Wednesday, February 25, 2009

St Petersburg Redux

Once again I'm sitting on a train. I'm en route between St Petersburg and Moscow, and from Moscow I will catch an overnight train to Kiev.

I don't have much to add about my stay in St Petersburg. On Monday, which was a public holiday, I visited a few churches (St Isaac's, The Blood of the Saviour) and the cruiser Aurora, which was involved in the revolution before heading back to rest. I bought a souvenier, a KGB badge.

Tuesday I was very slack, and mostly lounged around at the hostel. I kind of feel like I should have done something but on the other hand I'd spent the previous seven days walking around all day, so a day of rest seemed in order. That evening I hung out with a few of the other guests who now all spoke English as all the Russian guests had left on Monday. I then went out with some of them to an English style pub called Dickens to watch a football (soccer) match. Actually, there were three games at the same time, but the main focus was on Manchester United vs Intermilan.

Today I packed up, sent some postcards and then caught the metro to the main train station.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Petrograd Patrol

This follows on directly from the previous post. You should read it first.

During the 20 minutes between waking up and arriving in St Petersburg I started talking to the guy in the bunk above me, whose name was Dmitry and is a professor working on terahertz optical and acoustic signals. I said goodbye to him as I got off the train, but he bumped into me while I was checking the map of the Metro, and he helped me get part of the way to my hostel.

I found the hostel pretty easily (especially given that I was walking. I think I shall have to eschew taxis as they never seem to be able to find the place and rip me off in the process). The hostel is called Crazy Duck and I'd say it's better than the Hostel Napoleon (so named because Napoleon stayed in the building back in 1812 allegedly) in Moscow. It's cheaper, the rooms are more spacious, the TV is huge and has surround sound and is also centrally located.

I checked in about 8:30 and while checking in saw a brochure for a walking tour at 10:30. That seemed like a good introduction to the city so I decided to do it. I was almost late because I got confused on the Metro, but got to the meeting point just as they were about to start. The guide was Sasha who was a history buff and walked around in jeans and a thin jacket, while the rest of us had gloves on and several layers done up. The rest of us were myself and two Belgians, Girt (I'm not sure of the spelling) and I forgot the others name.

The tour meandered around central St Petersburg, and took in a lot of small sites I'd have never known about, including an arts centre that used to be a squat and now includes the headquarters of a group planning to build a temple devoted to the Beatles. We also stopped in at a cafe and tried a cheese pastry thing for which I can't recall the name of (it happens a lot).

After the tour ended I continued on with the two Belgians and had a look at Peter and Paul fortress and then we had a late lunch at a cafe Sasha had recommended. At about 700 rubles it was the most expensive meal I've had in Russia, but definitely the highest quality.

After that we parted ways. I lounged around in the hostel for a while when two good looking girls introduced themselves and told me to come drink. Now, I may not be the suavest of individuals, but I know this is an offer not to be refused. I spent the evening not understanding much but indulging in the one lot of drinking I'm allowing myself per country. It was pleasant, and they were all friendly, but hard to get into entirely when all the conversation is going over your head. I did get a free dinner out of it.

On Sunday I woke up to a rather non-PG sound as metal bunks are not the most discrete of beds for certain activities. This is not an unprecedented experience, but at least in Japan I had a wall separating me from things. I basically stayed quiet and made as though I was still asleep.

Sunday's sightseeing was confined to one building, the Hermitage. I must confess I don't think I'd heard of it until I played Civ IV. The building itself is a work of art, and you could wander around and marvel at it even if it were empty of contents. As it is the contents are an outstanding collection. The only disappointment was the Egyptian display which did not line up to the hype in the Lonely Planet. I saw paintings by da Vinci, Raphael, Matisse, van Gogh, Rembrandt, and many, many others. There was a very good display of Greek and Roman statues, and I think I got photos of all the muses along with a bunch of other mythological figures. The rooms fitted out as they were in the days of the tsars were extremely elaborately decorated and it's safe to say that their tastes did not include simplicity of design.

I took a lot of photos, but am disliking the trend of having to pay extra to take photos of things. It was an extra 200 rubles to take photos in the Hermitage, but I think it was worth it.

In the evening I spent a little time with the group I hung out with last nigh, but too much Russian got to me so as they dispersed to get ready to go out I returned to my bunk. I spent a bit of time talking to a group of cadets who were staying in my dorm, and then finished up writing my journal after they left.

Moscow Meanderings

This was originally written as one piece with the next post, but since it's pretty much evenly divided between Moscow and St Petersburg and it's quite long, I'm going to split it into two posts.

So it's been a few days since I last wrote so let's catch up. On Thursday I took a bus tour around town. It started at the Kremlin, but then went around town in a minibus to a few good sites. These included the World War II memorial, which is very tall, the Moscow State University main building, which is one of the seven Stalin skyscrapers, Sparrow Hills, which overlooks a large part of Moscow, and a fortress/nunnery. We also drove past a bunch of stuff which our tour guide was about 5 seconds late pointing out to us. At Sparrow Hills I bought a souvenier, a t-shirt with a Kalashnikov rifle on it. The tour group was 5 people; myself, Peter and Yana, a couple around my age, and an older couple of which the wife was rather bossy.

After the tour I went to Gagarin Square, which was a lot further away than the map suggested. I nonetheless got there, looked at the monument for a few moments, took some photos and headed back to the hostel.

In the evening I went to an English club run by a guy called George who seemed to be a permanent resident of the hostel. He's kind of a freelance English teacher. He invited me along to meet some Russians and be the native speaker at the nights meeting (I noticed some of the paperwork in his plastic sleeves showed that people (Russians) pay 900 rubles a month to attend the meetings, so George has to sort of be a native speaker wrangler for the meetings). Two other people showed up, Alexy and Julia, both professionals who worked for banks. Conversation covered topics such as Moscow, work, travels, Boris Yeltsin, the media, comparative drinking, Australia, Korea, trains and more.

The last item of note for the evening was when at MacDonald's (I'm sure I've already presented my reasons for greater consumption of the big M while overseas) I realized they did indeed have quarterpounders. I was trying to read the menu and one item came out to be a "royal cheeseburger". It took a few moments of wondering what a royal cheeseburger was when I recalled the phrase "royal with cheese". Yes, Pulp Fiction saved the day.

Friday was my last day in Moscow. I did another of the suggested walks on my map, but missed a turn and walked an extra two or so klicks, but it was alright. This walk had more of an arts theme and went past a few theaters and a few museums, although I only went into the museum of recent soviet history. This museum takes off about where the big history museum at the Kremlin left off with with the late imperial era and goes up to the modern day with Putin and Medyedev. I was disappointed that the small section on the space race seemed to miss Sputnik I, which would be in any museum I could put it in, let alone one specifically on 20th century Russia.

After I finished my walk I hung around the hostel for a while before eventually heading to the train station (Leningradskaya, for the record, since there are numerous train stations in Moscow) for my 23:55 train to St Petersburg. The train was much nicer than the Trans-Siberian, but I didn't really get to appreciate it much as soon after departure everyone in the berth went to sleep and I woke up about 20 minutes before arrival.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Untitled Poem

Written while on the train.

The journey goes on and on
The wheels turn and turn
And still I am so far away
From the place for which I yearn

In solitude I sit and sit
An empty mind to think and think
This days travels over distances far
Is still just one small link

Time passes as I wait and wait
Within my sight things appear and disappear
One hour or two, ten trees or twenty
My destination is still not near

I cannot just sleep and sleep
My bed at night goes to and fro
The cushions do not soften it
The gentle rumble brings comfort though

The noise keeps on a steady pace
Across the land we race and race
I do not know how I now seem
I dare not look into my face

The plains I see are vast and great
From our path we do not deviate
The rails we follow loom ahead
Two lines of metal seal our fate

I marvel at this massive feat
To link two points so far away
We've traveled for two days so far
We've made but one third of our course

I ponder on my rhyming scheme
Now long abandoned for freer verse
I think I should end my efforts now
Before the meta makes things worse

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Moscow Musings

Moscow is quite a bit different to Vladivostok. It's much more metropolitan; it has a subway system, there's the occasional bit of English signage around the place, there's lots of restaurants and perhaps too many shops. And the occasional mausoleum containing a leading revolutionary.

I haven't been in Lenin's tomb yet. It's allegedly open from 10 to 1 but every time I've gone by it's been as quiet as a grave. There's enough to do around it that I've not felt too bad about it (although I do still want to get in there). I've been to St Basil's with its multicoloured onion domes, inside the Kremlin and the churches it contains, the history museum (which had English notes on the first floor but not the second floor), and the cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which is across the river from the Red October chocolate factory.

My hostel is pretty good. I'm in a dorm at this place, which I guess is a downgrade from the place in Vladivostok, but a known one so I can't complain, and this is more likely to be the norm from now on. They also have wifi which is great. It's pretty close to Red Square which is very convenient. It's also just down the road from the former headquarters of the KGB. It's a rather bland building with a bunch of what I presume is the KGB coat of arms across the front.

The subway here is rather deep, and the escalators going down to the platforms are in a tunnel that leaves the Third Infiltration Tunnel for dead. The trains themselves are a bit on the old side, being noisy and rickety with nary an electronic display in sight. they are however plentiful, with just over two minutes between departing trains.

The art in the churches is amazing, although I feel sorry for everyone who did the painting on the ceilings. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a particularly fine example and if I hadn't already known I wouldn't have thought it was built in the post soviet era (technically rebuilt since the soviets demolished the previous incarnation of the cathedral). If it were well lit instead of full of shadows it would be almost overwhelming.

I had a worrying situation today. I went to the MacDonalds on Red Square for brunch and to pay I gave them a 500 ruble note. The cashier looked at it and then took it to a manager. The manager looked at it and used one of the machines I've seen at a lot of places and then consulted with another manager before they decided they weren't going to accept it. This worried me since I'd just got the note from a bank. Fortunately, the museum accepted the note when I bought my ticket. A similar thing happened when I bought my train tickets. The ticket seller wouldn't accept one of the 1000 ruble notes I gave her. This is something new to me as I've never been anywhere where legal tender isn't just automatically accepted. Lots of places have machines that illuminate bills to reveal watermarks or UV writing or other stuff that may be on the bills.

I'm also surprised at how wet and muddy snow makes the place. A mud slushy is an accurate description of the streets.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vladivostok to Moscow

So I finally made it all the way from Vladivostok to Moscow. The Trans-Siberian Express is definitely a great experience, but it is also six days on a train with no showers and narrow beds. I don't think I've enjoyed a shower as much as I did the shower I had at my hostel tonight. Nor enjoyed dinner so much. Six days of eating ramen and instant mashed potatoes with meat gets to you.

Fortunately there was power points on the train, so I spent many an hour watching the landscape go by while charging my devices.

I think there might have been two other people on my carriage who ended up doing the whole Vladivostok to Moscow trip (aside from the guards) and I shared my berth with 6 people over the trip. There was a women who was there from Vladivostok and got off late in the afternoon the next day, one guy who was there for one evening, three men who got on early the day after and got off around lunch time, and late that evening the last person got on, and he went all the way to Moscow as well. His name was Uri, and he was the only one of them who actually tried to speak to me. He was pretty nice, and helpful as well.

Photos will go up as soon as I find a way to upload them all (I have about 1 or 2 hundred from Vladivostok and 500 odd from the train trip (not all will be great, so there will be a bit of a culling)).

Tomorrow I'm going to check out Red Square and the stuff in the surrounds, including, but not limited to the Kremlin.

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Writing time: seven minutes
Time since last post: over a week (the first time I haven't felt like I'm slacking off for leaving it that long between posts)
Current media: None, although I think someone is watching Ghost in the common area.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trans-Siberian Thoughts 4

One more sleep until Moscow. It sounds like I'm a kid counting down to Christmas, but that's the best means of keeping count I have. I set my computer (and so ipod also) to Moscow time (GMT+3) a few days ago, and have been trying to sync with that, but I woke up at about 5 this morning, so that's not working so well.

Numbers on the train are dwindling, and everyone is becoming more reclusive. There is hardly anyone in the corridor watching the landscape go by anymore, and the door to most berths are generally shut. This does make it easier to charge my various bits and pieces.

I too am paying less attention to the landscape, and there is a clear decline in the number of photos taken each day. After a while snow and trees and the occasional village gets a bit repetitive. We have started sighting the mile markers counting down the distance remaining to Moscow (2162 at time of writing, with 32 hours to go).

There's a bit of snow falling now and then today. This is the first time there's been falling snow on an ongoing basis. There was a bit at one of the stops on day two, but that was about it. The snow I've seen on the trip has been very fine and dry and does not make for good snowballs. I've tried once or twice and it's like throwing sand.

War and Peace is a bit more interesting now that I've gotten past the society intrigues of Part I and am now into the war against Napoleon. I can't say the Russians are doing well at this stage, but something tells me they win out in the end.

I have managed to work out the mystery of the bathroom tap, which has made me feel much better, although it looks as though the carriage has gone through its allotment of toilet paper for the trip. Given that I have a roll from Korea and that Russian toilet paper is the roughest I've ever come across, this development has not troubled me too much.

I've written a few different bits and pieces that aren't exactly a journal (well, are in no way a journal), more free writing, which I suppose I'll put up when I have access to the internet again. The book I'm writing in is lined for the first half and the second half is all blank pages, so I'm using the first half as a journal and the second half for everything else (drawings, maths, poetry, memes, etc). I do quite like the book and will have to post a picture of it. I had intended to use "The Deeply Unfortunate Doings of an Ill-Fated Life" for this purpose, but this book was a last minute splurge at Kyobo books when I should have been looking for a money belt and suits the purpose a lot better. I've still to find something worthy to put in the ill-fated life, but for now its got a few general bits of writing that have been produced for various reasons.

Anyway, that's getting a fair bit offtopic and the train has stopped for some reason, so I think I shall stop writing as well.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Trans-Siberian Thoughts 3

It looks like I have a companion for the rest of the trip. A man named Uri got on board this morning. He's been more talkative than the others who have been in my berth. He's told me his name for a start. We've also managed to exchange destinations (Moscow and Moscow) and book titles (War and Peace for me and a Bond novel for him).

During the day we've passed what seemed like a giant lake, quite possibly Lake Baikal. The track ran quite close to the shore and we followed it for a few hours. The lake was a huge white expanse with absolutely no vegetation at all on it. Most of the landscape has had trees or grass or something growing, but not here, just white as far as the eye could see. Occasionally I could see land on the other side rising up, but not often.

There also seemed to be a few cars and people out on the ice. I guess they were ice fishing. Someone must have been as at a recent stop there was a mass of people selling fish. Uri bought four and is keeping them cool by placing them next to the window. The window is the weak link in keeping the berth warm, and has got a fair bit of ice on it over the past few days.

I'm beginning to feel a bit grimy not having had a shower in three days. I have yet to work out the taps in the bathroom. No matter how I turn them, nothing happens and I worry I'm going to pull them off, and angry Russian sounds very angry, so I don't want to actually do that.

I'm also beginning to worry about money. It's not that I don't have enough, it's that most (all) the vendors so far have been reluctant to accept a 1000 ruble note (about A$40). I should try the drinks lady as she's obviously selling a lot (I've bought 125 rubles of stuff from her) so she should have sufficient change somewhere on board. As it stands now I only have a few hundred rubles left in small bills which won't last the whole of the rest of the trip.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Trans-Siberian Thoughts 2

I'm pretty sure I've got the date right. Time on scales less than a day aren't really much use on the train, and even a day isn't really a day. I left Vladivostok at 10pm and arrive in Moscow at 6pm with a travel time of 6 days and 3 hours. Over the trip I'm losing about an hour a day, or put another way, each day is 23 hours long.

Not everyone on the train seems to be on board for the long haul. At the moment I have my berth to myself again. At departure there was a mid 30ish woman in my berth as well, but she got off late yesterday afternoon. She was replaced a few stops later with a man who just slept, which is a lot more understandable after he got off the train late at night. Early this morning the berth was filled with three more men. I'm guessing a father and two sons, by their ages. They weren't on board long, getting off before lunchish.

A few of the people on my carriage have been here the whole trip so far, and we shall continue to see how many remain on board for the whole trip. I haven't really spoken to anyone, and no one has tried to talk to me. There is one person I've considered going up to and saying hello to. She's a redhead I first saw at the station at Vladivostok with a large backpack and looks more like a traveler/sightseer than other passengers. I saw her again at a stop while I was buying some ramen to eat. I really should go exploring and see if there's a restaurant car or the like. Yesterday I only got one thing of what I thought was ramen but turned out to be instant mashed potatoes with a little bit of meat. It was pretty good.

The landscape continues to amaze, but the white does get a bit monotonous after a while. Sometimes I think that if all the snow were brown dirt instead, it would look just like the scrub back home. There's plenty of mountains in the distance, but we don't seem to have gone over any ranges. My geography isn't good enough to know if we will or not. I suppose we might have already done so while I was sleeping. On the whole the views are well worth it, and I'm not the only one who spends a lot of time watching the scenery pass by.

Some of the time I'm doing that though I have an ulterior motive. The few power points in board line the corridor, so some of the time I've spent standing there my laptop or ipod has been plugged in getting some juice. I have decided to stop playing Civ IV while on the train, as the workout it puts the CPU and fans through really burns through the power quickly (I get about two and a half hours watching videos but only one hour playing Civ IV).

The train stops a few times a day for about 15 minutes or so (there are other stops as well but these are briefer) which gives those of us on board a chance to stretch our legs, buy some food, and in my case say "fuck" a lot because of how cold it is. The places we've stopped at have definitely been colder than Vladivostok was. Of course, I'm not as well prepared for the cold since there aren't any announcements of upcoming stations (not that I'd understand them, but I'm sure I'd quickly make the connection between an announcement I can't understand and arrival at a station (I did so pretty quickly in Japan.).).

I finally finished Paradise yesterday, after months of procrastination. I found my mind would just wander off while reading the prose and found the notes generally more interesting and illuminating. Like Machiavelli, a good knowledge of renaissance Italian politics is essential for the fullest understanding, and it is a subject that is not my strongest. I wonder though who would be put where in a modern version. Would Gandhi join the virtuous pagans in Limbo? (Indeed, what was Gandhi's religion?) Is there anyone despised enough for their adultery to make that circle worth visiting? What politics would replace those of Florence and Italy?

This has let me start once more on War and Peace, which is just as tedious this time through. I think I got through about a dozen pages at most before finding something else to do. I'll see how far I get through during the trip.

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Writing time: a half hour or so.
Time since last post: two days
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trans-Siberian Thoughts

Note: This was written while waiting for the train last Tuesday. I'll leave it up the top for a day or so and then shift it to the actual time of writing.

So it turns out I was right and the staff at the hotel were wrong. The 15:00 departure time on my train ticket is indeed 15:00 Moscow time, not 15:00 Vladivostok time. If it weren't for the fact that this is a difference of 7 hours I wouldn't be much put out.

I'll admit I was initially wrong as well, getting the direction wrong and thinking 15:00 Moscow time was 08:00 Vladivostok time, when it is actually 22:00. Just as well I didn't turn up to catch the train then. That would have been quite a wait.

As it is, by the time I board the train I'll have been lurking around the station for about 11 hours, and will have gone through the batteries on most of my devices, although my ipod should last a while longer. The best run it has had is about 24 hours on the go, while playing videos and shuffling, which put a bit more of a drain on the battery. If there is no power on the train, which I believe is the case, things will go dark relatively soon on the trip.

I should make it into tomorrow with juice in the batteries of things as I figure once I get on the train I'll hit the sack pretty quickly.

Vladivostok has been pretty good. The submarine museum inside an actual submarine (no longer underwater unfortunately) was an experience, although they took ever chance to extract some rubles from you (100 for entry, 50 to take photos, 50 for a brochure, and 50 to get a photo in a navy major's jacket and hat). The guy selling souvenirs at the exit said he collected Australian dollar and fifty cent coins and offered to buy any I might have had on me. Unfortunately, I only have a ten cent piece I don't intend to part with. I have considered drilling a hole in it so I can place it on my chain so I'm less likely to lose it.

There's a fair few monuments around the place here, mainly for sailors and admirals and such, this being very much a port town. There's also the to be expected remnants of the soviet era. Across the road from the train station is a grand statue of Lenin, or as it is written on the statue ΛEHИH. (Knowing the Greek alphabet has made it easier to pick up bits and pieces of the Cyrillic script (Ф = f, Λ = l, etc)). There are also monuments to the workers who rose up during the revolution, a few for WWII, and some other bits and pieces of history.

The weather has been better than I feared, although today I'm not wearing my really thick pants and can feel the difference. I've not seen any snowfall or rain, and the temperatures seem to have been between -5 and 0, or at least during the day when I was outside.

It's cold enough to keep the ice in the bays frozen. On my second day I strolled out onto the ice for a while which seemed to be the winter equivalent of the local park. There were families and couples walking around. The majority of people there though were ice fishers. They each had there own seat of some kind, be it a stool, a box, a tire, or whatever else, a drill, and one or two rods, which are about a foot long. They drill the whole and then lower the line and twitch it until they get a bite. The fish they caught weren't that large (the holes were about 10cm in diameter) and I don't really see how it could be viable as anything other than recreation.

Also in the ice was a cut out section about 10m long up by the shore where you could get into the water. A lot more people than I thought were doing it. Most simply climbed in, got there whole body except for their heads underwater and got right back out straight away, although a few hardier (and older) individuals actually swam the length of it and back.

There was also a lot of ice around the lighthouse I visited, but I did not go walking on the ice there. It was not as solid or as well attached to the shore. This may have something to do with it being a lot closer to the shipping lines than the other spot. The lighthouse is a small structure which apparently cannot be got to at high tide (I don't know if going in winter helped, but it didn't look as though the tide had been in for a while).

The best view I found in the city was at what I believe was the state agricultural college which is up a hill and looks down on the city. I got a few good pictures looking eastish, but not many looking westward as the sun got in the way. The college is actually split in two parts, one at the top of the hill and one at the bttom. The guide book said the two were connected by what is called a funicular and my plan was to find the lower station, take it to the top and enjoy the view. Instead, I found the top, enjoyed the view and then learnt the funicular had been closed, possibly for repairs (there were men working on the track), possibly for good, and walked down the adjacent stairs back to the main street.

My hotel was better than I expected. The room was nicer than I expected, and although it was a shared room, no one else was in there during my stay. The only problem I had was a lack of English on the staffs part (or a lack of Russian on my part) which made for some confusion, although for the most part things worked out. The hotel sorted out registration for me, which is one of the bureaucratic roadblocks the Russians put in the way of travelers. I'll be glad when I hit Turkey and won't have that to do with any more.

The ride to the train station this morning was interesting. The driver was what I guess was the hotel's security guard/odd job guy. He was normally dressed in what looked like a military uniform (matching camoish pants and shirt). During the drive he pointed out a few things and grumbled about the traffic. He managed to get across that he used to be in the navy, served on a submarine, and was possibly based in Sevastopol. When he left me at the station he gave me a very firm handshake and then a bear hug, which I was not expecting.

I much prefer the ride I had with him to the one I had from the airport to my hotel. It didn't get off to a good start when the guy said it was six hundred kilometers to Vladivostok. This made the price seem very reasonable, but somewhat put me off as I was reasonably sure no city has its airport that far away. As it turns out he meant 60km, which is still an exaggeration as it's actually about 40km. I eventually agreed as the buses had stopped about an hour ago and he had the best English of the taxi drivers around.

Actually, he wasn't the driver, he was the salesman as he took me to a car and someone else drove, although the guy came along as well. At first I was a little worried I'd walked into a less than good situation as the roads were dark and there was little traffic. I wasn't entirely sure things were OK until when they stopped outside a hotel and said we were at my hotel when clearly we weren't (they took me to Hotel Vladivostok when my reservation said Jing Long Hotel - Vladivostok) and then how serious they were at trying to work out where they should take me. They did try to get some extra money from me, but given that I was already giving them more than I was paying for my hotel, I was not going to give them any more.

I'm going to look for somewhere to leave my bags and then get something to eat, as I've only had a fruit and nut toblerone so far today, and the hunger is beginning to get to me.

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Time since last post: a few days
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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Rock the Block in Vladivostok

I'm now in Vladivostok. English is not as common as I'd hoped, but I've managed to acheive what I've set out to, although at a bit more expense than I'd hoped. My goal for today was to get to the train station and buy a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow. It took me about two hours to do so, but do so I did after two scenic but pointless rides on the tram, a taxi ride that almost got me there because while people here understand "Hotel" and "Vladivostok", they don't get "train station" or "How do I get to the ...". Fortunately the Hotel Vladivostok is very close to the train station, which I found out last night when my taxi driver decided that on my hotel reservation where it said Jing Long Hotel - Vladivostok with an address underneath, this meant Hotel Vladivostok, so I found out where that was. The driver did eventually get me to my hotel, but tried to up the price about 10%, which I was not cool with since the ride from the airport already was costing more than my hotel for 4 nights.

Anyway, after sorting out all sorts of stuff, I have naught to do but sightsee and enjoy myself until Tuesday, when I catch the train to Moscow. Today I wandered around the area near the train station, which is itself an impressive looking building. The highlight has to be the submarine museum, which is an actual submarine. At the end I got a photo of myself in a Naval Major's coat and hat, which look somewhat ridiculous on me, but are cool nonetheless. I can't post them yet, but will as soon as I can. There are a few cool buildings around as well.

I won't add much more becuase this place charges by the minute and the megabyte (which I shouldn't have too many of, but they add up quickly).

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fan Mail 2

Well, not so much fan mail as a goodbye letter. This was written by one of my students I've taught for almost a year.

Since it is a bit tricky to read in the picture the text is exactly as follows.

to kevin
Hello this is cindy.
I hear that you will go back to your countty so I am sad.
After you go to your country bat don't forget us.
live healthy and huppily.
Don't forget me. and I won't forget you too. Good bye

While I doubt I'll forget completely about any of the kids I've taught (although there are a few I wouldn't mind forgetting) things like this do stick and show you you haven't been completely useless at the job.

On a less pleasant note, it seems this is no longer in my souvenir box, which causes me some concern as to where it may have gone. I have done a slight culling of the souvenir box, but there's no way I would have got rid of it. I really hope it turns up somewhere.

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Writing time: 33 minutes (I went looking for the previous letter)
Time since last post: half a day or so
Current media: The Legend of the Seeker

The best laid plans of mice and men

I got a rather distressing email today. It was from the ferry I had booked to go to Vladivostok. Apparently due to bad weather an inspection was delayed, which means the ferry I was going to catch has been canceled. This is pretty shit, since that was to be the start of my long, and cheap, travels. Fortunately I was to pay when I got to the ferry terminal, so I'm not out of pocket yet.

My boss has been really helpful, and has organised a flight for me getting into Vladivostok the day the ferry was due to arrive. It is unfortunately three hundred dollars more expensive than the ferry and gets in about seven at night rather than one in the afternoon, which gives me less time in Vladivostok (well, my plan for Friday afternoon was to check into the hostel and buy my train ticket west, so probably not that huge a loss).

This does mean I'll get an extra day in Chilgok to sort stuff out, like buying a money belt, figuring a way to post my wooden katana home, packing all my boxes, and more I'll think of when I realize "Oh crap, I haven't done this yet.

End Post
Writing time: 25 minutes
Time since last post: a few days (the preplanned stuff ran out before I wrote more)
Current media: The Office (US version)