A Travellerspoint blog

South Eastern Siberia

Lake Baikal

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Exhausted after so many late nights in st Petersberg and Moscow we headed
for domedevo airport early in the morning. After getting a little lost on
the metro again we managed to board our flight to Ulan Ude via Novosibirsk.
The flight was about 7 hrs in total and we crossed about 5 time zones, it
makes you realise what a massive country we are in!

eating caviar in the airport
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We had been warned by the lonely planet to organize transport from the
airport in ulan ude so when we landed there was a man with a sign saying
" govi" which had to be us! The airport was one crowded room where we had to
fight to get our luggage, strange!
That night we were so jet lagged so we stayed up till 4am sitting in the
hall way where we could pick up wifi signal trying to arrange the next
couple of days. We unfortunately arrived on a Sunday night so no tour
companies were open and we found very limited info online so after 2 hours
of shut eye we headed for the bus station at 6am to try get to a town
called Goryaninsk on the lake, it is about 170km from ulan ude.
We could not see any place to buy a ticket so we assumed you could get one
from the driver. After showing our tour book to people we figured out which
bus to take, they are little mini combis. We got on the bus after 2 hrs of
waiting and got kicked off because we didn't have tickets. Some young kid
appeared out of nowhere and sold us two tickets, it was all a bit strange
as the bus seemed to be full but after all the confusion and everyone
Laughing at us we headed off.

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The bus took 4 hrs to do 170kms and it was a hair raising bumpy ride! We
were dropped off in a little square that felt a bit like the Transkei,
There were cows lying around, one general store, a funny old sanitarium and
a few drunk people(40,000 Russians die a year of alcohol poisoning)After
walking around with our back backs on we both panicked a bit as we had no
idea where we were going or where we were going to stay. We were the only
tourists in the place, everyone seemed to be locals from ulan ude! After
pointing to the word hotel in Russian In the book we finally found a little
guest house. We checked In there for 2 nights and had all our meals there
which was great because there were no other places to eat in the little
town. We got to sample lots of local food! Some great omul fish cakes, a
whole fish, lots of soups and rice! They don't use knives at all, you only
eat with a fork and spoon and they only drink hot black tea at meals!

Lake Baikal is positioned in southeastern (Siberia) Russia, directly to
the north of Mongolia.
It is the oldest (*still existing*) freshwater lake on the planet, it is
also measured as the deepest continental body of water at 1620 m. In
addition, it is the largest freshwater lake by volume, containing an
astounding 20% of the planet's fresh water.
With a maximum width of 96 km, Lake Baikal is about 626 km in length.

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The lake was a 5 minute walk from the town, we had fun exploring and going
for lovely walks. The lake has waves and sandy shores so it feels like you
at the beach. It was very remote with only a few people camping on the
shore. We had locals come up to us and ask to take photos of us a few
times, we obviously didn't look like Russians! They were fascinated that we
were from "Africa" and very friendly although the conversations were the,
speaking Russian and us just nodding!
We had some lovely sunshine and very strong winds but we manged to swim and
have 2 lovely days of r&r there.

sleeping like a hobo on the beach
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ps: We have uploaded a few more pics from the travels so far if you feel like looking!

Posted by karenandbyron 07:24 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

Russia

St Petersberg, Moscow and a bit of Helsinki

semi-overcast 18 °C

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==After hopping on a expensive crowded ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki we checked into our hostel in Helsinki. It was the first place we had been that catered for backpackers and where the reception staff spoke English.
Since we only had one night we decided to do the hop on hop off us tour of the city. It was 60 euros for 2 tickets and not that informative ( probably the biggest waist of money so far) but the vibe we got was that the city is quiet and small but very clean and some pretty old buildings! It was very expensive and after one afternoon and one morning on the bus we felt we had seen all Helsinki had to offer. We spent our night in Helsinki organising our net few days online, doing laundry, skyping family and eating cereal in he room for dinner.

The next morning we took the express train 3 and half hours to st. Petersberg. Arriving at the boarder the customs officials stepped on board which was interesting. As you know the Russians are very paranoid about who they let in to their country. We got grilled by a very intimidating lady about what was In our bags (not allowed to take in any books or medicine) and then they checked our visas with magnifying glasses but after getting a stamp we could relax. I hate immigration, they always treat you like a criminal on a SA passport!
As soon as we got on the metro to find our hotel you could we feel we had arrived in a much bigger city where people looked more miserable than London and no one spoke English, hello Russia. After struggling with metro system a bit because the stop names are in acrylic we managed to find our little mini hotel. As we arrived in a very old dodgy soviet building we were so worried about our accommodation but once getting past the front at wasn't too bad and even though you couldn't swing a cat in the room it was very clean and very central. We were walking distance from the hermitage and Nevsky prospect which is the main shopping street.
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We had 3 nights in st Petersberg and we walked the city flat! Blisters and very stiff legs were worth it and we really loved the city. We explored most of the sites and spent time taking awesome photos. It only gets dark at about 12am so we were up late taking pics and walking around the gorgeous lit up city all 3 nights. They light up every building and every bridge so the city at night is gorgeous. We read that you had to see one of the lit up bridges open at night. They have specific times so after waiting in the cold for about an hour at 1.30 am the bridge opened. It was very pretty but a but of a let down as it only opens a little bit and we a used to the Bridges that open over the canals in Amsterdam.
We took a hydrofoil ferry (1300 rubbles about 33 euros one way) to the peterhof palace and gardens that Catherine the 2nd commissioned as her summer palace, it was so pretty and the fountains were very impressive. After the rip off ferry we took the bus back. We were the only tourists on the little bus, it was an interesting ride back into the city where we could really see how the majority lively in huge old depressing blocks, no wander they all look so sad and angry!
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Although no signs are in English and hardly any one can speak a word the central part of the city does have a westernised feel so we ended up only eating one Russian meal and it was awesome! You can imagine in the in the winter how cold it gets so they eat a lot of soup and stews, we loved the mutton borsh! We did notice that the Russians LOVE sushi, you can it one very menu. Their coffee shops (the Starbucks type places) are awesome, they are 24 hours, have wifi and Delicious cakes that we frequented but they come at a price, it was 700 rubbles for 2 cappuccinos (18 euros)
We visited the hermitage, the winter palace, The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood" (known locally as Spas na Kravi) which is stunning, But The highlight of st Petersberg was going to watch the swan lake ballet in the hermitage state theatre.we splashed out and it was worth it. The theatre was used only for the royal family and was not open to the public so it was lovely and intimate, only fitting about 200 people in there. We had great seats and really enjoyed being able to see the dancers up close, I was in awe of the ballerinas!!
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Onto Moscow..... We wanted to go on the train from st Petersberg but it was much more expensive than flying so we took an S7 flight, Russia's easy jet, to Moscow.
The metro system in Moscow is hectic, more people travel on it daily than London and new York combined and we happened to arrive at rush hour which was fun trying to fight the crowds With back packs on! The stop where we had to go was written in English but when we got down there the names were in acrylic but we eventually figured it out and got to our stop. The hostel we stayed at Moscow was dire! The lady could not say hello in English and the room was done out in beautiful drapery everywhere, amazing decor. Sharing a toilet with about 10 other men and woman is great when you go to the loo in the middle of the night and there is no toilet paper but anyway we did well with location again and we were only 2 metro stops and a short walk from the red square.
Random camel in the streets of Moscow
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Moscow is an awesome city also filled with so much history and incredible buildings. We spent a lot of time looking at the incredible red square in the day and lit up at night. With the kremlin, Lenin's tomb, And saint Basil's cathedral With its amazing architecture and coloured domes is really a sight every time you look at it. We went to the museum inside the Kremlin which is very impressive and saw
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As it was Friday night we were keen to check out a local bar and have a drink so we decided to follow the lonely planet advice and go to these gardens where they set tent in summer and everyone gathers there. We walked quite a while to find these gardens and when we got there the "bar" was so average and inside was fully booked and outside was raining, the waitress shooed us away so we walked back through the suburbs towards the centre. On route we stumbled across a great spot. It was a make shift loft that they put up for summer (although everyone still wraps up in blankets) with a really cool Uzbek restaurant and bar so we settled in there for the evening, loved it!!

we have searched for a week now for 1 internet cafe or computer to download photos as we are having issues uploading with the ipad and we have not been successful so tonight I have rented a laptop from the hotel in Ulan ude and tring to do this on a russian key boad with all instructions in acrylic is not easy!! big language barrier here, we have had to reply on lots of sign language and pointing to phrases in the lonely planet!

Posted by karenandbyron 06:28 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

Lithuania, Estonia and a little more Latvia

rain 15 °C

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From Jurmala in Latvia we Drove for about 4 hrs to Klaipeda in Lithuania. The cheapest option of accommodation that was available in the city was a 4 star hotel fro 50euros for the room which is what we had been paying for a hostel room so us backpackers styled it up for the night.
The hotel had a really cool roof terrace bar with a great view of the city. We headed to the old town for some dinner and decided to indulge in a local Lithuanian restaurant. Byron had a beer snack which consisted of raw Mackerel, smoked pigs ears, deep fried bread and cheese, it was revolting.
  
The next morning we headed for the Baltic bike hire shop and rented 2 mountain bikes to head off on our cycle along the curonian split. We cycled    52km through the pine trees and sand dunes to a town called Nida on the coast. We had an awesome day out and managed to time it perfectly with the weather. We arrived in Nida, had a much needed pizza and then took a bus back to Klaipeda. The black clouds had been rolling in all morning and as we got on the bus the thunder storm broke.

We had to make our way back to Riga in Latvia to drop the car off so decided to stop off on the way to break up the drive. Just before crossing over the boarder into Latvia again we stopped off at the hill of a crosses. About 200 0000 crosses are displayed on a hill. The place has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism even though The russians tried to destroy it 3 times but never succeeded. 
After crossing the boarder we found a little place on the road side to stay. There was a country music festival going on in the town nearby where The locals were all dressed up in their cowboy gear and ready to razzle. Our neighbours in the hotel came back at 1am from the party, we had to get the ear plugs out as the man's snoring was as though we were sleeping right next to an animal. 

The next day we met up with Vladimir in Riga again to drop the car off, bye bye yellow bomber, and then headed on our first bus trip to Tallinn in Estonia. After 5hrs we arrived in tallinn and got in a cab to find the hostel we had booked. The taxi driver proceeded to then tell us that the hostel we had booked was next door to a local strip club so all the gross men check in there and bring back prossies, oh yay you can only imagine how that made me feel especially as it was Saturday night. I brought out the travel sheet again and didn't shower!
Tallinn old town is lovely, beautiful cobbled streets and churches and lots restaurants and bars along the streets. It was probably the busiest city we have been to so far in the Baltics and heard other English tourists for the first time. This also made it very expensive, we had dinner at hesburger take out for 8 Euros for both of us and then I had a glass of red wine at one of the restaurants for 9 euros, most expensive glass of average wine! It only gets dark now at about 11.30pm and light again at 5am so the days are long which is great. 

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On the ferry now on the way to Helsinki.

Roof top bar in klaipeda 
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Dried fish in a packet sold off the shelf
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Beer snack of pigs ears
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Hill of crosses

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Beautiful sunset

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Cycle from Klaipeda  to Nida 

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Even the men love a short jort here
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Posted by karenandbyron 08:35 Archived in Estonia Comments (4)

Latvia

After leaving the family we had a morning in Rome so we decided to go have a look at the colleseum. We got there at 9am and it was already 26 degrees and a big que but it was great to see. After a quick audio tour we headed for the Rome airport to fly to Riga, Latvia.

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We had per booked a rental car and when we got to Riga airport there was no sign of the company we rented it through. After a phone call off the pay phone a guy called Vladimir turned up with our little yellow chev.

Exicitedly we hit Riga only to be stuck doing laps and laps of the one way streets. We eventually got tired and irritated looking for a place to stay and settled for a rude eur50 hostel near the railway. It was a smelly stuffy room and the shared bathrooms were gross so I (Karen) just decided to have a portugugese shower that night and next morning. I have become a real traveller already, ha ha!
That night we walked around the old town which was very clean and pretty. It's not very big but we were surprised at how lovely the little cobbled streets were. I think we were expecting to see only big soviet blocks however we were suprised by the charm of the old part of the city.
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After using my cotton travel sheet for the firt time, we woke up to the most amazing site... While brushing our teeth we ran into an old big fat man in the corridor with nothing on except and short small t-shirt. Siff.
We fuelled the yellow jet and after getting stuck in the one way system again for about and hour we finally headed out of town to a place called Cesis. We explored this old little place that had a beautiful castle and gardens. It was a lovely warm afternoon so we found a lake to have a swim in then we had a picnic dinner by the lake where we were staying for night.
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The next day we headed for the Soviet misile bunker in a place called Ligante and an outdoor archery field that Byron was so excited about in sigulda but it all was closed and every activity has to be organised by phone first. They are not very geared for tourists in this part of the world, there are a few Latvian holiday makers and the odd german but when we told people we were from SA they looked at us with complete shock and horror. So instead we decided to head for the beach. We drove about 2hrs to a place called Jurmala.

It is a lovely little beach town where lots of locals go on holiday (the Plett of Latvia). The prices are crazy in the summer months and the only place we could find to stay was a hostel room for EUR50. after negotiating a cheaper rate we decided to stay there. Had a lovely day running on the beach and walking around the town.

In gereral woman are stunning and the The one thing we noticed is that every guy (no matter shape or size) wears a wife beater and every girl wears a tiny pear of hotpants/jorts.

off to explore the next part of our Baltic tour, Lithuania.

Posted by karenandbyron 12:34 Archived in Latvia Comments (0)

Amalfi coast Italy

Dad's 60th birthday celebrations

sunny 34 °C

After a sad farewell to Amsterdam and our great friends there we finally set off to meet the muller family in Italy for a week of 60th birthday celebrations.
we met debs and bruce at schipoll and flew to naples. From there we Rented a car had a great drive from Naples to st. agata which was the closest main town to our villa. The beautiful villa we stayed in was situated in a place called massa lubrense. It was so unspoiled and off the tourist track. At first we thought we had meet up with the location but it turned out it was in a perfect location and close to Sorrento and Positano.

We explored the whole area and really got a good feel for the coast line. We rented 2 cars and did beautiful drives to Ravello,Amalfi town, positano and sorrento. The best town out of all those was ravello which had stunning gardens and views.
Driving along the Amalfi coast was an experience in itself, the roads are so narrow and windy and we had a few near accidents with the buses that scream round the corners. Byron rented a fiat panda witch besides for no leg room and scratchy seats was the best car as you couldn't have any bigger. Dad got a Opel station wagon which got stuck down the narrowest road in italy and then the clutch burned out on the last day which added a little drama to the holiday!

Besides for the hairy drives we did some beautiful walks. It averaged about 32 degrees everyday so we really sweated out some calories on these walks. Coming from amsterdam summer to italy is quite a shock to the system!
On the one walk, the guys (derek,bruce,richard,byron) decided to take a different route and hiked up a very steep mountain. After not returning to the house to the house for a few hours mom,debbie and I started to get worried. When they finally came back byron had cuts all over his leg and we learnt that the guys panicked because dad was struggling so byron sprinted down the mountain to get water for him. He knocked on a few houses' doors and the "friendly" italians said no. Nice people!

2 of the best days we had were being on the water. Franco our guide took us on his boat to Capri for the day. Saw some beautiful caves/grottos, swam a lot, had a stunning lunch and then went up the cable car on Capri.
Then one another day we rented explored rubber duck that was captained by Peter Muller. We explored the coast and snorkeled, it was great!

Our family love to eat!!! We ate on average 4 gelatos a day. The best ice creams  places that we samples were in amalfi town and in rome on the last day. We ate loads of delishous  pasta, pizza and sea food but the best was the caprese salads. Fresh buffalo mozzarella and juicy red tomatoes for me are by far the best dish we had at all the restaurants.
We had 2 great dinners at the villa where the head chef (Derek) and the other male chefs made us great sword fish and a fresh tuna salad!
Up the road from our villa was a little jem of a bar/restaurant that we stumbled across when trying to by onions.  The owner Enrico and his wife laura cooked us the most amazing "home cooked" italian meal. The meal was very organic, everything we had they grow in their garden and they even killed the chickens we ate that morning especially for us! It was awesome. We ended up going back to enrico's for coffee and croissants and a few glasses of his home made lemoncello! He they invited us to his daughter's 10th birthday party for cake and lemon cello. Debbie bought her a present (hand bag, hair clips and sweets) which was her best present and she was so happy!

All round it was a fantastic week with family, what a special time. Thank you so much to Dad and mom, we are very privelaged to start our trip in such style!
The only disappointments were that we searched for Jennifer Anniston's boat (who was there according to the press) and we never saw her and that Italy lost the euro final!

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Posted by karenandbyron 22:20 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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