early, the others were having a long conversation after dinner and I couldn't hear anything.
    I went to my room, filled out my journal and got ready for bed. I did my usual evening rituals as well.

3 September 2015, Thursday
    I got up at 6:30, brushed my teeth and went down for breakfast. While on the tour I get free breakfasts. I got mushroom salad (marinated mushroom buttons of a type I've never had before, with ripe and green olives), salted raw octopus, seaweed salad, Japanese curried vegetables, scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled sausage, croissant, and three cups of strong coffee. Warren and Dick shortly joined me. I asked how old they were and all three of us are the same age, the old fart squad. The Viet Namese lady from Hanoi, Bich ("bik"), joined us after awhile too. She works for Intrepid Viet Nam as an accountant and they encourage their employees to travel.
    I left, went to my room, took a shower, filled out my journal, and sent out an e-mail. I then got ready for the day's excursion.
    I met our group in the lobby and we set out for the old Imperial Palace (Gyeongbokgung Palace, Wikipedia entry) of the Joseon dynasty (Wikipedia entry). We took a series of subway trains and then walked to the Palace. There are three main gates for the walled palace, and then a series of ornate buildings which all look the same to me. It is older than the Forbidden City in Beijing.
    We then went to the adjacent National Folk Museum of Korea (Wikipedia entry) and Seony walked us through the exhibits. It's an interesting museum about their culture, houses, ceremonies, and life.
    It was lunch time when we finished the museum, so we walked along a street nearby that was well-known for its restaurants and cafes. Seony took us to one that specialized in homemade thick noodle soup with a light seafood broth. Kimchi was also served. It was very good. Adrian, Warren, and I walked to a Tea shop and had green tea ice flakes which included a scoop of green tea ice cream, a nice green tea slushee, and, at the bottom, sweet red-bean paste.
    We next walked through several old, traditional neighborhoods, including Bukchon ("buke-chone," Wikipedia entry). I took lots of photos in this quaint area.
    We then took a bus to a big pedestrian series of streets, all densely-packed open markets along a series of narrow streets. I saw lots of ginseng, and phallic mushrooms being offered for sale to old men. One can buy clothing, jewelry, produce, etc. here.
    We regrouped and took a #3 bus back to Itaewon. Back at the hotel, I took a shower and filled out my journal.
    I had dinner at the hotel restaurant again. I had my usual plus a couple of new dishes. I also had my usual three glasses of red, dry wine from France (included in the cost).
    I have an early day tomorrow, so I went to be early, doing my usual evening ablutions.

4 September 2015, Friday
    I got up at six, took a shower and brushed my teeth. I went down to breakfast and the others were already there. I had two cups of coffee, a sweet roll, french fries, and several slices of pineapple. If we had had more time, I would have had more.
    At 7:30, we met our day's guide, Soojin, and loaded onto a large bus. Today, we head out to the DMZ for a day trip. Our missing couple from Sydney had arrived and joined out group.
    We spent about an hour traveling to the DMZ area (Wikipedia entry). We visited the Dorasan train station (Wikipedia entry) which stops at the DMZ and goes no further. Eventually, one will be able to go through North Korea, and connect with the Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian railways, whenever North Korea allows it.
    We went to the observation platform with about twenty binoculars on mounts. We looked into North Korea. It was foggy this morning, so I wasn't able to get clear photos.
    We visited the third infiltration tunnel ("Third Tunnel of Aggression," Wikipedia entry), one of four known tunnels that North Korea had built in order to invade South Korea. We took a low electric-train car down to the tunnel level and walked a couple of hundred meters in the tunnel. Photos were not allowed.
    We walked through a museum and Soojin talked about some of the exhibits about the tunnels and area communities. We drove to the Freedom Bridge and I took photos this time. There was an old locomotive that had been destroyed during the war. In addition, we drove to the South Korean village located closest to the border. They sold souvenirs and local ginseng. I bought a Third Tunnel hat pin.
    At lunch time, we stopped at a country restaurant frequented by locals. We had something like a hot pot with broth, strips of local beef, three our four varieties of local mushrooms, and onions. Side dishes were fish cake strips (like noodles), kimchi, sprouts, and seaweed. I had a beer to drink. We then had a long, sleepy drive back to Seoul.
    I went to my room, filled out my journal, typed it out, sent out an e-mail, and then took a shower. I watched some CNN as well.
    I had no idea what the others were doing and never saw them in the evening. So, I went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Once again, they had some of the same items as before, but several new items too. There are about five or six kinds of salads. My first plate was salad. They use a green that I'm not familiar with, it looks like a pine needle, but isn't. It's in several of their salads. I had one, beef brisket with this vegetable and a type of mushroom. They have ceviche every night and I had this again too. It has shrimp, scallop, oyster, mussel, and some other items. I also had some sort of crab salad too, it may have been faux king crab, but it was good never-the-less. I had several other salads of the salad table. I had a very nice cream of mushroom soup and then started dinner items including grilled strips of pork and grilled rib strips. I had pork with seafood and mushrooms and several other dishes. And I had French red wine for drink.
    After dinner, I walked along my block for a few minutes, and then went back to my room. I packed, tomorrow is a travel day, and then got ready for bed doing my usual evening ablutions.

5 September 2015, Saturday
    I got up at 6:45, brushed my teeth and then went down to breakfast. I had scrambled eggs, bacon, french fries, croissant, small sweet roll, banana segment, and two cups of coffee.
    I got the luggage out of my room and then checked out. The leather, weight-bearing right-hand side strap on my ancient red pack broke. Not to worry. I always carry filament tape for just such an emergency. I borrowed scissors from the counter and spliced together the old leather. There is a second strap for the left side and it appears weak too, so I also reinforced it on the bus while we headed down the road. Not beautiful, but it should work.
    At nine, we loaded onto a small bus. I sat on the front row of the passenger area so that I would have room to repair my pack.
    Seony had a microphone and gave a monolog while we traveled. I wish all trips did this. Once again, it is foggy. The countryside is mountainous and covered by trees. It reminds me very much of the Appalachians.
    This is a major area for growing ginseng. Ginseng requires some shade, so you can see rows of black plastic lean-to structures that provide shade. Our native Appalachian ginseng also requires shade. Other common local crops are corn (maize), Chinese cabbage (for kimchi), and several other crops including, perhaps, sorghum. Kudzu grows wild here, as well.
    We arrived at Seoraksan National Park (Wikipedia entry) about 12:30 and our entire drive from Seoul to here was in forest-covered mountains. Avoid the weekends because the roads are clogged with cars.
    We parked the bus and walked a short distance to an outdoor restaurant. Most people ordered regional specials, either the potato-green onion pancake (savory and as big as a tray), or another type that included seafood. I ordered another specialty, dried-pollack soup and a beer. I drank the beer while waiting for the soup. The others ate theirs while it was hot. I finished my beer and everyone finished their pancakes, but apparently, they forgot my order. Others offered me a sample of their pancakes so I got to try them. They are savory pancakes and the seafood version had more spices.
    The mountains here are spectacular granite-peaked ones. We left the restaurant, and it started to rain. We walked to the cable car lift. The cable car held 30 or 40 people and it was very fast. I took a video. We got near the top, got out and walked to a picturesque view area. Several of us chose to scramble up to the top of one of the nearby peaks. I took lots of photos at the top. It started raining heavier, so we carefully descended back to the upper cable car station, where we caught the car back to the bottom.
    The original plan was to climb another mountain trail, but because of the steady rain, Seony walked us to a nearby Buddhist park. We saw a huge hollow metal Buddha sculpture where full moon ceremonies were being planned. We walked further to several Buddhist temples past boulder-lined creeks. This was all fantastic scenery with the clouds adding to the drama.
    I couldn't believe the similarity of trees here compared to the Appalachians. I noticed that they had typical conifers, but also had Chestnut Oak, Tulip Poplar, Sweet Gum, Chinese Chestnut (we have the American species), and others that looked familiar.
     We walked back to the bus and took a short ride to our new hotel, the Seorak Kensington Star Hotel, a very fancy place. I got to my room about 4:30 and immediately filled out my journal. I was first flummoxed by the toilet. It had heated seats and complete push-button control of the bidet. You have to be careful which button you push.
    At six, we met in the lobby. We got back on the bus and drove a short distance to the nearby coastal town. We stopped at a local's restaurant. Others in my group ordered grilled fish or hot-pot-style beef and glass noodles pot. I ordered a local specialty, grilled dried pollack. I asked for extra, extra spicy. I got a Cass beer for drink. My dish came with a sweet spicy red sauce sprinkled with lots of sesame seeds. I saw pieces of what looked like lemon grass. However, to my tastes, it was not at all picante (my tolerance is quite high, by the way).
    After dinner, we rode our bus back to the hotel. I filled out my journal and typed it out. I took a shower and did my evening ritual. I was in bed by 9:30.

6 September 2015, Sunday
    I woke up at six but got up at 6:45. I brushed my teeth, and then sent out an e-mail entry. I went down to breakfast at seven and I was the first there. I had scrambled eggs (I added a nice, fresh hot sauce), bacon, bread, sliced pineapple, rambuttan, and three cups of coffee. Breakfast is supposed to be included. There was much variety offered in the buffet, but I was not very hungry. Warren came in later and I joined him with my coffee.
    I went to my room, packed up, and took a shower. I went to the lobby, and checked out and then waited for the others. At about nine, we loaded onto the bus and headed to Donghae. We drove for over an hour amid forest-covered mountains.
    We stopped at Osaek Mineral Springs area (Visit Korea website). Here we entered the basement level of a hotel where there was a natural spring spa, and a jjimjilbang. I took off my sandals and put them in a locker. I entered the men-only area, undressed, and put my clothes in my clothes locker. I went to the spa area and took a shower. I next entered a series of jacuzzi-like pools of water in stone pools. Some were pretty hot. These, however, were not spring-water pools. I next went to a pool with milky water. It was cool, but not cold. This was the natural spring water from the mountain and was rich in iron and carbonate ions and salts. There was no sulfur smell at all.
    I got out, dried, and went to my locker where I put on the jjimjilbang pajamas. I walked out of the men-only area into the common sauna area. There were a number of rooms, each with a theme or unique temperature setting. I took photos here. I went into all the rooms to see what they were like. The really hot room was not open. I spent time in the moderately hot room. The jjimjilbang in Itaewon had many more rooms and more variety, and none were closed. Still, it was an experience. I went back to the men's area and soaked a few minutes in the spa pools and once again in the mineral pool. I put my clothes back on and waited for the others in the lobby. It has been raining hard and steadily the entire time we've been here.
    We walked to a local cafe for some local dishes. The others had a variety of dishes including the grilled dry pollack. I had the spicy beef soup, extra, extra spicy. It was medium spicy when it came, but it was good. It had a few strips of beef and lots of vegetables. I had a glass of mineral water and a glass of beer to drink. We then walked around the raging creeks and over several bridges of the springs area.
    We loaded back onto the bus and drove through the mountains for another hour or so.
    We arrived at the Samhasa Temple area in the Mureung Valley near Donghae city. We hiked a short way over a couple of bridges and roaring creeks till we got to the temple for our temple stay.
    I was assigned a room with Adrian in a "hanok style" sleeping room. We sleep on the floor on mats. At the push of a button, the floors heat up (we didn't do this, we were comfortable). We were given grey-colored Buddha devotee pajamas to wear. We watched an animated movie about what we were to do in the temple stay.
    After that, we walked to a dining area and took off our sandals. We served ourselves about six or eight vegetarian dishes including rice, kimchi, Asian pear, seaweed, and several other things I couldn't identify. We also had a clear broth soup with some vegetables. After we finished, we washed out own dishes.
    We walked to a temple platform and each of us hit a large metal bell three times. After this, we walked to another temple where a monk was chanting and we bowed in the proper style several times, and then bowed as we left.
    After a ten-minute rest, we went to our study room. Here we did an exercise. We bowed three times and then did 108 bows from standing position, to reclining, and then to standing, all with proper placement of feet, arms, legs, head and hands. At each recline, we strung one bead onto a string. The attendant hit a clapper stick every time that we were to begin each bow. Eventually, we had a long string of beads which we then tied off and made into a prayer necklace. After that, we were invited into a room for some lotus leaf tea.
    At about 9:30, we went to our rooms for sleep. We get up at 4 in the morning.

 7 September 2015, Monday
    We got up at four to the sound of knocks on a hollow wooden block and then a temple bell. We walked silently to the temple and listened to the monk's chants as we did numerous prostrate bows. Two in our group never showed up, good call.
    We then went to the study room and, following instructions for meditation, we sat and meditated for fifty minutes. It was pretty painful, I meditated on the pain. The missing two also missed this exercise, good call. We had a ten minute break and I filled out my journal. Seony woke up our sleeping two at about six or six-thirty.
    We walked to the breakfast-dining room and had kimchi, rice, peanut dish, slices of meat-like bean concoction, greens, soup with clear broth and greens, and dried seaweed sheets. We put rice and other items on the seaweed sheets, rolled them up like a tiny burrito, and ate them. After we washed our dishes, we walked back to our rooms and had a rest.
    At eight, we gathered again and hiked up a boulder-strewn valley. There were lots of cliffs, roaring streams, waterfalls, cliffs, etc. It was very scenic and we took lots of photographs. We passed three large waterfalls. The first two were the twin Ssang waterfalls. At the last waterfall, Yongchu waterfall, we turned around and headed back downhill to the temple.
    We packed up and changed clothes. After a short walk, we loaded onto our bus and headed to our next stop, Andong.
    We had to make a detour because of road construction. We stopped at an unscheduled lunch stop. We were unexpected but they accommodated us. We had a choice of two set menus. Bibimbop was one choice, but I opted for fried flatfish and tofu soup. We had very many side dishes to add to our plates, plus the owner gave us a liter of local rice beer or wine. It was milky in color and sweet and sour at the same time. We were all very tired from only getting a couple of hours of sleep last night, but our spirits picked up with the food and wine.
    We passed a limestone quarry and a coal mine, so Korea is not entirely composed of granite and gneiss. We also passed Korea's largest cave.
    We arrived at Andong (Wikipedia entry) and went to the famous Andong Soju (Wikipedia entry) distillery where the 45% alcohol soju is made. We went through their museum and saw exhibits showing the original style of ceramic distillation retort and large ceramic fermentation barrels. They also had dioramas depicting all the foods that are prepared for various celebrations like weddings, birthdays, and deaths. We were given a bottle of soju to sample so we poured the clear liquid into little cups and tried it. It is a pretty strong drink. Three young Korean men came in. They were in the Korean army and attached to the American army. We all toasted them for their service (several times).
    Next, we went to Andong downtown. We walked around looking at restaurants, etc. Most of us went to a grocery store to buy provisions for tonight and tomorrow morning. I bought a bottle of Chilean Cabernet and a large bowl of some sort of ramen soup, a can of sardines, and packets of instant coffee. Rosemary gave me a slice of her pizza for dinner (she had bought a box of extra large pizza at the grocery).
    We drove a short distance to the traditional Chiamgotaek Guesthouse (hanok-style, Wikipedia entry). It is 150 years old. We got there about dark. My room had an attached bath room and western-style toilet. Here, we also sleep on the floor.
    We all gathered in a common area and shared our wine, soju, rice beer, and chocolate. The hostess brought out some sticky dumplings filled with sweet red bean paste. We all had fun and abundant conversations.
    After awhile, I went to my room and put the futon-like mattress on the floor. I did my evening ablutions and went to bed.

8 September 2015, Tuesday
    I woke up at daylight, but got up at 7:30. I was the first up, by a long time. I heated water in an electric kettle and had four or five bowls of coffee (I didn't have a cup). I also prepared my ramen dish for breakfast and filled out my journal (last night, it was too dark).
    At about ten, the master of the house (a descendant of the original owner) gave us a tour of the compound. We saw large pots for making fermented tofu and also saw buried pots for making kimchi.
    After the tour we headed to Andong Hahoe Village. The first stop was Byeongsan seowon (Wikipedia entry), a village made for wealthy-class students of Neo-Confucianism. Then we went to the Hahoe Village (Wikipedia entry), a World Heritage site. This was a village of very old houses of well-to-do people. It was all very photogenic. We first stopped at a restaurant and my table ordered Andong-style braised chicken, a spicy chicken dish with jelly noodles, vegetables, rice, and the usual kimchi side dishes. I had a Korean Hite beer.
    After lunch, we walked through the village and Seony explained some of the history for us.
    We went back to the bus and crossed the Nakdong River. We parked, and climbed a hill overlooking the Hahoe Village to take overview photographs.
    Back on the bus we headed to the Andong train station, arriving there after about 30 minutes. We boarded the train and it left the station at 5:40, heading for Gyeongju. On board the train, I had my stinky sardines, which may have been a mistake.
    After a couple of hours, we arrived at Gyeongju (Wikipedia entry) and caught several taxis to the Hotel Hyundai (their website), a very nice hotel, at 8:30 pm.
    I carried my gear to my room and took a nice shower. I changed clothes and went down to the lobby. I joined the others at the lobby bar and had a nice red wine. Some of the others ordered dinner, but the sardines somehow reduced my appetite. We talked a long time and then went to our rooms.
    I brushed my real tooth and took my pills, filled out my journal, and then went to bed.

9 September 2015, Wednesday
    I woke up at 6, but got up at 6:45. I brushed my other tooth, dressed and went down to breakfast. I was the first of my group there. I had a breakfast coupon, so breakfast was free. The hotel had an extensive buffet. I had two eggs (over easy), bacon, ham, croissant, sliced bread, cheese, cut fruit, yogurt, and three cups of coffee. I sat next to the window overlooking a large lake. It was a very scenic setting. After my last cup of coffee, several of the others in my group joined me.
    I went to my room and typed out a journal entry. I managed to send out an e-mail before our group meeting.
    We met in the lobby to start our day tour of the Gyeongju area. Gyeongju (Wikipedia entry) was a capital city for a thousand years. We headed to Seokguram Grotto (Wikipedia entry). While traveling in this area, I saw dogwood, persimmons, locust trees, as well as ginkgo, magnolia, and Asian maples. We walked to the large granite sitting Buddha in a man-made grotto built centuries ago. Photos were not allowed. We are on top of a mountain and we had nice vistas. We also visited Bulguksa (Wikipedia entry), some very old temples further down the mountain. All of these were Unesco World Heritage sites. I took lots of photos except for the insides of the temples (photos were forbidden).
    We stopped for lunch near the temples. I had a spicy tofu soup with all the kimchi sides and rice. I had Hite beer for drink.
    At 1:40 we re-boarded our bus and went to the royal tomb mounds of the Silla Kingdom. We went into one that had a display and cross-section through the tomb (no photos, seems to be the rule here). We had a nice stroll through the park-like setting. We crossed the street to see the oldest observatory in Asia, Cheomseongdae (Wikipedia entry). My guess is that it was used to chart solstices, equinoxes, etc., that is, it was used as a celestial calendar.
    We hopped onto the bus and went to the National Museum of Gyeongju (Wikipedia entry), built around 1926. This was a very nice archaeological museum focusing on the Silla Dynasty. Here, we also saw the giant Bell of King Seongdeok (Wikipedia entry), although it was covered for renovation.
    We got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel, arriving at five. I went to my room, took a shower, and changed clothes.
    We met again in the lobby at six. We walked a short distance along the shore of the lake to a series of local restaurants. We stopped at "BBQ Chicken" and had platters of smoked chicken, spicy chicken, and batter-fried chicken.
    After the meal, we waked back to our hotel. In the lobby bar, we shared a bottle of nice red wine between five of us.
    I went back to my room by nine, filled out my journal, typed it out, and sent out an e-mail. I brushed my teeth, took my pills, and went to bed.

10 September 2015, Thursday
    I woke up several times in the night, but got up at 6:45. I went down to breakfast at seven when the breakfast room opened. It was already full of young Korean men. There must have been some sort of sports convention here. I had two eggs over easy, bacon, salmon, croissant, cut fruit, honey, yogurt, and two cups of coffee. Mike and Rosemary joined me as I finished my last cup of coffee.
    I returned to my room and took a shower and packed up. We met in the lobby at nine and loaded onto three taxis for an extremely fast ride to the high-speed train station (sounds appropriate).
    At the station we had a short wait so Seony and I shared a box of dried persimmons. The bullet train arrived and we quickly found our seats. The seats have a table and used it to fill out my journal. They apparently have wifi, but it is very slow and tedious to use. I didn't bother connecting to it. The train pulled out at 10:19. There were television screens that played commercials and arrival information for the various stations that we passed.
    After a couple of hours, we arrived at the main Seoul station and loaded into three cabs. We went back to the I.P. Boutique Hotel that we stayed in before. We arrived at one pm. We couldn't check in till two pm so we went our individual ways. I went to Fat Alberts again and had an OB beer. I was still full from eating a box of Asian persimmons.
    After two, I went back to the hotel and checked into my room. It's another beautiful day and the sky is blue, the temperature is about 80 degrees F.
    I charged my cell phone and laptop. My cell phone hasn't been turned on since I left the U.S. and I will only turn it on when I return to let my family know my schedule. I tried to check-in to my flight electronically, but something failed and I have to go to the check-in counter tomorrow. I was supposed to meet the others at seven for a group dinner, but I was typing out my journal and lost track of time.
    I walked around a bit and found the bus stop for my shuttle bus to the airport. I have the bus schedule as well. I'll have to leave pretty early tomorrow. I will re-pack tonight. I have already thrown out my old running shoes and a pair of socks.
    I had a couple of cups of tea. I took a shower and then brushed my teeth, took my pills, and was in bed by 8:45.

11 September 2015, Friday
    I got up at 4:45, took a shower, and brushed my teeth. I did final packing as well. I went to the lobby and checked out. I'm too early for the free breakfast.
    I walked to the airport shuttle-bus stop and was picked up at 5:35, right on time. It took about 80 minutes to get to the airport. In the early daylight I saw that there was a fog everywhere along the way, typical I think.
    At the airport, I eventually found my Air France counter (there should be an easier way). I got my three boarding passes. I fly to Paris, then Atlanta, and finally, Lexington. The crazy thing is that it is much, much shorter to fly across the Pacific to get home, but that cost two thousand dollars more. So I fly all the way across Asia and Europe, and then across the Atlantic. It makes no sense, and, of course, it takes a lot longer, they feed me more.
    I passed through security and then customs, and caught the shuttle to my concourse. I was at my gate by 7:45. I went to Dunkin Donuts and got a large latte and their equivalent of an Egg McMuffin with ham, cheese, egg, and bacon.
    I boarded Air France flight #267 and we took off at about 9:30. This is a twelve-hour flight across Eurasia to Paris, and several meals and snacks were served. I chose the "Fran-sez" over the Korean option and vin rouge. They must have understood my French because they responded in French and gave me what I wanted. I saw numerous movies, most of which were action/adventure like "Furious Seven," "Insurgent," but the best was "Death at a Funeral," which I had already seen. I had my noise-canceling headphones on and must have disturbed the entire cabin with my laughter.
    I arrived in Paris about 2:30 local time. At the airport I bought Anne a box of Neuhaus chocolate. I paced around the entire time visiting shop after shop; I had been sitting on the plane for twelve hours and about to go on a nine-hour flight.
   The Delta plane was very late arriving in Paris, perhaps an hour or more and I was afraid of the cascading effects. Eventually we loaded onto the plane, almost an hour late. On the flight to Atlanta I saw one or two other movies. The plane was not full, so I raised the armrest and took up both seats (only two seats between the aisle and window), much more comfortable. We had one meal and two snacks. I ordered in English, because the staff was mostly murcan. We passed a thunderstorm in the very dim light and it was interesting to watch it from high altitude.
    We arrived in Atlanta late, of course, and I had to go through passport control, customs, and security again. I took the train to my concourse, and hurried to my gate. I still had time. I got my cell phone out of my pack and started it up. The cellphone started up, but my Verizon service refused to connect. I called their service number and only got a recording. They acknowledged that my bill had been paid though. I will complain, because this is very inconvenient.
    My Delta flight to Lexington showed up. I boarded early and got my gear in the overhead bin. This flight was only 45 minutes. We landed in Lexington about midnight in a light rain. I de-boarded and walked to the baggage area. Anne was waiting and she drove me home telling me about some of the news I had missed. And my dogs were excited to see me. It was good to be home.