Parental holiday update

My parents’ overseas holiday is almost over (they’ll be home in a week and a bit), so I should give you another update.

In this blog post, I’ll quote selectively from emails and SMS messages that I received while they were on the Silk Route package tour. Dates quoted refer to my timezone, not necessarily theirs.

From email dated September 21:

Today the Great Wall walk sounded “wow”. To get there we ventured along part of the “longest traffic jam in world history” tollway. The coal for the city is transported by truck. The national highway is being rebuilt. As a consequence the trucks have to use the tollway. We were aware of the trucks as we climbed to the beginning of our walk, but the traffic kept moving. When I stopped for breathers climbing up those incredibly steep, uneven steps, I became aware of more and more tooting from below and chuckled at the impatience of the drivers. There is no way to capture the noise on a photo so this was something different to the documentaries, somthing to write home about. By the time we were venturing back on the bus the traffic going up was at a standstill.

I’ll just pinch myself. It’s not an out of world experience, we are experiencing the world.

From email dated September 25, covering events of previous week:

Wow! We have had our money’s worth already!

Beijing had The Summer Palace. Lots of courtyards and long covered walks in magnificent gardens. Buildings restricted to about 3 stories if timber due to tree size with intricate carvings and paintings, and covered with lighting conductors to prevent loss by fire. Stone buildings uncommon. Now a huge common park but once the preserve of the emperor alone.

Temple of Heaven with a magnificent pagoda style building for the emperor to pray for good seasons, and huge numbers of trees in park grounds. This is holiday season (Moon Festival) and oh the traffic.

Forbidden City with huge moat and wall to protect the emperor and his 4 principal wives and countless concubines. […] Just magnificent from The Last Emperor movie.

Tiananmen Square next door but saw plenty of soldiers but no tanks (probably hiding around the corner). Mao’s Mausoleum still standing and his picture in a few places, but he would be appalled at the totally capitalist country China has become.

Then off on the train. Haven’t spotted Poirot yet, but it looks like his train, lots of polished wood, bunk bed compartments, toilets each end of the cars, drinks in the buffet car, dinner in the dining cars. He must be here somewhere. Excellent rail system. Trains belt along most of the time, little men in smart uniforms standing at attention as you race by.

From assorted SMS messages:

  • Sep 20 (Mum): Enamel work factory where we had lunch. Bought a lovely red dragon. Great wall fantastic. Glad 2 sit on bus 4 next 2 hrs though. Very, very steep.
  • Sep 21 (Dad): On train to moscow very excited weather showery but not inside train beijing spectacular and busy traffic and construction countryside wet and cultivated with corn
  • Sep 22 (Mum): Dad not well. Slept on bus while we were amazed by wallface 2000+ caves of buddahs. Dad improving. On train again.
  • Sep 24 (Mum): terracotta warriors exceeded expectations
  • Sep 26 (Mum): Well, that’s the western end of the wall ticked off. Dramatic desert landscape. Movie set fortress only its the real thing. Lots of dragon decor. 1 tiger.
  • Sep 28 (Dad): In dunhuaung camel ride edge gobi desert dunes 300m high bought amber with bee
  • Sep 28 (Mum): Ni hao. Man made caves as shrines 2 Buddha. Painted walls told many stories. Angels, B’s musicians, were in style still seems modern. Very restful 2 look at.

From email dated 30 September:

29 Sept morning in Turpan (another oasis town, this one slightly below sea level in the minus 154m Turpan Depression). This is the hottest, driest, lowest and sweetest (grapes 23% sugar) city in China. Annual rainfall 34mm. It is also a big oil and gas centre and we saw plenty of oil rigs and nodding donkey oil pumps in operation. We went into the underground irrigation system which drains the aquifer and brings the snow melt waters to the flood irrigated orchards and cotton fields. We saw sultana grapes, chillis, dates and corn drying in the sun. Of the 1600 ancient underground irrigation systems, only 400 are still flowing. Water is now available from dams and pipelines. Then to a open mosque (Emin Minaret, we can see the encroaching Muslim influence as we go west) and the Lost City of Jiaohe (a trading town on the Silk Route mostly underground carved from a large soft clay island between two rivers, now abandoned and eroding away).


This afternoon at the local museum with a collection of “mummies”. Buried bodies are preserved by the dryness and salt in the ground and date  back 4000 years. Part of their collection is on tour and someone said it went to Melbourne. Today is our last day in China. Tomorrow we enter kazakstan and have been warned of long delays at the border. We will see. Tonight is back on the train and tomorrow we face the music. Both of us are a bit off colour, but there is so much to see. We are told Urumchi is the geographical centre of the Eurasian land mass, as distant from the sea as you can be. And it seems like it!

More SMS messages:

  • Oct 04 (Dad): Kazakhstan dry pasture and desert with cowboys on horses uzbekistan wetter more closely settled tashkent today wow again
  • Oct 07 (Mum): Kaz & Uz r different experience. Not sure what lasting impression will b. At moment depressing. So much destruction & suppression. Sad [Note: I was able to cheer my mother up by wishing her a happy birthday.]

From email dated 7 October:

Hi today we are in Samarkand, jewel of the Orient. Fantastic muslim buildings make you feel you are in Ankara or somewhere. It is magnificent. Unfortunately, even pedal internet is in its infancy in Uzbekistan, as is the currency. I bought 2 coffees today for 12000 local dollars. The hotel is fair with no hot water unless you get in first at 7am. Other hotels have been better, but tomorrow (Bukara) is apparently the worst. However, some hotels have been 6 star. I’m afraid the former Soviet states leave things to be desired.

More SMS messages:

  • Oct 12 (Mum): Dad n I r struggling with health. Volgograd war memorial huge. Lts of subtle symblism. Mother’s grief makes u wonder why go 2 war. 1m russns 1.5m germns dead why
  • Oct 15 (Mum): Whenever we arrived in Moscow, air was crisp. Individual snwflkes landing on clothes. Quickly whisked 2 museum. Gd but distrctd by view outsd.
  • Oct 15 (Mum): Good day moscow lenins tomb stalins grave st basils church art gallery bullet train to st petersburg tired but happy

The package tour they were on came to an end at this point, but they continued on a personal holiday. On October 18 I learned they were in Germany with friends, and on October 31 I learned they were in England with more friends. I’ve received a number of messages during this time, but I won’t share them just yet.

There will certainly be another update after they get back. Apparently they have over 2000 photographs…

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