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Been there, Dan that!

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Sheffield, United Kingdom

12pm on a quiet Tuesday and we arrive at Sheffield station and little has changed, except there’s lots of building work... er, yeah like I say nothings changed. Arrive home and greeted by a plump looking old cat, go and collect the dog from Kennels, yes she's still alive defying all medical predictions, she looks kind of like a table though or maybe a zombie, I cant decide, zombie table it is!
Its great to be home actually I can finally put my bag down, the straps have begun to really dig in to my shoulders oh and draws now I have more than 3 t-shirts to choose from. Mind you a fair few seem to be fairly baggy!

Well its been pretty epic hasn't it and I really have enjoyed almost all of it, in fact the only hard times I had where all involved in getting visas especially during those 2 weeks in Thailand. I was expecting at least a months worth of depression and home sickness but once I got going it was honestly pretty easy. The travelling around was a fair bit simpler than I had imagined too and I didn't get sick until 'Stalins Mayonnaise' got hold of my guts.

If you have a bit of spare time I'd certainly recommend you get over there, I know that’s easy for me to say having no commitments here and all but seriously should you ever get the opportunity.

I suppose you'd like to know haw much I spent.
Well I was budgeting on around about £500 a month including stopping for at least 3 months and working. I managed this for the first 3 months and then obviously when I stopped and got payed all was going swimmingly. When I got to SE Asian though things where more expensive than I expected and the Russian 2 weeks alone cost about a grand so in the end I spent £5000 in 9 months, remember though I was only on the road for 6 and a half. So not the most frugal of travelers but then I did spend nearly £400 on the scuba and like I said the Russian bit was a bit of a drain. Don't regret a bit of it though despite the fact I am now penniless and relying on the fabulous interest rates at the bank of Mum and Dad.

Crikey I’m tired too this travelling malarkey really knackering... think I need a holiday!!!

permalink written by  Dan on December 2, 2008 from Sheffield, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Last Stop

Berlin, Germany

So the surprise was successful and no heart attacks occurred. We had a really good long weekend in Berlin, obviously there is a lot of history here and we discovered a good way of getting round was on a walking tour. The chaps who run them take you to all the important landmarks along with a few other lesser known spots. We did one on the 3rd Reich and saw all the important areas in the Nazi regime including Hitler’s bunker which is now a car park, was quite a weird feeling being there.
Saw a few Museums too including Checkpoint Charlie which was very interesting but a bit dated and swamped with information in contrast the Holocaust memorial museum positioned underneath an amazing memorial was really well thought out and beautifully presented.
As a complete contrast we also went to the Pergamum Museum which holds huge bits of ancient architecture that was moved to Berlin in the early 20th century. It includes the Ishtar gate which is part of the walls of Babylon from around 600BC.
The parents got one back on me on the surprise stakes on Saturday as Helen turned up after saying she wasn't going to be able to make it.
I have yet to mention the Christmas markets, they where lovely and much Gluwein was consumed.
Train back to England on the Tuesday was really lovely even had a sink in the cabin. The train from Berlin stopped at Brussels where we got the Eurostar to London then the train to Doncaster and a local train to Sheffield. Took about 16 hours to get across which is pretty quick.

permalink written by  Dan on November 30, 2008 from Berlin, Germany
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Berlin, Germany

As the Chinaman said whilst jumping out of a bush...
Im supposed to be in Poland, at least thats what the olds think but they are coming to meet me in Berlin tomorrow (on the overnight train as we speak) and I have sneakily got here early to scare the willys out of them at the station tomorrow and thoroughly ruin mothers itinerary. Mwahahaha!

permalink written by  Dan on November 26, 2008 from Berlin, Germany
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Quick stop in Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania

Having arrived in the afternoon from Riga, Vilnius oldtown got the once over from my camera. Seems a lovely place actually, very quiet in comparison with Latvia.
Most of the archetecture here is Roccoco (it said so on a sign) and there are lots of pink churches and cathedrals scattered amongst tall and slim cobbled streets, nice for the afternoon but really not a lot else to see so Im not sure I missed much by moving swiftly on. Though I would have liked to have gone to the genocide museum housed in the former KGB headquarters, after eventually finding the place I discovered it was closed on Mondays!!!

permalink written by  Dan on November 24, 2008 from Vilnius, Lithuania
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Riga, Latvia

Well not really just more snow than I've seen in a while.
Couch surfed again in Riga, found the chaps house just as he was heading out, he quickly showed me around and then gave me a key before disapearing off to a social function. 2 fellow surfers turned up a moment later. Went out in Riga that night the weather was chilly but clear. Woke up the following morning to a gale and snow drifts all over the place. Apparantly Tallinn all but closed down so its lucky I left when I did.
Like the plucky tourist I am I braved the gales and had a look around the old town. Lots of bars and even more casinos which is a bit odd, also a disturbingly large amount of British boozers, even seen stumbling out of clubs at lunchtime, no wonder we have a bad rep here.
Early bus to Vilnius the next morning, really need to get a hurry on now to get to Berlin in time to meet Mum and Dad.

permalink written by  Dan on November 23, 2008 from Riga, Latvia
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My first couch surf

Tallinn, Estonia

Arriving in Tallinn on the very cheap bus from Saint Petersburg I jumped in a cab and directed my driver to the address in my notebook. I arrived at a strange looking, empty wooden house. Somewhat worried by the fact I'd been directed to a seemingly empty house I hung around for 15 minutes in the hope that someone would turn up. Having just resorted to accosting someone in the street in an attempt to use there phone, two smiley faces appeared with arms full of shopping. I soon discovered they where Erko and Louise and they bussled me into the house, a lot less derelict looking on the inside, made us all some sandwiches and told me to choose a bed.

This was couch surfing a project I'd heard about a couple of months ago where you contact people in cities worldwide and simply ask if they have space for you on there couch or if your really lucky a spare mattress. Theres no money involved just generosity and a keenness to let travelers in to your house.

The house I've arrived it is somewhat unique though. A group of young Estonians are living here but are also running the downstairs area as a community house that all the locals can come and use for meetings, functions or just parties. Theres also a kitchen and Erko or Markus cook every evening and people drop in pay 2 Euros and join in with the meal. Its incredibly laid back and friendly.

I had intended on staying here for a couple of nights but the place is so great and I needed to recouperate after my illness (which I was miraculously cured from as soon as I left Russia)

Tallinn is also a beautiful town with a great Medievil gothic old town with chocolate box like cobbled streets which are great to stroll around, really not a whole lot else to do here though I've been helping round the house a bit (they are still fixing it up, they only got a shower last week... after 6 months)

Started snowing yesterday, theres about 6 inches fallen now, most I've seen in years!

permalink written by  Dan on November 21, 2008 from Tallinn, Estonia
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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This is Europe!!!

Saint Petersburg, Russia

What a beautiful place, massive European buildings lining wide roads huge palatial halls and immense churches and cathedrals. Yeah I like Saint P.

After arriving very early and still worse for ware I located my hostel and went to bed. Woke up at 3pm, sun went down around 4:30. I went to the church of Christ the Savior which was fantastic, the Interior in particular was far better than Saint Basils, it look extra atmospheric up lit in the night sky.
Was soon back in bed.
Next day I felt a lot better and walked up to the river and along to the Peter and Paul Fortress then to the famous Hermitage museum and spent the rest of the day in there taking my time over it huge collection of international art.
Last morning in Russia saw me arrive at the bus station an hour and a half early and get a bit weirded out by like of signage and other potential passengers to Tallinn. Eventually others started to appear and I was soon on the bus out of Russia. At the border crossing I had my passport scrutinised by the Russian border and was triple or even quadruple checked against my image. I wanted to remind the guy that I was leaving so he had nothing to worry about, but I kept quiet and smiled instead.
In comparison when reaching the Estonian side the guard there furiously checked all the Russian passport and demanded tickets and was about to do the same to me but then noticed it was a British passport and just smiled at me and moved on... God Bless the EU!

permalink written by  Dan on November 13, 2008 from Saint Petersburg, Russia
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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The great train journey continues!

Moscow, Russia

and ends I suppose though there are more trains to come I completed the trains Siberian in one fell swoop. 6oookms and 3 nights on my own in a couchette I actually went a bit stir crazy as literally nothing happened. Until day 2 that is when in my bordem I decided to have a shave and during a vigorous tapping of the shaving head on the sink it popped off (one of those replaceable ones) and fell down the drain and into the Siberian wastes! No I didn't have a replacement so I took the rest of the trip with a half shaved chin, a chin that hadn't been shaved for a month so had lots of skanky beard still remaining. Ah well, worse was to come.
In a desperate measure to eat something resembling veg (all the food available is bread, meats, cheeses and pot noodles) I bought a salad from a train station, Russian salads are always covered in mayonnaise. Woke up the next morning, the last morning feeling very odd and by the evening when I'd struggled to my hostel on the metro after failing to get the taxis to offer anything below 50us dollars for the 2 km trip from the train station! (i took the metro) i was in a real mess.
Only 2 nights in Moscow and the next day was spent in bed.
Forced myself up on the second day when a couple of British guys I'd met in Irkutsk showed up, checked out the Kremlin with them, along with Saint Basil. Also popped in on the Lenin Mausoleum, which was a bizarre experience, being shepherded through by incredibly stern Russian army types to see a dead body that looked as though it had begun to turn slightly dusty!
Was shattered after the mornings escapades and feeling sorry for myself I returned to the hostel to warm up and wait out my train to Saint Petersburg, an overnight hop of a mere 8 hours.

permalink written by  Dan on November 10, 2008 from Moscow, Russia
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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If you go nowhere else...

Khuzhir, Russia

I had been told about this place by everyone I'd met coming the other way from Russia. It was more than worth the hype too. I only wish I had a week to spare not 3 days
Olkhon Island is a fairly large place on the western edge of Baikal (the worlds biggest and deepest fresh water lake containing a fifth of the worlds fresh water and going to a depth of 6 kilometers, they reckon it will eventually halve Asia, not for a Millennium or 3 though!)
It has one major settlement, Khuzhir, and amongst it is a place called Nikitas Homestead a collection of eco lodges in which you can stay for 750 rubles a night full board. That is pretty cheap for Russia and the food is brilliant as long as you like your fish.

Once on the island there's a lot of it to see, including Shamanistic rocks (the local people the Buryas are the main inhabitants here and have been for centuries) lovely pine forest, beaches and huge clifftop coastline. Sadly you really need to hire a car or tour and have at least 3 days on the island to do all this and been as though the bus ride and ferry there take the best part of the day my 3 days spare really meant I was pushing it for time. So I spent the day the coldest I've ever been in my life but in one of the most stunning place. Honestly the pictures don't do it justice. Its so barren and incredible, the lake is also massive and blue (just like my eyes, haha) and I only saw the western edge where its about 10 km's wide the other side is 50 at least.

I don't really know what else to say about it so look at the pictures.

Oh... the Banya was excellent I think I'll build one that can also function as a wood fired pizza oven when I've got my own cottage on a cliff!

Waiting for Tatiana the tea lady, she's bringing my train tickets round bless her!

permalink written by  Dan on November 5, 2008 from Khuzhir, Russia
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Hyello Russia!

Irkutsk, Russia

After a slow train North, mainly because of the incredibly long winded border crossing/shunting operation that took approximately 8 hours, I have arrived in Russia.
Another comfortable train and fairly uneventful trip all the best sights where sadly missed as we passed lake Baikal in the night.
Irkutsk isn't just the grey city I expected it to be it has quite a few old wooden houses with ornate window frames and gutters scattered amongst the soviet style concrete apartment blocks.
Its expensive here but the food is good, particularly the salami style sausage, bread and Russian salads.
Weather not so great today, just hovering above zero so the snow that remains is fairly slushy and there's that fine rain in the air that really wets you through!

Strolled the streets this morning and went to collect my ticket to Moscow, slightly confusing apartment block the women lived in and after stumbling into a pet shop with an extremely large baboon I was directed upstairs where I had to enter number 11 apartment to get to number 12! After all that she doesn't have the ticket yet but she was a very jolly soul and we had tea and cakes whilst she assured me she'd have it by Friday.

Will go to Olkhon Island tomorrow to check out the western edge of Lake Baikal. Day long bus trip there and back but I've been assured by other travelers its well worth the effort.

permalink written by  Dan on November 3, 2008 from Irkutsk, Russia
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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