• Tiger by the Tail

    Tiger by the Tail

    Outside Para, Bhutan.  February 21, 2015. I had a tiger by the tail. Or it had me. In the last few years I’ve hiked far greater distances....

  • Burial, Emily’s Ashes on Water

    Burial, Emily’s Ashes on Water

    Crouched on the diving platform at the aft of  boat, I held one fourth of a dead human in my hands. Several crew members were moving just...

  • Eating Thailand

    Eating Thailand

    We were eating Thailand.  We ate from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, from Sukhothai to Chiang Rai, from Chiang Mai back to Bangkok. February 2015 As one guy remarked...

  • Thai Dancers with unexpected grace

    Thai Dancers, Unexpected Grace

    Two of my worlds collide in Bangkok, saved by Thai dancers, unexpected grace, and continuing a centuries-old tradition of royal Thai dance. February 2015 First, I love...

  • Siberian Express Dreams

    Siberian Express Dreams, #7 Meeting People.

    Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and China, late December, 2014. Part 7: I’ve had Siberian Express dreams for years, taking a train across the vast stretch of Siberia, leaving...

Siberian Dreams.

Moscow, Russia, December 20, 2014.

Part 1: I’ve had Siberian Express dreams for years, taking a train across the vast stretch of Siberia, leaving Moscow headed constantly on, day and night, to distant places in Asia. December 2014 was our opportunity to make dreams real. It started near midnight in Moscow.

Our taxi arrived at Moscow’s Yaroslavsky Station at 11:10 on the night of December 20th. Plenty of time to make the 11:45 departure for our first stop–Irkutsk, Siberia 4 nights, 3 days, and 3300 miles away. We would make two stops after that—Ulan Bator, Mongolia, and Beijing, our final destination. 5753 miles of train travel. For comparison, the drive from Portland, Maine to San Diego, California in the United States is only 3102 miles—a little more than half the distance we will travel over the next ten days.

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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 various tracks to the main station, I see my name on a sheet of paper held by a tall, smiling, blond woman. “Hello,” I say. “I’m Gary, this is Chris, and your friend Tom sends his greetings.”

We put our bags in her SUV, climb in and head into work-day traffic as Lucy (Liudmila is her Russian name) pointed out the more significant sites. Lucy has a travel agency and loads of connections it seems. She’s reserved a hotel so we have a place to freshen up—a good idea after four nights on a train with only a small sink at the end of each car.

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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 a city block from the Park Plaza Hotel and separated by only a few hundred yards but fifty years of Chinese progress was a cluster of small restaurants. Two had the English words “home cooking” among the Chinese characters. We picked the corner one only because it had more customers who looked as though they lived in the adjacent hutong, a word meaning side street but used to identify the older neighborhoods with one story housing units built of gray brick, crooked streets, and mysteries behind the gates which led to courtyards which led to more mystery.

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