Riesenrad / Ferris Wheel

Nachdem wir wieder Zugriff auf Google und damit auch auf YouTube haben, können wir euch nun endlich unsere Fahrt mit dem Mini-Riesenrad im Zhangjiajie Scenic Park verlinken. Viel Spaß!

Finally back in the Google realm and thus being able to access youTube again, we proudly present you the below video proof of our ride on world’s smallest Ferris wheel. Enjoy!


China in a rush

25th October 2016, Guilin

Okay everyone, I’ve realized I have woefully neglected the English tag. And in all honesty, the only reason for me to write something today is that we decided to do a quiet day at the hostel, and the wifi isn’t working. So after having slept in, eaten an unhealthy amount of dumplings, having gone to Chinese foot massage (oh sweet heaven) and watched the rain falling on the lake, I am now resorting to updating the English tag. That’s how far it has come…

Since we leave for Vietnam in three days, this will be a rough summary of pretty much our entire time in China. We have been to some pretty cool places in the meantime, some of which we liked more than others.

After leaving Beijing, we spent two nights in the most picturesque ancient town of Pingyao – this is what we imagined ancient China to look like. The entire old part of the city is perfectly preserved with its one or two-story houses of gray brick, small alleyways that are crammed with shops and street vendors and red lanterns, and surrounded by an entirely intact city wall. We took one and a half days just strolling around the streets, eating our way through the food stalls and walking along the perimeter of the wall. Our hostel was inside one of the old courtyards with a very nice family; we had a traditional room to ourselves which basically consisted of a very large bed that was connected to a stove so as to warm it up from the bottom in the cold season (which had not yet started). The bed was insanely hard with a one inch mattress but it was spacious enough for four to six people.

Pingyao by day...

Pingyao by day…

...and night

…and night

The impressive city wall with two of its guard towers

The impressive city wall with two of its guard towers

The Bed

The Bed

From Pingyao, our journey led us to Xi’an. Unfortunately, we had gotten standing tickets for the train ride but only realized it at the time of boarding the train. Luckily, it was only a three-hour ride and we were able to sit on empty seats half of the time.

In Xi’an, we didn’t really do much since we were both still recovering from our head colds. A large portion of the time was spent in the very busy Muslim quarter which was bustling with food stalls, selling all sorts of exotic snacks that were somewhat different from the average Chinese foods. Our favorites were kaki fruit pancakes (Kathrin) and sticky yellow cake soaked with rose water (Birgit). They also sold different kinds of bread, pita, kebab and the like which seemed rather oriental.

Xi'an as seen from Drum Tower

Xi’an as seen from Drum Tower

Our friend Mak arrived two days later than us and we spent most of the time together then. A friend of his got us tickets for the terracotta soldiers and we ended up getting invited there in spite of the insanely expensive ticket price. The soldiers are the most important sight around Xi’an and a must-see on every China travel. All their faces and attires are different, not two of them are alike, and they also differ in rank and position; some even come with horses and carriages. When they are excavated, they are completely in ruins and reassembling them might take several years. The ones that you usually see on the pictures represent only a small portion of the army – it is estimated that a total of up to 6,000 soldiers will be found in this area. We took several hours strolling through the excavation sites, and afterwards Mak’s friend, who had gotten us the tickets, even invited us for dinner together with his family. We drove to a restaurant close to the army, and had a hearty stew with lamb and beef, glass noodles and short, thick noodles in a hearty broth – one of the most delicious meals I’ve head in China. It was a very interesting evening talking with Mak and his friends.

Soldiers and horses

Excavation of the soldiers is ongoing

Excavation of the soldiers is ongoing

From Xi’an, we took an overnight train to Chengdu. Since all the sleepers were already sold out, we decided to take hard seats, figuring that it wouldn’t be much difference to spending a night on a long-haul flight. While the seats are not that hard in spite of what their name suggests, they cannot be reclined (this only works in the high-speed trains), so we ended up sitting straight or slumping against each other for twelve hours. Also, the train was full, with the lights on all night and people making noise from playing cards or watching movies on their phones. The smoking which was allowed in the space between the cars was our smallest issue. But we survived and it definitely hardened us for future train rides that were also not comfortable by German (or Transsiberian) standards but we could always reminiscently tell each other: It’s still not as bad as a night on a hard seat… >_<

Apart from that, Xi’an South station is probably the most inconvenient train station we have ever had the misfortune of coming across. Located in the middle of nowhere, tiny, cramped, old, with no electronic boards or any other non-Chinese friendly means of information, we ended up standing in the hall for almost two hours since our train was late and we didn’t even know what was happening. If it hadn’t been for friendly locals whom we showed our tickets and who made sure that we’d get on the right train, we would have been totally lost.

But then we got to Chengdu, and what can we say, our crops were watered and our livestock was fed. The information in the guidebook said there was nothing to do but everyone left the city happy and with recharged batteries. We suspect it might be the very lack of things to do that achieved that result, in combination with Chengdu’s secret weapon: the world’s biggest panda breeding facility. That was really our only reason to visit and we were totally not disappointed. Not only is the park delightfully panda-friendly instead of the usual Asian zoo nightmare but also did those adorable, fluffy, clumsy furballs have babies – twenty-three babies!!! – that were even more adorable, and even fluffier and clumsier than their parents. We spent six hours in the park since there were also Red Pandas to see, and also it was just a really beautiful park.

Hello there!

Welcome to the Panda Park!

I love bamboo...

I love bamboo…

...scratching my behind...

…scratching my behind…

...and climbing trees!

…and climbing trees! Wouldn’t have guessed that, would you?

Look at 'em! Aren't they the cutest little things you ever saw?

Look at ‚em! Aren’t they the cutest little things you ever saw?

The other highlight in Chengdu was spending a Saturday afternoon in People’s Park which is really just that: a park where the locals go to spend their Saturday afternoon – to drink tea, play chess, practice calligraphy on the ground with giant water-soaked brushes, dance, sing, get their ears cleaned by a professional ear-cleaner, or discuss the newest offers on the wedding market – a somewhat secluded pathway littered with sheets introducing the unfortunate young ladies and gentlemen in their absence…

Our hostel in Chengdu was an apartment run by two young men and it was almost like a home away from home. The owners literally went out of their way to help us with booking our onward trains, even accompanying us to a travel agency. They made a lot of tea for us and brought us the most delicious cookies, and it was a very relaxing atmosphere.

So, happy and with recharged batteries just as the guidebook had predicted, we set out for a 30-hours journey including an 18-hours overnight train (this time hard sleeper which was softer than it sounded but still hard by any means), a five-hours hard seat ride on another train and one and a half hours on a minibus (the rest of the time was spent waiting at train and bus stations) into a tiny village by the name of Yangjiajie at the foot of the so-called Avatar mountains. They are so called because some people claim that James Cameron drew inspiration for Pandora’s floating peaks from these mountains.

We’ll never know if this is true but what we can say for sure after two days of hiking and riding buses through Zhangjiajie Scenic Park (which is the official name of that area) is that this is one of the most stunning landscapes we have ever laid eyes upon and boy do those mountains look like they’re floating when their foot is covered in clouds and the ever-changing mists create a new view with every blink of an eye.

Plastic raincoats like proper Chinese tourists!

Garbage bag raincoats like proper Chinese tourists!

Like a Chinese ink drawing

A view like a Chinese ink drawing

Look at the size of the cable cars in comparison!

Look at the size of the cable cars in comparison!

To be fair, we did have a lot of fog and even rain and we didn’t get to see the highest peaks but that did not diminish our experience. Apart from the splendid views, we also enjoyed what is probably the world’s smallest Ferris wheel (also the one in the most unlikely location: under a precipice to the side of a steep valley in the middle of the forest; built from wood and operated entirely manually by an old man), and we had great company from Liverpool, Rob and Lorna, who really knew how to turn a dull one-hour downhill climb on slippery steps into a fun game of “Who or what am I”.

To top it off, we stayed in the loveliest, friendliest little hotel at the outskirts of the village. The owner, Lilly, gave us invaluable advice on how to make our way around the park and basically planned out our entire stay for us. We had a double room to ourselves (own bathroom, yay!), the air was clean what with the entire place being surrounded by forests, rice fields and rivers; and the only noises to be heard were the chickens‘ busy bantering in the morning. And the food, don’t even get us started on the food! Lilly was such a good cook; we ended up taking all our meals at the hotel since there was simply no reason to go to the village. Our favorites were the scrambled eggs with wild onions, the fried eggplant, the lotus root, and the buns and noodles that she served for breakfast.

Delicious breakfast

Delicious breakfast

But everything comes to an end someday, and we had to leave far too soon to go to Guilin, which was another twelve hours hard sleeper and another hour on a high-speed train. Guilin greeted us with a sunny 32°C and a hostel directly by the lake-side.

One of the lakes right in front of our door

One of the lakes right in front of our door

We took one day to go on a River Li cruise which is incredibly famous for its peculiar rock formations. It was a guided tour, and the cruise on the “bamboo rafters” (rather metal-pipe rafters but doesn’t bamboo sound so much more romantic…) was nice enough inspite of the mist which seems to be our curse for all the main sights in this country but the rest was what you’d probably call “spoilt by tourism”. We only walked around the old town of Xinping and didn’t even go to famous Yangshuo town because we’d seen enough of Chinese tourism after a half-day, and luckily, a very friendly Chinese girl who also booked herself out of the tour earlier helped us to get back to Guilin. Apart from that, we enjoyed some street food in Guilin and I (Birgit) also got a Chinese foot massage which was really good. We wandered around the lakes on very lovely little pathways but apart from that we didn’t really do much since everything in China seems to come with a price tag (the Longji rice field hike would have cost us 40€ each).

River Li cruise in the mist

River Li cruise in the mist

Now we are on the way to Nanning from where we intend to cross the border to Vietnam on Friday, 28 October. Fingers crossed that we get tickets for the bus since it was not possible to book them online in advance…


7th October 2016, on the train from Beijing to Pingyao

Welcome back, friends. We would like to let you know how we passed the remainder of our time in Beijing.

After having recovered more or less from our colds, it was time to set out and explore the city again. Kathrin was not really feeling up to it yet, so I made my way alone to the Summer Palace on Monday. Since the weather was nice and it was still Golden Week, it was completely overcrowded like all the sights but I jumped right in anyway and climbed up and down the hills for about two hours. The pathway around the giant lake was so crowded that it would probably have taken me another two hours to walk around it, so I went back to the hostel, and we tried our luck online booking train tickets to our next destination Pingyao for Friday.

Birgit at the Summer Palace

Birgit (and many, many Chinsese people) at the Summer Palace

We also booked seats on a tour to the Great Wall, organized by our hostel, for the next day.

It was a 2.5 hours bus ride from the hostel to the Wall, so we started at 7:30 am already. The streets were not as busy anymore, the English people from the hostel in UB had gone on the same tour the previous day and it had taken them about four hours one way.

We were taken to a less frequented spot called Badaling Ancient Wall. It is close to Badaling where practically everyone else goes on a daytrip from Beijing but a little further up in the mountains, and while there were still a lot of people, most of them didn’t walk on the wall very far and after about half an hour we had it pretty much to ourselves. Let me tell you, it is exhausting to walk on the wall. The steps are all different in height and width, with a lot of sections being very steep and some not having steps at all. In the end, we only walked for about two hours including the way back to the hostel at the foot of the wall. Also, the weather didn’t help. All those sunshiney pictures of the Wall that you see? Honestly, everyone can walk the wall under a blue sky. Nothing special really. We, however, were blessed with a rare(?) occurrence of fog, wind, rain and general cold which made for some very atmospheric pictures which we do not want to keep from you. Kevin, a Scottish guy we met on the trip, said that selling those pictures made enough money to pay for the next couple of weeks of his trip, so unique are they. 😉

At least all the rain coats made for some colour. ;-)

At least all the rain coats made for some colour. 😉

Look how steep it was!!!

Look how steep it was!!!

Well, never mind. We still had fun.

The next day, we met up with Mak again and picked up our pre-booked train tickets to Pingyao. Also, we bought tickets from Pingyao to Xi’an, lucky that there were sill some available in spite of the end of the Golden Week.

After that, we strolled through the park of the Temple of Heaven which was very lovely since a) the sun was shining and b) there were a lot of things to see like women dancing to music in the middle of the park.

In the evening, we met Mouna and Rémy, the French guys from the Transsiberian at their hostel on the busiest street in Beijing. We honestly could only walk caravan-style, putting our hands on the front person’s shoulder in order to not lose each other. Mak took us to a restaurant where apparently Angela Merkel has eaten once when in Beijing. You wouldn’t have been able to tell, there was no picture of her or anything; also it was a place that foreigners probably didn’t frequent very often. It was a typical local restaurant, a bit dirty (don’t look on the floor), noisy, crowded, serving food that was cheap and good if somewhat experimental and we enjoyed it very much.

We might meet Mak and also Mouna again in Xi’an; Rémy is going back to France to work.

On Thursday, we went to the Forbidden City aka the Palace Museum together with the Scottish couple, Kevin and Fiona, who are honestly the loveliest people we have ever had the good fortune of meeting. The hostel receptionist had ordered the tickets online for us but all we had received was an SMS confirmation. So we had to try and find the right queue first. Well, actually we had to get to the Forbidden City first, all the way across Tiananmen Square, through underpasses and security checks, and then there were already several hundred if not thousand people waiting in front of the Palace gates which were not even open yet.

We asked a member of security for directions but soon realized that he had sent us to the wrong queue. Two tries later we were eventually at the correct counter to get our tickets and almost 1.5 hours after leaving the hostel, we had finally made it into the Forbidden City.

The moat around the Palace.

The moat around the Palace.

Red walls as far as the eye can see...

Red walls as far as the eye can see…

Guardians of the rooftop

Guardians of the rooftop

It was pretty impressive, entering through the gate and standing on the giant square that we had seen in so many movies. The City consists of a number of large palaces along a central axis and numerous smaller palaces to the east and west, as well as a pretty garden. But to be fair, impressive as it might be, after a while it all started to look the same to us. Red walls, yellow and blue tiled roofs, like a maze. After wandering the place for about four hours, we made our way back to the hostel, took a nap and then spent a great evening chatting with Fiona and Kevin as well as several other backpackers instead of packing.

After that, it was a pretty short night since we had to leave the hostel at 6.15 am this morning to go to the station and catch the train to Pingyao. Finding our way around Beijing West station was also a bit of a struggle since the trains depart from a different building than where the ticket counters are and in order to get there we had to go through security checks like at the airport including showing our passports and having our tickets checked at least three times before arriving in a giant waiting hall where people were queuing to get on the platform. We hope that this is only Beijing and/or only the end of the holidays. In any case, we have found our seats and are now speeding through the country at 240 km/h.

Mongolian Poker

2nd October 2016, Beijing

Welcome back, English speaking friends. Sorry that we have been neglecting you for so long. Mongolia has kept us very busy, in a good way.

The train ride across the border from Russia to Mongolia was quite an adventure in itself. Strictly speaking, we left the Transsiberian Railway and got on the Transmongolian in Irkutsk. From there on, no third class was offered so we expected to share our compartment with Russian people. But surprise, surprise, the entire carriage was occupied only by foreigners, mainly Dutch and Belgian people. It was much more entertaining than anticipated.

Unfortunately, we passed Lake Baikal at night so we could not see it again. We reached the Russian/Mongolian border in the afternoon of the next day, and several bizarre things happened. First of all, some kind of prisoners‘ exchange seemed to be going on; the first carriage of the train had bars in front of the windows and a group of people were escorted out of the carriage by armed policemen at a station shortly before the border, and another group was being escorted onto the train at the last stop before the border. Secondly, we did not have a schedule since the one on the train was not correct so basically we didn’t have a clue where the train would stop and for how long. So when we reached the border town of Naushki and someone said we would stop for three hours, we got off of the train same as most other passengers and went outside the station to buy something. However, when we returned, the train was gone which gave us a mild heart attack to say the least. After some excrutiatingly long minutes of not knowing what to do, we finally saw the train returning from the depths of the station area where apparently the carriages were being rearranged. In the end, all carriages except ours were moved from the train and attached to another train going back to Irkutsk, including the prisoners‘ carriage. Our carriage alone remained standing next to the platform of an almost deserted station in the middle of nowhere, and we waited. And waited. And waited. The stewardesses had locked all our compartments when we had left so we couldn’t even go back inside and lie down. In the end, after two hours we could finally get back on the train and then all the border controls, passport, baggage, drugs, blablabla controls started which took at least another hour. Then, an engine was attached and our carriage alone made its lonely way across the border to Mongolia, its only passengers being European foreigners.

We reached Ulaanbaatar in the rain early next morning and whiled away about an hour at the station, waiting for daylight which in hindsight was a good idea since the traffic is crazy even if you see where you are going. Mongolians drive recklessly, honk all the time, and only reluctantly stop for red traffic lights. At first, we only stuck with locals to cross the streets.

Our hostel was very welcoming; they let us check in inspite of the early hour, upgraded our room at no extra cost since a double was free, and even let us have breakfast.

We set out to explore the city, planning to pick up our train tickets for the last leg to Beijing on the way. The first stop was probably UB’s single most interesting sight, a fairly large Buddhist monastery named Gandan where we could watch the monks‘ morning studies and chants. After that, we got soaked in the rain which had started again and after a late lunch decided to call it a day and made our way back to the hostel to dry our clothes and take a rest.

For the next four days, we had booked a horseback riding trek. The camp’s owner picked us up at the hostel and took us to the Stepperiders‘ camp about an hour south of UB where we spent the first day.

Life at the camp was very relaxed and easy-going. There was one other guest, a young Malaysian who already had a lot of travel experience in Central Asia, and two volunteers from Europe also stayed at the camp. One was an Irish theatre actor who hoped to improve his CV by being able to add horseback riding to it, and the other was a young woman from the Netherlands who took a break from her studies. And then of course, there was Mama, a giant black furball of a dog and the cuddliest and friendliest creature we have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

This afternoon, we went for a training ride of about two hours. The other three guests accompanied us, also Mama, and we were led by one of the horse masters of the camp, Boinaa, who would also be our guide for the trek. We got acquainted with the Mongolian horses that are small and sturdy, and with the local style of riding. The saddles are wooden which sounds more uncomfortable than it actually was (although Kathrin might disagree); the advantage of wooden saddles is their light weight and that you can feel much more of the horse’s movements through them. Also, there are very few commands. To make the horse move or move faster, one simply says “chu” and presses one’s heels into the horse’s flanks. To make it stop, say “hoosh”, sit back and pull the reins. By the end of the ride, we knew that our buttocks were not going to be our main problem during the following days but our knees instead since the stirrups are very short and one stand often, for trot and gallop as well as going downhill.

In the sunshine, it was very warm and pleasant but when we got back to camp and the sun set, it became pretty cold. We spent the evening sitting in the large community ger (ger is what they call a yurt here) wearing pretty much all the clothes we had brought and learning Mongolian poker from the others which was very entertaining, especially since Boinaa kept cheating. Later that night, Boinaa and Mac, the Irish lad, set out to look for wolves in a nearby national park (where we were supposed to go camping the following night…) and in the morning, they told us that they had seen and heard a pack of five and made a run for it, or rather a gallop.

While those two had been out wolve-hunting, we had slept very peacefully in our own little ger at camp, kept warm at least until the early hours of morning by a fire in an iron oven in the middle of our ger. We woke to the sound of rain which luckily subsided before we started on our trek.

Boinaa had caught the same horses from the herd for us that we had ridden yesterday, and our backpacks were transported by the cook in the car. Luckily, those two had decided that we would sleep in a stone ger in the Bogd Khan National Park that night since it was already too cold for camping. In my opinion that was also a far better option with regard to the wolves.

We rode for about four to five hours that afternoon, over many a mountain which the horses were far more keen on climbing than we would have been on foot. It was the downhill climbs they didn’t like and several times Boinaa had to come and lead them down the hill. But when we rode along open plain land, we could trot and gallop to our hearts‘ delight which was great fun. The land belongs to nobody, not the government, not any private individual and one may ride wherever one likes.

The horsed didn’t have names per se but every rider gave them nicknames. Boinaa had called his horse Angelina Jolie, maybe because of the dark brown color and the beautiful eyes? We named our horses Blondie (because of its blone mane) and Donnie Darko (dark colour, you guessed it) but we additionally called them Hungry Horse and Lazy Horse because Blondie would constantly eat while walking and Donnie Darko took a lot of motivation to get moving.

When we reached the national park after sunset, it had become very cold but our cook Tuusho, who had already arrived at the ger with our luggage, had made a welcoming fire and had already started to prepare dinner.

That night after dinner, we played poker with Boinaa and Tuusho and even Kathrin and I won a round each.

The next morning, everything outside our ger was covered in a thin layer of snow. After breakfast, we hiked to the ruins of Manzushir Monastery which lay scattered over the side of a mountain, and had a beautiful view over the valley beneath us. We saw our horses grazing far below but at that distance couldn’t see that Angelina Jolie had in the meantime freed herself from her bridle. When we got back down, we had to search it for at least 20 minutes before Boinaa could get the horses ready for the day’s trek.

As soon as we rode out of the forest of the park, an icy wind picked up and kept blowing for the rest of the day. The view, however, was magnificent.

We met Tuusho after some searching at the outskirts of a small town and had lunch in the pick-up. After that, we continued our ride but it got pretty exhausting (and painful) and we were glad to reach our destination for the night, the ger of a farmer’s family who Boinaa was friends with.

The farmer, his wife and their baby lived in the ger along with the farmer’s father and grandmother (if we understood correctly). The furniture consisted of the obligatory iron oven in the middle of the ger, a small table with plastic stools next to it, some rickety shelves and boxes and two beds. A lot of things were simply tucked between the roof beams of the ger and the awning, such as drying laundry, books, glasses, a cell phone,…

Our dinner was brought by Tuusho because apparently the family had already eaten. We were served milk tea which was not that delicious because it is not tea with milk but the tea leaves are brewed with hot milk directly, and we both don’t really like milk… We drank up, however, and even tried airag, which is fermented horse milk and sound a lot more disgusting than it actually turned out to be.

The camp had provided sleeping bags for us (two each) and we slept on the carpet of the ger. After midnight, the fire went out and it became incredibly cold. On the other hand, before we had gone to sleep, we had gone outside to see a myriad of stars in the sky, more than we had ever seen anywhere, even at Lake Baikal, including the Milky Way. It was stunning.

The next morning, we experienced some more family life. People came and went, Boinaa slaughtered a sheep which was expertly gutted by the grandmother on the floor in front of the oven, and the farmer’s wife showed us how to milk cows. I can now officially say that I have successfully milked a cow. Luckily, our breakfast was delivered by Tuusho and we left the family before the sheep was cooked. Hygiene was a bit of an issue here but then again, life in rural Mongolia is very hard, with little fresh water supplies and temperatures that go down to -40°C in the winter.

After two more hours and some crazy gallops we reached camp and were enthusiastically greeted by Mama. New guests had arrived but for us it was time to go say our goodbyes to Boinaa and Tuusho with a heavy heart and go back to UB.

The next day, we went to pick up our tickets for the last leg of our train ride and then wandered through the city to see the winter palace which was unfortunately closed, and a war memorial on top of a hill which was a lot further away than we had anticipated. The view was mediocre since the city lay under a cloud of smog and is not very beautiful anyway. On top of it all, we ended up walking the entire distance back to the hostel since we couldn’t figure out where the busses went.

It would have been enough for one day but we had actually been looking forward to visit Tumen-Ekh theatre where every night there is a performance of traditional Mongolian music and dance. We decided to take a taxi and asked the landlord to call us one but apparently none were available. He wrote the directions on a piece of paper for us and told us how to stop a car on the street. Any car. In UB, anyone can be an unofficial taxi driver, kind of like Uber, only that the Mongolians have had it forever. And what can we say, it worked perfectly. Since there were two of us, there was a little safety in numbers, and the landlord had written down the price for us so that we didn’t have to negotiate.

The performance was great, and afterwards we treated ourselves to a yummy meal at one of the many Korean restaurants.

On Thursday morning we left for our last leg of the now Transmongolian railway. Again, our carriage, and pretty much most of the train, was occupied by foreigners; we counted at least ten different nationalities in our carriage alone, and it was super interest. We even saw Sofian again, the French guy who we had met on the train from Berlin to Moscow.

Crossing the border took more than six hours, mainly because the wheels of the train had to be changed again.

Now we are in China, and it is completely different from Russia and Mongolia.

Yesterday was Chinese National Holiday, and pretty much the entire country is on vacation. Luckily, we had already booked our hostel well in advance, it is fully booked inspite of its large size. The location is great, 15 minutes on foot to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, in a traditional urban area with small houses and many little shops.

We spent yesterday walking around Tiananmen Square with our Chinese friend Mak who we had met at Lake Baikal. We were really lucky to have him; there were just so many people about that we would not have found our way around without him. It took us more than twenty minutes to get through the security check for the Square alone… We refrained from visiting the National Museum and the Forbidden City due to the sheer mass of people (maybe one million around the Square and the Forbidden City?) and visited a beautiful park behind it instead. From the top of a hill, we had a fantastic view of the Forbidden City, and afterwards, Mak treated us for lunch in a hot pot restaurant. The food was awesome, we had different kinds of meat, vegetables, mushrooms, seaweed and tofu until we just couldn’t eat anymore. It was a great experience. Thank you Mak!

Today, the Mongolian cold has finally caught up with us; we have been coughing and sneezing since yesterday and thus have declared today a lazy day where we just hung around the hostel and our only tour was to the supermarket two doors down to buy tea and hankies…

Rolling East

September 11, 2016, 4pm, on the train to Moscow, somewhere east of Warsaw…

So what’s rolling right now are the wheels of the train that have been carrying us towards Moscow ever since eight this morning.

After bidding our farewells to our families yesterday, we took a train to Berlin and met with a friend of mine who kindly offered us a bed for the night. We spend the evening in Berlin, sitting in a park, having dinner and doing some shopping for the long train ride ahead, and after that we chatted away the night with our host, so that only five hours later we had to leave again for our next train.

We reached the Polish border at 10am and Warsaw at 3pm. It’s a beautiful summer day with temperatures over 30°C outside and a little lower inside. We have the two bottom beds in a 4-bed compartment. One other bed is occupied by an elderly gentlemen who hardly speaks any German and is going to visit his sister in Minsk. He kindly translates the announcements for us so that we know for how long the train stops at the stations, and if it is allowed to leave the train during those times. The other occupant is a German guy in his mid-forties who founded a political party that currently has three members including himself. He carries a giant poster featuring Ms. Merkel wearing a hijab so I’d rather not ask what his party is all about. Interestingly enough, he is going to Moscow to demonstrate for whatever obscure cause it is that his party supports, hoping that a TV channel will report about him. Also, the poster is so large that it is currently covering his entire bed and I’m not quite sure how he intends to sleep with that thing, but then again, it is really not our problem.

For those of us not carrying giant posters, the train is actually very comfortable. The beds are wide and comfy, and can be changed to benches so we can all sit on the lower beds. Each bed comes with a chip card that opens the compartment door hotel-style so that only the actual occupants have access. There even is a shower at the end of the wagon.

So far, the landscape hasn’t changed much. Fields after harvest, little villages, beech and pine forests. The train honks before each crossing.

We have spent the day reading, learning some basic Russian, talking to our fellow travellers, eating (turns out we have bought way too much food) and sleeping. Also looking out of the window.

I don’t really feel like we’re travelling the world yet. Maybe we are still too close to home – it’s only the neighbouring country after all, or maybe it’s the fact that we are travelling more slowly than by airplane. Ah well, if there is one thing we have plenty of, it is time, so I will just be patient, carry on looking out of the window and allow myself to be surprised. 🙂

We’re going on an adventure!

Hello to our English speaking friends. Welcome to our blog, we hope you have a good time here. 🙂

Since we haven’t always been in close contact with all of you, some might be surprised about all this. Yes, Kathrin and I are actually about to travel the world, leaving home in less than three days. And no, this idea wasn’t all that new.

To cut it short, we’ve had this crazy idea stuck in our heads for quite a while now (several years, in fact), only the time never seemed right for some reason or other. And one day we realized that the right time will never come – there will always be a job too safe to quit, friends and family too loved to leave behind, worries too big to overcome. But also this dream too beautiful to let go. So we started planning, reading other travellers‘ blogs, thinking this whole thing through…

…and here we are now. Jobs quit, farewells said (mostly), preparation almost completed. The past six months have been a whirlwind. While some people actually manage to just pack a bag and take the next flight to somewhere, we are not that kind of people. We planned the route at least roughly, booked some tickets and accomodations for the first weeks, got vaccinated against some of the crazy diseases out there, got our visas, paid for health insurance, bought some basic equipment, handed in our notices, gave up our apartments and sold/gave away lots of belongings,… Believe me, it was a lot of work. Like, a lot. But we trust that it will be worth it, and speaking for myself (Birgit), I can only say that even before we have actually set out, it has already been a great experience.

Firstly, I learned to handle all that (paper)work that I was always so afraid of. Like changing or cancelling insurance contracts, opening a new bank account, actually filing my own tax return (I will forever be proud of that, and very grateful to Ines for helping me). Also applying for visas and actually having those applications granted was a huge boost for my self-confidence. Or clearing out my apartment. Selling stuff at the flea market. The list goes on, and it makes me happy to see how much can be accomplished through determination and with the help of friends.

Secondly, it has made me a more open person already now. I find it easier to talk to strangers. (Also strangers seem to find me more approachable these days.) When I went to apply for my international driver’s license, I ended up having an excited, almost hour-long conversation with the clerk about our trip because she also loves travelling. Or the guy who bought some of my stuff on eBay and had travelled round the world, too (and we ended up talking for two hours without even knowing each other).

Thirdly, and most importantly, all those farewell meetings up to this point have been awesome. They have been emotional, and sad, and I’m not gonna lie, when we say our goodbyes to our families on Saturday, I will be a complete emotional mess. But those meetings with our friends and co-workers have been so special knowing that this is the last time we will see each other for maybe a year or longer. We spent the time with more awareness, and we did things that we wouldn’t usually do (thank you, Maria, for the fireworks!). Also, we got some great presents, and while it is always nice to get presents, they were really thought-through and made us feel very loved.

So, all of this combined has already been a fantastic experience. Now all that’s left to do is hitting the road (or rather the rails) and follow our dreams. 😀

Our plan so far is to travel overland from Dresden to Berlin, Berlin to Moscow by direct train (25 hours), have a brief look around Moscow and then take the Transsiberian Railway to Beijing, stopping and staying at Lake Baikal (Irkutsk) and Ulaanbaatar/Mongolia for several days each. We have all our train tickets booked, and also reserved accomodation until and including Beijing. After that, we will just go with the flow. We plan on going to Vietnam from China, after that to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand – all of that by train or bus or otherwise overland. From there, we are still somewhat undecided – Indonesia is definitely on the list, and maybe the Philippines. In any case, we want to spend several months in South Eastern Asia, and after that fly to New Zealand, then across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii (maybe stopping in Tahiti, childhood dream come true), and then to the US and Canada. And probably fly home from there. Although, who knows, one year is a long time and maybe we change our minds on the way, and go somewhere else entirely, or go back again to somewhere beautiful, … Many options, and we don’t intend to pressure ourselves to stick to any plans.

We would be happy to hear from you and read your comments, and we hope to stay in touch with you. 🙂