September 26 – 2011 Homeward Bound and Travel Thoughts

After nearly 6 weeks of one of the most spectacular, fun-filled journeys with my daughter Jess and her girlfriend Corinne, I am really glad to be back in my own bed!!

Here are a few things I learned from this trip.

1. Travelling can be Inexpensive.

If you opt for 5 star hotels or luxury resorts/restaurants, well, yes, you pay the big bucks, however, many places in the world you can get by quite nicely on $15 – $30 a day. We stayed at hostels which were clean, friendly and full of interesting travellers. We dined off the beaten track and sampled some of the most amazing, different food. Most of the time we would be paying a few dollars for a great meal. We also did our own tours, creating walking tours of most cities and towns, obtained from different travel guides.

2. We are all just PEOPLE – as BABS would say…

Learning about other cultures broadens our minds and enriches our souls. All over the world, people are people – living their lives, getting by, etc. Everyone should travel at some point in their lifetime – get out of their own country and experience and breathe another culture!

He that travels far, knows much.

Travel light – prejudice and preconception are unnecessary luggage.

The best journeys are not always in straight lines.

Everytime you get frustrated and feel that you are not going anywhere, consider this globe called earth that we are all riding on.

Not all those that wander are lost…

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travellers don’t know where they’re going.

OK, NOW, WHERE AND WHEN IS THE NEXT ADVENTURE?????

Your’s truly

Elly

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September 25 – 2011 The Midnight Hour

Our extended visa was good until midnight September 25, and we were told to be at the Vladistovok airport by 11 pm. at the latest so that we could get through Passport control with no issues.
We spent the day touring Vladistovok – big city totally under construction from the highways to the city streets. Lots of fisherman and a ton of fish and seafood along the shoreline.
Decided to play it safe and went back to airport at 8 pm. Had left our bags at a storage facility in the airport and when we arrived to pick them up, the attendant fed us caviar and some questionable drink…
By 11 pm. the departure lounge was jammed with passengers. Nothing had opened up and we were first in line at the door. At 11:45 it opened and we ran to the first agent – she was a little stunned and took her time to get our boarding passes done. Next was Passport Control and we had only minutes left before midnight. We were wrecks!!! I went through first and the BIG Russian took her time looking at my passport, while Jess and Corinne waited nervously. Finally at 11:57 pm. we were all through the Passport Control and on our way to Beijing.
And just to top things off, when we landed in Beijing 3 hours later, the girls went through Passport Control and when I did, the official stopped me to say that my Chinese Visa had expired!!!! I told them I was flying out later that day and so they called the airline to confirm this and stamped my passport for an extra day. A few good lessons to be learned on Visas.

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September 24 – 2011 Stranded in Siberia

Olga made us a delicious breakfast of eggs on toast and ricotta mixed with banana. The looks on the faces of J and C were priceless…
We caught a taxi to the Irkutsk Airport for our flight back to Beijing. We checked our bags and then to Passport Control – that is where everything turned upside down for us. The date on our Russian Visa had expired on September 22 – OOPS! Our bags were taken off the plane and we were told we could not leave. They had ideas of sending us to Moscow, or Korea, or Japan…
Russians are BIG people and I mean BIG, both the men and women – we felt very tiny and very nervous. We did not understand much of what they were talking about, however, “military” and “spy” did come up a few times.
We had to get back to Beijing as our return flight to Canada was 2 days later.
We sat in a dark, dimly lit hallway for nearly 8 hours. The Russians marched in and out of their offices, with our passports in their hands. We were stuck!
Finally they told us to find a flight to Vladistovok on the east coast of Siberia – a 4 hour flight. We booked it for 4 am the next day. And from there, a flight to Beijing at 1 am on September 26th. We then had to pay a fine to extend the date on our visa to September 25th. After all of this, we waited again and finally had to sign a bunch of legal documents all in Russian and then they handed us back our passports. WHEW!!!!
We crashed at an airport hotel till 2 am and then boarded the flight to Vladistovok, a place I had thought about going to on our trip preparations, but it was too far out of the way. Be careful what you wish for…

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September 22 – 2011 Irkutsk and a Sledge Hammer

We arrived in Irkutsk after a 7 hour ferry/bus ride from Ohlkon Island. Irkutsk is a lovely city of 1/2 million people and situated on the Angara River. It is filled with many old wooden homes with distinctive hand-carved trim, however, many of these homes are falling down…
The hostel we had booked did not have us reserved for 2 nights so the owner suggested we book into a “homestay” with a Russian family. We did and it was wonderful. Olga was our hostess, along with her husband and 2 grown sons. They had 2 cats, one of which was enormous!!!
We walked the city and upon arriving back at Olga’s at 11 pm., her husband announced that it was time to drink some vodka and have some omul. He took the omul right out of the freezer – solid as a rock! He then proceeded to try and cut the frozen whole fish. With no luck, he then put some newspaper on top of the fish and got his sledge hammer out and beat the crap out of it. There was frozen fish flying everywhere, which he picked up and put on a plate and served to us along with some dry rye bread – now just imagine attempting to eat frozen chunks of omul in between dry rye bread and be polite about it…needless to say, we did and had shots of vodka to wash it down. The next morning when I walked into the kitchen, the fish heads were on the floor with the cats!

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September 19 – 2011 Banyas and Baikal

Took ferry at 6:40 am to Listvianka and hopped onto the bus to Irkutsk. We then boarded a minivan that would take us to Ohlkon Island on Lake Baikal, a 6 hour trip by road and ferry. At the lunch stop we had borscht, goulash, stewed cabbage and beers – good grub, for sure.
We arrived at Nikita’s Guesthouse on Ohlkon and got the last room for 3 nights, at the lodge. Really neat place with lots of old painted, rustic buildings. Cost us $30 Cdn a day which included 3 great meals at the big main lodge – Omul fish twice a day! Our room had 3 beds and very cozy with nice thick quilts as the nights were freezing. No showers, banyas instead…
The banya was a room with scalding hot water in a huge tank, wooden floor, buckets and ladles, and huge barrels with ice cold water. We wore our chawels to the banya. www.chawel.com was funded by Dragon’s Den and I had picked them up for the 3 of us for our trip. Basically, it is a towel/changeroom in one and is light and made out of microfibre material so dries in no time. Pictures will be shown when I get the photo page up!
The banya was great and so refreshing with the hot water, and then ladles of the frigid water splashed on our bodies.
We rented bikes and toured for a day – forests, mountains, beaches. Stopping at the beach, we stripped down and dove into the frigid waters of Lake Baikal. Temp was around 8 celsius…It was a very quick dip. Celebrated with shots of vodka and then back to the lodge for some Omul and soup and bread.
We have had the most amazing weather – 20 – 25 celsius everyday in Russia. Off to Irkutsk!

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September 18 – 2011 CircumBaikal Railway with Omul and Vodka

Took the train to Sludyanka which in on Lake Baikal – OMG – we arrived at 5 am and slept at the train station for a couple of hours. Five minute walk brought us to the lake – it was absolutely stunning and a gorgeous, sunny, fall day. We walked part of the shoreline and slept on some rocky piers while waiting for the CircumBaikal train. This train travels at a snail’s pace along the edge of the lake and ends in Port Baikal about 5 hours later. Cost of the train – $1.50 Cdn each.
This was the BEST ride. The water was crystal clear blue and the track wound along the lake with beautiful mountains in the background and many tunnels. It is the deepest lake in the world and has more fresh water than all of the Great Lakes combined. Baikal also has the only freshwater seals called Nerpas.
We met 2 Russians onboard and they introduced us to BEK XXI Vodka and smoked Omul (fish from Baikal) Probably the smoothest vodka I have ever tasted and the Omul was smokin’ delicious.
Arrived in Port Baikal at 6:30pm, full of vodka and omul…there were no boats to Listvianka so we ended up at some house with beds in a huge room for $10 bucks each. It worked after playing on and off the locomotive…

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Fun with Goats and finally a shower

We had alot of fun with the goats – very cute and love our bits of food we have with us. They actually will eat anything and everything and always attempted to get into our Ger.

Bedtime at the Ger was always around 9 pm and up at 7 am. Usually no electricity, just our headlamps. And no water, just the squat toilet about a 100 metres away in the field. Lots of hand sanitizer used.

On our 5th day we had a public shower – it was in a building on a Sunday afternoon – big lineup – $1.50 – but wow it was nice and we all smelled great after it!!!

Went to look for dinosaur fossils and in the distance were huge mountains with tons of snow.

There were a couple of nights we froze – the stove crapped out and no more camel dung to be thrown into it. We wore all our clothes to bed and couldn’t wait to get into the van in the morning to get some heat. And one of our Gers was full of spiders – had to use a s#&tload of spray and pray!!! We were really roughing it.

At another Ger, a lady made homemade noodles mixed with yak and garlic and onions – delicious!

I ended up buying camelhair leggings from a woman outside one of the temples just to wear under my thin pants. They are great. Now need some wool mitts.

Our last night out on tour, we stayed at a horsefarm and we went out with the farmers on horseback and rounded up a few hundred sheep – what fun!!!

We are now GERED OUT and back at the hostel in UB. We are catching the 9 pm train to Ulan Ude in Russia. Doing up laundry and chilling with Mong beer.

Love this country and will absolutely come back and visit the other vast areas.

Found out there is the Mongol Rally which starts in UK and ends up in UB. Just might have to look into doing it next July. It goes through 23 countries!!!!

Ciao and we are off to RUSSIA tonight.

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Gobi Desert

We walked the “Flaming Cliffs” which were absolutely beautiful and the sky was Mongolian BLUE! Bought some gloves for 40 cents. We drove to a temple in the middle of nowhere and the Mongolians build little rock sculptures similar to our Inukshuks.

We arrive at the Gobi and what a sight – 175 miles of sand dunes – so incredibly beautiful. So we climbed one of the bigger dunes and planted a Canadian flag and then slid down the dune – it was HOT and we loved it after so many cold nights. We stayed at this Ger for 2 days and the 2nd day we went out on the camels – these big guys are so gentle. They have 2 humps and if their humps are droopy it means they have not got enough nourishment in them. Our camels had good humps! After our camel ride we were thirsty for beers as it was HOT in the desert, so Jackie took us to another Ger where the woman had ice cold beers for sale – YEAH – we also went into the old man’s Ger and drank some of their homemade vodka – he had me drink one small cup and then another huge one “toktoy” was “cheers” in Mongolian. He also served us cheese which was so strong, blah… Back to the Ger to play cards in the sun – fun times in the desert!!!!

Our next night I slept in the absolutely worst bed in the world. I swear it was a mattress made out of uneven bricks. All the beds are hard but this one was the worst. And our dinner was a huge bowl of overcooked pasta that I would not have served to Cab…
The breakfasts consist of bread, jam, fake Nutella, butter, coffee and tea. And sometimes the salted milk tea. Lunches were rice with mutton, or noodles with mutton, never fruit. The lamb dumplings were really great – that was our favourite for sure. No dessert ever.

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September 7 GER HOPPING

We have now departed on a trip into the Gobi Desert, travelling in an old Russian minivan. Our travelling mates are Francesca and JeanLuca from Italy and Daniel from England. Jackie is our ever-so-bold driver in this very diverse country. The van is old, however a 2000 model, but comfy. As we leave UlaanBaatar, the roads become progressively worse to really bad. Lunch was at a Ger restaurant. A Ger is what we call a Yurt in North America and most Mongolians live in Gers outside of the cities. We were served a salty milk tea – not so good and rice with mutton and veg. The squat toilet at this place, you could fall into and never be found again – it was that big!!!

The landscape is amazing with herd after herd of sheep, goats, horses and Bactrian camels (2 humps). Driving is very slow due to the awful road conditions and the animals littering the highways. Our first night at our first Ger was amazing – it was out in the middle of nowhere – there were 6 beds around the inside perimeter and a stove in the middle that the woman filled with dried camel dung for heat. The inside walls are covered with beautiful wall hangings and the doorway is very short for us tall Westerners. The lady served us soup with veg and mutton and bread – pretty good, and not as bad as we had read about in travel books. We had our own sleeping bags and she provided us with big blankets to keep us warm as there was frost on the ground.

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September 4 GENTAMAHOW INTREPID translated to “SO F++++kin GOOD!!!!

This was our final day with the Intrepid group and we started out with bus trip to the GREAT WALL – Mutiantu.
We walked up to station number 21. The views were incredible and the walk was a long one and so worth it. Some of the steps were really narrow – made for little feet…
When we walked down, we got to number 6 and took a toboggan slide to the bottom – whoa what a thrill, you had to keep your distance and nobody did.

That night we went to a very cool restaurant and dined on Peking Duck. The first course was the duck skin – crispy and delicious. Second course was the duck meat – so tender and full of flavour. The third course was meat with skin on and the fourth course was the bones to chew on and also, I was given one of the duck heads to pick apart.

Our Intrepid group was great and consisted of the following characters:

The Scorpion and nonSpiceGirl Aussies
Lost and Found Aussies
Dashing Brits
Budgee Smuggler Kiwi
Baijo Beijing Dude

Jess and I now have some great trips planned with accommodations in the UK, Australia and New Zealand

We are now in Mongolia and will be INCOMMUNICADO for 10 days as we venture into the Gobi Desert, staying in Gers and travelling on Yaks, Camels and Horses. The weather is very chilly and looking ahead looks like we dip into freezing temps at night. We are in the country of BLUE SKIES.

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