Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I wrote the following a few days ago. We are actually heading to Ulan Ude tonight by train. I have included a few photos, but because of the large number of photos I have to sift through, I probably will do a few big picture posts once I get back to Australia (sorry!)...Hope everyone is very well! Much love xoxo. g

This is our third night in a row on the train between Yekaterinberg and Irkutsk. Surprirsingly the trip has gone quickly. the beds have been more comfortable than our two earlier train rides, so "sleeping in" (maybe 11 hours last night) doesn't hurt in passing time. We have managed to squeeze in some card games in the restaurant car (managing to prevent being evicted by purchasing a somewhat constant order of drinks) and in one of our travelling companion's cabins.

Me, Lisa, Brooke & Manxing in the nice of the two restaurant cars we have been in.

Other than that there has been eating and reading (today I finished 'A Widow for One Year' by John Irving, a really delightful read. I love the way he writes, quite a style of his own, descriptive and contemplative without being boring). We also watched the 5th Element on Gideon's PDA last night which a very nice treat. The countryside out the window has not been so exciting so far. Siberia has been not unlike the Australian contryside, although probably a lot greener. We have not bought anything from the Babushka's on the stations that we have stopped at because we packed too much food this time! So in all, it has been quite a restful and uneventful train leg. I am looking forward to the use of a shower and a toilet that doesn't reek of urine though!

Yekaterinberg was a nice enough city. However, it definitely suffered from being the 4th city in a row that we have visited. I think we were sity-fatigued and a little over the buildings and churches. It didn't help that our city guide was somewhat strange (nb. To our pleasant surprise, we have had our own private city tour of all the cities we have visited so far). With jokes such as "Did you enjoy the TV in your train carriage?... it only has two channels, the Nature Channel and the Discovery Channel", which he then explained and then repeated multiple times, and then asking us whether we liked the city about every 10 minutes, he did not help his cause. Then he claimed that Yekaterinberg had never been a closed city (foreigners were prohibited to enter), however previous to our tour and then again afterwards we were told by other tour guides that it was in fact a closed city.

One interesting place we visited as a relatively new church built upon the spot that the Romanov Family, the last royal family of Russia, were murdered. Following their death, the family was cannonised and the church was somewhat a shrine to them. I found it extremely interesting that a whole royal family might be sainted, but I guess we come from a very different culture, and not always a very religious one.

The day after the city tour we embarked on "Siberian Wilderness Adventure". What a fantastic day.

Gideon & I at the boarder between Europe & Asia!

Getting out of the city (finally!) was just what we needed. It wasn't a particularly tough day as the name might imply. It was about a 16km walk on mostly flat through Siberian forest, with a very gentle float on a raft down 6km of river. Just lovely.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russia Continues

This is a continuation of the last blog... we are about to embark on our longest train leg for our trip (about 53 hours)... so I will do some catching up by hand while on the train :)

Unfortunately don't have so much time to upload some photos... so may have to do them at the end of the trip, or when we have a bit more time with some cheap internet... but for now... back to it...

The language in Russia has been a challenge, seeing as between the two of us all we know is Hi, please and thankyou... and a bunch of suspect hand language. Only a small handful of people seem to know English (bad of us to expect any different). At McDonalds the other day we were given a laminated chart to point at what we wanted, although interestingly enough a lot of the items were literal translations, eg. Big Mak. Unexpectedly the language was more of a problem in Moscow than St Petersberg, although St Petersberg is supposedly the more cultural of the two cities. I think it will only get harder the further we head east.

St Petersberg was beautiful. A well planned and relatively newly built city ( approx. 300 years), we were lucky enough to be staying in the city centre and only 0.5 hours walk to the big tourist attractions, namely the Hermitage. Wide streets adorned with grand buildings builit ina classical European style with white columns and brightly coloured walls. Bridges runing over a river running through the city, quite Venice-like. At one bridge it was good luck for newly married couples to visit the bridge on their wedding day and lock a padlock to the railing. On the day we were there we must have seen about 4 brides there in the space of about 30 minutes all arriving in large stretch Hummers! We have actually seen about 20 bride and grooms over the last few days. The lovely Russian lady in our train cabin tells us it si to do with the Chinese superstition that 888 is very lucky. Hence a reason the Beijing Olympics began on 8/8/08.

We spent our two days in St Petersburg doing a 3 hours wralking tour, visiting the art at the Hermitage, seeing some oppulent churches, taking a river boat trip and visiting the Russian Ballet to see Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre.

Moscow was qutie different. Only 5* hotels are allowed in the city centre, so we were staying quite a way out. 7 metro stops to be exact. Fewer people spoke ENglish, even at the tourist attractions. There also seemed to be less to see. The Red Square was very picturesque surrounded by beautiful buildings, including the Russian History Museum, St Basil's CAthedral, Lenin's Mauseleum and the Kremlin. There wasn't so much to see in the Kremlin, except for more churches within its walls, although we were treated to a dispaly by their 1st Regiment. We missed out on tickets to see the Kremlin's Armoury (no armour, just jewels of the Tsars). Gideon was a little disappointed by the lack of information or evidence of the previous Soviet regime. Although you cannot quite see what it would have been liked to have lived then, you still see statues of Lenin and the hammer and sickle emblems all over the place. One thing we did do in Moscow that was qutie interesting was to visit the Metro STations. Unlike the London underground, all of the stations we visited seemed to be clean and well looked after. In particular we sampled stations with bronze statues, marble columns, mosaic ceilings, stainglass window features and even one with Chandeliers and orate celings!!

Tonight we are headed to Irkutsk to do some camping along the shores of Lake Baikal... but my next update should be more on Yekaterinberg and perhaps more on the train.

g xoxo

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Russia begins

We are currently on a train from Moscow to Yekateringberg (I'm writing this Old Skool, paper and pen). Although officially we are not on the "Trans-Siberian Express", it feels like we have really started the real trip now. This is a 24 hour leg on the train. We have met another couple from NZ and a girl from USA who are pretty much doing the same trip/tour as us. Having just had dinner in the restaurant car (expensive prices which the locals stay clear of) we started a card game only to disappointingly find that it was not allowed. So much for the literatcure which said that hte restaurant car was the hub of the train and a place where we can hang out! Unfortunately we are all in separate cabins that we are sharing with other people, so it will be difficult to be social this trip. Maybe the next leg which goes for 2-3 days will be different. We are in 4 berth cabins which are even smaller than i had expected. Still there's enough room to sit with a small table and then sleep. I am not sure that I really had expectations of what Russia would be like, but if I were to have had any I would say that the reality has been quite different...

to be continued...

A couple of by the way movie reviews

Wall E: 3.25/5

In a nutshell: Bit of fun, but nothing new.

Brief Synopsis: Earth has been abandoned and is basically a big rubbish tip. Wall E is a robot designed to clear up the mess, but is more than a robot. Can he return humanity to Earth?

Very cute, but Disney/Pixar has set itself a nearly impossible bar to surpass with masterpieces such as The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Nemo...etc. As a result I was disappointed. With the exception of a few moments here and there, there is nothing particularly original or overly witty about this one.

Dark Knight: 4/5

Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Cane, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal

In a nutshell: Deliciously Dark

Batman Begins was very good, this was better. For me the lost of Mrs Cruise and the gaining of Ms Gyllenhaal was a very good move, intentional or not. Ledger was better as the Joker than Nicholson was previously (and he was excellent) and of course the rest of the cast were all fantastic. Nolan's direction is pitch perfect as always and the action and angst is all there. My only gripe is that there are a few spots where you think the movie is finished, apart from the fact that there are bits in the ad that you have not seen yet, and then it keeps going. This makes the movie feel a little disjointed and as long as its 2.5hours running time. Still, this is a small gripe as you want to see more anyway!

Our time in Italy

Rome was HOT! Well, a maxiumu of 32dC is very hot for two would-be tourists coming from the pathetic summer that England is currently having. Having said that, it does not begin to compare to the 50dC days that Jon & Clare are having in Egypt!

We were staying in a "B&B with a view of the Vatican". In retrospect it sounds a lot better rhat it was. It was a small room in a 3 bedroom apartment, with no air conditioning, a view of the vatical wall, lumpy pillows, a shared bathroom and no breakfast. still, can't complain too much, it was clean, cheap and convenient. :)

Following a 3 day recommended sight seeing course that Gideon found on Trip Adviser, we drank a lot of water, walked a lot of kilometres, ate lots of food, spent lots of euros and visited lots of old buildings. If we keep up this amount of walking for the rest of this trip, I will hopefully lose at least some of this spare fat care of the Heathrow injection!

There was something quite wonderful about Rome. I was amazed that at every turn there was either amazing architecture or a restaurant. Gideon found interesting the dichotomy between the grandure of the buildings and the chaos/slopiness of the city maintenance. We argued whether rome and icons such as the ruins of the Colluseum were more beautiful because we could imaging just how rich and magnificent Rome once was, or whether it owuld have been eveng more impressive in its original state. I tend to believe the former as there is something more of a sense of wonder and magin in the loss of such greatness rather than in something that is there in front of you that can be taken for granted... if that makes sense. Either way, we both really enjoyed Rome, but were probably a little relieved to leave the heat the craziness!

Will update this post with photos at a later time when we are not paying for internet by the MB.

g xoxo

Sunday, August 10, 2008

St Basil's Cathedral - Moscow

Hi Everyone! The internet at our hotel in Moscow is expensive, so only a quick msg and a photo. Will write more about Italy, the start of our Trans Sib experience and a couple of movie reviews once we find some cheaper internet. Much love gayle xoxox

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Farewell 'Ol England

The last few weeks have been insanely busy and found me in a grumpy mood for much of it. Gideon has been very patient, putting up with my moodiness and finishing off his thesis and academic year in the meantime.

A few weeks ago, on the 15th July, wewere lucky enough to be invited to attend the Queen's Garden Party at Bucingham Palace. Us girls were very excited about dressing up for thte event a nice change from down town Watchfield. Claire, Clare, Emily and I managed to fit in some dress and hat shopping during our outing to london to have Champagne High Tea at The Ritz (very posh!). Then Clare, Em & I ended up going to a mad hatter in a cute little village called Lacock to have our hats specially made (you can see the results on my Facebook album). On the day we made the 2 hour car and bus trip into London. The boys looked very dapper in their uniforms which enabled us to jump the queue at the Palace. Given the number of people (I hear it is about 8,000 people attend)and the size of the Queen's back yard,it felt like we could have been eating dainty sandwiches and delectable cakes in any park anywhere. Still, the brief glimpse of the Queen and Prince Phillip through the crowd,the mini mudcakes with the HRH emblems on them and especially the company made the day a very special one.

Since then, time has flown. The 25th July was mylast day at RM. I always say it takes about 6 months to really settle into a place and unfortunately I had just about reached that point. I must confess that I will miss all the friendly people and shennanigans there.

The 26th saw another trip into london. This time, for the Kylie X concert (Thanks Claire for organising the tickets). After seeing the Home Coming tour, I had very high expectations. Then due to terrible traffic, we missed the first 30mins... plus we were sitting in the heavens... and yet, I think it was the best concert I have EVER seen. *WOW*! Big call because I have seen quite a few. But the spectacle that Miss Minogue provides, the dancing, the costumes, the stage effects, the acrobatics, the great sound, the fantastic music, and even the mostly spot on singing.... it was all incredible. If anyone wants to go when she brings X to Melbourne, I am there!!

After that it was packing packing packing. Possibly packing is one of my most hated activities...right up there with studying economics. ;P Lucky for us, most of it was done by someone else... and yet it was still detestable. No matter how much I skimp, even after taking out the hair dryer and the kitchen sing, my back pack still weighs a tonne! Anyway, it is all done now. We said goodbye to Watchfield for the last time on the 30th July.

Although our time in Watchfield was peaceful, sometimes fun,sometimes challenging... I am looking forward to heading back to Melbourne. I am definitely a city girl at heart. This I know now. Still, I must admit to being a little sad to leave, especially seeing our little house empty once again. It is as if it never really happened, and that piece of my life is now gone forever. I am extremely sad to be saying goodbye to "The Cool Crowd", our little Aussie community in Shrivenham/Watchfield. Unfortunately we will be all dispersed on our return to Australia. Clare, Shaun, Emily, Warren, Lexie, James, Jon, Clare and Owen*, will miss you lots and look foward to life long friendships across the states. (*see you in Melbourne Owen!)

So now... on to the next chapter... Italy..