Monday, May 26, 2014

Moscow to Beijing - day 7 - China

It was our final day of the trip and mentally I was starting to gear up for my arrival in Beijing and getting to the hotel.

Our first stop was in Datong. Our attendants seemed much more relaxed and cheerful now they were back in China. I thought a particularly ugly photo would get your attention to start this blog.

The platform was very quiet. The Chinese don't allow you on to a platform unless you are taking the train.

The Malaysian wife, Mai takes a photo. She shows the classic arched back pose of all those whose camera does not have a view finder.

Why this bin had to be chained up is beyond me.

Ah, the bottle of Armenian Brandy! I had been concerned that the vodka would flow on the train and I don't particularly like straight vodka, particularly if it is warm. I therefore decided to invest in a bottle of this brandy so that I could drink something instead of vodka. The brandy from Armenia is supposed to be better than any others in Russia so that is what I bought for about $15. It wasn't the equal of good cognac, but if was smooth with a pleasant taste. My fellow travelers tried it but didn't come back for seconds so over the course of the seven days, I managed to finish it.

None of us touched a drop of vodka on the whole journey. Amazing, considering the stories I had read about this journey.

The countryside had changed again from what we had seen in Mongolia.

There were quite a lot of these deep gorges.

Some ancient looking ruins. Part of the problem when you do a trip like this is that you have no idea what you are looking at.

Many old stations had these arches on the wall. Later I would see these same arch shapes in Beijing.

You could almost think you were in France with these trees. I got the sense that China was planting quite a lot of trees, perhaps to help with the pollution.

After some thought, I have decided that you can roughly measure how advanced a country is by their attitude to rubbish. China may have made many advances, but there is still a way to go. The same with Russia. And parts of Baltimore.

There were a lot of people out there working in the fields. It's difficult to get a photo of them as you speed by in the train.

Most of the workers had scooters like these.

I only saw one example of the horse pulling the plow. Many had mechanized equipment.

Zhangjiakou, our last stop before Beijing. This city was the traditional northern entry point to the Beijing area.

The Malaysian couple were given certificates to show that they had completed the journey. The rest of us did not get one. Perhaps they paid extra.

The free lunch. It was tasty and adequate.

Farewell photos now. Angelika and Rob.

John. During the trip I mentioned my idea of going from Capetown to Cairo. Since he originally came from Zimbabwe, the idea really appealed to him and he started to plan the trip, much of which can be done by train. There are a few areas where travelling on the ground would be too dangerous but you could take a plane instead. He thought he would like to do this journey so we will keep in touch to see if we can bring this off.

Another coincidence. We had a discussion about music to be played at our funerals. I chose Schubert's Abschied (farewell) sung by Ann Murray for the solemn bit. Another coincidence. John is friends with a bloke who is a close friend of Ann Murray. You can hear another version of the song here.

My 'let's get him out the door and into the cannon' selection was 'Burning Hell' sung by John Lee Hooker. he did many versions but I like this one best.

Your hero.

I can't help it.

Our Malaysian friends.

Out in the middle of nowhere, a high rise building. Maybe it was a resort.

The train line now followed a gorge almost all the way to the outskirts of Beijing. You might be able to make out the overflow of a dam.

Hydro-electric power station. The train now followed the gorge and it was a spectacular journey. Enjoy the following photos.

The guide book says that it is possible to see part of the Great Wall somewhere near here. It was so hazy already that it was impossible to see much in detail. Messing with the photo digitally has done an amazing job of clearing up some of these images.

The attendants started to remove the bedding and clean up the carriages.

Our denuded compartment. By now our luggage was all packed.

They even rolled up the carpet. We thanked our attendants for looking after us. I hope they got a share of the beer money.

And swept. Who knew there was a spare heel on the train.

Many of the work gangs had the yellow ribbon to keep the workers from accidentally straying into a dangerous area.

Eventually we reached the outskirts of Beijing and passed by this large power station.

Our destination.

The underground access to the station entrance.

We all agreed that it was a wonderful trip. I posed the question. 'Would you be willing to turn around and do the same trip back again?' and we all said yes. However on reflection, I would probably do the Manchurian route so that I could experience the Russian carriages which we heard were much better than the Chinese.

I brought a couple of books along in case I got bored. I barely opened them but I did read some of Paul Theroux's 'The Great Railway Bazaar', part of which describes his journey on the Trans Siberian from Vladivostok to Moscow back in 1975. On the second page of the book he makes this observation:

'I sought trains: I found passengers'.

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