Some distances and times

Total distance travelled:
39,893 km / 24,788 mi

Total distance travelled on land:
14,117 km / 8,772 mi

Total distance travelled by air:
25,776 km / 16,016 mi

Longest train ride by distance:
Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk – 2287 km / 1,421 mi

Longest train ride by time:
Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk – 32:23 for 2287 km

Slowest train ride:
Ulan Ude to Ulan Baatar, 28:25 for 657 km – 23.12 km/hr / 14.37 mi/hr

Fastest train:
Maglev from Shanghai to airport – 431 km/hr / 268 mi/hr

Fastest long-distance train:
Tokyo to Osaka, 2:30 for 556km – 222.56 km/hr / 138.29 mi/hr

Longest flight:
Osaka to San Francisco – 8673 km / 5,389 mi

Things seen along the way

As we’ve moved along over this journey, I’ve taken pictures of things for posting to the blog. Some of them didn’t make it, for one reason or another. But hating to waste good pictures, I thought I’d throw them into a blog posting for all to experience.

The engine of my plane as I fly down to San Francisco:

The engine of my plane as I fly down to San Francisco

Our British Airways 747 to London:

Our British Airways 747 to London

The women who decided to talk us up at the hotel in London (mother and daughter, quite friendly):

The women who decided to talk us up at the hotel in London

Amy and Nick (and me, but I took the picture) sit in a sushi restaurant in St. Petersburg. Russia has surprisingly good sushi for a country that seems to have very few Japanese:

Amy and Nick in a sushi restaurant in St. Petersburg

Siberia doesn’t have a lot of features. It generally looks like either of the following two pictures. Usually more the former than the latter:

Endless stands of birch trees

A small, nameless Siberian village

And periodically, you do see other trains:

Passing a freight train

The forests often get thicker, too:

Endless stands of trees

Another shot of the Museum of Wooden Buildings. Didn’t post this as I took too many pictures there (was unsure of lighting, etc.):

Down Main Street, USSR, er, Russia

This is a far, far better shot of the Mongolian Embassy in Ulan Ude, Russia. I think I chose the other one because it did look better … at least at the time:

Mongolian Embassy in Ulan Ude

Me at the lake in Mongolia. Wouldn’t want to go swimming in that, though. Probably not the “cleanest” of places, with all the waterfowl and horses:

Chillin' at the lake

Amy catches up on journal- and postcard-writing:

Writing in the ger

We caught a sunset at Hustai National Park. This was before I nearly froze to death:

Sunset at Hustai National Park

A line of rail car bogies sit to one side in the bogie-changing shed in Erlian, China:

Bogies waiting for a new train

Most of you are probably wondering what the toilets in the trains looked like. Here’s an example of the “western” toilets. Never did take one of the squat ones, sadly…

Trail toilet

On the road, especially for this length of time, you periodically have to do laundry. Normally, not an issue. But this is what it looks like after washing out all the sand from Mongolia:

Down Main Street, USSR, er, Russia

We hit a great little restaurant in Beijing for lunch one day, and were served a pot of tea. Make with chrysanthemums. Not exactly normal, but quite tasty:

Chrysanthemum tea

Don’t ask me what kind of store this is. With a name like that, who really cares, anyway?

Valued Squirrel

This is the view from our hotel in Shanghai. As you can see, it was quite hazy there. The humidity was murder:

View from our hotel in Shanghai

It rained a lot in Xian on our first day there. Nice, but wet:

Bell Tower in the rain

Who doesn’t want to go to a Yummy Restaurant?

Yummy Restaurant

We walked around part of Xian’s walls one night. They looked pretty nice:

Valued Squirrel

Our last meal in Xian was at a strange hotpot restaurant, where we had to get someone to translate the freaking menu for us because we couldn’t read it at all. It was pretty tasty, though:

Valued Squirrel

We made a mistake of going to the “Entertainers”, a trio who perform in the lounge of the same name at the Hyatt in Xian. They forever butchered many of my favourite songs…

Be afraid ... very afraid

I meant to post about this. I mean, really, who names their water: “WAHAHA?”

WAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

At least you can’t miss the sign to get you to Kowloon (Hong Kong):

Get on the train!

Chinglish isn’t escapable, even at the Chinese/Hong Kong SAR border crossing:

No Flowing Back

One of these is the actual border between China and Hong Kong SAR. I have no idea where the heck it is, as it’s no longer marked:

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Somewhere around the Hong Kong border

Rogue vendors are so bad in some areas that private property owners try to keep them out with signs like these:

No Hawking

Ferry traffic!

Boat traffic in Hong Kong Harbour

Our hotel in Kowloon was next to the Avenue of Stars, sort of like the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I found a few names I know:

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Avenue of Stars in Kowloon

Jackie Chan apparently heavily sponsors California Fitness. He’s probably an owner.

Jackie Chan plugs Hollywood Fitness

Inside our favourite dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong:

Mmmm... dim sum

We had this at a sushi restaurant in Chiba. We thought it was some weird pickled eel. It was eggplant:

It was still tasty

Our first plane ride in a month

We left the hotel early this morning — before 7:00 am — to catch a train to the airport. Strangely fitting that our last train would be to our first plane in quite some time.

Chek Lap Kok airport was designed with an express train in mind, which is great considering how far out the airport is from Hong Kong Island. The train system (the Aiport Express) also lets you check in at the train station, so you don’t have to check in at the airport.

Chek Lap Kok airport

At the airport, we did a last bit of souvenir shopping. Well, Amy did, anyway. We then headed out to Gate 63 for our flight to Japan. It seemed strangely final. This was our first plane since landing in St. Petersburg all that time ago. Amy flew Biz class (as you already know), and I flew in Galley Slave (aka Economy) class. Lest anyone think I resent Amy for this, I don’t. We flew to Russia on Amy’s points. She had some leftover on United Airlines, and upgraded to Business Class. All the power to her.

Our official exit from China

Doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna bug her about it, though. I gotta have fun with this, don’t I?

Our plane to Japan

For the record, I ended up with about as much footroom as Amy, if not a bit more, because I asked for an exit row. You want to have a good long flight? Get an exit row — you’ll be able to stretch out without concern. Doesn’t matter if the row is full and others are not — you’ll have tonnes of room to spare.

The footroom in my row -- figures that I had that bulge at the door in front of me

Two flights left. I hope they go quickly.

Macau!

One of our more recent schedule changes allowed for at least a day on the tiny penninsula of Macau. Like Hong Kong, Macau was recently turned over to the Chinese as an S.A.R. However, Macau’s influence is decidedly Portugeuse. Even though the day was hot, humid, and rainy, the architecture glowed.

This will largely be a photo entry because we basically just walked around the town and appreciated the cool historic buildings.

Me in Macau

More Macau Architecture

And more

And yet more Macau

Still more Macau

Look! I\'m still in Macau!

They have palm trees too

One of Macau\'s many public squares

The ruins of St. Paul Cathedral

A side-trip to Macau

One last thing we needed to do before we leave the Hong Kong area was check out Hong Kong’s forgotten half-sister, Macau. Macau was founded a couple hundred years earlier than Hong Kong by the Portuguese, and was originally the heavy weight title holder of foreign trading port until the British dethroned it with, shall we say, some less-than gentlemanly behaviour to get their way (I refer to the events leading up to the Treaty of Nanking).

Getting from Hong Kong to Macau is a fairly simple process: you either go overland (through China, which we can’t do since we’ve officially left China and don’t have a multiple-entry visa), or you take a ferry. While Macau might be Hong Kong’s forgotten half-sister, they seem to have a pretty solid relationship, especially now since they’ve both returned to the stewardship of China. The ferry service is perfectly representative of this — they run every 15 minutes.

We took the smaller one on the right

The trip is 65 kms in between. It takes about on an hour. On a hydrafoil. How cool is that??

Macau is simultaneously different than Hong Kong, and very similar. It’s similar because, like Hong Kong, it’s a place where two cultures collide and coexist. It’s different because you don’t see English a lot (you do hear it, though, English is well-known), it’s mostly Portuguese (obviously).

Macau is small — much more than Hong Kong. You can walk around much of Macau Island in a fairly short period of time. After endulging in another round of dim sum, we proceeded to walk pretty much right around the southern tip and up to a small temple called A-Ma. It was easy to see the Macau Tower as we rounded the tip, on our way.

Following the temple, we walked along the walking path suggested by the Lonely Planet guide, but only in reverse. At least until we got rained on. A lot. Near torrential downpour. That kind of slowed us down. We were actually trapped under an eaves for about half an hour waiting for Niagara Falls to let up enough for us to continue on our way. As it stands, it barely let up enough for us to find a cafe to hold out until the rain stopped.

Caught in the rain

It got harder before it got better

Not long after, we found a main square (the name of which now escapes me) that has very interesting tiling on the surface. There’s a fountain in the centre surrounded by lotus flowers. After the square, Amy and I kind of wandered a bit aimlessly until we found ourselves at the Royal Hotel — mostly to escape the intense heat and humidity for a while. There, we realized that sticking around in Macau, though nice, wasn’t entirely what we had in mind. A quick visit to the ruins of St. Paul, and we’d head back to Hong Kong.

Main square in Macau

The ruins of St. Paul are what is left of a grand cathedral that caught fire and burned to the ground … except for the facade, which still stands (partly thanks to a supporting structure still in place). It sits very out of place with the rest of the buildings surrounding it, except for the fort sitting next to it. The fort is quite old, dating back a few hundred years. The view from up there is quite good. The Macau Museum is there, too, but we didn’t get a chance to see it — the museums are all closed on Mondays.

A view of Macau from the fort

Back in Hong Kong, we went immediately to dinner at Jade Garden, a thoroughly uninspired restaurant in Star House. (If you’re in Hong Kong, and reading Lonely Planet, take their advice and don’t go there. There are plenty of other much better restaurants in Kowloon … and plenty more in Hong Kong, for the HK$2.20 ferry fare.)

Sadly, we saw not much of Macau. There is definitely more there to see.

One week

Seven days from today, and I’ll be home.

I’ll be walking off an airplane, revelling in the familiar, the known, the certain. Home.

Home is where the heart is, and I left mine with Alex. I cannot wait to see her. See you soon!

Amy’s ready to kill me, I swear…

I complain a lot.

Unintentionally, I swear, but I do.

(Amy says I like to complain, but I actually hate it. I don’t even realize I’m complaining until I complain. I complain to myself that I complain, and get stuck in a vicious cycle of complaint. But I digress…)

It’s hot here. I know I’ve mentioned this several times, but it’s hard to really appreciate how hot it is until you’ve been to a place like this. Amy has, so this doesn’t really seem to bother her much. I, although raised in a hot and humid environment, never liked it. (This is why I love living in Calgary.) And even in the shade or on a cloudy day (such as it is today), it’s still hot. Sweating is simply unavoidable. The goal is more survival to stay cool.

I mention, maybe every ten minutes or so (read: complain constantly) that it’s too hot. Although Amy agrees, I’m sure there’s an unspoken “I know, now shut up about it, already!” that goes along with it.

It’s hot. Have I mentioned that it’s hot? It’s far too hot. I don’t understand how it can be this hot. Man, I’m hot.

And yet, Amy hasn’t killed me yet. Way more patience than me, I gotta say…

The dim sum curse lifted

The dim sum curse is lifted, finally! After a few days of trying to figure out where to go, we hit Hong Kong Island to see what we could find. Our concierge had recommended a place called “Luk Yu Teahouse”, which according to the Lonely Planet guide is full of surly staff. When we got there, it wasn’t even close to full — a sure sign of a not-so-good dim sum.

We tried another nearby restaurant that we’d spied a couple of days ago. Didn’t look any better. At this point, I was willing to walk 100 miles for good dim sum. We’d backed down twice on dim sum, going for something that looked decent, rather than what we’d really wanted. I wasn’t willing to back down a third time.

I think Amy was about to ready to strangle me. She holds her composure a lot better than I do.

Our third and final attempt was a place called Fung Shing, next to the Western Market building. The LP guide said it was “cavernous”. I honestly think the LP guides really need to check their use of the English language — “cavernous” doesn’t do the place justice. It’s large, yes, but the ceiling is just too low to require a word with such connotations.

Fung Shing in the Western Market

I have an English degree, so gimme a break here, eh?

It didn’t have the carts we so highly desired. But it was packed to the gills with locals — the bare minimum for good dim sum. The food quality was also quite good, though the English menu (which, sadly, we had to use) didn’t offer nearly the variety the Chinese menu did. It was too bad we were unable to get a hold of Vitralis, a connection we were provided, to try and hook up for dim sum. But you make do when you can.

Dim summy goodness

Stuffed, our one true mission in Hong Kong was complete. The only meal goal left on the trip — at least for me — is sushi at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, and zushi (yes, it’s spelled that way, too) in Osaka.

Paddles up!

For the record, we didn’t it plan it this way. But like many things on our trip, fortuitious circumstance happened to place us in Hong Kong on the first day of the Dragon Boat festival!

Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival at Stanley Beach

Having first tried dragon boating last year, I was curious to see how the Big Buoys (yes, bad joke) do it out here in Hong Kong, where the sport reigns. There are many differences from how I did it in Calgary last year, and what seems to happen here.

First, there isn’t one big dragon boat match — there’s a bunch of them. (There’s an international competition held in September or October, this isn’t part of that.) Each little town or village, even islands, have their own competitions. Based on what we read in a magazine, we settled on Stanley, at the south end of Hong Kong Island.

Whoever said “getting there is half the fun” hasn’t tried riding a Hong Kong city bus from Tsim Sha Tsui to Stanley. The 973, although a picturesque route, takes 90 minutes due to the curvy, non-direct highways and the insane level of traffic (it is a weekend, after all). My butt was numb by the time we got there. At least the buses are air conditioned. However, that makes getting off very painful — it’s like walking into a sauna.

Our first stop was not the beach, though, where the competition is held. It was at a place called the Stanley Restaurant. (If Amy didn’t eat right away, I feared she might start looking at me like hungry characters do in cartoons, and think I’m a hot dog or something.) A bowl of wonton and noodle soup (along with several teams of dragonboaters), and we headed down to the beach.

 Stanley Beach

It was packed. People were everywhere. Announcements were in Cantonese, with a bit of English thrown in for us white folks. (There were a few of us.) There were teams from all over Hong Kong, including a few from Canada: University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, and my own alma mater, University of Waterloo.

The Waterloo Warriors

As I would find out later, they’re alumni who moved from HK to Waterloo, then moved back after graduating. They tried to draft me, but I haven’t even started training for my own team this year!

As Amy so eloquently pointed out, the heat was nigh-unbearable. The only way we survived as long as we did was standing in the water up to our knees. (I’m not sure that I would have wanted to swim there, anyway, but…) When we could finally take no more, we headed back. Another 90 minutes on the bus.

Trains are suddenly looking so much better, now that we’ve taken them for granted.

Going uphill to Victoria Peak

After meeting up with Amy, following our mutual attire sizings (and having a snack in a very Irish bar, oddly sitting amidst a lot of very Chinese surroundings), we took a ride up the Victora Peak Tram.

Hong Kong Victoria Peak Tram

The tram was started in 1888 by the British so they could get to their pricey places of residence without having to slog all the way up the hill. Still in operation (though with quite a few overhauls), the system has run (except during WWII) without a single accident. Impressive, considering some of the climb is quite steep. Buildings look insanely comical out the window. Especially at night.

A round-trip costs about HK$30 (roughly CDN$5), and is worth the trip. Especially for views like this:

Hong Kong at night from Victoria Peak

Though do please keep in mind that this was with my dinky little camera, which has to be coaxed to take pictures like this, especially when it really doesn’t want to…

If you’re wondering what Hong Kong looks like at night from the other side, check this out…

Hong Kong at night from Kowloon