Beijing – a Fascinating City

On Saturday morning, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. All very interesting and impressive – but too many people and the extremely hot and humid weather made it a challenge… ! Many Chinese tourists wanted us to be on their pictures. Especially the boys were wanted models;-)! Our guide said: “Of course they want to take photos with the boys. They love them because they are handsome, very friendly and look very western.”

After a fabulous lunch (we love Chinese food!) we were ready again to see the amazing Temple of Heaven. With less people there, we enjoyed walking in the garden with about 1,000 cypresses.

Today, Sunday, 20 August 2017, we visited first the beautiful Lama Temple (Yonghegong).

The main Buddha was unbelievable with a height of 18 meters – made from one tree (“Sandelholz”).

Later we saw the Summer Palace which is absolutely fascinating and beautiful. Today about 80,000 other people visited the Kunming Lake, the garden and the Summer Palace … nevertheless we enjoyed the place a lot!

We liked this big Chinese city a lot and for sure we will come back one day!

At 4:45pm it was time to catch the train to Xi’an (5h 40′ duration; 1,216 km; maximum speed 305 km/h). We had to say goodbye to Julian what was hard because we had a wonderful family time together. But we will see him again in early October when he will study in Hongkong.

Welcome Beijing and the Great Wall

Beijing became a great family reunion time which we will never forget – we had so much to tell each other and to catch up. It was great to see how our two sons connected again and exchanged experiences/news after 6 months of not having seen each other.

On our first day we visited Prince Gong’s mansion and the narrow Hutongs (some walking, some Riksha experience and visiting a local family house). The Riksha drivers had a hard time with the Staubli family. We are not really average height and weight….!

On Friday, 18 August 2017, we drove to the Panlongshan section of the Great Wall. This section is quite far away from Beijing (about 2 hours drive) which means very few tourists get there. The wall is still historical and not-renovated which makes it even more fascinating. We hiked on the wall for several hours. The Great Wall is breath-taking and definitely one of our most impressive experience in traveling the world.

Nature Activities and People on Kamchatka

Kamchatka is a nature paradise and offers many different outdoor activities (in winter time it has been becoming a helicopter-skiing destination, too).

Lots of hot springs in pretty places invite for bathing…

We also enjoyed river rafting … always watching out for bears at the shore …. while fishing for salmons and trouts … truly relaxing and enjoyable ….

Hiking is also very common – whether up to volcanos or just across the beautiful countryside or mountain areas. For our mountain hike we had to drive up the mountains through a dry river bed (after snow melting this is possible), over ice covers and along stony tracks. We did it on a big foot jeep which was great fun.

The weather was rather disgusting – cold, light rain, strong winds and fogy….. at least a ground squirrel said hello to us …. and some pretty flowers gave some color to it …

The black sand beach is a very impressive result of a previous volcano eruption (1991). This beach calls for a relaxing hike along the Pacific coast.

Today, we say goodbye to Kamchatka and to Russia.

Russia has been a wonderful country to visit. Not only its amazing nature and wildlife, no, its people made the trip so unforgettable, too. As we have mentioned before in the blog, Russian pople are very discrete, seem to be a bit withdrawn but we have only known friendly and very helpful people. The prejudice that Russians are loud and always drunk is simply not true. Especially the young people like to discuss and are very curious about "Europe". They work hard for their living. Like our young guide on Kamchatka who is an English and Chinese teacher but works as a tour guide during his summer holiday (June until end of August). Or our very young boat guide on the river, who studies business administration in Moscow and earns some money by rowing tourists down a river on Kamchatka, eager to practice his English and German skills.

If ever you wonder how we survived Russia without any Russian language skills….here some clues:
1. Learn some words in Russian: Strasdwetje=hallo; ja turist si schwizarii= ich bin ein Tourist aus der Schweiz; spasiba=danke; charascho=gut; baca baca=tschuess; njet=nein; dada=ja; vino=Wein; piva=Bier; wada gasem=Wasser mit Kohlensaeure
2. If you see someone with an ice-cream you grab his/her ice-cream wrapping and bring it to the little food stall and you get an ice-cream. Simple as that;-).
3. Use your hand and body language.
4. Smile and trust in what you will get.
Andi once wanted that they put our white wine bottle in the fridge to keep it cool until the next day…. next day we got back a deep-frozen wine bottle????!!!!! So from then on we finished our wine bottle every evening;-).

In five hours we are flying to Beijing which is our starting point of our next adventure – the silk road back to Europe. In Beijing, we will have a family reunion with our two boys. After finishing his second year at the University in St. Gallen, Julian got admitted to a Chinese sponsored Chinese language course and culture exchange program in Beijing in August. Thereafter, he will do an exchange semester at the Hong Kong University. Valentin has just finished his first year at the Ecole Hoteliere Lausanne and the corresponding first internship in the Golf-Hotel Andreus in St. Martin in Italy (close to Meran). He has not seen Julian since February and both are looking forward to the reunion. Valentin will also join us for the Chinese part of the silk road travel.

Kamchatka Bears

Kamchatka is famous for its own kind of bears, too. They are the largest brown bears similar to the Alaskan Kodiak Bears or the Polar Bears. Female bears weigh 150 – 200 kg and male bears up to 400 – 650kg. The Kamchatka Bears are well protected and the Kamchatka Bear population estimates range from 10,000 to 14,000 bears.

We flew with a helicopter to the south (about 1h 15m) to get to the famous Kuril Lake. We almost got addicted to flying by helicopter over such beautiful landscapes…..

Kuril Lake is a caldera and crater lake. Its surface is about 76 square kilometers. It is known for its richness of many different kind of salmons and other fish (estimates go up to over 6 million; it is the major nursery for Sockeye Salmons). Most important, Kamchatka Bears love Kuril Lake since it is a major source of food. Therefore, they are all along the shore…..

A family of three walking by and watching (or better smelling) us …… just wonderful …..

The Kamchatka Bears are excellent swimmers and they even dive for fishing … when going down you see the back feet going down last … so cute …. below one bear with a salmon in his mouth….

We could watch them for hours ….. again and again beautiful pictures ….. they are so powerful, agile and skilled in catching fish…..

Petropavlovsk-Kamcatskij and Avacha Bay

Petropavlovsk-Kamcatskij is a town with about 180,000 people. The number of inhabitants has been diminishing for many years – young people move to larger cities as e.g. Moscow or St. Petersburg. Only the increasing tourism offers new interesting opportunities for the people of Kamchatka.

The Avacha Bay is a large bay-area which is well protected from the Pacific Ocean. On a five hour boat trip in the bay and the ocean we could admire several beautiful cliffs and rocks.

…. below the three brothers…

The area is also well known for its fog – it comes and it goes quickly – and the fog produces mystic pictures….

Some rocks are famous for their bird life. We saw many different birds hunting for fish – and some of them bringing their catch home to their nests…..

And we encountered seals – funny to see them watching us…..

The Land of Volcanos and Geysers

On our first full day on Kamchatka, 11 August 2017, we visited some amazing volcanos and geysers. The variety of the landscapes and its colors are just breathtaking – unbelievable!

Most trips are done with Russian Mi-8 helicopters. There are several of them flying to different spots and we love the helicopter rides because you get so many different perspectives from this beautiful peninsula. Our longest flight took a bit more than one hour. The trip overall lasted for about six hours (delicious salmon lunch included).

There is a very large number of volcanos on Kamchatka. Actually about 30 volcanos are active. It is impressive to get so close!

The valley of Geysers is just unbelievable. The big range of colors paints many different wonderful pictures. Furthermore, it is everywhere steaming, smoking and bubbling – and from time to time Geysers are erupting…..we felt like living in a different world.

….steaming and spraying…..

…and here a geyser erupts…..

…some blubbering mud pits ….

The crystal-water pool looks so beautiful – but you should not go for a swim since it is boiling hot…..

This is called "Entrance to Hell" …. burning hot steam comes out of both wholes…..

Another helicopter stop at the amazing Uzon-Caldera. The Caldera fauna is unique and thanks to the warm springs bears love to come here for eating in early spring and just to warm up!

Kamchatka Peninsula

Today, 10 August 2017, we fly from Vladivostok to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (10 hours time difference to Zurich). Kamchatka is a nature paradise. The many volcano areas are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kamchatka stands for wilderness and adventure. Bears, salmons, elks, reindeers, volcanos, geysers, unique plants and amazing landscapes are typically mentioned when reading about Kamchatka. We are ready for it!