Europe
Waffles and the 'deen PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:00


Following Romania, Clev's and I went our separate ways for a couple of weeks. For me it was a chance to take some time out from travelling, catch up with some family/mates and restock.

First stop was Belgium, where Ro and Greta, Susie's bro and sis are currently residing. The week days were spent chilling out, touring Belgium towns, trying Belgium foods, feeding my coffee addiction and sampling a few of the Belgium beers. On the weekend we hopped between one country and the next just because we could. I sample a schnitzel in Germany and a coffee(shop) in the Netherlands. A great way to spend to a week.

The following week I flew to Aberdeen where a mate, Mikey, has just moved to for work. The most important thing on the agenda was car shopping. BMW shopping to be precise. Unfortunately for me, Mike brought one on the day that I left. So I only got to experience the winding Scottish country side in a hatchback rent-a car. A highlight of our tour around the car yards was a side visit to a whisky distillery. I'm not normally a scotch man, but it didn't take me long to acquire a taste.

Aberdeen is known as the silver city. The local stone is granite and absolutely everything is made out of it. If you look at a house in isolation it looks quite nice with dark stone contrasted by wooden doors and window sills. But when you duplicate this across an entire city then it looks like a black hole. Its hard to tell where the grey city ends and the grey skies start. For the week that I stayed with Mike the sun was shining for only a single day. The rest of the time the sky was a consistent grey. For me it was cool because it was cliche. But I'll be interested to find out how Mike is handling it after a couple of months.

I met back up with Clev's at Heathrow airport. Neither was interested much in what the other had been doing for the past fortnight. More important was what changes had been made to our travel gear. I had sent 4 kilos home, and acquired a thicker fleece, down jacket, new rain jacket, new shoes and a few other odds and sods. Clev's had pretty much replaced his entire wardrobe.

 

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Clevs Pisses Me PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:00


Clev's and I have been getting along well thus far. We are both similar in that we're easy going and enjoy similar travel experiences. But now that we have parted ways for a couple of weeks I think I should point out a few differences that I have noticed.

Clev's is organised. Only the gear that is needed comes out of his pack each night. Then in the morning they are quickly stuffed back in and unless it is a Monday, Wednesday or Friday when he changes his jocks, he is already to go. I, on the other hand, empty the entire contents of pack and then spend an hour and a half each morning packing it back in.

For Clev's, food is scoffed and drinks are guzzled. Juice in particular is drunk by the litre rather than the glass and it not uncommon to observe him shovel 4 fork fulls of food into his mouth before the chewing process begins. In fact Clev's does most things frantically. He is either flat out or waiting for me.

Clev's has 16 seconds of patience. If we are waiting for a bus, then it has 16 seconds to come into sight otherwise Clev's will spit it. "Fcuk it! Lets walk!" If you are searching for something in the Lonely Planet then you have 16 seconds before the question will be fired across the table, "What did you find?" The man expects results.

Clev's can sleep. When we were doing our first major climb, Mt Elbrus in Russia, I slept very little. Two nights before we summited I had massive headaches from the altitude and managed about 2 hours. The night before nerves got to me and I got 30 minutes. Clevs on the other hand was unfazed by altitude or nerves and snorted away happily both nights. In fact on the night before we summited the banging and clanging of another group getting ready to climb barely disturbed him. He cut a single snore in half before continuing on his merry way.

In Russia's Kamchatca we set up camp on the side of a volcano in 50 knots of wind. My tent didn't handle it so well and I was woken in the middle of the night with the wind bending the tent poles in so much that they were whacking me in the head. When I looked across at Clev's side of the tent, one entire wall was flopping up and down on his head. This didn't manage to wake him though. He just adjusted his snoring rhythm to coincide with a lull in wind gusts such that the side of the tent would lift from his face before flopping down again. I stared in amazement, then tried unsuccessfully to build a little shelter around myself to get back to sleep.

None of the above things bother me though. What really pisses me about Clev's is that he out hikes me. He is leagues in front. I was going to describe his hiking to be like an old steam train. But it not like that at all. A steam train would come to hill, load up and slow down a bit. On the other side the train lets gravity take hold and it would speed down hill. Clev's is not deterred by terrain. His stomping pace on the flats does not alter for hills or mountains, whether we're going up or down them.

I have tried just once to keep up with him. Imagine an Olympic power walker with a 30 kilo pack on. That was me. Arms and legs pumping like I was a steam train. Any quicker and I would have to maintain a steady jog. I have tried jogging with the pack through an airport and it doesn't work. So unfortunately for Clev's he will have to keep pulling up every 15 minutes to wait as I plod to catch up.

 

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Clev's European Summary PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:00

Co-authored by Clevs, Clemo and Andrew Cleverdon

 

As a summary, so far we have car toured around the Baltics, climbed hills and camped with bears in Russia, partied in Ukraine and got a solid culcha fix in rural Romania.

The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were a gentle way to ease into the trip. A lot of people speak English, everywhere has wifi, people are friendly, and the beer is cold. On entry into Europe, we copped a bit of grief from border security who could not understand how two engineers can just take 9 months holidays, but we managed to talk our way through. I think he saw the blank looks on our faces when he asked where we were going, and realised we weren't a threat to national security, but just ourselves...

We started off in Tallinn (capital of Estonia). I'm not much of a city man, but this city is different to the others I have been to. The old town in the middle has cobbled, narrow roads, there are amber shops everywhere, and the whole place is situated within the ruins of the medieval castle walls. Has a pretty good vibe and everyone is friendly and keen to have a yarn. Plus there are absolute glamours everywhere you look- selling postcards, trying to get you into restaurants and shops. Though for some reason, after midnight all these seedy looking blokes come out of the woodwork and try to con you into going into a myriad of strip clubs. If any of the postcard girls asked tourists the same questions, I am sure they would increase their revenue tenfold!

We explored Tallinn partly on foot, partly on mountain bike. After a couple of days, we took a bus out to Lahemaa National Park, about 50 km east of the capital. We had grand plans of where we would hike, eat, camp, etc. Unfortunately all these plans fell in a heap when we got off the bus at the wrong stop, being unable to read any signs. Nevertheless, we decided to make the best of it and found a nearby woman who had pushbikes for rent. There were two left. At first we were slightly concerned that the bikes had no gears. But then we noticed there were no brakes either, and decided that slow speed was OK. They were also a few sizes too small. All in all, an uncomfortable afternoon was to follow. Especially as we went off track in the bush a lot of the time (did i mention they also had no suspension).

We decided to avoid similar future problems by renting a car. While this did eliminate some issues, it also introduced a few new ones. Neither of us had driven on the wrong side of the road before, so we both wound down the drivers side window a few times after instinctively reaching out with the left hand to change gears. We found it was actually safer with other cars around because it reminded us what side of the road to drive on. We probably gave a few Estonian Sunday drivers a scare when they saw us careering happily towards them down the Australian side of the road.

One of the highlights of Latvia was when we went for a spin in a motorized hang glider. The ride started gently, slowly circling up over Riga, getting some good pics of the city and surrounding countryside. All in all, very relaxing. Then came the nose dive. The next 15 minutes were spent either vertical, in the middle of some sort of loop, weaving between hay bales while flying at ground level and playing chicken with buildings.The driver must have been some kind of stunt pilot in his younger days. Absolutely brilliant!

On the western side of Lithuania there is a national park called Zamaitja. In Zamaitja Nat park there is a missile silo where, during the war, they had enough armaments to blow up Europe. At the front entrance of the silo is a sign saying "no tourists" but there is a track around the back where you can get in. There is also a door to the underground storage area which they don't lock. It was incredible seeing inside this thing, which has basically been left to disintegrate since the war.

The Baltics don't really have any big ticket must-do activities. It's all about soaking up the atmosphere, checking out a multitude of national parks, camping, hiking and meeting people. Each country has its own subtle personality. Unfortunately, with the upcoming acceptance into the EU, a lot of this individuality is disappearing. Both of us were glad to have toured through when we did.

Next on the agenda was Russia. After buying a Lonely Planet guide, we discovered that Russia is home to Europe's highest mountain, at 5642 m. So after the obligatory week exploring St Petersburg and Moscow, we found ourselves traipsing up the snowy slopes of Mt Elbrus. It was a fairly steep learning curve for both of us, as neither had been this high before, nor had much experience with crampons/ ice axes. At -12 degC at the summit, I also learned that my snowboarding gloves really aren't much good.

Russia is also home to the worlds largest freshwater lake. At 630 km long, and 1.6 km depth at its deepest, Lake Baikal contains 20% of the worlds unfrozen fresh water. We spent a couple of days exploring some of the lake, and ate more than our share of smoked omul, a fish that is endemic to the lake. Then we jumped on the Trans-Siberian train to Vladivostok. The journey took close to 70 hours. While the scenery was amazing, I'm glad we decided against going the full distance from Moscow.

The final 10 days in Russia was spent on Kamchatka Peninsula, in the far north east of the country. This area is one of the most volcanically active in the world. We climbed 3 volcanoes, one of which was on eruption warning. We also did a 5 day trek through the Nalychevo Valley. It was supposed to be a 4 day trek, but we got stuck in the tundra for a day or so at one stage. Maybe we should have listened when they told us not to do that hike without a GPS. Although we saw lots of grizzly bear footprints, we didn't manage to spot any bears. I'm not sure if this was a good or a bad thing... The last day in Kamchatka was a chopper ride to the spectacular Valley of the Geysers.


Russia also proved to be the end of my watch. In Ukraine, I managed to barter down the price of a soviet era fob watch to a respectable $25. I also convinced the guy to throw in a pack of cards for nothing. I was really proud of my efforts. As I was bragging to Clayto about it all 15 minutes later, I noticed the watch had stopped working. And the first time we tried to play cards, I discovered the pack only had 32 cards. Turns out I didn't get such a good deal after all.

Our final country in Europe was Romania. Neither of us was expecting much, and knew nothing about the country before arriving. But it turned out to be a hidden gem of a place. From UNESCO listed painted churches dating from Viking days, to the snow capped Carpathian mountains, to rural Sighetiu Marmetiai (where farming practices have barely changed in hundreds of years, and the rich guys own 2 donkeys and a cart) Romania has ended up on our favourite countries list. I will definitely be going back.

 

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Schools Back PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 05 October 2010 00:00


To have tried and failed is only a failure if you didn't learn anything. Well Clev's and I were dealt a lesson by Romania's section of the Carpathian Mountains. Clev's almost died and I feared death.

After obtaining a map, a gas bottle and some new hiking boot for Clemo in the city of Brasov we set off for the mountains. We chose a route on the map that wouldn't be well travel, was mostly marked and would be a challenge for the 3 and a half days we had available to us. One thing we didn't consider was difficulty. The 100 meter contour lines were jammed together on some sections of our walk.

Unlike the Ukrainian end of the Carpathian mountains, in Romania they are sheer and inspiring. The back bone is a 90 km ridge that runs East to West peaking at about 2500 meters. Then either side you have sheer ridges separated by deep valleys that drift down into the plains. On our first afternoon our only goal was to get to the start of the hills. As it was getting dark I was determined to get to the 1000 meter mark but we pulled up short, only to realise the next morning that we were a little off course and after a short walk we passed through 1300 meters. Later that afternoon we dropped 500 meters off our first ridge into one of the valleys. After Clev's convinced me that we weren't going to be able to stop half way up, we camped the night and prepared to climb our way out the following day. The night was the coldest I've had in the tent. My guess is it dropped as low as minus 5. It was cold enough to be at the limit of my -10 sleeping bag.

The track to get out of the valley was no longer marked on the map with strong dashes but rather pissy dots, as if to say "you might find some resemblance of a track here." We couldn't. After scrambling 450 meters of the 500 meter climb we were met with steep, snow and tuffs of grass covered cliffs. It was here that Clev's almost met his maker. Determined to get to the top he left himself with one hold too little. The only way out was to ditch the pack.

Having undone the buckles and jostled around to get his shoulders out the pack it fell and then slide. At the first cliff it launched itself landing 30 meters below in the gully near where I was. It then proceeded to tumble continuously down the hill. In all I think it fell 200 vertical meters before finally coming to rest. At the time I had tried a different route, only to encounter a similar fate. Once I saw Clev's pack fly pass me I decided it was too precarious to climb higher. It took me over an hour to scramble down to where his pack landed.

So what did I learn? Maybe its that if your going to take the road less travelled, then it helps to have a few extra days up your sleeve in case things don't go according to plan. But I probably didn't learn anything that I wouldn't try again sometime in the future.

 

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Comfort Zone PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00


After 2 and a half months of pastries with a smashed up pig inside and bread that you could play baseball with, I landed in Romania. Where the bread is soft and the pastries are tasty. One of the best things about getting outside your comfort zone, is entering back into it. Its like getting up to go to work only to realise that its Saturday, so climbing back into an already warm doona for a sleep in.

Not that I've had the getting up for work problem recently.

Our border crossing bus landed us in the town of Suceava, which we had initially planned to catch the next train/bus out of. But the owner of our hostel for the night, Monica, was so friendly we decided to take one of her guided tours of the local painted churches. The church's are unique in that they are painted with brutally honest murals both inside and out. On the outside the murals normally tell of the continual struggle between heaven and hell and then also some stories form the bible. The inside is painted with a calendar. Each day depicts the death of a saint that died on that date. They weren't afraid to show a bit of blood and guts Kill Bill style.

Following an enjoyable stay we followed Monica's suggestion and made our way to the town of Sighetu Marmetai. The surrounding region was famous for wooden church's. Church's aren't normally my thing but I'm stupid enough to try anything twice. But my church quota for the trip is well and truly full.

A cemetery just outside Sighetu Marmetai is famous for its painted headstones (made of wood). The memorials and poems on on the stones depict a very honest description of how the person lived and died. If the person was killed in a car crash then this is exactly what is drawn. The one I liked the most was written for a mother-in-law. A rough translation reads:

"Here lies my nagging mother-in-law. If she had lived just 3 days more then it would have been me laying here. May this heavy stone keep her here and may all who read this live a life without nagging."
It amazes me that they have been building huge castles and church's in Europe for a thousand years. Yet when it comes to their farming methods very little seems to have changed in the last 10 centuries. There is very little machinery in use. The hay is still cut and collected by hand, the produce is still picked by hand, the flour is still crushed by a water wheel and someone still sits and stir the vat while the apple brandy is fermenting. When it comes to farming, Australia is centuries in front.

 

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Lviv and the Carpathians PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 September 2010 00:00


I think I have just found my favourite city in the whole world. In West of Ukraine lies Lviv, who's claim to fame is coffee. Coffee of every style on every street. That is about all I did in Lviv, crawl between one coffee shop and the next. As boring as that sounds I would happily go back and do same for a few more days.

Following Lviv, Clev's and I set out to test our climbing skills again on Ukraine's highest mountain. At 2061 meters this thing was as boring as a walk in the park. The hill top is bare and domed shaped. Both the hiking and the scenery were unexciting. The biggest excitement for the trip was trying to hitch-hike for the first time. After several attempts and hours had passed we finally found a lift but it cost us a few buck. So I'm not sure if I've hitched or not? The disappointment of the hike was broken at dinner that night. We were served with some rather oily soup and Clev's came out with the comment "This bowl looks like the Gulf of Mexico."

The most challenging part of Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains was getting from there across the Romanian border. Having realised ease of a border crossing on rails, Clev's and I were keen to find a train. We later learned that a flood earlier in the year had taken out all the lines. After three days we finally conceded and took the bus.

 

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It's the Vibe PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 21 September 2010 00:00

 

Odessa, Ukraine's party town on the Black Sea, is famous for two things; Catacombs and its "vibe." Clev's and I thought we'd check them both out.

The catacombs are a 3000km network of mines that exist underneath the city and its surroundings. The mines produced limestone bricks that were used to make many of Odessa's buildings. They also hid a good number of people during the world wars and a few fugitives in between times. They are also starting to hide some of the town buildings that are slowly sinking into the vast network.

Clevo and myself smashed out a tour of the Catacombs in a morning. We managed to catch a bus as it drove away from us down the street, arrive right at the catacomb entrance, russle up an eng-rish speaking guide and then caught the same bus back just as it was passing on its return leg. Even the guide was on our level - "this is the combs" - "this is how they lived" - "take a photo here" - "50 Ukrainian dollars please." My sort of a tour.

The "vibe" in Odessa is meant to exist 7 nights a week. So Clevo and I thought we'd put it to the ultimate test. A Monday night during a week when the town is transitioning from the summer clubs by the beach back into the city centre. We followed the recommendation of our lunch time waitress and choose a pub called Captain Morgan's to conduct our scientific experiment.

I must say it passed the test with flying colours. At 10pm the joint started out as a pub. By 11pm it had transformed into a club. At midnight it became a club with chicks dancing on the bar. Then at 1am it was a club with chicks dancing on the bar with their tops off. If your ever in Odessa, I recommend testing out its "vibe."

 

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Kiev and the Crim PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 19 September 2010 00:00

 

The border crossing was easy. I am going to try and do more of them on trains. Instead of having to unpack all your gear off the bus and then stand in long ques to get your stamp you simply just sleep. The control officer wakes you up when they want your passport, give it the stamp and hands it back. Then you go back to sleep. Then the control officer from the neighbouring country wakes you up to do the same and the your on your way. In our case to Kiev, Ukraine.

Kiev is another city. I'm starting to get a strong affiliation for Paul Kelly's song, "Every fcuking city is just the same." After Russia though, it was great to have some Internet and half decent coffee again.

Following Kiev I headed to Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea. First stop was Bakhchysaray, where a short hike out of town is an old cave city. Most of the caves are hand carved into the side of the cliff. Following this, it was on to Yalta, a resort town Ukrainian style. The black stone beaches were jammed packed with middle aged whales soaking up what summer sun was left. The flab and tub guts wasn't really the scenery Clevs and I were hoping for. Despite the disappointing beaches the hills rose straight up out of the sea to a height of 1200 meters and made for some excellent views.

 

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The 'Real' Russia PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 13 September 2010 00:00


I spent my second to last day in Russia catching up with Alex, a guy I met on the train from St Petersburg to Moscow. He lives in Kozlovka, a small village of 3000 people to the South of Moscow. The main industry for the area is agriculture. Sunflower seeds, sugar beet and potatoes to be precise.

This truly was the real Russia. Life seems simple. The one pet cow is milked morning and night for milk and then butter and cottage cheese are hand made from the cream skimmed off the top. The back yard, and town streets for that matter, are filled with chickens and most of the vegetables are grown in a small plot at the back of house.

I stayed at Alex's sisters and brother in laws house, and along with their daughter, they attempted to show me all the aspects of life in country Russia. The first night we went to the local disco-tech. I was expecting an Australian style pub, but instead it was an abandoned hall that has one amp, one speaker and one disco light. The music is supplied from whoever wants to plug their phone/mp3 player in at the time. There is no bar. If you wish to drink its BYO, but most just come to dance. The age range is from 14-25 years old. In fact most of those that seemed to be drinking were the 14 year olds.

The next night Alex and his family put on a feast for me complete with Russian shaslicks cooked on open coals. Apart from the eating while doing my best to communicate with the 3 Russian word that I know, the best part was buying the pork meat at the local markets. These were real markets, where locals came to swap and sell their produce. We were quite tame in buying a large side of pork meat. We could have had the trotters, the tongues, just the fat, or the whole head.

The trip was a great experience, but Russian hospitality can be smothering. I was quite tired after just one day. Or maybe its because its 2:30am in the morning now and I am beginning my dash to border. I have until midnight to get out of the country and it will require Russian transport to be at its best. First its a 3 hour drive to the airport and then a short flight to Moscow. Followed by the overland and underground metro trains from the airport to the train station. Then the overnight train to the Ukraine. I arrive in Kiev at 1:30am tomorrow. So I'm hoping this means that we get to the border before midnight. I'll let you know how I a get on.

Russia has been nothing like what I had pictured. It certainly doesn't have any of the squared jawed, squared shouldered guys, or harsh blond women that I was expecting from watching Rocky movies. Blond but not harsh. The people are humble and friendly (mostly). Undoubtedly the best thing though, is the vast amount of wilderness that Russia encompasses. Weather its Europe's highest mountain, the worlds largest fresh water lake, one of the worlds most active volcanic regions, or the vastness of Siberia, it seems to have it all. There is so much to explore here. I'm keen to return at some point and give it a go.

 

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King of the K's has his Head in the Clouds PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 11 September 2010 00:00


I thought of two good titles for this blog and couldn't decided between them. So, you got both unpoetically intertwined. K is for the amount of kilometers that we hiked and clouds is because 2 out of the 3 volcanoes that we climbed where smothered by them.

What is the definition of being lost? If it is not knowing which way to head to find your way home, then Cleverdon and I were that for about 6 hours. If the definition is you think you know your way but you actually don't, then this is how we spent about a day and a half of our trip to Kamchatka - Russia's Far East. The second half of trip to the region was spent hiking for 4 turned 5 days through Nalychevo National Park. We were on the hunt for our first bear sighting. For the amount of terrain that we covered, if there was a bear in that park we would have found him. Unfortunately the best we could do were foot prints, which I have decided are put there by the rangers to fill in the boredom when they are sitting out in the wilderness for days on end.

Nalychevo is famous for its hot springs which are dotted throughout the park, but the largest concentration is in the middle. Here you can lay back and forget about the aches and pains from the 2 day hike it took you get there. I also drank from the springs, but unfortunately stupidity was on the list for the ailments it proclaimed to cure. I would have to keep searching for my magical hot spring.

The 5 day hike is some of the best that I've done. To get to the hot springs you start off by traversing across volcanic mountains that are laden with scree down their sides. Then your into plains of low grass and impassable tundra. Following that it's a creek crossing at has sheer muddy cliffs which is where Clev's and I were our most lost. It would take about an hour to climb our from the valley to try and find a track, only to realise that we were still lost and drop back down to the creek again. After the springs we spent 2 days hiking through rolling meadows and windy passes. The hiking was so rugged it ripped apart my Salomon hiking shoes.

The first three days in Kamchatka were spent bagging volcano peaks. We had hired a local ranger, Igor, from the parks office to drive to each one and guide us on the walks. The first, Mt Gorely, was in pre-eruption stage and was scientifically meant to pop back in July. I think there is a plus or minus 4 year clause in these scientific estimates. It did have a 3 meter diameter hole though that is glowing red hot and spitting small amounts of glowing red pepples and large amounts of steam and sulphur.

The second, Mt Mutnovskaya, was again pissing large amounts of steam and sulphur as well as boiling pools of mud. The third, Mt Avachinskaya, is Clevo and my highest solo summit at 2700 meters. The steam emits from this volcano through worm holes that warm the ground and any hiker that lays on top of them. It makes it quite a rewarding hike to the top as the temperature is in the minuses otherwise. Getting back down is the best fun as the side of the hill is loose scree. So you can make it in a running plummet.

In all Kamchatka is one the highlights of the trip so far. The amazing thing is the amount that we missed. While we jam packed our 8 day visit to the region there is still; 4500 meter hills, a Lake where you get sick of looking a bears, 4 other national parks, rafting and kayaking, hiking well and truly off the beaten path and helicopter flights to access it all. Actually Clevs managed the helicopter flight, to the valley of the Geysers. I will have to do this next time. Cause I'm definitely going back.

 

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Lake Baikal and the Trans Siberian PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 02 September 2010 00:00


Following the Elbrus tour I flew to Lake Baikal in central Siberia. Lake Baikal is the worlds largest fresh water lake. It holds 20% of the worlds unfrozen fresh water and is 1.6km at its deepest. Arriving about 40km from the lake, I hydro-foiled down a river to arrive at Listvyanka I picturesque town overlooking the lake. The afternoon was spent at the markets buying smoked Omul (fish), cups full of berries and tap beer poured straight in to plastic water bottles. Clev's and I romantically spent the evening sitting on hired tables at the side of the lake watching sunset and devouring our produce.

The following day we made our way to Slyudyaka, a nearby town where we would board the trans-Siberian to Vladivostok. Accommodation was difficult to find so we followed some fellow Russians and pitched our tent in the middle of town down by the lake. Russians are extremely generous. They will share their food, beer and of course, vodka. This night, Kirill, one of the campers cooked us dinner. Luckily he also reminded us that trains ran on Moscow time. Clevs and I were all prepared for a 3am departure, but the time zone difference gave us 5 hours grace. So Kirill cooked us breakfast as well.

Clev's and I took the 60 hour train ride from Slyudgaka to Vladivostok to experience the Trans-Siberian railway. I'm glad I have experienced it once. But next time I'll fly. I'm also glad I didn't do the full 6 day journey from Moscow. The 60 hours is spent in a small cabin shared with two other people. In our case and elderly couple visiting their grandchildren. There is not a lot to do except watch the world go by and play chess. So Clevs and I did a lot of both.

Unfortunately, for me the Trans-Siberian will be remembered for the worst stomach bug I have ever received travelling. After much convincing from Clev's, I have decided that smoked Omul does not last 2 days in Trans-Siberian railway heat. The runs started towards the end of train trip and by the time we reached Kamchatka our next destination they were getting uncontrollable. I had to enact level 2 of the gastro kit that my travel doctor had set me up with. The level 2 drugs were effective in sealing up the downwards passage, but the stomach still wasn't happy so it started coming up instead. I don't want to ever find out what it takes to reach the level 3 drugs.

 

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A Bad Day in Russia PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 28 August 2010 00:00


A bad day in Russia means you run everywhere, achieve nothing and it costs you a hundred bucks for privilege.

This is actually the tale of two woes. The first is Russia's strict baggage allowances and the huge costs should you exceed them. Upon returning to Moscow from the Elbrus climb, Clevo and I were stung twice. The first was leaving Mineralnye Vody airport where they charged us $30 AUS for being 5kg over on the 20kg check-in and 7kg carry on limit. A minor probing that we didn't think much more of. Back in Moscow however, we were royally bent over. We thought things would be a little more lenient, so neglected to make any changes. Wrong! The same 5kg excess cost us $120 AUS.

The second woe is actually an ongoing saga that started after my last night in Estonia. It was there that I left my beloved video camera behind in the hotel room. After several emails and phone calls I thought I had convinced the Estonian hotel to send it through to my hostel in Moscow. Following the excess baggage rapping, I called the hostel to confirm they had it and then raced in to pick it up.

Upon arrival at the hostel the lovely girl behind the desk, who I had also spoken to on the phone, explained to me that they had a camera that was left behind at that hostel and it wasn't mine. Fcuk! This joyful experience cost me another $30 AUS in train fares and almost made me miss my plane to Lake Baikal.

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Elbrus - 5642 PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 28 August 2010 00:00


My first continental peak summit was a mixture of bad mistakes, pure exhaustion and worthwhile challenge. I had no training, no experience, no gear and no idea.

Mt Elbrus is in Russia's south near the Georgian border. At 5642 meters it is Europe's highest. After much bravado talk from myself about doing the climb alone, Clev's and I settled on a 8 day program with Pilgrim Tours. Just as well. Elbrus has 50 odd glaciers smashing down its flanks. But this was only the start of my problems. Let me take you through each of my mistakes.

I had no idea about about acclimatisation. Apparently once you get above 3000 meters you are only meant to ascend further at a rate of 300 meters a day. On our tour we went from the airport at 300 meters to the summit at 5642 meters in 4 days. As a result I got altitude sickness. Apparently it effects everyone differently. For me it was severe headaches. Minor on the first day, brain splitting from 7pm to 3am on the second day and annoyingly painful coming back down from the top. I guess I am lucky that it didn't give me the runs, as to the hole in the ground toilets at our accommodation were disgusting.

I had no idea about the gear needed to survive in the Elbrus environment. Before arriving I was expecting to hike up in my sneakers. Fact is, sneakers don't grip very well on glacial ice and toes don't survive very long at -10oC. This problem was overcome with the hire of double lined plastic boots, crampons, ski poles and a harness. I had brought clothes for cold weather so I forwent the down jacket and better gloves. On summit day I wound up wearing everything I had. This consisted of 3 pairs of socks, 4 layers on my lower body, 6 layers on my upper body and 3 sets of gloves. Despite this my hands were still cold. I was extremely fortunate that the weather for the climb was perfect. Had we experienced the slightest hint of bad weather, I'm sure I would have been turned around by the cold or still stuck frozen to the mountain.

I'm not sure if it was my general fitness, the altitude sickness, or the fact that I didn't get any sleep for the two nights leading up to summit day. But Elbrus smashed me. I submitted in about 6:30 hours which is about right. But it took me 4:30 to get back down which should have only taken 2:30 hours. Poor Clev's was too polite and dawdled along with me. Actually it is the first tension we've had on the trip. I was totally pissed at him for sleeping like a log and not getting altitude sickness. Our first argument however, was a silent one.

A quick rundown of Elbrus program goes something like:
Day 1 - Arrive at Taikel village at the foot of My Elbrus.
Day 2 - Acclimatisation hike to the top of Mt Cheget (3600m)
Day 3 - Move up to the Barrels accommodation and complete a acclimatisation hike to 4700 meters.
Day 4 - Rest day at the Barrels.
Day 5 - Up at 3am to catch a snow mobile to 4700 meters, then summit from there.
Day 6 - Get back down from the Barrels and celebrate.
Day 7 - Waterfall hike.
Day 8 - Get out.

Despite all my whinging, I just summited Europe's highest mountain. Hah. Very cool and I can't wait to tackle Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest. Especially now that I have some knowledge and hopefully drugs for altitude that Susie will send me.

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"I am an Astronaut" PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 20 August 2010 00:00


"In this city you can be anyone you want to be." It's amazing how a few beers, vodka and tequila shots can change your perspective on things. I spent four days in Moscow briefly looking around and then getting the trip for the rest of our Russian stay organised. I was going write an entire blog shit canning the place. As I found the city sights boring, and the people to be generally rude. In fact some survey found Moscow to be the rudest city in the world. As for the sights, the main attraction, the Kremlin, was an overly expensive boring look at about 5 Church's that are all crammed together.

But then on the second to last day a member of the Russian volleyball team helped us buy tickets at the train station and that night we met two foreigners who were thoroughly enthusiastic about life in Moscow. The quoted text at the start comes from Tom an American expat. The astronaut line is what he tells the women, and he slurringly explains "and they believe that shit!" By the end of the night I was left drunk, and with the impression that Russia is the new America. The land of opportunity.

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  • Moscow
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A Life in Contrast PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 16 August 2010 00:00


Clev's and I were keen not waste any of our 1 month visa limited time in Russia. So we entered the country via bus at 1:30 in the morning. After all the hype about possible strictness and corruption it really was just another border crossing. Later that morning we arrived in St Petersburg and immediately noticed some Russian differences. I'm not good enough to put them into nice flowing paragraphs, so you get dot points instead.

  • Prices immediately doubled, sometimes tripled from our Baltic expectations. Once we started to eat, drink and book tickets it soon became apparent that Russia would be the most expensive leg of our journey.
  • Where possible things are big and grand. The castles are big. The churches are big. One church that we visited took 24 years to build and 27 years to restore. Titled the Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood (Huh?) it has 7000m2 of mosaics on its internal walls.
    Even the metro (underground train) is grand in both St Petersburg and Moscow. The stations are big ornately decorated masterpieces. The trains themselves are big, reliably built machines that arrive at a station 1 minute and 14 seconds apart. In contrast to London which has small small trains that require constant maintenance and small, dirty stations.
  • In the Baltic's they realise that their development was going to be through speaking English. While Russia's younger generations are starting to pick up a few words here and there. Most of Russia is still sticking its finger up at the English speaking world. Add this to unrecognisable letters and it makes it difficult to get around at times. Lucky Clev's is better at new languages than me and he quickly got a grasp on the new alphabet. I on the other hand have stayed blissfully ignorant.
  • Things just get weird. Russians have there own version for everything. Games, alphabet, churches, cars, trucks, trains and planes. You name it.

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  • St Petersburg
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Baltic States, Not! PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 14 August 2010 00:00


My last point of call in the Baltics was Estonia's border town of Narva. Here two castle's face off against each other. A massive, strongly built structure on the Russian side of the river and a pissy tower with a few walls on the Estonian side. I'm fairly certain that a few catapulted rocks from the Russians would have the Estonians on there knees.

On reflection the Baltic states make feel like this was the place to be 3 centuries ago. With plenty of fresh water lakes, lush forests, no hills to climb and maybe even a bear or two. Who wouldn't want to live here? Now, modern industry and technology has just left it behind. The new world just doesn't have that big a need for wood and rocks anymore.

It is a concern that we heard echoed a bit as we traveled around. Despite their political independence the Baltic's are heavily dependent on Russia for gas for their heating. They are also dependent on foreign debt for the their survival but have little industry to generate a income in which to pay it back. Oh well, I'm sure that there are less scenic places that are worst off.

Once you have driven through a town in the Baltic's you are not greeted with a sign that says "Hope you enjoyed your stay" or "Please come again." Instead it is simply just the towns name with a huge red strike through it. So for Clev's and I, this is the Baltic States. Not!

Stats for the Baltic's were:

Clev's Spoggie
Stalls 9 10
Chess 5 6
Fishing 0 1
8 Ball 5 3

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  • Narva
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"Estonia is Rich, They Have the Euro and Bears" PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 13 August 2010 00:00


Back in Estonia, our first port of call was the University town of Tartu. Tartu is possibly an interesting place, but I couldn't tell you. For me it provided a much needed source of Internet and I spent most of two days researching the next month of our trip through Russia.

At night I did head out to the open air film festival. The festival packs out a huge square each night with town's folk. While the films were alright, the experience was created by an atmosphere of people standing and drinking or sitting and eating at a restaurant while watching a movie on a huge blowup screen.

Following Tartu, we headed out to climb Estonia's and the Baltics biggest mountain. At 318 meters the feat is made possible by the fact that you only have to climb 60 meters from the car park to the top. To show off our mountaineering prowess, Clev's and I also completed Estonia's biggest climb at a whooping 84 meters on a nearby hill. Then it was back to Parnu to drop off the rental car and begin making our way in to Russia. It was a shame to leave the car behind and feel the full weight of my gear choices on my back again. Our rental agent did have some good advice to send us off with though. "Russia, is like... Russians!"


P.S. Estonia is definitely the wealthiest and most progressive of the 3 Baltic states. Indication of the fact is that they start on the Euro come the 1st January next year. Our "Sauna Mother" came up with title line when we were discussing the difference between Estonia and Latvia. I'm still yet to see these bears though.

 

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  • Montaineering in Estonia
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Best of Plans PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 August 2010 00:00


We'd planned a lot of our Baltic road trip around being in the Gauja National Park on the weekend as it is meant to be full of festivals during the summer months. We spent Saturday afternoon and night in Sigulda the closest town to Riga. The town didn't have much to offer so we spent 5 hours at a huge Tarzan park. That night the best we could find was a pub with 3 other people in it. Two of which were friend of the bar maid. The next day I realised that the the next town on, Cesis, had all the  festivals and we'd missed them.

When we did arrive in Cesis we tortured ourselves with a contemporary art exhibition. The most spectacular thing about it was that the derelict building that they held the exhibition in was still standing. Clevo thought it would have been better put to use done up as a brewery though.

The last town in the national park is Valmeira, which we went to, but I have nothing interesting to say about it. In fact the Gauja Park wasn't the best way to finish our tour of Latvia. By the the end of it both Clemo and I were starting to go a bit insane. Clev's tried to explain to a bee, "Fcuk ya, how hard can it be!" When the bee wouldn't get the hint that Clev's orange juice didn't belong to him. And I came up with the brain wave that "The problem with the Lonely Planet is that you have to read it!"

 

  • Sigulda Tarzan Park
  • Sigulda Tarzan Park
  • Sigulda Tarzan Park
  • Sigulda Tarzan Park
  • Gauja National Park
  • Gauja National Park
  • Gauja National Park
  • Gauja National Park
  • Cesis
  • Cesis
  • Cesis
  • Gauja National Park

 

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Third Lucky Sleep PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 06 August 2010 00:00


We've been lucky getting a bed some nights. The first occasion was in Siauliai near the Hill of Crosses. Lithuania's 4th largest city has just one hostel which was full. Giving up Clevo and I decided to have a beer before heading out of town to set up the tent. At the restaurant we met Keith, an Aussie working in London. He had wisely booked his room on the net weeks before arriving and had 2 spare beds. More celebrationery beers followed.

We had a similar problem after leaving Lithuania to return to Riga for the second time. We returned to the same hostel we had stayed at last time to find it was full as was most of Riga. Faced with paying for a costly hotel, Freddie the hostel operator discounted us an apartment for the night. The next night we were faced with the same prospect, however after further discussions with Freddie about the Baltic Sauna experience, he set us up at his parents weekend house complete with Sauna.

I expected Sauna to be sitting around in a hot and humid room until you get bored (10 minutes). In the Baltics, however, it is a social and invigorating occasion that lasts 3 hours. You sweat it out for five 10 minutes sessions in the Sauna with temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees and humidity 30 to 65%. In between the session everyone sips tea and discusses the world's problems. Each time you enter the Sauna there is different activity;
1) Warming up.
2) Scrubbing yourself with salt or coffee. In my case both.
3) Fluffing yourself with Birch leaves followed by a dip in 8 degree water.
4) Having someone else whip you with Birch leaves, followed by a the 8 degree plunge again. During this session the Sauna is at its hottest and most humidity. You need someone else to whip you as you can't stand doing it your self.
5) Lastly you douse yourself in honey to complete the cleansing.

Our hosts for the experience was Freddie's mother and some of her friends. There is probably hundreds of Mum jokes I could make right now, but I'm not sure they cross the English-Latvian language barrier. It is definitely an incredible experience and one I won't forget in a hurry.

 

  • Sauna
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  • Sauna

 

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"This is how we do it in Latvia." PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 06 August 2010 00:00


In Riga I witnessed first hand Baltic corruption. When Freddy organised the apartment for us a friend of his, Elena, drove us there. On the way she took a turn that could only occur after 10pm and the cops pulled her over. While the cops were checking her license and registration, she folded $10 Lats ($20 AUD) into her insurance papers and then turned to us and explained "This is how we do it Latvia." As soon as the paper was handed over the license and registration where promptly returned and we were on our way. Corruption has its benefits.

 

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Shortcuts PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 05 August 2010 00:00


I think Clev's is sick of hearing me say "We could follow the marked track or..." My shortcut during our ride along the Curonian Spit had us bike a' hiking up a sand track on the side of a 50 meter hill and then Clev's going over the handle bars on the descent down the other side. The shortcut in Lithuania's Aukstaitja National Park had us beating through the bush in a spider infested swamp. Back on the marked track, the National Park was spectacular. It consists of 126 fresh water lakes mostly interconnected by short creeks or passages of water. The deepest lake is 60 meters. We began exploring the area with an over night hike. The campsite we found for the night was picturesque. It was situated in the pine forest looking across a lake. Clev's was wishing I would grow breasts for the night. Our hiking packs felt good during the walk, but we did cheat and leave some weight behind in the car.

The lakes looked so good that we decided against hiking for other night. Instead we returned to the start and continue our exploration in a rented kayak. The expedition found us spending 40 minutes trying to barge our way through 2 meter high, also spider infested, reeds when we couldn't find the entrance to a creek. Reeds - 2, Clayton and Clev's Kayak - 0. Clev's  didn't get along well with the spider's that left him with two massive welt on his back. Neither did he get along with a mother goose that had ugly ducklings in tow. It's amazing how a hissing goose can improve the paddling stroke rate.

That night we failed for the second time at our weather predicting. Thinking that we wouldn't need the fly on the tent, we where struck by a huge electrical storm in the middle of the night. It was awesome to lay in the tent and listen to it. The thunder rolled and bounced of the lakes continuously for about a hour and a half. I was pleased with the tents performance. Once the fly was quickly put on, it stayed dry despite quite a heavy down pour.

The next day we returned again to the car and headed for Lativa. Our tour of duty in Lithuania was done.

 

  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park
  • Aukstaitja National Park

 

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Nida PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 August 2010 00:00

 

The cycling continued in Nida on Lithuania's Curonian Spit. There Clevo and I did an epic 70km, 5.5hr ride. It doesn't sound like many km's for the time, but it wasn't that easy with the rental bike that I had and the "shortcuts" that I chose.

In the evening we took in some culture with jazz and cheese. To palm off the homo stigma of two guys out at jazz, we drank beer instead of wine. Jazz was cool. A French band we saw had a piano-according, a drummer with a box of musical tricks instead of a second tom and a third guy playing 'phones of every description. One oversized thing I've called the max-ama-phone. It was the most oversized saxaphone I've seen.

Following Nida, we made our way through to Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, via a short stop to peddal a dolphin boat around a castle in Trakai. Vilnius is the least interesting of the 3 Baltic capitals and 1 night there was enough before we were on our way.

  • Curonian Spit
  • Curonian Spit
  • Trakai
  • Trakai
  • Trakai
  • Trakai
  • Trakai
  • Trakai

 

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London's Calling PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 08:00

 

Flight to London went well, a part from a minor passport scare in Bangkok. After pulling all of my gear out of the pack it was presumed lost. But later found in my jeans pockets.

Dave Honner set us up in his pad before heading off to Cornwell for the weekend. It was a good base for us to launch from. I saw the theater show Wicked and caught Jimeoin. Despite Jim's show being funny, my jet lag kicked in half way through and I fall asleep. Other highlights that I managed to stay awake for were seeing a Mulism man at speakers corner preach about anti-abortionism while simultaniously abuse anti-cancer fund raisers that they were wasting their time as only God has a cure for it. Make's me wonder why he doesn't use it? Maybe it's all the abortions!

We caught up with Clevo's friends Analeise and Mark Flannas at the Dukes Head. Despite London feeling over crowded and over bustling it does have two good thing going for it. You can drink beer on the streets and the sunlight here rises at 4am and sets at 11pm. You get home at midnight and it feels like early evening. Though I wouldn't like to be here in winter to experience the reverse for this effect.

 

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Records Broken on the Way to Estonia PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 June 2010 08:00

 

I believe Clevo and I have broken a record for the quickest visit to Finland. The longest part of our stay was finding the baggage carousel at the airport. From there it was onto a bus, then a ferry and we were on our way to Estonia.

The walking scenery in Tallinn is all that it is hyped up to be. There is more cheek hanging out of the bottom of short skirts than low hanging fruit in an orchard and more high heels than actual hills in the Baltic country side. At least this is how Clevo described it to me. I was too busy coming up with witty prose for my blog to look.

There were a few first for the trip in Tallinn.

  • Frist time camping out in the tent. Definitely the sexiest hiking tent I've ever camped in. Unfortunately the tents first test was done a Tallinn City Camping which consisted of a patch of grass outside a sports hall used for toilets.
  • First decent hike (3km) with all the gear on. Some minor adjustment to the pack required and I'm already starting to think of what gear I can send home or palm off to Cleverdon.
  • We ate out at restoran "Ol' Hansa" twice so that we could try elk, wild boar and bear. I recommend the elk. The restaurant, as with a lot of Tallinn's old town, has a medieval theme so we also tried honey, herb and cinnamon flavoured beer.


After a day of cycling around the old town we attempted to head out to Vosu in Lahemaa National Park. Our first "FAIL" for the trip occurred when we both woke up and got off the bus the first time it stopped. Some 3km short of our destination. Being glass half full guys we decided that the 3km's into town was a good opportunity to do some more training with all the gear on.This was until we arrived at the caravan park to find out that there was a caravan convention and tents weren't allowed. The result was another 1km walk into town and staying in our first hotel for the trip.

Things didn't get much better in Lehemaa when the only rental bikes we could find were granny styled. Not to be deterred we did your best to take them mountain bike riding in the mountain-less countryside. The highest mountain in Estonia is 318 meters, so any hill training for Kiliminjaro will have to wait until Russia.

 

 

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The Right is Right PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 June 2010 08:00

 

Following our failed bus trip, Clevo and I decided that we would buy a car to complete the rest of Eastern Europe. Back in Tallinn we did the rounds of the car yards and settled on a Reneo for $20,000Kr (AUS$2000). This was in spite of Clevo sobbing that I wouldn't let him have a beat up Ford station wagon. We left our car salesman to figure out how he could get around the rule that only Estonian nationals could buy a car while we figured out how to get into Russia and the Ukraine.

It turned out that getting around the Estonian rules for buying a car are more difficult than getting into Russia. So at the next stop, Parnu, we hired a car for the rest of our Baltic stay.

Switching to driving on the right side of the road is not an automatic process. So far our calamity of errors have been:

  • Doing the windows down when trying to change gears.
  • Giving the windscreen wipers a good work out around corners.
  • The driver getting in the passenger side of the car.
  • Occasionally facing head on traffic when we have switched back to driving on the left.
  • And the stall count currently stands at 6 each.


By the time we get back to catching public transport through Russia we'll have the hang of it.

 

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What the Hell is Art Nu-vey? PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 08:00

 

What the hell is Art Nouveau anyway? And what the hell is a gargoyle? So in depth is my knowledge of this artistic form of expression I spent 6 hours wandering around Riga pronouncing it as "Art Nu-vey."

Art Nouveau BoyRiga is the capital of Latvia and is meant to be famous among Nouveau buffs. Its our first stopping point after leaving Estonia. From what I can gather Art Nouveau is the practise of plastering weird heads, shapes, flowers and people on the side of your building. For what purpose I'm not sure? Take for example the sculpture shown on the right. What is the purpose of having it on the side of your building? To me this says that the owner of this abode likes 12 year old boys with lips like a hooker. Well I guess if that your thing, then so be it.

The other thing that pissed me about spending 6 hours looking at Nouveau was that I didn't see one goyle. This was until two days later when I looked at the building directly across from our hostel to find it was plastered all over with them. I still don't know what they are though!

While Riga didn't inspire my artistic side, it did fulfill my strange obsession for markets and adrenaline (generally not at the same time). On the first day a flyer for a scenic motorised hang-gliding flight caught my attention and I teed it up for the next morning. The flight started out scenic with a look over the old town and the capital. Then the pilot sends the glider diving and swirling downwards. He pulls it out of the dive a meter before the ground at which point he starts to dodge the hay bales in the field and the reeds lining the creeks. All I can say of the experience is: "I want one."

The markets were huge with the largest variety of meats (fresh and dried), fish (again fresh or dried), fruit and veg and other markety things. I could have spent a month in Riga just eating three meals a day from the markets. But alas it was time to press on.

After a mate (Mikie) dissed Latvia's North-West, Clevo and I decided to bolt directly South into Lithuania and pick up the rest of Latvia on the way back. Before the we crossed border though we stopped at Rundal Palace. With a 140 rooms and 10,000 square metre garden it is quite impressive. What makes it more so, is that it was the guys summer house. Prick!

  • Horse Riding
  • Riga
  • Riga Markets
  • Riga Markets
  • Art Nouveau
  • Art Nouveau
  • Art Nouveau
  • Art Nouveau
  • Motorised Hang-gliding
  • Motorised Hang-gliding
  • Motorised Hang-gliding
  • Art Nouveau
  • Icecream anyone?
  • Rundle Palace
  • Rundle Palace
  • Rundle Palace
  • Rundle Palace

 

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Days Tripping, Nights Drinking PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 June 2010 08:00

 

Heading South West out of Tallinn on Friday afternoon we arrived in the seaside town Parnu, known to flood with Estonian beach goers during the summer holidays. For Clevo and I it became a base for a few day trips to islands off the west coast and to Soomaa National Park. Parnu was also the place where had our first drinking session with fellow Estonians. The night started with a quiet drink watching the band playing in the street where some of the funkiest (read weirdest) wet weather dancing was also occurring. Here we met some students and a local who was driving trucks in Finland. The meeting was quiet advantageous as they were also friends with the owner of the Bravo night club, which allowed us free entry. An all nighter followed with lots of perving, drinking and bad dancing, mainly from Clevo and I.

The late night wreaked our plans for the next couple of days as we slept in and missed the ferry out to Kihnu, an island 40km south west. We rectified the situation a few days later with an out and back trip. The last 50 years forgot to tell Kihnu that it had occurred. People don't appear to have occupations, but rather tend to their potato and cabbage fields in the summer so they can last out the winter. During which there is no need to catch the ferry as you can just drive across the iced over ocean. While the island was interesting we had circled it twice on dodgy rental bikes after a couple of hours. Waiting for the ferry to return left plenty of time to give Susie and the old's a much needed Skype.

To make up for lost time we hired a car which will be our main form of transport for the 3 weeks left in the Baltic's. The car allowed us to day trip out to Soomaa National Park which is famous for its bogs. A bog sounds like something that you wouldn't go out of your way to see, but from what I can gather they are just large areas of moss covered peat that are sponges for water. They aren't smelly, ugly or any other images that a bog conjures up. In fact their pretty harmless until you attempt to swim in one of the bog lakes. The silted peat at the bottom is stirred up at the slightest disturbance and immediately attracted to the hairs on the skin. When I climbed out every bodily hair was lined with a fine black mud. I looked like an Estonian bear, though I haven't seen one. Yet!

Our other day trip was to Saaremaa, an island to the North West of Parnu. The highlight of the day was trout fishing for our lunch (at a farm). While you think it would be easy hook a fish when there are a dozen of them swim right in front of you. These fish were well and truly over fed and not at all interested in anything put in front of them. When people got hungry and they gave up trying to catch one the owner would just scoop the fish out with a net due to them being too fat and lazy to swim away. This is, of course, unless you have my extraordinary fishing skills. I'm not a vindictive man, but seeing the envious faces of Clevo and fat Finnish tourist as I pulled my 2.1kg trout from the water was rather satisfying.

 

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Too Cool for Missile Silos PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 08:00

 

My first stop in Lithuania was the Hill of Crosses just outside of Siauliai. Legend has it that the practice started with a sole guy placing a cross on the hill and preying to God to heal his terminally ill wife. Once God obliged the first guy then a few others thought they would try it on. These days anyone can buy a tacky cross from the stall nearby, place it on the flat ground around the hill (as the hill is full), and then prey for something. In fact it estimated that over 200,000 people have done just that.

Following the crosses Clevs and I thought we would try our hand at cyclo-touring with an over night ride through the Zemaitija National Park. We got lost and it pissed down rain. Many of my good friends perished during the rain. My iPhone and many loved apps got some water and promptly drowned. On the up side, the good thing about being lost in the Lithuanian pine forest is we saw our first wild deer, or elk, or something... probably a goat.

On the second day the ride didn't start out any better. I had to prop my seat up with a stick prevent my knees from hitting the handle bars. Clevs renta bike was too small so he was constantly hitting his knees. However, the high note of the ride came we visited an old Soviet missile silo. It was being renovated and had big no entry signs at the the front. So we decided to walk around the back for a better look. The workers didn't seem to mind us walking around, so we just decided to walk in the gates. As no one said anything we took ourselves on a tour of the entire site. Including trudging around in what seemed like pitch black underground corridors. Things got a bit brighter once I realised I still had my sunnies on. We spent long enough there to get a good look at a silo, but left as soon a we thought the rust steel floor was about to give way.

  • Hill of Crosses
  • Hill of Crosses
  • Hill of Crosses
  • Hill of Crosses
  • Hill of Crosses
  • Cyclo-Touring
  • Missile Silo
  • Missile Silo
  • Missile Silo
  • Missile Silo
  • Missile Silo
  • Cyclo-Touring

 

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