General Tours

Moskva, Novosibirsk, Trans-Siberian Railway, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude, Ulaanbaatar, Gobi Desert & Beijing (Around the World Trip)

Day 1, Friday, July 13 Depart USA
Departing on Friday the 13th - Omen? As it turns out, probably "yes". Definitely use the "SuperShuttle" again - only $59. Pickup is at 11AM. There's only one more to pick up after me then the driver stops and mooches a large drink (soda) from a motel. He now has to make up time so he race-drives to the airport with the drink in one hand and talking on his cell phone with the other. I thought a couple of times that it might be good that I had trip insurance - assuming that it covers travel to the airport as well.

The Trans-Siberian adventure begins as I board the overnight trans-Atlantic flight bound for Russia. I'm flying east, and will continue east across Russia and Mongolia, then east again across the Pacific completing an "around the world" trip. It's just as well that I didn't add a "freestyle extra" and stop in St. Petersburg, some of the other tour members did and weren't impressed. This trip starts with the "same old rattletrap flight" to Frankfurt on one of my least favorite airlines: LateHansa (but what can I expect of "Friday, the 13th"?).

1Latehansa LH 441Houston - Frankfurt3:25 P - 8:25 A10:002:25

Surprise - LateHansa not only have a new, reconfigured plane with not-too-uncomfortable seats; they have significantly improved the food, AND the first flight was more or less On Time, all of which used up any positive expectations for the trip.

Day 2, Saturday, July 14 Arrive Moskva, Russia
7 time zones to get here. As usual, the plane parks in the airport's version of outer Siberia and we are 'treated' to an endless seeming bus tour of the airport before we are left off. Assuming I make the LateHansa connection (even with two and a half hours, it's questionable, but since the first flight was on time).

2Latehansa LH 3184Frankfurt - Moskva11:05 A - 3:55 P2:5015:30

2 more time zones - now 9 hours later than home. The second flight leaves 15 minutes late but makes up half of that; today I arrive at Sheremeyevo (mostly international) Airport in Moskva (the only tour member on the flight and the last of 15 tour members to arrive). After Passport Control, meet the Tour Manager (Sasha) who takes me to our hotel (the driver makes NASCAR drivers look timid, but it's necessary in Moskva traffic). Hotel: $$$heraton Palace (DLX - a .5L bottle of water is 2 Euros = $3) This excellent hotel (is air conditioned but the room controls are inoperable - the kopek-pinching management controls the air and has it set at not-quite-cool) with superb services (so the propaganda says) is within walking distance from the Red Square if you allow for the fact that the hotel is several blocks outside the ring road and therefore about 30+ blocks away. At 6, we have a 30 minute group meeting in the very noisy lobby - no meeting room - where we hear little of what little is said. (No meals except the airplane food on LateHansa: 2 nice meals on the trans-Atlantic, 1 on the 2nd flight.) (2 nights)

Day 3, Sunday, July 15 Explore Moskva
Following an excellent breakfast (the best thing about this hotel), at 9:30 begin our Moskva 'adventure' in Red Square, where we see the vividly painted domes of St. Basil's Cathedral and the 15th century Moskva Kremlin. We drive by Novodeyvichy Convent (where they would put ex-Czarinas and the widows and/or unwanted ex-wives of nobility) and the Bolshoi Theater (translation: after a quick visit to Red Square, spend the day driving past shrouded (re-)construction sites with hidden buildings; past numerous easily forgettable government buildings, and past and endless multitude of little museums), and visit the Sparrow Hills for a 'commanding' (are they commanding us to look at tree tops and roofs) view of the city. Return to town for an optional lunch; for this and on the train, pack LOTS of granola, etc snacks.

This afternoon take a longer walking tour of the Kremlin with its palaces, cathedrals and towers and visit the Kremlin Armory Museum. Tonight, enjoy a welcome drink and dinner. Note 'drink and dinner.' Here we have one of what will be many mis-communications as Sasha first says that we have to pay for all drinks, even water. Only after several of us show him the printed itinerary sent by General Tours, and he makes two extended phone calls to his local supervisor, do we get what was promised. Too bad that I have only an old print-out from their web page about 'my' trip to the Circus.

For that matter, Sasha is staying at a different hotel (General Tours is pinching kopecs) so he isn't available to answer questions or make suggestions for other activities. Unfortunately just one day here (even though I've been here twice before) but I have a chance to get some digital photos. I wish it were one more day here and two less in Beijing. (B,D)

AAA no charge Extra: Performance of the Moscow Circus - promised on their web site when I booked, but not honored.

Day 4, Monday, July 16 Moskva - Fly to Novosibirsk, Siberia
Following a wasted morning, at 10:30 (10:50) we head off to Domodedovo (mostly domestic) Airport where we fly to Novosibirsk, a city that was born with the opening of the Trans-Siberian railway. We fly rather than spend 3 days watching lots of the same scenery (and as it turns out, avoiding … well wait and see what we 'missed').

*** Airport luggage major hassle: Sasha either doesn't know or doesn't bother to tell us (nor did General Tours) that the Russian airlines strictly enforce a 20kg/44# luggage limit (checked luggage AND all carry-on) or charges a whopping penalty. I'm safe with 14.5 + 4.5kg measured at home and verified at Latehansa check-in and again here, but many are way over since they have LOTS of carry-on stuff (not just their munchies), thinking that it wouldn't be counted. Sasha arbitrarily decides and negotiates with the airline to total the weight and charge an average overage. (Maybe there's a bit of, er, money, involved?) Fortunately, I'm "legal." ***

3S7 #175Moskva - Novosibirsk2:40 - 9:35 3:55

The plane is a very old Tupolov 154, long past due for retirement or at least a *major* refurbishing (flying cattle car complete with flies - and don't even think about using the toilet; better to 'go outside and find a bush'.) We also get a box lunch - nice if you lower our expectations quite a bit , and as it turns out, at least 3 steps above tomorrow's included lunch.

3 more time zones. Now a total of 12 and I'm half way around the world from home.

After arrival we transfer to our hotel for the night and a late, late, late, late dinner at 11:15 (early breakfast??). Finally to bed at 12:15 AM. (B,D) Hotel: Hotel Sibir (STC, which is air conditioned and it works better than that at the Moskva $heraton putting it one up in my book) "Best hotel in the city center", close to museums and main 'cultural' (the 'show' is downstairs and runs from 8PM to 8AM) with "attractions." (1 night)

Day 5, Tuesday, July 17 Novosibirsk - Visit Akademgorodok - Board the Trans-Siberian Railway
After breakfast, we travel to Akademgorodok - a 'secret' think tank for the Soviet intellegencia. Here we visit the Museum of Minerals (get a nice mineral specimen), stop at the West-Siberian Railroad open-air museum - very nice and well maintained but they want 500rr for a photo permit (turns out almost everywhere wants much $$ for the privilege of taking pictures) and we can't get into the engines or cars. Russian citizen visitors saw what the cars looked like 'back then' and complained so much about the current versions (with cause) that the Russian railroads had the museum close the cars to the public. Afterwards, return to Novosibirsk and have an (awful) included lunch at 2:45. I would have been better off to have "gone hungry."

Afterwards see the Opera House, the Academy of Sciences and the Chapel of St. Nicholas, claimed to be the geographical center of Russia. And after that, basically waste time for a couple of hours then there's time for an optional dinner (munchies) and purchasing food at the market before we board the Trans-Siberian Railway (it arrives at 10:47 - while it's still full daylight as it usually is for most of the trip until at least 10:30 or 11:30) for a journey through the 'most romantic and dramatic' area of Siberia (how much can we see at night?). (B,L) Private room w/ facilities (down at the end of the train car) promised in the propaganda. However, that 'Friday the 13th Omen" hits and the air conditioning is broken in our car (only); there is not even ventilation in the compartments since 'everything' in the system is broken, and the windows there don't open so the compartments are miserably hot. Fortunately there are a few windows in the corridor that can be opened so by doing that and never closing my door, it's almost bearable by 5AM for a couple of hours. We spend most of the next 30 hours or so standing in the corridor sticking our heads out those windows - never mind the smoke, dust, and bugs; it's the only way to survive (and this is the best of the three trains) (2 nights - 1 & 2 of 4)

Day 6, Wednesday, July 18 Trans-Siberian Rail Journey
The name Trans-Siberian is purely Western. The Russians know this rail line as the "Great Siberian," the longest continuous operating track in the world. In his book The Big Red Train Ride, Eric Newby says "There is no railway journey of comparable length anywhere in the world. The Trans-Siberian is THE big train ride." Even after skipping that first part, still lots of time to see the 'scenery.'

The 'scenery' starts off as expected: railyards, fields, forests (nice), junkyards and slums -as with most rail-side scenery. Not much chance for photography; the windows are too dirty - easy enough to see, but not to take pictures except those 5 open windows in the corridor. The thermometer in the corridor says 85; I would guess at least 10-15 degrees hotter in the compartments.

Time zone change again about noon - now 13. The scenery is getting better also with some nice hills. The rail system runs very close to right on schedule. They have to do so since they run trains at very short intervals. It seems like we're passing a train going the other way every (very) few minutes. No meals included today. Exist on the munchies I brought or bought last night, particularly since reports re the dining car options 'aren't exactly great.' (2nd night of 4 on the train.)

Day 7, Thursday, July 19 Arrive Irkutsk
Another time zone - now 14 hours later than home. Today we arrive about 6:55 AM and disembark the train at Irkutsk. It's only been 30 hours, but at times it seemed more like 30 days. Arrive at the hotel at 7:10 - nice and quick. Straight into breakfast, such as it isn't; a very limited selection and even less in quantity. It's an we're-out-of-this-already buffet of leftovers (another train group had spent the night and apparently the restaurant staff hadn't been told and weren't prepared for a huge group), and they've just started serving. Time to raid my munchies supply again already. By the time I finish my micro breakfast, my room is ready (hooray) and it at least is quite nice; there's no a/c but there is a very good, quiet fan. It's at least 6-8 stars rating above the misery on the train.

The rest of the morning is free; at noon we start the city tour. Irkutsk was founded in 1651 as a Cossack outpost. On the tour, we see its colorfully-trimmed, richly-carved wooden houses, Monument to Alexander III, St. Savior Church with an Eternal Flame and Znamensky Convent. We also see several wedding parties again as they make their traditional required stops around the city. However there are intermittent rain showers (the only time on the trip) which limits what we can get out and see, both on the tour and afterwards. The evening is free and it has cleared so I spend some time along the river. The included dinner at 7 - very nice; one person skips dinner and I manage 'seconds' of the entrée stew. It's a bit of a surprise after this morning (B,2D) Hotel: Baikal Hotel (no A/C but an excellent fan): Among the best hotels in town, with central location on the bank of the Angara River, just across a major street. Actually one side of the hotel does have a/c - but it's not my side. The water will be off tonight fro 12 - 6 (so they tell us, but it doesn't actually come back on until 7:15). (1 night)

Day 8, Friday, July 20 Discover Lake Baikal
(My Birthday - and Sasha gives me a nice Lake Baikal book) Breakfast is much better this morning. The morning is free/wasted (again). Bags out at 10:30; on the bus at 11 for our trip to the lake. The bus is a KIA and is the nicest tour bus I've been on in over 30 trips: 2-1 seating with comfortable seats which recline and foot rests like a recliner and also with plenty of leg room.

Containing one-fifth of all the fresh water in the world, Lake Baikal is more than a crystal clear lake, surrounded by snowy peaks and primeval woods. It is also an ecologically unique home to over l,200 species that exist nowhere else on Earth. We visit the very interesting Taltsy open-air museum of wooden architecture and then enjoy a delightful (hah! - just so-so) lunch of Baikal specialties. The view from the hotel (lunch) is spectacular; therefore in order that we can better enjoy it, lunch is served in the basement at about 2:30. We make a brief stop at the Baikal Museum. Following is a boat ride on the lake for almost an hour. Then we stroll (stand around wasting time) in the Listviyanka village at the edge of the lake. Next we ride on a chair lift at their ski area for a panoramic view. This has been our best day so far. Finally we return to Irkutsk in the late afternoon for another grocery stop, and sometime about 11PM (very late, again) board our Trans-Siberian box-on-wheels which departs at 11:15 but only after we get the train engineering staff to force the windows at least slightly open. Later it turns cool (unbelievable) and we struggle to close the windows. This train is at least two levels below the first one (more like a WWI military car, but Genghis Khan would like it … or would he still prefer his horse?) If all goes well, we are only be on it for about 8 hours. (B,L) (Train again, 1 night - 3rd of 4 - definitely nice that the train nights are split up)

Day 9, Saturday, July 21 Ulan Ude - Visit Local Family in an Old Believers Village
Fortunately it was a short trip, arriving at 7:25. An important outpost on the tea route from China, Ulan Ude is the religious center for Russian Buddhists and colorful capital of the Buryats, who trace their ancestry to Genghis Khan.

After arriving in Ulan Ude we enjoy a late breakfast (set menu but adequate) and have time to refresh ourselves. Next, we're off on a bus ride (no a/c but the driver has a small fan to help him survive) to explore the city (very ho-hum) and visit Ivolginsk Datsan, an active Buddhist monastery. We enjoy a "Make A Friend" visit with a family in an Old Believers village. The inhabitants are descendants of 17th century Russian Orthodox conservatives who fled northern Russia to avoid persecution - it's a "fascinating" conversation! We also get a VERY nice traditional foods lunch. DEFINITELY a highlight - in fact, for me, absolutely the best part of the trip. 3 generations in the family; the younger daughter, Nadya, will be an exchange student in high school in the US next year.

After a quick grocery stop for munchies for tomorrow's train ride, back to the hotel about 6:45. (B,L) Hotel: Hotel Geser (STC, no A/C which won't be bad later, but since my room is on the west, it starts out really hot.) In the historical heart of the city, "considered the coziest, best hotel in town" with modern facilities (1 night)

Day 10, Sunday, July 22 Ulan Ude, Russia - Trans-Mongolia Train
Breakfast is either broiled/smoked fish/??, or cereal/bread/cheese. At 9 we're on the bus to visit Ulan Ude's fascinating regional Museum of Ethnography (old wooden houses and a small zoo with 10 types of animals). Oops, it's Sunday morning and all the buildings and exhibits are locked but our guide finally gets a building open for us.

After a so-so lunch back at the hotel at 11:30, we board the cattle-cars about 1:00 for a 1:25 (but its 15 minutes late) departure bound for Mongolia. First though we have the problem of evicting a Mongol Hoarde of squatters, and keep kicking even more out, plus kicking all their larger trash out into the corridor, but the car attendant doesn't have a broom so … be careful moving around. Some of the squatters take over the space at one end of the car including one of the toilets which they always claim is occupied. Maybe they have something (or someone) hidden away there. They also walk back and forth again and again always checking out our compartments. At least I have a window that can be wrenched open but still need to keep the door open. We have a stop from 6:15 to 10:51 (1 hour longer than scheduled) at one town near the border for Russian Immigration and Customs, and an extensive security search of our compartments. During a bit over one hour of it, we're confined to our totally closed (all windows, doors, blinds, etc.) up car/compartment prior to and during the security check. Then we stop again at 11:55 - 1:20 at the Mongolian border for their Customs and Immigration (and another quick security check). Now we can finally make almost totally unsuccessful attempts to get some sleep. (B,L) (Train again - the poorest of the three with no food service and certainly no a/c - a longer ride, about 18 hours - 4th night of 4)

Day 11, Monday, July 23 Arrive Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
After 4 nights on the trains, I'm very glad I took the shorter version of the Trans-Siberia trip. Maybe if it had all been on the "first class" train we started on, and with working air conditioning, it might have been ok, but after these four nights, .... Enough is more than enough for this traveler.

Supposedly we will arrive early for breakfast; if we are lucky it will be about 7:30 depending on the border crossing - so due to the delay in Russia, it turns out to be 8:30. However we are now on Beijing time so we gain an hour; it's not 8:30, it's only 7:30 and only 13 hours different (later) than at home. The bus driver tries one route to the hotel that takes us through a construction area "parking lot." It's a scrambled maze. He must have used 'magic' to get that bus through the maze and it still takes almost 20 minutes just to get through the 'lot'. All the rest of the time, he comes into the hotel from the opposite direction - much faster.

There's been another General Tours foul-up. A couple of the tour members booked late and General Tours didn't get that information to this hotel. So when we get to the hotel, there are not enough rooms and Sasha has to stay at a different hotel (across the street) - both nights we are here. No, it's not the ger next to that hotel. Yes, there is a ger next to the hotel, but may be there 'for show.'

After arrival in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, enjoy an afternoon tour of this town where residents live in both high-rise apartment buildings and suburbs of gers, traditional nomadic tents (sometimes side-by-side). We see Sükhbaatar Square and visit the largest and most important Mongolian monastery, the GandantegchinlenAfter that, visit the Natural History Museum with its collection of fossilized dinosaur bones and eggs, the new Museum of National History of Mongolia . Then it's time for an excellent lunch. Back to the hotel for a brief rest before we round up the evening with a colorful folkloric performance and dinner at a Korean buffet (very spicy, and a couple of people are sick the next morning).

We have to repack tonight since we can only take a small carry-on (some people's idea of small is ????) size luggage on tomorrow's flight. We have to leave our big bags here at the hotel tomorrow. (B,L,D) Hotel: Edelweiss (Edelweiss - in Mongolia?) Hotel (FC - very nice with a nice fan the first night and a/c the second night) 1st of 2 nights

All the way from Novosibirsk, although they drive on the right as we do, almost all the cars are right-had-drive used cars from Japan and some from South Korea. Mongolia apparently has very close ties to South Korea.

Day 12, Tuesday, July 24 Ulaanbaatar - Mongolian Nomads in the Gobi Desert
Ouch! Up at 3:30 for a 4AM boxed breakfast (#1) then off to the Chinggis Khaan (he's a national hero in Mongolia) Airport at 4:30 for a 6:05 flight to the South Gobi. Another breakfast (#2) sandwich and drink on the plane.

4EZNIS EZA 955Ulaanbaatar - Dalanzadgad6:05 - 7:251:20

The plane is a 34 seat SAAB 340b twin turbo-prop, formerly owned by the US company American Eagle which sold 5 to Eznis Air and they have been fully refurbished. This morning we fly to the Southern Gobi Desert, and after an hour of bouncing along a track across the desert (mostly gravel so no big dust cloud) eventually arrive and about 8:30 check into our Ger camp (and have our third breakfast). One couple had to switch ger - their original one was totally fly infested. We leave at 10 for another 1.5 hours of bouncing (even worse 'road'/track); we visit with the local Nomads to discuss their lifestyle and then more driving to visit Bayan Zag, the Flaming (mild glow) Cliffs, renowned for the discovery of dinosaur fossils. It's getting late, so we find a large (air conditioned!!) ger in the middle of nowhere (nothing but some stray livestock anywhere in sight in any direction all the way to the horizon) for a "five-ger" lunch. Excellent! Next, we have a camel riding adventure. Finally back to the camp about 5:30. Tonight, dinner is about 7PM. Later experience a sunset in the desert and overnight (the view of the stars is fantastic) in that traditional-style felt and wooden Ger tented camp. (3B,L,D) Hotel: Ger Camp, Tourist Class 2-person tent "with facilities" about 100 yards away in the main (only) building. (1 night)

Day 13, Wednesday, July 25 Gobi Desert - Ulaan-Baatar
After a very early mini-breakfast at the camp (we have that hour long bounce to the airport plus have to be there 2 hours early), we return to Ulaan-Baatar. (Yes, we get a second breakfast on the plane.)

5EZNIS EZA 956Dalanzadgad - Ulaanbaatar8:05 - 9:301:25

First we go the hotel about 10 and check in (whew!). Visit the Bogd Gegen Palace, home of the last Mongolian Khan. After a great lunch at a Mongolian BBQ restaurant, the rest of the afternoon and evening are free. We need it to recuperate. We do have a "farewell" dinner tonight - Sasha is leaving us and flies home to St. Petersburg early tomorrow. We have a different guide in Beijing. (B,L,D) (Back to the Edelweiss hotel in Ulan-Baatar - 2nd night of 2

Day 14, Thursday, July 26 Ulaanbaatar - Beijing, China
Breakfast is at 6:30, and is so fly infested that I only eat a bite or two and decide that it's not safe to eat. Today we waste a day. We can stay in the hotel until 2 (this room is a/c so I stay absolutely as long as I can), but eventually we have to transfer to the airport arriving at 2:30. Security and check-in doesn't start until 4. Therefore we have to sit around an extremely hot airport until 6 when we fly to Beijing in the People's Republic of China.

6MIAT OM223Ulaanbaatar - Beijing6:05 P - 8:052:00

Our Chinese guide ("Jack" Liu) meets us at the airport and we transfer to our hotel arriving about 10:15 PM. The rest of the day, such as it isn't, is ours to rest and relax. I don't think I've ever been this tired on a trip. Between the accumulated stress, only a few bites of breakfast, no lunch, the afternoon heat, and probably some dehydration, I crash. I can barely manage to get up and let the bellman bring in my luggage, then crash again. Not even enough strength to get up and 'get ready for bed'; just lie there for the night. (B only today) Hotel: Prime Hotel (DLX) A deluxe downtown hotel (another one with yuan-pinching management re the a/c temp) a short walk from major attractions (3 nights - at least one night too much for me since I was there last year.)

Day 15, Friday, July 27 Explore the Forbidden City - Visit the Temple of Heaven
I would just as soon have started home today, but when we asked General Tours, they wouldn't give a discount for early departure so since I'm stuck paying for it, I may as well endure these last couple of days.

>> ALL REPEAT. We start with a morning stroll through Tiananmen Square - the largest public square in the world. At one end of the square is the imposing Forbidden City; inside we take a guided tour through the vast grounds of this secluded former home of the Emperors of China. Next, our "Make a Friend" program begins with a rickshaw ride into the historical heritage of one of Beijing's Hutong areas where we also visit the community center and a local school. Our last stop today is at the 15th century Temple of Heaven where we can test the Whispering Wall. <<

There's lots of haze and smog, and it's already very hot. Plus I'm still 'crashed' from yesterday. Since this is all a repeat (probably the same set itinerary for all tour groups) I stay in the hotel to recuperate. No big loss since I was here and did all/exactly this last year. Go out to an "American Embassy" down the street for lunch (my only Yuan expense in China) and 'munchies' for supper. At least I get a very good buffet breakfast out of the deal. (B,L)

AAA no-charge extra: hand-carved Chinese "chop" or stamp with our name in Chinese characters - promised on their web site when I booked, but not honored, again.

Day 16, Saturday, July 28 Visit the Great Wall & the Summer Palace
Another nice breakfast. That's the best part of this hotel. At least it's cooler today after a fairly heavy rain just before dawn. REPEAT. It's a (not that much of a) thrill to walk along the Great Wall of China, built over 2000 years ago. Actually, this part of the Wall is a fake: it is a reconstruction ordered by Chairman Mao in the 1960s in order to increase China's recognition in the world. On today's full day tour (of very heavy traffic - it's Saturday and people are either off work or on vacation so 'go out to visit the Great Wall!) we visit the wall at Ba Daling and have time to explore a bit on our own. Lunch is in a shop near the Wall. Later we were supposed to visit the Summer Palace (Gads, not again! The least interesting of the special stops on my earlier China trip!), built as a retreat for the Machiavellian Dowager Empress, but we were running so late due to all that traffic (2 hours to get to the Wall this morning instead of 30 minutes) we have a group vote and the majority decide that we will skip the Summer Palace (hooray). We do make a short stop at the Beijing Zoo to see the Pandas. Tonight, we enjoy(?) a special Farewell Dinner at the Wa Haha (anything symbolic in the name? YES! ) restaurant, just a short walk from our hotel - but we take the bus anyway since it's so hot. (B,L,D)

Day 17, Sunday, July 29 Return to USA
Start thinking differently about time: we're not 13 hours later than home; we're 11 hours earlier than home, plus we cross the International Date Line.

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for our trans-Pacific flight home. My group of 3 has to leave the hotel at 8. Fortunately Jack told us to allow plenty of time to check out of the hotel which has to send a 'housekeeping' staff member to count the towels, toothpicks, and tea leaves (or is that tea leaves, towels, and toothpicks) to make sure that we didn't steal anything. Then when we get to the airport, we have to wait for the check-in counter to open. At least this airport is air conditioned. (B; 2 "meals" on the first flight, beverage only on the second one - $5 for a 'box lunch") Here I go again with another trans-Pacific flight … but it completes an "around the world" trip since I started by flying over the Atlantic. With the infernal flights, this trip is 8 days shorter than another one I've looked at which didn't skip parts of both the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian rail routes.

7DisUnited UA888Beijing - San Francisco1:30 P - 10:05 A11:351:00

9 time zone change on this flight. We board at 11:15 and sit there. Noon comes and goes. Finally at 1, we push back, then something in the cockpit 'breaks'. More wait while they call maintenance. Finally at 1:30 we start our taxi-out. Counting boarding time, I have to spend almost 14 hours on this plane. Gads! Miserable! The last time I flew via DisUnited was Chicago to Frankfurt. Late out of Chicago and even later into Frankfurt making me miss connections to later flights going to the Balkans.

As originally scheduled, there's only a 1:58 connection time. This could be very close…or worse, particularly since I have to go through Customs, then switch terminals which involves going through security checks (again). Yes, and it's the same problem. At least since there was a group of 10 plus a few others, United had them hold the (half empty) flight to Houston; otherwise that plane would have been mostly empty. Unfortunately, luggage … didn't make it.

8DisUnited UA 378San Francisco - Houston11:05 A - 5:10 P4:0516:40

It's the last 2 time zones. Originally I had thought that I would be getting home on the 30th (according to an agent at General Tours who apparently doesn't know that we gain a day crossing the International Date Line going east. I was told specifically that I would get back on the 30th). So I get home "early" (except for my luggage which is still in San Francisco.) SuperShuttle pre-paid for the trip home.

Day 18, Monday, July 30 Luggage Finally Home
Finally, about 11:30, my luggage arrives. It, at least, had the 18 day round the world tour.
I'm glad I went on this trip but wouldn't recommend it for most travelers. Most of the other (experienced) group members feel the same way: glad we came but not a trip to recommend lightly. I had thought that after two bus trips through Russia a few years ago that I would know what to expect and that I would actually "enjoy" most if not all of it. Of course there would be differences which would make it interesting, but … those trains! And for heavens' sake, don't go in mid summer.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

OPTIONS: None offered.

HOTELS (almost all "one night stands"):
Day 2, 3 Moscow: $heraton Palace (DLX) Excellent hotel with superb services is within "walking distance" from the Red Square. (hah!)

Day 4 Novosibirsk: Hotel Sibir (STC, A/C) "Best hotel in the city center", close to museums and main cultural attractions.

Day 5, 6 Trans-Siberia Train: Private room w/ facilities down the hall (1 & 2 of 4)

Day 7 Irkutsk: Baikal Hotel (no A/C): "Among the best hotels in town", with central location on the bank of the Angara River.

Day 8 Trans-Siberia Train: Private room w/ facilities down the hall (3rd of 4)

Day 9 Ulan Ude: Hotel Geser (STC, no A/C) In the historical heart of the city, considered the "coziest, best hotel" in town with modern facilities

Day 10 Trans-Mongolia Train: Private room, facilities down the hall (4th of 4)

Day 11 Ulaan-Bataar: Edelweiss Hotel (FC, no A/C) (1st of 2 nights)

Day 12 Ger Camp: Tourist Class 2-person tent with facilities nearby

Day 13 Ulaan-Baatar: Edelweiss Hotel (FC, A/C) (2nd of 2 nights)

Day 14-16 Beijing: Prime Hotel (DLX) downtown hotel

1Latehansa LH 441Houston - Frankfurt3:25 P - 8:25 A10:002:40
2Latehansa LH 3184Frankfurt - Moscow11:05 A - 3:55 P3:0015:30
3S7 #175Moscow - Novosibirsk2:40 P - 9:35P 3:55 .
4EZNIS EZA955Ulaanbaatar - Dalanzadgad6:05 A - 7:251:20.
5EZNIS EZA956Dalanzadgad - Ulaanbaatar8:05 A - 9:301:25.
6MIAT OM 223Ulaan-Bataar - Beijing6:05 P - 8:05 P2:00.
7DisUnited UA 888Beijing - San Francisco12:05 P - 8:47 Ax11:42x1:58
.1:30 - 10:0511:351:00
8DisUnited UA 378San Francisco - Houstonx10:45A - 4:46 Px4:01x17:41
.11:05 - 5:104:0516:40