A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Deanxc220

Mongolia

semi-overcast

Mongolia...the land of hawks, Ger's, nomads and a vast landscape.
UlaanBaatar on the other hand lists none of these features. It is, in the most polite manner i can muster, a kip. When one Google's Mongolia they are greeted with images of nature, wonder, beauty and awe. Rolling into the city on the train, one it greeted with run-down, rather dilapidated structures. Shanty towns that emanate should poverty, it's as if I entered a Trocaire advert. Vehicles that are in desperate need of repair...and in some cases, a peaceful let go to the car graveyard. Streets that could indeed be maintained and cleaned better, and people, who appear to just be unclean in life. I'm sorry to be so negative, but it's the most shocking of sights to come into. It was not expected by any means.
Once you disembark the train, the sheer volume of people that approach you offering taxis, tours, accommodation and all shorts, would be enough to put you in a bad mood. But sure, it's not the only country you'll experience this behaviour. We got a taxi to our hostel, which cost all of five euro. Upon arrival of our hotel, which was called Sunpath, I was convinced this was the end. The outside of the building was similar to that one would associate with the film Taken or the film Hostel; a run down apartment building in much need of attention and a decent paint job. But then when you enter the hostel, my God it's like you've entered a new world. It's clean, there's plenty of facilities such as shower, bathroom, laundry, kitchen (with free breakfast comprising of bread, butter, jam, tea and coffee...ain't going to put hairs on your chest but hey, free is free). The WiFi is class, and the meeting area is great. Everyone just gets talking to each other. Also, the rooms are great, with large comfy beds and a locker for everyone with plenty of power sockets. It's a winning hostel if ever one is torn on where to stay.
So, as has to be done, we ventured out into the city, because you know what they say, never judge a book by it's cover. We just wandered around the city with no particular aim in sight. It's a fairly navigable city because there are quite a lot of distinct landmarks one can use. The square is pretty nice, with a mighty government building catching anyone's eye in the area. Here, there is a lot of construction with a dozen or so high rise towers being built. Continuing south, we ventured towards the park, with it's somewhat green and grey colour in abundance throughout, it was as if it was balancing precariously on a beam between life and death. It's like the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were found eating the apple. Walking through, one will be surprised to see that there is an amusement situated within the park. It's actually not too shabby looking, with a roller-coaster and all having been built. Needless to say we didn't venture towards it. The rest of the city isn't much to boast about. There are few temples about the place, but going to the finest one of them all involves going through the shanty town, and call me old-fashioned, but seeing but going through a neighbourhood of poverty and desperation somewhat ruins the experience. There is the main department store, which has some nice offers and a good selection of various clothes, electronics and so forth. Something I have to recommend here, is that if you are hungover or wanting to try a kebab, there is a place called German Donar that serves an immense kebab! I mean it was what you wanted for in every manner, and is easy on the wallet too in my opinion. If at the junction facing the store, waiting to cross the road, turn left, and walk down the street for maybe 300 metres, and it will be on your left!
So at this point, I probably have you wondering why on Gods earth should I visit Mongolia, and I don't blame ya. But fear not, there is more to this country then what meets the dusty, crowded, dirty eye of the capital. The secret lies beyond the city....far beyond the city. It's all about the tours lads and lassies. Now, I ain't one for doing tours. All the walking, talking and exchanging of information that I won't remember coupled with the time restraints just isn't my thing. That rule is thrown out the window here. So there are plenty of tours on-line, ranging anywhere from 3 days, to 28 days. The prices ranging from 200 dollars to 4,000 dollars. Take from that what you will :P After hours of checking the net, we came to the conclusion that the hostel offers the best deal and value for money. So I highly recommend that you save yourself the time and effort and pick a hostel tour. We only had six days, so our options were very limited...as was our price bracket. The tours all vary in sights and activities; each depending on what memories one would like to take home from the experience. The option we went for was the three day, two night tour, which involved going to the semi-Gobi, riding camels and staying with a nomad family on day one. The second day, one goes to the ancient capital city, horse riding and a night with a different nomad family. The third day you visit a park to see wild horses as well as have time to hike the rocky mountains that surround where you are staying.
The first morning, we were greeted by our tour guide, a lovely girl named Crystal, and our driver Badgeka. We soon realised that it was just the two us accompanied by our guide and driver for the next three days. But sure feic it! :P So we departed from the hostel and within five minutes you experience the driving world of UlaanBaatar....and by God what a world it is. First off, seatbelts are a no. They just ain't worn. Secondly, the rules of the road...gone! Driving a two lane road...sure enough that will become a six lane road. Lights and police control the situation...pah!! It's a game of live or die and honestly, how more people don't lose is beyond me. I couldn't give a bigger pat on the back to our driver! Driving out of the city, we all get to know each other, have a laugh and all that. We stop for lunch and are given a dish involving lamb, rice, ketchup and salad. Needless to say it was dam good! In addition, the table is given a thermal canister of boiling water (something your going to have to get used to having) and some milk. All in all, a good hearty meal. We get back on the road, and the scenery that forms in front of you is almost majestic. The mountains rise up and start to surround your line of sight for what seems like forever. Then suddenly, we turn left off the road and are making our way to the Semi-Gobi and nomad family in which we will be staying with. The desert is pretty cool, with dunes and all that coming into sight. There are mountains and various rock outcrops as well as pockets of other nomad families. We first head to our place of stay. It's pretty neat, with four Ger's, a car, bikes, dogs, horses, cows and just simple life, reflected back at you.
When we arrive, we are brought into the main Ger and given a sweet each, as well as horse milk. This concoction is one I just couldn't stomach. The taste is actually vile, but supposedly drink enough, and you'll get drunk! I couldn't touch it after that first gracious sip...and being Irish and turning down a form of liquid that can intoxicate you, is saying something :P We were given free time to wander in which we went and explored the lands; including going and climbing the rock outcrop and hiking the mountain nearby, which provided great views. Upon our arrival back to camp, we went and rode our camels through the dunes, and it was class! An hour later we were back and food was served. We ate in our own Ger with our guide, and the food..by God it was amazing. It was a lamb that was slaughtered that morning and heated in a bowl with potatoes, carrots, spices and hot rocks. The meat was so tender, and the ribs...well needless to say the taste of the spices blended within still sits on my tongue. After eating, we were fairly knackered but the Ger is cold!! In fairness, one is out in the open plain of wilderness. So a fire was made for us and that helped the situation, coupled with getting cozy in our sleeping bags. Granted the beds are the best, or really that soft in any manner, they do the job! We awoke to our guide bringing us breakfast, which firstly consisted of bread and what seemed like a pudding spread (it's actually very nice), and was then followed with a bowl of rice pudding!! It was a bowl of rice and milk and sugar over. Now I dunno about any of you, but for the Irish, that's a dessert and to be having it for breakfast was just aces!! And it was amazing taste! Just what we needed to start the day. I should mention here that the toilet situation is somewhat...unique. It involves a ten foot deep hole, with two planks on either side so one can stand comfortably, and a metal panel that hides all shame and the feeling of disgust and despair that overcomes you when nature makes her call.
The second day entailed us leaving at 9 am, and venturing towards the ancient capital city of Mongolia; Karkurin. It's a long drive but a mighty experience. The road to the site is so poor at one section, that it makes any pot-hole filled road I've encountered in Ireland seem like chedder cheese, in comparison to the grand canyon sized craters that enrich it! It's a game of swerve and dodge (reminded me of the film Dodgeball, whereby if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball..in this case pot-hole). How in ever, sometimes swerving isn't enough, and one just has to literally go off the road and drive along the dirt road alongside that has been formed as a result of numerous drivers driving off-road in an attempt to be on a flat (somewhat flat) surface. It's like a rally car experience..it's actually amazing, and such a laugh.
Arriving at the city, we visited the museum, in which we learnt all the history about the wars, Khankis Khan and the city itself. We then visited the site of the ancient capital itself, and were the community was housed. It's impressive, with three temples; past, present and future, being of particular interest. The tour of the site didn't take long, but was enjoyable. Afterwards, we went for lunch and engulfed the same food as the previous day; which heard no complaints from us! The site and tour is good, but more time is definitely spent getting to and from the place, as opposed to the site itself. So I would highly suggest not to make a two day trip out of it, as there just isn't enough to see, and one day is more then enough. The return journey is just as entertaining, driving wise, and once again, we ventured off road towards our new nomad family; who are situated in the middle of a plain land, up in the mountains...a truly beautiful and scenic position.
We arrive to the family home rather late, but upon arrival, we were greeted and brought into the main Ger. We were given hot water, dry milk and sugar (which I must recommend you break into a small piece cause it's actually horrible in taste), and sheep's butter with mini home made bread rolls which, when coupled together, tastes amazing, and just like profiteroles. I could easily have eaten the entire portion that was given to us, but our guide told us that it is a platter that is good for stomach as it cleans it...and I can tell you I was not having any cleaning happening to my plumbing knowing that the hole in the ground would await me! Any who, we left, went to our Gers, and shortly after we were given dinner, which was noodles with carrots, potatoes and mutton. It was truly delicious; a dish so simple yet so effective. After dinner, we were invited into the main Ger again, where we were welcomed by numerous other guests, including members of the army. We weren't intimidated or anything, sure they started asking us about the Irish army and it's similarities and differences to that of the Mongolian; it was a great atmosphere. So much so, that a bottle of vodka was brought out and it's a custom for the owner to pass a shot to each guest, through three rounds. A custom we gladly accepted :P We didn't stay too long, but we got more comfortable with our surroundings began to play football and games with their kids, and arm wrestling with the adults. At first, because it's a completely new way of life, there's a fear of insulting the family and/or their customs and traditions. With this family, we were so welcomed and made feel at home, we managed to settle very quick and found that once you do, your involved more within the group, and it's a great feeling to have. Before retiring to bed, we asked for a fire to be lit. Naturally, they lit a fire in our Ger, but furthermore, we were each given a traditional nomad jacket to get the heat in us! Mind you, they are incredible and so warm. It was such an honour to be given this attire and somewhat feel that one has become truly immersed in the nomadic world.
The next morning, breakfast was once again rice pudding (no complaints), but this time round, we were given pancakes...or at least this fried stuff that can only be best described as pancakes. It was delicious once again. After this, we went horse riding for an hour. Needless to say, the horses are tiny. There is no size comparison with those we have back home, and sure enough, I felt like a giant riding a donkey..not a horse. Sure enough though, we trekked around the plains for an hour, but on the return leg of the journey, we were given free rein of the horses and galloped back to the site. It was a great experience to be able to be your own person and just gallop through the plains of Mongolia in the mountains. How often can someone say they did that ay? Afterwards, we were given time to do as we pleased, in which we used to go for a hike up one the near mountain slopes. Returning to the site, we had lunch, which was the same as dinner the night before. Once finished, we packed up and headed on back to the city. I must say, the second family are so gracious and welcoming, I can't say a bad word about them. Their hospitality would be hard to rival!
On the drive back, we were all in a great mood and sang songs, got knowing each other a bit deeper, and sure enough we learnt some Mongolian. Now I wouldn't know the exact spelling, but in terms of pronunciation and sounding, I would spell like;
San-ban-o ; which means hello to any stranger
San-o ; means hello but would be used with people who you are familiar and better accustomed with
Bire-clah; means thank you
Bire-teh; means goodbye
Team ; means yes
Zaagar ; means your welcome
Ooogee ; means no

The last two days of our stay we relaxed, caught up on our blogs, messages and discussions with family and friends. Sure enough, a night of drinking entailed and good fun was had, as well as good memories made. While I come across as rather harsh towards UlaanBaatar, I cannot do the same to Mongolia. There is such an abundance of life and nature outside the city, that one cannot fault it. There is plenty more to see and do, including national parks, waterfalls, the Gobi and more. It's all out there, but the main point being "out"...out of the city. The three day tour was enough for us, it allowed us to see the country and experience life as a nomad. Sure what more could I want from the country..it's all about getting the experiences that cannot be gotten in any other country. So do I say visit Mongolia, yes, of course! How long and what to do there is completely up to the individual. Just be sure to try the lamb!!

Posted by Deanxc220 20:38 Archived in Mongolia Tagged mongolia ulaanbaatar Comments (0)

The Tran-Siberian Railway (Moscow-Beijing)

sunny -25 °C

The Tran-Siberian railway is the passage way to the East...to the start of an adventure touring a world and culture that is entirely different to that in which one is used to in Europe. It's a world with different practices, traditions, language and life. While one could very easily get a plane to any number of destinations in the world, would it not be more an experience to take the option that is not so widely chosen? Take the option that may be considerably longer but will involve memories and experiences that one may never have again, yet always cherish? If so, I would recommend taking the Tran-Siberian railway. To say it's an "experience" is one way to put it.

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I myself got the train with a mate of mine in Moscow, to start our venture towards Beijing, with a six day stopover in UlaanBaatar, Mongolia. There are different routes that one can choose, involving different stopping points, trains and views. The train in which we ended up on, was a Chinese train. Personally I was delighted because the Chinese and Mongolian conductors are more friendly and helpful; now I say that from reading various articles on-line, but also will say that from personal experience. We stayed in 2nd class berth, which suited our needs perfectly. Each carriage has ten or so cabins, each with four beds, with storage on top in a cabin like space, and storage underneath the bottom beds. So one is more then capable of maintaining a relatively neat and tidy cabin area. The beds are comfortable enough for what you are getting, and you are provided with two sheets, a pillow case (which I have never been more thankful for because when you look at your pillow and see the numerous of stains that litter it, your stomach will turn), and two heavy blankets. The cabin also has a table under the window, as well as a main light and each bed has their own personal light. The carriage itself has two toilets, with a sink in each, and a hot water canister that provides boiling water that can be used as often as one needs it. Needless to say I was delighted to know I could have copious amounts of tea, like a true Irishman ;)

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The main point to note, is that there are no showers!! None. Nada. Nil. So depending how long one is on the train, just be prepared. For us, we went five consecutive days on the train without a shower. Now that in itself is something I hope not to experience again. Granted one isn't doing anything too strenuous that involves much of a sweat, but still, there's only so much hygiene a baby wipe can provide! But hey, being a traveller, one has to adapt to the environment, and it's what ya do. Sure it ain't like your the only one doing so.
In terms of heat, we found the train to be grand. There's plenty of windows for ventilation so it never gets too warm, but in the evenings, it can get a bit chilly, so the blankets come in handy. Also, the train does make numerous stops throughout. At each stop, passengers are able to disembark and walk around the station. The time allocated to do so however, varies from stop to stop, and could be anywhere from just ten minutes, to forty-five. Get out and walk about because the air and stretch will do ya good. Watch the time!! Yes the conductors will check the cabins to see if everyone is on-board but the train schedule is so on point, that the train will leave when it is meant to. I have personally witnessed a lad having to run back to the carriage as the train was pulling out of the station. In terms of food, one can purchase food at the stations; instant noodles, cuppa soup, bread, sweets, cakes, drinks etc. We decided to stock up for the trip beforehand, and I found that personally, to be the best method. With the hot water availability, the smell of cuppa soups and instant noodles at breakfast, lunch and dinner, is something one will have to get used to.
We shared our cabin with a Swiss lad, and that was it; so having three in a cabin made space and what not that bit easier. We then got talking to others in our cabin, which is the norm, and sure enough, we got talking to people from Singapore, England, Germany, America, Italy and France. Everyone is in the same boat (train) so the mood is the same all round and we're all there to just have a good time and embrace the experience and all it has to offer.
Passing the time is not as difficult as one may think. Like I mentioned, you get talking to others, and sure you all become one carriage family. We ended up playing copious amounts of card games! BRING CARDS!! They are a life saver and ya have such a good laugh with them as well. Each person has a game they know off that others don't, so you learn new things, while sharing what you know as well. You alternate between cabins in a manner that is similar to knocking into your neighbour for some milk or sugar and ending up sitting and chatting for hours. Sure enough, that's what you do. Getting to hear the various stories of people, their experiences, their home towns...it's just amazing. I love hearing it all, and find it fascinating because everyone has a back story in life.

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Vodka! Bring vodka because at some point or another, you will be roped into doing vodka shots. We first ended up having bottles of the stuff with the nearby American cabin, and sure enough, the "eat,drink and be merry" expression was in full swing. Sure c'mon, Americans and Irish...what else would you expect! The next night, we got invited to the French cabin, where once again, we drank beer and did vodka shots. We got talking to a lad in the carriage who has lived in Russia for years. He thought this method of downing vodka shots which was rather intriguing, whereby you need vodka and a jar of pickles. Firstly, down the vodka shot, and before you breath-in, smell the pickle, breath out, and then take a bite of the vodka. It supposedly allows you to taste the vodka, but not in the rapid burning sensation that I'm sure many of us are accustomed to when it comes to vodka shots. I must note here, that if you drink vodka, and even if not a big lover of the clear gold, the vodka in Russia, including the cheap stuff, goes down so pure and smooth. Back home, Smirnoff would be the common choice, and it's got a rather strong, somewhat burning taste. With any of the vodka in Russia, it's just near non-existent. It's a glorious and albeit dangerous quality! But sure feic it, when in Rome ay?! The only thing, is that when you have rationed your food and water for the duration of the trip, hangovers are even worse because you cannot drink copious amounts of water and eat anything and everything in site; especially when you've brought mainly fruit as your food source...it's actually rather depressing and the only way to get past it is to get up and keep drinking :P

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If you want alone time, that's perfectly accepted. Grab your book and read, grab your sketch book and draw, grab your laptop and watch films. Better yet, sit there and look out the window. Look out and enjoy the scenery that is passing you by because it's highly likely that this will be your only time on the train, and sure the scenery is one of the push factors for taking the trip.
Last thing to note, is border control. When leaving Russia, you will be at the station for two hours roughly, and get at least six visits. The first will be the official who checks your passport (especially your photo, I mean she must have looked at the picture and me for more then thirty seconds), your visa and all that jazz. Then comes the customs official to determine if you have anything to declare. Another official comes and has you leave the cabin and checks it for anything illegal and what not. Another will take count of how many are in the cabin, while he is followed by two officials who check that your passport has been stamped. Lastly, an army lad will sweep the carriage with a dog (a beautiful German Shepard in our case). Once done, you trek on, and sure enough, not even an hour later, you stop for another near two hours where Mongolian border security takes place. It's not near as intimidating though. Simply one fills out the visa, gets asked about what you are bringing in your bags, what's the purpose of your trip and so forth. There aren't near as many visits from people, but they take everyone's passport on the carriage and that's the main hold-up because it's near an hour later that you'll get it back with approval or not. Once that's all done and dusted, it's onwards to UlaanBaatar.
At UlaanBaatar, we got off and spent six days here. We re-embarked the train the following Saturday at 8am. This time round we were on the Monogolian train, and needless to say it was a huge improvement on the Chinese train. First off, it was much cleaner; like they actually mop down the aisles fairly frequently! Each carriage is provided with both hot and cold drinkable water. The toilets are by far of a higher standard, with hand-soap, air freshener and even a towel. I'm telling ya, it's the small things in life :P As for the cabins, they are a bit narrower but have the same under bed storage, but much less storage on top. The table is narrower but in contrast, the beds are wider, and indeed, a bit more comfortable. The train ride to Beijing is only short of 28 hours so there's no need to worry about hygiene too much, and one does not have to bring on as much food either. The Chinese boarder is similar to that of the Mongolian in that they will take your passport and get it for around an hour or so, and there isn't as much in cabin checks as before. It's mainly a waiting game at this stage. From here however, the next stop will be the change of the trains wheels to fir the Chinese tracks. The whole process takes around 3 hours in total and everyone must stay on the train. It's pretty impressive once the train rolls into the station cabin where the whole process takes place, but one does not get a clear view of the changes that are happening. If your lucky, a train will pull up alongside and you'll be able to take a photo of the process that way. Other then that, I would advise you to have a film or two at the ready to help pass time. The following morning, your ticket will be returned to you by the conductor, and once that happens, it's a matter of just waiting until the train arrives into the station; during which just sit back, relax and enjoy the glorious scenery that encapsulates both a mountainous and flat terrain.
While the idea of being a train for so long, with limited services and what not,may hinder the desire of wanting to take the train; it's all about the experience. The craic and banter that was had is something alone I will remember. The world is changing and such methods of travel are becoming less common as the world is about getting to places as quick as possible, with the least hassle involved. Don't become one of those people, at least not yet. It's the least common methods ventured that have the highest reward value. Go and live on a train! Go and enjoy all that it offers and be able to be one of the few who can say they have done such a trip! It's what life is all about :)

Posted by Deanxc220 20:11 Archived in Russia Tagged travel train russia tran-siberian_railway Comments (0)

A trip to Moscow

sunny 30 °C

Russia...the country where most of people thoughts regarding the place are vodka, bears, vodka, borsch, dolls, ballet...and vodka. Visiting Moscow however, is much more then that..well, minus the bears. I didn't see any bears but that still doesn't knock out the possibility of them being about the city, somewhere off the beaten tourist track.
Moscow, while not as cultural as St. Petersburg is still beautiful, clean and impressively large city. Having arrived at the airport after flying with Air Moldova; an airline that is fine but if your over 6 foot in height, much like myself, then you will curse it the whole way. Never have I been sitting on a chair where my back was fully arched straight and knees bent in a perfectly horizontal position that it ensured there was no method to sitting or sleeping comfortably. Still, a grand airline that provided a coffee and sandwich an hour before landing; provide food and your in my good books.
So walking into the terminal, one gets this instant knowing of how the people are going to be, because not once was I spoken to in English. I was shouted at, and directed where to go for passport control and baggage claim (although the signs are in English, the employees feel obliged to get a word in). To get to the city, we took the train, which is a 43minute journey to the main city metro hub. The price is a set price and cost 430R for an ordinary ticket. The journey is grand, and it even has food carts that are brought through each carriage. Upon arrival, we got the metro to our station, and thus near our hostel. I must say, their metro stations are very impressive. Some of them are indeed worth the look for the sheer beauty of them alone. They go down deep underground and the architecture is very impressive and beautiful to look at.
We stayed in Red Kremlin hostel. I have to say, I highly recommend it. It has free and very good WiFi, free water, you can buy bars, snacks, drinks, alcohol and some food at the desk. There is no kitchen but they still provide all the cutlery and utensils you need. The beds are very comfortable, and the place is clean. There are lockers in each room and the bathroom is grand, albeit there are only two showers and two toilets. This may sound like a problem but we found that people often only stay for one night and move on so there's never much a rush and wait for the bathroom...which is what ya want really.
The first visit I am sure most will go for is towards the Kremlin and Square. And it is a beautiful first stop. There are street stalls selling traditional Russian oddities as well food and ice-cream. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants about the place so you are spoilt for choice whilst there. The square, once one walks into it, just fills ones body with the rush of all it's history and Russian prowess. It's where one would go, sit on the centre and just forget that there are other countries and nationalities outside its walls. The architecture is stunning; a sight to just gawk at. In wanting to visit inside the Kremlin, there are two main ticket options.

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The first grants one access to the Armoury, in which one will naturally get to see the weapons, armour and such used. The price is 700R, and an experience I didn't choose because it's not what I wanted to see. The second option grants access to the art and architecture of the churches, and stands at a price of 500R. I chose this option as it's more up my street of things to see. With this ticket, one gets to walk around Cathedral Square and see sights such as the worlds largest bell, a selection of cannons, a quaint little park and obviously, the churches. Inside the churches, every square inch of the walls are painted. Be sure to look up when under a dome and be greeted with a giant painted face of Jesus looking down at you. Some the art and paintings is very impressive, but what was a problem for me, was that it was evident that some parts of the walls had been painted. As in, the frescos have been touched up, and therefore, for a church that is meant to be from the C15, it loses some of its historic feel. It was kinda sad to see.

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Outside the Kremlin area, there are plenty of places to visit and see. There are random pockets about the city, where one will see churches with their gold tops, government buildings with the Russian symbol flying strong atop it; accompanied by military guards at the gates and emanating the Russian dominance that so many tie with Russia. One of the churches "Christ the Saviour" (I may be wrong in the name but it's a giant white structure with gold tops...pretty hard to miss), is an architectural wonder to see, but do be warned, that upon visiting the church, ladies must have their shoulders and legs and what not covered, and men cannot enter in t-shirt and shorts. It was quite the disappointment not being granted access because I was in shorts, but in 32 degree heat, I was having it no other way!

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One could walk down to the stadium towards the end of the river, and while it is a huge stadium, it's currently just a shell at the moment as it is being completely renovated for the games that are to be held there.
A stroll along the river is something I would recommend. There a park that follows along side, and one will even come across the beach (while it is literally entitled a beach in visitor books, I wouldn't go with much aspiration, as it is a section of grass, at a slope, facing the river). It's definitely worthwhile to take the walk at the weekend. We did so on a Sunday, and there was a festival event on (something which is a weekly occurrence we found out after), and it's great fun! There's plenty of food options, drink, entertainment...the works. My personal favourite was the Star Wars tent at the end, where one can get a photo with characters, get their t-shirt spray painted one of copious design options, and watch different scenes from the six movies on the screen (all in Russian). It was my inner nerds delight to spend time at it!

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In terms of nightlife, we couldn't find anything much in the way of pubs or bars or clubs (and being Irish, one can only imagine the pain that such a thing would cause). There a plenty of restaurants but possibly one in ten will have a menu translated in English, so eat at your own risk upon order. I just kept to the wonders that are McDonalds, Burger King and Subway. Can't go wrong with what you already know! With that, Russians don't speak English, and couldn't care less about the fact. I mean you go to a museum and you will see this historic chair, with plenty of Russian wording describing what it is about, and just under will be the English translation reading "Chair". Sure what more information would one want regarding a historic piece of furniture -_- I found myself at one point being laughed at by the McDonalds employee because I didn't speak Russian...yet they are listening to English music and wearing uniforms with English wording and I'm the odd one for not understanding?! But in fairness, you get past the non-English speaking aspect no bother, and just accept the Russian people for who they are...as one should in any new country they visit.
The people and lack of English translation aside, there isn't much I say wrong about Mockba. It's a grand ole city. It's big, spacious, clean and in no way do people try to hide their richness. I understand how people may question your decision to travel to Moscow, in all fairness I would be the same to another, but it was a place I've wanted to visit for years and I am glad I did. I was not disappointed. Three days in the city is more then enough to see. Maybe more if one really wants to experience the museums and what not, but for me, three was enough. Go visit Mockba, drink vodka (pour a shot, drink it, smell a pickle through your nose, breath out through your mouth and voila, the taste of the vodka will hit you), eat Borsch and just embrace what the city, even with it's somewhat stereotypical fashion, has to offer!

Posted by Deanxc220 21:40 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow russia Comments (0)

Common travel fears when going alone

The prospect of travelling alone is a daunting one. It is our "last resort" when it comes to travel because when all our options of finding a companion to travel with and share the experiences are dried up, our desire and want to travel hasn't; and thus, we are faced with having to consider going on that big adventure solo. With those words travelling alone, comes a list of reasons why we do not want to travel alone.

Being on your own throughout

Now the main concern I had when travelling, and one I found to be very common, is the worry of meeting others when travelling; and sure why shouldn't it? I mean with the word "alone" in the title, it's natural to have this worry. It's a prospect that stops many of us taking that solo step into the world of travelling as we each fear that while the initial step may be a solo one, the rest of the entire journey will follow in the same path. There are different aspects to this however. First off, I am going to tell you that nobody is ever alone throughout their journey. Yes it is scary, but meeting people when travelling is not as hard as it may seem, and I say this as a lad who was worryingly shy when it came to meeting new people. In hostels, you can easily get talking to your roommates, yet alone other travellers in the common area, the kitchen, the pub, the roof deck, the hot-tub (not every hostel has these features but you get my drift). Basically, there are a wealth of opportunities in a hostel alone. However, I want to be truthful and say that it will not always be the case. I don't say this to discourage anyone but I think it is better to present both positive and negative sides. You have to remember that you are not the only nationality travelling in the country, and therefore it will be difficult to get talking to some people more then others. Many travellers may not have good English, and therefore do not make the attempt to talk to other nationalities; bar their own. As a result of this, many nationalities will stick together and it can be difficult to break into that niche that has already formed. I still remember when I walked into an 8 bed dorm to only realise it was occupied by 7 Germans; all of which remained talking to each other in German. It didn't bother me though, for as I said, there are other places to meet people and in fairness, when you are able to speak in your mother tongue to others, I can't blame them. I mean I know French and a bit of German, but at the basic level, so I will naturally hope to find others who can speak English.
The fact that many others are travelling solo as well is true, but you will also encounter many who are travelling in pairs; be it a partner or a friend, and while this may discourage you from interacting with them, don't let it. I've met some great couples on my travels, as well as a French brother and sister, two Dutch girls who were best friends since they were kids, and more. The point is, that just because they are travelling together, doesn't mean they aren't approachable and won't welcome a strangers face. Sure enough if they don't, do not be insulted. Everybody is different. Furthermore, we are in the 21st century....the digital age; so don't be afraid to take advantage of it. While I met many others travelling around, I met many more through the numerous groups, sites and Facebook pages that are in existence. There is a wealth of solo travellers on the web, and with the likes of Facebook, meeting people couldn't be easier; and safer, as you get a visual of the person, and a somewhat look into what they are like (though never judge a book by its cover). Also, with groups online, you can arrange an event for people. During Christmas in Sydney last year, I made an event for "12 pub of Christmas" and from random people going to it, from those I invited from my hostel, we had a great night. By travelling alone I have managed to meet some fantastic people whom I shared some amazing experiences with, and I have indeed made some best friends for life.

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12 Pubs of Christmas night

Safety

A major concern for some people is that of safety, and it's a perfectly understandable fear to be had. I mean each one of us worries about our safety at home, so why not when considering travelling abroad where each of us will encounter a new environment filled with new people and new ways of life. Given the world we live in today, even walking home at night alone can worry us. I get worried back home, but I feel comfortable in knowing that I know how to handle myself in my city; as in I know where to avoid, the kind of people to just keep walking past, and what to say if hassled. But I didn't know anything about Australia and it's ways. Within each new city, how am I to know where to avoid? What do I do if people start hassling me? The one thing I will tell people now, is yes, do worry about these matters, but no more so then you do when back home. Yes it's an unfamiliar city, but the same pointless and cruel acts of crime happen in every city. The fear of being robbed or attacked is always with us. To help reduce these worries, be sure to research where you are going and look at reviews regarding certain areas you are staying in. The most important thing to have is common sense, and always, and I mean always, go with your gut. If you feel that something isn't right, or that a certain individual is making you feel uncomfortable and you are not sure why, then trust your feelings and leave.
When travelling with a phone, laptop, I-pad and so forth, there is always a risk of something being robbed. When going into certain hostel rooms, I would see peoples phones, wallets, laptops all just sitting there on the bed; just waiting to be robbed. But the fact is, they weren't; and you build up this trust level with people in the room, even if you haven't spoken a word to them. Now, for me, I don't worry too much when it comes to these matters. The likes of my laptop, certain documents and such, I would have to leave in my room as it was all too much to carry. Now not all rooms have lockers but you cannot drive yourself mad worrying about whether they will be safe or not. I personally believe that seeing as many people staying in hostels are backpackers as well, we are all in the same position, and therefore know how terrible it would be to rob another persons goods. That said, you will hear the horror stories, maybe even experience it first hand; as not everyone is as knowing and considerate. Keep your goods in your bag sealed and locked when not there. At night, I always kept my phone, passport and wallet in my pillowcase as those are vital items to me, and even when in a room with best mates, I keep them there. There are also wallets you can buy that go under your top and around your stomach where you can keep your phone and wallet and passport. Just always be alert and informed, and you'll be no worse off. Also, be sure to always let someone know where you are going, in terms of moving to a new city and all that. If it's something crazy that you know your parents, mainly your mom, will freak out about, then make up a tale and tell your mate back home the truth; but always let someone know.

Getting lost

When travelling alone to a new country/city, the prospect of getting lost is all too worrying. While it is tough for English natives to travel in foreign areas where English is not very well spoken, such as parts of Asia and those "off the beaten track" areas, this fear is especially encompassing for those who stem from non-native English speaking countries. The bottom line though, is that yes, each and every one of us is going to get lost at some point on our travels. I have travelled a bit so reading the travel routes in each country isn't something I worry about as I'm pretty good at figuring out where to go, but that does not mean I don't second guess myself or worry. It's no problem to ask for help in these situations, and indeed, invest in a map for each area you are visiting. Yes, we can still use maps on our phones but there will come a point when there is no coverage or internet connection and going back to the basics will be required. So always keep a map with you, and sure enough, take a picture of a map of the city on your phone or camera, and that can be used as a back-up when needed. Now I actually enjoy getting lost. It sounds odd but I have stumbled across some amazing things as a result of trying to find my way. While getting lost can be scary, don't let it consume you with worry, and when it happens, just relax and wander around for a bit. As a backpacker, you are expected to find and traverse new lands and areas, so why not use the same concept when lost? I find it keeps you calm and indeed, you may meet others in the same situation. What I will say however, is that when you are lost, don't portray yourself as being so. When walking about looking around franticly and checking your map every second, you could set yourself up for a scam artist who will take you to where you want to go for a large fee; or worse, you may seem vulnerable to a robber. I don't say this to scare anyone, because it is the exact same when back home; it's just that we don't see it as much because we are hardly ever in such situations (ignorance is bless as they say). Keep your head high, and walk around as you would normally.

"Getting lost along your path is a part of finding the path you are meant to be on..."

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No phone coverage or internet connection

One of the big problems with travelling today is that we all depend on technology; be it from our laptops, to our phones, our cameras, our I-pods etc. In some ways, we are very much so controlled by our electronic devices as we need to know that we have that constant connection to the world around us. Now I ain't going to say I'm any different. I love my phone, and not having it with me is like not having my right arm. I don't like not having it because what if there's an emergency, what if someone needs to get in touch with me or I with them, what if the status I have put up on Facebook has broken my record for most likes?! There so many possibilities, and yet, I could go a whole day and not even receive a text. It doesn't matter though, the fact is, my phone is there and ready to go. Certain places are going to have connection and coverage, while others won't. This is a fact that needs to be known! Read it, repeat it, memorise it, whatever it takes for each of us to come to the conclusion that it will happen and there is nothing we can do about it. Depending on where you travel (as well as your network provider), you more then likely going to have connection/coverage; it is the 21st century after all. Big cities, airports, trains, even buses all have wifi.
It depends primarily on the route you take on your travels whether you will go without coverage/connection. When I was travelling through the centre of Australia, it took about over a week for the trip, and I would say I had coverage for about 12 hours for it all. Now this stemmed from the fact I was with Vodafone, and their connection is pretty awful when outside big cities. Nonetheless, it was the first time I actually had no connection to the outside world, and sure enough, it was when I was in the middle of the dessert. Did it annoy me? Yes. Did I really miss it overall? No.
Ok, so yes I was a bit annoyed at not having connection, but it was mostly because I wanted to post a picture of myself at Ayers Rock and make those back home jealous (and lets be honest, it's one of the main uses of Facebook when travelling). But I was travelling with two others and therefore I was never on my own, and we came up with some great games to play to pass the time, we communicated more, and got to go back to basics and rely on maps and road-signs. Not having connection is not always a bad thing. It allows you to experience the world without having to get distracted by a text or a call. As a result of it, I was able to go without my phone on many occasions. I realised that when I was going out, or hanging around the city with friends, there really shouldn't be a reason to use your phone. You are already in the presence of friends, so enjoy the time and have the craic; something I think that many of us forget to do nowadays.

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Illness

This was a big worry for me, because while I don't have any "typical" allergies such as dust, pollen and all that, I do have medical allergies. I therefore have to be careful with what I take, and I got such a scare one year, that I am nearly afraid to try anything beyond paracetamol. While many people won't have this problem, it is still safe to always be aware of any allergies you have and make note of them if you ever need to see a doctor. When in a foreign land where English is limited, be sure to find the translation of these allergies and show them to the doctor. Don't ever be afraid to stand your ground and ensure they know. Now such instances where you will have to go to the doctors is something that won't happen anymore so then it does for you back home. Flu's and colds will happen, and the best way for those is rest, vitamins and fluids. However, some serious instances can occur; by which I mean a bite or sting from some unknown creature. When this occurs, don't hesitate to go to a doctor. I would hope that everyone gets travel insurance, and it is reasons like these that we need it. Also, I don't know about the rest of you, but when such times occur, I like to have someone alongside me (I'm sure the phrase "I want my mammy" will come to mind here), and while that may seem hard to come by when travelling alone, it is not. Besides asking the friends you have already made, you can always ask someone from your dorm room to accompany you. I can tell you that if someone had asked me at any stage, I would have joined no problem. When travelling alone, it can feel as if we need to stay strong at all times, but it is when sick that we can feel most vulnerable. Don't be afraid to seek help from others; and like all illness' it will pass.

Work

I just wanted to throw this in because when deciding on whether we can travel alone or not, many of us look to leaving work as a major factor not to go in some form or another. I say this from experience because two weeks before my departure date, I lost my control over the fact I was going alone and what brought it on was the fact that I was about to hand in my two week notice into my workplace; after 8 years of employment. While I initially thought that actually booking my flight a was huge step, it seemed trivial towards this milestone. Now it was only a retail job. One I only had to help fund my life through University as well as several holidays and travelling trips over the years. Yet, knowing I had to leave the job made me realise that it wasn't such a bad place to work, and that I really do get along so well with the staff, and it's in such close proximity to my home so why did I ever complain about it? I had my panic attack that day. I questioned everything I was doing because not only was I going alone, I was going without any further income; and what if I didn't have enough? What if I didn't get a job over there? What if I hate my job or co-workers? A fleet of questions and worries swirled about me and these worries made me consider pushing back my flight until the end of summer. In my mind set, I kept reasoning with myself that if I push it back, I could save some more money, go to the summer festivals, live it up with mates here. Needless to say, that if it wasn't for my best mate basically slapping some sense into me, I would have pushed that flight back. I was told that "if you push it back once, what's stopping you pushing it back a second time, or even a third?". That's what made me realise that I just had to go for it. Work will always be there; in some shape or form. Additionally, money always has a way of appearing. If we allowed ourselves to think that what we have already saved isn't enough to start travelling, then no one would travel. When is enough enough?? Each one of us can travel as cheaply or as costly as we want to, so don't ever let the fear of leaving your job and a lack of a steady income dissuade you from travelling.

There are always going to be fears and worry's surrounding travel; which seem to be amplified when travelling alone. But remember, we have nothing to fear but fear itself! Don't let any of these reasons stop you, because there will come a point in life where each of us will reflect on what we did, and more so regret what we didn't do, as opposed to what we did do. Happy travels! :)

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Posted by Deanxc220 13:24 Tagged travel alone fear reason worry Comments (0)

Take that lonely first step...

Travelling alone can be the best thing for you...

"I want to travel, but I'm scared of doing it on my own"

I must have said that sentence several times before I actually gained the courage to go and book my flight to begin my first solo travelling adventure to Australia last year.

It is the most daunting aspect of travel for so many people; something I did not realise until I began my extensive online search for articles, blogs, even wise old sayings to reassure myself that travelling alone is not as bad as I was allowing myself to believe. Over countless hours, and hundreds of mouse clicks later, I still couldn't accept the fact that travelling alone will be alright. It's just part of the human psyche to worry about the fact because as individuals, our lives are enshrouded within a society we are familiar with, a city that we know our way around in, and with friends and family surrounding us from the day we are born. Knowing that I would be leaving the "familiar" and entering the "unfamiliar", alone, was just too overpowering and delayed my wanting to book that flight. Then, I stumbled across a saying that really struck home for me, and it was;

"There is nobody holding us back except ourselves"

It's true. Just as we can be our own worst enemy, each one of us is the only thing that blocks us from wanting to move forward. It was then I decided to go and book my flight for June 26th 2013; a date which will stick in memory for life as it was my first lonely step into the world.

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Travelling alone is like opening your eyes to the world for the first time. When you land and arrive in uncharted territory, it forces you to become this different person from the get go. You're on your own so you have to make your own way to your accommodation. You have decipher the best way to get there. You have to interact with several strangers all before you even get to your room. Straight from the start we are thrown from our comfort zone and it is the best thing for each and every one of us. Now granted, it is not something that can be tolerated by everybody. I know people who ventured to Australia and left after 3 weeks, yet alone someone who left after 4 days;all because it was too much for them, and in truth, they missed home. I will not judge anybody who falls into this scenario because travelling alone is hard, and indeed, it will decipher whether you as a travelling individual, can indeed take on the world. It's no easy conclusion to come across. For me, it was a month into my trip that I knew I could do this. I had made some friends, I had the accommodation, I had the job...it was all coming together. Yes those initial few days were tough, but I threw myself into it and pretty soon, you are no longer travelling alone, and you have made a life for yourself; whatever shape or form that may be. It is something that you can reflect on and know that even in a new country, new culture and society rules; you can do this.

It gives you a sense of strength that you didn't think you had. Additionally, it reveals new aspects of yourself. When I left Melbourne after working there for 3 months, I set off ready to travel all around the coast of Australia, as well as through the red centre. Now for me, I wanted to drive it all. That has been my dream for travelling Australia; the bus just wasn't an option I wanted to take. So initially it was your usual rent-a-car trip; with the hostels, the views, meeting people, having the craic basically. It was 3 weeks into my journey that it took a change. I had finished the east coast and wanted to head towards Alice Springs, up to Darwin and down the west coast. So I found a share ride and with an additional passenger in the car, the 3 of us set off. Now I already knew that we would be camping, so that wasn't a surprise, but I had never been camping before; so already I was trying something new. I won't go through each and every aspect, but throughout the weeks that followed, I found myself sleeping in a tent on the side of the road in the middle of the desert. We had a thunderstorm one night, and as we slept in the field, I honestly thought it was going to be a flash flood and we were basically going to drown! I slept in the car in 40 degree heat. I slept on the beach and then on the tar-mac. One of the nights we pulled into a caravan park un-noticed and in our attempt to flee the next morning before the owners arose, I found myself speeding out of the place before the owners, who had been up and about, could get in a car to stop us.

Now, why I tell you some of this is to illustrate the fact that I never would have slept in a car, yet alone on the side of the road; but it just seemed normal to me when doing so. I didn't moan, or complain about the conditions. I just accepted what was, and it made me realise that I can do this; even when it involves two other people whom I had only met and I was in the middle of the desert. Would I have been so wiling had I have gone with friends? Hell no! We would have only accepted hostels, beds...the expectant luxuries when travelling. By going alone, I met up with others who had no problem just basically "getting by" as best and cheap they could; and I found myself being one of those people. I would never have imagined I could have been someone like that.

It will also force you out of your shell. Now, this part of travelling doesn't apply to everyone, but for me, I was a very shy individual. I struggled to
even talk to new people. I hated meeting new people, and when at parties, I did not mind sticking to my own mates and just blending in with the furniture. However, now I am a completely different person. I have no problem igniting a conversation with someone because when alone, you have to!! Yes, you can remain alone and just keep to your phone and your contacts back home, but if that's the case, you might as well just be back home. By travelling alone you are forced to meet others and interact. It's a process that not only helps you break out of your shell, but it opens your eyes to new backgrounds, new personalities, new cultures...new friends. I walk around with a greater pride in myself because I am no longer afraid of someone approaching to speak to me. I actually welcome meeting new people now, and it's the best way in life to be.

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By travelling alone you are allowing yourself to be who you want to be. It will inspire you to try new things. It force you to adapt to rough and new environments. It will encourage you to speak to the different types of people in the world. It will help you develop as an individual.

Don't be afraid of taking that first lonely step....if anything, I encourage it! :)

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Posted by Deanxc220 09:10 Tagged me travel lonely alone sole first_step Comments (4)

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