A Travellerspoint blog

September 2015

Krakow-Amsterdam

Having arrived in Krakow following a rather circuitous route over the sky's of Germany, I was eager to touch base with 2/3rd of the New Zealand crew. Thanks to some information from Bengt, supplied last night, I now know why New Zealand is called what it is. My digs in Krakow were smack in the Old Town, just alongside the Jewish Quarter. A very small area that had a Bar/Café density about 700 times that of Melbourne. Coffee also had enough strength to stand up by itself, something that Russian coffee appeared unable to do. So straight away I could tell that this was a place I would like.

Met up with Dan and Sarah, remarkably easily thanks to some clear directions and a well placed Mexican Restaurant. Which we hit. Nice one. Followed it up with a cheeky drink at a Cuban bar, which turned into a sly cigar and later, stimulating Mojito's. Our company expanded to include a couple of dudes from Stockholm. So, we lingered on until the wee hours.

That lingering made the next morning a bit of a slow start, but hey, why rush. Meandering our way around town was made easier with coffee and a vague direction that turned out to be quiet clear. Schindler's Factory. Krakow's WW2 history hit us in the face. Enough words have been written about those times, so I cannot attempt to add any pertinent description.

Again, reminded of the fact that European History is seeped in blood. Scenes in the photos, despite been in black and white, could have been taken yesterday. I hope we learn something, sometime and just chill out and get along.

Hitting up some massive burgers sated our spirits somewhat. They took another battering the day after when Auschwitz and Birkenau was our destination. Again, no words.

Not everyone is in agreement that these should be open for visiting. I'm not going to argue either way. For mine, glad I saw it. Will never again. Nor will I ever forget those sights.

It was a big day, then Dan and Sarah left, leaving me as a solo traveller for a day. So I hit up the other side of Krakow round the old medieval castle, Wawel Castle. Man did I hit the jackpot. Dan and Sarah if you read this, it was rad! Didn't have a huge amount of time so limited myself to the Armoury and Dragon's Den exhibits. The crown armoury housed armour and weapons from 15-18th Century. I mean this was totally of the charts. If Blair Sist was here he would have had conniptions. Weapons included swords, double handed swords, Hussar lances, pikes, hunting rifles, cannons, daggers, sabres; all from the Polish armies and others. Lots of Armour as well. Turns out that the extras from Bed Knobs and Broom Sticks were all from here, and after been summoned by Angela are now back in their rightful resting place.

It was time to leave, but Amsterdam awaited. So I went. Found my hostel and met up with Shani and Bengt. Awesome and a bit surreal to meet up with them here. We had a nice drop of beer. This festival is going to be great. Tonight I and Emma from the Siberian leg will join them at Weird Al Yankovic concert. Nuts.

Managed to get to the Van Gough Museum today. Even better, they were also showing a Munch exhibition to showcase their similar styles and mutual influences. Very cool. Saw some big ticket pictures in person. Sometimes life is just way to sweet. Just need to avoid getting hit by a bicycle. To be honest, I'm a little afraid of them. Walking rules.

Dropped some big mullah on clothes today. Forgot I don't have much room.

My bag now resembles an Amsterdam canal house, it's all about the height!

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Posted by kidd1200 06:42 Comments (3)

St. Petersburg

An End and a Beginning

St. Petersburg.

Finally some happy people cruising the streets. After a somewhat disappointing host in Moscow, the spirits around the gang had been hit hard. Some frays in the rich tapestry that had been woven showed some signs of unravelling, which is inevitable when nine people are living and moving and snoring in close proximity to each other for 21 odd days.

But Moscow still had some incredible sights. Red Square, Kremlin, were obvious big ticket numbers and of course our old friend St. Basil's. I was a bit disappointed that Russia's patron saint of herbs, St. Dill, did not have an impressive edifice in his honour. However, his permeating fragrant flavour was celebrated liberally in daily life, so who is the real winner?

After hitting the pavement hard, it was a final overnight train to St. Petersburg. For mine, this is where it's at in Russia. Canals, Hermitage, Church of the Saviour on Blood, St. Isaacs. The vibe was a little more chilled as well, whilst still predominately expressionless mannequins devoid of emotion was the default Russian way, the locals would engage with you a bit more here. Some also appeared happy to be at work. Some brilliant primo bohemian joints were to be found as well. Perhaps it was the heads up from our local lass that helped. A little bit of the Brunswick/Fitzroy vibe was welcome at this stage. We had hit upon a good run of food as well. After Emma and I demolished some ribs and burgers with craft beer in Moscow, I was happy to eat at an equally sweet burger joint close to our digs. The local drops were a little less watered down as well.

A big night was had on our penultimate night as a Family unit. We hit upon a sports bar, after a final spot of herding cats, we managed to seat ourselves and the drinks began. 3.5L of beer for about AU$18 seemed like a reasonable deal. So too were cheap shots. A round of Absinthe was had. Food orders place, and for once everyone's meal was delivered under 3 hours. The method of food delivery appeared to be whenever the chef decided he/she wanted to cook it, not when it was ordered and certainly not all the meals on a single table at the same time. But that's just the way.

The Hermitage is nuts. The prevailing joke is it takes 3 years to see everything. that didn't stop us cracking it open in 1.5hrs though. Apparently there is a Rembrandt or some such other famous painting that is a major drawcard. Some of the team were a bit disappointed to find out that it had been replaced by 70,000 people taking photos of themselves in front of it. Which also seemed to be the correct response when seeing newlyweds having their photos taken, why would you take a photo of someone else's wedding. Emma and I tried to appear in as many of these photos as possible. Not the actual wedding photos. Emma also spotted some people filming the virtual tour inside Saviour of the Blood. Whilst all around them there was a surprisingly realistic actual physical representation of the actual Church, complete with all of the space-time continuum and having the distinct advantage of been reality. Whoever invented people should have tried to make them a little less idiotic.

Now I find myself kicking back at the airport awaiting my flight to Munich. The first change in my plans is underway. At one stage on the tour, Dan and Sarah suggested joining them in Krakow. So I am. Having watched 2 games of the RWC huddled around my laptop, scoring a pair of All Blacks shorty shorts, it seems us Kiwis better stick together. By a strange twist of fate, Sarah and Dan left the day earlier and Sarah dropped her necklace under her bed. Thanks to a quick message, I was able to find it and now can deliver it in person. Flight to Munich turns into a flight to Frankfurt, then onto Krakow. Should be cool. Then it's Amsterdam bound on the 29th, a catch up with Emma from the tour and then time to pay homage to the gods of Metal.

The rain has started to fall in St. Petersburg this morning. Luckily it has been a pretty good run, not too cold and clear sunny days. Looks like the Divine Canopy may be required once more. We only passed through a small patch of snow somewhere between Siberia and the Urals. Perhaps I will see it again?

Farewell Russia, I may miss your Birch trees eventually.

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Posted by kidd1200 22:16 Archived in Russia Comments (3)

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)

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