All entries for September 2005

September 26, 2005

Photos

I've put some photos up now, but as I did it by zip it's put it all in a random order!

Good luck trying to untangle them :-)


The Russian Experience (part 5 of 5)

Hiyas all,

Sorry this is a bit late, I really should done this when the trip was fresher in my mind but better late than never I guess!

Day 22 (part 2): In the evening we explored some of the back streets around our hostel and got dragged off to some backstreet illegal store where we bought some DVDs for a stupidly low price. While walking back to the hostel we (well, Tim) started talking to some local Chinese girls who were trying to practice their English. We went with them to a tea shop where we did the tea equivalent of wine tasting while teaching them words and phrases from "diaphragm" to "wet my whistle".

Day 23: Had an early morning to get the 1.5 hour bus to the summer palace, which we found behind construction signs in deep smog. Saying that though, I preferred it to the Forbidden City as it was a relief to be somewhere green for a change. We tried using chopsticks again for lunch, I think I'm getting better…

Day 24: Today was the Great Wall trip. We thought it would be a simple trip just to the wall and to see the Mao tombs but, in the standard Chinese way that we're getting used to a bit now, they tried to get some more money off us first by taking us to a jade factory (1/5th factory, 4/5s shop) and other similar tourist traps. The Mao tombs were very similar to the Forbidden city architecture we'd already seen everywhere else (I think I was getting a little cultured-out now) and so was a museum we were taken to. At the Great Wall we went to a touristy section with miss-treated bears and a roller-coaster to the top of the wall (yes, a roller-coaster!). The wall was very impressive, though apparently it isn't visible from space. I've got some good pictures of this (should be put up soon…).

In the evening we went out to the Night Market where they sell street food, and I tried both scorpions and curried frog! The scorpions were much nicer than the frog which almost made me ill on the spot…

Day 25: Our last day in Beijing! We explored the markets today, failing to find cheap iPods but buying chopsticks, pashmenas and some boxers and socks so we wouldn't have to do any washing! In the evening we got the train (1st class – it's cheap) to X'ian, watching movies on our personal flat-screen TVs.

Day 26: I just had a relaxing day as my stomach was not reacting well to the scorpions! Went on a quick walk in the afternoon, and found nothing interesting except for some more DVDs.

In the evening we all went to a local Chinese fast food joint where we talked politics to a Chinese academic before returning to the hostel bar and I played some drums with a guitarist who was there – worst drum kit I have ever played on but it was nice to do some playing for the first time in 3 months.

Day 27: Stomach is even worse now after that fast food place… Went on a tour organised by the hostel to the teracotta warriors, and in the same way as the great wall tour we were taken to lots of places to sell us tat. I ended up buying some mini warriors for 4¥ (about 30p) just to haggle it to less than Tim paid! The warriors themselves were quite impressive, but it was a bit disappointing just seeing them in a huge warehouse from so far away.

Day 28: We thought we were going to see some pandas today at a "Wildlife reserve". We actually went to a zoo where we saw some pandas in small cages, wasn't quite what we were expecting… It was time to leave X'ian too, so we went and got our overnight train to Nanjing, from which we were going to Shanghaï!

Day 29: The change was uneventful, and we arrived in the financial capital of China in the mid afternoon. After checking in to our very nice hostel ('Captain's hostel') we went on a walk down the Bund, the riverside old part of Shanghaï. The walk was nice, with old English and French architecture on one side of the river and modern skyscrapers on the other. We ended up trying to go a bit further than we could along the front and instead of stunning architecture found the sewage disposal system of the city…

On the way back we managed to find a nice restaurant right on the front for some very nice food (though I didn't have that much, stomach was dodgy again! Grrr to Chinese food!).

Day 30: Went on an explore of Shanghai today and saw an old market and the new shopping street. It was surprising to see quite how modernised the city was, it was one of the few places where you couldn't haggle in the shops. We moved in to our hotel in the evening (we decided we wanted to have one night in a hotel in China as it was quite cheap…) which was past some slums in the outskirts of the centre, walking past the "barbers" where women were offering "massages". We went for another very nice meal in a restaurant on a fly-over on top of a road. Tim had the hottest dish ever made.

Day 31: A very early morning (6am) to get our taxi to the Maglev train. The train itself went at well over 400kmph, a phenomenally fast speed, but it was surprisingly smooth. The flight to Milan left on time, we watched the rubbishy movies that were on (well, Tim liked them…), I had a pizza in Milan to make sure I've eaten the national dish of every country we've been in and then we flew home to England where I finally collapsed in bed after a 26 hour day, and a fantastic month-long holiday.

THE END

To anyone who's read all of this: I hope it wasn't too boring reading, and out of interest could you write a reply on my comments? I'm just interested so I won't tell you the stories many times in person later!

Back at uni so will see most of you soon,

Sam


September 10, 2005

The Russian Experience (part 4) – Into China!

Hello from smoggy China!

It's been quite a while since I last sent out an update, so I thought it would be time for me to send out yet another mammoth blog. I apologise for any discomfort felt for sitting reading for so long, or if it induces any suicidal tendencies.

Day 14: Arrival in Ulan-Uday, our last sight in Russia. We went to a Buddhist monastery here with an uncannily lifelike Buddha (the guards asked for its passport when it was imported from Mongolia) before going to a Ger (a tent thingy that locals live in) having a fantastic meal with lots of alcohol before having a go at archery: probably the wrong way round! In the evening we saw a giant Lenin head (biggest stone head in the world) before drinking some very cheap beer (46p a pint from a bar).

Day 15: Another monastery: very very touristy this time though with sky satellite dishes at every house and lots of overpriced souvenirs. I cursed myself for life by accidentally turning a prayer-wheel anticlockwise, so I made sure I turned every other many times in the right direction! Didn't do much else for the day except go for a quick wander and drink a couple more cheap beers.

Day 16: Train to Mongolia today. It took 9 hours to cross the border and at one point while Tim was taking a walk outside the train pulled off. Luckily it was just changing the number of carriages, otherwise he'd still be in Russia now! One note: never, ever, ever drink with nurses, the stories they tell you are extremely revealing and more than slightly disturbing!

Day 17: Arrived in Ulanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. After a quick tour of the city where we finally went to a good, working monastery with an absolutely ginormous Buddha statue, we went to a working Ger camp. Here me and Tim went for a long walk over the mountains, did a little more archery (I was better before after the drinks) and I wrestled Tim in the Mongolian style. I still have a bit of a black eye and Tim couldn't feel his back until we arrived in China!

Day 18: Another day at the Ger. We went horse riding, which I thought I was very good at until suddenly my horse bolted straight across everyone else's path. Very scary, and after that I had to be a lot more careful (was pulled for quite a bit of it while the horse calmed down). Later we tried mare's milk (disgusting) and went out to look at the stars (amazing!).

Day 19: Early in the day we returned to Ulanbaatar. If you're ever there, I'd recommend going to see the contortionists and throat singers: one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen. While in the capital of Mongolia we also visited an absolutely enormous market selling everything from circular saws to baths to every accessory you would need for your ger! We didn't buy anything in the end, though both Andy and Tim had people not very subtly try to pick-pocket them. In the evening we went with some of the others we've met on this trip for a few drinks at an Irish Bar. I'm still to go to a non-European bar this trip…

Day 20: On the train to Beijing: read my book most of the day as we weaved through the Mongolian desert. As it was the final evening we'd be with Bo and Tanya (the Aussie nurses); Ralph (pronounced Rayph) and Harry ('the Eton boys'); and Maryse (a cryptologist) we had a few drinks together to pass the time. It must be the first time I've ever crossed a border while completely drunk…

Day 21: Arrival in Beijing! We passed the Great Wall, weaving round and under it on our journey from Mongolia: we're going to see it properly on Monday. Beijing itself is quite nice even though we arrived to ticket touts and people trying to extort us. For example we got a taxi to the hostel, deciding to go for a metered one rather than the slightly more illegal ones that locals were trying to drag us to. When we got in the taxi though and set off, there was no meter and the driver took the taxi sign off the roof, we were hoping we weren't just going to be taken to a labour camp!

Later in the day after checking in to our horrid hostel we went on a wonder. Tim got chatted up by a local who took us to see her art gallery, and we all ended up spending quite a lot of money on very nice paintings. For dinner we went to a local fried duck restaurant and had exceedingly big and extremely nice portions of freshly beheaded duck. After a long day we retired to sleep, I was starting to feel slightly dodgy…

Day 22: I'm regretting last night's not-quite-so-fabulous meal today, and as a consequence have found myself visiting almost every toilet in the Forbidden City, including the one that has achieved that elusive 4* rating from Beijing's toilet committee! The city itself is quite interesting, but there is not that much to do there except see the same type of architecture many times, though I was probably just being less attentive than normal as my mind was more on where the next toilet was than if a temple was of the rising or setting sun…

Right, off for now then, I'm off to use the toilet!

Sam


September 01, 2005

The Russian Experience (part 3)

(The new one)

Hello again all,

It's been quite a while since the last e-mail due to not being near a computer for a very long time, so this one comes with a health warning: only read this when you have plenty of time and if you can be bothered to read quite so many pages.

Also, due to how long this took to write, I'm not going to have any time now to check it over, so I apologise if it makes no sense!

Day 7: On our second full day in Ekaterinburg we woke early, I had my cold shower, and we set off to the Ural Mountains back in Europe.

The drive was one of the most scary I have ever been on (though not quite as bad as having Tessa drive!): we spent half the time on the other side of the road dodging pot-holes that put mere holes in the ground to shame! We had to stop quite a few times as well to check that not all of the cooling water had leaked out, or so that our driver could get branches to hit his friends in Saunas with (we didn't ask…).

We arrived, and after a short stroll over bridges with "do not cross" on them we inflated some rafts and paddled down the river for a while. It was a very sunny day with a perfect blue sky, so this more than made up for the nastiness of Ekaterinburg itself!

At the end of the float down stream, we went on a short hike to some caves and down the "stairs of death". Actually, we just went down half of them as the other half had already collapsed into the depths of the cave. After another quick hike we had some sausages freshly cooked on the open fire and headed back to Ekaterinburg, braving the pot holes once again.

Our train was leaving the next day at 4 in the morning, so we decided to go out and have a few drinks instead of getting any sleep. Firstly we went to a Scottish Pub, with all the locals dancing to the Braveheart theme among other Scottish classics! It was definitely the hub for young people of the city. We moved on after a while to a German pub (we couldn't find any Russian ones…) where we drank more over-priced beer and Tim admitted his fetish for Bavarian Laderhosens!

We made it back to the hotel later that evening and headed over to the train station…

Day 8/9: (Hrm, I'm starting to realise this will get much too long if I don't hurry up… So here goes) 52 hours on the train, drank the cheap beer, met a Hawaiian environmental scientist, Tim's diarrhoea finished.

Day 10: We arrived in Irkutsk in the early morning and were whisked off to a little fishing village on the shores of Lake Baikal (the deepest and oldest lake in the world) for a home stay. The house we were in was absolutely amazing, even the outdoor toilet was brand new and didn't smell at all (very unusual for the ones in the area). We went for a tour of Bolshoe Golovestoy (the village, I think that was how it was spelt…) and relaxed the whole day in the glorious sunshine. Tim and I went for a quick dip in the lake (it's meant to add 25 years to your life) and found it even colder than the shower water in Ekaterinburg (which I thought was going to be impossible!).

In the evening a couple of Eton boys were staying, so we had a quick chat to them, ate their caviar and let them have a little of our vodka.

Day 11: The caviar was a bad idea for Tim it seemed, bringing on a resurgence of the diarrhoea, but he still came on the "relaxing stroll" we were promised. This ended up being a long hike, quite a lot of which was down the lake's beach jumping the waves or clambering on the sides of the cliff to stop getting soaked. It was a lot of fun though…

Halfway through the walk we had a home-made soup of home-caught fish. This was very nice, but I didn't quite know how to react to getting boiled water with a few potatoes and a huge hunk of fish in it. Tim didn't appreciate the toilet at the camp as well, it was what the outdoor toilets are like after a few years I think…

On the way home we bumped in to a Polish girl called Magda who could speak not only fluent Polish and English, but could speak Russian like a native as well. We ended up eating the nuts from pine cones and having a bit of a beer tasting night with her.

Day 12: Either the pine cone nuts or the dinner didn't react with me very well, so after a morning on the toilet I decided to not get too far away from the toilet and read books most of the day. I have been fasting since then (24 hours so far), as that's the best way to get rid of it from Tim's experience.

Day 13: Came back to Irkutsk ready for the train on to Ulan-Uday this evening, wrote this epic and we are then going on a quick potter to see the sights of the city.

Hrm, sorry about that, was a bit too long. Almost half-way through this holiday now, that's a strange thought….

Sam


The Russian Experience (part 2)

Hi again all,

I wrote this a little time ago, but the computer I did it on was so slow it wouldn't let me post it on my blog:

On our last morning in Moscow, we tried to see Lenin's sarcophogus but the queue was just too long, so we had to leave to go and get our train to cold, smelly Ekaterinburg.

The 30 hour journey to Asia was quite fun, we stopped off at various small stations on the way where there were always locals outside trying to sell us local goods from chandaliers to stuffed squirrels! We were in a four berth carriage, so to begin with we had a (very smelly) Russian with us until she left due to us not being able to communicate with her at all. Sleeping was OK: I don't think any of us slept straight through the night but just that kind of hazy collapse where you remember your dreams very well… I just dreamt about being on trains (I have no imagination it seems!) but I don't think I should repeat what Tim was dreaming about!

Now in Ekaterinburg we went out for the best food we could find in the area last night (congealed cheese and tomato pizza from the originally named "American Hot Pizza, Est 2004"). We all smelt a little after the journey, so tried to have a shower but found out we had no hot water. It turns out now that the boiler that heats the water for the entire city (all 1.5m people) is broken, and no one knows when it's going to be fixed. I was the only one to brave the cold shower this morning.

The city itself doesn't seem to have that much history, we had a guided tour this morning with two London-dwelling, Aussie nurses on the same route as us (Tanya and Bo) and I think I'd have found more of interest on a Southampton City Tour…

We're all having fun though, even Tim with his mild diarrhoea. Tomorrow we go hiking, and then have a 52 hour journey onwards to Irkutsk!

Hope you're well,

Sam


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