This is the blog of Martin and Caroline as they go out and see some of the world

Monday 12 December 2011

Kathmandu to Pokhara – Nepal

The jeep dropped us off in Thamel and we booked into the same bed and breakfast as 2 of the other girls as we had no place booked.  It was really expensive at $35 a night but we had already booked for 2 days so we decided that we would look for somewhere else for the rest of our stay. (We ended up finding one for the equivalent of $16 a night) The next day Martin decided to get a haircut in one of the barbers but the trimmers the man was using were so old and blunt that it was taking forever so Martin told him to use the cut throat razor and had his head shaved.  He then got a head and body massage and was in the chair for over an hour.  We met up with a few of the people from the tour the next night and we all went out for some drinks and something to eat. 
The next day we went to a place called Pashupati Nath which is where people take the dead to be burnt on burning ghats.  It sounds quite horrific but it is not.  It was quite expensive to get in but it was actually quite a nice place to spend some time.  One side of the bridge is set aside for common people’s ghats and the other side of the bridge is for rich people’s.  It was quite interesting to see the difference between the rich and the poor ceremonies.  The rich people had ceremonies that went on for a few hours but the poor people just had the body washed and then wrapped before being cremated.  Once the cremation is finished they are swept into the Bagmati River which runs alongside the ghats.  All the rubbish is also thrown into the river which is a shame as there is so much rubbish flowing down it.

We went and booked some trips to do on our journey through to Pokhara and we decided on some white water rafting and a jungle safari.
We headed off on the bus to the site where the rafting started from and joined our guide.  The rapids we did were a 3+ but the river has lots of different rapids all along.  We opted for a 4 hour trip but some people were heading off for 4 day trips.  We really enjoyed the rafting although Martin thought that maybe he would want bigger rapids if he went again. 

We had lunch and then were put on the bus to Chitwan National Park.  We stayed at the Jungle World Resort hotel which was really nice, there were only 6 of us in the whole place so it was really peaceful.

We went on a Elephant backed safari, we saw a young rhino but we were amazed we saw anything as there must have been about 20 elephants in the group trampling through the forest and obviously it was not a quiet walk through the jungle. 

We then went for a canoe ride down the river and we saw a lot of crocodile’s on the banks and in the water.
We then went on a walk through the jungle, we again had a small chance of seeing any wildlife though as all the hotels were taking their guests for walks as well and we all kept passing each other as we walked.  We were showed a tiger paw print by our guide and Martin was very suspicious about the print and while he was looking to find another print he walked straight into a fallen tree and cut his head, there was a lot of blood but luckily just a small cut.
There was then the option to have a bath with the elephants, we decided not to but it was still fun to watch.

If anyone is ever going to Chitwan, do not book a tour in advance as there are so many hotels there you are better off just getting the bus there and then finding a hotel on arrival as this tour was not value for money, we are sure that the hotel did not get paid the amount of money that we paid the tour operator in Thamel.
We then got a bus to Pokhara which took 3 hours longer than it should have because a lorry had broken down and caused a massive traffic jam but we arrived and booked into our hotel.  We decided to do some trekking and the man at the hotel knew of a guide so we arranged a 3 day trek with him.  His name was Yam and he collected us at 8am the next morning to start.  We crossed the lake by boat then climbed to the peace pagoda then headed off.  The views while we were walking were outstanding and there were mountain eagles flying over head the whole time. 

The 1st night we stayed at a man’s house who runs a camp site, we wished we had a tent as the room we were given was terrible, it was more like a cow shed with beds.  All night you could hear rats running around, we did not sleep well! 

The next morning we headed further up the mountain and were greeted with more great views.  That night we stayed at the Happy Heart Hotel which was stark contrast to the place the night before.  It is run by a lady called Maya and it was lovely.  Although there was no electricity or running water the whole place was really clean and homely.  We were invited into the kitchen to sit round the fire while she cooked dinner, it was really good to watch as she prepared and cooked about 5 dishes on 1 fire.  It got really cold at night so the fire was very welcome.  The next morning we were up at 5.30 to get to the summit of Panchase and see the views at sunrise over the Himalayas at 3000 metres.  It was steep but worth it.

We went back to the Happy Heart and had breakfast before we started our steep descent.  It was harder than going up.  It was 5 and a half hours of walking down the equivalent of a stone wall.  A lot of it was slippery as well so it was not so easy.
That night we went out for a well earned steak and a beer at our favourite restaurant in Pokhara.  If we ever get the chance we will most definitely come back to Nepal, it was our favorite place so far.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

To the roof of the world - Tibet

The train trip from Chengdu to Lhasa was 3 days and 2 nights long, the views from the window were amazing. 

We travelled up to 5000 metres at one point as we crossed over a high pass.  The train has the facility for you to pump oxygen into your compartment if you need it but we decided not to do that so we could try and adjust to the altitude.  We shared our cabin with a Chinese man who was heading to Lhasa for business and when he was met at the train station he was given some herbal medicine that is meant to help with adjusting to the altitude and he gave some to us to try.
We arrived in Lhasa and were collected by our guide in a minibus with 3 others who were on our tour.  We drove back to the hotel and us and 2 of the others from the minibus went out for dinner.  We had a Korean barbeque, we had yak meat and it is the most delicious meat that we have had in a really long time.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast we set off for our sightseeing day in Lhasa.  We visited Potala Palace that was built in 637 AD and was the former winter residence for the Dalai Lama. 

We then visited the Jokhang Temple which is the centre of Tibetan Buddhism.  It is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Pilgrims and the outside is surrounded by people walking clockwise spinning their prayer wheels or people prostrating themselves in front of the temple and we were told that nomads travel miles to the temple this way.

In the morning we had another good breakfast and headed out on the road in our bus.  We crossed over the summit of Kamba La at 4794m and saw a beautiful lake called Lake Yamdrok which is one of the holiest lakes in Tibet, it was a beautiful colour blue. 

We drove to the Tashilumpu monastery which is the home of the Panchen Lama although he spends most of his time in Beijing and only visits the monastery for a few months of the year.  The Panchen Lama is a very important person, he is chosen by the Dalai Lama and he is the person who discovers the next Dalai Lama when he dies and gets reincarnated into his next body but the current Panchen Lama is not the one chosen by the Dalai Lama, he mysteriously disappeared and has been replaced by a Panchen Lama chosen by the Chinese government.  It will be an interesting time when the Dalai Lama passes away to see who the Panchen Lama chooses.  We were told by our guide that we were not allowed to ask questions about this subject or talk about it in public at all. 

All through Tibet there were police on every corner.
We then drove on to Shigaste and checked in to our hotel.  We went for dinner in the hotel restaurant and chatted to an Australian couple which was nice.
Once we were in bed I heard a rustling in the curtains and when I turned on the light I saw a rodent on my back pack which ran away once the light was on.  I told Martin and he said that it would be OK and to go back to sleep.  After a while Martin heard rustling and turned the light on to see the rodent sitting on the dressing table, he then suddenly believed me and we went to reception to change rooms.  We were told that the hotel was full and could not move but after much discussion and telling them that we were not going to sleep in a room with a rat we were eventually told we could swap.  The man on reception then moved a couple of Tibetan men from their room and made them go into the rat room while we waited for them to change the bedding so we could sleep in their room.  The room stunk so we may have been better off with the rat!
We noticed that as we seemed to get higher in altitude the hotels and breakfasts got worse, we were not too impressed with the breakfast in the morning but we knew we had a long day ahead.  We were all ready to head off to go to the Rongbuk Guesthouse which is at 5000m which is where we were due to stay that night but 1 hour down the road the bus broke down.  The day before a warning buzzer had been going off but the driver just ignored it but it seems it was something to pay attention to as the fan belt broke and the alternator seized.  So we spent 6 hours at the side of the road.  A replacement bus arrived and we managed to get to Old Tingari to a guesthouse at 4300m.  There was no hot water in the room but we had a thermos of hot water and a jug but believe me it was way too cold to clean anything but your teeth.  The restaurant was really welcoming and warm and it was nice for us to all sit in the warm and eat some nice food.  The night time was not too great as it seems to keep themselves warm the Tibetan stray dogs just bark all night which is not good when the glass in your window does not fit the frame so it sounded like they were in the room with us howling.
The next morning breakfast was half a tablespoon of scrambled egg with 2 chapattis.  Not the best breakfast to start the day with but at least we had our bus back and so we headed off to Everest base camp.  We arrived there about 11.30am.  It was not quite what we expected and we would call it more of a viewing platform than being at base camp.  I am not sure if people climbing Everest even camp there.  We had the choice to walk back to the Rongbuk guesthouse for lunch or we could go in the bus but me and Martin and a girl called Megan decided to walk back.  We ended up walking about 5k and the sun was so strong that I think we all got a bit of altitude sickness as quite a few of us started to go down with bad headaches during lunch.

We started descending and made our way to Old Tingri to the Snow Leopard Hostel, to say we were all not happy with this place was an understatement,  there was no electricity, no running water, no food and the place was filthy.  If anyone ever gets offered to stay here as part of a tour, ask to go somewhere else! We went for breakfast in the morning by candle light and had 1 boiled egg with a pancake.  We were looking forward to finishing the tour and getting some decent food.
We drove to the Friendship Bridge and we passed through customs on the Tibet side and said goodbye to our guide and we walked across the Friendship Bridge to the Nepal border.  Myself and Martin and 5 of the others from the trip stopped for lunch at the border and we had a Dahl Bat for the equivalent of 70p all you can eat.  We managed to get a jeep for us all and we headed off to Kathmandu. We instantly took a liking to Nepal and the scenery around us was so green and nice compared to the baron sights in Tibet.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Back to Chengdu – China

Being back in Chengdu was like coming back to civitlisation after where we had been.  We had not thought much of the place the first time we were here but we really enjoyed it on the 2nd visit, maybe it was because we could finally eat something or have a latte in a McCafe.
We collected our tickets and wasted a day shopping waiting for the train to Tibet. 

Emei and the Dafu Temple – China

We had a few days to kill before we had to be back at Chengdu to pick up our train tickets and head out to Tibet and we were getting our 4 day itch and knew it was time to move on from JiaJiang.  We had looked on the internet for places nearby and Emei sounded nice so we got the bus to Leshan and then the connecting bus to Emei.   This was definalty another ‘real’ China type of place and may well in the summer be buzzing with tourists going to the mountain that seems to be the only thing people would come here for but in the winter there is not a lot going on.  We found a hotel opposite the train station and managed to get checked in for 128 yuan a night (£13). 
We went out to find food and there was not one place that we wanted to stop and eat, the whole place looked dirty and there were no English translations or even pictures so we did not know what to order.  We went and had some dried noodles in our room which was the 1st time in China we could not find somthing nice to eat.
The next morning the weather was not too great and from the internet it seemed it would end up costing us about 300 yuan each to get access to the mountain and some reports seemed to be a bit hit and miss so we decided not to use such a big proportion of our budget on it and we went to the Dafu temple instead which was just up the road.  This place was an oasis amongst the grime.  It was only 10 yuan each to get in (£1) and we had the whole place to ourselves, except for the buddhist monks who lived there of course, we spent half a day looking round and enjoying the silence.  It was the best value for money we had speant in a long while.

The Big Buddha and Buddha Cliffs – China

It turns out that although the station we arrived at was called Leshan we were actually staying in a place called Jiajing county, but we did not mind as we found a hotel with breakfast for £15 a night and we were only a 30 minute bus ride from Leshan so we decided to stay where we were.  We caught a bus to go and see the big Buddha aka Dafo in Leshan.  It is the biggest Buddha in the world and was carved out of a cliff face, work started in 713 AD and was completed in 803, it is 71m tall.

He is very impressive and it was nice to walk around the surrounding park area with some relative fresh air.  In summer I bet the place is rammed with tourists but it was not too bad as we got there early but by the time we were leaving there were Chinese tour groups arriving and it was starting to fill up.
On our way to the Buddha a very helpful lady on the bus whisked us through the bus depot and on to the tourist bus so fast that we did not see where we were or where we would have to get back to so when we left it became obvious we had no idea how to get back.  We got on the 1st bus that came along that was a number 13 and we thought we would ride it until we saw something that was familiar.  That did not happen and we got to the end of the line and had to get off.  We then went to catch the number 6 bus which the lady in the depot told us was going to central station but when we showed the bus driver the address of our hotel he told us to get a number 1 or a number 2 bus but when we showed them our hotel details they said no, wrong bus.  So we thought we would get the number 6 to the central depot thinking that this must be our depot to get home.  On we jumped, paid our 1 Yuan (10p) a piece bus fare and waited for the bus depot we were looking for to come into site. We then came to the end of the line again and this was no bus depot.  We thought we would get a bus back into town and just get a cab and would you believe the bus we went to get on was the one with the helpful driver who told us to get a number 1 or 2 bus.  He looked at us in disbelief and asked in Chinese what we were doing there.  In the end his friend who was on the bus with him drove us in his car to the bus depot.  We were very relieved to see it.  We got on the bus for JiaJiang and then ended up getting off at the wrong stop and had to get a cab to the hotel – not a good day for transport!

We had sat and had a cup of tea with the manageress of the hotel one evening who told us about the Buddha cliffs which were based in JiaJiang.  She said it was just a bus drive away and so we thought we would give it a go.  She also told us that the bus for it stopped right outside the hotel but while we waited not one bus stopped any where near us.  We hailed a cab and were quoted 15 yuan to get there, we knew it was outside the town so we thought that was probably a fair price.  It wasn’t until we got there and reaslied it was not that far away at all and if we had been on the meter then the journey would have probably cost us 6 yuan – if only we spoke Chinese we would have had words with the cab driver!
We paid our 7 yuan each to get in and had a wander round.  It was nice to be away from the crowds and the smells and able to just wander without bumping into people.  A lot of the Buddha faces had been smashed during the cutural revolution which was a shame.

There was a bus waiting when we walked out and we jumped on and were back at the hotel without a problem.
There was a big market laid out down one of the back streets and we decided to have a look, here we saw turtles hanging up by string waiting to be sold, fish dying in buckets, lots and lots of chunks of meat on display and a few skinned and gutted dogs for sale too. This is not that sanitised China that you see in the big tourist spots!

The train to Leshan – China

We found a place called Leshan that was not too far away from Chengdu and it had a few things to do there so we decided to head there.  We booked a train ticket and the journey was only 3.5 hours so we did not think it would be that bad of a journey.  It seems we never learn.  We had a ticket for a seat each and once we headed off we did not think it was that busy on the train, all the seats were full and so were the aisles but we thought it would be bearable.  At each stop more and more people crammed on the train and they all have about 3 bags to one person.  At one of the stops the people could no longer fit through the doors and so about 8 people with about 12 bags climbed through the window on top of us, we kept trying to close the window on them but they just kept coming.  Two of the people who came in through the window ended up squatting on the very small table in between the seats for 3 hours.  The guard lady came and informed us that we would be approaching Leshan soon and we tried to follow her to the door to get out but there were just so many people you could not move.  We had to put our backpacks in front of us and just push, it was the only way to get through.  There was one man on the floor who could not move and the people with him could not move him, he was passed out drunk and not stirring so over the top of him we went.  Once we got to the door the lady made everyone who was not getting off at that stop move but there was nowhere for them to move to.  It was mayhem.  Once we were off the train we stood and watched the chaos of the people trying to get on.  In the end there was lots of arguing and they were told the train was too full.  I wish they had done that about 10 stops before hand, it would have made for a nicer journey for everyone.

Chengdu Panda’s – China

Arriving in Chengdu we walked through town and found a reasonable hotel and checked in.  We had travelled to Chengdu to see the Panda’s at the Chengdu Panda Research Base.  The Base was founded in 1987, with six giant pandas rescued from the wild. By 2008 the captive population had increased to 83 from that original six. It covers 200 hectares and also has red pandas which we had never seen before.  Everything we read had told us to be at the park for breakfast time as the pandas are most active at breakfast.  We knew that there was a tourist bus that could take you there very cheaply but it did not leave until 8am and it made stops on the way so we opted to pay a bit extra and get a tour bus there organised by one of the local hostels that got you to the park for opening time.  We were glad we did as it was great to see the panda’s outside and moving around.  They were so cute, especially the 2 month old ones that were just a ball of fluff.  Even Martin at the end of the day was pleased he went.

There did not seem much else available to us to do in Chengdu as a lot of the other tours were only with Chinese guides as we are now out of the tourist season so we decided we would head out and see some other places.
We went and paid the balance on our Tibet tour and we have to collect our train tickets that will take us from Chengdu to Lhasa before the 10th November so we will revisit Chengdu to collect these later.

A hard journey to Xi’an - China

We went and booked our train ticket to get us from Beijing to Xi’an and were offered the option of a hard seat which was about a third of the cost of a soft sleeper (a soft sleeper is a 4 bed cabin) and we thought we could put up with an uncomfortable night’s sleep for 1 night.  Little did we know what we had let ourselves in for.  When we arrived at the waiting room it was packed and still filling up.  We saw a queue forming but knew we had a while until the train left so we waited a while.  Once we did join the queue it became quite clear that any British courtesy was going to have to go out the window and once the queue moved you just had to push and shove to get through. 
We managed to get on the train and found our seats, the train was already packed but we got the attendant man to make room for our backpacks on the already full overhead shelves and settled in for the 13 hour ride. 
We noticed that even though the seats were all full there were lots of people still standing up but we thought they must only be going a few stops as there is no way they would want to stand for that long.  We were wrong.  At every stop we came to more and more people just kept getting on.  It got to the point where you could not move to even stand up and stretch your legs for bodies in the way.  There was very little air and the no smoking sign was ignored by most people.  In amongst the mayhem the train attendants kept coming through with food trolleys, if you can imagine trying to get through a busy underground train in London in rush hour with a trolley you would come close to how it was.

When we had left Beijing the train we thought the last stop was Xi’an and so we thought we would be clever and wait for everyone to get off the train then we would take our time away from the crowds but somehow the last stop for the train was Chengdu but luckily our cabin attendant was good enough to remember we were going to Xi’an and came and told us we needed to get ready to leave.  The whole wagon watched as we dragged our backpacks through the crowd and before we were even at the door our empty seats were filled.
We had no accommodation booked for Xi’an but knew roughly where we were headed and managed to find our motel very easily.  It was great to be off that train.
We had done our revision and found the tourist bus that took us to the terracotta warriors really easy and it costs 7 CNY each way – about 70p.  The warriors were really impressive and we were glad we did the pits in reverse order as pit 1 was defiantly the best one. To imagine the warriors when they were first done in all their colour, with their weapons and the gold on the chariots must have been a sight to behold. The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by a farmer who was there doing book signings in the souvenir shops. The Army was found near the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang, which took 38 years and 720 thousand builders to complete. The Army was buried for 2,200 years. So far, 1,868 terracotta warriors and chariots have been unearthed.

Martin brought a book while we were there that said that all the warriors were smashed after the tomb was raided so we are not sure if what we were looking at were the real mcCoy or replicas like a lot of the history you see in China.
We went for a night time tandem ride along the Xi’an wall which looked really good all lit up but we only made it half way as you only get a certain amount of time for the bike hire but it was quite nice as not many people were there.

Unfortunately we found little else to do in Xi’an and so we booked our train ticket to Chengdu but we
 made sure we went for a hard sleeper this time which is a 6 bed sleeper.  It wasn’t too bad except some people down the train from us stayed up till 1am drinking and the train arrived at 5.30am.  Martin was not too impressed as they kept him awake.

Friday 18 November 2011

Day Trips in Beijing - China

We enjoyed the rest of our time in Beijing and visited the Summer Palace which was stunning and very easy to enjoy a day there, we preferred the Summer Palace to the Forbidden City, it is like a country park with its own lake and beautiful gardens.  The construction of the Summer Palace started in 1750 royal garden for royal families to rest and entertain. It later became the main residence of royal members at the end of the Qing Dynasty.

We decided to do a Great Wall of China tour and we knew there were 2 types, ones that included the shopping part which were a lot cheaper and ones without the shopping.   We thought that the shopping one couldn’t be that bad so we went for the cheaper option.  We had a great morning walking the wall and then a really good lunch and went to a jade factory where they told us how to spot real jade from fake and then let us wander round the shop. 

From there we went to a silk factory and were shown how they get the silk from the worms and how they stretch it to make duvets and the like which was quite interesting until they started the hard sell.  There were only 7 of us in our group and none of us wanted to buy anything so a few of us thought we would make a break for it and wait in the car park but were told that we could not leave the shop until we had been there for 30 minutes so the tour company could get their receipt to say we had been.  We were not impressed at that.  We then had to endure a tea factory which actually wasn’t that bad and were shown the tea ceremony and got to try some tea but the hard sell from the previous place had put us off from it all and so we were pleased when it was over.  Next time we will always take the no shopping tour.

We managed to find a restaurant that did almost Western type Chinese and so we managed to have a few dinners without any nasty surprises.

Mind Blowing Beijing

We were up at the very early hour of 5.30am to catch the train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing.  As we were walking to the station we were wondering if it was going to be easy to find the platform that our train was leaving from as there were no information boards on show but we needn’t have worried as the waiting room was full of Westerners all holding tickets for Beijing so when one got up we all followed.
We were hoping that we might have the luck of the French couple and have a cabin to ourselves but we ended up sharing with a couple called Phil and Sarah from good old England, they were very nice and in the middle of taking 2 years out to travel.
Thank goodness the journey was only 1.5 days this time as we were dreading another long train journey.  Time flew quite quickly we were through both borders in no time. 
We arrived in Beijing around 14.00 and Phil and Sarah were also getting the Metro to their hostel so we all managed to make our way on to the underground together and we said goodbye to them as they got off one stop before us. 
Once we were off at our stop we headed to find our hostel and managed to do OK as the street names had the English translation underneath, which is good of them. 
We checked in and dumped our bags and could not wait to head out. 
Being in Beijing is nothing like you can imagine, you can’t get a feel for this place from seeing it on TV.  The colours, sights, smells and the bustling people make for an amazing experience.  We walked down every little back street we could see and it was just how we had imagined it would be. 

We toured the Forbidden City today, unfortunately pictures do not do it any justice.  We were there for an afternoon and probably only saw a third of it.  It seemed to go on forever and you can imagine that the rooms have not changed since the last emperor lived there. It was the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Quing dynasties and was first built during the 14 year reign of Emperor Chengzu in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). It was forbidden to enter without special permission of the emperor. Hence the name 'The Forbidden City'.

We found the Donghuamen Street Food market and went to investigate. They sell almost anything on a stick you can think of, snake, sheep penis, centipede, sea horses and silkworms. 

We decided to be brave and had a stick of scorpions and a stick of crickets.  They actually just tasted like crispy chicken skin. We then had some deep fried crab that was shell and everything but we didn’t like that.
For dinner we decided to try one of the restaurants and we ordered a chicken dish and a pork dish and I can only say that there was more bone than meat and nothing like a western Chinese meal.  We may not be so adventurous tomorrow!

Thursday 17 November 2011

Back online in Nepal

Sorry this has been so bare but blogs and Facebook are blocked in China.  Will update with some posts on China, Tibet and Everest very soon.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Midnight Madness - Mongolia

Thank goodness to be off the train.  We headed straight to our hostel which was only 10 minutes walk away.  We woke the poor lady up to let us in at 06.30 and she did not mind at all and let us into a room which seemed huge compared to the train cabin we had just come from.  An ensuite bathroom completed our heaven and the shower was lovely.
We went out and had a walk around Ulaanbaatar; we were surprised but pleased that almost everything is in English which made life a little easier.
Mongolia has a population of 2 million and over 1 million live in UB and it shows.  They are building anywhere and everywhere.  The pavements and roads are like buildings sites and I don’t think they have heard of the works Health and Safety.  The ‘no win, no fee solicitors’ would have a field day out here.
In the hostel there was a sign for a trip to go to a soviet built observatory to see the stars in a clear Mongolian sky.  We thought that sounded quite nice and so we said we would give it a go.
The hostel arranged the transport to the observatory and we were told to be in reception at 10pm.  The man on reception took us out to a very nice looking Prius but little did we know the journey would be more eventful than the observatory.
We headed off and driving on the Mongolian roads is like something out of a movie, they overtake on the inside, jump lights, ignore pedestrian crossings and stop for nothing.  We came off the main road bumped along a dirt track to a gate and it seemed we were in the wrong place so after many phone calls we headed off again, we went all the way back through town at break neck speed and then onto a dirt track.  This turned into what can only be described as an off road track.  The car was bouncing around everywhere but the driver didn’t seem bothered.  Then we reached a tiny tunnel that was very small.  The car was lined up and looking at it there was no way we were going through there but after phone calls to the manager she insisted that everything was fine.  We asked to speak to her and told her that there was no way it would fit but she was having none of it and said don’t worry the car had been through before – she must have really wanted her money for the trip.
With lots of inching his way through we came out the other side – amazingly.  We headed on up the hill and arrived at another security guard that let us through after another call to the manager and we were led up to the observatory by the man who worked there who we don’t think knew we were even coming. 
It was a proper old fashioned observatory and as the roof opened it creaked and groaned and he pushed the big old fashioned telescope into place and we saw a new star, an old star, a cluster of stars, canyons on the moon and Jupiter.  It was great and we would have liked to have seen more planets but it was not to be.  We said goodbye to the very nice man who showed us the sky and headed back for the off road journey home. 
We ended up getting home about 1am and it was defiantly a night to remember.

2 idiots abroad - Russia

We decided for our last night to go out and have a meal and a few drinks.  We found a nice restaurant and managed to order caviar.  We had salmon caviar which was 300 rubles, we could not afford Russian caviar as this was 2250 rubles and we are glad we did not order that as it was the most awful taste you can imagine.

A few beers were in order after dinner and we went to the KGB bar, it was empty except for a very funny drunk who we chatted to for an hour or so, we did not stay too long as 4 beers costs us £20 so we called it a night and headed home to prepare for checking out in the morning.

We had to leave our hotel in Moscow by lunchtime which was a real pain as the train to Mongolia did not leave until 21.30 that evening.  We decided to try and waste a day in the mall at Red Square.  We managed to make a drink at McDonalds last about an hour and a half.

We sat and people watched out in the mall and Martin lost count of the young trendy good looking women that walked past.  Once we got bored of that we headed over to the station that we had to leave from called Yaroslavskiy.  This part of town was a far cry from the classy area of Moscow that we had just left.   We wited around until our train was called and it was time to see who we would be sharing our cabin with for 5 days and nights. 
Martin said he would be happy as long as we weren't sharing with a man or  the French but was really hoping for a young good looking chick
We ended up sharing with  a nice gentelman who was a Biology proffessor at the UB university and our neighbours were a French couple going off back packing for a year.

The cabin was bigger than the previous cabin from Warsaw but not much bigger!

Luckily it was only us 3 in our cabin for the whole journey, the French couple ended up having their cabin to themselves for the whole trip - lucky sods.
We had many people join us and leave us over the journey but they were only really around for 1 or 2 stops.

The toilet / bathroom was very very basic for washing but there was hot water - well in one of them anyway. The toilet was nothing fancy, once you had finished you pressed the pedal and it emptied on track.

We were lucky and did not have to live off dried noodles for 5 days as we shopped before we left and we brought some bread and vegetales from the babushkas who sell their wares on the train station's when you have stop overs.

The rules of the railway are very different out here, it seems that if you want to get to the other platform, you just walk accross the track.  At one point they were coupling a new engine to our train and rather than go around it or wait for them to finish people just carried a baby in a pram accross in between the engine and the train. Astounding!

We were very pleased when the train journey was over!!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

A day on the Metro - Moscow

We never managed to make it our for dinner last night as we were too full up from lunch so we decided to see what Moscow looks like at night and it is lovely all lit up.

We went into GUM for some window shopping but it seems nothing is priced, if you have to ask how much it costs then you can't afford it!

We were suprised this morning to be able to visit Lenin's Mausoluam which had been closed every day so far.  There was no queue either so we went in and made our way past a very waxy looking Lenin. 

We then went off to visit some of the Metro stations that we had heard so much about.  They are great, nothing like English stations.  Some of them have mosaics some have statues and most have marble columns.

We are hoping to make it our for dinner tonight and try caviar, not sure if we are ready for that!

At 21.35 local time tomorrow we join the train to start our 5 day journey to Mongolia so I doubt we will have Wi-Fi in between here and there so will catch up soon.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Cold and Rainy Moscow

We have arrived in Moscow. The train journeys to get us here seemed quite dull and there seemed lots of waiting around but we had a good day in Warsaw and went and purchased a new camera (thank you for the offer Nigel but I am far to impatient to wait).
We had high hopes of our 1st class carrage from Warsaw to Moscow but the reality was quite different to what we expected.  To say there was not enough room to swing a cat is not an exageration.  We were lucky as there were only 2 of us in our cabin and almost everyone else had 3 in them. The toilets were NOT nice and there was no hot water for washing.

To pass the time away in the evening we went to the bar with a lady called Estelle who was from France but lived in Germany.  It was here that we had our first Vodka on Moscow soil. 

We managed to negotiate the Metro and found our hostel OK.  We decided to go out and explore and were suprised at how close to Red Square we were and we also timed it well as it was the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier as we arrived.

We have visited The historical museum, The Armoury Chambers and the Gulag Museum so far but the best place we have been was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour where the painted murals and icons took our breath away.

We went out this morning but it rained and so have decided that an afternoon indoors doing washing and catching up on the blog was called for.  We are going out for dinner tonight to try some typical Russian food - cant wait!