Steppe-ing it up: an overland journey across Asia

A drunken conversation in Niseko, Japan spawned an intercontinental overland journey from China to Finland highlighted by adventures on the Trans Siberian Railway and a spontaneous horse purchase in Mongolia.

Osaka, Japan
May 7, 2010
Took a train down to Osaka port and set off on a 3 day ferry bound for Shanghai, leaving Japan after 2 years. We had gorgeous views of the Japanese mainland and Shikoku as we passed between the two in the Seto Naikai region.
Sea of Japan
May 8, 2010
The open sea. The passengers are all Japanese, an eclectic mix of retirees, expo enthusiasts, and a few backpackers. You have to be a bit eccentric to take the ferry; it's no less expensive than a cheap flight and 48 hours instead of 2.5 hours. Some rogue islands in the evening provided for a stunning sunset. Bad karaoke entertains at night.
Shanghai, China
May 9, 2010
Docked in a drizzly, overcast Shanghai, went through immigration, and made my way to the middle class shopping district of West Nanjing Rd to meet my CouchSurfing host Jack, whose couch I would stay on for the next week. Jack (a young Chinese man in his early 20s) would teach me worlds about modern China and its subversive underground culture.
Shanghai, China
May 10, 2010
First day of 2 weeks of intensive study at a Mandarin language school. Quickly found that my background in Japanese put me well ahead of other beginners thanks to my knowledge of Kanji. After class, took a stroll on The Bund, Shanghai's famous waterfront area with panoramic views of the eclectic architecture of its business district.
Shanghai, China
May 11, 2010
Delighted to find a Krispy Kreme near Jack's apartment to start the day. Continued the routine of Mandarin class followed by touristing Shanghai, this time heading down to Yu Garden.
Shanghai, China
May 14, 2010
Poked in and out of the cafes, galleries, and old literary hangouts around Duolun Road. Observed and tried to understand the rules of Chinese chess. Did not accomplish.
Hangzhou, China
May 16, 2010
High speed train to check out Xihu lake in Hangzhou. Expected a quaint town, so was pretty surprised to find a city of over 2 million people. I guess in hindsight, it makes total sense that in a country of over 1 billion people, every city is a big one! Strolled through temples (with an escalator!), gorgeous hilltop tea cafes, and the markets.
Shanghai, China
May 17, 2010
Meandered between installations and street graffiti at the old industrial area turned contemporary art district at 50 Moganshan Road (M50).
Shanghai, China
May 19, 2010
Shanghai Expo day! Both the crowds and the scale of the expo were absolutely insane. The regional and world powers - who could afford it - spared no expense in rolling out massive exhibition centers that themselves looked like architectural wonders. Instead of waiting in 3 hours lines, I went to the shacks of smaller nations like N Korea and Uzbek.
Shanghai, China
May 20, 2010
Spent some time in the old preserved neighborhoods just behind the massive shopping centers in our area. In this weird in-between space, there exists an intriguing juxtaposition of massive fast food advertisements and luxury cars with bicycles lugging carts of junk and laundry hanging from bamboo poles in old brick alleys.
Tunxi, China
May 22, 2010
Left Shanghai for the much more provincial Anhui province, where everything from prices to fashion to pretension to building conditions took a sharp dip. Spent a day walking around Tunxi, stocking up on tea and a 'chaibei' from the market, hiking into the hills overlooking town, and eating in the relatively posh, yet cheap old town center.
Huangshan National Park, China
May 23, 2010
Day 1 of a 2 day hike through the Huangshan mountains, with seemingly endless ascents and descents through the craggy hills. There were several diversions to take, so we took the most challenging and scenic route, where we would encounter the least amount of people. Witnessed a transcendent sunset over what seemed like endless layers of mountains.
Huangshan National Park, China
May 24, 2010
Woke to watch sunrise alongside a horde of Chinese tourists from the top of Huangshan, then set off on another day of long ascents and descents on staircases and bridges carved into the mountainsides before taking a scenic cable car ride back down the mountain.
Hongcun, China
May 25, 2010
Arrived to the UNESCO listed old town of Hongcun and realized through broken Chinese and English on the bus that tourists weren't permitted to stay in town. The bus driver called a friend in town who agreed to take me in for next to nothing. Helped gather his tea harvest and then explored the labyrinthine alleys of the moat-surrounded town.
Hongcun, China
May 26, 2010
Walked the perimeter of the old town as buses of Chinese tourists emptied in and out and college art students set up easels to draw the eaves of roofs and reflections of Hongcun across the moat. By night, the town was completely empty and silent again.
Jiuhua Shan, China
May 27, 2010
Next stop was the town and temple complex atop one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism. A fellow passenger on the bus (a Chinese tour guide) tried to help me find a temple stay, but none of the temples allowed foreigners. A dense fog permeated the entire town, giving the temples and forests a mysterious aura.
Jiuhua Shan, China
May 28, 2010
Hiked through the woods from temple to temple up to the summit of the mountain. The intricate, ornate decorations of the temples were breathtaking. Also realized that I had not seen another Westerner in several days. Definitely not many Western tourists headed up this way.
Shexian, China
May 29, 2010
Daytrip out to Shexian, another old town center on the river near the Huang Shan mountain range. Imposing old stone gates gave way to small shopping arcades and fishermen harvested seaweed from the river in their canoes.
Nanjing, China
May 30, 2010
Train tickets well all sold out for days to Beijing, so took a bus up to Nanjing, the capital of Anhui provence, and a poked around the city for a day and night. Saw a classical Chinese music performance, a shop opening christened by the lighting of a huge string of firecrackers, and a massive memorial park of communist war hero Sun Yat-Sen.
Beijing, China
June 2, 2010
Sean finally manages to rock up 3 days late to reunite with Aidan in Beijing! A celebratory shisha was in order, as was much - too much - baijou and beer.
Ulaabaater, Mongolia
June 5, 2010
Irkutsk, Russia
July 2, 2010
Russian girls.
Lake Baikal, Russia
July 4, 2010
Fucking my face.
Vladimir, Russia
July 10, 2010
Suzdal, Russia
July 11, 2010
Moscow, Russia
July 13, 2010
St Petersburg, Russia
July 16, 2010
Helsinki, Finland
July 22, 2010
Helsinki, Finland
July 24, 2010
Adventure ends.