Girls Weekend to Beijing

 

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Old style Rickshaws

It was meant to be a girl’s weekend!! But when, Miss G my 8 yo daughter, discovered we were planning a trip to China that would be her and her mum there was an instant and catastrophic melt down.  There was no protest from my wife, about me going not her, so it was me who was off on the girls weekend to Beijing.

Since it was China, and time was short and I had not done the requisite research I organized a fully inclusive tour that included transfers from and to the airport and everything in between, call me lazy.

 

Overview of Pre booked services with china highlights (flights organised by Tubbytraveller tours 🙂

Place & Transport Activities & Meals Accommodation
Day 1 Fly Seoul – Beijing CZ316, One-way Private Transfer Between Beijing Airport and Your Hotel (Driver only) Sunword Hotel
Day 2 Pick up and drop off at Hotel Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square and Mutianyu Great Wall, Lunch Sunword Hotel
Day 3 Pick up and drop off at Hotel Summer Palace, Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, Jingshan Park, Temple of Heaven, Lunch at Dawanju Restaurant Sunword Hotel
Day 4 One-way Private Transfer Between Beijing Airport and Your Hotel (Driver only)  Fly Beijing – Seoul CZ315 Lama Temple, the Confucius Temple, Take a Rickshaw and Walking Trip with a Home-Visit in the Hutongs, Lunch Home

Cost for tour (excluding flights) US$890 (for 2 people)

We were in Beijing from the 1st to 4th of October which coincided with the “Golden week”, this meant that, even for Beijing’s standards, it was busy, or for a normal human – Chaos. There were people jams at all the major tourist attractions, a ¾ hour bus ride took 2 hours and so on, luckily we live in Seoul and can handle this sort of chaos with ease, I felt sorry for the Dutch couple that were with us, they found the push and jostle very distressing.

Day 1

 

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Miss G in her new Chinese style outfit

We took the 5:00am bus to Incheon Airport checked in and flew to Beijing with the minimal of fuss.  We were collected from the Beijing Airport and driven to our hotel, the transfer cost $50us and I felt was money very well spent, it relieves all the stress in navigating in an unfamiliar country.  We checked in at about 11:00 am, which was nice of the hotel. Our hotel was a block from Wangfujing Avenue, the famous tourist shopping street. So once were checked in we walked down to Wangfujing Avenue for a bite of lunch and a mosey round the shops. After some nice dumplings for lunch we found some presents for my family and Miss G found herself a nice dress, shoes and a necklace, I am a sucker, my no buying presents lasted less than five minutes under pressure from my daughter.  After shopping we went back to the hotel and organised ourselves a massage, then dinner and bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2

The Forbidden City

The next day we went to Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, for me the highlight of the day was the great wall, for Miss G it was the ride down from the Great wall.

Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City were interesting for historical reasons, (there was no trace of tanks or protesters) and also for the sheer number of tourists. We were just a small group in a sea of people, except Miss G is blond and blue-eyed girl in a sea of Chinese people, every couple of steps we (she) was stopped for photos, living in Korea we are used to this, but it was extreme and got wearing. After a while our guide got annoyed with the constant interruptions, so said we should ask them to pay for the photos with Miss G, of course I can’t speak Chinese, which I politely pointed out, so he started saying to the pushy mothers “you must pay for photos” or something like that. It seemed to work….. but rather embarrassingly a couple of the mothers actually offered money.

Crowds lining up outside the Forbidden City, Photo Op with Miss G, and Tian’anmen Square

The part of the great all we visited was the Mutianyu section, it is in a very mountainous region, we were driven to a parking lot that was a short but steep walk to some shops and a ticket office. From there it was a fiveish minute ride in a somewhat ancient cable car to the great wall itself.

Going up and Coming down

The great wall is fascinating, like Stonehenge at the first viewing it is somewhat underwhelming, it is just an old brick wall about 7m wide and maybe 10m high, with lots of steps, lots and lots of steps.  We walked up then down some 950 steps in the small section that we walked, we covered a section of the that may have been 1.5 km and it was hard going, (for me, Miss G thought it was a race and complained that we were all too slow), it is only when I had been on the wall for a while, that the enormity of the wall and what a feet it must have been to build it became apparent. We walked 1.5 km out of 12,000km!!!!!!

The trip down was on a thing somewhat like a bobsled/skeleton, great fun but Miss G was not happy that we didn’t go faster, but without smashing into the people in front if us, faster was impossible.

Day 3

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The temple of heaven, like most things we visited was impressive due to its sheer size and grandure. Roof tiles and dragons are very important in china, apparently…. Gold roof tiles represent royalty and are for the emperor, blue tiles represent heaven/sky and are for the gods (temples) and Green tiles represent the earth and are for the people.

The visit to the summer palace was interesting, for me it was more about how the massive crowd moved and interacted, the place was interesting enough but the kilometer long lines of tourists were incredible, after the initial push and shove they all moved in a fast and orderly manner.

The summer palace, murals and a stone boat

 

Day 4

Final day there was just Miss G and myself on the tour, this was great as we could spend as long as we wanted on the interesting parts and skip what we found boring, The first stop of the day was the Temple of the Dali Lama and the neighbouring Confucius Temple and school. The Temple of the Dali Lama was very interesting and Miss G stopped at each shrine; burnt three incense sticks, said a prayer and made a wish.

This was followed by a visit to Confucius’s temple and school, it was at this school that all the Emperors children, close relatives and outstanding scholars were educated, in some ways the classrooms have not changed much, just the discipline was a bit more extreme back then.

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Statue of Confucius

No Blog Post would be complete without some reference to and photos of food. I have saved my food comments for the last day. When I was browsing in the 7 / 11 across from our hotel  I saw that a bottle of Yellow tail wine was 98 CNY the same place a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila was 95CNY, WTF how can a cheep bottel of Aussie plonk be the same price as a bottel Mexican tequila!!!

During the trip Miss G had been a bit reserved in what she ate but at lunch all of a sudden she wanted to get adventurous.

Bullfrog Szechuan Style and Pork

So we ordered a Pork dish and Bullfrog Szechuan style, the pork was great but the bullfrog was probably a step too far, the Szechuan seasoning was super hot and made my lips tingle and the bullfrog could be best described as a bit like chicken crossed with slithereen. I did wonder if a bottle of tequila may have helped the situation. I should have remembered more details of the pork dish but the Bullfrog Szechuan style completely blew it out of my brains. Miss G was not impresses with Frog.

After lunch we visited a traditional house, took a short rickshaw ride, bought some trinkets and returned to the airport.  Security, Check-in, Security, Immigration, Security, Customs and Security were easy and no hassle, just there lots of stops, many inspections and much stamping of forms. The Airport is showing its age but the lounge was comfortable and the helpful woman at the front desk posted Miss G’s postcards. We flew on China eastern, it was more than adequate for a 2 hour flight, the plane was a long way from new but it was clean and everything functioned.

The China highlights tour was well organised, there were three things that I was happy with that made the trip more enjoyable, 1.) there were no stops at special shops, 2.) we had the same guide each day and 3.) there was good guidance given as to the tips that should be given.

The third point may not sound important but being mainly Australian I neither believe in tips nor have any inbuilt radar as to how much is an appropriate tip.  Over all the tour was good, not brilliant but in no way bad, the guide could have been a little more enthusiastic.

Next WHAT CAR IS THAT

 

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Day 12, Wilderness Camp 2, new river new species of salmon

Wednesday, 3 August

Today 8 km, Total 3730 km

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Breakfast

Breakfast consisted of porridge and sausage!! Generally I don’t particularly like porridge but this was different, it had all sorts of dried fruit and bits of goodness in it, it seemed rather complicated for camp cooking, I later discovered it was just an oat based muesli that had been boiled with milk and water, simple!!!.

The Turushever was different in characteristic to the Sedanka, it had more narrow sections with deep slow pools and less riffley sections. The first morning was slow as we readjusted our fishing technique, generally we were catching Kundzha from the shadows under the bank.  However we were still catching our share of nice rainbows

Oystein with another nice Rainbow, after a week he still couldn’t keep the smile off his face

In the afternoon the fishing picked up and we were getting fish form both banks and mid stream, I was fishing the sunny bank as I had fished the shade in the morning and had the better of the fishing.  Mid afternoon I hooked and landed a Cherry Salmon, a fresh run female of about  20 inches, I was fishing alone (say 50m from Oystein and the guide) so I attempted to hold the fish in one hand, rod between my knees and camera in the other hand,  a sure recipe for disaster. And of course the fish made a dash for freedom as I was fiddling with the camera, the fish went one way and shook the hook out, the rod went another and the camera ended up in the river. There was no real problem the rod and camera were undamaged but I had no photo of the fish :-(.

 

Marking the extent of the poisoning on my arm and two swollen hands

I may have sounding like the trip was all beer and skittles (or vodka and fishing) but there were some things that were uncomfortable, one was the biting insects, I used a substantial amount of DEET but never the less I (and everyone else) had many bites, some of these bites did not agree with me, my left hand swelled up like a football and there was red swelling moving up my arm.   I assume that it was from the insect bites but it could have been anything.  The general consensus round camp was that it was most likely an allergic reaction to one of the bites, and I needed an anti histamine, benadryl were magically found (thank you Tom). So I had dinner, benadryl and a shot of vodka and disappeared into the world of nod for over 9 hours, it was still light when I went to bed and everyone else was still up.

The sleep was good for me, but the next morning the swelling was similar and the redness had not spread further up my arm. It was not particularly uncomfortable and since it was not getting worse I figured that there was no real problem. There wasn’t, it took three days for the worst of the swelling to go and over a week for it to be back to normal.

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Turushever Camp 2

Day 10, Sedanka Lower Camp to Wilderness Float Camp 1, not today either!!!

Monday, August 1

Today 0 km, Total 3697 km

Today was the originally planed transfer day, once again it was a nice day on the Sedanka but the weather on the other side of the Peninsula was dreadful and the helicopters could not find a way through the mountains that was not fogged/clouded out.

This day proceeded just like the previous day, pack, ring, hurry up and wait, unpack do some fishing……

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Looking for Bears

During Breakfast some bears were spotted, but by the time got back to the cabin, put the big lens on the Camera they had wandered off. This turned out to be the last bear sighting of the trip, in some ways this was good, I have no wish to have a bear join me in my tent.

On the fishing front during the day I passed the 3000 inch mark for total length of fish landed. I fished the morning near the camp with a streamer and mouse with moderate success. In the early afternoon we took the jet boats down stream and  fished some new water.

In the afternoon I decided to fish some of the small tributaries with light gear, so I put up my 7″6′ #3 rod and went super light with a 2X tapered leader with a 10lb tippet.  It was great fun, I started fishing with a fly that Sasha gave me, it was similar to a freshwater clousers, I caught several fish including the Kundzha below, a 16 inch rainbow and the fish below with this fly, then I hooked a very large Rainbow, it put on an amazing areal display for me. After about 5 min I decided that my gear was too light and I would most probably kill the fish by exhaustion if I landed it, so I handlined it in and as expected it broke the line with its next effort. It was sad to lose such a large fish but to me it is preferable to have the fish live than get a trophy photo.

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A nice Kundzha beside my #3 setup

I replaced the fly with a #18 adams, after about 3 casts I hit a large fish that stayed on for about 10 seconds, this was followed by a series of takes but none of them stayed on, I inspected the fly and all seemed OK. I continued fishing and again more takes but no hookups??? More inspection of the fly, I discovered that the shank of the hook had been broken, I suspect by the first fish. By this time it was time to head back to camp so I changed to fishing downstream and went for a Scottish wet fly, a teal blue & silver, it was deadly on the resident arctic char. It wasn’t the most out there fly to catch fish during the trip, that honour probably goes to Brian with his bird fly, he landed 5 fish in 10ish casts. Follow this link to find out more Bird Fly.

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What is this fish??

Although I don’t often catch the most fish out of a group of fishers, I often catch the weirdest or unexpected fish, this trip was no different. I landed (and managed to photograph) the above fish, there was much debate as to what it was. Its colouring is very Kundzhaesque but its, shape was a bit wrong and its markings are very different. I have no doubt that it is some sort of Char, but the exact species remains a mystery to me.

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View of the cloud over the mountain range.

 

Lower Camp

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Dinner, a hearty stew.

Day 9, Sedanka Lower camp, No transfer!!

Sunday,  July 31

Today 0 km, Total 3697 km

The morning was a little overcast but with good visibility, we had breakfast and packed our things in anticipation of the transfer to the wilderness float, I was excited at the prospect of an extra day on the float trip. The Guides phoned in and informed us that the cloud base was too low in Esso and we would find out more in an hour or so. They said that it would be a good opportunity to fish the river near to camp, They would fire the gun when the helicopter was on the way and we were to return immediately  when we heard a gunshot.

So it was back to the cabin for a partial unpack, reset-up the rods……  I chose to go upstream and work a couple of the little side channels. I was fishing with the steamer setup as every day there were more salmon in the river.

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Chum Salmon

The Side streams were moderately productive, I picked up some nice Rainbows, a couple of Kundzha and landed a chum salmon od about 22 inches. I continued to fish, still no gunshot, just prior to lunch I caught my first resident arctic char, these fish would become Dolly Vanden if they made their way to the ocean, they were about 10 to 12 inches long and had lovely colouring.

 

Arctic Char

By lunch it was sunny and warm, I returned to camp to find out what was going on, still no news, they were still hopeful that they would fly that day, however on the other side of the peninsular the cloud base was still too low for the choppers to fly.

While we were waiting to see what would happen in the afternoon, the guides shared some small salted and dried fish, they would be best described as fish jerky, I must say that I prefer beef jerky, but it was still quite edible.

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Fish Jerky

While I was sitting down having a cup of coffee in the shelter outside the cook house  I was looking at rips in the roofing felt  from a new angle, it became very clear what caused them. A bear had been visiting!! This only acted to reinforce the feeling of wilderness and how close we were to nature. Discussing this with the guides they said that they have a never-ending stream of bead damage that they have to fix every year.

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A bear came visiting

The afternoon was a repeat of the morning, fish close to the camp and come back when there is a gunshot. This time I fished the far bank of the main channel landing several Rainbow trout and Dolley Vardon. The standout thing that happened during the afternoon was that I managed to get my streamer in one of the over hanging trees, this in its self is not  unusual but I managed to go for a swim retrieving it. The water was very, very cold and flowing quite fast, however there was little danger the bottom is gravely and it is only rarely deeper than chest depth. It was just embarrassing and chilly. The day was still warm so I made my way back to camp, got myself dry, warm and a travel update. The news was not good, the helicopters would not fly that day, so it was unpack, grab a beer and settle in for the evening and see what the next day would bring.

Day 7, Sedanka Middle Camp

Friday July 29

Sedenka Middle Camp

Today 0 km, Total 3689 km

The Sedanka middle camp is the most rustic of all the camps,it is none the less comfortable, the cabins, shower room and toilets were on the mid terrace of the river with the cook house and accommodation for the staff on the upper terrace. There is currently a new shower/drying room under construction.

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View of the Cabins from the Cook house
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View of the Ablutions block and river

The fishing this day was on inflatable boats powered by 30HP jet outboards, the use of Hamilton type jet attachments on the outboard motors is the standard practice in the fishing camps in Kamchatka, the main reason is they draw about 5 cm blow the bottom of the boat and if they hit a rock they are not damaged. As I discovered the sound of the motor hitting a rock was a common one.

We motored up Motor upstream to fish the water we had passed but not fished the previous day. The morning fishing was steady with several decent rainbows landed, the highlight was probably one of the spring fed creaks that we stopped at, the water was welling up from the ground out of the laver beds, it was crystal clear, drinkable and at fridge temperature.

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Cold spring Creek

In what turned out to be the final stop for the day we had seen a number of Chum Salmon in a lie and decided that we would attempt to catch some (one). We all attached streamers of some sort, I used the black and white Dali Lama. we spread ourselves out, I was on the north bank in the down stream position while Oystein and Alex were on the south bank equally spaced above me. My plan was to start to swing my steamer about 5 m upstream of the pod of Salmon, do two casts and move down a step, continue doing this until I bumped one on the nose and annoyed it enough so that it would attack the fly.

On the first cast I lost a solid fish and landed a 20 inch rainbow on the second, this continued, I was getting a take every cast and landing fish at regular intervals. The landing of the rainbows was relatively simple as I was fishing my 8 weight Greys with a 0X tapered leader and a 15lb tippet, I could just pull them in. After about 5 min a “Oy why aren’t you moving down, we will be on top of you in two casts”,  reply “I would if I could get my Streamer through the trout and in front of the Salmon”.  It took me half an hour to work through the pool in which time I had landed some 14 decent rainbows but no Salmon.

Once I had passed the salmon lie, skipped ahead and I switched back to my 6 weight Hardies with a 1X leader and 12lb tippet and fished a mouse (Mr Hanky), I continued to have reasonable success. Oystien worked the gap between me and the Salmon lie (also with a Mr Hankey)  with considerable success, every time I looked back he was landing or loosing a fish. Once I had finished my stretch of the river, Jordan (the guide) suggested that I run the streamer through the pool the Oystein had just fished, to see if I could pick up a big rainbow that had been ignoring the Mouse. I worked my way down the pool picking up a few useful rainbow but nothing huge, as I neared the end of the pool, I probably had another 5 or so casts to cover the rest of the water, I hit a large fish. There were no exploratory taps, just thud “I’m here”. It was big and strong, it didn’t get aerial like most of the rainbows, I was hoping that it was one of the Chum Salmon that we had been chasing earlier. Some ten minutes later it was in the net, my first Salmon, a 24 inch Sockeye, I was ecstatic. We were quite surprised that it was a Sockeye as we had mainly seen Chum in the river. It was a great way to end the day, in the hour and a half I had landed over 25 fish including my first Salmon.

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My first Salmon, a Sockeye

When we got back to camp we toasted my first Salmon with vodka as we were out of beer. The beer had not been sent on the helicopter with the rest of the provisions and there had only been some leftovers at camp one. No beer in camp was a major problem, but being as resourceful as they are the camp crew had a plan, a couple of Sat phone calls it was underway.

Fishing Rods ready for action and Bob contemplating the world

Anatole organised some beer to be available in Tigil which is a small township some 90km downstream of Camp 3, during the day Little Sasha (the camp hand from the lower camp) would then take a Jet boat from the Lower Camp down river to Tigil pick up the beer and return to the Lower Camp. Then once we had finished the day’s fishing Big Sasha (guide) took one of the inflatable jet boats down to the Lower Camp and shuttled the beer up to the Middle Camp “no worries the plan works

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The first sign of beer arriving

In the mean time Brian took his “no it’s not a drone” Areal Photography Vehicle and got some areal shots of the camp and river. Apparently it must not be refered to as a drone as many people associate drones with the (American) military and he would not be able to get it through customs (or even get arrested) in many countries if the documentation said drone. so I am now edumicated it is a APV not a drone.

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A classic portage of beer!!!

The Beer arrived, dinner was eaten, fire was warm, the midges went to bed at dusk, we were all happy.

Fried Chicken and Potato for diner washed down with a shot of Sugar Free Aguaediente

Day 6, Sedanka Upper Camp to Middle Camp

Thursdays July 28

Today 12 km river km, Total 3701 km

Today was the first Float day of the trip, the plan was to float down to middle camp that was some 12 river km away, with a shallow with a lake at 1/3 distance. The lake was hard work for our guide Sasha as the wind was against us and there was no current to help him.

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The rafts prior to landing at the Upper Camp

We stopped at the end of the lake and fished the mouth of the river, it was here that I was broken twice and Oystein lost what may have been the biggest fish of the trip. It was unidentified and huge, that is the way fishing goes and it doesn’t count unless it is caught. When catch and release is involved the term caught is a bit rubbery, for this trip (for myself) I  defined caught was one hand on the leader and one hand under the fish, the driving thing was always to get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible. Since I was fishing barbless hooks or hooks with flattened barbs the fly often fell out as soon as the tension was off the line, either in the net or as soon as you lifted the fish.

 

 

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Toasting the Catch and a day well done.

 

During the day we landed far more fish but they were a bit smaller, probably and average of 18-19 inch. I fished the same fly for the majority of the day, a Mr Hanky which is a mouse pattern. Fishing the mouse pattern is great fun, it is fished down stream like a Scottish wet fly but it is on the surface, you can see the fish trying to kill it, they go over the top and force it under the water while trying to crush it. In the Sedanka the Rainbows tend to jump a lot once hooked, it is a great show.

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A new and a not so new Mr Hanky

I have uploaded a photo of a new and used Mr Hankey to show the damage the fish do to the fly.

Dinner was its usual hearty affair with a cheese and tomato soup and Plov, which is a local pilaf type dish.

Day 2, Vladivostok to Petropavlovsk

Sunday July 24

Vladivostok – Petropavlovsk 07:10 VVO
Vladivostok 12:25 Petropavlovsk Kam (PKC) Flight SU-5614 ‪SAT Airlines‬
Today 2211 km, Total 3091 km

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Departures Vladisvostock Airport (VVO)

A 7:10 AM departure meant that it was a very early start, once again the flight was uneventful. PetropavlovskKamchatski is a stunning place, at this time of year everything is green and it is surrounded by tall snow-capped volcanoes. My photos don’t do it justice.

 

View of part of the mointain range from Marthas Guest house

 

The domestic arrivals at the PetropavlovskKamchatski Airport was a cross between a green house and nissan hut. It was crowded because the flight from Moscow had arrived just before us and it was sweltering hot, this would have been good in th winter. Our bags arrived in due course and to my surprise as I exited arrivals there was a guard checking the baggage stubs against the bags. I believe that this is a good thing to do as you can’t leave with anyone elses bags (and vice versa).

I was met at the gate by a representative Anatole who runs Kamchatka Trophy Hunts and is the local representative of The Flyshop and taken to Martha’s guest house. Martha runs Explore Kamchatka and is a wonderful host. She provided delicious simple meals made of fresh ingredients many of which came from her garden.

I can’t read Russian but I think they have a vodka of the month

I spent the afternoon organising the activities for the next day and picking up some supplies. I don’t usually drink vodka but when in Russia…. I had a plan to buy some vodka as, vodka and beer are available in camp but are considerably more expensive than at the local shop and there are no security restrictions on liquids on the helicopter to the camp. Actually there is no security at the heliport we left from, more on that later.

The view from Matha’s back deck was stunning, the day I arrived was blue and clear and I could easily see the mountain range to the north of PetropavlovskKamchatski. This range consists of active and dormant volcanos, to my surprise I could see the steam venting from the volcano with my naked eye. This was one on many firsts for me on the trip as I had never seen an active volcano before.