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a travel blog by Big_T




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Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


Hmmm... Have you ever seen a war-ravaged nation on TV? That's what this city looks like.

We went to the hostel, saw a massive Buddha statue in a monastery... Huge.

Then we walked to town, saw the Natural History Museum... Dinosaur Bones... Then we spent 30 minutes trying to change money. We are in an internet cafe, but about to leave to have dinner and beer... Tomorrow is the first day of the Trans-Siberian railway... Very excited about that...

Will post when I can. Can you guys comment, so I know if people are reading this??? Thanks
...

permalink written by  Big_T on August 28, 2008 from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Ulaanbaatar

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The Train Ride Ulaan Bataar to Irkutsk

Irkutsk, Russia


Thanks for your comments guys, I am glad that someone is reading this, and Stephen, the water was clean, but I did dry it a couple of times.

We went to the worlds worst supermarket to get supplies for the train ride. Luckily we did because there were to be no meals for 25 hours. They didn't put a dining car on the train. We didn't know this, so we walked up and down the train looking for it like a pair of idiots.

As we arrived in the train cabin we met our two travelling mates and settled in. One was a young man named Murat, a quiet 20 year old student on his way back to Saint Petersburg (6 days straight in the train) for university. The other man's name I can't remember, because I only called him Big Boss.

Russia has very high import duties on luxury items, e.g. Jeans, Denim Jackets, etc. Big Boss wanted to avoid having to pay those duties, so he brought box loads of these items on to the train and then during the ride, he distributed the jackets amongst the rooms and bags so that it looked like everyone on the train just happened to like denim. We were in the middle of an International smuggling ring... Fucking sweet!

They share Vodka with us, we meet his friend Olzod who used to be an Asian boxing champion and we watch him punch the shit out of any furniture he can find. We share Vodka with him, but it looks like he doesn't need any more.

We arrive at the Russian border at about midnight... The train slows... We are handed customs declaration forms, Big Boss sits there looking at his form and says something to Murat in Mongolian. We then wait, and as the Russian customs inspectors storm on in their boots and uniforms, Big Boss finds the head customs official and they chat, joke and laugh for about 20 minutes. Then our passports are taken away and inspected while we are asked to get out of the room, so walls and ceilings can be unscrewed so they can inspect inside them. They find something in Olzod's cabin next door, so Olzod comes into our room, talks to Big Boss, they get some money out to grease some palms and he leaves.

Altogether we are at the border for about 3 and a half hours. Although I am falling asleep once my stuff is finished. Adam can't as he needs the toilet but it is closed for 30 minutes before and after stations! hahahaha he had to wait!

Next thing I remember is waking up and we are in Russia. The countryside has changed from rolling hills and fields to thick forest. The train pulls in to the station at about 4 in the afternoon and we get to our hotel in Irkutsk, the Paris of Siberia...

Now comes the 3 day train ride! Will update a couple of days worth in Moscow!

permalink written by  Big_T on August 29, 2008 from Irkutsk, Russia
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Train and Smuggling

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Trans Siberian Irkutsk-Moscow

Moscow, Russia


77 hours on a train, and it all went smoother than clockwork...

We got on and spent an hour remarking how much better the train was than the Mongolia one had been... The "Baikal" is a gem amongst Trans-Siberian/Mongolian/Manchurian trains. Clean, spacious and comfortable are 3 good words to describe it... We got on and Natasha was getting her stuff ready with her daughter. The daughter disembarked before the train left and we ended up with 3 people out of 4 in the carriage but by the time we had woken up the next day a 4th member had been added... He didn't speak for 24 hours...

His name was Aleksei and lived somewhere near Moscow, that's all he said when Adam tried to engage him in a conversation.

We settled into a routine, we read, slept, ate, drank, visited the dining car, I watched a movie on the laptop (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, VERY GOOD!!!), and then all of a sudden 77 hours later we arrived...

We bumped into a couple of lads that we had met at the station in UlaanBataar, an English and a Hawaiian (Blonde haired and blue eyed, I didn't even ask him about Hawaii football as he didn't look genuine enough) lad... On the final night we had a few beers and a couple of shots of Vodka in true Russian style... They tasted like crap, but it was a great time...

We got off the train, Adam spent 25 minutes looking for the subway station, and it turned out that it was right next to where I was waiting for him... Oops!

We got to the apartment... Beautiful place, our landlady is a Russian lady that used to live in Sydney! Grouse chick, she really took care of us...

Went out to a bar (as it was Thursday night) called BB Kings, we sat next to where Faith No More had signed the wall, and all Canadians will be happy to know that BRIAN ADAMS ate at the same table as ME!

permalink written by  Big_T on September 4, 2008 from Moscow, Russia
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged TransSiberian, Moscow and BrianAdams

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Moscow Day 1

Moscow, Russia


As we got up early, we decided to walk the 20 minutes down to the Kremlin and Red Square. We noticed the same as yesterday, Moscow is a stunningly beautiful city... Some amazing architecture, stunningly beautiful old streets and laneways, but the customer service throughout Russia is abysmal, but boys, you all need to visit Russia!!! BOYS! You NEED to visit this place...

We get to The Entrance for the Kremlin at just about 12:15pm and it is open until 5:00 for visiting, but we ended up waiting until 2:30 for entry tickets... That Russian customer service again... We had to take the audi tour things and have them back by 4:00, so the 5 hours we had have become an hour and a half, but we had also bought tickets to the armory where the Faberge eggs and the Czars collections are kept. These tickets are also good till 4:00pm... You see our problem? We ended up seeing both for about 30 minutes a piece...

Dinner was at a Georgian restaurant... You know Georgia, that place Russia recently attacked? That place... The food was phenomenal! A kind of Russian Mediterranean blend that tasted very good. Adam had chicken, I had veal, and we were all happy! Adam has had some toe issues for a few days and today it was causing him some problems, so we had an early night, and I had a few beers in the house...

I have almost achieved my mini project. That is, drinking all 10 varieties of Baltika (a great Russian brew...) I have drunk the #3,4,5,6,7,8,9. I have seen a 0 but I am looking for the #1, and 2... If you can get it, #8 is the best! It's reminiscent of some quality Belgian brews...

Tomorrow morning we are off to see the embalmed corpse of Lenin and see the rest of Moscow... Then in the evening, the train to Helsinki and some non-communist countries!

permalink written by  Big_T on September 5, 2008 from Moscow, Russia
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Beer, Moscow, Baltika and GeorgianFood

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Moscow Day 2

Moscow, Russia


We showed up at the Red Square for the second day straight only to again see it closed up with heavy metal gates that reminded us of what the ter Iron Curtain meant. So no corpse viewing, this means that we missed out on seeing both corpses that we wanted to see (Mao Tse Tung in Beijing and Lenin in Moscow)... Very very disappointing...

So we sat down and discussed our options, and we decided that to try and get a sneak peak at the square from the back would be the best option, so we walked around until we found somewehere for lunch, ate and then continued walking around the square. Walked for about 2 hours and then went to a pub for 6.

Adam went easy on it because of his injury, I was uninjured so i didn't bother to go easy and we got to watch 3 games of soccer with almost no goals, but i didn't mind beacause I celebrated each 15 minute interval with a beer...

That evening at 10:50PM we boarded the train to Helsinki for a 15 hour train trip. A walk in the park after the last one...

permalink written by  Big_T on September 6, 2008 from Moscow, Russia
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Beer, Moscow and Helsinki

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Vegetable Lasagne

Helsinki, Finland


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGWqtwhS2KY

Finland... Land of excitement, thrills, etc. Adam brought a guidebook (Europe on a shoestring) with a short guide on each country in Europe. It even has Andorra in it... The France section is about 30 pages long, Finland, a page and a half.

The 4th attraction listed for Finland is a Cable Factory (admittedly it is now used as an art space, but you get the picture). The one attraction they had which sounded pretty cool was a former fortress island, it was used to defend Sweden, Russia and then Finland after independence from Sweden and Russia. We took the ferry out there and walked all around the place and had a pretty cool time looking at old cannons, battlements and exploring a series of underground pitch black tunnels which led to more underground pitch black tunnels. I tired of these after a while, but Adam seemd to get continually excited about them.

Walked around the island for 2½ to 3 hours and then headed back up to the city to get something to eat. Went for a beer in the pub first (bottle of Stella €5 thank you very much...) The other thing that interested me about Finland was the wacky stuff they eat. I had already eaten Reindeer for lunch and when we got to the restaurant for dinner I chose the Elk and Venison casserole... Absolutely lovely... Adam had Buffalo for lunch and Reindeer for dinner...

All in all, Helsinki is a beautiful old city, with great architecture but there wasn't heaps to do if you don't love saunas... Kind of like that Seinfeld character Vegetable Lasagne (who was Finnish by the way)...

permalink written by  Big_T on September 7, 2008 from Helsinki, Finland
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Beer, Helsinki, Reindeer and Elk

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The Boat across and Stockholm

Stockholm, Sweden


Mark, hope this one works better... It's appropriate for the Finland post only though

http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=jgTyVkpJY3g

After hitting up the internet cafe for the previous entry we walked down to the port and jumped on our accomodation for the next 15 hours or so i.e. the boat across to Sweden.

We got on on the 7th deck, even though we were staying in the cheapest possible rooms on the 2nd deck... The boat was massive, it went up to about 13 decks... We knew that we would be safe from the seasickness of the Osaka to Shanghai debacle...

We were, we stayed up and had a few bevvies, slept and were awoken by the captain telling us we were an hour and a half from port...

We arrived at the hostel which was a former prison after following the directions (well written, but they underestimated the walking time by about 300%)... Of course, as we had arrived in the morning, we couldn't check in yet, so we had to leave our bags and do sightseeing as we were...

We visited the main sights of Stockholm, much like Helsinki a beautiful old city, some really cool museums and old buildings... I got frostbite as it was about -140 degrees... We walked around until about 5:30 when we went back to the hostel to check in... Smallest room ever!

I guess as it was designed for prisoners, there wasn't much chance of a suite at the Park Hyatt, but it was a real 8'x3' job... The 2 of us slept in a bunk bed, at the end of it there was a locker and on the side there was a small table and 2 chairs...

We decided to forego the guidebook for our dinner location tonight and walked around and see what we could see and we found a restaurant/bar in this cool part of Stockholm... The food was good and the service was really cool... I have started to appreciate that much more since Moscow, where if you ask for help, it is like you set their Grandmother on fire...

Next morning was Adam's birthday, and we were going to do 2 things from my 1000 places to go before you die book. First, we got up and visited the Vasamuseet... A museum that houses the Vasa a gigantic warship from the 17th century that sank after 1 nautical mile... It is 95% intact and one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen...

After that we ate for lunch what the Swedes are famous for, Smörgåsbord! We headed about 10Km north of Stockholm to a lovely country inn that is famous for it's smörgåsbord... Even the King of Sweden has been known to eat there, and we know he has a diamond car with platinum wheels (subtle movie reference there)...

The food was awesome, and again we ate reindeer! The Finnish reindeer was better, but that was specifgically prepared and much more expensive... This was on a buffet table...

We left, headed to the port again for the ferry to Latvia... This time, the boat was pretty big, but a rain started just as we got on and this was not a great sign... I felt OK most of the trip but at about 11PM we were having a beer on the top deck and the constant up and down of the boat started getting to me...

Adam could notice I was getting a bit green in the gills and suggested we head back to the room... We did and within 30 minutes we had both passed out... We would have the birthday dinner at another time...


permalink written by  Big_T on September 9, 2008 from Stockholm, Sweden
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Boat, Museum, Birthday and Sweden

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Riga

Riga, Latvia


Get to Riga in the morning and the Hostel lets us check in early. The guy at the counter is very friendly and helpful... The room is very spacious indeed too...

We do the Riga walking tour, lots of 17th and 18th century buildings, most in quite good condition and then we arrived at the Occupation museum...

This is the place that explains the constant occupation of this country by foreign invaders from 1940-1991... USSR, Germany, and then USSR again... Pretty much had their way with this country and no-one did anything to help them... When the Germans came, the Latvian people thought that they had been liberated from the Soviets, until the Germans started exterminating people they didn't like... When the allies beat the Germans, the Latvians thought they would be independant again, until They were handed back to the Soviets and it took until 1991 to gain independance...

We left the Occupation museum in a cheerful mood and found a traditional Latvian place to have Adam's birthday dinner... Adam drank a local booze called Latvija Balzams... Looked, smelled and tasted hideous! (but a great treatment for Scruffula) He couldn't look straight after drinking it either, but he had a good time for his birthday dinner and that's all that mattered...

Slept and now we are awake, about to head to the bus station for our bus across to Lithuania... This will be the 4th country in 6 days, we are there for less than 24 hours before flying to Poland... Things start to slow down a little there...

permalink written by  Big_T on September 12, 2008 from Riga, Latvia
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Bus, Museum, Birthday and Balzams

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Transit only

Warsaw, Poland


Got off a flight, took the bus to the train station, bought some tickets and then rode the bus to krakow... from the window I was glad I had... Not a pretty city by any stretch of it, but that's mostly because it had the shit bombed out of it sometime in the late 1930s, you might have heard about it...

permalink written by  Big_T on September 13, 2008 from Warsaw, Poland
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Warsaw

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A sombre day

Krakow, Poland


Today we got our stuff together and went to a town called Oświęcim in Polish, or you might know it by it's German name, Auschwitz.

Wow... Not a great deal can be said about it... It is divided into 2 parts, Auschwitz and then about 3 kms away, there is Birkenau which was known as Auschwitz II...

Walking around the museum you see and hear and read about the stories of the 1-1.5 million people killed at that very place. They were often brought in under the illusion that they were going to find new riches in an Eastern country, and bought plots of land, and fake businesses from the Nazis. They were then loaded into trains to be taken to either work as slaves or to be killed...

Those who have visited can understand, those who haven't should. There is not a great deal more I can say...

permalink written by  Big_T on September 14, 2008 from Krakow, Poland
from the travel blog: Big_T's Travel Blog
tagged Auschwitz

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