Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wow! I mean "WOW!!!!"

If you have followed my (what my friend Robert likes to hear me call) perambulating, you know that I have perambulated to a plethora of places, packing my palate with pounds of pasta, pain, and other products.  Anyhow, I have come to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

I had no expectations - but I could not have set them too high for the flight here. We emerged from the smog of Beijing and as we crossed into Mongolia the clouds cleared for a landscape that I have never seen nor imagined and my vocabulary lacks any adjectives to describe the 300 or so miles south of UB.

But if you think you have seen pastels, before today I would not have disputed your claim. But until you have seen the Gobi Dessert on a crystal clear day in the late summer from a vantage point 35,000 feet high as the sun rises... you have not seen pastels.  As if a thousand giant varied hued candles had dripped on a land of unimaginable dimensions and then old carbon paper had been randomly smeared in fits and starts. Where water was found tiny dots - like craters on the moon - are at the center of a spiderweb that seems like fracture lines but in fact are trails cut by horses and camels seeking that water in what the world's greatest adventurer (Marco Polo) said was the most arduous journey of his life.

The Chinese are building a road across the Gobi and often in the vast panorama the only sign that humans exist is that tiny line snaking around and across the mountains and plains below.  Here's just one sample picture.

A different kind of flight

From Houston to Beijing  - 14+ hours - in a new Boeing 777. Vastly better than US airlines. I have an exit aisle seat with 8' to the bulkhead.  But China Air is no Qatar Airlines. So far in 11 hours we have had pasta with thin tomato sauce, salad, fruit and bread.  Then a half cheese sandwich wrapped in Saran Wrap. No wine or beverage service. And instead of 2-4-2 (US) seating or 2-3-2 on Qatar here is 3-3-3 with narrower seats and aisles. This is the longest flight I have ever been on, but 14 then 12 then 2 with 2 hours on each break has - I hope - prepared me for this: 5 in Atlanta, 2 to Houston, 4 in Houston, 14+ to Beijing, 4 in Beijing and 2+ to Ulaanbataar. Here's my route: over Alaska and Siberia.

Last meal was better: fish and rice, cheesecake for dessert. Could not get enough water on the flight: will buy some after security on my way home. Here I am in my seat. Only 17 days out so no luggage.

Food in the Beijing airport is MUCH better than the Atlanta airport. I was hungry and had barley soup (very large) with coffee at one restaurant for $7 then changed $s to Yuan, cleared security, and bought pepper beef with rice and veggies and water for $6.

Friday, August 29, 2014

But first...

It's time to complete an ancient promise. In 1958 I was sitting in the lap of my Granddaddy John (for whom I am named).  He was 83 , retired after 47 years as a surgeon, and I was his 3rd and last grandchild - the only one to live their childhood within a hundred miles of him: I lived 100 feet away (just across the residential street).  He called me "Johnny", I called him "Papa", and he was magical: he smelled of Tampa Nugget cigars.  He had a wooden leg. He would tell amazing stories. And he loved to help me read the latest National Geographic magazine.

That's what we were doing that day in 1958 when he said to me: "Johnny, there are two places I would have loved to have gone... but now I never will."
"Where, Papa?"
"Machu Pichu, Peru; and Ulaanbataar, Mongolia"
"That's ok, Papa.  I will go there for you."
"You do that, Johnny."

In 1986 - 28 years later - I made it to Machu Pichu and told my long dead grandfather that I was halfway. Tomorrow - 28 years after Mach Pichu - I fly to Ulaanbataar. I will raise a glass or two to that kind, gentle loving man who gave me his name and a whole lot more. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Our autumn trip(s) are set.  August has Stefie Lepara here from Bologna. She returns to Italy August 30th and I leave that day for Mongolia. Immediately afterwards Donna takes Megan on her college trip: French Riviera and Paris. Megan will stay to attend school there for a semester. After 4 days in Mongolia I take a 27 hour train ride to Beijing where I stay for 9 days before returning to GA on 9/15 - the same day Donna gets back from France. We recover from jet lag and leave 3 days later in our car to go to Miami to see Alan and Melissa. Then we pick up our friends Robert and Dorothy in Ft Lauderdale and head to The Longino Ranch for visiting and horseback riding.   We meander north and R&D return to the UK as Trevor arrives for a visit. Upon his departure Donna and I catch our breath and leave a couple of days later for a 6 week trip in the camper up the East Coast all the way into Canada and back the 2nd week in November.

I have a lot to do between now and 8/30 and I'm uneasy about leaving Donna for 17 days, but I will have fun and so will  she.