Mongolian Travels

This is just a little space for me to let friends know what I am up to-- easier than emailing everybody all the time from the internet cafe! This site does not allow "oldest entries first" formatting, so I had to give fake dates to the entries so that it can be read chrnonologically, but that makes the archives in reverse order--when the archive says "June," it is really "May," and vice-verse. Go figure. You can click the pics to get full-size images.

Well, I am off

May 22, 2008

Here I go. More or less packed, I think. . . more or less I know where I am going (I think), and more or less I am dubious about the whole thing arranged through Intourist. We'll see. And more later. Lincoln has kindly offered to take me to Logan, and he is waiting downstairs for me so that we can take off.

Next stop, Paris.

Well, this is continued from Moscow. . . not much time to figure this Blog out, as I created it while Linc was sitting downstairs, but we'll try it now.

The ride out to Logan was nice-- great to have Lincoln to babble with about travels and stuff. . . a little traffic jam, but w/ the magic of tech we called Mike on the cell phone, he googled around for traffic reports, found out about the overturned camper and let us know that we would be free in a few minutes. . . all true. What a world!

In any case, all was fine.

Day Two (May 23?)

May 23 (???)

Well, all has gone smoothly so far. That is, all the flights and blah blah were just fine, tho tiring. It was nice to be called "Monsieur" by the French airlines folks, and I even tried a bit of my highschool French in return.

So far St. Petersburg is . . . well, dreary, poor, faded. . . kind of reminds me of India in some ways: lots of folks trying to be hip with ten-year-old styles, a little bit gangster, and lots and lots of peasants everywhere. There is also a similarity of beauracracy, even with computers things seem to involve a lot of time, lines, and paper. But I am just getting used to things, so I will see more of the history after I finally crash and sleep. I think that I am 8 hours ahead of Hamp.

In any case, it has been a long trip. . . strangely, the flight being only 6 hours to Paris meant that I arrived in Paris at 6 am, so I didn't really have a chance to sleep, and then it was the flight to Russia for only 3 hours and so I still haven't been able to sleep. Somehow I am used to 13 hour flights that I can get some sleep on. Soon, soon. . .

My hotel is not too bad for $150/night-- very conveniently located near a subway stop, a few local shops to buy bread, meats, cheese, vodka, beer. . . and my room overlooks the Neva River, which is nice.

OK, enough for the moment. I am here and safe and so far all the travel arrangements have been working just fine, so hopefully the other plane and train tickets will also be OK.

Day Three

May 27, 2008

Well. Day Three. . . . about 12 hours of walking (so far, the night is young).

After my buffet breakfast-- a massive room filled with Austrian waltz music and an interesting buffet of somewhat familiar foods-- I took off for the Hermitage and several massive churches. . . only to discover that today is the St. Petersburg Birthday Bash! 305 years old (I believe Northampton celebrated 350 years about five years ago). In any case, the streets were absolutely packed with people-- kids, couples, families, police everywhere, gothic vampires (complete with casket-shaped backpacks), long, long-legged women with way-tight jeans and other gold-and-silver fashion statements, boys that all looked *really* Russian (somehow it is that Illya look. . . I tried to get some pics, but there are about three really typical faces. . . or, in my spy mind, perhaps they are really all the same guy following me because I am so important), and in general a great big party. I sat at a Japanese street-side cafe and drank beer and whiskey for a bit to get out of the crowds of people, and watched a really long (about 3 hours) parade . . . really tacky, it reminded me somehow of the floats that they made in "Animal House"--think the float that became a tank and you get the idea), and the whole thing was surprisingly pretty lame. . . but the people-watching made it all worthwhile. Such a throng of folks would be hard to imagine-- I will try to upload some pics when I get a better computer situation.

And oh my gawd! the size of everything! It is incredible-- every building is about three times the size of Seelye, and many, many are about ten times that size. The Hermitage, the world-famous museum ( is absolutely huge. . . and it used to be the palace of the tsar. Wow! Trying to walk from one room to the other would have been a late-night challenge! And most everything around it is equally huge. Unfortunately, never got inside as I couldn't make my way down the sidewalk within about a half-mile of the place because of the crowds for the parade. Finally I just found a nearby park and drank beer with bad teenagers. There is quite a scene of dis-affected (and affected) yewts here, all costumed up in various ways (including anime) and drinking and scowling and otherwise being bad. Ahhhh, it always makes me feel good to know that the kids are still pissed off and hanging out together.

And yes, even in Russia (especially in Russia???) you can drink in the streets, no problem. I don't quite know how to choose beer yet, but so far pointing works.

I am slowly getting used to Cyrillic. . . not so hard, though the "faux amis" are confusing (the "B" that is a "V", the "H" that is an "N" and the like), and the difference between script and print, but I am slowly getting there. . . (ÂÁÒ, for example). . . and then, of course, even if I get the spelling, it still is Russian. . . duh! Not much English around compared to other parts of the traveler's world.

So, I am slowly getting used to be all by myself, on the road again. Rather lonely, lots of walking and looking and trying to figure things out. Tomorrow I will go find the Buddhist temple, which turns out to have been founded by Geshe Wangyal's main teacher. . . Geshe Wangyal was the slightly wild and amazing teacher down in New Jersey that hooked Thurman, Kirtz, and many other friends of ours. I even saw a picture of Thurman online at the temple website, helping to dedicate a plaque or something:

Hopefully I will make it there tomorrow, as well as actually get inside of the Hermitage. . . tho I would rather go drinking with Russians than look at old paintings. . .

Meanwhile, I cannot get in touch with the Intourist folks who are suppossed to deliver my train ticket for Mongolia, and that worries me a bit. We'll see on Monday when I get to Moscow.

OK, I will check out for the moment.

Miss everybody much-- wish that Maki was here to wander with me. . . I bought a sailer hat for the birthday of St. Petersburg-- the theme was "Water, Water, Water." I just figured out why by finally looking at a map-- St. Petersburg is just about next to Finland and Sweden and on its way to the Atlantic Ocean!

I forgot-- it is now nearly 11:00 pm, and it is still light outside. The sun goes down around 10:00-- really, sunset is at 10:15-- and the light lingers for at least another hour or two. I haven't been up late enough to see it get dark! But the sun is up around 5:00 am! It must be that "land of the midnight sun" effect north of the arctic circle. . . "white nights" they call it here. I believe St. Petersburg is just outside the arctic circle-- which migh explain why it is so damn cold! When the bright sun is shining all day long you can get sunburned, but turn a corner into the shade of some massive building and get a breeze off one of the rivers/canals and you need flannel shirts and winter jackets!

Brrrr. . . they say all night sunshine makes you crazy.

Day Four: Buddhism in St. Petersburg

This morning I went to the Buiyat Mongolian/Tibetan Buddhist temple. . . my first experience with the subway and all was fine until I got off the subway. . . unlike Japan, all subway lines are very simple (but they are about two miles underground, more on this when I get to upload pics), and all trains have only one platform with one direction on one side and the other direction on the other side, and the doors always open on the same side; connecting stations are pretty easy to figure out, and they use tokens-- one token for wherever you are going, including transfers. So this makes it a bit easier than the Japanese versions. Of course, my Cryllic needs to get better (it reminds me of the feelings of success at my first attempts to negotiate Japanese subways and doing sort of symbol-recognition on the first character of the destination name and just keeping that in my mind 'cause I couldn't read or pronounce the whole name). And the recorded announcements are somewhat understandable, too.

However. Once I got off the train I was completely lost. And I must say the Russians are pretty much minimally helpful to downright surly-- given my male tendancy not to ask questions and their natural brusqueness, it took quite a while to find my way the mere three blocks to the temple ( But finally I got it and all was OK. I thought the temple was closed (everything here seems closed to me) until I found a back door and got in, while a service was in session. Very different from the States, very liturgical/ritual w/ lots of chanting and bowing and money-offering. Just like the real thing! And, because this temple was shut down during the Soviet era and just restored about ten years ago, it is a good place to begin this journey since the major part of the tale is the revival of Mongolian Buddhism after the long Soviet suppression. The suppression of Buddhism around the world. . . maybe a new theme?

The temple was founded by Agvan Dorjiev (, one of those amazing fellows of a bygone era. . . part high-level political player, many parts local boy, more parts normal Buddhist wonderful person. . . and all mixed in with the "Great Game" being played at the time between Russia and Britain and others (

Wonderful stories. . . and of course, all connected to the Valley in end. . . Agvan Dorjiev was Geshe Wangyal's teacher, who as I mentioned earlier was Thurman, Kirtz, and other's teachers, all reaching back through Rick Taupier at UMass to me here in St. Petersburg. . . neat!

I am now in the IBM Internet cafe in the Hermitage . . .I think the computer is about to go down.

OK, that is where the computer fucked up and shut me down. Fortunately, six hours later in my hotel, a draft message was saved so I can continue.

Ah, the Hermitage. Winter Palace of the Tzar m-f'er! What a place to call home! I was blown away from the outside at the size and ornate decorative style of the place, and the inside doesn't dissapoint. Rather than my pics, try and you can see it. What a place! Still, museums bore me. . . kings and wars and dead people and Flemish paintings of voluptuous women (painting tits and ass was their porn??? --and now our classic art???) and weapons and blah blah just don't work for me.

I'd rather have a beer on the street with some kids. . . and so I did. After the stupid Hermitage computer cafe blew up and screwed me I left and got a beer and wandered. . . even the moms with baby carriages are drinking pints of can beer as they walk. . . in the shadows of some major monument some kid had a guitar and a buddy who had a hat and was looking for a donation. . . when I laughed in English, he laughed back, "GIVE ME MONEY!!" And so I did. . . after a few minutes of bad folk music, I wandered around and came out the other side where his duplicate was performing. . . with a chick demanding "GIVE ME MONEY" . . . in a fetching manner. And so I did. All the while drinking with them. . . they sang to me, "MY BEER MY LIFE". . . "MY BEER MY RUSSIAN WIFE" .

And other folks on the street needing money. . . not so many beggars or homeless (it is too COLD here to live much on the streets), but enough to give money to. I decided that rather than buy the next junk item I don't need or have room for (AHHH-- but I *do want* the replica Fabergé egg. . .I have *always* wanted the Fabergé egg), forget it! Or how about the modern versions of the Russian dolls-- your choice, Osama Bin Laden to George Bush to Harry Potter!! I don't have room in my suitcase (buy something, gotta throw something away) or my house. . . so, half of what I would spend on crap like that I will give away and half I will save! Win-Win! So the guy with the weird triple-jointed fake leg hanging outside my cafe gets more cash. . . so do street musicians. . . so do various other beggars and urchins.

One cute thing is the couples necking and making out all over the streets. Maybe it is spring, or maybe it is Russia and love is more about the PDA, but everybody--old and young-- seems to be kissin' and gropin'. One of my favorites (and I tried to get a pic but it eluded me) is the couples on the really, really long escalators down into the subway. . . the boy or the girl turns around and faces their lover and they kiss and paw and love each other, one backwards and the other pressing down, and down and down . . . a *long* escalator and they are faced off like some sort of porceline figurines. . . very sweet!

OK, my bad failure moment. . . such an experienced traveler I screwed up. . . tomorrow is my find-out moment: coming through Paris, I bought two liters of Jim Beam, figuring the seven-day train ride will require at least that, or perhaps, should one bottle survive, it will be a great gift for some Mongolian yurt-warlord when I get to the steppes. . . OK, well. . . I just realized that you only get 3 ounces of liquids these days in your carry-on bag! In a sealed plastic bag!! SHIT! Well.

Maybe it will be OK. When I came through customs here in St. Petersburg. . . well, there were no customs. Total backwater airport, nothing! Just a sign: "If you have nothing go straight." Well, I couldn't resist going straight. It seems that the cops here are just as lazy and don't care about anything as the rest of the service industry . . .don't know what it was like back when, but today they all seem to be just kicking back. So, bottom line: I am just going to try and walk right on the airplane with two liters of Beam! Wish me luck! I would *really* hate to give 'em up. . . might be forced to chug both bottles right there.

So, trying to preseve my Beam for the train ride (which I still haven't gotten my ticket for, and the phone number of the person who will give me my ticket seems out of order) I have been learning vodka. . .much to everybody's delight, of course. Kari would be proud of me--or is it Katy that is the vodka drinker??

So far Russian food sucks. . . but then perhaps I don't know what it really is. . . maybe when I get on the train I will know!

Meanwhile Maki has left Hamp for Japan. . . perhaps the first time that we have both been out of the country in different countries at the same time.

I might be out of touch for a while when I am on the train. . . if I actually get my ticket and get on the train! DAMNIT I want my ticket!!

Day Five: Moscow and out!

Moscow at last . . . and last Russian city or hotel, and I am not terribly upset. . . happy to be on my way to Asia! From somebody else's Mongolia blog: "After a trip through China or Russia, the kindness and the open-minded spirit of the Mongolian people will astonish you."

My new hotel (the Hotel Turist) is a real dump, kind of like a cross between a youth hostel and dormitory built in eight massive "blocks." Everybody is typically unfriendly and unhelpful, and the free breakfast was a jar of instant coffee, hot water, a slice of bread and a wrapped slice of welfare cheese (American cheese) in a strange little room. The lift didn't work, and there is no hot water from the beginning of May until June 1!! I have to get on the train to get a hot shower!

I must say, though, that so far Moscow is quite pleasant-- very green, lots of trees everywhere, and my hotel is in the middle of a park-like place. Everybody strolling around, drinking cans and bottles of beer all the time, sitting on benches in groups of old people and young people just blabbing . . . and drinking. The air too, as in St. Petersburg, is quite clean and refreshing-- very different from most of the other cities of this size I have been in around the world.

And!! Happy Happy, I finally got my Trans Siberian train ticket yesterday!! After all the crap Intourist put me through I was nervous. . . I kept calling the phone number they gave me from the time I arrived, and either there was no answer or somebody spoke in Russian and when I answered in English they hung up! Yesterday I finally got through to a pleasant women, and she said that the ticket had been delivered to the Hotel Cosmos, one quick subway stop away from my depressing dump hotel.

So, intrepid Metro rider that I have become, I jumped on the train and went to this huge casino-hotel, had a beer, and picked up my ticket! So that made me happy. . . AND, I had absolutely no problem brining my Jim Beam on the flight here in the morning. Although I almost missed the plane because I wasn't sure which airport (Pulkovo 1 -- mostly domestic but some international flights, or Pulkovo 2, mostly international but some domestic flights, and my e-ticket simply said "Pulkovo" and the Siberian Airlines website was no more informative and nobody would make a phone call for me), and of course at the airport (I went extra early to the domestic one in case I had to switch, but I lucked out) there were no signs in English, the flight number was not the same as on my ticket, and nobody would do anything other than say "Nyet" if I asked a question or showed them my ticket.

I barely got in the right line, slipped through the security check, and when asked to show the contents of my plastic "duty free" bag I opened it up, the guy smiled and gave me the thumbs up, and waved me to my flight! Whereas in the States they confiscated my shampoo.

So. Hell one moment, Heaven the next.

Still, I am happy to be getting out of this place. Russia and the sullen/surly/rude thing does get boring and depressing pretty quickly. I am spoiled from places like Japan and Thailand. Surly and unhappy, except for the kids and young folks, who seem to have much more fun. Maybe everybody over 30 is scarred from the past or something. I have some great pics of kids doing gymnastic flips off the wall in front of the Cosmo Hotel, and kids are "snogging" (smooching) everywhere, including on the wall overlooking Lenin's tomb! And, of course, drinking beer in the streets.

The Kremlin is amazing, truly hard to describe. What I thought were huge buildings in St. Petes are nothing compared to the Kremlin. . . . it goes on and on, surrounded by onion-topped churches (or something) and one of the largest, hugest, longest buildings I have ever seen, all ornate and carved and marble and granite and 15 foot windows and glass and . . . it is a high-end shopping arcade! Armani, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Faberge, and more. . . Alicia would love it.

My two hats are working well-- the Kangol cap and the Japanese JozipF. military-style one--nobody else here wears hats at all, and both of mine apparantly give my a slightly russkie look-- one a kind of military tougher look and the other a more middle-class prof sort of thing. . . in any case, I have numerous times been approached and asked for directions!

My feet hurt. . . I walk and walk and walk. . . in part because I don't know where I am going and don't know how to use taxis (everybody says "avoid taxis, they are the mafia and will rob you"), and in part because that is just what I do when traveling in order to just wander around and see what the normal folk are doing. In any case, I look forward to getting on the train and doing nothing and only walking to the restaraunt car now and then. I even bought some postcards to write and while away the time-- hope that some station will have a post-box to put them in.

And oh yes-- hookers! In my last hotel there were, every night, 3 or 4 older fatter trashy looking women hanging out in the lobby, and if you looked in their direction they worked hard to make eye contact and smile invitingly. . . one even beckoned me over. . . shudder! And then, last night, about eleven or so (after a really good "Georgian" meal of stewed veal, some sort of baked beans, and various pickled thingies), I am getting ready to sleep and the phone rings! What the hell???? Who knows I am here? Did I leave something at the restaraunt? A bad English voice: "Russian girl massage? Massage Sex?" "Nyet, nyet, nyet!!" Oh well.

So that's it. I am checked out of my hotel, will take the Metro over and find the train station and check my luggage for the day (train leaves at 9:21 pm) begin Phase Two.

I miss all you folks-- send me a picture of a boat or something!

Still here, where is the train station?

ok, it's getting weird out here. . . everything is confusing. . . . can't find the station easily and now that I have found it, there is nothing listed on the board for my train (well, it doesn't depart until 9:35 and that is four hours away, but they have midnight departures listed). . . a little station (by Russian standards), you can walk to the platforms and wander about the trains that don't look like they are going any further than about twenty miles away. . no English signage or any hints anywhere. . . pointing to my ticket with a simpering look on my face gets me blank stares. . . I do like the guy in the conducter's outfit playing great classical music on the grand piano in the waiting room. . . on the other hand, next door is the Leningradsky Station that has English all over ("Long Distance Trains This Way" and "International Departures Here"), tourist agencies, and even this Internet cafe. Still no English, tho. So I am going to cruise all over the Internet (the fast and friendly info source) and hope it all works out.

BTW, this must be how everybody else feels traveling in the States. I mean. . . it is true that the Russians have a bad rep, but in terms of traveling, well, this just ain't a tourist spot, with English-traveler friendly stuff everywhere. Imagine being Russian (NOT Borat, Russian) in the States, with no English. . . no Russian signs anywhere, everybody pretty rude and not speaking Russian, and things confusing. So I give 'em that-- my lack of prep and knowledge is my fault, not theirs.

And I wonder if my method of just ripping pics from other pages will be easier than uploading from my camera. . .

OK, just an aside for anybody ever looking for this train station that happens across this posting: it is indeed Yaroslavsky, aside from all indications to the contrary. Just wait patiently, your train will be listed on the left side of the board as soon as enough trains depart to make room for it. The train leaves from the platforms to the right side of the station as you are looking out at them. . .you can just walk over there at any time, there are no gates or ticket-takers or anything else. The conductor will collect your ticket when you board. Find the number stenciled on the platform that corresponds to your carriage and, about 30 minutes before departure time the train will show up. Get on, find your compartment, and you are home for a number of days! Some things to bring: knife, fork, chopsticks (for all the noodles and sausage you will buy from the platform vendors), instant coffee, spoon, cup, small towel (for sponge baths if you are in first class) and or some baby wipes, a good map to see where you are, maybe some salt and chile spices too. . . it all helps! Enjoy!

BTW, this is Beijing-Ulaanbaatar-Moscow in Russian, Chinese, and Mongolian. . . can you spot the differences???

Found the train. . . .Beam Time!

Day One, 5/27:

Well. Long story short, I found the train. Just to make me feel better, virtually everybody else that I talked to had the same confusion. . . including the Korean ambassador to Mongolia, who ended up in the compartment next to me.

So. . . I celebrated, opened the second bottle of Beam, found my way to the restaraunt car, got totally messed with some crazy Russian mom, son, a few cousins, borscht, vodka, and more. Somehow I was so pleased and so out of it then when all was done I paid his bill too! Oh well, that just meant I had to eat more food from the platform or cup noodle sort of stuff, which was OK. We stopped about every six to eight hours, stretched for a bit, bought some sausage or roast chicken or beer or pirogis from the babushkas on the platform, and continued our way. Pint 'o beer (can): $1.75; two litre bottle of beer: $3.00; roast breast of chicken: $5.00; coffee: $1.00.

After all of the scare about tickets all sold out, etc. the train was only about 40% occupied. . . my first-class, two-berth compartment had just the me in it. So it was very comfortable the whole way, just eating and drinking and sleeping and reading (Genghis Khan: The Making of the Modern World), a great read. . . we are all Mongols in the end, and he owned the entire known world. Ah!

Day 2: Just sleeping, a beer at a station stop, back to the bed, read, sleep.

Day 3: Getting it down. . . more of the same. Standing in the corridor and watching scenery roll by. Meeting the usual crowd (besides the Korean ambassador and family and servants) of travelers. . . a couple from Chile out for about six months, twin brothers from Finland about three months, Swedish couple about the same (she is a professional musician and salsa teacher, and after being cooped up for a few days they got out their MP3 player and rocked the platform at one stop). Most folks are doing about the same route as me, Europe to Russia to Mongolia to China, and then variously continuing on down into Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam) and beyond. The folks from Chile are going *overland by bus* from China to India! Gawd, I couldn't imagine doing that again.

Day 4: Unremitting scenery of birch tree stands and flat lands and scrub. . . today is bath day! Cold shower in the little wash area between berths (ah, first class!), so I filled up the hot water pot from the supply at the end of the car and did the old cup-sponge bath thing. It's been a while, but it still works.

and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY MAKI! She is in Tokyo and I am somewhere, and it is twenty-eight years of wonderful times, and of course even longer if you count the courting era. The great friends and wonderful times are making me smile. . .

Day 5: Passport Control! OK, I gotta relate this in some detail because it was too serious/comical. . . a five-hour+ stop, the soldiers come on the train and take our passports, all very stern and tough. . . and then dissapear! The train moves about two-hundred yards, we all get out and wander off into the dust-bowl of a nowhere frontier town and drink beer (and salsa dance) for a few hours. Ordered back on the train, we wait. Of course, during stops they lock the bathrooms because they just empty out onto the tracks. . . well, hours of beer drinking and no toilets made for some comical situations that I won't detail. . . they come back. I am ordered out of my compartment. A tough, no-nonsense school-teacher nazi-in-panyhose officer comrade olive drabs (w/ colonel-like epulets and all) with a holstered pistol and some sort of automatic rifle over her shouldr, starts directing a younger soldier on how to search. She was obviuosly in training. . . she made her pull up my Persian carpets, search the drain, and then. . . climb up on my bunk, straddling with one foot on the bunk and the other on the door-knob to the washroom, open the light fixture, take the fan off and search behind it, pull the bedding apart, take the light-switch covers off, and more! Apparantly there is a big smuggling problem with Mongolians bringing stuff into China (not the American taking stuff out), and this soldier was being trained.

Well. Unlike the officer soldier, the searcher soldier, in olive-green fatigues, was a chubby blond about 24 years old, hair in a pony-tail, climbing all over the place while me and stern-woman (hair in bun, the whole mean thing) sat in the doorway watching. I wished I had my camera when she was straddling the bunk and doorknob, bending over, fatigues spread oh-so-tight across her ghetto-booty ass-- about six inches from our faces. Then she turned around to search something else and her crotch was splayed in our face (a "wide-on," as Ed would put it) and her blouse was about to burst! I had to smile (if not cheer), and I think her nazi-mommie boss even wanted to but just couldn't. . . oh, for a picture of that! After my compartment they did a quick search of everything else and left. 90 minutes later the train took off. . . and we all got to take a piss. Ahhhhhhh!

Day 6: The scenery has changed. . . mountains and grasslands. . . pastures, wooden corrals. . . we passed Lake Baikal at midnight Moscow time (the train schedule ran on Moscow time until Mongolia). . . which I suddenly realized would be about 6:00 am Ulaan Baatar time. . . train-time lag is different from jet lag, I suddenly realized. I went to bed.
Well, so that is it in a long nut-shell. I got into the station and had a pleasant surprise when somebody from the university/Center for Mongolian Studies was waiting for me at the station with a driver! That *never* happens, right?

So I have been wandering the city-- a truly bleak, concret-and-garbage-and-dust sort of place. There are ten million bars and "pubs," and Sunday AM I was already accosted by several dodgy drunks! I am told that the Mongolians make the Russians look like beginners.

Japanese and Koreans everywhere (Japanese works better at my hotel than English). . . Mongolia is selling mineral rights like crazy and trying to build, build, build. But more of that later, and hopefully some pics as well.

So I just treated myself to the Japanese bath at my hotel and a massage. . . ahhhhhh, the best massage I have ever had, actually. No trendy new-age music or other mood-crap (the Simpons were even on the TV playing softly for the massage folks while they worked), just low lights, about six massage tables, and the strongest massage I have ever had. Cost for about 90 minutes: $20.

It helped a great deal with "train legs," a new phenomena for me, but a bit like "sea legs:" I still have this odd leaning and rocking sensation when I am sitting still-- after 6 days on the train, perhaps normal?

OK, enough for now. I miss all you guys and hope to hear from you.