A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: sabrinakam

Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Done travelling for a while

sunny 18 °C
View The Big Trip 2007 on sabrinakam's travel map.

We wanted to be in Shanghai by the 10th and since the "hard sleeper" for the overnight train on the 9th were booked out already we had to take the "soft sleeper". It was no problem taking the subway to the train station even though there were a lot of people. The difficult part was figuring out how the enormous train station worked and where we would have to wait for the train. Eventually we figured it out and got on the train all right. The train was really luxurious in comparison to the trans-siberian. It was impeccably clean, air-conditioned, we could order food directly to our compartment and our beds were very comfortable and clean. We even had a white table cloth and a fresh flower in a vase on our table! We had an improvised dinner consisting of coffee/tea, banana, rice crackers, some dried fruits and a muffin.

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We shared the compartment with only one person who was Chinese and the conversation was scarce. He had a really friendly face and we managed to understand that he was from Shanghai. He showed us on the map where we would have to go and explained how much the food would be if we would have wanted to order.

On the train were almost exclusively Chinese people except for a Danish family which we overheard boarding the train.

When we woke up we enjoyed the scenery for a while before we packed our stuff. We arrived on time to Shanghai Railway Station and went directly to the metro and bought our tickets. The Shanghai Railway Station was pretty impressive as well, with a lot of people everywhere. I find that, just like in Beijing, people here walk pretty slowly. I don't know if it is because I have longer legs or what but I would almost go as far as to say that people here walk as slowly as in Mexico!!

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We arrived at our hostel after having to look for it for about 20-30 minutes. We got a good room with our own bathroom and went down to have breakfast.

Lots of love,

Fredrik and Sabrina

Posted by sabrinakam 06:00 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Beijing (Peking)

all seasons in one day 14 °C
View The Big Trip 2007 on sabrinakam's travel map.

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A mix of grandeur from Imperial days, communist style architecture, modern sky scrapers, commercial centers and a maze of narrow alleys, Hutongs, with some delightful courtyard architecture, that is what you will find in today's Beijing. The 15.2 million inhabitants of Chinas capital (maybe not all of them) are frank, uncomplicated, helpful, friendly and every where to find.

We arrived early in the afternoon on the 5th of October. Apparently the Chinese had a week long holiday because of their National Day, 1 October, (in 1949 Mao proclaimed the People's Republic of China on this day) and according to our Lonely Planet "it is not a great idea to arrive in China or go traveling during these holidays as things tend to grind to a halt". Well, we hadn't much of a choice and just stuck to our original plan.

Our hostel "Red Lantern Hostel" turned out to be a pleasant place right in the Zhengjue Hutong, northwest of the city center. The hostel had a delightful inner courtyard, good service and a friendly welcoming atmosphere. We had really cozy beds (much better than the train bunk beds) and a nicely decorated room.

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We made ourselves at home and freshened up a bit, before we went off in search of food. Very quickly, we didn't have to have to walk long, we found a restaurant that appeared good to us and we walked inside. Fortunately, the menu had many photos and even some translation in English. We ordered a salad, vegetables, rice and squid. In the center of our table there was a hole with a grate or grill covering it where they put glowing coal and we could prepare our squid. Yummy!!! Apart from the food we ordered, we got tea, an appetizer, melon and ice cream. The food was delicious and of really good quality, and the prices were ridiculously low. We paid 30 Yuan (almost 4US$ or 2.90 Euros or 26 SKr) per person.

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After our delightful dinner experience, we walked around in the close by hutongs, the typical traditional Beijing neighborhoods with narrow alleys. There are lots of shops, like the hole in wall types, stalls, people passing by on bicycle, walking, chatting, buying and selling. In particular at nightfall the hutongs seemed to come to real life with a big huddle of people with noises and odors coming from all directions. It is exciting to walk through the hutongs, there is always something new to explore.

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The next day we had planed to get up early to see the Forbidden City but since it was pouring with rain we decided to take it easy. A bit later in the morning when the rain stopped we went off to visit the Temple of Heaven. A paragon of Ming Design, the Temple of Heaven, set in a 267 hectare park, originally served as a vast stage of solemn rites performed by the Son of Heaven, who prayed here for good harvest, and sought divine clearance and atonement for the sins of the people. We walked around the park and with us thousands of Chinese. We saw the Round Altar, Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the standout complex with a triple-eaved umbrella roof mounted on a three-tiered marble terrace. A neat place!!

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Afterwards we walked around a bit.................

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.....and we then headed for Tiananmen Square where there seemed to be even more Chinese. It's national holiday week, you remember? The world's largest public square, Tiananmen Square is a vast desert of paving stone at the heart of Beijing. In the square, you stand in the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe. The square employs a conventional plan that pays obeisance to traditional Chinese culture, while its ornaments and buildings are largely Soviet inspired. Mao’s Mausoleum (the Chinese Chairman died in 1976) can be seen here as well.

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At night we met with Emily, the Australian girl we did a climb excursion with in Peru and who now lives and works in Beijing. We also got to meet her flatmate who is of Chinese origin but grew up in Singapore and got her higher education in Australia. Thanks to her Mandarin knowledge, we could order the drinks and food we wanted to without using the otherwise so typical sign language. We paid 16 Yuan (US$2.10 or 1.50 Euros or almost 14 SKr) each. Can it get any cheaper?

The next day looked great, blue sky, few clouds and refreshing winds. The Forbidden City was on our agenda and we got up early to be there before the crowds. That was what we thought at least. We took a bus, got off at Front Gate, walked pass the Tiananmen Square and passed through the Gate of Heavenly Peace to eventually get to the Forbidden City. It is Beijing's top tourist site which for 500 years was off limits, thus the name. It was home to two dynasties of emperors, the Ming and the Qing, who didn't stray from this pleasure dome unless they absolutely had to. When we got there the site was full of Chinese and Western tourists alike. We strolled through the different gates, courtyards and buildings and saw the Three Great Halls, the heart of the Forbidden City, build in the 15 century and restored in the 17th century, and the Imperial Gardens, a classical Chinese garden of fine landscaping, with rockeries, walkways and pavilions. The whole complex is a true exhibit of the grandeur of Chinas Imperial days.

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After Beijing’s top tourist site visit, we walked through Beihai Park, which lies northwest of the Forbidden City. It is a beautiful Chinese garden type of park with a huge lake in the centre and a perfect place to stroll around, enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and to watch calligraphers practicing characters on the pacing slabs with brush and water. The site is associated with Kublai Khan's palace, the navel of Beijing before the creation of the Forbidden City. Kublai Khan, who reigned over China as emperor of the Yuan dynasty, was grandson of Genghis Khan, the Mongol conqueror.

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There as in all the other tourist places, Chinese tourists/visitors are really busy taking photos of all the different tourist attractions with them posing before it. At one place some Chinese ladies even wanted to take a photo of me next to them. So I did some posing together with them. Funny thing!!! I guess they think we Westerners look quite exotic and it's a cool thing to have a photo side by side.

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After the park, we carried on to walk through the hutongs until we got back to our hostel. On our way back we had probably the best tasting dumplings ever at a tiny local restaurant. I guess I don't have to tell you how cheap it was.

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The day after we had organized to go on a trip to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Hugo and Beatrice, who we shared the compartment with on the train to Beijing, and a couple from Peru joined us. We left early at 6.00 am and got to Mutianyu before 8.00 am. We were lucky there were hardly any people that early and we climbed up our way along the wall to the different watch towers. The weather was perfect, the surrounding beautiful and the atmosphere breathtaking (not just because of the endless seeming number of stairs we walked up and down). We had four hours to walk around and were totally exhausted at 12.30 pm when we headed back to Beijing.

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At night we went to Liyuan Theatre to see a Beijing Opera performance. We had been trying to get tickets through our hostel for several days and were lucky to get some on our last night in Beijing. The place turned out to be really touristy but the performance was ok. We saw some nice acrobatics, beautiful costumes, fascinating face paintings and listened to the vigorous song.

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The last day in Beijing, we were busy with packing, surfing the internet, emailing, updating our travel page etc.

Then we left for Shanghai our next and maybe last destination on The Big Trip 2007.

Lots of hugs,

Sabrina and Fredrik

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PS: We have been really slow with updting our travel blog. Sorry!!! We will try to catch up.

Posted by sabrinakam 22:42 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Train from Moscow to Irkutsk (3,5 days journey)

The Trans-Siberian railway, part 1

rain 12 °C
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We were not the only ones waiting for the train. The hall at the station was pretty crowded. A military woman with a mean looking dog was kicking out the drunks who were trying to get a rest inside for a while. The track from which our train would be departing came up on the board and many started moving towards the tracks. A large group of policemen stood in the doors where we had to pass and picked out some people to check their papers but not us.

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Outside, waiting to get on the train, we met a couple of large groups of Swedes. We got the impression that there were many foreigners, actually more than Russians, who were going with the train.

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We shared our cabin with a very nice Swedish couple, Robert and Emma, who were just starting an approximately 9 month long trip through Russia, China, South-East Asia and hopefully Tibet too.

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The Cars
We were traveling in the last part of the train, the Russian cars where all passengers with destinations in Russia were. Food was distributed (some crackers, sausage and tea for breakfast and a small lunch box for lunch) only to these passengers. These were also the oldest and most worn down cars but as it turned out, with the best heating! The first night I was sweating like a bull even though I slept in shorts and a t-shirt. The second night I was a bit more clever and slept without the blanket and it was ok. And as we traveled further east it got a bit colder and soon the temperature in our car was perfect while others were complaining about the cold. Other cars were the Chinese, a bit more modern, cars with a lot of staff. Then there was the first class cars, which I think also were in the Chinese part of the train.

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Food
We didn’t know what to expect food wise, so we had bought some food before getting on the train. Some bread, marmalade, nuts and dried fruits, water, and some fruits. When the train stopped the first time we picked up some juice, cookies and bread and with the lunch boxes we didn’t manage to finish everything before getting off in Irkutsk. At many of the stops food was available in many forms or shapes, dried fish, pastries, cookies, fruits, bread, or entire meals.

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Stops
The train was pretty punctual. There was a timetable on the wall detailing all the stops with minute precision. To our surprise the train kept quite punctual and only at the end was it a little behind schedule. The stops were very precise and always between 15 and 23 minutes. Some people almost were left behind at a station with a 15 min stop as they had to wait in the kiosk queue. It was really interesting to watch people and just see everything that was going on. The stops were about every three hours or so and the highlight of the day.

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Hygiene
There were no showers but we had two bathrooms in our car. There was a sink and it wasn’t too difficult to keep clean and relatively fresh.

Activities
We played some board games, read a lot, talked more, looked out the windows, took photos here is some of what we saw:

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Then we ate, slept and generally just enjoyed each others company. It was great! The time flew and all of a sudden we were in Irkutsk!!!

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Bye for now and take care!!!!!!!

Love,

Fredrik and Sabrina

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Posted by sabrinakam 03:16 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Moscow

overcast 13 °C
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Hello there!!!

We have now (18 Sep) spent 5 days in Moscow and it’s time to carry on our eastward journey. But before let me tell you what we experienced in the Russian metropolis.

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To our surprise, the hotel we booked through our travel agency had a really good standard with nice rooms, TV (some international news channels), quite good (English speaking) service, Internet access, big breakfast buffet and so on. By the way, it has so far been the most expensive hotel on our whole trip, 1.200 Kr (130 Euros or 180 Dollars) for a double room with breakfast buffet. Since we were dead beat after our train ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow and adding the terrible weather, it rained cats and dogs, we took it really easy the first day. We had a solid breakfast, took a nap, watched TV, explored the hotel, used the Internet, called home etc. The only productive thing we managed that day was to pick up our pre-booked train tickets to Irkutsk and Ulan Bator from the Leningradsky train station. We took the metro and after some disorientated moves at the station, we found the office from where we were supposed to pick up the tickets.

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The second day well rested and to some extend acclimatized, we were ready for Moscow downtown. The weather hadn’t improved too much, the sky was still covered in grey colors, so we decided to go to the State Tretyakov Gallery, the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world, with a fantastic collection of Russian icons and other pre-revolutionary Russian art. The museum was a big hit for both Fredrik and me. As Western European one has seen fine arts from countries such as Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, the US, the UK but Russian art somehow has never come to our sight before. We rented an audio guide and found it most interesting to listen to the different interpretations of and histories behind the paintings. Unfortunately but not that surprisingly, we were not allowed to take photos inside the museum so you have to come and see the Tretyakov Gallery for yourself.

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After the museum, we strolled around. We walked through a park where we saw at least 6 couples of brides and grooms with their friends and family posing in front of reflex and video cameras. We also discovered a piece of art which made an impression on us. Close to the park we found some “iron” trees decorated with masses of spring locks. Each spring lock had two names and a date engraved, probably two beloved ones hoping or wishing their love to last forever. Cute!!!

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From the park we carried on walking towards the Kremlin. By the way, Kremlin is the Russian word for "fortress", "citadel", or "castle" and refers to any major fortified central complex found in historic Russian cities. We crossed a bridge from where we had the first views of the stately Kremlin, the apex of Russian political power and once the centre of the Orthodox Church. It is not only the kernel of Moscow but of the whole country. It’s from here that autocratic tsars, communist dictators and democratic presidents have done their best and worst for Russia. We decided to visit the Muscovite “fortress” the next day and kept walking along its high walls through the Aleksandrovsky Gardens, along the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” where we stopped and took photos. The Tomb contains the remains of a soldier who died in December 1941 at Leningradskoe sh, the nearest the Nazis came to Moscow.

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We kept walking in the hope to get to see the Red Square which lies outside the Kremlin walls. It was once a market square but during the centuries it has been a place where the occupants of the Kremlin chose to congregate, celebrate and castigate for all the people to see. To our surprise, the Red Square was fenced in and guarded; we could not get to it. We found out that there was an International Military Tattoo taking place, where 47 military bands from around the world would come together and perform, inspired by the Edinburgh’s Military Tattoo. What an amazing thing we thought in particular thinking of the location, Red Square. Wow!!!! We got some tickets for the next day or I should better say night. Fantastic!!!!

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After a walk through and a short break at the GUM shopping mall, housed in a beautiful 19th century building with elegant and pricey shops, we finished our downtown trip for the day with dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Yummy!!!

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The next day we were ready for the Kremlin. We were lucky, after having bought the tickets, we got in right away. We passed the Trinity Gate Tower started to wander around a bit until we heard the sound of a loud whistle from somewhere. Obviously, we had entered into an out-of-bounds area and the Kremlin police informed us “nicely” to stay out of there. There were no signs however, that could tell us where the out-of-bounds areas were. From time to time we heard the whistle and then we knew. We felt like dogs on training!

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Eventually, we made it to the main attraction of the Kremlin, the Sabornaya Square with its beautiful, ancient cathedrals, palace and bell tower. The Assumption Cathedral was built between 1475 and 1479 and is the focal church of pre-revolutionary Russia. It is the burial place of most heads of the Russian Orthodox Church form the 1320s to 1700. The Annunciation Cathedral, built in 1489, was the royal family’s private chapel. Both cathedrals contain some stunning icons. No photos, sorry!!!

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After a quick lunch break, we made our way to the Armory, a numbingly opulent collection of treasures accumulated over time by the Russian State and Church. We were above all impressed by the Faberge eggs, jeweled eggs made by Peter Carl Faberge for the Russian Tsars between 1885 and 1917, the joint coronation throne of boy tsars Peter (the Great) and his half-brother Ivan V with a secret compartment, baroque style horse coaches and gilded, gem covered jackets. Brilliant, in the full sense of the word!!!

Then at 7.00 pm we made our way to the Red Square to see the Military Tattoo. The view from the galleries was spectacular. We had St. Basils church, the towers and wall of the Kremlin right in front of us and thousands of Russians around us waiting for the music spectacle to start. Little by little it got darker and the illumination of the Red Square went on. Fantastic, what a view! The military bands started their show. We saw dancers from Ukraine, Danish, German and Russian military bands playing their drums and trumpets and others juggling their rifles to the music. There were Italian standard-bearers throwing their flags into the air and a huge multicultural bagpipers group with Australians, Canadians, Scottish and English played in full tones on their pipes. All together 1500 musicians and dancers came together who entertained an audience of about 40.000 people. And we were in between!!! What an amazing experience!!

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The following day we visited St. Basil's Cathedral. Rising from the slope at Red Square's southern end, this crazy confusion of colors and shapes was created between 1555 and 1561, replacing an existing church, to celebrate Ivan the Terrible's taking of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan. Its design is the culmination of wholly Russian style that had been developed for building wooden churches.

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The same day we allowed ourselves a real splurge at the Pushkin Café, the queen mother of haute russe dining, with an exquisite blend of Russian and French cuisines. Delicious!!!

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Our last day in Moscow was filled with packing, buying food and getting ready for our Trans-Siberian train trip to Irkutsk, mailing home CDs with our digital photos, loading up photos on the internet etc. At 19.30 we got picked up by a taxi (we shared the taxi with a Swedish couple we met at the hotel who had the same destination) to the train station (Yaroslavl Station) where we waited for the train that should take us to Siberia.

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Before I leave you here, some words about the Russians or the Muscovites. Apart from very few exceptions –like the receptionist in St. Petersburg whose shining teeth we never saw -, the Russians are very friendly people, always willing to help, for example, when you are lost in the street or need some translation help with the Russian menu. The only Russian words we really learned are “spasiba” (thank you), “pazhalsta” (you’re welcome), “dobraye-utra” (good morning) and “dasvidanya” (goodbye), somehow it works. The funny thing is, people in the street kept asking us things (actually, we have no clue what they were asking) as if we were locals. Somehow we must have blended in quite well with our grey outfits and bum bags. The only thing that was missing to make the look perfect was to have a cigarette in one hand and a beer bottle in the other.

That’s all for now, dear friends, but there is more to come in the next reports.

Big hugs and kisses,

Sabrina and Fredrik

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Posted by sabrinakam 16:49 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Kaffeetrinken bei Mellohs

Having coffee at Melloh’s house

sunny 23 °C
View The Big Trip 2007 on sabrinakam's travel map.

Text und photos will come soon!!!!

Posted by sabrinakam 13:22 Archived in Germany Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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