14 Hours in Irkutsk

14 hours in Irkutsk, Siberia, in the winter. What to do?  Plenty—if you have the good luck to find two very kind and generous people. When I mentioned I was taking trains across Siberia in December my friend Tom said, “Oh, you have to stop in Irkutsk and meet my friend Lucy!” So, here we are in Irkutsk, right on schedule getting off the train exactly at 7:28 on a cold and very dark Siberian morning. As we walked up the stairs from the underground passage connecting the…

Beijing, not Peking, duck

A cold wind and a day of walking can take you to unexpected places and Beijing, not Peking, duck. Walking down a street in Beijing at the end of December, the icy wind shrieked at our backs, blasting every fluttering leaf past us faster than we could walk. We were hungry and in search of local fare on a smaller, narrow street instead of the dishes found in the big hotels and busy shopping areas a few blocks over. Two restaurants had the English words “home cooking.” Just…

Winter in Mongolia: Ger Stay

Mongolian Winter: Ger Stay.  What’s it like to spend the night off the grid in a Mongolian ger when the temperature is minus 34 Celsius? I always held that the modern era of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries ended about one mile past the last electric power pole. Beyond that spot, water had to be pumped by hand or hauled from a stream; light came from kerosene or a battery; heat required split wood; laundry was done by hand and dried on a line or spread over bushes;…

Two trips to Italy's Dolomites complete a circle.

Val Gardena, Italy, Mid-September, 2011. Two trips in Italy’s Dolomite mountains, years and seasons apart, complete a circle. The second depended on the first and opened my eyes to new beauty. I told the story enough times, how on a skiing trip to the Italian Dolomites I’d been seated with two English-speaking professors from Toronto and learned the geological connection between this beautiful range of mountains and those where my home is outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I’d added stories of the day-long ski on the Sella Ronda…