Categories: Mushrooms, Restaurants, Travel, Vegetarianism
Written By: Leanne Cordingley
I had drafted a post about how all the travelling was, in a subtle but effecting way, a lot more tiring than I was expecting. I’m sure anyone who’s been away for a long time will know what I mean – never being quite sure what will happen in any given situation, being unable to communicate even very simple ideas to people blah blah blah. However since arriving in China we have been met by such a friendly reception all seems twinkly and nice so the post seemed completely inappropriate for now. As a bonus now we have moved a little further south it has warmed up somewhat too. It is now -1. Feels like t-shirt weather! So anyhow the depressing post has gone in the bin for now and instead here’s an update on our shiny happy trip from last week, the end of Russia and the beginning of China.
Our last stop in Russia was a couple of days in Irkutsk, including a day trip to Listvianka on Lake Baikal. The lake was amazingly beautiful. It is the largest fresh water lake in the world at around 400 miles in length, so looking across the lake was more like looking out to sea, except for that it was frozen! Actually it wasn’t completely frozen, in a few months it will be frozen enough for people to drive all the way across, but right now it is just frozen around the edges. Still enough for us to stand on, which we did!
One day there was a bit of wind which was causing part of the lake to freeze and shift across as we watched it. The sound was incredible! Never seen anything like it in my life. The ice that was coming across was only a couple of mm thick, but you could imagine the power that anything thicker could have, it was unstoppable. As soon as one bit hit the edge the power from behind would force it up and shatter it into tiny pieces which then would form the frozen edge. And I’d always watched these nature progams thinking,”but how would ice move huge rocks?!” Now I know.
One day we were there some important religious type person arrived. Crowds of people were on the street. He blessed the lake, then with a branch splashed water on everyone, then people collected water from the lake and then, crazy people, some of them got in! It was -15! I can’t imagine how the water must have felt. Brrrr.
While we were at the lake we went dog sledging, which was fantastic. Weaving around a forest, being pulled along by 10 very giddy dogs on a sledge, dodging trees and clinging on as we bounced over bumps was great fun. Seemed like the dogs loved it too. If only it snowed all the time at home we could all scoot around on sledges, woopeeeee!
Also at the lake there are places which have these amazing Banyas. which are the Russian Saunas. Actually the one we went to was more like a sauna house. As well as the typical sauna room first there is a small room for you to hit each other with branches in, then a separate room with a small pool of cold water to plunge into, which I think was coming straight from the lake and then also there was like a lounge attached where you could order food and beers to be delivered. Wow. As it was off season we had this whole place to ourselves! If there are a few of you can hire the whole thing out for a few hours which I imagine would be brilliant fun!
We left Russia via a 2 day train journey to Harbin, our penultimate stop on the trans-siberian, and for both of us our first visit to China. The train station door opened up onto a very busy square. There was hundreds of people rushing around. Everyone seemed to be in quite chirpy moods too. Lots of smiles around. As we stepped out of the station into the squre the first thing we saw was an enormous colourful tree, about 20 meters tall and looking like something from a computer game it really wasn’t what I was expecting to see! Stood next to it was a huge ice sculpture all lit up different colours.
We could see our hotel from the station, however between us and it there was a huge road, about 4 separate sections of 2 or 3 lanes each. As far as we could see there didn’t appear to be any subways so we joined the Harbinians and dashed across the road with all our bags, jumping out of the way of cars which seemed to come from every direction and leaping over the barriers in between each lane of traffic. This whole situation was made all the more ridiculous by the fact that despite it being a very cold place (-23 when we were there, but often colder), meaning that for at least 4 months of the year the whole place would be covered in snow and freeze up, all the road and pavement surfaces were made out of the most slippery surfaces I’ve ever know. In some places there were even patterned sections of polished marble, to make things even more fun! People seemed to be sliding around everywhere clinging on to each other and giggling.
Harbin was sooo cold. We found it quite difficult to stay outside for more than about 30 minutes at a time. We both had every item of thermal underwear on we owned, scarves wrapped round our faces, two pairs of gloves and many pairs of socks on and despite this it was still too cold. We found we had to plan our route for the day carefully to make sure it didn’t involve us being somewhere outside for too long and we kept dashing into random shops just for the warmth.
Food in China so far has been an experience! We’ve had some very good meals and some where things didn’t work out quite as we expected… So to start with the good. Dongfang Jiaozi Wang (Eastern King of Dumplings) is indeed the King of Dumplings! We tried dumplings a few times in Harbin and these were definitely the best. Also they were around half the price of other places. They have a menu in English too! Well sort of, some of the literal translations have been quite amusing. I must remember to note some down in the future. Things like “The fire lights the bean moving” often randomly appear next to pictures of vegetable dishes. Somehow though we managed to negotiate this menu and order ourselves a few things which as far as I could tell contained no meat! Hurrah!
Although I did think for a second when this arrived that it might be snakes!
Luckily it turned out to be very tasty aubergines that we forgot we’d ordered. Phew.
We also had these mushrooms, described on the menu as edible tree fungus we had to try them.
I wondered what on earth had arrived when we got them! They turned out to be a type of mushroom very similar to jelly ears that grow commonly at home. The taste is fairly bland, but they came served with the hottest horse-raddish sauce I’ve ever tasted! Anymore that the tiniest dip on the edge and although it didn’t burn your tongue seconds later the sensation in your nose is as if all the hairs in your nostil are being stripped by strong acid, this is followed by fits of coughing and eye watering. Despite this the taste is so good you can’t stop yourself from trying it again and falling for the same nasty trick.
Our second meal in Harbin was not quite so successful. There is a food market on the high street which has a canteen style restaurant above it. We sat down, got the menu, compared it to our little dictionary and sheets of safe veggie stuff. We also had help from a waitress who could speak some English. Although there’s no real way to say I am a vegetarian, we showed her our page of Mandarin with the closest you can get, it says various things. “We eat vegetables”. “We DON’T eat Meat/Fish/Chicken”. She looked nodded, crossed off somethings we’d ordered and suggested some other things instead. Brilliant.
We thought we had ordered two types of vegetarian dumplings, a pancake filled with spring onions and some green tea. What actually arrived was dumplings which contained pork, not even pork and vegetable, just pork. A lovely cabbage and pork meatball soup and some orange juice, not green tea. The only thing we’d got right was the pancake. Oh well. Eating around the edges again. This blinking pork is tormenting us.
At least we didn’t end up with a plate of these little creatures which were on sale downstairs, wriggling around in a pot in the middle of the salad section!
Another thing we discovered in Harbin is that the Chinese like to serve their soup in ridiculously big portions. We went to one place and ordered what we thought would be small bowl of soup. It was really cheap, we nearly ordered two so we could have one each, but decided instead to order other things to try then share the soup. But look at this enormous vat that arrived! Also contrast to the tiny size of the bowls to eat it from! There was at least 20 servings of soup in it! All for around £1. Crazy!
I’ll leave it at that for now. More to come from Harbin including the most amazing market I’ve ever been to and photos from the famous Ice Festival.