West to East Micronesia China Mongolia Russia Baltic Region Visegrad Region Balkan Penninsula East to West Ancient Civilizations Straddling the Straight Southern Africa Eastern Africa Ethiopia United Arab Emirates South Asia Crossing Photo Album Trip Logistics Itinerary Transport Logs Route Maps About Us
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



June 17. URUMQI (Xinjiang Province)  It had been a pretty long night and got longer the next day.  We were supposed to arrive around 1:00 in the afternoon but, of course, we ran late and those last few hours became painfully long.  You can prepare yourself for only so much and then patience just start to wear off.  We pulled into Urumqi at 4:30.

There was only one hotel in town that was supposed to be taking foreigners so we just took a cab there directly - the Xinjiang Fandian.  We unloaded our gear and went to get train tickets for Shanghai.  Every traveler we had met had unpleasant comments about Urumqi and now we knew why.  It looked like more of a pit than the standard rapidly developed Chinese city.  People were pretty nice though and when we had a hard time finding our way to buy the train tickets several people got us to the right spot.  Our next errand was to mail off our knives so we didn't have to try to smuggle them through train security to Shanghai.  That went smoothly enough but I was skeptical about our packages making it from Urumqi.  My packages last summer from Lhasa were fine but even the Lhasa post office seemed more advanced than the Urumqi outpost.

Urumqi claims to be the city farthest from any ocean and from looking at a map it is easy to see that they are right.  It was strange to think that we were on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean only a couple of months earlier.  As the capital of Xinjiang the city was mostly populated with Chinese people and immediately felt different from the Southern Silk Road.  You notice it more when you haven't been around it in a while. It also meant that we were able to find some imitation Western fast food at Dico's, a Chinese version of McD's.  We hadn't eaten for 24 hours and the thought of greasy Chinese food or more shish kebab just wasn't appealing. Even Rob was tired of mutton!  It is getting pretty bad when you are looking forward to fast food.  

June 18-19. URUMQI/SHANGHAI "One Long Train Ride" Our hotel wasn't far from the train station and after loading up on some instant noodles we were on the train and off to Shanghai by 10am.  We had one heck of a long train ride to look forward to but every mile that we got close to Shanghai made us feel better.  As much as we had enjoyed the Silk Road we were hungry for a little modern civilization.  

When the train left our carriage wasn't entirely full.  We actually got through most of the day before some people upgraded from hard seat and took the middle bunks in our sleeper area.  The other compartments started to fill up as well and we had a noisy family move in next door.  They had a tiny baby that was impressively quiet during the whole trip but their 8-10 year old son was annoying.  He was supplied with an array of toys to keep him busy but when he got bored he tried to come over and entertain himself by making faces at us.  We ignored him so he lost interest for a while and moved on to bug the group of men that were on the other side of us.  His parents were pretty innocuous for the most of the trip except with they started up a fight at around midnight and were yelling at each other after everyone had gone to sleep.

The group of men on the other side of us were a joy as well.  The carriage had air condition but thanks to them keeping the window open all of the time we had little benefit from it.  At the best of times they were sleeping or playing mahjong and at the worst of times they belched, farted, spit out the window and played what looked like "grab ass" with each other.  It could have been worse though.  We could have been neighbors with the group of men at the far end of our car.  They drank beer the whole time and smoked in the carriage.  They also stripped down to their boxer shorts and these weren't figures that needed showing off.  When we passed them to get hot water it was a relief if they had their tank top style t-shirts on.  

Our compartment area never got full and the people we had assigned to the middle bunks were pleasant enough.  One guy was with us almost all of the way to Shanghai while the other bunk had two different occupants.  An old man stuck in the compartment with the family tried to talk with us a couple of times but when we didn't understand he only tried talking to us louder in Chinese.  He was well intended and if we hadn't been so beat we might have tried to communicate with him using our phrase book but we just didn't have it in us anymore.  Most of the other people in the train carriage just seemed to go about their business and spent a good amount of time sleeping or eating.

Towards the end of the two day trip the kid next to us got more restless in his pursuit of entertainment.  He even pulled out a BB gun and was shooting at things outside the window.  When carelessly swung the thing around inside the carriage he absent mindedly pointed it towards Rob and Rob smacked it away.  They were just plastic BBs but as our mothers always told us "You don't want to get your eye poked out!". What sort of brainless parents let a kid shoot a BB gun on a moving train?  As we got close to Shanghai and the train started to empty this kid even pulled out a skate board!  He rolled up and down the aisle with the motion of the train and to top things off even his dad was giving it a go.  Geez.  Where are lawyers when you need them?

The SARS checks got ridiculous over the course of our journey. We had the anticipated temperature check at the station, they checked us again after we got on the train and they proceeded to check us a total of eight times over the 51 1/2 hour ride.  Once they startled Rob out of a nap as they pointed their infrared gun at his forehead and he made reflexive swing out of defense.   The even woke me up one morning to take my temperature and I wanted to smack the doctor out of pure aggravation.  They also came around with our same SARS form several times so we could sign off again on the temperature readings that we never saw. 

The only thing more annoying than the SARS harassment were the Train Gestapo.  The train staff in China persevere in doing their jobs routinely, methodically and without any consideration for the passengers on board.  During the day they make periodic appearances as they drag their dirty mops down the aisle and rearrange the used linens in bunks for the next passengers, but their presence is even more apparent at night when the stomp past in a group rearranging the thermoses and garbage pails into the aisle (without any obvious good reason), lining up our shoes right across the compartment so we can trip in the middle of the night, and turning the lights on at 1 am to just check and make sure everyone is in their proper bunk.  They are equally as conspicuous in the mornings when the come around to tie back the curtains around 5:30 so you get a blast of sun in the eyes, and to toss the thermoses and garbage pail back in between the bunks.  But, in all of this shuffling, arranging and apparent cleaning the bathrooms never seem to get a cleaning.  The only time they clean the bathrooms during an almost 52 hour train ride is when the train is about 45 minutes from its final stop.  Then they clean the toilets and lock them so you can't use them. So, it is a bad idea to drink anything towards the end of a train ride.

When we finally arrived in Shanghai we were just full of love for China.  We were prepared for more SARS harassment at the exit but they didn't even say "boo" to us.  Tired and grumpy we walked out of the train station and were greeted with the golden arches.  Ahh, clean bathrooms and junk food.  Welcome to Shanghai! 

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30