Russia, Mongolia, China,
and South Korea, 2015
on the Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian Railways
Life aboard the train
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
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,
Railway part A, Ulaan
Baatar and ger camp, Trans Mongolian
Railway part B, Beijing,
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
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
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
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
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.
- Harley Days
festival, one of the Street
series, bucking bronco
ride, another view,
map of venue,
H.O.G. tent, music tent, performers, map showing origin of
participants (mine is at the extreme left on the wall of the tent), ladies at Event tent,
trying a Sportster,
big Harley sign,
VRod, two models,
HOG group, military
view, lady with small pants,
(Ural motorcycle), Indian
motorcycle, soapy stage,
view, lady on
touring bike, old flathead,
on orange bike, musical performance
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
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
- golden building,
Church of the Spilt Blood,
my friends, Polina and
to the church, Eternal Flame at Field of Mars, selfies at the Field, closer view, really close, Polina and Vasya, vinegret, blini and caviar, Polina and Vasya, Polina, Polina and Vas, Spilt Blood again, church and canal, corn-on-the-cob action
shot, nice shot
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
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.
- Krylova side
building at corner, side of Alexsandrinsky Theatre,
on top of theatre, another
view, map in
front of theatre, close-up,
on grey building, more sculptures,
Catherine the Great
statue near the theatre, sign
for statue, Elisseeff
Emporium building on Nevsky, close-up, underground passageway
across Nevsky, another view, artists in front of
over canal, street
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
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
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.
- open-air museum,
close-up, view from museum,
open-air museum, old church,
old kitchen, another view,
wealthy person, posing
with sunflowers, again,
another one, singer, singing video,
church at monastery, blue-domed Church
of the Nativity, another
- horse rides,
- Efimov Monastery (St.
Euthymius monastery or Suzdal Kremlin), Proezdnaya Tower at
monastery, outer wall,
view of Pokrovskiy
over river, outer wall
of monastery, we had local
mead here, pleasant walkways,
bell ringer, video, white and black
group, another view,
many frescoes, chanters, video, chapel, lavender in herb garden
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
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
on Skatertny Pereulok about 1:30I took my luggage to my room and took
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
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
- statue of Gogol
on Gogolevsky boulevard
statue, Sholokhov monument,
close-up, part of monument, sign for monument
of Christ the Saviour, entrance
- crossing the Moscow
River, another view
for Gorky Park, main portal,
fountains, fountains and portal
from Andreevsky Bridge over the Moscow River, view of Krymski Bridge, military statue at
barracks, Peter the Great
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.
in station, painting
on arch, restoration
at Kiyevskaya station,
- stained glass,
more stained glass,
hallway, industrial worker,
- mosaic hallway,
mosaic, military emblem,
hallway, horse and flag, Lenin on flag,
- soldier and dog
of sculptures, another series,
hallway, another view, through
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.
the Tsar Cannon,
the Tsar Bell, another view, close-up, other side showing
broken piece, another
- official faulconer,
closer view, military concert, horsemen with swords
at salute, marching,
the two churches,
the Armoury Museum,
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
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
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
- the men's cabin,
my 3-liter box of wine,
cabin party, gooseberries, black currants and
out the window, locomotive,
aisleway, schedule for major
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
and we got out. I bought a small bag of mandarins to help break a large
bill. We stopped at Perm
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.
- hills and trees,
station (1315 km), video
from men's cabin, another video,
view from window video,
Kama River video,
station (1433 km), our car
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
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
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.
from window of marsh, forest video,
flat land video,
Irtysh River boatyard,
statue of Lenin,
(2712 km), inside
the station, another
view, sign at
station, another sign,
yet another, Omsk sign
After this small meal, we went back to
our cabins. I filled out my journal. At about 3:45 we stopped at Barabinsk (Wikipedia
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.
- one of many
lakes in the region
at Barabinsk station, cucumbers
and tomatoes, station platform,
sign, platform overpass,
old locomotive, closer view, yet closer, smoked fish from local
- another lake,
turning red, another view,
yet another, Kozhurla station,
At about 7:30 Moscow time, it was
already hard dark. We arrived at Novosibirsk
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
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
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
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
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
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
and then to Bolshoye
Goloustnoye on Lake Baikal (Wikipedia entry).
The scenery was beautiful and I took photos as we drove. Julia is our
We arrived at our homestay about noon
and met Mikhial and his wife, Faiya, the owners. They are Buryats
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
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
- my room,
hallway, sink in common room,
our second-floor porch,
porch (Baikal in background), barn
and sauna, neighbors,
- next door cafe
and grocery, cafe counter,
sign for omul fish,
from of grocery,
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.
from hill over town (Baikal in background), other side of town, hiking up the hill, Baikal and the delta plain (and smoke
for fishing boats, Baikal
and church, plant stalk
of some sort, hikers,
- lake shore
and mountains, another
our swimming spot
- Baikal drink
at cafe, Tarhun
drink, smoked omul,
same with Tarhun
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.
- sign that we're leaving
to Red Mountain (background right), sign
for the river
up the Great Baikal Trail to Red Mountain, view from trail, sign for GBT trail, lower crest of Red
Mountain, view of river,
our group, red lichen (for which
the mountain gets its name), video
from lower crest, blue
and yellow composite flower, upper crest, unusual plant, view of
crest from top,
from top, the top,
the climbers, hiking down the crest
(dip-slope side), the crest
(escarpment side), walking
- sign entering
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
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.
to the Decembrist museum, museum schedule,
Volkonsky house signs,
entrance and yard,
yard, another sign about
closing, guided tour,
another room, greenhouse porch,
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
We stopped at Ulan Ude (Wikipedia entry)(5642
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.
view of Ulan Ude (?), Selenga
in the background, video
from window, homestead,
- quick stop at Zagoustay
station (5769 km), our Mongolian
rail car, another
view, our locomotive,
- Gusinoye Lake
(Goose Lake), view
from my bunk (while typing)
I began reading Steinbeck's "A Russian
Journal." I also got out my notebook computer and typed out part of my
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 (www.intotheride.wordpress.com)
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,
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
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
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
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
I met the others at 9:30 and we walked
to the main square. I am very surprised with Ulaan Baatar (UB), it is
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
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
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
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.
- composite flowers,
flower, mountain trail,
Edelweiss, another Edelweiss,
blue composite, purple flowers, blue flowers, white flower spike, blue flowers with
spur, the trail,
another type of blue
flowers, wild rose,
of our ger camp, closer
flower, more granitic
mountains, valley on other
side, granite boulders,
next valley, weathered granite with
- Buddhist monastery and temple
complex, entrance to complex,
four rock paintings,
complex with numbered advice cards, coarse-grained granite, ground squirrel, old man of folklore, spinning dial to help
pick advice, advice #121,
valley view, walkway to temple, photobomb, stairway to temple,
looking down, inside the temple, Dalai Lama, Sally at the temple, another of Sally
- Black Woodpecker,
flowers, Mongolian horses,
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
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.
- huge Chengis
view, unfortunate eagles
and vulture, smaller
statue, huge baton,
of statue, another
view, view from
giant boot, lady and boot, gray bird
- Mongol map
in museum, lady in costume
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
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
our long train, another view, yet another, steppes and hills, another view, grassland, video
for sale, the station
- mine tailings,
coal mines, another view, closer view, mine works
We made a couple of stops and walked on
the station platforms. The cars became pretty hot when they stop at the
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
- Sayn Shand
station, one of the Chinese railcars,
Mongolian restaurant car,
- desert hill,
from window, Gobi desert,
yet another video,
clouds, another view
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.
- farm fields,
sand and gravel quarry,
industrial smoke stacks,
loading and storage
in mountains, mountain view, bridge over
yet another, mountain and corn, corn and distant
mountain, window video,
corn, exposed flood-plain strata,
large lake, another view, yet another, side of train,
- rail bridge
over river, bridge and mountains, cliff, river valley, video from
window, rocky mountains,
valley view, mountains and valley, bridge and rocks,
mountains and flood plain,
at river, empoundment,
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.
outside the hotel, another
view, yet another,
at Beihai Park, closer
view, hill in
center of lake, another
view, yet another,
the lake, lotus, close-up, bridge over lake, another view
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
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.
of Mutianyu segment, sign
for segment, chair lift,
toboggan run, another
view, Great Wall from
- on the Great
part, distant mountain
and wall, view
toward chair lift, northern
part through gap, on
the wall, on a tower,
yet another, and
another, climbing the wall, cannon, steep section, looking
downward, view from tower, Diana
for toboggan run
(see how they get bunched up by slow riders)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
area, front of
view, new sculpture
in lobby entrance
- ceramic shop
on Itaewon, more ceramics
- rock garden,
closer view, another view, yet another, and another
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
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.
for Palace Museum, side
entrance, adjacent mountain,
lady with costume,
at entrance, guard, guard marching, several guards, back-side of entrance,
upper part of
entrance, second gate,
more mountains, view through second
gate, third gate,
Seony and Palace map, Palace history, moat guard, intricate roof structure, central building, another view, Seony and Adrian, Bich, staircase, inside the central
closer view, tiger, roof ornaments, plan for side
on lake, lady
and tree, selfie
of two, lady in yellow,
black and white,
the Swiss couple,
young school group,
building with kids,
kids, seated lady, low tables, doors for firewood,
our group, garden building, two chimneys in
closer view, pig is her birth year,
rat is his
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
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,
- drying red chilies,
Bukchon Museum, our
lady, streets in
Bukchon area, overview
of neighborhood, narrow
the neighborhood, selfie
view, more selfies,
another, the Swiss couple, Bich, another view, the street, interesting
architecture, more commercial
bukchon street, other
side, food kiosk,
small bukchon house,
house, house compound,
making kimchi and fermented tofu
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
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.
for war memorial
(at tourist stop), sign
for Peace Bell
for railroad to North Korea, Dorasan
station, map showing railways
I had just been on, train schedule,
another, eventually to
Pyeongyang, railway agreement,
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
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.
at museum, close-up,
the border, diorama under foot, close-up
at DMZ sign, Bich,
divided world sculpture,
third tunnel, replica,
Soojin and Alisha,
for Freedom Bridge, decorated barbed-wire fence, sign for locomotive, another view, yet another, closer view, Freedom Bridge on the
and sign, selfy,
photo of photo
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
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.
from my seat, heavy week-end traffic,
mountains, my red pack with repaired
hazy view, foggy hills, Seony
our group in
the bus, dummy
hills, rock outcrop
We arrived at Seoraksan National Park
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
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.
our turn on the lift, lift coming
view, even closer,
we're next, diagram showing lift
of lift ride, on the lift,
the upper trail, granite overlook,
view, yet another,
view in other direction,
upper peak, Alisha climbing to the
upper peak, top of peak, another view, view from peak, another view, Swiss couple, clouds,
- climbing down,
climbing down in the rain,
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
- very large Buddha,
Buddha in the rain,
close-up, another close-up,
temple and mountains,
temple sign, central temple, mountain peak, temple roof, sign for temple, sign for Buddha statues, magpies, stacked rocks, bridge and mountains
We walked back to the bus and
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).
- my room,
my bed, another view, bathroom, toilet control panel, closet, view from my window, another view, yet another, and
of hotel, another
view, lobby, lounge
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.
for spring, lobby,
entrance to men's naked
area, sauna with wood theme,
cobble room, inside, herbs, salt room, another view, cooler wood-theme
room, inside, another view, ice room, the ever
popular boat head-wraps,
very hot wood-fired room
We loaded back onto the bus and drove
through the mountains for another hour or so.
dish, Bich and
her beef soup, close-up
of mine, video,
dishes, our table,
- augen gneiss
showing rotation, rapid,
fast flowing, other side, video, standing wave and
ladies, lady and water-sampling
in rapid, closer
springs, another sign,
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
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.
- our walk,
bridge, roaring creek, video, another
other side, another view, on the path, Seony and sign, slide rapid, video, another view, Chinese characters, yellow flower, entrance portal, bridge over torrent, turtle stela
- Samhasa temple
complex, view of waterfalls,
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.
- Adrian in our
room, our building,
our building and mountain,
view from our
building area, corridor,
our attire, spring water, frog, another view, temple complex, our group
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
At about 9:30, we went to our rooms for
sleep. We get up at 4 in the morning.
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
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,
- hike up the
view, crossing a
creek, trail signs, slide rapid, boulders in creek, roaring creek, another view, rapid, rock crack, looking down the
creek, Alex at
the Ssang waterfalls,
left falls, lower part, viewing platform, another view, contemplating, video, sign for Ssang falls, another sign, Tongchu waterfall, video, closer view, bridge, view from bridge, another view, view from upper
down, sign for rock cliff, trail sign, trail map, closer view (we are at
the red and yellow dot),
- on the way back, sign
for Crane Rest
(you can just see two crane models)
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
to the compound, my table,
doors to my
room, view from
my room, vats
for making fermented tofu, close-up,
area, house platform
(my room is on the right), entrance
to compound, sign
for hanokstay, sign
for Chiamgotaek, close-up
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.
seowon sign, map, Asian pears, view from seowon
compound, building on posts,
building with heating pipes
in floor, stairway,
view, side of
view, yet another,
- restaurant menu,
our dish, close-up, soju also for sale, close-up, another
We went back to the bus and crossed the
Nakdong River. We parked, and climbed a hill overlooking the Hahoe
take overview photographs.
- World Heritage sign,
rice and other crops,
totems, more totems, making candy, rice and mountains, sign for village, entrance to a
compound, narrow street,
shops, stone wall and gate, street and mountain, masks, thatched building, thatching, close-up, open area, mud-brick and stone,
street with tiled roofs,
rock and tile
wall, sign for
house, house compound,
house, other side of
for old zelkova (elm) tree,
sign for head house, house on stone platform, another view, view through entrance,
house, house with thatched awning,
tile wall, another
house, sign for
famous author, another
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.
the station, another
view, yet another,
our car, Mike, Rosemary, Warren, and
Dirck (Dick), Alisha,
Bich and the Swiss couple, Seony
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,
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
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.
of national park, sign
World Heritage marker,
another sign, viewing room, stones piled over
from overlook, another
in front of grotto, maple,
sign for dogwood, sign for oak,
Bulguksa, map, another sign, World
portal, pond and
over pond, posing
at bridge, sign
for elm, sign
sign for magnolia, sign for zelkova (type of elm),
sign for one
of the maples, sign
for stairways, stairway, another view, arch under stairway, platform wall, another view, pathway, sign for pavilion, front of pavilion, another view, closer view, pagoda on temple
view, fish drum,
roof, statues in
area, brown and black butterfly,
upper level, temple
roof, sign for reliquary, stacked stones, long temple building,
brass pig, another pig, stone yonis, sign for viburnum, another view
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.
for tomb mounds (tumuli) park, one
of the mounds, mound,
sign for Heavenly Horse Tomb,
two mounds, pathways, twin mound, shaded walkway, mound behind trees,
view, sign for
Gyeongju historic area, sign
for tumuli park
across the street, another
view, yet another,
sign for Cheomseongdae, lady in costume, persimmon, persimmon tree
We got back on the bus and headed back
to the hotel, arriving at five. I went to my room, took a shower, and
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.