Monday, March 19, 2007

Amy - You Looked Amazing!

Amy and Matt's Wedding

After looking forward to it for nearly two years it was Amy and Matt's wedding on Saturday. It was one of the most enjoyable days of my life. Amy and Matt are two of my best friend's in the world and so was amazingly special for me to be able to share their wedding day with them.

Hope you guys are enjoying Hawaii!! xxx

Good to be Back!

Finally am able to ditch the thermals and down jacket...

Great Wall of China

The 10km hike I did along the Great Wall of China was one of the best experiences of my life. It took about 4 hours from arriving at the wall to complete the hike but that included going an hour in the wrong direction and being stopped and then stalked by the first the 'Peleton' and then the crazy Mongolian 'Wall People'.

Home of The Mayo

Chris' birthday proved to be one of our more interesting days on our trip when a few days before we were told that it was impossible to get a train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing in the next three weeks. The only alternative that we could work out was to (over Chris' birthday) take a 35 hour local train to the Mongolian-Chinese border (a trip that without stops should have taken only a couple of hours) and then find a sleeper bus to take us overnight to Beijing.

The first thing I noticed when entering China was that EVERY store looked like it was a chinese restaurant to me as they had lanterns and dragons out the front and chinese writing on the windows.

Beijing was without a doubt one of the best cities I have been to. Jam-packed with eastern culture, it is suprisingly tourist friendly and whilst I was there for a week, I didn't see even a quarter of its attractions. One reason for this may have been the addiction Chris and I developed for the markets and the batering system that was used there. Between the two of us we brought, Ugg boots, trainers, ski jackets, wind breakers, pearls, necklaces, handbags and football shirts, mostly after getting the vendor down to at least one tenth of their original asking price. It became such a game for us... I loved it!!!

Then there was the food............. YUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

From Irkutsk, we strayed from the Trans siberian route into Mongolia. The tiny capital, Ulaanbaatar, is like no other city I have ever been. A lot about the city is Asian yet the official language uses the cyrillic alphabet, the fusion of the Chinese and Russian cultures is extraordinary.
The country is extremely poor with what appears to be a still very unstable government. All you could do was walk around and try to soak up the atmosphere of the place. My favourite area was a couple of street away from the actual centre of the city in the ghetto where ordinary people live in gers (felt covered tents) still, rather than houses.

Trains, Vodka and MORE SNOW!

The first of many trans siberian train journeys was from St Petersburg overnight to Moscow. Was a relatively pain free experience despite the rock-hard leather bunk beds that were almost big enough for a small child, incessant 'Musac' the blastest from our cabin speakers till the early hours of the morning and heavily sedated, snoring Russian man who slept below me.
First impressions of Moscow were that of more snow, more cyrilic and more very very cold weather. Moscow was much more like how I had imagined a Russian city to be. Gone were the renaissance buildings, picturesque canals and pretty streets and in their place, wide Stalin-style apartment blocks with wide roads and imposing statues. If possible, less people seemed to understand in English in Moscow than they had in St Petersburg.

Definitely the highlight of Moscow was seeing Red Square, complete with the Kremlin, St Basil's Catherdral and Lenin's tomb. We were fortunate enough to meet a guy from Slovakia (who continuously referred to himself as Central European when asked about his nationality until we forced him to admit he was a Slovak after spending a few hours with him) who helped us get on board a very dodgy tour of Red Square that seemed to be the only way we would be allowed to go inside Lenin's tomb.
The catch of this tour was that you had to hand over all possessions (including cameras, wallets and passports) to this little Russian lady - who looked very much like a beggar - to be stored in her big canvas bag. Fifteen minutes into this hour long outdoor russian speaking tour in -20C, it became apparent that the worst aspect to her taking all our belonging was that we were unable to escape the tour till the end if we wanted to see our things again. Seeing the embalmed Lenin was absolutely amazing though and so definitely worth it.
From Moscow, we embarked on our longest train journey of the trip, 77 hours through Siberia to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal. Finding entertainment on the train was interesting. It certainly wasn't to be found in the passing scenary as the excitement from seeing snow and birch trees wore off after the first 5 hours. Instead we used vodka, purchased off the train station vendors we passed along the way.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Фоываоды Йкмшры Рщццымилз

Greeting me in St Petersburg was an abundance of snow and -20C daytime temperature. After I managed to come to terms with the amount of clothes I was required to wear in order to survive being outdoors, I found St Petersburg to be a beautiful city complete with frozen canals, pretty parks and awesome Western European style buildings, canals and palaces (including the Hermitage).

St Petersburg was really nothing like I expected. It was very very ornate and appeared quite capitalist. While not many signs were translated from cyrillic to English and very few people spoke English, it was pretty well set up for tourists.

My biggest memory of St Petersburg will be the ice on the footpaths. I very quickly discovered that when coming across ice on pavements, the correct way to behave was not to screech, 'Look Chris! Ice on the pavement!' and start running towards it.

Back in Prague

Last night, I learned that my friend Jackie checks this site regularly for updates. So, just for her, I thought I would finally put some photos up of my last trip. Thanks for your loyalty to the site Jackie :)
From Leeds, I flew to Prague - one of my favourite cities in the world. It was just as good as I remembered it, only this time it was winter and on the last day, much to my delight, it snowed (see photo of me looking happy with snow in the background).
The delight that I experienced from this snow was very shortlived. As you will see, snow became a theme for most of my holiday and I can now honestly say that I will be very happy if I NEVER SEE SNOW AGAIN!! :)