We got on the train to Beijing at 7am and are going through the outskirts of Gobi Desert. It is half past three and as you can imagine steaming hot and dusty in the cabin. Fortunately this ride only takes 31 hours. I’m already looking forward to the stop at the Mongolian-Chinese border where you can experience the bogie-changes of the wagons.

During that process and the passport check we weren’t allowed to leave the train. In total the stop at the border and on both sides lasts about 4 hours and we were only allowed to get off the train for about half an hour to be buy some daily necessities (beer). As I can only repeat myself this ride was the worst one in terms of our body conditions and the unbearable heat in the wagons. Some French friends of us even fainted during the train ride and had to undergo medical observation afterwards. The happier we were as we eventually arrived in Beijing.

北京 (Beijing)

We got out of train withdrew Chinese money, bought SIM-cards for our mobiles and walked to the LEO courtyard hostel which is located close to Qian Men (southwards of Tian’An Men Square) right in the middle of Beijing. It’s a great place to experience the characteristics of the survived still lively Hutongs and dive into Chinese culture and habits. We enjoyed our stay in Beijing although it was my third time there and thus the sights and places we visited were mostly redundant to me. Nevertheless I always accompanied the guys apart from one day when I revisited my colleagues at the office I worked for last summer. In the meantime they went to the summer palace by themselves.

上海 (Shanghai)

Now, after a week in the capital city of China Martin and me ended up on the train to Shanghai. The three of us had to separate, as there were complications to get three tickets for the same train. Philip didn’t mind though to stay two more nights in Beijing as he has more time in Shanghai than Martin anyways. I’m currently facing the challenge of finding a room for one month in Shanghai. Yesterday and on the train so far I was mainly on the phone digging out old connections to colleagues and friends in SH and crying for help basically.

I eventually found a place to stay though in Jing’An, a fairly central district. It takes me about an hour by public transportation to get to Fudan nevertheless. This Monday my student life here took off again, so future entries might be limited 😉 The basically exiting part of my journey is over anyways (not that SH isn’t exiting). I’m focusing on taking my chinese to the next level during the next three weeks even though having a tax law exam waiting for me as soon as I arrive back to Vienna.

Photos: EXPO 2010

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Wed, 21st July 2010: 6am, arriving in UB we got picked up by Sergelen, a guy that studies in Vienna and spends his summers in Mongolia (I know him through a basketball colleague of mine, but saw him in person for the first time in UB). So once more we had a nice local showing us around to all the good places that UB offers. We were checking in the hotel Sergelen recommended to us and went to the city buying the train tickets to China. After some sightseeing in the center and around UB (to see the yurt villages that are circling the rather urban city center) the Tourek of Sergelen broke down for some reason enabling us to see the local VW store/garage there ;). After one hour though reparations were finished. In the evening we all went to have dinner at Modern Nomads with some more French girls we knew from the Trans-Mongolian train and eventually ended up in an introduction to UB’s nightlife which is legendary.

Next day: Say hello to Mr. hangover due to only two hours of sleep and spirits that already accompanied us through Russia – let’s call them Vodka. We had an arrangement though. The day before we ordered a driver to take us to a village that still lives in the way Mongolian people did in the 13th century in the middle of nowhere. Having our bellies filled up with Tarag (some traditional yoghurt) we enjoyed the different stations devoted to horse- and camel riding, calligraphy and so on. On our way home we stopped at a huge monument of Genghis Khan which happened to be also in the middle of nowhere. Might be possible that everything in a huge country with not even half of the population of Austria seems to be in the middle of nowhere.

As it had been quite a few days since the last contact with policemen of other nations (Russia) I somehow felt the urge to get in touch with the Mongolian police and thus had my wallet stolen out of my back pocket. Happening in front of Café Amsterdam (a place with a lot foreigners) someone pushed me while another one grabbed the wallet almost not noticeably. About two or three seconds later I was missing a certain monetary pressure normally caused by the properly positioned wallet on my right butt cheek and tried to run after the thief. Someone sitting in the streets pointed at two guys obviously fighting for something. I ran there with Mogi (a friend of Sergelen) and suddenly the guy who stopped the thief overwhelmed him and handed my wallet back to me – a really brave guy. There were some undercover cops on the streets and immediately got into the scene taking my wallet from me again in order to have evidence. As they focused a little too much on the thief another four guys beat the brave guy up in the meantime. They wanted to make it official so they took the two guys and me to the police station, actually just nearby the scene. Not a long time passed and the thief admitted his crime.

That was basically everything about our two-night UB experience.

Photos: Улаанбаатар (Ulaanbaatar)

Day #6/7 – main stop Ulaanbaatar (Moscow time +4h): We went back to Irkutsk on Monday morning in order to leave the city directing to Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) in the evening. We just had a quick shower in our hostel (Baikaler link) and had our dinner right across the street. After that it was time to get to the train. This time we are split up in the cabins. Martin and Philip are staying with a Belgium couple and I’m in one booth with two Scottish guys and a Russian lady who is working for a sweets company and thus got plenty of this stuff with her on her way to UB. Right now we are stuck at the Russian-Mongolian border facing a five-hours stay, as the process of getting all the stuff of traders through the costumes takes pretty long. Passports had been collected already and this process is going to be repeated in Mongolia – Lonely Planet says, that anything up to 11 waiting hours is quite common. We’re btw also winning back one hour, as Mongolia doesn’t have summer time.

Photos: Иркутck (Irkutsk) to Улаанбаатар (Ulaanbaatar)

Lake Baikal

After a one-night stay in Irkutsk (a place not really worthwhile staying any longer) we went to Olkhon Island by minibus (matrushka). It was a horrible ride and the driver a complete maniac. Thus we managed to arrive there estimated 4 hours earlier than the other buses leaving at the same time. The thing had one big advantage: we had more time on that lovely island staying in Nikita’s Place (link) kind of getting away from the busy places and the not very spacious train cabins. Basically I want the pictures to do the talk in this entry. There is not much to tell anyways since it was a nice short vacation of two relaxing days for us meeting interesting other internationals, hiking the lake area and enjoying the outstandingly impressive scenery.

Photos: Lake Baikal

Monday, Day #1 – main stop Nizhny Novgorod (Moscow time + 1h): I’m texting this lines after the first day/night on the train and I can tell that is has been a very intense experience so far. Anna and Olga came to wave us good-bye at the train station in Moscow and at 1.35 pm we took off directing towards Irkutsk – a travel passing through 5 time zones lasting for almost 4 days. On the train it was quite hot yesterday (in comparison to today – it’s fortunately cooling down a notch), but we made the best out of it in the cabin and happened to meet a German speaking Russian girl named Victory. She studies in Poland and got on the train in order to go to her hometown. With her help we were able to communicate with the Russians who welcomed us to their cabin and shared vodka and food. These men are going the whole way to the Chinese border (travelling time about 12 days) near Vladivostok to work there. They are very curious about foreigners and welcoming at the same time. Today they even woke us up with some breakfast mainly consisting of cookies and cakes. I think that we are going to try the dining wagon for the first time in the afternoon although you can buy very nice authentic food from babushkas (older ladies selling stuff) at the train stops or in the wagons.

Philip originally was a little concerned about a lack of space in the cabins but it turned out well for him, although not being able to stretch out completely. The first night was quite ok everybody seems to adapt quickly to the monotonic noises of the train.

Tuesday, Day #2 – main stop Yekaterinburg (Moscow time + 2h): No vodka for us on the second day. The Russian guys seem to be pretty fond of us and keep on telling us the same stories and visit our cabin randomly. Exhausting at certain points… Nevertheless they are giving us presents all the time and want to share food and drinks, or simply want to participate in our dice/card games. We tried the dining wagon, which is quite ok, but much more modern than initially figured. Also the cabins on our wagon #10 are actually top-standard, so there’s a little lack of Transsiberian feeling (on the other hand I don’t know if I would have been able to cope with ‘platzkartny’ – 3rd class for 4 consecutive days).

Running in and out loads of train stations seems getting monotone at some points. At some of the stops you can get out in order to catch fresh air and buy food at the little shops or matrushkas. The toilets on the wagons are very basic and plugs are rare (the ‘schaffner’ are the masters of the charging process therefore – very sad for me and my old ipod that needs to be recharged every two hours).

Wednesday, Day #3 – main stop Osmk (Moscow time + 3h): Before I started to recapture day 2 we sat together with the Finnish guys Maya and Mikko in order to figure how to continue travel from Irkutsk/Ulan Ude to Ulan Bator. We all don’t have train tickets so far and were told that they are supposed to be pretty limited. We’re not very concerned about being able to reach the capital of Mongolia it might just need a few alternatives and flexibility to arrange that properly. In Irkutsk we have one night and in Olkhon Island two nights figured out before heading to Mongolia. We already had to postpone our hostel bookings in Ulan Bator and Beijing a little as we can’t completely keep to our itinerary. Nonetheless, we are optimistic that everything will turn out well for us. Currently I feel being caught between several time zones. We just made some instant soup with sausages – Mahlzeit!

In the evening we mainly spent our time playing Yatzee and drinking in the dining wagon with some other internationals.

Thursday, Day #4 – main stop Krasnoyarsk (Moscow time +4h): Leaving behind another time zone and waking up after the third extremely comfortable night we discovered that Philip’s camera was stolen while we were sleeping. It is an expensive one and the recent pictures from the train ride not saved yet – very annoying. We were thinking about the criminal rate on train being quite low, but as we discovered you never know for sure and that it’s very naïve trusting anyone here. The thief must have been directing exactly for the camera as our other valuables are still here. It is just a pity that we have to cope with all the bureaucracy stuff now.

At the next train stop the police got on the train in order to check the crime scene. The whole train was upset by that and from then on everybody knew that there was trouble going on with the Austrian foreigners 😉

Friday, Day #5 – arrival at Irkutsk (Moscow time +5h): Arriving at Irkutsk in the morning after days of horrifying and tight train ride with russian company we immediately bought tickets for the ride to Mongolia on Monday evening. After that we checked in at the hostel and strolled through Irkutsk, a not at all exciting place. Next two days heading for Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal. Gonna be more awesome!

Photos: Москва́ (Moscow) to Иркутck (Irkutsk)

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