Friday, July 13, 2007


We very much enjoyed our train ride from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We had first class accommodations which meant we had our compartment all to ourselves. There were two seats which doubled as beds with a small table in between. There was plenty of space for luggage and lots of little hooks and shelves so we could organize our belongings. Besides watching the scenery we played games, caught up on our sleep, and explored the train. We ate all three meals from our supply of food.

As we left Beijing we encountered some dramatic scenery with rocky mountainsides, lakes, rivers, trees, and passed through many tunnels. After a while we traveled through a broad valley ringed with with mountains. We saw grapes growing and I saw my first rice paddies. We passed by towns that generally had the traditional style courtyard houses.

About 9:00 in the evening we started our first passport and paperwork check as we approached the Mongolian border. It took about 2 hours to change the wheels on the train to fit the different gauge track. We stayed on board so we could observe the process. They basically move the train cars into a large shed, jack up each car, and switch out the wheels. By the time we were finished with the change, actually crossed the border, had another passport check, had officials checking under the ceiling panels in the hallway for smuggled items, etc. it was about 2:00 am.

We woke up the next morning to see a dry, flat Mongolian landscape with no people and few animals. The scenery gradually got greener and more populated. We started seeing gers(what I thought of as yurts) and other housing. We did see one herd of yaks. We arrived in Ulaanbaatar, the capitol, about noon. We got a hotel and settled in for the rest of the day.

The following day, Wednesday, July 12, we went to the opening ceremonies of the Naadam festival, the most important national holiday of Mongolia. We saw colorful costumes and participants for the three sports involved with Naadam-horseracing, archery, and wrestling. In the early afternoon we connected up with the Russia Experience group. This is the agency through whom we got all our trans-siberian railway tickets and arrangements up through St. Petersburg. We were taken by mini-van to see part of the Naadam festival. We drove out of the city with throngs of others to see the horse racing event. We got there just in time to see the finish of a 15 km. race for children. It was interesting to see the huge crowds and high excitement. We got back to the stadium just after the archery and wrestling had concluded for the day. Oh, well.

We were then driven out to the Ger Camp where we spent the next two nights. This is a collection of gers set up for tourist groups served by a central dining room and bathrooms. We stayed in a ger that had 4 beds. Meals were served in the dining room and we were free to participate in any of the activities. These included wrestling demonstrations, a walk to a family ger, horseback riding, learning Mongolian games, and trying out the traditional archery. We did everything except I opted out of horseback riding. It was a beautiful setting and I enjoyed being away from the city. We had time to visit with other tourists, about 90, from various European countries, the US, and Japan. The weather was warm to hot during the day but cooled off nicely at night. At mealtimes some Mongolian food was offered so I got to try Mongolian tea which has a lot of milk and a little salt, fermented mare's milk, a type of rice pudding, yogurt, fritter doughnut type things, and this hard chunk that is made from the residue from making vodka.

Yesterday we drove back into Ulaanbaatar and had one night in a hotel. We went on a walking tour of town which included touring a Buddhist monastery and seeing the big town square with various government buildings. Ruth and I also did some shopping and ate out.

At noon we check out and will get back on the train to head towards Russia. We will be on the train for about 36 hours and our next stop will be at Lake Baikal. I am not sure about internet access as we will not be in hotels. I am not sure when I will next be able to post but at least for now, I am all caught up!

Beth, I'm so impressed that you have got us up to date. I know that takes a lot of time to type. It is so interesting and appreciated.
A question: What is one thing in China that suprized you or that you least expected. Love Byrna
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