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adamski752


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Adam's Leisurely Return Home
adamski752's Travel Blog

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The Baltics Pt II

Vilnius, Lithuania


The borders of countries are supposed to be imposing, threatening, dramatic, exciting. It was with grave disappointment that i watched the border between Latvia and Lithuania float past our coach. it was a road sign with a picture of the Lithuanian flag on it. nothing more, nothing less. the new europe has removed some of the thrill of traveling between nations. i have no stamp to say im here. what happens if there is an earthquake or monsoon or something?

I do wish i could write abit more about Lithuania but it was very mcuh the same as next door Latvia. a very nice old town with churches and the like. the people seemed friendlier but other than that, it was Latvia again. they did not have any Lithuanian balzam on the menu, only jaegermeister. not the same, im sure. i figure if i was traveling in the other direction, i would be saying the same thing about Riga

the hostel room we stayed in was grand. a large bedroom and a downtairs basement bedroom with heated flooring. very nice considering the cold and rain.

my one overwhelming thought of Lithuania was that despite being very nice, it didn't stand out. it was just good. but if good is as bad as it gets, then i'm still winning.

After only 16 hours in Lithuania we had to get to the airport and we were not ripped off by the taxi driver so i gave him a big tip. he probably thought i was an idiot who didnt know tipping etiquette. i was just glad it didnt cost us €400 to drive for 6 minutes.

we hopped onto our teeny little propeller plane for the dart over to Poland. The take off was thrilling...i love these little planes much more than the nasty, thundering 747s. i feel like a wright brother...maybe

permalink written by  adamski752 on September 12, 2008 from Vilnius, Lithuania
from the travel blog: Adam's Leisurely Return Home
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The Baltics Pt I

Riga, Latvia


Leaving sweden involved taking another jumbo-boat. this one, however was a little less glamourous: rusty windows and gruff staff. i got the feeling we were venturing back into the eastern bloc...we sailed through slighty rocky seas into riga into cold wet rainy weather. the theme for the rest of the trip, it seems...

Riga was an eye opener. (as everywhere has been so far, really). we stumbled out of the boat, got ripped off by a taxi driver (another recurring theme) and found our hostel. the hostel was in the regular aged part of town which was fairly regular. unlike sweden or finland, the buildings here werent so smart...but on finding the old town, it was a different case all together. intricate little houses/buildings, towering churches with spires, domes and the whole churchy thing. i didnt realize that it would be such a pretty place to be. got a stunning view of what could have been the whole country (small place, latvia) from the top of an open spire...-1 degree celcius for every metre the spire was tall...total minus 180 degrees celcius. this meant i made a swift departure inside and back down into the warm vestry.

for the rest of latvian sightseeing we glided around the old town looking at 16th centruy things and generally being pleased we had made a stop here. one point of note was the occupation museum highlighting how the latvians had been annexed 3 times in the last century. firstly by stalin, secondly by hitler and to add insult to injury, stalin did it agin after WWII. it now made sense that some of the people on the boat were a tad gruff. i would be too. it made me feel a bit proud that Latvia and lithuania were the 1st 2 countries to announce their independence from the USSR as soon as the opportunity arose. they had been shat on for approximately 70 years, so it was high time they had a ray of sunshine...

time for dinner so we dropped into a warm underground native food place, the name of which i cant even begin to remember. we tucked into traditional latvian dishes and also had a bit of lard...not even joking. the best part of the meal for me though was the drinking. i enjoyed a few cocktails before deciding to try the local drink, Latvian Balzams. a heady concoction of erm...stuff. it is supposed to cure what ails ya but i think it makes you go a bit funny. on the way home, tony stopped me from being hit by a tram. technically, i owe him my life. haha. it was a good drink that made everything turn a shade of orange and things moved quickly around you while you can only move slowly. i felt a little disoriented but in an absolutely good way. i recommend a swift guzzle of the balzams any day of the week. and if i hadnt been traveling for another 2 weeks afterwards, i would have got my self a bottle to enjoy in the comfort of my own home...next time i guess.

The next afternoon, it was out of the hostel, grab some pastries and onto a bus to travel about 34cm to Lithuania...it isnt far away.

permalink written by  adamski752 on September 11, 2008 from Riga, Latvia
from the travel blog: Adam's Leisurely Return Home
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The Swensks

Stockholm, Sweden


Our boat from finland is a behemoth. it contains streets casinos three thousand people 9 bars, 4 restaurants with the name captain or fisherman in them. a spa, an indian theme and a street...A STREET!!!!!!!!! The hugest vehicle ive been on. and fortunately beer only costs 5 euros a pint for nice beer. not bad...Ironically, with the boat being so big, our room/cabin is a mere rabbit hutch but without the outside view. its actually under the water. i hear dolphins, whale song and coral growing we are so deep. But thats enough of the boat...

So on arrival in sweden, i realise this holiday is not getting warmer. it is cold and it is windy and it is raining. not a good start. Unfortuantely for the rest of the time here, it is cold. no sun, fine rain and stiff winds. Rubbish.

my first impression is that sweden isnt as clean as finland. the residents seem edgier than the nerds from next door with grafitti on walls, fashionable hairstyles and dirty public transport. It felt a little like being in england. All things here are in swedish. maybe being an arrogant brit, i expected 100 percent english coverage just like finland, but these swedes are obviously content with just the one language. thats not to say they dont, should or cant use english. the homeless guy i bought a magazine from could even speak in english. How mad is that? bilingual homeless...what next? cant imagine.

Walking around the centre of town, you get a feeling of the country's rich history. old buildings that are well restored, a fascinating museum including ancient peoples bones and viking relics. fascinating stuff. honestly, it puts the trinkets and kimonos of japan in the shade by a long way. these displays highlighted a huge civilization that spread across england, america, northern europe. brilliant stuff to be able to see a replicated viking villages and graves. give me that over a calligraphy scroll anyday! the second day in stockholm included another museum, this time one of a sunken galleon that sunk 2 minutes after its maiden voyage started. Take that, titanic. 2 minutes! down to the bottom of the ocean for 350 years. it was then lovingly raised and restored somewhat by experts thus displaying this huge ship to the public...again highlighting how well off this country was back in the day.

For lunch (yup, we were up and away early today) we went to a world famous smorgasbord in some posh forest restaurant. a bit fo a disappointment cos they had one table of food. i was expecting a full-on assault of my eyes and taste-buds. The food was very nice, including more reindeer (hehe) but nothing to make me go "Ooooh", which is what i was expecting. But still, despite the cold, another impressive country that I have flown thrown. (figuratively, not literally). Now its on to yet another mammoth boat to sail across the baltic sea for 30 hours in Latvia. A country i know nothing about.

permalink written by  adamski752 on September 9, 2008 from Stockholm, Sweden
from the travel blog: Adam's Leisurely Return Home
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The Finns

Helsinki, Finland


We take the last of our epic train journeys, this time into Finland, home of erm...Finnish people and erm...Finlandia Vodka oh and santa. This journey for me was somewhat arduous cos i couldnt get much sleep...

Fortunately, we arent going to santa's wonderland to pretend to be enthralled by his magic. We are staying in the capital city...the hustle and bustle of this northern capital. by hustle and bustle i actually mean quiet and decorum. A very neat. organized place to be. They had good coffee shops (jaw droppingly expensive), interesting restaurants (jaw droppingly expensive) and nothing open ater 5pm (jaw droppingly old fashioned). We had dinner in one of our new guidebooks recommended haunts. We are onto a new guide book now so the occasionally suspect choices of the previous book have been replaced with sure fire hits from the new europe on a shoestring book. We decided after eating regular food for so long it was time to splash out a bit. I had reindeer meatballs and Veal meatloaf in a lambs blood sauce. (actually no lambs blood sauce but it sounds more interesting) and tony had elk stew with wild boar kidneys or something. The reindeer tasted really good, very meaty and satisfying. i felt a little sorry for eating one of santa's mates, but in the end i couldn't stop devouring rudolph.

We visited an island called Seaborg bout 20 minutes over the sea. it used to be a fort. the aim of which is to protect helsinki from invaders. I found it comically ironic that this fort had been destroyed, blown up, captured at least 10 times since it's inception 160 years ago. thats good protecting...ha. This island offered up lots of darkened tunnels and passageways under the ground and massive rusty cannons. I wanted to straddle one (cannon, not passageway) and sing "If i could turn back time" by cher but thought it might be too graphic. i did enjoy hobbling around taking pics of anything and everything. and i had the distinct pleasure of listing to a belgian 15 year old talk about her boyfriend to her pals incessently as she walked behind us. i got the feeling she had a boyfriend...

As for other events in the capital of finalnd, there are none. This is due to the fact that we were only there about 30 hours. just enough time to realize it was very cold now. the hot weather seemingly behind us. Surely Finland will be the coldest of stops...

We hop onto our boat to head over the sea to Sweden. This boat was huge. And by huge , i mean huge. from the statistics, it was 4 times bigger than our boat to Shanghai. This hopefully means that it won't be tossed around like a paper cup in the event of a storm. I say goodbye to Helsinki by playing playstation3 games on the special playstation 3 zone. Like i said, this boat was huge. It even had a street inside it...a street!!!!

permalink written by  adamski752 on September 7, 2008 from Helsinki, Finland
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The Reds

Moscow, Russia


Right, Moscow. What's in store? i'd been prepared for nasty service and misery by the first night in Irkutsk. I wasn't expecting any help from anyone either, in any way shape or form. But i have to stop having these pre-conceived ideas cos, with the odd exception (see the end of this post), most people were pleasant, friendly and nice to us. We met our first native when we had to go to our apartment. a nice lady called julia showed us to our nice digs for the next 2 nights. The train from moscow leaves at 2250 so we figured we had that extra day without the expense of another night in the apartment. Cable TV, a nice-ish shower, great location and near a 24 hour convenience store selling a large variety of baltikas to boost our collection. we managed to find 3,4,6,9 and 0 here. We never actually found 1 or 2...maybe they are mythical and never really existed. who can say.

Now, after going for dinner at a really good blues club, where we paid about 1500 yen (8 pounds) to hear someone not famous sing two songs, we returned to the flat for a few goodnight beers. that night, i did not sleep well. I had tony snoring to keep me busy but also a mysterious throbbing pain in my big toe. Didnt get much sleep and i could barely walk when i tried standing up. Not good for a day of walking and sightseeing, really. I did the british thing and tried to ignore it as much i could. I had already diagnosed myelf with gout.

We went to red square. it was closed. st basils cathedral is in red square so that put paid to visiting that famous sight. i did manage to zoom my camera through the iron fence and get a shot that looks like i was quite near the cathedral. i was somewhat crushed though that i couldnt get into see the thing close up. as a great substitute we went to the kremlin instead...well, actully we stood in line to buy tickets for the kremlin for 120 minutes. the slowest queue in the history of queues. Maybe the chinese have it right. dont bother lining up, just barge to the front while shouting over your shoulder at your friend who is right behind you so when anyone objects, their voice doesnt register. Anyway, 3 weeks later, i stumble out of the ticket office, blinking in the sunlight and ready to look at erm...whatever is inside the kremlin. Turns out it's full of churches. Archtecturally beautiful churches that house the graves of dead tsars. Pretty cool in general. we even had the added bonus of seeing a quartet of orthodox catholics sing an acapella hymn in the hall. It sounded very religious and nice, with the acoustics bouncing the note perfect vocals around the place. Due to having spent 100 years in the ticket office, we had to whizz out of the kremlin after about 40 minutes because we had tickets to see the royal treasury. I'm not a historian (among many many things) but i know that russia has a long tsarist history with lots of opulence to counterbalance the oppression of its more recent escapades. It didn't disappoint as we walked (hobbled) through rooms full of diamond bible covers, fresco-ed carriages, solid gold plates as big as my body and bejewelled eggs (that might be the one and only time i get to use the word bejewelled...i can now tick it off my to-do list). Officially, russia had a golden age and they kept the best stuff so they could make us wait a millenium to buy tickets to see them. Beautiful stuff. By now, the orthodox vocalists were not the only thing singing. my big toe was singing up a storm. wow...must grin and bare it of course, old chap.

But by the time dinner came around, tony's stories were drowned out by the sharks teeth that were biting at my foot. But my pain isn't really a factor in this story...We ate in this recommended georgian restaurant. The former soviet republic that is. we didnt have grits and lard from Georgia USA. really good food. I had a meal that i had been looking forward to after reading about Tabaka in a book by a japanese woman with lots of russian experience called Mari Yonehara. I even brought myself to eat the meat from the bone. Very delicious. I have decided that i can eat chicken from the bone as long as i can use my fingers to do so. (another thing on my to-do list done, eat chicken from the bone)

The nect morning, I woke up with similar pains in my foot. we stumbled to red squere with our fingers crossed...CLOSED...i couldnt see e\lenins mausokeum either. so we had some lunch, then went to a pub to watch football. This we did this after trying hard to find baltika 1 and 2 in a posh department store which sold bottles of vodka that cost about 800 pounds. they didnt have our desired purchases though so we left vowing never to go there again. We watched 3 football games. torrid, dull games wth 1 goal in 270 minutes. Living it up in moscow. I drank water, just in case i had gout. yep, living it up in moscow....

Our final job was to get to Moscow Leningradsky station to get our overnight FIRST CLASS train to Helsinki, Finland. leaving russia in style. My final experience in moscow was a large woman shouting at me because she got me the wrong thing from the shelf and i asked to get the right thing. i asked for a BIG bottle of water in russian. Miserable cow had to drag her sorry carcass about 4 inches back to the shelf to get my big bottle of water. She acted like i'd punched her in the boob. not a nice woman so i decided to piss her off even more by asking for a snickers. i could see there were 2 sizes. "Big or small" she demanded in russian. "sorry, i dont understand" i replied, despite using the word for big in my previous request. "big or small?" she barked "sorry i dont undertsand" i calmly replied with my eyes sparkling. this continued back and forth until i thought she was going to start bleeding from the ears. i climbed on my train a happy man, knowing that i had made that angry woman even angrier. How dare she shout at me, a paying customer, for her mistake. tee hee

Next stop Finlandia. Dasvidania Moscow


permalink written by  adamski752 on September 6, 2008 from Moscow, Russia
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The Trans-Siberian

Irkutsk, Russia


Here we go...the time has come for the journey this whole trip is based around. a massive 77 hour marathon on the same train. 3 nights on a train in the same cabin. I didn't really know how this was going to be. would it be boring as hell, or fun and games. I reality it was neither. it was very relaxing, carefree, comfortable and pleasant but without any real thrills and spills. Drinking some vodka and eating frozen omul (see previous post) don't relly constitute thrills at all but they could be seen as the highlights of this trip.

It was a fascinating journey though. We shared our cabin with a very nice russian lady who spoke no english and so i had to use my rubbish russian and a cheap dictionary to communicate. Embarrassingly for me, i forgot every new word and had to keep referring back to the dictionary. Natashia was very patient and humoured me as i butchered her language in front of her! poor woman was probably glad when i gave up, exhausted, after about 90 minutes. The other guy in our cabin, a tall pasty guy called alexei didn't say boo to a goose for the entire trip until the last day when i asked him where he was going. He gave me the cursory answer then carried on looking at the trees outside as they blurred past. i plugged on by asking his name and then I figured that he wasnt in the mood for chatting with a clearly poor speaker of his language. can't blame him really. if an eskimo tried talking to me with no actual language ability, i would get pretty fed up pretty quickly and most probably walk away with no warning.

As for the scenery, the whole of the 3 days were filled with trees. trees, trees trees. The guidebook tried to spice it up a little by explaining about the differences in the bark of the trees the further west you get, but. not being a tree surgeon or botanist, i failed to see the difference or excitement. Thats not to say it wasn't nice to look at. it was camlingly pleasant. but unfortunately trees don't look so great in photos taken from dirty windows. I gave up trying after about 18 hours of happily snapping and then disappointingly erasing the latest dull pic of 6 more blurry green trees with slightly different bark to the last trees i snapped and erased.

The second morning, i think, started quite nicely with some eerie fog shrouding the whole area. again, it looked cool visually but the photos failed to capture the mood adequately and were again erased with a frustated release of breath. Still, of all the sights i couldnt take good pictures of, at least i have the memories for the time being of how nice and relaxing the thousands upon thousands of miles of trees were. For the entire 77 hour journey, that was about all i did: look at trees, take some pics, erase some pics, drink some beers and sleep. on average i think i got about 12 hours of sleep throughout each day. I read approximately 50 pages of my 1200 page biography of London. Still have to carry the weighty tome around though, just in case i get bored...Not likely though, cos one thing this long train ride wasn't was boring. quite amazing really when you consider it. imagine the prospect of spending 3 full days sitting in your house with only 1 book for company.

The end of journey provided the biggest thrill as we gradually and finally pulled into Moscow Station. I expected people welcoming us with white hankerchieves and russian flags to wrap around our shoulders like after the london marathon. Instead we were met by apathetic smokers, "Velcome to rashya, komrad" i wanted to hear. Not likely, mate...I guess russians are all part of generation x or y, whatever, y'know...

but here i am at last...moscow. biggest city in europe, home of communism, vodka. fur hats and cold weather.

permalink written by  adamski752 on September 1, 2008 from Irkutsk, Russia
from the travel blog: Adam's Leisurely Return Home
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The Trans-Mongolian erm...smugglers

Irkutsk, Russia


With a happy heart and a Spring in my step i got onto the first of the big famous trains that was gonna get me to moscow. I was still shellshocked from the Ulan Batar situation so i was a bit skeptical about this train ride. I would love, at this point, to say that from here on, it got smoother and easier. Unfortunately i can't cos in all my life i have never been on a madder train ride in my life and that even includes the train rides where i was threatened by the romanian mafia and had to share a bunk with a family of nomadic gypsies...anyway, i digress.

So it turns out that the train between UB and Irkutsk in Russia is a focal point for smugglers. Now, i must be naive cos i thought smugglers all were scarred villains wearing only black and smoking cigarillos in the shade. these smugglers that were on out train and in our carriage were cheerful, merry vodka swilling lads. I would call them rogues at best but seeing as how they were smuggling, i guess they must be referred to as smugglers. And boy did they live up to their reputation. a strange mix of items needed desperately to shipped to Russia. these included rolls of yellow tape, thousands of yak hair body warmers and some unfashionable jeans. these were things i saw (and i guess i helped smuggle 2 pairs of unfashionable jeans across the border as they were hidden in my bag at the crossing...Am i a smuggler too?!).

The train was full of smugglers smuggling. i think except tony, me and our roommate, there were no other non-smugglers aboard. oh wait, there was a frenchman and a german but that was it! Everyone was in on it. the train attendants were taking their share, the customs guys were getting their moneys worth too. On arrival at the border the flock of stern (and i mean STERN, nazi like women in the biggest official looking hats in the world. "jor passport" "ah joo ahdam vudd? stand ap now" i was waiting for them to strip me then douse me in flea powder but they didn't) checked absolutely evrey cm of the carriage. even un screwing the rooves and stuff. we had to wait about 6 hours before we finally got into russia. this was after our smuggler in our room produced about a million dollars in russian money from his underpants and paid the guards to move on. of all the people in the world i wouldnt try to bribe it was those guys. He was a braver man than i. but thats not hard. His friend did get into a spot of trouble though. Olzod was a former contender for asian boxing champion and he enjoyed punching. he was also busted with some unclaimed machine part in his room. could have been from a nuclear weapon or something but judging by mongolian technology it was probably a washing machine mangle valve or a biplane propeller part...who knows, but he got shouted at like a highschool kid. didnt help that he was as pissed as a fart and tried to hug the official. maybe he got the chance to slide $100 into her bra strap cos he didnt get flung off the train. hehe.

Anway, after customs it was smooth sailing. One other exciting element of the customs thing was that despite it being illegal, the smuggling guys in our cabin were drinking vodka. And to make my story more exciting, i should add that we were drinking their vodka too. bloody great cupfulls. nice cheap rotten stuff. i enjoyed it immensely but tony seemed a bit green around the gills after the first liter. But he drank more of the alcoholic fermented horses milk than i did so i guess we are all square.

so my next post will be from irkutsk inside the soviet union...

permalink written by  adamski752 on August 30, 2008 from Irkutsk, Russia
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The Soviet Union

Irkutsk, Russia


Finally, i have arrived in russia. the point of the whole trip was to travel on a train through russia. And Irkutsk is my first port of call. I was not impressed when i got off the train. a bland station with pissy corridors and scowling locals. At least mongolians smiled when they weren't being knocked down or covered in soot. But once we got off the 1950's tram and started walking in the pleasant warm air of the town, things picked up. It was, to use a weak adjective, chraming. Nicely painted buildings, a beautiful river near the hotel and an english speaking girl at the reception. sweet...things were looking up. we also managed to buy our tickets from moscow to helsinki here. Another frinedly lady helped here. I complimented her english and i thought she was gonna have a mild heart attack. im guessing she hadnt been complimented very often. She even became my best friend. when i went back into the office cos i'd forgotten my sunglasses, she cut off the poeple she was talking to with a stern wave of the hand, like a jedi. they silenced, i felt loved.

the room was a shoddy box with intermittent cable but at least it had hot showers, toilet paper, no smugglers and wasnt in a dangerous part of town. I showered in hot, nice water for the first time in 3 days, or to sound more dramatic, 3 countries. Sounds very pretentious but i hadnt showered since china. It was great to get the scrud of mongolia from under my fingernails and out of my nostrils.

ON walking around the city i realized that this wasn't some soviet deathcamp relic but actually a nice, functioning town with young couples snogging on the streets and techno music come out of car windows. again my expectations had been dashed. So far so charming...then we went to somewhere to eat/get a beer. the beer was fine and the cafe was pretty but the beautiful staff member was as cold as her home town in winter. with a arrogant glimmer in her eye she quickly said in russian "we dont have an english menu". Now, i am a resounding low level russian speaker but after a handful of lessons i knew the words she said. so i said in english, oh no problem and watched her angrily catwalk away to her station to get our russian menus. i can read the cyrillic so i know how to read beer in russian, luckily. cos otherwise i would have looked like a right tool if i couldnt understand anything...we ordered 2 beers then ran away to our next restaurant. This place, described in the guide book as a friendly, crowded bar was anything but. the woman here made the last staff seem like a long lost friend. If memory serves me right, she threw the menu at us and shouted NO ENGLISH in russian then turned around to continue wasting her time putting make=up on her sour face. we ordered 4 beers and ran away. the second round of beers was to just piss her off more and make her do something she didnt wanna do. hehehe. On leaving i made a distinct point of saying thank you until she had to stop putting on mascara and acknowledge me. i got a sense of satisfaction when her her friend laughed at her...

Finally we had dinner in a traditional russian english pub with traditional danish beers. haha, we love the traditional places.

The next day we ate superoverpriced pancakes for breakfats that took 1 hour to make (?) and set off to visit lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. its as long as Britain! massive. and very very clear. we took a pre-war bus from the pre-war bus station that smelled like a thousand peoples urine and arrived at the lake 90 minutes later and had to buy tickets back immediately cos the last bus back was about 600 and we arrived at 4! we stuck our extremities in the cold cold water to ensure that we get an extra 5 years of life (thats the myth they try to convince you of at this place in order to make you visit) and then we went and ate the indiginous fish of the lake the mysterious "omul". dont know what it is in english...tasted like fish though and a surprisingly nice one at that. here we recieved equally cold, slow service as in the second place the night before but it was here that we hatched a plan to try and drink each of the famous russian beer baltika which comes in 10 varieties numbered 0 to 10. at this lakeside cafe we had 3, 6 and 7. only 7 more to go.

Back to Irkutsk for dinner. we went to a new place near the football stadium. The staff were very friendly and gave us an english menu despite not speaking english themselves (I think). our spirits were raised. Irkutsk was a nice place after all. the weather was pleasant and so was the beer. i think we had a number 5 baltika here. 6 more to go.

The next day we got the train to moscow. this was to be the big one. 77 hours in one compartment. 5800km. what are we in for?

permalink written by  adamski752 on August 30, 2008 from Irkutsk, Russia
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The Fury and the Filth

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


So we have arrived in Mongolia. Well, the airport is less than 5 star. I wwould say a 2 at best. a grey concrete bunker of nothingness welcoming us into the country. it was a precursor of what was to come. should not have been surprised when the airport was such a dump.

Basically, within moments of arriving in the city we are ripped off by some weasel little shit bag taxi driver who doctors the taxi to charge us a bunch of money. we arrive at our hostel at about 430am and lo and behold the welcome party is asleep so we are stuck in what seems like a desolate wasteland/warzone in the wee hours with nothing to do. "guethouse $7" i hear from my knees. turns out the rat-man taxi driver is offering us a place to stay for the evening for a nice price of $7. OK...heres our money we say and get ourselves back into his 1974 vintage automobile. strap on our goggles and we are off into the night of Ulaan Bataar to continue our journey. we meet some rough woman at her front door in a bombshelter and we lay down for the night (well 4 hours cos rat man is coming back at 930). Wake up ready to get the hell out of this place. On using the kind ladies (sarcastic)bathroom, i notice last years fecal matter on the wall, a used tampon under the toilet, some pubes on the door handle and cigarette butts shoved into the cracks in the tiles and into the wall itself. Phew, it only cost $7 i naively think. OH NO, lady wants another $10. The taxi driver has now forgotten every word of english he used last night and looks bemused as the banshee lady screams her straggly hair off about us robbing her. We give her our last $9 to keep the peace but she demands the final $1. So for $1 that we don't have thus can't give her she threatened to call the police. Now, i almost never laugh before 10am but according to tony i laughed right into her very face. I didnt realize it was that blatent but my mind was racing with what the frig we could do to not be thrown in prison for stealing 1 of her dollars. It was a bit like victorian england where you were hung for stealing an apple...and from what i had observed, victorian era england was streets ahead of Mongolia. so i guesss laughing in her face was a nervous reaction IN the end though, the situation resolved itself after she flung a used tissue at the wall and made the rat driver pay her the full $10 fee. I'm glad the man had to part with our cash cos the other 40 bucks he got from us was gonna feed him for a month and a half at least.

So we get rid of the driver and his mentalist girlfriend and get to our equally unglamorous hostel. This is to be then whizzed off into the countryside to stay in a mongolian tent for the night. A marvelous time was had by me, just mucking around in the countryside. not being much off a nature lover i thought i would be bored but it was a nice treat to be out of the city already and just relaxing without other people. so we passed a real relaxing day in the tent. tony woke up for meals and i just read and climbed some hills and took actually quite boring pics of the scenery. At night though, i had a nice surprise being able to see stars properly. and again im not one for gazing at the sky and wondering all this stuff about the universe and how we are all part of some cosmic whatever, but the sky was alive with little silver flashes (in case you dont know what stars look like...) and i was, in a word, floored by how beautiful it looked. Stunning...

Next day we took our dangerously old minivan back into to the city.

Being from west yorkshire is preparation for the less than glamourous but i was (for the 2nd time in a day) flooored. This time in a bad way. Ulan Bator is not nice. A filthy hole not unlike chechnya or probably georgia now. full of noise, dirt, noise, shit, and noise. The only nice area turned out to be the central square with the government buildings. so the government have sorted themselves out while the rest of the country languishes in destitution. It kinda made me realize that the dump of a city is not the residents fault but the people who are allegedly responsiblee for them that are letting them down. this started to soften me to the city. Tony and I wandered around for the day, trying to find things in the guidebook that no longer existed, eating traditional mongolian thai food and drinking traditional mongolian german beer. To say we immersed ourselves in Ulan Bator culture would be a bare faced lie. Wasnt a pleasant place, to be honest. and it was with a happy heart that i got on the train to get hell out of there to move into russia...

coming soon, the trans mongolian express...

Hope someone is readin this cos otherwise its a right waste of my time! ha...maybe im talking to myself now...

permalink written by  adamski752 on August 29, 2008 from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
from the travel blog: Adam's Leisurely Return Home
tagged MongolianCountryside

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The First Train and Beijing

Beijing, China


So after Shanghai we had to get our asses on the first train. I wish, really that i had something more interesting to report on this other than we met a nice chinese guy called Da-min who spoke lots of english and talked about getting rich. he was a nice guy which helps me to change my preconception that china was gonna be a rough country to stay in. The only incident on the train was a man with a bag of peaches tried to steal tony's bunk but to make a full story out of it would be too hard and probably all lies cos it wasnt that dramatic...Wait until we leave Ulan Batar if you want train drama...

So we arrived at the crack of dawn in beijing into a busy station with a taxi queue about 3 miles long. not the most promising way to start. we were also wary of being ripped off by the drivers. As it turned out, the line lasted about 5 mins and the taxi cost about $3. so much for my negative impression.

After checking into the hotel real early we got a taxi to the GreatWall. Couldnt believe it. i was on my way to the great wall of china. Holy cow, thats a big place to visit. up there with, i don't know, Antarctica, Ayers rock and other really famous but distant spots. Its right in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by big hills and mountains covered in deep forest. the distant areas were covered in mist so it looked all mystical (no pun intended at all, its just the best word i could think of.) I got the chance to walk where thousand of soldiers had fought the mongols about 700 years ago. quite an impressive feeling. I did not see one single wild panda though. so i asked for my money back...(i didnt really)

Looking around the forbidden city and tianenmon square was great. people coming up to me and wanting their photo taken with me. i felt a bit special, but its hard to smile when you are sweating non stop. My goal was to get a photo taken standing next to a soldier but wasnt sure if they were a tourist attraction like the big hatted coldstream guards of London and i didn't wanna get myself slung in a chinese jail. i saw season 6 of 24 and jack bauer did not seem to enjoy it and he is much tougher than me...

The forbidden city was awesome. Absolutely massive. Kinda makes you realize that USA,UK etc isnt /wasnt the center of the universe after all. I think the entire forbidden city was bigger than London was when it was built. and it was all just for one guy. lucky bastard. we all have 50m2 apartments in Tokyo and he gets an entire city. Guess it pays to be an emperor. I need to get me an empire...In due course, im gonna put my photos of the city up so you can see what im talking about.

all in all Beijing sightseeing was great. As for the food it was a mixed bag. On the train the noodles tasted like glue and the soup was maybe washing up water. the staff wanted us to leave so they could talk about whatever it was they were chirruping on about. Also got a spicy dish full of chicken bones. I aint a fan of eating the bones of dead animals. dont know why, just makes me feel kinda sick. BUT did eat a full duck. A chef came and cut the head off, sliced the meat, offered us the brains. When i upload the photos i will add a picture of the ducks head.

So, we had to then get out of Beijing to go to Mongolia. I was expecting to be put on a soviet era rust-box plane with holes in the windows and goats roaming the aisles. Then the storms started outside. Uh-oh were my exact words in my head. sometimes loudly sometimes quietly and sometimes i was so tired that i didnt care if the plane was lightning bolted out of the sky. But cos of the storm the plane was delayed for about 4 hours. 4 long boring hours. Its interesting how 13 hours on a train is fun but waiting for a quarter of that time in an airport is immensly rubbish. Especially when you have to watch some posh bint trying on fur coats and stuff brought to her by servants.

So next stop Ulan Bator as the plane finally takes off. It wasnt a dangerous airplane at all, in fact. It was kinda nice albeit i had no space at all and my face was crushed aginst the seat of the woman reclining in front. She had a tiny baby and i didnt have the heart to tell her that i would need reconstructive surgery if she didnt lean forwards soon...luckily it only costs a couple of pennies to get plastic surgery done by some quack in Mongolia so all is well again. Should have got a tummy tuck though..


permalink written by  adamski752 on August 25, 2008 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Adam's Leisurely Return Home
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