The last day of our stay in China has come. Well, technically last but one as the next day we were flying at around 8 in the morning to Warsaw. The day prior we've booked the trip to the Great Wall of China (ch. 万里长城) together with a traditional Chinese lunch in a nearby restaurant. The thing about the wall is that there are various locations where you can see it available for tourists. Among them there are three places in close proximity to the capital of China - Jinshanling (most remote), Badaling (closest to the city with public transport but often overcrowded) and Mutianyu (somewhere in the middle). Bus tours start from 150-180 CNY / 85 PLN / 20 EUR up (as of Sep 2014) .
Beijing that we've encountered was hectic. People and traffic everywhere. Our plan was also hectic although we were rather not in a hurry. Arriving on Monday and departing on Wednesday morning - that was a challenge for such a vast city with so many things to see that one can get a headache. Our Lucky Family Hostel where we were to stay was in Dongcheng District somewhere among Beijing's hutongs (ch. 胡同).
The last section of Trans-Mongolian train journey was ahead of us with some exciting sights awaiting - the Gobi desert, changing of the chassis in Erlian and going through Chinese countryside with great number of tunnels and surrounding hills. The international express Moscow - Beijing was waiting on the platform during the sunrise. Chinese staff was waiting for the passengers. After checking the tickets we were in our kupe compartment with four berths. We have also received free vouchers for breakfast (around 8-9 local time) and lunch (around 10-11 local time) the next day. Soon after we were off in the Mongolian steppe.
After taking a power nap in our hostel on the sofas - our room was ready (as we came early in the morning we had to wait). Having repacked we wen't strolling around through the city. Mongolia is a large country in terms of square meters but has roughly 3 million citizens with half of them living in the capital city Ulan Bator. Most of the city, especially the area near the main railroad station, is in poor state - rundown buildings, not much driving regulations (it's a dare to cross the road), dodgy looking neighborhood. People are friendly though and, not knowing much in English, they always say "hello" even if they want to say goodbye.
Our stay at Olkhon Island was for sure too short. Three days is not much and a week seems now like a must. Having waited for the bus to Irkutsk we packed our stuff. When the marshrutka came our baggage was put on the roof secured with a net. The bus was going from guesthouse to guesthouse in search for anyone wanting to go to Irkutsk. In the end, it was packed full. The road was the same but the time passed somehow faster. In the capital of Siberia we did some shopping and pulled an all-nighter - some of us in the hostel while others at the 130 kvartal. Somewhere in the middle of all this we ordered a taxi to pick us up the next day in the early morning as we were to catch a train to Ulan-Ude. The record sleep time that night was 12 minutes so needless to say that we were catching-up on the train. The route is said to be one of the most iconic of all Trans-Siberian as it's going right next to Baikal through a set of tunnels. It surely was picturesque and breathtaking but I would also count in some other sights we've seen along the whole trip as equal.
Olkhon Island (ru. остров Ольхон), the largest island on the Baikal lake, is a magical place. Rural regions, beautiful nature, crystal clear water and just a few features of this place. Unfortunately, what you can read in Wikipedia on Olkhon regarding waste disposal is true. The unsettling fact is that it's not controlled and much of waste can be found in certain regions of the forest. This is for sure something that needs to be addressed quickly or it will have a devastating effect on the nature. There are many places to stay - yurtas (ru. юрта), country houses or crashing a tent next to the lake. Khuzir (ru. Хужир) is in the center of all of that. It is a rural settlement with population of around 1300 located on the west side of the Olkhon Island. It is also the main tourist center and the largest village on the island.
The advancement of current photo and video equipment still keeps me amazed. Together with the the new GoPro Hero 4 coming out in Oct another point has been reached. With a device packed with technology and amazing video and photo capabilities in a body worth of 400 - 500$ that lets you shoot in raw format and do time-lapses and videos in night is a pretty darn good deal. No tens of thousands of dollars equipment or special camera crew needed. You get a pro device for a percent of the price of some bulkier cameras.
Guys and galls from DJI Aerial Imaging have taken this to another level. They had an idea of filming an erupting volcano called Bardabunga. They've took a GoPro Hero3+ camera coupled with a DJI Phantom 2 - an equipment worth around 1000$ and off they went. Watch the video below and read more on the project in Wired.
Having seen the schedule in the last part of "life on rails" you ask yourself a question on how do you exactly buy stuff ? There are at least four answers to that. One is the provodnik or provodnitsa - some small foodstufs like chocolate bars, instant coffee, instant soups and so on can be bought from them. Second is the restaurant carriage (high prices) - the basic assortment plus menu. The two are available all the time during your travel. You can also purchase food on the train station in kiosks or by strolling through markets or shops in the city. The prices can vary but one general rule applies - the farther you go the cheaper you'll buy. Quite obvious yet sometimes you have to really hurry as, like I wrote earlier, the train won't wait.