Friday, October 28, 2005

Whew that was a long email yesterday. And I didn't get through half of
what we did...

Currently I have so much to do and I'm a little scared. Trying to sort
out Canadian visas seems to be the main thing (it says I can apply in
"the country where I was legally admitted" - does that mean I can
apply at the embassy in Moscow, or do I have to send all my stuff to
London? Answers on a postcard please... or actually by email or by
comment, since postcards wouldn't reach me in time). Yes I know I
should have sorted this all out already, and really if the worst comes
to the worst I can still go and sit in on university classes without a
problem until my money runs out. This is just to see if I can get
paid, which would be nice. The YMCA in Montreal has a language school,
so I've emailed them to see if I could help out there. I've also said
I can work in the centres themselves if there's work going there. Hope
I didn't sound too desperate (although I am by now!)

On a more relaxing note... nope I don't have one. I'm trying to
negotiate the perils of the Russian postal system to send people
letters and things, but I don't think I'm in the correct state of mind
today (or ever, really, but I'm going to try very soon).

I would like to still be in Mongolia and not worrying about these things!

We're going to book the train to Moscow in December soon too (Monday?)
so Fi, if you can't have us all staying now's the time to let us know!

On the plus side, it's supposed to snow soon. I'm sceptical. I also
just spelt sceptical with a k, silly American spelling taking over!

Right, I'm going to find out what's going on in the world and stop
typing random crap. You can all breathe a sigh of relief.

(Rob, thanks for calling this morning - that made me happy)


Coffee is thicker than water...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

So today is really really warm. Why is it that in the middle of Siberia at the end of October it's still +14C outside? Yet it's snowing in Moscow and Petersburg and pretty much everywhere else too. I'm understandably confused.
On the other hand, traveling in good weather is always good. Except in Irkutsk, where it decided to rain as though it were trying to turn the entire city into Lake Baikal's younger sister. Boo. But, we managed to get a Mongolian visa which was all important (and looks very pretty in my passport, which is also important). And also went to Lake Baikal, which was immense. It was like the sea, but drinkable! Unfortunately it was sleeting there when we went, so there was a lot of hurrying from place to place and much eating of smoked ommel (the native fish of Baikal). Mmmm smoked fish. It was good, except that we bought a lot of it and then had it for the next four meals. There's only so much I can take!
Accompanying us to Baikal was a crazy Russian by the name of Julia, who worked in the hostel we stayed in (the Downtown Hostel - much recommended). As seems to be the habit with us when we go to pretty places, we found the steepest hill we could and climbed it (it was like Divnogorsk all over again!). It was fun though, and we all dutifully dipped our hands into the lake. It's supposed to add a year to your life, and swimming is supposed to add 25 years (as long as it doesn't kill you instantly!). Needless to say, on a sleety day none of us were that brave (although Sophie and Christine drank some, to check it was actually fresh, and they're still living, which is a bonus I feel).
Most of this day I was very hungover, due to an unfortunate incident with an Australian and some (read: lots of) vodka... word of warning - when trying to drink vodka Russian style, don't try to outdo the crazy drunken Aussie. And remember that vodka waits for a while before hitting you. It was an interesting night, during which I got very well acquainted with the hostel's bathroom. Sorry to everyone. <hangs head in shame>
But, the fresh air of Baikal cured me and we were ready to continue our journey to Mongolia. This part of the journey was done second class, as there were no third class carriages across the border. You'll have to look at pictures (which I'll post some of when I get to somewhere that's not charging me money) to understand what they were like! But it was lots of fun, chatting with random Russians, Mongolians and the ubiquitous backpackers.
Border crossings are a nightmare. Why does it take 7 hours to check our passports twice? This is a question that can only be answered by the border guards, and they were too scary to ask. So I didn't.
We finally arrived at Ulaan Bataar (say it in a Scottish accent, and that's how it's pronounced, bizarrely enough) bright and early in the morning and were met by the guy from the hostel. Wasn't that nice of him? This hostel also deserves mention - the UB Guesthouse (which is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guides) and is a very friendly and helpful place. They organised our trip to Terelj, where we stayed in a ger and rode horses and drank mare's milk (nicer than it sounds!), and where it was so silent... I've never been somewhere that quiet before. No cars, no planes, no hustle and bustle of the city... it was amazing. Again, I'll post photos asap.
Mongolia is a strange country - it's kind of a cross between Russia, with the Soviet buildings still very much in evidence, and Asia, with the Buddhist monastery that sits right in the centre of the capital.
(Sorry to break this off here, but I need to get moving and will be back tomorrow anyway to write more. The combination of random game noises and a scary sounding Russian film is very distracting! And I'm still being charged by traffic as well as by time :( despite this being a different place. I'm also bored now.)
Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I'm back!

Mongolia was great fun, not least because we managed to actually get there...

But I can't say much now, it's Sophie's birthday and we've just been
to the banya (so much fun, feel so clean) - so I need to get home and
eat, so I can go out and drink beer later :)

More soon (probably tomorrow)

Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


It tried to snow today. It was a bit of a feeble effort, but at least it tried. Hopefully this means there will be snow at Irkutsk/Lake Baikal, as it's supposed to be colder there <shrug> because that would make for good photos! And snow on the Mongolian steppe would be pretty cool too...
Everyone is now in a last-minute buying-warm-stuff frenzy. I feel quite smug, since I have all mine already. :)
That's all for now, we're off to Rachel's to sort out all the communal stuff we're taking. Excitement!
Love you all xx

Coffee is thicker than water...

Monday, October 10, 2005

We're going to Irkutsk!

It's only just sinking in really, despite having had the train tickets for a while. And Rachel is now coming to Mongolia (if we manage it) too! She wasn't going to, but her mum told her not to be silly :) well done Rachel's mum.
My Dad's comment on Mongolia was that when he was at school, it was as far away as the moon! And still is... that made me giggle.
So at some ridiculous time of night we're going to be on a train, possibly quite drunk after being in Che Guevara (the crazy Cuba style bar thing right by the train station).
I have nothing else of interest to say...
Oooh excitement! Just found Liz online (or she found me)! This is exciting stuff, mostly because I'm usually too lazy to sign into any of the chat things... and when I do there's no-one here... thanks guys, you've made my day!
Coffee is thicker than water...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Let's see if this will work...

I'm back! Although it's taken me many days to get here (kept being lazy and not wanting to deal with silly internet things).
So I left off last time at Nadia's birthday. It was surreal (which is my favourite word at the moment to describe all things Russian) - sitting in a school playground, drinking lots and lots of beer with lots of people I didn't know, and being told in no uncertain terms that "drem end bess is best music!". Ok, I quite like a good bit of drum and bass, but not from an MP3 player phone...
We also went to the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, which we bought tickets for way back in the first couple of weeks here. It was amazing! Prokofiev's music, and (so we were told) a new choreography which had all the classical ballet movements but also a lot of more contemporary stuff going on (stamping around and so on - not what I'd thought of as ballet, but worked really well!). And the costumes were beautiful - I particularly liked Tybalt in his red and black stuff showing that he's bad (oh colour symbolism, what would we do without you?). All in all, a lot of fun and only four pounds! More please!
And then there was Divnogorsk... it was an adventure (that's the only real way to describe it). Basically it's a dam, and supposed to be quite something to see. Uliana, one of our Russian friends, said that her friend had been able to walk right up to it and even on top of it, which sounded very exciting, so us students (minus Vicki, who was shopping for a dublonka - big furry coat) plus Uliana and one of the four Maxes that I know now, set off one sunny Saturday morning to go and see it. Started off just fine - bus there, got us to the village of Divnogorsk. Good. Got to the dam in taxis, one of which had a broken windscreen. Not so good, but made it. So we walk up to the guard in his officey type thing, to be told that we couldn't go any closer and hadn't been allowed to for 6 years. Ah. So while Max pleaded with him, telling him that we'd come all the way from England and really wanted to see the dam, Uliana phoned her friend to find out how she'd managed. Turns out that when she visited, there was no-one in the guard hut and she'd just walked straight through. Obviously that wasn't going to work for us, and Max gave up arguing with the (rather amused) official (who had a gun, so the arguing wasn't too serious anyway) and we went to play on the beach for a while. It was cold.
Looking at the hills next to the dam, we could make out a road up the hillside from where (according to a fisherman standing on the beach looking a bit forlorn) we would be able to see over the dam and into the reservoir behind. So we set out to do that... the bottom of the road was in another fenced-off area, with another guard who wouldn't let us through. We decided to walk around the fenced bit until the fence ran out (it wasn't all built yet) and then follow the road from there, but the sentry got a bit anxious and told us that even though there wasn't a fence higher up we would still be trespassing. Since he also had a gun, and I didn't really fancy being arrested in the middle of Siberia, we didn't argue that point. Then Max remembered that it wasn't this road the fisherman had meant at all, but one higher up the hillside. The quickest way to get to this road, however, was not to walk 2k back down the road we were on, but straight up the hillside. So, being slightly crazy and more than a little desperate to see this reservoir (I don't know why either, I've seen plenty in my little lifetime) straight up the hill we went (watched by the now very amused sentry)... it was a scree slope. And more than a little steep. I'm still impressed that Sophie managed all this in heels - a true Russian effort, well done!
Having slipped and scrambled and used trees to get to the top of this hill, we found the promised road (and a good job too!). And a sign that said we were in a forbidden area. Hmm. But, we hadn't come here for nothing, and seeing nothing official-looking around, we walked up the road. Eventually we got high enough to see over the dam and into the reservoir (or sea, as we called it) and it was pretty.
But the adventure was not over yet, oh no! (Sorry, this is turning into a bit of an epic). Once we were safely back down the hill (following the road this time - I've come to the opinion that roads are much underrated), we got to the bus stop to take us back to Divnogorsk only to be told that there were no buses (or something). This might have seemed a problem, but in Russia every car's a taxi! Just hold out your hand and wave till one stops. And one did stop. It was possibly the smallest car I've seen in Russia, a little Peugeot type thing. There were 7 of us, so we were prepared to flag down another car too, but the driver was quite insistent that we would all fit. It was the most interesting car journey I think I've ever had! But we got back to the village safe and just a little squashed, so that was ok too. And finally in this epic day, we went into the kassa to buy tickets for the bus journey back to Krasnoyarsk, but were followed in by some guy who had a 7-seater minivan thing and wanted to drive us home for the same price as the bus, with a bonus stop at a viewpoint! So we did that too... The viewpoint was cool, there were amazing views over the Yenisei and the mountains (as you might expect), and also lots of ribbons tied to trees. But we knew why! Having listened in Gulya's lessons, we had learned that couples about to get married went to that viewpoint and tied ribbons to trees as a sign of their affection and a good luck wish for their marriage. It was a very pretty sight, kind of like Christmas but less sparkly.
Wow this is long eh!
This week has been quiet by comparison to last week though, we're all psyching ourselves up for train journeys... we leave for Irkutsk on Wednesday, and arrive back on the 25th. Hopefully we'll manage to reach Mongolia, but that depends on whether we can get visas. If not, we'll explore round Irkutsk and Lake Baikal (which contains a fifth of all the earth's fresh water - thanks Lonely Planet).
Tonight we're gathering at Ben's place to watch films. Good way to spend a Saturday night I feel!
Speaking of films, there's one out here called "9 Rota" (9th Company) about Russian troops in Afghanistan in 1988. I didn't go to see it because I wasn't feeling too good, but apparently it's amazing and should be watched by everyone. I'll probably buy it (yes, I've seen it on DVD already) and make everyone watch it. Even if it's only in Russian. You have been warned...
Before I go, thanks to Mum for sending me the Trans-Sib guide that I cleverly left at home, and to Dad for his letter :) I like getting things sent to me, and my family gets excited too! And thanks for emails and texts and stuff, I appreciate them even though I'm useless at replying.
Hmm, sorry that last bit sounded like an Oscar speech (although I'll never have the chance to do a real one, so deal with it). I'll try and post again before I go travelling, but if not there'll be a mammoth epic when I get back!
(Oh and there was a woolly rhino in the museum, I think it's awesome and should be genetically engineered back to life)
Sara xx


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I've finally made it back to the internet cafe! Yay me. Although I think I might be brave soon and branch out to another one, where we don't keep getting different prices for the same thing.

Lessee... rugby match is where I left off last time (not through choice). There was a lot of shouting, as you might expect - many cries of "davai, davai!" which literally means "give" - wasn't sure whether that was telling the players to actually pass the ball, or more in a Canadian "give'er" kind of style. From watching my amazing 6 films on one DVD, I learned that it's the equivalent of the English "go on!". So that's that mystery solved.

There were also cheerleaders, which was a little surreal. They were mostly a distraction from the pitch when the ref and players were having a disagreement - someone would start up the music and they'd run through their routine. Then the argument would still be going on, but the dancers would have run out of dances, so they'd stand there and watch what was happening until another song was put on and they'd start all over again. Amusing.

And of course the important thing was that Krasniy Yar (our team, of course) won! Take that, all you people in Moscow :) . Of course the ref was biased and there were soooo many tackles that even I could tell were illegal (diving on someone at head height, or dragging them down by their shirt)... but we still won. It was exciting.

In other exciting news, we now have train tickets to Irkutsk and back! We need to get there to get visas for Mongolia. If we don't manage that, we can enjoy Lake Baikal. Perfect. We leave on the 12th of October, and get back on the 25th... wish us luck!

What else... oh yeah, it was Nadia's birthday yesterday (my hostess's daughter) which was interesting... there was a lot of beer. I was surprised it wasn't vodka, and secretly kind of glad - given the hangover I have today, if it had been vodka I think I would have been very ill...

It started off all very civilised with a meal (there were prawns! Well I found that exciting) and three 2 litre bottles of beer between 4 of us. Then there was cake (provided by me, cos I'm good like that) and then I ended up going out with Nadia and her friends to drink beer in a school yard.

Yet again I wrote out a huge amount of detail about what we did, and yet again I lost it, this time when saving it... why can the page not be found!? I think I'm just going to write everything out in an email to Rob from now on, and he can post it for me. Sorry everyone, but it's now 6.30, I want to go home and recover from my hangover and I'm annoyed that I've just spent at least half an hour on this only to lose it because Russian computers don't like me.

(Note to self: write about the rest of Nadia's birthday, the ballet and Divnogorsk)