Anders: 10 days on my own

On July 26:th I took the bus to Tunxi (“Huangshan city”) in Anhui province. The trip took less time than I expected, there was apparently a nice highway between the two cities. The landscape soon became very pleasant after Hangzhou, with some forested hilly terrain. In Tunxi I had some trouble finding my hostel. I got a ride from the bus station on a motorcycle to the street where the hostel were supposed to be at number one. Problem was, there was no number one. I started walking up the street. There was a noticeable absence of english signs and almost nobody spoke English. After a while I had to call the manager of the hostel, Stephen, and after handing over the phone to a somewhat surprised randomly chosen shop owner, Stephen could locate where I was and sent a taxi to pick me up. Stephen thought it better for me to stay at another hostel, close to the train station. It was a bit cheaper and I didn’t mind. Nobody at the hostel spoke English though, we had to rely on gestures. I then walked down to the the city center and the “ancient street”. When looking for a map of the region I now was in I got some help from a nice female employee at a book store who showed me to another book store, but they didn’t have any English maps there either. I spent some time looking for a decent place to eat in the center of town, only to discover the best place was just outside my hostel, where there were lots of small restaurants, shops and street food vendors. Later I decided to go to Qiyunshan (some mountains 45 minutes west of Tunxi) the next day.

In Qiyunshan it rained almost all day, so the views were not the best but there were some nice Taoist temples and shrines. I bought incense at one of the shrines and did my best to please the gods and “monsters” that was lined up at different places. One of the temples was built under a rock wall and I got some nice photos of another temple when the fog lifted somewhat. Getting back home to Tunxi worked out fine when a mini-bus drove up beside me on the road, I said “Tunxi? Xi (7) yuan?” and they picked me up, then after a while put me on another bus that was driving to Tunxi. I put both the fan and the air-con on to dry my clothes for the next day up to the spectacular Huangshan mountains.

Bus to Tangkou the next day. I was dropped off at some restaurant and got confusing directions (in Chinese) where to go for the next bus to the cable car/trail head but found my way eventually. More rain at Huangshan. And fog. Because of this I took the cable car up, I wouldn’t be able to see much on a hike anyway. In spite of the weather at the top there were lots of people, taking photos of what I do not know. But I got some nice views when the fog occasionally lifted. I had booked a dorm bed at one of the hotels but I upgraded to a standard room at arrival. Had the most expensive dinner at a small eatery beside the hotel. Explained to some of the guests that came to chat with me that Roger Federer was Swiss, not Swedish. Ping pong player “Whauldeneer” was Swedish though. The second day on Huangshan it rained the whole day, not much fun happened. It was a pleasure to watch all the people going up the steep mountain though, as I was heading down.

The day after I went to the villages of Xidi, Hongcun and Lucun about an hours drive from Tunxi. A glimpse of the old China. The weather was initially nice but there were some showers in the afternoon. Booked a hostel in Nanjing and then had a chat with Stephen and some other travelers from Germany. I learned that Stephen had seen the solar eclipse in very good weather in Tunxi and he described the event very vividly.

Bus to Nanjing the next day. The landscape was very nice in the beginning. Then we stopped in some industrial cities by the Yangtse river that didn’t look so nice. I had an interesting chat with an engineer from Tianjin that sat beside me. He had lived in Nanjing for a couple of years. I managed to find my way to the hostel in Nanjing (Sunflower youth hostel) and decided to order pizza at the cozy top floor bar/restaurant. Was surprised to find signs for locally brewed ale – from “Oktoberfest” brewery in Nanjing. But when I asked for it they didn’t have it. Too bad. Next day I visited the “Purple Mountain” where many sights are located. The Mausoleum of Sun Yatsen and a pagoda were my main targets but it took the whole day to wander around the place, I eventually found out the smartest thing was to take a bus between different areas. Then I visited the city wall and one of the city gates before I went back to Hangzhou again. I liked Nanjing and should really have stayed there one more night but I had already booked train tickets and hostel in Hangzhou.

Back in Hangzhou I went to the south side of the lake one day and to the north side the last day. Wasn’t really that inspired, I mostly waited for my flight home. Bought some nice chopsticks for myself. The Air Asia flight from Hangzhou to Kuala Lumpur was more comfortable than I expected, slept most of the time. I had a few hours of waiting time in KL and then a 13 hour flight to London with Malaysia Airlines. No problem when you can watch movies, tv-shows and play games! A few more hours of waiting on Heathrow then a Scandinavian Airlines flight to Gothenburg.

Kuala Lumpur (2009.07.26)

We landed in Kuala Lumpur International Airport Low-Cost carrier Terminal (KLIA LCCT). First we found where we can leave our luggage, and where to exchange money (they also same as in China did not accept Kazahstan tenges here). It was raining outside, so most of us did not want walk around city center. Therefore we decided to eat some breakfast. After that (time was ~6 o’clock) rain was getting lighter and we took a “Skybus” to the city.

First sightseeing object on our plan was Petronas Twin Towers. They are the second largest buildings in the world. On our way we also saw the nice white Old railway station. When we got out of subway we found out that we were already inside Twin Towers. It was still raining a little outside. Though the view to the buildings was impressive.  After that we went to Masjid Jamek mosque. That is one of oldest mosques in Kuala Lumpur. Women were not allowed to go inside without a scarf on the head. Also short pants were not permitted. Though at the entrance you could get cloak to cover yourself. Sultan Abdul Samad Building at Merdeka Square was few blocks away and we went there by foot.  There were no other tourists around, because it has only just now stopped to rain, and it was still only 10 o’clock. After taking some photos and resting legs we went back to subway.

The last object in our plan was Kuala Lumpur Tower which is 5th tallest tower in the world. On streets in lot of places in the city were escalators for pedestrian crossing over street. Very nice feature. At first we though they are not working because the escalators were not moving. But as soon as you got onto one, it automatically started to move. The entrance of KL Tower was on a small hill, and there was a free minibus which took us from the bottom to the top of the hill. Ticket cost 38 RM, and also included a pass to 3 more attractions. A very fast elevator took us to sightseeing level of tower. We walked around it and could see the whole city from top. Lot of buildings had pools on their top. After that we went to use our free attraction tickets. First was F1 simulator. But it was nothing impressive – just some normal PC game with a steering wheel and pedals inside a formula case. The pony ride had a weight limit – only less than 55 kg allowed, so Everita was the only one of us who got to ride the pony. Third attraction was a small zoo. Majority of animals there were all kind of reptiles – lots of snakes, some tortoises.

Petronas towers Mosque Merdeka square View from Kuala Lumpur tower

After that our excursion in Kuala Lumpura has ended. We took monorail back to the bus, which took us to the airport.  Unfortunately the seats were not close to each other. Me and Emīls got places in middle of plane, rest of us together at the tail of plane. This Air-Asia plane was much bigger that previous one. It was scheduled to fly for 14 hours to London. Fortunately seats in this plane was much better. They had more space for legs, back of seats were also higher. Though no display at the back of the chair. I don’t remember much from the flight – I was asleep for most of the time. I even did not notice when they were giving out meal to eat. I woke up only when Emīls woke me up saying that we are landing.

Urumqi – 15/07/2009

Written by Mārtiņš K., translated and details added by Agnese

We are getting up early as we have agreed before – at 7am. The other kupe growls as usual that there should still be time to sleep. They are actually right – we arrive at the destination station 2 hours later than planned.
Improvised policeman set up by army are everywhere in Urumchi/Urumqi city. On the one hand we have a feeling of safety because of the high security, on the other hand, of course, it wouldn’t be nice to get in rougher checks and get fumbled. The most frightening fact to me is that somebody could take away the knife given to me as a present from a friend of mine. Metal detector beeps, but the lady fumbles my pockets and lets go.

The seats on the later train which would be the best according to the schedule (evening) are sold out. So are all places on at least 2 other reasonably good trains and all the sleeping places on all trains today. The best places we could get are soft seats for a train that leaves at about 4pm, therefore we won’t have much time in the city. But it’s better to take this train than wait till tomorrow, so we buy the tickets.

We arrange two cabs which could take us to museum of minerals. The agreed price is 25yuans for each. Our cab takes us to a wrong place at first – to history or similar museum. After short expounding, we arrive at our proper destination. The first group reports that the museum is closed, however the main object of interest for our astronomers – the huge meteorite – is found exposed next to the museum and we can see it. We take a picture of ourselves and tick off this item from our must-see list.
It’s drizzling small drizzle, but as the temperature of the air is not low there’s no threat of getting soaked. We decide to go to Urumchi Red hill park.
Me, Mārtiņš M and Everita want to go by foot, which we do. Others take a cab. Initially we follow the intuition and hopefully head in the right direction. Of course, it turns out to be wrong. A lady on the street explains that we should go in completely opposite direction.
It is interesting to observe both daily rhythm of local people and local lazybones.
The rain gets more intense and we get a bit wet. On our way to the park we realize that it won’t be possible to get there more or less along azimuth, and to reach the entrance we need to make a detour of several blocks size. In a little while we arrive at the destination.

railway station 4th biggest meteorite in the world City view

When we start walking in the park, the drizzle stops and we get dry very quickly. The park offers very interesting and extensive scenery of the city.

After the walk in the park we get some cash from ATM and bank. The first ATM we notice on our way, works with our bank cards, which seems quite surprising for Agnese as she has read that there might not be more than couple ATMs in this whole city. We continue to supermarket to buy some needed products while Agnese and Mārtiņš M. tries (more or less successfully) to get prepaid SIM card from some Chinese operator.

A bit of stress and a bit more stress about some irresponsibility or something like that, as we thought at that time. We bought also some cognac, which was probably produced or bottled in China.
And then for 15 yuans per each of the 2 cabs we get back to railway station to go further.

At the entrance of railway station there are metal detector checks again. Me and Mārtiņš M are asked to open bags for detailed check. The manual metal detector beeps because of knife that’s attached to my belt under shirt, however as there is camera battery close by in the pocket, they find that and ask to show. Mārtiņš M. was asked if he has a knife or anything like that in the bag. And he honestly shows his knife. I answer without lying that I don’t have knife in the bag. :) I was let go, however problems arise with the knife of Mārtiņš M. It appears that we would have needed to declare or file or similarly note such things. As the train leaves in couple of minutes, there’s no time to discuss about the conflict, and the knife is given away for confiscation voluntarily.

Border of China

Aggregated from 5 sentence/5 facts texts of all of us. Put together and translated by me. Prepare for a long reading (sorry)

In the afternoon of 2009.07.14 we arrived at a small village just before Chinese border. Kazakh border guards stepped in to check our passports, but I don’t remember if they checked the baggage. Our carriage was the last one to be checked, so the border guards stepped out and said that we can step out also to walk around the village while the wheels of the train are changed. Everita and MārtiņšK were the only ones to get out – the doors closed just before the rest of us, and the train started to move backwards. We thought it would stop in some seconds, but in fact it moved for some minutes till a place with lots of wheels and rails and trains. We got a message from MārtiņšK – “Bļ.., kur aizbraucāt” (“Fck, where did you go to”) – we didn’t know ourselves :D.

We had nothing to do, so we started to watch a movie on the laptop. Time after time the train moved – it seemed that the wheels were changed for one carriage at a time. Although they moved the whole carriage up at least 1m, the wheel changing procedure was very unnoticeable – only Emīls saw some moment that we were higher above the ground than we used to be, but sadly didn’t bother to tell the others – we would like to see it too. Unfortunately, they didn’t have electricity in the train at this time, and the battery of the laptop ran out in half an hour, so we couldn’t watch the movie till the end.
While we stayed in the train, MārtiņšK and Everita were wandering around the village. The air there was dryer than cookies of sweetcrust pastry and temperature above 30C. The village was located in the middle of nowhere, cows were walking down the streets and abandoned houses were intensively torn down .

wheels and rails and trains Waiting for the train coming back Train with new wheels on double-rails

Some time after leaving the village behind, we reached the Chinese border.
We were checked very seriously here.
The first team that visited us were medicals. They came in the kupe and aimed with a weapon-like object to our foreheads without saying a word. The object luckily appeared to be an infrared thermometer. It seems that China is only country which takes pig, bird and other flues for real. When they checked Anders’s temperature, it was apparently a bit higher than normal and they had to check it again with a regular thermometer. Who knows, what would have happened if he really have had a fever.

The second team was the food control. First they visited girls’ kupe, from which girls shouted the boys to eat the carrots. They were thinking “wtf?”. Only later they understood that every vegetable and fruit will be taken from them. This way we lost our carrots and cucumber, but we managed to save the tomatoes in our stomachs :). There was also a funny discussion:
Chinese official: – мясо есть? (Do you have meat?)
MārtiņšM: – нет. (No.)
The official carefully checks all the bags and sacks. Prepared to leave, but notices that there is another sack on the upper berth. He takes out a loaf of bread from it, all covered with flown-out melted cheese, and gives to MārtiņšK to hold it while taking out the second loaf, which is also broken apart. After that he takes out a sausage.
Chinese official:- а ето что такое? (And what is this?)
MārtiņšM: – hm.. , колбаса. (sausage.)
Chinese official (angrily):- колбаса ета же есть мясо! (Sausage is meat after all!)
… turns around and leaves taking the sausage with him.
Now we know that we should have hide the sausages in the trash bin, because they didn’t check it. And even if they had checked – we had thrown them away ourselves. However they didn’t take away our canned meat – maybe because we told them that those are “konservi” (preserves), not some meat. Anyway it seems that you cannot take anything fresh or any meat into China.
Long time after leaving border I found our Kazakh melon somewhere under blankets and sheets in the upper (over-corridor) section of kupe. Great success! :D

After we had put back all the things taken out with 2nd officials’ team, new team – border guards – appeared and asked to take everything out one more time. We took out the sacks of our bags and tried to tell in English what’s in there, but it doesn’t seem that the border guard understood a word, although he nid-nod. We think that he was just pleased with fulfillment of his duties. He also skimmed through Kristīne’s book in English and nodded wisely. Her tri-pod seemed very interesting. She had to put the camera on, and only then he understood, what is it meant for. They went away with Kristīne’s DVD movie – maybe to watch it?? Fortunately, they returned it later.
MārtiņšM had to show them Agnese’s star maps from his e-book and gadget party in boys’ kupe began. They played with MārtiņšK’s magnetic toy Neo cube, one border guard (quite pretty ;) ) checked the photos in the cameras and cellphones. MārtiņšK said that there’s nothing interesting in his, but she answered “it’s my job”. Most of MārtiņšK’s pictures had “drunk and asleep friends, laden with things” on them. For one of them she asked, what is this. MārtiņšK replied – “I don’t remember…”. In the last pictures she checked, there was a kitty which she liked :) . It was great that she stopped there as the further pictures depicted MārtiņšK’s fraternity friends with rapiers – not good to show pictures of any weapons to border guards, is it?
They also checked Anders’s book in English and didn’t like something in it so Anders had to tell them, what’s written in it. Fortunately they didn’t find MārtiņšM’s laptop.

After a while, suddenly everyone left. In a moment one of them returned and searched for something, but didn’t find. We hoped that we would get some souvenir, e.g. a torch, but we didn’t find anything ourselves also.

Overall, it seemed that our group had created a little stress to both train attendants and Chinese border-guards, but everything was alright in the end. Only some 2 persons of them spoke English or Russian. Mostly we used sign language and were translating over a chain – Anders spoke in English, MārtiņšM translated to Russian and Chinese border-guard lady translated from Russian to Chinese to her colleagues. The same chain to the opposite direction. Together with wheel changing we spent several hours at the border posts, something like 6 hours or even more. It was dark outside when we started to move further.

Got over the border, we chatted and joked till 5am although had to get up at 7am.

Hangzhou (2009.07.25)

We planned to wake up early so that we would have more time later in Hangzhou before our airplane. But it didn’t work out so well. We arrived in Shanghai South railway station only 7 minutes before the train and missed it. Later we were told that the train also left earlier.  It takes lot of time to get to a train – the station is huge. Luckily we were able to change the tickets for another train that leaves about an hour later. They even gave back 14Yuans as the new tickets were cheaper because of not so good/fast train. In the waiting hall by a complete accident we met a person from Latvia (again). She was working in Shanghai as teacher and also was going by the same train to Hangzhou. The train was pretty comfortable (more or less similar to the train Xian-Beijing) and the ride was very smooth and fast. After an hour (or two) we arrived in Hangzhou.

Our plan was first to leave all our heavy bags in the hostel Anders had reserved for him as he was staying in Hangzhou for the next night.  There was a big line of people waiting for the taxi next to the train station. Taxi cars were coming and going quickly, so it didn’t take much to get two cars for ourselves. We had only address of the hostel written in English, and in Hangzhou only few people understood English, so we pronounced carefully the street name and luckily driver understood where to take us.

Some of us wanted to go for more shopping, but me with Agnese and Anders went to West Lake – Hangzhou most famous scenic sight. The lake was very large. Also there were lots of other tourists walking around, some boats were floating on lake. We decided to walk along the coast for some two hours in the direction of less attractions, south, as the less attractions, the less tourists.  Right at the beginning Agnese scared the hell out of me, by faking pushing me into lake when I was watching water at the edge of lake. Anders commented this as “it never gets old” :).

The path was not only on the ground, but in some places build like bridge over the water, going parallel to the coast of lake. In some places there was a statue of a famous man or an important ruler of Hangzhou.  At one point a Chinese guy approached me and asked something (in Chinese). As I didn’t understood, he showed with gestures that I am tall, and he is short, therefore he wanted to take a photo with me. We stopped a bit near a small pound with lot of colorful fishes (same as in Shanghai) and Agnese fed them with cookies she had with her.

From the lake we went back along a street full of souvenir shops. In one alley we went into what seemed a traditional medicine shop. They were selling lots of weird stuff – all kind of roots, grains, and also some dead snakes. In other alley there were lot of food stands. You could buy lot of different types of food, including crayfish that Agnese wanted to eat. There were also some boiled snails which we didn’t try.

When we got back to hostel, Mārtiņš K. and Emīls were asleep and the little room without windows seemed overcrowded of people and bags. Then we said goodbyes to Anders and went to Hangzhou railway station for airport shuttle. We were told that bus leaves from the front of railway station. But it took some time to find out that bus stop was on other side of building that was in front of the railway station.

Our Air-Asia flight was scheduled at 23.20. In the airport people were getting in a line. When the line was for about 40 meters long we decided it is time for us to get in the line also. At check-in they informed us that our printed-out boarding passes were not valid in this airport (because it is small?). So we got almost last places which were left in airplane close to each other – at the very tail of the plane. The seats had a small display at back of them where the information about the flight was shown. You could also rent movies to watch, or order food with them. Though the sitting was not very comfortable for me – there was not much space for legs and it was very hard to get some sleep. Although this was my first flying ever, and I was before told by others that plane will shake very much and everything will be bad, it was not true. Flying was very smooth. During the flight we were given customs cards to fill, where we found out that bringing drugs is punishable with death penalty by Malaysian law. Fortunately none of us uses them.

We landed in Kuala Lumpur around 4:30 am.

Silk road train

As our group had become lazy writers, I asked everyone to write some 5 sentences about our journey from Almaty to Urumqi. I got many sentences, not so many facts, and most of them all were about our time on Kazakhstan/China border, so there will a separate post dedicated to the funny border crossing. But for now – about the Silk road train “Zhibek zholy”.

It was quite late when we entered the train, but who would have known that the caption “Alamutu – Wulumuqi” on the side of the train standing on 1st tracks, means that this is the train to Urumqi. Again, we had booked places in 2 adjacent kupes, but this time they were a little bit different from each other. Each of them had violet clothes-hangers, but in the boy’s kupe each of them had a “pretty” ribbon. There was a little fight to get a hanger with a ribbon, and finally the boys were so kind to change their hangers to ours :D. We put down our bags and stepped out to take a photo, with the hangers, of course.

Pretty hangers Silk road train kupe

The train and the compartments were clean, white and somewhat “sterile”. Every kupe had two thermoses with drinking water (the previous train had drinking water tap in the corridor, however, we drank mostly boiled water after cooling it down in a glass bottle, placed in Everita’s sneaker to not fall apart). Electricity sockets were under the table in each kupe, there were more than 1 and not all the same, but I don’t remember neither how many exactly nor what types. There was a Chinese style (squat) toilet in one end of the wagon, a normal toilet in the other. Also in this train there was a big place for our things over the corridor. We kept there many things including bed linen in day time and among them the melon which had been carried around in Almaty and turned out to be the only piece of fruit to survive till China. Beds were much harder than in the train before, but we slept very well after the long day in Almaty.

Next day I woke up to see a nice scenery outside the window. There was a nice, blue lake behind a meadow and it was still there some hours later. Apparently a very big lake. Here and there were some village or  Muslim cemetery. The landscape of eastern Kazakhstan was very beautiful and none of the pictures taken through the dirty train windows made it justice.

Big lake Mountains Green green grass Rain

It was very quiet in the train. While in the train before everyone was keeping the doors of their kupes open and visiting other people in the train, even unknown people, here most doors were closed and there were no people chatting in corridor. We kept our doors open mostly and sometimes tried to shut the curtains of the windows in the corridor so that there was less Sun shining into eyes. Though the carriage attendant walked through the carriage time after time and always opened them if it was light outside and always shut them if it was dark. He seemed to be a very patient person as he never tried to say anything to us, when we opened the curtains uncountable times in the evening.


– Sorry for delay on article, I’m a lazy writer. ;)

Rise and shine. Early in the morning I woke up when our new Kazakh room-mate was rustling. We told him that we will be arriving in Almaty after 7:00, bet he was not convincible – in his mind it would be at 6:00. Some minutes past 7:00 we arrived in Almaty, station 2.

Our first task was to buy tickets to Ürümqi. Timetable was showing “место нет” meaning – there are no seats. At the information woman said that we should go to pay-box and ask for tickets. Pay-box was opening at 8:00 – little while to wait. Also we were informed that tickets cost about 50% more than expected. After visiting ATM and currency exchange point we felt quite comfortable. :)

Looots of money!

After we bought the tickets we went to put our baggage in storage room. After that we contacted people from couch-surfing community to go to them for a shower. At first we thought about going by taxi. We were told that it is not so expensive (we should not pay more than 1000 tenges for all of us to get to our destination near microdistrict Orbita). But first taxi offered to bring us for 2000 tenges for each car (we needed 2). We were bargaining a little while when at this point woman at storage room intervened and told us how to get to our destination very easy using public transportation. We didn’t mind, it was in our (at least in my :) ) interests to explore this culture by participating in their everyday life – walking same streets, taking same public transportation, meeting people, et cetera. Taxi momentarily dropped his price to 1000 tenges for a car. It was still twice to much and our minds were set to going by bus.

First bus explained that we should go 2 stops and then reseat. We decided to go by foot. Taxi was still there, with friends. All of them were trying to convince to go with them. Now price was dropped to 1000 tenges for both cars. But we were going to our new target – bus stop No98. On the way there it was very interesting to acquaint oneself with their culture on the roads. As well as glancing at beautiful fountains.

At the bus stop we awaited our bus. Conductor was hurrying us up to get into the bus. As we found out later it is custom to do things fast – jump into or out of the bus almost while it is still moving. Conductor also showed us where to get out and where was the park with columns and beautiful fountains. Some public thermometer showed 38­ degree C a while ago. So while waiting our contact persons we were sunbathing, taking photos and lounging near fountain.

Bus 98 Beautiful park Fountains! Fountains!!

We divided into two groups. One group went with let’s say “woman” and the other with “girl” :)
One after another we went to the shower at hers place. Feeling was much better. Woman made some sandwiches and omelette, and some other viands – cheese, sausages, tomatoes, etc. Very, very nice and kind from her.

Couchsurfing rollz! Couchsurfing rollz!!

After that we decided not to go to the observatory and nearby lake as it seemed to be very expensive. Instead we would be going to museum of music instruments. On the way there we enjoyed waterworks and flower gardens. Unfortunately museum is closed on Mondays. After quick chat with guard we went on. Clouds began to gather and it looked like there will be a thunderstorm soon. Indeed after a short while rain was starting to fall. We decided to go into some coffee for a lunch. Not all of us were so fortunate to get such a large meal at their couchsurfing place… :) Everyone ordered what they want. Me, Anders and Everita only beer and snacks. Unfortunately after a meal there was some misunderstanding about the the prices we had to pay. After 20 minutes and loud discussion situation was more or less solved. I don’t like to participate on such events, so I didn’t.

At that time the Sun was no more shining, it was warm and it was not raining. We decided to go to Kok-tobe by cable-way to watch the city from above. Up there was lot of commercial stuff. Not really interested in. But overall very nice and clean. We were walking around, taking some pictures, visiting mini zoo (free).

TV tower Pretty deer girl The Beatles in Almaty Down from Kok-Tobe

Slowly not hurrying anywhere we decided to go to the train station by foot. Everyone was worn-out. Some took a nap. Some recovered by eating something. After a while Agnese notices that we can go to the train and there is attendant who speaks only Chinese. The train is nice, made by Chinese plastics. The attendant is checking our body temperatures by some infrared thermometer. Everything is OK. Again, we need to fill up some papers for Chinese border. Soon after that we go to sleep.

Train to Almaty: 3rd day

Continued – based on Emīls notes.

July 12

The morning starts with the words “приготовите паспорт” again, though this time it is MārtiņšK who says them. Nevertheless some of us including me are disturbed, awake at once and reaching for the passports. It could be nice to watch us from the side at this time :D.

At the stops various things are sold in many trolleys. We buy melons, a watermelon, a bottle of Kazakh wine “Кардинал” (“Cardinal”) and a (too) small bottle of very delicious cognac “Казахстан” (“Kazakhstan”), the most delicious >20% alcoholic drink I have ever tasted. The melons cost around 20-30RUR each, the wine is 400KZT (there was another, “Kagor” for 300KZT in the kiosk). We still don’t have Kazakhstan tenges as they could be get nor in Latvia neither Sweden banks, that’s why we pay for everything in Russian roubles. Maybe the rate isn’t the best (from 1 RUR to 5KZT till 1 RUR to 4KZT), but things we want are still cheap enough in roubles and we don’t mind.

Very tasty melon Dividing Delicious!

The melons are ripe, aromatic and also very tasty. We also open our daily cans of meat which means that the backpacks will be lighter. Yesterday we ate canned meat of some forest animals like deer and roe, but we didn’t know the English name for roe, so Mārtiņš told to Anders that it was “deer girls” meat. It turned soon to “pretty deer girl” and we will remember this expression for quite a long time since then. That’s why the canned moose meat of today gets a title “pretty men moose” meat.

Watermelon Lunch time again Pretty men moose

Emīls has got a bit sore throat. Riču-raču and card games again. At one stop some policemen step in the train. They will come with us till Almaty and check the baggage of newcoming passengers, because in the coming region many people are growing and trying to transport cannabis. Later in night we also see a big fire of a great area at the horizon. Our neighbors told that it’s a normal sight – the police is burning cannabis fields there. It is not allowed to take photographs of policemen in uniforms. Also it is not allowed to take photograph of our provodnitsa in her uniform.

Two melons for one day are enough for us, though we have another two of them left. They are not light and we don’t want to carry them around the whole day in Almaty, that’s why we eat the biggest of them. It is very tasty again and we eat it fast after cutting in pieces. Tomorrow we will have to get up early, that’s why we put most things back in the backpacks already. In the night we try to dance salsa in the corridor of the train, but it’s too narrow for turns. The radiators along the corridor side take up more space than it seems. Although the early waking up next morning, we go to sleep pretty late. Our provodnitsa Zhannar wake us up at 5:30am. We pack the last things, the bags seem lighter.

At half past 7 we arrive in Almaty.

Train to Almaty: 2nd day

Continued – based on Emīls notes.

July 11

The morning starts with words “приготовите паспорт” which means “get the passport ready”. The fact that we crossed border to Kazakhstan yesterday doesn’t mean that we can put our passports away till Almaty. The train has an interesting route – it crosses the Russia/Kazakhstan border 3 times as you can see from the map in the 1st page of our site. It could be because of former Soviet Union and common railroads to Russia and Kazakhstan at that time. Though double entry visa is NOT needed for either country. People in both embassies informed us that they think we will need double entry visa when we wanted to check whether the information on internet about not needing double one is right. But it appeared that our visas were already processed at that time, so we couldn’t change entry times and got single entry visas. There were no questions on the 2nd or 3rd border crossing.

After the 2nd border it is still morning so most of us go back to sleep. When we finally get up, the train has a stop and there is no possibility to go to toilet, so someone of us has to contain himself till we are moving again. Toilets are closed before stops, because everything from there goes directly to ground under train and it’s not clever to allow it in stops. The train is still late. Outside the window we see “dry” cows (very thin, in a pale brown color) from time to time, first camels, steppe. We play card games, checkers, dices and riču-raču (Latvian version of the board game Ludo)

Dry camel Cemetary Scenery Riču-raču

We stop at some station, I want to go to buy milk in a nearby shop, but our train hasn’t stopped at the 1st platform and between it and the terminal a very long train arrives. Since it won’t be possible to get back on time by going around, I return to our train before my time has come in the queue in the shop. Though Everita and MārtiņšK who have left at the other side get back by walking through the other train. The scenery outside the window stays the same. A beautiful sunset. I finally get to buy milk at some station. MārtiņšM buys yogurt for Kristīne and a bottle of mineral water. First stars, the night has come and the first educational astronomy lessons start. Our train neighbors are also interested. Unfortunately there’s some haze and not a better sight upwards than in Latvia. Or maybe the light ruins everything. The light in corridor, which windows can be opened, is always on in the night. Last year in steppe the visibility of the sky was much better.

Beautiful sunset Star watching class Moon

Me, Emīls and MārtiņšM watch and take photographs of Moon and Jupiter from the corridor of the train. Others are already asleep. We go past Aral sea but as it is about 100km away, we can see nothing except some salt fields which in night are a bit lighter than the rest of the ground. The morning comes, it gets lighter. Venus and Mars can be seen in the Twins constellation from the window of our kupe. Also MārtiņšM and Emīls sleep when I finally go to bed to wait for Tjuratam station (closest to the Baikonur cosmodrome) there (with the alarm clock on). Last year I was sleeping in the car when we went by it. This year I want at least to look at that direction. There’s not much that can be seen – just rails that suddenly split away to north and some satellite receivers in form of big dishes. Still I feel happy. The sun is rising, I wake up Emīls for that sight and after the sunrise finally go to sleep.

Train to Almaty: 1st day

Continued – based on Emīls notes.

July 10

We wake up late. It’s ok – we will spend all the day in the train. On some stops we get out of the train for some minutes to take photos or just to breath fresh(or just different) air. It’s very hot outside and we don’t feel very clean, although the train has a sink in the toilet. The toilet is quite the same as in previous train and we have got used to it. The train has a nice and very communicable provodnica (train attendant). She stops and tells something interesting whenever she walks by our kupe. She and everyone else on the train is speaking only Russian, so not everybody of us understood everything. Sometimes we translate to Anders, but sometimes we don’t as it is toooo much that needs to be translated.

This is the first day we eat the potato porridge and canned meat we have taken with us. This porridge is also very easy to prepare – just add hot water and stir. Each of us gets 3.5 spoons of hot porridge and a can of meat. It become less and less trees outside the window and the scenery changes. Still most of the stops are quite green. We are crossing river Volga not long after Saratov city terminal. A really huge river. It’s possible to see the railway bridge before crossing, as the train route makes a curve.

Porridge Saratov Railway bridge over Volga

Something is keeping the train, apparently they are checking it especially carefully. We stand on the border 1 hour more than we were supposed to. But the provodnica says that we will catch up afterwards. After Russian side border there still is Kazakhstan side border. The border guards are looking at us for a long time while checking passports. Outside the window music is playing and two drunk local boys are fighting. It’s Friday – party, nothing special :)

We are going to sleep late. The trees outside the window have got small and short – first signs of steppe. Our carriage has around 4 of 110 Volt electricity sockets in the corridor and 1 220V socket in one WC, and a 120V socket in the other WC. Last evening we charged our mobile phones, this evening the electricity is gone. The provodnica suspects us for charging (malfunctioning) camera which we didn’t do actually.