A Travellerspoint blog

Moscow

It's an early 4am arrival in Moscow. We just pulled up stumps in our Hostel. Current time approximately 5:30.

It would appear we just endured a mammoth stint of about 117hrs on the train. Currently this time is been vigoursly debated, as there were portions of time travel, multiple time zone changes........and as we have just survived what felt like a prison sentence, finally, a few strands of straw are about to break our collective camels back. However, the friendly staff have just thrown on a bit of movie. That old standby, pretty much a universally agreed upon absolute corker, The Shawshank Redemption. Good morning Tim Robbins.

Our local contact will be back at 10am. There was a lot of talk on board the old rattling bird cage of hitting the showers and freshening up. It would appear the motivation, along with most other emotions and feelings have dissipated during the long ride to freedom. Personally I am a shell of my former self. At one stage, I think I was awake for about 17hrs straight and had about 8hrs broken sleep in a 36hr period. I cannot be sure. Looking out the window at the almost constant passing of Birch trees, in various states of tree like behaviour, some straight, others less straight, the occasional yellow, red and green hued foliage, was like looking out of a window that revealed reality but with that strange twist of otherness. In short, it was a definite portal. Emma and I woke early one morning, hungover and essentially stream of consciousness thoughts spewed forth in a diarrhoetic diatribe for a few hours. We passed through the looking glass.

We passed through Siberia, snow drifts were gently falling to their final resting place as we barrelled along in our tin can. Birch trees made an appearance, not for the last time, in fact if I see another Birch, chances are I will don a flannel top and start chopping it done. Siberia gave way to the Uralls at some stage. Birch again. We had a series of long stops, which were greeted with a sense of well deserved freedom. The little things become a source of nourishment. To walk in a straight line that doesn't sway constantly is a divine experience. Every meal was stretched out in the longest possible way, to eat away those long minutes, preparation of them was a dramatic stage play. The art of making satchet coffee was perfected. All the time Birch trees looked on. Passive, immutable, constant.

Small towns scattered along the line were made of wood and assembled in a rickity manner not seen since Hansel and Gretel went a wondering. Abandoned factories and remmenants of industrie would arise on the horizon like extraterestial giants. Power plants. Watchtowers. The occasional Birch every 20cm. The sky was big. Glorious sunsets seemed to stretched over vast unbroken tracts of Birch. Mornings were frosty. But the day warmed quickly. It seemed Russian have a phobia to cool air. The train cabins were constantly deprived of fresh air, as the attendants and other berth occupants would close the windows whenever we opened them. They clearly preferred stuffy, smelly, stale strongly malodorous stagnant air. It was a veritable sauna on wheels.

Hence the Redemption is lifting our spirits. Popcorn has just been delivered.

Well I'm done. A shower beckons. So does Mr Dufresne. Moscow sights today. Probably an Irish Pub this evening to watch the All Blacks. At one stage I was donned in All Blacks gear, the train did weird things to us all. Next post I may get back to Mongolia, or Lake Baikal, but probably not.

Birch. Thy name is hell.

Posted by kidd1200 20:31 Archived in Russia Comments (6)

Moscow Bound

Alright, this entry will be out of sync because I need to get it out whilst the memories are still fresh.

We departed the idealic lakeside community of Litsyvenaka after talking an early morning swim in lake Baikal. Emma, Sarah, Dan, Karen and I headed down to the lake at 8am, outside temperature was a positively balmy 4 degrees, whilst the lake was a scolding 9 degrees. The team were in and out of the lake in about 2 minutes. That was the total time for all of us to de robe, brace ourselves, stumble in, exclaim various cries of pain, run out and scramble our clothes back on. A brisk walk back to the hostel, where a warm shower awaited us all.

Leaving for the trip back to Irkutsk, the obligatory stop at the supermarket was done to gather supplies for our 4 night train trip to Moscow. We were now well drilled in suitable supplies to gather. Shopping teams were formed, communal bulk items were reasonably distributed, 30 litres of water was collected, Emma and I made a prescient purchase of some party supplies. Our initial reasoning was it would be fun to have a party night and surprise the gang with the cheapest table wine we could secure. A 4$AUD bottle was purchased.

In Irkutsk, Roman our Honcho for this stop, attempted to hook up some of the members with SIM cards. This was a frustrating and ultimately vaguely successful endeavour. Not sure about the current status of this foray. A bit of retail therapy was had, H&M experienced a momentary surge in consumer confidence. Ran into Veronica and Jacob from the UK randomly. We first met them in Mongolia over a few bottles of Vodka in our Ger camp. We had ran into them periodically since. Emma shared a berth with them from Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk. We were well ready for this train ride.

Marshalled at the station, we had enough gear to attempt an unsupported trek from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to Guatemala. Somehow this gear was stashed into our berths, and sleeping arrangements settled. It was to be, Karen, Haley, Kapil and Raesh in one berth as they were all sharing food. Emma, Blair and I in another, our fellow cabin member was a serious individual who Blair determined was a Russian Colonel. He declined to shake Emma's hand, so we decided to play it straight and disturb him as little as possible. Dan and Sarah were in the final berth with a Russian couple, the wife turned out to be an English teacher, so all in all cabin life had started with not too much foreseeable pain.

The dinning cart was the destination after a quick bowl of noodles. This cart looked like a throwback to a 50's American dinner. Except with a nice Russian twist and some surly looking attendants. A few rounds were had, then we started a disjointed conversation with an ample women who was sitting next to us. Broken attempts at translation elucidated that she was possibly from Ukraine however this was later confirmed to be Belarus. She had lost some children, which unfortunately seemed an all to common situation in these parts, as both the owner and helper man at the guest house at Lake Baikal had lost children. We tried to avoid the subject of family. I tried to drop some Spanish on her, causing derision and laughter from Emma. I mean why the hell would a Ukrainian/ Belarussian know Spanish? Alcohol may have been affecting my judgement. Then we hit the jackpot. Someone discovered that it was her birthday.

Yep. What are the odds that we run into a birthday girl on board. Emma and I scrambled back to our cabin, dug out our party hats and whistles and headed back. Our friendly carriage attendant, who had been pushing souvenirs and candy on us like a crack dealer, intercepted us en route. Having learnt to keep these keepers of bathroom keys on side, we showed her our supplies. Some fun was had. A few selfies were taken. Emma had cracked some big laughs from this knee high boot wearing, hairspray hungry, domineering, magnificent Russian woman. She was well and truly on our side. We moved on.

To the dinning cart, where our birthday girl awaited. We burst in, hats on, party whistles singing. Reader, she was almost moved to tears. We distributed the hats and all sang happy birthday to her. Never has happiness being writ larger on a lonely women’s face than in that moment. The beam lit up her face like a giant neon Justin Beiber billboard in Times Square.

The only downside to this whole encounter was she was a bit handsy and playful. So whenever a guy walked past her she would whack his butt, I had the pleasure (?) of this myself. Emma was the recipient of some very enthusiastic hugs, at one stage was lost in her ample bosom and we had to send in some miners to rescue her from deep within the fissures.

So, it was a good start to the trip. I woke up this morning, and not wanting to disturb the Colonel, have been waiting to write this for a few hours. Now the day is under way, will tend to creating some fingerless gloves out of actual gloves, eat some breakfast.............who knows what will be the next adventure.

As the Spanish say,

Bonjour!

Posted by kidd1200 19:16 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

Mongolia Bound

First train ride,

The crew were eagerly awaiting this ride. In effect it was a major point of being on the trip, so curiosity and optimism was at a peak. Naively so, some would argue. That discussion will be open until we complete our 4 night stint on the train. For the moment, we were looking forward to see what lies beyond the Great wall.

Our Chinese Honcho, Sendy, she of the fast pace, escorted us to the station in her usual blistering pace. This was one of those situations where the phrase 'hurry up and wait' was apt. Ducklings assembled, Sendy gave our last minute instructions regarding train carriages and what not. With a few obligatory photos and time for some last minute fags, the train lumbered away and Beijing receded into the distance like a middle age hair line.

Our carriage, staffed by two Chinese, one a clear apprentice to his gruff master were quite the odd couple. More on that later. We explored our train and having located the meal carriage settled in for an early afternoon of drinking. A few rounds of beers, turned into a few bottles of red. Which thankfully didn't turn into a few cases of Vodka. To whittle away the time, during our conversation of story swapping, I set my mind to peeling of a wine bottle label. All in the name of a cheap keepsake. Cheapskate, it would appear I am. This label was stuck faster than a Russian dog with a bottle of Apu water in his mouth. It took literally 4 and a half hours. After stumbling down the train to give Hayley the label, the stumbling being a result of natural train sway and unnatural impurities coursing through my veins, I returned to find the rest of the table had removed another label during that time. Bastards.

The train was similar to the Indian trains I rode back in the day, except they had the luxury of not been created out of a single sheet of tinfoil. Carpet was found in the corridor, an actual functioning toilet, as opposed to the squat numbers was also a step up, so to was the relatively spacious four bed berth. The team was split across three berths, I opted to go solo in the third expecting to be sharing with a few random individuals. This was not to be. No one had the pleasure of listening to me snore. I think even Thor would have been impressed by the rumble I have been generating these last few days. Don't be concerned reader, this was an experience that most of the crew have now enjoyed. Probably a highlight of their trips no doubt.

Mr Grumpy, the old man train warden, was at various stages completely unimpressed by our mere presence on his well maintained carriage. He kindly gave us Russian and Chinese customs cards in the language of their respective countries. We were forced to assemble an impromptu Enigma code breaking team to decipher the hieroglyphics. I was tasked with the Chinese form. After a number of hours cross referencing our Visas against the forms, breaking point had been reached. Dan and Kapil both did a recon of the rest of the train and located our version of a Skeleton Key. A single form written in English. Sweet merciful salvation had been achieved. Old man was not happy about this turn of events, Dan was given a blasting not seen since childhood once he discovered our treachery. We made the border crossing with documents all in order.

The changing of the train from Chinese gauge to Mongolian gauge was a long and laborious process. We were in lockdown for about 4 hours, or even longer as each carriage was decoupled, raised of the tracks, old wheels removed, new ones slid under, train lowered onto wider or lower (couldn't quite work it out) tracks, then reassembled into the original segmented, mechanical beast it was.

I'm currently typing this a week later. Adventures have been abounding. Diary is about 4 days behind and these posts are hastily written with a lot omitted, so apologies to anyone who may be tearing their hair out in anticipation. Have made two short videos so far, very hard to upload them due to size and connection problems.

Thanks for your comments as well everyone, I appreciate it!

Mum, my phone is out of credit so no way of contacting me except via e-mail. Even then, as you can imagine connections to the inter-web, nodes and net has been.......................disjointed. Suffice to say I am alive, safe, well, no injuries, loving every minute!

So, a few more photos. I am tired so I wont describe them.

Till next time, keep on trucking.

Actually just one photo, this connection is very slow. Will add phots maybe when we hit Moscow. Tomorrow afternoon we head there, have been in Irkutsk for 2 nights staying in a guest house on the shores of Lake Baikal. Check it out on a map. Prior to that we had 2 nights on the train again! That was a good test for our 4 night train journey to Moscow. We have learnt a few tips to make it go smoothly, fingers crossed!DSC_0021.jpg

Posted by kidd1200 07:41 Archived in Mongolia Comments (4)

Beijing

So managed to negotiate the subway from the Airport to a point in space amazingly close to my hostel. This only required two line changes and my misunderstanding of clockwise versus anticlockwise. Incessant rain was the prevailing precipitation on offer. It necessitated a quick purchase of an umbrella, which henceforth will be referred to as the Divine Canopy of Auspicious Protection, in homage to problematic translation.

That misunderstanding added about 20mins to an otherwise quick hour trip. I was acting like I had four months to get to my hostel, so it probably would have been quicker! Once I exited said subway, merrily wondered past the street I was aiming for after 90 seconds, and continued about 1.5km past a plethora of musical shops. It was that situation, like in India, where groups of similar vendors operate. The purchase of a ukulele crossed my mind. So did a lynching by my fellow travellers for said purchase. After backtracking, I was literally back on track and ensconced in my hostel.

Job done.

Cut to a few days later, have been to the Forbidden Palace, Tiananmen square, Beihai Park, Jingshan Park, Yong He Gong (Llama Temple) and the Great Wall. We are leaving Beijing for Mongolia the day after I write this.

Forbidden Palace was truly impressive. A maximum of 80,000 visitors are allowed entry each day, on the day I went about 20,000 umbrellas were present and at least half of these had some kind of interaction with my face. Mainly in the form of a quick stab in the eye.

Some fantastic names of the temples which I remembered from the various parks;

Pavilion of Deposited Jade- Couldn't find the Jade. Did get some umbrellas deposited in various orifices though!
Stone Hill of Accumulated Beauty- Concubines would ascend here on their way to visiting the Emperor.
Pavilion of Divine Auspiciousness
Pavilion of Gushing Auspiciousness
Pavilion of Floating Verdure
Pavilion of Permeating Fragrance and the related Pavilion of Gathering Fragrance
Hall of Beneficent Causation
Pavilion of Serene Auspiciousness

The Llama Temple was amazing, housed in the centre of the complex was an 18m carved Buddha. Carved from a single piece of white sandalwood, which must have come from a tree with a trunk 4m in diameter. Painted gold, a shaft of sunlight illuminated and lit up the surface like liquid gold. Long white, red and green swathes of fabric descended from the Buddha's open palm flowing like a cascading rainbow to the base. The smoothness of the golden carved robes defied any lingering of the eye, even light seemed to slide of it. The creation of such a statue would have been a divine experience.

This was still evident hundreds of years later.

Today we battled up the Great Wall of China. Felt like we did the entire thing, but, alas it was only a small portion. It destroyed most of us. Was a sunny day about 28 degrees, which probably didn't help the thermal properties of my black jeans. Idiot. The views were unbelievable. The terrain similar in stupidly steep terms as the Inca Trail. Hard to describe it because I am tired!

I did not realise that I could loose 7.5 litres of sweat in one day................

So train to Mongolia tomorrow, only one days ride and our first taste of train travel. There are 9 of us all up, good bunch of crew. Fingers crossed we all survive to St. Petersburg.

Auspicious Tidings of Serenity and Causation to you all!
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Posted by kidd1200 21:05 Archived in China Comments (6)

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