We've seen some truly incredible landscapes on this adventure. Over the last year and some months, Mother Nature has served up wonders like the Amalfi Coast, the fjords of Norway, the Swiss Alps, the Italian lake district, France's Verdon Gorge and Cote d'Azur, the sweeping sands of the Sahara, the glittering white salt flats of Tunisia, the craggy coastline of Crete, and more.
Often, when we see some breathtaking vista, we'll declare to one another that it rates among our Top 10, though we have no definition of what that actually means. What's more, we're never quite sure which site has been demoted in order to accommodate the new one's prestigious place.
Though we maintain a loose best-of list in our minds, we've never distinguished any particular location as THE #1 Most Beautiful Place We Have Ever Seen.
The Altay mountains of Russia, especially the views from the highway beginning about 150 kilometers from the Mongolian border, take the cake. Without a doubt, this region boasts the most stunning array of natural displays we've ever seen.
There was so much oohing-and-aaahing going on in our car today that we may as well have been witnessing a day-long fireworks finale! Every time we thought it couldn't get any better, we'd round a bend and another wide mountain scene would open before us, each more intensely spectacular than the last.
Halfway through our drive, the sunny skies turned dark. Instead of marring the larger-than-life views, the clouds overhead only served to intensify the riveting atmosphere.
Mouths hanging open, we talked seriously about spending a year in the Altay someday, writing our own version of A Year in Provence – just us in a little cabin. Maybe we could herd cattle like this real-life cowboy?
As usual, we stopped often to visit the local farm animals who wander freely in their beautiful surroundings. I'm really going to miss the frequent sight of goofy creatures moseying around the roadsides when we get home.
I had a good laugh this afternoon, whipping a herd of sheep into mass hysteria as I tried to take their picture. RUN AWAY!!!!
Siberia has often reminded us of Romania – this theme continued unbroken as we passed through it's rugged villages, full of friendly, hard-working people.
Towards the end of our drive, I spent at least an hour running around trying to capture these odd grasshopper-looking insects hovering on the roadsides. The din of their buzzing was so loud we could hear them from the car! I have no idea what they are, but their crinkled, chinese-folding-fan-like wings are fascinating to me. This was the best I could manage:
While I was chasing bugs, a bunch of kids came running out to see what I was up to.
Unabashedly curious, they marched right up to us, goofing off along the way.
Tara gave them a postcard which they looked at in awe, and then didn't accept.
Thoroughly in awe of our surroundings and wanting to savor them as much as possible, we decided to stop early. Finding a free-camp was as easy as could be; we just pulled off the smoothly paved road at the first opportunity. Above us, a giant bird of prey circled, hunting for a meal (this one is from earlier in the day, though):
Giddy from our spectacular day, we set up camp in the now chilly weather and I made a fire. As we enjoyed a steaming potato soup, courtesy of Tara and her traveling kitchen, a regal white horse gazed at us, chewing on its dinner of short, stubbly grasses.