A Travellerspoint blog

Venice of the North

Our days in Leningrad

sunny 30 °C
View Transsib to Tibet on feeverte's travel map.

So how about some actual stuff about St Petersburg?

I knew the city was going to be incredibly beautiful, and it is. The cityscape reminds me of Vienna quite a lot -- mostly due to the beautiful old houses that could very well be found there. To get this out of the way now, though, there were also a few letdowns: The streets are huge (Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in the city centre, has six lanes of traffic!), probably also warranted by the amount of car traffic around, so of course the noise level is quite high near them and the Nevsky Prospekt oozes about as much charm as the Gürtel in Vienna. Also, everyone drives like a maniac, including the bikers who are probably scared to go on the streets and therefore use the sidewalks at insanely high speeds. There's quite a stench coming out of the sewer covers sometimes, but that's hardly different in New York. And the weapon of choice for the industrious ticket seller seems to be the megaphone -- some using it themselves, some playing some sort of pre-recorded message on a loop -- which can really get on your last nerve.

Other than that, and the fact that it was a bit hot for my taste (my weather app, the liar, steadfastly showed 23•C, but the thermometer outside Hermitage showed 32•C yesterday), out stay in St Petersburg was beautiful.

The metro as well as any city maps are very straightforward because all those signs are in Cyrillic as well as Latin, and while I'd learned the letters on the train, I read them at the speed of a five-year-old. We also tried our hand at taking buses, which worked well even when the bus turned out to be a tiny minibus (more of a large car) that basically stopped whenever someone asked the driver to.

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Highlights of the sightseeing include the Church of Our Savious of the Spilled Blood, which doesn't just look amazing from the outside (I had a slight, wait, isn't that supposed to be in Moscow? moment, but apparently there are enough onion-domed towers to go around in Russia), but on the inside is covered in mosaics from floor to ceiling, and well worth the entrance fee.

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St Isaac's Cathedral is lucky it has that golden dome, because otherwise it's pretty ugly, made of grey stone. However, going up to the colonade gives you an amazing view of the city; afterwards we were in need of a break, so we decided to drag our sweaty selves to the cute mint green and white café next to the church. We never got a name, but there are angels on the sign, and 2-for-1 prosecco which made us feel like we were back in civilised society after a day of sightseeing in the heat. 

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The Peter and Paul Cathedral in the middle of the Peter and Paul Fortress is also a nice church, probably mostly worth visiting if you want to see the controversial tomb of Csar Nicholas II. and his family, or try to decipher the names on all the other sarcophagi. The fact that there are people sunbathing and swimming around the fortress seems very nice until you have a closer look at the water -- definitely bearing the marks of the heavy boat traffic -- but it's still extremely refreshing to wade into, and I survived without catching some sort of disease. (Probably.)

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The Hermitage museum in the Winter Palace is incredibly beautiful, of course. Given that it's a former palace in the city centre that was transformed into a museum, it reminds me quite a bit of the Louvre, only in green (a very fetching colour for palaces, if you ask me). We had to queue quite a bit for our free student tickets in the lovely courtyard (all the regular tourists barely had any waiting time), and given the size of the queue it's not surprising that it was quite crowded inside. The artwort was nice enough (I prefer to see painings in a less distracting, cleaner environment rather than a lavish one, to be honest), but most impressive were the State Rooms, especially the one all in gold and white (we dubbed it the ball room) with a door out into an atrium. Imagining living there and walking down the huge staircases for breakfast -- the mind boggles. I enjoyed other museums more in terms of the artwork, but it's still worth visiting, especially if you can get in for free as a student, and don't even think about paying the extra 200 roubles for photography -- no-one checked even once. I enjoyed the ambiance the most, and the little touches like the incredible hardwood floors.

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Doing a boat tour through the canals of the city -- it reminds me more of Amsterdam than of Venice, to be honest, but that's probably splitting hairs -- is certainly a good idea, but in my opinion not a must if you've already see the city on foot. 

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Finally, we also  went to the Museum of Political History, which is extremely well done, but certainly a bit more enjoyable for people who speak Russian, or possibly those who get the audio guide, as there are English signs in the exhibitions, but not quite as much as Russian info. We got an audiopen, which provided a shorter tour, but it felt a little incomplete. However, it's very interactive and beautifully presented, giving an overview of the Soviet era plus the political history of Russia both in the 19th century and recently. Also, you get to see Lenin's office.

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Wie were staying at the Red House Hostel on Liteyny prospekt. It's located in the pretty green inner courtyard of a large old house and pretty nice, if a bit humid in general -- especially the bathrooms, and our room was stuffy at night. The staff (including the boss) was unfailingly great and fun and treated us to our first vodka In Russia (and then another, and then another). I can recommend this place for everyone -- it's quite cheap as well.

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Trying to go out for more than a drink during the week is a sad affair, but food-wise we were more successful:
ZooM, the already mentioned TripAdvisor number 1, is not exactly cheap, but not expensive either and really very good. Be prepared to either arrive early or wait for quite a while, though -- they don't take reservations. Third time was the charm for us, the other times the wait was about an hour, which we refused. We got lucky finding alternatives, though,
Coffee Room, down the street, serves some excellent inexpensive food (portions aren't huge, but I got a filling Spaghetti Carbonara for less than €6.50) and the atmosphere is great,
Clean Plates Society, up the street from ZooM, is also very nice, great duck and roast beef for a very reasonable price.
And finally, for a quick bite in-between, there's Stolle not too far away from the Hermitage, and a pie shop recommended to us by a local at nab. Griboyedova Kanala 20.

Now I'm off to gett some sleep in order to experience Moscow in just two and a half days. One thing's for certain - our last night, a Friday, will be spent partying, just before the longest train ride on our itinerary

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Posted by feeverte 16:36 Archived in Russia Tagged buildings tours russia Comments (0)

All Aboard the Vodkatrain

It begins in St Petersburg.

sunny 30 °C
View Transsib to Tibet on feeverte's travel map.

Arrival in St. Petersburg was easier than I thought and included possibly the cheapest airport transfer I've ever had -- 78 rubles, or €1.78. (Previously, the cheapest was my home town, which is admittedly tiny.) 

 Because I hit a low on the flight from Moscow and knew I was going to be useless for the rest of the day, I decided to just do some aimless wandering around where I knew the city centre was, and then get an early night. It's actually quite fun to just run around a city, spotting buildings you know must be famous but not having a clue what they are. I don't really do it often when I get to a new place, but it's quite relaxing.

When I got back to my previously empty dorm room, I met the first three members of my Vodkatrain group, the other two followed the next day. Th roll call:
Courtney from the UK, a policewoman;
Verity from the UK, a grammar school teacher;
Josh from the UK (the only man at the hen party), who has "the only morally acceptable profession in finance", which is basically catching insider traders;
Jay from Australia, a doctor;
and Renata from Brazil, who recently quit her job as a corporate lawyer to go on a round the world trip.

I'm incredibly happy with my group, because everyone is awesome. I didn't quite know what to expect, but we all hit it off right away. Four out of six (including me) are 23 years old, and everyone knows I'm a big anglophile, so no surprises there. 

That's actually a great thing, because our first honcho (the local Vodkatrain person who's at our service) turned out to be not only underwhelming, but also a bit of a tool.  Admittedly, it was a bit weird to have spent 24 hours in the city before meeting him -- we felt like we knew our way around already -- and in the group, or most of it. On the one hand, we didn't need as much info from him as we would have on the first day; on the other hand, we'd already bonded, and he didn't quite fit in. The biggest problem, however, was that he was 40 minutes late for the first meeting (and over an hour late for the meeting before we caught our train to Moscow!), he was also sort of weird and didn't have much of a clue what was going on. His first words were literally, "So, you're here. I don't actually know what to tell you." His tips were alright, but unenthusiastic and pretty superficial - for example, rather than just telling us that ZooM was a nice place to eat, he could have mentioned that it was extremely popular (I found out even before we went out that it's number 1 on TripAdvisor!), but that we'd have to wait up to an hour for a table any time after 6pm. Finally, he just didn't come across as very nice; the words "please" and "thank you" hardly ever left his mouth (if they did at all), even though I noticed more than once the pause in the sentence where they would have gone. Frankly, we were all glad to leave him in St Petersburg.

Which leads me to my next observation: Russians and politeness, two great tastes that either taste great together or repel each other like wine and oil. Our experience so far has been pretty astonishing, because the Russians we've met were either incredibly sweet, or the rudest people we've ever met. There just doesn't seem to be any sort of middle ground. 
It's probably partly due to the fact that I spent most of my summer so far in England, and that I'm travelling with British people, that I'm noticing the rudeness quite this much, but I'm also used to grumpy, grumpy Vienna, and this is nothing like that. From people absolutely refusing to crack a smile or say one word more than strictly necessary, to actual elbowing me out of the way and pushing in front of me at the ticket counter when I'd already given the ticket officer my student ID (Austrians are messy queuers, but I've never seen such blatant queue jumping as here). The worst instance was a simple misunderstanding about a boat tour, when our informing the ticket officer that her colleague had just told us a lower price lead to her literally snapping at us to "Get another boat then," turning around on the spot  leaving us. 
By contrast, however, we've met some of the sweetest people here as well, and not just people like the staff in our hostel that we'd been getting to know. Perfect strangers starting a conversation after overhearing us wondering about something (or because they just liked our accents!), spontaneously leading us to their favourite pie shop, or even trying in broken English to help us to understand what the fruit seller wanted from us. All of those instances were so heartwarming that they left me actually smiling. It's a weird duality of sorts.

So far, my experience has been quite amazing. I knew the honchos were gonna be hit-and-miss, and hopefully this one will have been the worst of the lot. Just meeting this awesome group, though, has made me glad I chose to do the Vodkatrain. Of course you meet people everywhere you go -- we've already adopted two Bavarians who are doing the Transsib independently, and the English girls are in love with two German girls from our dorm -- but there's something to be said for knowing that these people will be travelling with me for  the next three weeks, instead of just having a string of two-day friendships. (Of course the two aren't mutually exclusive.)

More on St. Petersburg -- and pictures -- later. My hunch that I'd only have time to blog on the trains seems to be pretty accurate. Amazingly, though, this train has wifi that occasionally works.

Posted by feeverte 02:37 Archived in Russia Tagged me people trains tours russia Comments (0)

A Look Into My Suitcase

The trip has officially begun.


View Transsib to Tibet on feeverte's travel map.

I'm writing this on a plane from Vienna to Moscow Domodedovo, having left Austria on the hottest day in history. (Or the hottest August day in history, or something. Apparently, the poor people in Carinthia had to deal with 39.9•C today. It was bad enough in Vienna.)

Because of my ninja travel planning skills, it's gonna take me 12 hours to get to St Petersburg. Turns out, flights to Russia on the weekend are crazy expensive. My Vodkatrain trip starts on Monday, but I really wanted to get to St Petersburg a day early to have some more time there. So the cheapest option to get there on Sunday is a 23:15 flight to Moscow, a seven-hour layover in Domodedovo (I just love saying that. Domodedovo. I don't even know. (Domodedovo.)), and then a 10am flight to St Petersburg. I'm not really bothered, tbh; I also spent the night in Heathrow last year to get to the US, and according to Sleeping in Airports Domodedovo is an unusually nice airport, by Russian standards. (I have never been to Russia, so I don't know what their airport standards are.) Also, there might or might not be free wifi, and I have my Transsiberian Handbook to read and some Russian phrases to learn.

Anyway, the actual point of this post: In an effort to pack lighter, I put together a packing list for this trip. It's not totally basic, and I won't be travelling carry-on only, but that's mostly because my backpack-trolley hybrid is a 60L size, which wouldn't be allowed in anyway. I was trying to balance form and function, because while I do want to be practical, I also want to look nice. Everyone's favourite packing quote seems to be "When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money", but I totally agree with like this one: "Comfort has its place, but it seems rude to visit another country dressed as if you've come to mow its lawns." (David Sedaris) ;)

So here's my packing list for 40 days in Russia, Mongolia, China, Tibet and Nepal, where I can - realistically - expect temperatures from 7 to 32•C. (And who the hell knows what the weather is gonna be like at Everest Base Camp.)

In my Deuter Helion 60:

Five tops (two tanks, two T-shirts, one thin cotton blouse - all mostly wrinkle-resistant)
Two cardigans (one merino, one a blend but it includes 10% silk)
A pair of thin faux-denim shorts
A pair of Levi's jeans
Three short dresses (two daytime, one for going out)
A magic skirt (lucky find in Oxford for just £10!)
Seven undies (microfibre)
A sports bra
A normal bra with detachable straps
Three pairs of socks (two SmartWool, one coolmax athletic)
A swimsuit
A black tube top/body suit (for warmth, and you never know when you'll need one of those!)
A pair of thin, long athletic trousers (to wear on the train and to sleep)
Two sleep shirts (short/long-sleeved)
Belt
Scarf and merino Buff
All in a Sea to Summit eVent Compression Sack (Size L) - I've used this on my July travels as well, and I'm really impressed how well it works. (However, in an effort to keep things organised and more accessible, I was inspired by the Hobo Roll to make a fabric sack with divisions inside and string closures on both ends, to use inside the compression sack. This took me most of last night (and an old bed sheet was sacrificed), but I'm really happy with the result, and preliminary tests went well. We'll see how it holds up.)

A HappyRainyDays rain trench

A pair of Converse (with comfy insoles)
A pair of Ecco Flash sandals (except I got them cheaper and in dark brown)
A pair of Geox wedge sandals (for going out - I will not be denied one pair of really nice shoes!)
A pair of flip flops (for showers, around the hostels and the trains)

A PackTowl towel and a small face towel

Travel hairbrush
Toothbrush
(one of those vibrating ones, maybe a better substitute for my electric one)
Small toothpaste tube
Floss
(also doubles as sewing thread if necessary)
Lush Seanik solid shampoo (doubles as shower gel, and smells amazing)
Small tube of conditioner
Sunscreen
(doubles triples as face cream and body lotion)
Rei travel detergent
Small bottle of insect repellent
Tampons
Spare contacts
Contact fluid
This and that
(Some Q-tips, facial cleansing wipes, exfoliating glove, nail clipper, tiny bottles of hair oil and anti-yellow rinse for my hair, ear plugs, eyedrops, tiny bottle of nail polish)
All in my Jack Wolfskin Waschsalon

Universal sink plug and clothes line (they came together)
Tiny sewing kit
Headlight
Swisscard
Cable number lock
Number lock
(for the bag)

REI Stuff Travel Daypack

Sea to Summit XMug
Spork
Plastic shaker with spices
(all for food on trains)

iPhone charger, iPad charger, with two cables and one micro USB cable for my camera and Kindle
2-plug socket adapter thing
(whatever you call it)
Travel hair straightener
Medicine
(painkillers, cold pills, diarrhoea pills, stomach settler, antihistamine, antiseptic, contraceptives, garlic pills because I suffer from the delusion that this will help me avoid altitude sickness) in blister packs
All in a small, light H&M hand bag (faux leather, in case I want something classier)

In my Pacsafe Citysafe 200 (Herringbone):
iPhone with earphones
iPad with Logitech Ultra-Thin Keyboard Cover in a neoprene sleeve
iPod Touch
(very old now, but in case the battery of the other two runs out)
Kindle Touch in folio case with reading lamp
Sony NEX 3N camera with an extra memory card
Two 32 GB memory cards with videos and the iPad camera connection kit
(to watch movies/TV shows on the iPad)
Pacsafe RFIDtec 200 wallet (tbh, I mostly got this because it was yellow and nice and has a ring to clip it to the bag)
Platypus water bottle
Memory foam eye mask
Basic make-up
Sunglasses
Evolution Neckpillow
The Transsiberian Handbook

On me:
Pacsafe Coversafe belt wallet (can be fastened to the belt loops, or if I'm wearing a dress I have elastric straps so I can keep it on my hip)

And because I went grocery shopping yesterday, I threw in a few food supplies for the train rides - mostly instant cup soups (the tomato can double as pasta sauce), dried bacon, that usually terrible fake parmesan dehydrated grated cheese. Though the most important staple for going a few days without a fridge I'll have to get in Russia - NUTELLA.

Some things I considered bringing but ultimately didn't:
A sleep sheet (I have the silk Cocoon TravelSheet, but tbh, I've been staying in hostels for years and never needed one.)
Trekking/Zip-off trousers (I literally could not bring myself to buy those.)

We'll see how I feel about this list when I'm back - until then I'll try to keep my things more or less in order. Most importantly, my bag is half-empty -- hello, souvenirs!

PS: My Prada-wearing seat neighbour (who has that very specific Russian rich girl look) is getting plastered on FlyNiki red wine. Cheers!

PPS: Domodedovo has free wifi. Domodedovo is the best. (Also insanely busy during the night - do Russians love to fly when it's dark out?)

Posted by feeverte 19:54 Archived in Russia Tagged planes packing russia planning in_case_you_were_wondering tl;dr Comments (2)

Best Laid Plans

Two continents. Four countries. 40 days. Over 9.000km of air travel. Over 13.000km of train travel. Endless possibilities.

sunny 29 °C

Earlier today, I picked up the last of my travel documents at my local STA Travel office.

I got the idea for this trip last September, and I've been looking forward to it basically that long. That's ten months of reading blogs, looking at pictures and deciding what's actually worth my money.

I realised pretty early on that I'd be alone in this, because my friends either weren't interested in spending days on end on a train or didn't have the money or time to tag along. I have some experience travelling alone - last summer I went to the US for about four weeks, meeting my family in NYC for eleven days in the middle, and after studying abroad in the UK for a year, I'm used to a certain amount of solo travel. But this particular trip wasn't something I wanted to do on my own.

Asia is completely new territory for me. In fact, the last five to ten years of my life I've only travelled to places where either I could speak the language well or enough to get by (France, Canada, USA, UK, Spain) or people spoke English or German as a second language well enough to communicate (basically, all of Europe). This, apparently, is going to be a problem this time, not to mention that aside from Greece, I've never really gone somewhere I couldn't read the language. And then there's the security aspect, a girl travelling alone into terra incognita. My Mum is uncomfortable enough with my plans as they are, though personally, I don't believe stories about sleeping gas pumped into train compartments in order to rob tourists blind.

That is where Vodkatrain comes in. I don't remember exactly when I came across this company, but it must have been relatively early on, and quite possibly on the STA website, since I remembered their sort of student-y feel and went to check out their tours in Russia. Their concept of loosely organised group tours for 18- to 35-year-olds seemed pretty appealing to me, despite the potential for binge-drinking English hooligans. (Sorry, English people! I love you! But let's admit it, you guys tend to go a little crazy when it comes to drinking.) There's a fixed itinerary in terms of actual travel (trains) and accommodation, but other than that, there's no fixed programme. Plus, I'm pretty sure the honcho concept - having someone available at every stop who speaks English, is a local, and probably the same general age group as the travellers - will turn out to be invaluable (at least to me) in Russia, Mongolia and China.

I read up a lot about Vodkatrain before making the decision to book. This article, which is a sort of summary of a few longer blog entries by the author which are not online anymore, was one of those that convinced me, and they're rated well enough on TourRadar as well. We'll see what my experience with them will be!

The second part of my trip was a little harder to figure out. A little google research revealed that it's actually possible to visit Tibet, though tourists are required to hire a tour guide for the duration of their stay. Obviously that made me feel a bit weird. My first "experience" with Tibet, meaning I realised it existed, was actually Seven Years in Tibet, not exactly a pro-Chinese film.

The question I found myself asking, is it actually okay to travel to Tibet? Isn't Tibetan tourism a Chinese invention? Does participating in it support the Chinese regime more than I'm comfortable with?

(See, before I sort-of titled this trip Transsib to Tibet, I kept thinking of it as That Epic and Ethically Ambiguous Train Ride.)

There's no clear-cut answer to this, but I did my best to do some research. A pretty good resource is Interpreting Tibet: A Political Guide to Traveling in Tibet. (It's a little out of date, but 2008 was the most recent low point, so it's still relevant enough.) The gist of it is that travellers have to decide for themselves if they want to go, and if they do, they should keep in mind to be respectful, be conscious of the propaganda and the risks, and try to support Tibetans above Chinese wherever possible. The Dalai Lama himself said on the topic, "I think you must go [to Tibet] yourself, and spend some time, not only in towns but in the countryside. Go to the countryside, and with a translator, if possible one who speaks Tibetan [...] the best answer is that you should go there, and study."

Most of the tourism in Tibet, by a large margin, comes from the Chinese mainland itself. Westerners, such as myself, are almost guaranteed to go there with a different attitude than Chinese. Seeing propaganda in action is probably gonna be a fascinating experience, and I really do want to go.

Choosing a travel agency was the next task, because even though I'm not sure how big of a difference it actually makes, I did want to use a Tibetan and not a Chinese agency. There's not that much information out there, but a good start is Can You Really Trust Your "Tibetan" Travel Agent? and Meet The Locals. Based on this, I ended up on ExploreTibet. Their website is very good, with tons of information, with a section on Responsible Travel that sounds convincing enough to me. (I'm ALL for their No Plastic Bottles project, in any case - it's gonna be weird for me to not be able to drink tap water for basically all of this trip.) Also very important to me is that they offer not just private tours, but fixed-departure join-in group tours, which is exactly what I need given that I am without a group.

When I started out planning the Tibet leg of my trip, I was thinking of taking the train in (an absolute must as far as I'm concerned - I wasn't gonna cross the Asian continent eastwards by train, and then China too, and not go on the highest railway on Earth), spending a few days in Lhasa, and taking a plane out again. Then I realised that a) that's sort of stupid, and b) waitasec, I can go to fucking Mount Everest?! So a couple of months ago I booked their 8 Days Overland to Nepal tour. So far our "group" seems to consist of me and someone I only know as Ben, 25. There's still a month to go, so we'll see - anyone want to join our tour across Tibet? ;)

The September 2nd start of the Tibet tour gives me a free week after the end of the Vodkatrain. I'll probably stay in Beijing for a couple more days before taking the bullet train down to Shanghai. I want to then take a sleeper train to Xian to check out the Terracotta warriors, but that place didn't tickle my interest enough to warrant an overnight stay, so my plan is to arrive around 9am, preferably put my bag into luggage storage (there seem to be a few places close to the train station), spend the day there and then take a midnight sleeper train to Xining, which will give me four or five hours to check out that city before my train to Tibet.

And after being dropped from my tour at the Nepalese border, I have three days left in Nepal before my flight home.

tl;dr - I'm somehow travelling alone without actually travelling alone. :D

My flight to St. Petersburg should be fun, because I have a seven-hour layover in Moscow. Same story with my flight home, where I'll be stopping in Qatar. (I'm still considering getting a visa at the airport just to check out to Doha in the middle of the night - would LOVE some input!)

Posted by feeverte 12:33 Archived in Austria Tagged trains china flights nepal russia tibet mongolia planning tl;dr Comments (0)

Wanderlust Inspiration

How does someone come up with all that?

sunny 27 °C

This is my first attempt at regular blogging in years, on occasion of the most extensive and most exciting trip of my life to date. The whole thing started out like this:

1) One day, back in September, I looked up at the world scratch map poster on my bedroom wall and thought to myself, "Wow. Russia and China are pretty huge. Wouldn't it be nice to scratch all that off?" Thus an idea was born.

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2) No, really. That’s what gave me the idea. MAPS, PEOPLE. Turns out, they work. Even Seth Cohen recommends them: “Maybe there's someplace you'll want to go. It's pretty good for ideas.” (I’ll try to get over the fact that I just quoted The O.C. in my first blog entry. THIS IS GOING WELL.)

3) The actual inspiration for this trip came from a half-forgotten childhood memory of one of my favourite books: Die Suche nach den sieben Schwestern - apparently available in English as The Search for the Seven Sisters - in which a girl with big blond hair (i.e. me, obvs) and her little blond brother (i.e. my little blond brother) spend their summer holidays on a round-the-world trip with their grandmother, looking for her seven lost sisters. They go on the Transsiberian Railway between Tina (who is in China, which rhymes in German, JSYK) and Olga (in the land of the Volga) in an awesome, double-sided spread. Needless to say, I immediately got a second-hand copy of the book on the net, and, to be honest, if you're not doing the same thing right now, I don't know what's wrong with you. It's round-the-world trip shenanigans, for kids, with bonus Where's-Waldo action, and a truly groovy grandma who has a guitar-shaped swimming pool and a dog named Kumquat. (I shit you not.)

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4) The idea proved pretty persistent, and, at some point, started to take shape. Whenever I have to really study for an exam, I like to spend my breaks planning hypothetical trips. I find it cathartic. Whatever floats your boat!

5) After deciding to do the Transsib, I realised my plans so far extended to Beijing and no further. When I asked myself what part of China I'd really like to see if I could, the instant answer was Tibet. Not gonna lie, this might also go back to a distant memory of watching [i]Seven Years in Tibet when I was probably around twelve years old. (I am very susceptible to media, as it turns out.) I still kind of love that film, though that might be because I first watched it in German, which means I didn't have to suffer through Brad Pitt's atrocious accent.

6) After spending a few minutes laughing at myself for that idea, I turned to google, and as it turns out, travelling to Tibet is not actually the same as travelling to North Korea (though it's not free and easy by any definition).

So here I am, nine months later and quite a few Euros shorter, eagerly anticipating the trip that will take me from St. Petersburg to Beijing by way of Mongolia on the Vodkatrain, on a few more ridiculously cheap trains through China to Xining, on the highest railroad in the world to Tibet, through the Tibetan plateau to Everest Base Camp (because WHY NOT), and finally to Kathmandu, Nepal, for a couple of days and a flight homewards.

(Here's why this trip is sort of amazing: A year ago, I would've said I had zero interest in Asia. Nada. Can totally wait until after I've done, like, Australia and New Zealand, or Iceland, or Europe the second time around. Enter the scratch map. I guess this is one of those instances where I say something sage like, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans," except a LOT of planning actually went into this, because travel planning is AWESOME.

Right now the Great Visa Struggle is over and done with (DUN DUN DUNNNNNN), and I finally have a few days after a very busy July to finish my travel preparations and hopefully learn Cyrillic.

Wish me luck, you guys, and stay tuned for a couple more pre-departure posts!

Posted by feeverte 14:11 Archived in Austria Tagged me in_case_you_were_wondering Comments (0)

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