Posts Tagged ‘train’

Bangkok stopover

Friday, June 5th, 2009

On Tuesday Hannah and I rented bicycles and headed south on Don Det, to the old railway bridge connecting it with the larger island of Don Khon. We rode past the remains of a small, old French locomotive, and west out to the Tat Somphamit waterfalls. The part of the Mekong that runs west of the islands comes crashing down through rocky canyons, and the mighty river, that has turned brown with the tons of silt washed out by the rains now in the rainy season, roars with a deep bass that resonates with something deep inside the stomach. It was a truly breathtaking experience! From there we cycled south, to a much lauded beach that turned out to be a smelly stretch of dirty, brown sand, where we stopped for a soda in the heat. We turned our bikes east on a small dirt path, until we reached the course of the old railroad again. The French built the little stretch of rails to transport goods from boats downstream of the waterfalls to the boats waiting to take them further upstream to Vientiane and beyond, but now the rails are gone, and we bumped south on the coarse gravel on which the tracks used to lie. My travel guide informs me that the government is talking about restoring the little railroad, but warns me not to hold my breath waiting…

We reached the tiny village of Ban Hang Khon at the south tip of the island, and across the river was Cambodia. It is possible to rent a boat to go out and try to spot the rare Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins, but like in Lake Baikal it was both too expensive and also the wrong season to go fresh water dolphin spotting… Instead we turned back north, and followed the eastern edge of Don Khon up to Don Khon Village. We stopped for a late lunch, and while we were sitting there, a mighty rainshower turned the road to mud, which the scorching hot sun turned dry again before long. Back in our guest house on Don Det, Mama Tan Orn’s Rasta Cafe and Guest House, the rest of the day was spent in exactly the way we came to the four thousand islands for to begin with: In hammocks with our respective books. 🙂

On Wednesday Hannah had to catch the boat and bus back to Vientiane to pick up her new passport from the Australian Embassy. She left at eleven, and shortly after I went to enquire about tickets to go to southern Thailand. I found that the best way would be to just buy a bus ticket to Ubon Ratchatani, and find my own way to the railway station and buy a ticket on the night train to Bangkok from there. For lunch I went to a bakery run jointly by a Laotian family and a man from Australia that has some amazing cinnamon rolls for next to nothing. I sat there for hours, reading, until an incredibly fierce rainshower crashed down over us, while the sun was still shining  just as strongly as always. After about three minutes it stopped as abruptly as it had started, and it was difficult to comprehend how much it had rained just seconds earlier! The only other customer and I looked unbelievingly at each other, and simultaneously exclaimed “That was unreal!”

We got to talking, and discussed what was worth doing on the islands. Her name was Lisa, she was from Germany, and she’d rented a bicycle that morning, but hadn’t found the waterfalls. I told her where they were, and that they were worth an extra trip out there. We figured that there was just enough time to go out there and back again before it would get dark, so off we went in a hurry. While we were out at the waterfalls it started raining so hard that when we found shelter after a couple of minutes I could wring several deciliters of water out of my T-shirt… The only other traveller out there so late was Kaye from England, who was hoping to get some video shots of the sunset over the waterfalls. She wants to be a TV announcer, and was using her travels as an opportunity to compile a show-reel to send with her applications when she returns home, and I remembered seeing her filming herself buying a donut in the bakery earlier that day. We all waited out the rain, but there was no sunset to film. The three of us headed back to Don Det together as it was getting dark, and then went out for dinner together. Kaye was tired, and went to bed early, and Lisa was leaving for Cambodia early the next morning, but we stayed on the back porch of my guest house until almost midnight anyway, because she wanted to see some photos from Nepal, as she was thinking of going there later.

Yesterday morning I bought the bus ticket I’d forgotten all about the night before, and had breakfast with Kaye in the bakery before I went to the pier to take the boat to the mainland. From there I went to Pakse in a minibus, and from Pakse across the border on a VIP bus. We arrived at the border just too late to change our Laotian Kip into Thai Baht, and the bus driver offered a totally unacceptable rate, so I got in a sawngthaew, a pick-up truck with two benches along the sides in the back, to go to the train station, hoping to be able to exchange there. I got to talking to a Lao man who spoke incredibly good English on the truck, and he told me there were no places that would accept Lao Kip anywhere outside of Laos and it’s borders. I almost considered going back to the bus station to make the change with the greedy bus driver, even though that would mean missing my train, because I had way to much Kip left to let it slide, when the guy offered to buy the Kip from me! We looked up the going rate online on his palmtop, and I insisted on giving him a slightly more favorable rate, seeing as he had just saved me from a much greater loss. I find that the people around south east Asia are extremely friendly and helpful, it’s just too bad that communication is so difficult when I don’t speak their language, and very few of them can speak enough English to communicate properly!

The train ticket was cheap, and I bought the cheapest option with a bed, second class with fan, upper bunk, but I couldn’t buy a ticket all the way to Suratani, where the boat to Koh Pha-Ngan leaves from, I would have to buy the Bangkok-Suratani ticket in Bangkok. I spent some time in the restaurant car, and had several “conversations” with Thai people who spoke no more than five words of English between them, but insisted I sit down and share their food and have a glass of Thai beer with ice. 🙂 When the restaurant car closed at 22hrs, I went to bed, watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica on my laptop, and slept like a baby until the conductor woke me up at 7:25, five minutes before we rolled into Bangkok station.

When I got to the ticket counter there, it turned out that because of the upcoming full moon party, all the trains were fully booked… I went instead to a travel agency, that managed to find an available seat on a night bus, with the boat ticket included. The bus doesn’t leave Bangkok till seven pm, which meant I had over ten hours to kill in Bangkok. I used the facilities in the train station to brush my teeth and have a shave, before I caught the subway out to Lumpini park, where I had breakfast at the food court. A very outgoing lady there wanted to serve me a Herbalife shake for breakfast, but laughed with me when I broke out in laughter at the thought of ME drinking a weight-loss shake when what I really needed was something that would put some meat back on my rather lanky frame… 😛 It’s funny how when I travel, I loose weight even when I feel I do nothing but eat!

The lady showed me where the best food in the food court was, and pointed out her favorites, all the while talking about her friend in Bergen, and her involvment in CISV, Children’s International Summer Villages. I got her card, and she urged me to try volunteering for CISV when I return to Norway. After breakfast, I walked around the park for a while, looking at the wealthy and bored Bangkokians working out, or just enjoying a morning stroll in the painstakingly trimmed green lung in the middle of this smoggy metropolis. It is weird to think that only a few hundred meters away, people are struggling to eke out a living in the squallor of Bangkok’s slums…
When I came out of the park, a Tuk-Tuk driver immediately pulled up, as I was rifling through my Lonely Planet guide to come up with something else to pass the time. He asked me where I wanted to go, and looked a little confused when I said I didn’t know… A little explanation later, he understood my situation, and suggested to give me a tour of the main sights. I lied and said that I’d seen them all, and was just looking for a way to while away eight more hours. For some reason, Bangkok is not a city where I feel the need to see the temples, pagodas and museums, but I didn’t think I would be able to make him understand, seeing as I don’t really understand it myself. It’s just something about the city that tells me to observe the things that I accidentally come across, instead of seeking out the sights. The driver pointed out a couple of things within walking distance, wished me luck and a good journey, and drove off in search of people with a little more specific goals for the day…

I walked aimlessly up wide boulevards with noisy, polluting traffic and down narrow alleys with exotic, but by now familiar smells coming from the food stalls lining them, until I happened upon a Starbucks… I haven’t been to Starbucks since Xian in China around Christmas time, so I decided to treat myself to a Grande of Today’s special coffee, and surf the net. It turned out I have to pay for the web access, but the Columbian blend was completely worth it, although it cost twice as much as my entire breakfast in the park… I have gotten to actually enjoy the ice coffee with sweet condensed milk that’s served in street stalls and small side walk cafes, but a nice, hot cup o’ joe, black as sin and bitter as an old widower, consumed sitting feet-up on a soft leather couch in an airconditioned Starbucks is a luxury I’m thoroughly enjoying, and charging my laptop while I’m at it is an added bonus. 😉

Here’s hoping there’re rooms available in Koh Pha-Ngan tomorrow, so I don’t have to sleep on the beach. 😛

May 17 in Pattaya

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

May 15

I reached a decision as to where to head next on Wednesday, and bought a bus ticket to Bangkok for the following morning. The dreaded road from Siem Reap to the Thai border has been renewed, and is now one of the best roads I’ve seen in months. The border crossing was long, hot and tedious, and the wait for our connection from the border into Bangkok was just as bad, but around 6pm we were finally there. I tagged along with some other travellers from the same bus, and we found a cheap guest house in the pouring rain. The rainy season is just on time, and at least a shower is to be expected every afternoon, but that doesn’t make it any colder, only more wet… 😛

This morning we all went out for breakfast together, before I started looking for a way to get to Pattaya. A crowded inner city bus took me from the backpacker area around Khao San Road to Siam Square, and from there I got on the Sky Train. It’s been over six years since the last time I was riding that same line to my then hotel on Sukhumvit Road, with the aircon blasting, and an ingratiating female voice announcing the stations, my favorite being NANA, pronounced in a distinctive nasal voice… I got off next to the bus staion on Ekkamai, bought a ticket, and was on the bus about ten minutes later.

Last night I did a CouchSearch, and put out a request for a couch in Pattaya. When I arrived here, I found a place where I could use the net, Viking hotel and restaurant, and found to my surprise that the request went through, on such short notice! One of the girls working here let me borrow her cell to call the guy, and now I’m expecting him here in a few minutes.

Tomorrow I guess I’ll see if I can find the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, and on Sunday I’ll be celebrating there, with the Norwegian community here. I’m curious to see what it’ll be like, I’ve never been to an official celebration the Norwegian National Day outside of Norway before. When I lived in Italy we’d get together for a breakfast and some waving of flags, but here I’ve read they even have a march! 🙂 For all of you back home, enjoy the weekend, and have a good 17th of May, hipp hipp hurra!

May 16

So. Things don’t always work out as planned. The couchsurfer I was going to stay with showed up, but he had a Thai girl with him, and said I couldn’t come because she was going to stay with him. We went out for dinner, I met a couple of his friends, and I checked into a crappy guest house instead. Pattaya is known for the sex tourists coming here, but I had no idea to what degree before I got here. One of the couchsurfers’ friends was showing me around, since my host was “busy”, and the friend stated quite matter-of-factly that he’d slept with 20 girls in the past 10 days, but he did not consider himself a sex tourist, since he didn’t go with girls that wanted payment, only the opportunists looking for a rich husband. He was in his mid-thirties, doing his job over the net, and doing quite well for himself, so he put himself in a different category than the retired old men who come here for whores. Like he said, “they know that I’m only in it for the sex, and I know that they’re only looking to land a rich, western husband or lover and benefactor, so the playing field is level and we both know the rules…” He did not appear to have any qualms about taking advantage of the fact that these girls have only that one chance to find a way out of poverty, or even considering himself to be taking advantage of it. He was an otherwise nice guy, and wanted to show me more of the city today, but I didn’t know if I could take another evening talking to someone with opinions that deluded, so I claimed to have plans…

I found out in other ways too, why the Thais in Bangkok that I asked about how to get to Pattaya looked confusedly at me and wondered if I was sure I wanted to go there… There are at least two “Go go bars” or strip clubs on every street. The pubs that aren’t strip joints, have “bar-girls”, pretty girls who hang around and shout lewd suggestions at people walking by, or physically ambush them, to get them into the pub.  There are at least three massage parlors on every street, and two of them will offer a “happy ending.” The staff at any kind of establishment will also offer other services, like this example from yesterday: I needed to do some laundry, so I took a bag of my dirty clothes to a place that offered laundry service. One of the women working there sorted through the clothes, told me how much it would cost to clean and also wanted to know if I’d like to have sex with her while the clothes were being washed!

This morning I checked out of my guest house because it smelled too much of mould in the room, seeing as it had no window, except one facing the hallway… At noon I headed over to the church for the Saturday Rice Porridge, and met some of the people who live here. There were a lot of retired people, as I had expected, but also a couple of other backpackers, here to celebrate May 17 as well. I asked one of the volunteers there if there were any decent but cheap places to stay, and she was going to show the three of us to an OK place. One of the retired people I’d talked to over dinner, Liv, came over as I was talking to the other backpackers, though, and said she had a spare bedroom, and asked if I wanted to borrow it for a couple of nights! Here I am now, in a big appartment on the 31st floor, with my own bedroom and bathroom! 🙂 Tomorrow we’re getting a free May 17 breakfast at the church before Service, and later there’ll be the celebrations.

May 19

SjomannskirkenThe celebrations for May 17 were very nice. At ten am there was a short service outside the church, and then a proper Norwegian breakfast. At noon there was the parade, but the marching band was exchanged for a pick up truck with a sound system. 🙂 The parade ended on a big lawn, where there were the usual speaches, ice cream, hot dogs and games. Most of the time the weather was swelteringly hot, but we had a half hour of tropical rain as well… There were somewhere between 150 and 200 people, most of them retired people who’d moved out there, but there were a couple of other backpackers as well. They were going to Bangkok the next day as well, so after we’d spent the evening together, we made plans to meet up the next day and go together. We arrived back in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and tomorrow we’re headed out to Laos on the overnight train.

We met some nice Brits in Bangkok last night, and with them, we tried crickets and some roachlike insects. They were pretty good, but they obviously look gross… 😛

Christmas Eve in Xian

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

                               On Christmas Eve, I went to the site of the Terracotta Army. It’s located an hour outside the city centre, and on the bus there I met two more travellers, from Paris and Chicago, and we spent the day together. The sheer size of the site and number of statues was mindboggling! We watched a little movie in a 360 degree cinema, that showed some of the historical context of the soldiers, and then we went to each of the archeaological dig sites, smallest to biggest. Pictures to come when I get a slightly more stable internet connection. (UPDATE: Pictures uploaded to the gallery)

                               When I came back to Xian, the bus I got on to get from the bus station to my hostel was extremely overcrowded, and I figured this was because people were headed home. Oh, how wrong I was… The closer I got to the city centre (my hostel is right on the main square) the more people were on the squares and sidewalks, and by the time I reached the Bell Tower Square, people were spilling onto the streets, hampering  traffic, making it even worse than usual! When I got off, I had to elbow my way past people selling all kinds of food, little heart shaped balloons, carnival masks, blinking devil horns and tiaras, santa claus hats, little puppies, souvenirs and every sort of street vendor crap ever invented!

I was walking around for a while, just taking it all in, and it struck me that Chinese Christmas is in fact a sort of mix of carnival (the Rio or Venice kind), halloween, new year, Valentine’s day, and lastly Christmas… It’s a festival when everybody and their cousin hits the streets, to enjoy, or to make some money. I eventually ended up at a Christmas party that I was invited to by some Chinese people I met at a restaurant the day before. It was in a youth hostel by the south gate in the city walls, and there was a live band butchering all kinds of songs. (it was fantastic; it takes a special kind of talent for a drummer to never EVER find the right beat, he was always at least half a beat off!) I played cards with some Americans holidaymakers, who normally work as English teachers in South Korea, and then the performances started. First some of the staff at the hostel sang a song, and performed a modern dance (“we are not professional dancers, but we are required to do this, so please excuse us”), and then the guests were coaxed to do the same… There was an on-stage-drinking-contest, and later a raffle. All the guests were provided with complimentary santa hats and colourful carnival masks, and the heat was cranked up so high I eventually had to leave before I succumbed to heat stroke…

dscn0422.jpgI dined my way back to the hostel, sampling all kinds of food-on-a-stick and met a guy from Hong Kong at one of the stands, which had even brought in loads of tiny chairs and tables for the customers to “sit” on. (I write “sit”, because it felt more like squatting, seeing as the chair was like 15cm high, and the table about twice that..) This guy was in Xian to meet his girlfriend who was to arrive the next day. Around 1 am he got a call from her, saying she’d arrived early, so before he went to stay with his girlfriend, he gave me the key to his hotel room, which he didn’t need. Thus it happened that I paid 30 yuan (ca 31 NOK) for a dorm bed in a hostel, and instead spent the night in a 330 yuan hotel room… 😉

I asked this guy what was up with the Chinese Christmas celebrations, and he explained that Christmas had become a big celebration the past few years, but seeing as they had no cultural history of the holidays, they just took all the things they liked from different western celebrations, and mixed it into one big festival!

Today, Christmas Day, I paid the deposit on my Tibet journey, so on January 1 at 06:45 I am starting the train journey to Lhasa! The train meets up with a train from Chengdu on the way, and on that other train will be the couple I’ll be travelling in Tibet with. We are due to arrive in Lhasa in the late afternoon on January 2.

Merry Christmas to all of you! Hope you’re all having a ball!

Ulan Baatar, the world’s ugliest capital?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

BaikalI met my Dutch friends, and we went to Listvyanka village by lake Baikal, about an hour from Irkutsk. It was definately a huge lake, and I took some cool pictures (that I still can’t upload, as the computers in this internet cafe don’t have accessible USB). My first priority was to find a dive centre, and lo and behold, even on our way into the village, we saw people in scuba outfit on the shore just next to the road! After a nice lakeside lunch, we trotted over to the dive centre.

I contacted a dive centre in Irkutsk a while back, www.baikalex.com, through the contact box they have on their page, and via email. They never answered, but I called them when I got to Irkutsk. They said they were fully booked, and that I should have contacted them via their web page… They suggested I just go out and have a looksee at Listvyanka village, so there I was. For a while, I actually thought I was going to get to dive! It then turned out that there HADindeed been a free spot in their previous dive, a couple of hours earlier, but the next free spot was in the middle of next week… (just about when I’m posting this) 🙁

Pribaikalsk Nature ReserveInstead of diving, we went for a hike in the pribaikalsk national park, which turned out to be an, if not equal then at least decent, substitute. We went up one of the valleys from the lakeside, between quaint old wooden houses, on frozen creeks, through snow that was about ankle deep, and up steep hills. We were originally planning to head over to the next valley, and then go back to the village from there, but we instead decided to get up to the top of the hill, and thus followed the ridge when we got to the highest point of the pass. The two Dutch guys were beside themselves, which is maybe not so surprising, seeing as they both live four meters BELOW sea level… The view from the top was gorgeous, and at least lessened my disappointment at not having gotten in that dive.

When I got back to Irkutsk, I had to take a taxi to my host’s place in the suburbs, pack my stuff, and then back to town to catch the train. Anastasia saw me off, and offered to help me getting supplies and everything before I got on the train.

The train from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar was the most expensive so far, because they didn’t have third class, which is what I’ve used so far. The only carriage that was crossing the Russian/Mongolian border was second class. In third, the “compartments” aren’t really compartments, because they don’t have doors or walls. Second class was a whole different deal. The third class carriages look like they’re from the early seventies, but the carriage I was in from Irkutsk was brand spankin’ new! Each compartment had a tv and you could get either the onboard radio or the tv sound from minijack outlets above the beds. Each bed had a reading light, the windows were clean so you could see out, you could open them to get fresh air, the provodnitsa spoke English, the toilets smelled of soap instead of piss, all in all it was a whole different world! Still, the biggest change was being able to have proper conversations with the other travellers. I shared my four berth compartment with a couple from New Zealand, two compartments over was a father and daughter from Holland, who both were fluent in English, and a few of the other passengers also spoke English!

The train was a really slow one, however, and apparently I missed some of the most impressive scenery in Russia, going through tunnels and across bridges along the southern bank of Lake Baikal, since we passed it in the night.

We got to the border about 1pm the next day, and then found out that passport control wouldn’t come till 4pm. We went out and looked around a little, but it was a tiny village, so there wasn’t much to do. I spent my last few rubles buying some more credit for my Russian sim card, and used it to send some messages to my friends in Irkutsk. Then we waited. Around three thirty we got some customs forms to fill out in duplicates. At five to four a guy came into our compartment, looked at our passports, took the customs forms, stamped them, gave one back, and left again. A while later, another guy came in, got our passports, and trotted off with them. After more waiting, first one, then two more people searched our compartment. I couldn’t say what they were looking for, because they didn’t even touch our luggage… About seven hours after we first came to the border, we started moving again… Ten minutes later we were at the ACTUAL border, and twenty minutes after that, we got to the first Mongolian station. There, we had to write immigration documents and more customs documents, and of course the Mongolians had to take our passports. I don’t really know how long the whole border crossing ordeal took, but it must have been over ten hours… 😛

The next morning, we were woken up at 5:30am, about forty minutes outside of Ulan Baatar. The plan was to borrow a phone and write my host in UB an sms with my arrival details as soon as we entered Mongolia, but I fell asleep before I thought of asking anyone, so I obviously wasn’t met at the station. There were several hostels that had pick-up-service however, so I hitched a ride to a hostel, had breakfast, borrowed a phone, and sent an sms. Fifteen minutes later my host picked me up from the hostel, and we went to his place. He went to work, and I spent the day relaxing, catching up on international news on BBC World, and fell asleep in the middle of an airplane disaster show on Discovery. It was unspeakably nice to get a proper shower and a shave, which I hadn’t had since Ekaterinburg. (I had shaved, but my host in Irkutsk didn’t have a shower, only a communal washroom)

Today I’ve been walking around UB. It just might be the ugliest capital in the world… 😉 There are, however, some pearls buried in the massive concrete soviet heritage pig sty. My host runs a restaurant a few minutes walk from the city centre, and on my way from the restaurant to the Sukhbaatar Square, I found a small, run-down buddhist monastery, that wasn’t even among the few sights listed in my Lonely Planet guide! It was quite cool, with it’s prayer wheels,  huge communal Gers and locals going around offering their prayers! There is a bigger, more beautiful monastery in UB too, which I’ll visit later. I finally feel like I have time to do what I want, with two weeks here!

I also went to a large park that was marked on my map, but it turned out to be more like the ghost of a park… I don’t think it was supposed to be open to the public, because all the entrances were welded closed, except the one I reached first, and even that one was deserted. I was the only person in there, which was both nice and really eerie at the same time… There was a broken fountain with no water, a big, empty, dusty bowl where a pond was marked on my map, lined with broken statues of exotic aquatic animals. Further over were the skeleton of an old rollercoaster and a rusty ferris wheel that looked ready to collapse. The walk paths had almost no paving left on them, and dry, brown undergrowth was sticking up through the snow everywhere. I was really far from the place I’d gotten in, and all the other entrances were welded shut, so I ended up squeezing through a hole in the fence, in order to get out of the park on the right side…

My cs host has friends that are nomads, and live in a yurt out in the countryside. He’s arranged for me to go there tomorrow! I will be staying and working with the family there until Friday. Then I head back to UB, because I’ve been invited to a concert with Mongolia’s first (and only) death metal band! Can you say clash of cultures, anyone?

Last day in Russia

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Ganina YamaIt’s been almost a week since I hurriedly posted an update in Ekaterinburg. The girl who came to meet me was a couchsurfer that had offered to show me her city, and we met up with two more surfers as well, and we drove around to a couple of locations outside the city. The first one was a monastery called Ganina Yama, which was founded in 2001(!) at the site where the remnants of the last tsar and his family were found. The whole family are now saints in the Russian orthodox church. Before I met up with my guides, I found the church devoted to them in the city, Church of the Blood.

In Ganina Yama I tried to make another short piece of film, featuring two of my guides talking about the monastery, but it had already gotten a bit dark, so I don’t know if it’s of any use. When I was transfering the shots from St.Petersburg to the computer, I made a mistake, so I lost the files. Having time to come up with good ideas for these little pieces, and then filming it, is turning out to be rather more difficult than I had anticipated. Hopefully it’ll be better when I leave Russia, and have more time. I have really felt the time pressure of my visa these last few days!

EurAsian borderAnyway, back to Ekaterinburg: After Ganina Yama we grabbed something to eat, and then drove some kilometers west of the city, where there is a monument marking the official border between Europe and Asia. It’s not just a random line on the map, it is the actual area where the continental plates meet, the climate changes, and the water divide, where the european rivers run west, and the asian rivers run east. One foot on each continent, that’s not something you do every day! 😉

That night I got on the train to Irkutsk. It was my longest train ride so far, two and a half days! That does not mean I was bored, however. I’ve only travelled on the cheapest tickets so far, and it really feels safe. The train car is open, but with sort of coupés with no doors or curtains between. In each are three double bunks, two on each wall of the “coupé” and one on the wall along the “corridor.” The landscape is beautiful, with picturesque Russian villages, and long stretches of forest, but you can’t look at trees for 60 hours, so luckily people are very sociable! On the train from Ekat to Irkutks were a bunch of soldiers on their way home to their families and friends, after two years serving in Moscow. Needless to say, they were in a good mood, and anxious to meet everyone back home again. None of them spoke any English, but one knew a little German, and I know a little German, so he acted as translator. Before long the beer was passed around, and toasts made to meeting new friends, and to seeing old friends and family again soon!

I also met a couple of students on their way home from Moscow, and they spoke a bit of English. After talking for a couple of minutes, the guy says “wait here”, goes back to his place in the car, and returns with a Russian military hat, schapka, and says “Here, take it to remember Russia!” Shortly after that a guy in the next coupé leans over, and asks in Russian where I’m from. My heavily accented “Ya iz Norvegie” immediately caused him to produce a bottle of vodka from his bag, proudly pointing at the name on the bottle, saying it is the pride of his home town of Krasnoyarsk, and hand it over. When I make to open it and pour us a little, he shakes his finger at me and has me put the bottle in my bag, produces another bottle of the same kind from his bag, and pours two shots… Luckily I’ve found out that by proclaiming “Ya svisjenjik”, “I’m a reverend” I can get exempted from the Russian custom that you have to keep drinking with your host until the bottle is empty… 😉
The other student who spoke a little English, Anastasia, was from Irkutsk, and we exchanged phone numbers, so she could help me around the city if needed, and in return she’d get an opportunity to practice her limited English skills.

I arrived in Irkutsk three days ago. I was picked up on the train station, immediately bought a ticket for Ulan Baator, and I’ve stayed in the suburbs, in a flat of rather low standards, where my host actually lives for free! She also works in a hostel downtown, so that’s where I’ve been getting online. My host has been working a lot, so I’ve been spending the most time with another traveller, Leonid, and with Anastasia from the train. NastiyaLeonid is a hitchhiker from western Russia, who got here a month ago. Now he’s working at a tecnical museum to save money for a Chinese visa, and then he’ll hitchhike to China. His goal for now is Bali…
Last night I went to the first CS meeting in Irkutsk EVER, which was kinda cool! With the night spent at bar Liverpool and then a pizzeria, it got too late to go out to the suburb where I’ve stayed, so I got a mattress on the floor at Anastasia’s. This morning I got up early, and I’m taking a bus out to Lake Baikal with two Dutch guys I met at the CS meeting last night. 🙂 Gotta run to meet them at the bus station! (Pictures later…)

PS: Thanks for the comments, it’s good to know someone’s actually reading this! 🙂 Keep those comments coming!