Monday, 17 July 2006

Sweden to Mongolia via Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia.

Well well well, quite a lot has happened since Gothenburg. I've reached Siberia and find myself 8 time zones ahead of the UK. I think this is the furthest I've been from home. England got knocked out of the World cup on penalties again! I joined my tour group in St Petersburg just in the nick of time.



I caught a bus from Gothenburg to Malmo and onto Karlshamn in Southern Sweden. I arrived with no map (or idea) in a thunder storm. I thought sod-pitching-the-tent-in-this and luckily found a hostel which had space. After a stroll around this small town I grabbed a kebab and an early night after some crack in the hostel with the usual international company.

The next day I walked 6km to the ferry terminal where I booked the 1800 Ferry to Klaipeda, Lithuania. The ferry was great. I got hammered with a bunch of Lithuanian truck drivers (one of whom lost an ankle fighting for the Ruskies in Afghanistan), the most drunken Swedish businessman ever and a Nun who ran an orphanage! I didn't go to my 'bed-chair' thing until 0400 after watching a brief sunset and sunrise over the Baltic sea.

In Klaipeda I had a beer with a tramp who could speak five languages. I decided to move on quickly and jumped a bus to Leipaja on the Latvian coast where I spent two nights. 1Lat equals £1 to make life easy! Locals somehow knew I was foreign before I even spoke - it must have been my clothes??

Next a bus to Riga, the Latvian capital. What a place! What women! This was where I watched England's exit from the World Cup. Gutted! I was the only Englishman in the Hostel. I spent a couple of days exploring this gorgeous city with a lad from Kilkenny - canny crack!

Onward to Tallin, Estonia where I teamed up with two lads from Melbourne who'd been working in London for the last two years. Tallin is beautiful - the old town is great. I swam in the Baltic Sea which despite the name seemed warmer than the North Sea. The Aussies were permanently drunk. Kath, a Brummie lass gave me an empty journal once she'd heard my travel plans.

Onto St Petersburg. At the border a Russian soldier shouted at me for not being able to read Russian. I then had problems negotiating the metro system - nowt in Angleeski man! The metro system is the world's deepest - you're on the escalators for ages. Additionally, the underground stations are ornate works of arts and worth a visit themselves.

I eventually found my hotel after some help from the only English speaker in this city. He was a crazily dressed rock star geezer who regularly does gigs in Helsinki. He gave me a DVD but it's still in my backpack until I come across a player. I'm curious to hear his music given his bizarre appearance. I was lucky to meet him because every other Russian is a miserable unhelpful twat! He walked me to the hotel where I bought him a beer as a thank you.

This is where I met the other 11 people on my tour group for the next 21 days to Beijing. There is a good mix of ages and characters. I was teamed up with a 23 year old Yank who has enough enthusiasm to make Keith Chegwin look like a shrinking violet. St Petersburg is well worth a visit. The Hermitage museum alone is incredible but there's much more.

Moscow next where I visited Red Square and the Kremlin. I couldn't believe I was standing where Kruchev, Breshnev, Gorbachev etc observed parades of Russian military might during the cold war! That military might was the reason I served on the UK's SSBN Trident submarines! Awesome. I had some Borsch (beetroot soup) a Bliny (pancake) and then a McD's not 200yds from Lenin's tomb - how weird is that? When you buy water here you must specify that you want non-fizzy water as Russians tend to only drink fizzy water!

A 30hr train journey to Ekanterinburg allowed us to visit the church where the Czar's Romanov family was executed! Did Anastasia really survive? I visited a military museum that had some of Gary Power's kit from when he was shot down near here in the 60's. I got drunk in this town two days running..........hmmmmm! Not good for the old travel budget but how can you resist when cans of 'Baltikas' are 80p a go? This town is the border between Europe and Asia, I've no idea when I'll see Europe again!

This was the big one - a 56hr train journey from Ekanterinburg across the vast Siberian wilderness to Irkutsk and Lastyvanka on the shores of Lake Baikal (the world's largest body of fresh water). We stayed with a Russian family and had decent meals for two days. I had a welcome shower after almost three days on the stinking train! The Taiga is as impressive as the multitude of insects that inhabit this swampy region. However, it's hard to forget the millions of lives lost in the Gulags of this immense land. I'm pleased I was here in summertime. Next, it's onto Mongolia for a laugh with the Nomads who live in Yurt tents.

Mongolia

I don't know why, but I'd always wanted to come here. We trained in from Irkustk and spent a pointless 9 hours at the Russian/Mongolian border - the Russians really are miserable twats. I grew to despise them. It was so refreshing to arrive in a country where people smile. It's good to see the changing racial characteristics too as you walk down the street and you're the only white guy.

We transferred from Ulan Bator (or UB if you're local) and headed to the Terelj National Park where we lived in a Ger camp for two days. We went horse riding one afternoon and I picked it up no problem. I bonded with the horse and he would gallop off at a twitch of my heels or a whisper in his ear! I felt like the Marlboro man galloping across the Mongolian steppe - an awesome experience. I climbed a nearby mountain the next day but the flies were a real problem. Good views if you can tolerate the flies. Then a sing song around a camp fire where we drank araig - fermented alcoholic horse milk. The nights are so dark you can easily make out the Milky-Way cloud in the night sky.

Back to Ulan Bator and I spent the time eating lamb kebabs and having massages in my room. The people eat a lot of meat here, particularly lamb. Tomorrow we head to China but I wish I could stay in Mongolia longer.

I love this one. Thomas from Belgium taking a break at the awesome Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.















30.jpg
Red Square, Moscow. I can't believe I'm standing in front of the Kremlin. The USSR's Communist Red Army used to march right here. A military machine that filled the West with fear.











33.jpg
This woman had two bottles of beer and fish strung around her neck! She made me laugh which is unusual for a Russian.

















Tom the London Lawyer in the Siberian city of Ekanterinburg. Note the bland communist style buildings and my silly long hair - it never got chopped until November in Chengdu, China.












31.jpgThe longest train journey in the World. Moscow to Vladivostock.







Playing a guitar on the train through Siberia in July 2006.


Laziz, our Uzbek guide.


Drinking Russian beer and vodka in an Ekaterinburg street cafe.


I love beer Baltikas. Sitting on my bed during the 56hr journey from Ekanterinburg to Irkutsk.
















32.jpgWhat a view. Lake Baikal - the world's largest body of fresh water.


39.jpgUlan Bataar the capital of Mongolia. I never thought I'd make it here!















271.jpgHow good does Mongolia look?
















12.jpgThe Gobi desert. Not much going on.















China next!

Spasiba - Russian for Thank you.

2 comments:

  1. Steve, Sounds like your having a great time out there wherever there is. I hope you can get some of them photos up on the net soon - maybe in China eh? Keep us all posted on how you're getting on. Been a heat wave here for four weeksish now!

    Don't tell Sergey about the russians - he'll get the russian maffia on you!

    Matt

    ReplyDelete

Please be nice.