All went well. Guides were all excellent, we thoroughly enjoyed the many golden moments in Irkutsk and at each place we went. Each place we stopped had its own distinct culture and ways of enjoying life:
Our XingYuan hotel in Beijing was excellent--a short walk from the train station, with good breakfast. Front desk did not have our train tickets, so we assumed our driver to train station would have them. Next morning, he did not have them, but quickly found them at the bell stand, clearing our moment of anxiety, then we were on our way to our wonderfulTrans-Siberian trip! Below are a few highlights among thousands of lovely memories:
Ulan Baator: the wild free hard-working life of the nomads, pride in Chingis Khan--loved our night in the ger in Terelj National Park and the delightfully healthy food (warning to tourists: don't drink too much fermented mare's milk :)!
Ulan Ude: pride of the Buryat people, with cherished Buddhist temples that survived so much turmoil.
Irkutsk: with its very own cosmopolitan flavor and lovely walks by the river past churches that survived by pretending to be factories, while the people quietly sustained their own beliefs allowing history to unfold into a thriving resilience, with delightful architecture, food and culture.
Lake Baikal was extraordinary, with minerals found nowhere else, lovely woods and lakeside walks that paralleled the path of Jacob Chesky, the scientist who turned his exile here into a trek around the entire lake. The Lake Baikal museum was excellent, though very crowded. We were glad to be able to buy a good map there. Our guide helped us appreciate the history of the oldest wooden structures east of the Ural mountains in the Taltsy village. The "banya" or sauna was the hottest one we've experienced.
Our rail ride to Krasnoyarsk was graced with a full moon rising over the Siberian Pines and birch trees, then, during a long train stop, as we conversed with fellow travelers (divers returning from a deep dip in Lake Baikal), delightful fireworks at 11 pm celebrating a wedding! Krasnoyarsk had a cosmopolitan flavor all its own, with a delightful walking, shopping, dining mall totally unexpected, where we took a romantic evening stroll.
Novosibirsk had its own styles of architecture with a wonderful opera house. If we understood correctly, the Naval Academy had just graduated and there was a rock concert attended by at least 1000 people down by the river where we walked that evening then had a delicious dinner at a local "NewYork" Cafe" near the river. The many strollers reminded us that families are alike around the world, and youngsters of all nationalities share the same wonder and curiosity.
Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk) found us with Ifgeny (Eugene) an especially thoughtful guide with superb command of English. He shared the history and architecture so adroitly that we left with our minds full of past discoveries (even the bicycle!) lifelike sculptures, a river that ran the iron foundry, delicious local food in a restaurant frequented by towns people, and the experience of traversing the monument to the line between Asia and Europe--with its own special wedding chapel.The mix of pre- and post-revolution architecture was especially interesting, as was the apparent return of pride in and reward for personal accomplishment throughout Russia.
In Moscow, we enjoyed Tschaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty performed by the Bolshoi Ballet Company and did the free walking tour of the city center and Red Square on a day so hot that one young lady in our tour group fainted. Advice to tourists: if it's hot take bottled water with you and stay hydrated. This tour requires strength, but is well worth the 4-hours spent, with an excellent guide.
Warm thanks for making our passage across your beautiful country so lovely and informative!
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