Thursday, October 27, 2005


I don't have enough time to come up with a more interesting title.


So, as you may have guessed, I'm now in Estonia. Tallinn, the capital, is quite nice. We're staying right near the Old Town and everything is cobblestoned and medieval. Very cool. We're going to be dorky tourists and go to one of the medieval themed restaurants where everyone is dressed up and you can order bear or boar or elk and stuff like that. And they do sword fights. oooh!


I totally should have written while I was in St. Petersburg, I don't know why I didn't. We stayed at a really nice little hostel just a stone throw's away from the Winter Palace. And they had free internet that I totally didn't abuse like I should have. Alas, I was too busy sightseeing and soaking up culture. What was I thinking? Everything was gorgeous there, very European. Went to the Hermitage twice, what an amazing museum. I can't imagine living in such a huge place. I mean, palaces are beautiful and stunning and all that, but they must have been so inconvenient to live in. How would you ever find anyone?


We got a bit of a surprise on our second last day. I was checking the exact time our bus left on the 25th, only to notice that we'd actually booked it for the 24th. Which meant we were scheduled to leave in 2 hours. After we got past the shock, we figured there was nothing we could do but miss our bus and buy new tickets. So we went down to the bus station the next morning to buy tickets. There was no one that spoke English, only a bit of Spanish, so we used the smattering we could remember and bought tickets. We couldn't go overnight anymore because that meant we would reach the border after midnight and our visas would have expired. Apparently they're pretty strict. Don't want to mess with those Russians.


Eek, time's up! I'll try to write soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Da, I'm in Russia.

That's about the extent of my Russian. Yes, no, please, thank you, and potato. You can imagine how far that gets me.


So, Russia. Yep, it's exactly how I imagined it. And all my ideas came from spy movies. The train passed by many villages comprised of dark wooden houses with broken down car shells scattered here and there. Bizarre.


There's something about the Russians that is so intimidating. Always so stern looking. I'm on my best behaviour. I haven't been asked for my papers yet, although I hear that it's very common. We've done the touristy things already - the Kremlin, Red Square, Lenin's mausoleum, St. Basil's church... That's all knew of Moscow. The Kremlin was a bit disappointing, just a bunch of churches. We weren't allowed to go to the Grand Palace or any of those cool places because that's where Putin lives, and apparently he doesn't want a bunch of tourists tramping through. Yeesh, it's not like I was going to be stealing state secrets.... Sigh. St. Basil's (the famous church that is always pictured) was actually quite cool. It looks so fake from the outside, so colourful and fantasy-like. It seems like it should be made out of gingerbread with big dollops of whipped cream and marzipan as the towers. Inside was all dark with narrow corridors, very much felt like a dungeon. Apparently Ivan the Terrible had the architects blinded upon the church's completion so that they could never design anything to match it's beauty. I guess that's pretty terrible. Red Sqare was just a big open square, and Lenin's Mausoleum was a surreal-looking dead guy. The second I've now seen. It was cooler than Mao's though because you got to walk really close to the glass. Freaky.


Now we're just going to wander aimlessly, trying to find small restaurants that aren't too hard on the wallet. Moscow is so expensive! It would be so much better to do this trip in reverse, everything getting cheaper as you go along. It's quite a shock to the system this way.


Not too much else to report just now. This wasn't a very insightful blog. Let me sum up the major points: Moscow is bloody pricey. Moscow is pretty cold. Russian police unnerve me, and despite trying to remain below the radar, I've been shushed and whistled at (not the sexy kind, just the get away from there before I throw you in a Russian prison kind). Russian style is...distinctive. I thought now that I was out of Asia, I might blend in better. Not so. I'm missing the brightly dyed hair (red or blond preferably) and the tight jeans tucked into stilleto boots. And of course when someone speaks to me, my blank stare, followed by a meek "touriste" is a dead giveaway. But really, what else can I do. I don't think saying "please potato" would make me any less conspicuous. A great career in espionage is perhaps not in my immediate future. Not that I would know what to spy on anyway.


On to St. Petersburg next. I'm sorry I haven't been able to respond to any of the comments that have been left for me - I do love getting them, but time just doesn't permit just now. I will gladly check in on everyone again as soon as I settle down for a bit. Soon soon!

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Wooooo Mongolia!!


Mongolia is so cool!


I'm not quite sure where to begin. We arrived in Ulaan Bataar on the 5th and after a brief, and very chilly tour, we headed out to the countryside. We were soon out of the city and on dirt roads that bumped us up and down and side to side. Actually, "road" is a bit of an overstatement, basically they were just slightly worn tracks. We watched the rolling hills and vast plains that surrounded us, and then, out of nowhere as we reached the top of a hill, our ger camp came in sight. There were about 10 gers - the housing that the nomads live in - just plunked in the field. That was where we were staying. The gers are so cute and cozy! They are round tent-like structures with a small door painted bright orange (that I bumbed my head on many times when entering). They are the covered in thick layers of felt and canvas to keep it warm inside, with a stove and chimney in the center. All the support beams were also bright orange with colourful paintings decorating them. Other than that there were beds, a table and a few stools, and a vanity. Basic, but effective.


Our first night was filled with vodka and Mongolian drinking games that revolved around throwing sheep ankle bones like dice. Our first drink of the evening was a healthy shot of vodka turned bright red with paprika. Toktoi! The Mongolian cheers seemed to be ringing out continously.


But the camp wasn't the highlight of our experience. Although I did have an enjoyable time there, learning archery - well, learning that I'm horrible at archery - and wandering the endless hills and plains. The real treat was going to live with the herdsman family. We rode there by horse and arrived to find 3 gers, and a corral. Our new, temporary home. Bathroom facilities were an interesting experience, I'm getting to experience a whole range of toilet quality. This was just a small pit dug a fair distance away from the gers, with a waist height metal screen around it. Still better than the trough though because at least this came with a fantastic view! Haha.


We were given some bread and fresh creamy butter that was delicious. And some cheese that nearly chipped a tooth. Then we moved to the next ger where we got to try some fermented mare's milk. Mmm-mmm! No. No no nonono. Not tasty at all. The smell when we entered the tent nearly made me gag, and when they passed the bowl to me, I thought for sure I would lose my lunch. I managed one extremely unpleasant sip, then resorted to faking it everytime it came around to me again. Blech, truly vomitrocious.


Our time with the family was brilliant. The first day was a bit tough because our interpreter was a no show, but the next 2 days were amazing. We went riding several times, and the feeling or galloping across the land, dust flying out from beneath my horses hooves, wind in my face, sun on my back and nothing but grass and hills stretching for miles all's so wonderfully liberating and exhilirating, just thinking of it brings a glow to my cheeks. We rode out to help a family that was moving in preparation for the winter, so we got to help build a ger! So amazing! We also got to herd the horses, bringing them back in from pasturing. Racing along in this herd of horses, our Mongolian guide trilling and shouting commands, that's an experience I'll never forget.


The nights were cold out on the Mongolian Steppe, but the stars were mesmerizing. We all huddled together and lifted our heads to the sparkling sky. More constellations than I knew existed, the milky way wisping delicately from one corner of the sky to the other, and plenty of shooting stars to keep us oo-ing and ah-ing. Does it get more perfect than this?


We're back in the city now, enjoying the conveniences and comforts it has to offer - internet, showers etc. I'm left feeling amazed that people still live like that. It was like stepping back in time. They had the essentials, they worked hard, they sustained themselves. They were really generous and happy, and they had this wonderful huge family with so many children and grandchildren and in-laws and cousins... Everyone visits each other even though they're so far apart. No relying on phones and text messaging or email. They were all so close. A part of me is really envious of them.
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