It’s been a bit of a tradition to blog up some of our more ambitious family vacations, and this blog commemorates our 2015 trip, just completed.
As a bit of background, as most of our regular readers may know, my in-laws live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – as do most of my wife’s family. We also happened to meet up and start dating when we both lived in Beijing 20 years ago. Hence, we tend to schlep the kids over to that part of the world every couple of years to connect them with their roots and expose them to our past.
This time, and I realize that this sounds a bit redundant, we figured if we were going to Mongolia anyways, we should make a real trip out of it. Hence, as I worked through the vagaries of international ticketing (there are no direct flights from the US to Mongolia), we ended up with an itinerary that circumnavigated the globe via Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and China. (Props by the way to anyone who knows which one of those countries doesn’t belong in the same category as the other three.)
What’s there to say, but Istanbul is our new favorite city (I know, we say that about all cities.)
We did learn that when the kids are about to self-destruct from a toxic cocktail of jet lag and cultural overload, we could frog march them into the visitor section of the nearest mosque – where they’d have to remove their shoes and sit on the carpet quietly till they settled down. It’s a tactic we’ll have to reuse on trips going forward (although it doesn’t work so well in Tibetan monasteries due to the noise).
Bishkek & Issyk-Ata, Kyrgyzstan
From Turkey, en route to Mongolia, we stopped for a couple of days in Kyrgyzstan.
My wife and I both got to exercise our Russian language skills (Hers is high school. Mine is a smattering of random Mongolian accented nouns.)
…and we were able to meet up with an old friend from university who’s now working in Bishkek.
It’s a great country full of great people. That being said, to be honest, if I had to pick one Central Asian country to visit, I’d still go to….
…where we landed right before the annual Naadam festivities kicked off. (Naadam, of course, being a celebration of Mongolian culture that happens every summer). We hit Sukhbaatar Square to see the rehearsal of the evening concert.
Then, thanks to an awesome sister in law, we scored tickets to the opening ceremony in the national stadium.
And I was introduced into the coolest traditional game I think I’ve ever seen, shagai harvaa. It’s played by launching dominos about 6-7 meters through the air to knock down the target (below) while everyone chants in a monotone.
After another couple of days in Mongolia (a minor bout of food poisoning from some fermented horse milk, a trip to what is basically a Buddhist amusement park, and a lot of vodka), it was time to dust off our rather rusty Mandarin and head to….
…for a couple of days of meeting up with friends and looking for that old Beijing culture. Note how clear the air was on this visit to Jingshan Park (really….last time we were there, you couldn’t see that far):
We hit our old digs in the Peking University campus….
…and closed it out with a visit to Beijing’s resident roller derby team, the Rickshaw Rollers….
All in all a nice trip – and a solid excuse not to have blogged much over the last couple of months. Now, however, that excuse is gone, and I’ll work to pick up the blogging pace.