My aim is to travel from the UK to Brisbane for one of my best friends' wedding. Plane travel is so environmentally damaging so I am looking for another way. I also think that by travelling over land and sea I will be able to understand our world better as I will connect with the people and landscapes and not just look at the departure board in the airport. Any tips gratefully received!! Departure date 1st September.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

26th-29th September Peace and Quiet at last!

The train from Bangkok to Butterworth was easy peasy! and I get a huge bed and sleep so well, the best for ages. I have fun sharing Thai and English words for various food items on my plate, days of the week and other useless phrases in the guidebook (where is the bank!?) with one of my room-mates Suat. More stunning tropical views as we move south - good to be going in the right direction again. So excited am I about my beach 'holiday' I leap from the train straight onto a bus (RNB 15 or 4 US dollars) with no real thought about whether I can get any money out in my remote destination (thankfully I can!) and off to Lumut and the ferry to Pulau Pangkor. What a beautiful and relaxed place. I stay at Mizam Resort where the owners are super friendly. It is Ramadam at the moment too so an extra special thanks to them for putting me up. It is extra quiet and lots of places are closed, but I am very happy with this. After getting used to the cockroaches and lizards scuttling around the floor and the racket from the jungle; monkeys, insects and who knows what else, I manage to sleep. I rise early to see if I can do some scuba diving but there is a lot of wind so the boat won't go out and all the kit is on the mainland (and I think they cannot be bothered for one person - always a problem!) So instead I go for a snorkel. Although I can take a boat, I decide I need the exercise and snorkel the 300m to Giam Island. Sadly because of the wind the sand is churned up and the visibility low but for about 30 mins I am totally alone on the island (except for the lone monkey I didn't actually meet!) So some friendly dutch folk arrived with their boat guide Ee and we got chatting for a while (too long though, as I got well and truly sunburnt - silly Brit!) and then I snorkelled home. The next part of my tri-athalon - a little cycle ride on a bike with gears (and brakes!) thank god as there are more hills than Wales it seems and the temperature is rising. I start to feel a bit ill from my sun exposure and so take refuge under a tree for a while. It seems I am the new attraction in town! If I stop for more than 1 minute someone is over saying a friendly hello, Selamat Pagi, or where are you from? I am finding it really hard trying not to be a paranoid, western woman alone but sadly that is the world I live in and whether it is a risk or not I know I must take care. This makes me very sad as I ponder this thought for a while. I am often instantly skeptical about most meetings, offers etc and quick to presume the worst, even just for a split second (as much as my inner intuition is trying not to.) Various people have tried to offer me help, directions, tickets, a room, food, conversation etc. Sometimes I accept, sometimes I don't. I try to use my intuition and common sense but sometimes I block out people who may be really interesting or useful. It is sad that it has to be like that and I am trying to be open to everyone. More lazing in the sun and then I must continue my journey. A bus to Kuala Lumpur (18 RMB - or 5 US dollars) takes 5 hours. It is amazing how your level of tolerance drops when in a confined space with loads of people you don't know; what with teeth suckers, goo goo gaa gaa baby entertainers and at least one person making an obnoxious smell or coughing all over the place every few miinutes is enough to test your sanity! I am soon back in the city; skyscrapers, people, noise and craziness. I try to learn a bit of the Malay language. It seems easier than some I have come across and many words are very recognisable from English e.g Teksi (taxi), beg (bag), bank (!) and kafe (cafe). One day here before I leave for Singapore.......only 3 days to the boat departure date. I am so excited now......I might just do this you know!!!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bangkok - The land where anything can be yours.... for a price

I started reading Satish Kumar's book 'No Destination' and it is a real inspiration. I especially wanted to read about his journey where he walked around the world delivering messages of peace to the people and Government's of the nuclear world. I can relate to many of his values and the experiences he had on his journey. I completely adhere to his principles of not placing such value on material goods (we alsways need more, more, more...) and respecting all living beings (sorry about the insects - see later on!) and the earth that we live on. I mean this in a real and practical way and not just an academic and intellectual way (as I believe he does too.) He also seemed to rely on fate and to go where he was destined and experienced great kindness in every place. I have seen many juxtapositions on this journey - I have seen what appear to be strong communities working the land and being fairly self sufficient and bartering between themselves. I have also seen huge disparity between rich and poor and also great monetary and materialistic desires (in foreigners and locals.) Bangkok was a crazy place. After last week's coup things remain pretty stable as far as I could see, the only evidence were the tanks and soldiers stationed outside Parliament and a few soldiers elsewhere. They had turned into a tourist attraction of sorts but were mainly surrounded by devoted Thais who love their soldiers and were glad for the action and to dispose of Thaksin (Also reflected in the wearing of yellow t-shirts by nearly everyone as a sign of support for the King and worn by all government workers.) I explored the city, saw a few sites and took the river bus. Then there was the Khao San Road. A small street which has evolved (or devolved) around western backpackers it seems. You can buy whatever you want; food, drink, flights, internet, massage, diving, train tickets, clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery, handicrafts and even your very own dreadlocks (!?) You can even get cosmetics from your very own, well known British high street store and even another well known evil supermarket giant has mustled its way in. I wonder if some people never leave this street when they are here. In the evening I went to dinner with my new pal Tony and his American 'sister' and family who have come to Thailand to adopt an orphan and who were delighted to now be the parents of the lovely Mui or Isabel, lovely people. Then debating my options, I allowed myself to be escorted around some of Bangkok's more notorious districts (for cultural awareness.) There are many levels to the sex industry in Bangkok and Thailand and I felt like I should not ignore it blindly. I felt safe with Tony and we went to a few places which were very eye opening. Tony has read a lot about the issues and told me some sad facts but it was interesting to understand more. A short respite to try out some local delicacies (when in Rome...) Fried grasshopper, cricket and grubs.....I couldn't eat the lizard (it is a reptile and nearly cuddly!) or the cockroach...that was just too much. Onwards to Nana Plaza. Here I was bombarded with neon lights and the sex industry in full swing and it really did make me feel a bit uncomfortable. Watching some of the foreigners was sick, did they realise what was going on (I was unsure that the young 18 year old boys knew what was happening!) and what they were contributing to. There was so much deceipt and disparity here and I felt very sad because I know I am priviliged to have been able to make choices about what I believe and what I want and don't have to succumb to this world. I don't know what people will think of me for going to these places, and I certainly don't want to pass judgement on people that I know nothing about but I was extremely moved by my experience and it has shown me a world so far from mine it could be on Pluto. I feel that on this journey it is hard to stay true to myself, the self I left in Wales (I never thought I would do this for a start.) I don't think I have changed my basic principles and values but I do feel very far (not just physically) from the self that I left home with. Oh yes! I succumbed to the decadence of this city and bought some Thais fishermans trousers. They are so cool in the heat but sadly now I do look like a trendy backpacker. I challenge anyone to not buy something in this city!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

22nd - 24th September Phnom Penh and Cambodia

I don't feel like I can do justice to the country of Cambodia or the city of Phnom Penh as I was there for such a short time. I enjoyed what I saw and would like to return. I arrived in the middle of their public holiday so it was very quiet which was a relief after Vietnam. I found the Moto and Cyclo drivers much less agressive and I didn't see all the begging I had been led to expect. (There was some, of course, and there are real problems with poverty and child exploitation but I don't know enough to say anything about it here.) I tried not to feel too bad lounging around not doing anything (I should be soaking up some more temples!) but I get hungry and too hot so I leave to plod into town. So I stick to my well tested plan of walking aimlessly around to see what I can find and make a realisation, no one here or in Vietnam walk anywhere if they can help it - it is hot and cyclos are cheap I guess. Anyway I explore the Central Market and it has a similar feel to the Vietnamese markets I saw. I manage to buy a delicious deep fried banana thingy for 500 riel (4,000 riel = 1US Dollar). The food I ate in Phnom Penh deserves a special mention - I found by chance the Vieyo Tonle which is a non-profit restaurant on the riverfront which supports the New Cambodian Childrens Life Assocation - who currently house, clothe, feed and educate 24 orphans. The food was excellent, I had 'Fish Amok' which is a local speciality. Another restaurant I found later was called 'Family Restaurant' and was in the backpackers area. It was so friendly, cheap and the food was great - run by a mother and daughter combo and is well recommended. My other exciting eating experience was to get 2 UN bodyguards proecting me as I bought a pineapple in the central market! (I wasn't in any danger, I just happened to meet them!) I met the Cambodian equivalent of my pal Lewis in Cambodia! A beautiful and giggling guy called Toy or Richie (his western name) working in the youth hostel in Phnom Penh! Also so many beautiful monks in this city, is it ok to call a monk beautiful? So onwards to the joyous 14 hour bus trip to Bangkok which at some moment felt like I was sitting on a pneumatic drill and why oh why do they have leather seats which you stick to in the heat? Otherwise lots of leg room and comfy enough. As we set out they distribute little plastic bags (for travel sickness I believe) I really hope I don't have to use one. It is not that I hope anyone else does but the fact they provide them suggests someone is going to get it. Anyway the poor little girl sat next to me on her mum gets it and I am saved. Saw some lovely sights like seeing two palm trees isolated in the middle of a flat field who look just like two beautiful women, lots of kids splashing in the river and a man dozing on the back of his water buffalo. To the border at Poipet (dodgy dodgy) and easily pop over the border where the kindly Tony lends me 3 baht to use the loo (I haven't changed any money yet). So I arrive in Thailand as it is getting dark and await what Bangkok has in store.....

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Buses are Bad and Boats are Brill

After a bit of a 'westerner comfort' evening with the lovely Jacqui (who is working in Ho Chi Minh at a local orphanage) - eating Lasagne (CHEESE!) and sitting on a sofa eating apple pie and watching a film! it is time to say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City. I didn't feel like I had time to get a real feel for the place - it is more chilled than Hanoi but more touristy and western. I am taking a combination of buses and boats to the border of Vietnam and on to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Most of the trip involves floating up the Mekong Delta where we see fabulous floating houses and all sorts of hustle and bustle of community life. It is great on the river, there is the universal language of waving and smiling that transcends all cultures - I make eye contact with one man on his boat for a brief moment and then wonder for a long time afterwards about him and his life. We see coconut candy being made (nothing like what you get in UK - more like toffee), snake wine (Viagra of the Delta!), bees, rice popcorn and a fish farm. Lunch is at a little restaurant that we have to walk through lots of lush tropical foliage to get to and eat the local speciality, Elephant Ear Fish (it is good luck you know!) - see photo for the devoured remains. Nothing eventful in Chau Doc where we overnight, except for lovely seafood (all local, artisinal fisheries so it is ok isn't it?) and then a long boat trip to Phnom Penh. Having taken the 'easy' route', I am with a group of tourists and meet some lovely people again, all on their own different journeys. I am finding it very 'full-on' though to be constantly in the space of others; eating, sleeping, being uncomfortable in the bus with our heads lolling! There is no space and sometimes I just don't want to speak or even see another human being, so I have moments of frustration where I just want to plunge into the river and swim away! I try to learn a few words of the Khmer language, although I am assured that it is just English and US$ everywhere, grrr. I am amazed by the number of people I have met who have not bothered to learn the simple words of 'hello, goodbye, thankyou and please' in the language of the country they are in. I have a dilema of how to long to stay in Phnom Penh and Cambodia, it seems quite chilled here and I should go to Ankor Wat, it is also cheap and a bit touristy but I think I like it. I am worried about missing the boat though and so change my plan slightly which just means I will get longer in Phnom Penh, (2 nights), no time in Battambang (town in more rural area) and a hellish 14 hour bus trip direct to Bangkok - where I aim to arrive Sunday night.

(note about travelling costs so far - I have spent a lot of nights on trains which means no accommodation cost and in SE Asia it is possible to stay in a hostel for 2$US - 10$US. The train from Beijing to Hanoi was about 70 pounds (2 nights accomodation) - would have been less if I bought it myself!, the train from Hanoi to Saigon was 35 pounds including 2 meals and 2 nights accommodation, the bus and boat combo (includuding some food, 2 nights accommodation and tours was 24$US, the bus to Bangkok is 17 $US) Pretty Cheap eh! and compared to many flights, it is very cheap!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hanoi to Saigon - (Maybe not for Mum to read!)

So onwards to another train, it seems I am getting better at this travelling lark and each new challenge seems easier and less stressful than the last...Anyway the train was leaving at 11pm and I didn't want to get a taxi (too much extra carbon for me!), so I mapped out my route, walked it backwards and went for it. It was totally fine and no problems at all. So I board the SE3 and await my new cabin-mates....What fun was in store for me! After a fairly uneventful night and day except for free food and loverly views of the South China Sea (I wanted to jump straight off and in the drink!) we settle down to dinner (also free - Winner and all for 35 pounds) The vodka comes out and we get chatting, one guy, Thanh Tung ( speaks very good English) the other two only a wee bit but we get by. At the next station they return to the cabin with some Hanoi Vodka and a whole chicken in a bag (head and all) so the new long standing joke 'bird flu'begins... funny maybe? Next stop more vodka and some boiled chicken wrapped in banana leaves and some fruit (like a grapefruit but can't remember the name). Great fun (thanks to my new friends for making it such a fun journey) and finally I am allowed one more Yo! (cheers) drink my vodka and go to bed, ready to awake at 4 am to get off the train. Top tip for anyone arriving in a new city on the train, early in the morning with a hike to your hostel and all your bags - do not neck a load of water before you leave the train and then have a strong coffee whilst you wait for it to get light so you can walk in more safety - because you find yourself busting for the loo and it makes map reading much harder! So I settle in, go to the War Remnants Museum; very moving, mainly pictorial account of the Vietnam War, with a lot of images showing the effects of Agent Orange, Napalm and Phosphorus - very emotional start to Ho Chi Minh. Then I chill for the day and await my dinner engagement. A friend of a friend of my Mum's has agreed to meet me, and so I go out with the lovely YK Wong and his beautiful wife Luong Thuc Doan for a glorious meal and am introduced to the delights of cactus bean and lotus stem, fantastic - Thank you very much for a lovely evening. Hear about the coup in Thailand, lots of people talking about it but no one really knows what is happening. Most people are still planning to go, so I think I will too. Will try to keep track of changes though. Trip out to see Caodai Temple, very beautiful and we see one of their religious ceremonies, then to the Cu Chi tunnels, crazy small tunnels built and used during the Vietnam War, we scuttle through like rats and it is pretty heavy going. Great to be out of the city though and in a bit of jungle. Off to Cambodia tomorrow, via the Mekong Delta, a boat and possibly learning to make coconut candy - what fun is round the corner....! Thanks to those people who have commented and got in touch it is really nice to read the comments and feel less alone, I don't know how to reply to you all except for here. Will and Rosie in particular, can't read your blog so send me your email address, I was hoping to somehow find you, I hadn't forgotten you had moved to Brissy.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Beijing to Hanoi 14th - 17th September

I feel like I have written volumes for just a few days, but I am really packing it in as time is limited. I shall try to summarise the last few days succinctly...... Forbidden City - Crazy tourist spot but pretty cool, Train to Hanoi - Meet some nice Kiwis and people from UK, as well as Vietnamese room-mates who are lovely, have loads of boxes and can't really speak English. Have a fairly uneventful journey - the train is packed, at least 500 people aboard! Pointless health check at Vietnamese border, they stick a thermometer in our ear (mine reads 32.5???) and charge the equivalent of 25p and we get a ticket, presumably saying we are healthy to travel through the country?! Hanoi - The people I speak to are very friendly and lots of people approach me to practice English or to find out about my culture. Get really fed up with saying ' Thank-you very much for the kind offer but I would rather not all the same' or similar (with a smile of course, I am representing my country!) to the thousand people a day who ask if I want a lift/to buy fruit or postcards - argh. It is also very hot and Ho Chi Minh is out of town for renovation so no joy there. Lots of nice food. I buy a bum-bag - Winner, what a revelation, my shoulders are much happier now. Also found a supermarket and bought a big block of chocolate and gorge myself by the Hoam Kiem Lake of the restored sword/tortoise legend. Oh yes, and the Water Puppets are ACE!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Great Wall Hike 13th September

5.30am start to go to the Great Wall. Didn't want to do a tour but after my recent experience with public transport and language I decided to take ease and a bit more money over pain, tragedy and saving 2 pounds. So a 3 hour coach ride to Jinshingling where we clamber up to the wall to start our 10- 12km hike. No guide as such but soon we have Ling following us, giving us titbits of information and kindly offering us a picture book for 35 Yuan. Apart from the many sellers of water, cola and beer, it was a marvellous way to see the wall. The sky was blue and the scenery was fantastic and we really saw the wall. 4hrs hours walking and then over a rope bridge to the finish line at Si Ma Tai. A drink and back on the coach for 3 hours back to Beijing. I feel like death warmed up by the time I arrive home and so get a bit of kip before trying to eat and make plans for the next day. I get roped into beer drinking and music making in the hostel bar - meet Lucio and Clarence, two great guitar players - who encourage me to play my accordion and accompany me for a few numbers and then retire to drinking with my nice room-mates. Two guys from USA, Mike and Marc - who are really good fun and not too stereotypically American (until drunk) and Carson, from Germany who is working here for a year, also Phillipa from the UK, who's birthday it is, Happy Birthday Phillipa (who gets a special Amelie Waltz with Mike!) I feel like Mum and kick everyone to bed as we have an early start to the Forbidden City tomorrow.

The Laoshe Teahouse is the Best!

I discover the hostel can sort out a train ticket for me and so with great ease (and a bit more cash!) a train ticket to Hanoi is in my hands! Hurrah, what joy!. I seek out the Laoshe Teahouse (nearby and good rep.) and spend a while in amazement at the wonderful surroundings, atmosphere and the great expanding and everlasting cup of 'Seven Sons Congratulate on Mother's Birthday' tea ( I got a wierd look for that one!) and listen to some Chinese folk Music. Then out and about on my newly hired bike - the way to travel; quick/dangerous, green and cheap (10 yuan a day) and no brakes to worry about. Off to the temple of Heaven Park (Tiantan) and Henrick and I wander and marvel at the beautiful pagodas, wierd tree bark, people walking backwards (the new craze!), recycling bions, muscians and try to find the divine kitchen. The sun is going down and sheds a beautiful light on it all. A quick cycle back in the darkness - no lights - and much craziness and stop at a great street cafe for quick food. A pick and mix veg., dumplings and random glutinous stuff all cooked in a big bubbling pot before our very eyes and then we (or may I say Henrick) entertain the locals by trying to eat this slippery, watery but very tasty meal with chopsticks. Then back to Laoshe Teahouse for the night show, Kung Fu! Oh yes, we are in China no doubt, Opera, mask/face changing (my favourite!), fabulous costumes, drum opera (not sure about this one!), Kung Fun fighting/boxing, magic, comedy (didn't quite get it but looked like Chinese version of the Two Ronnies in their day!), some nearly rapping all accompanied by lots of tea and wierd nibbles and cold rice pudding - all for 80 Yuan (bargain - and we got the Kung Fu guys autograph!).

10th-11th September - A delirious time

After the Genghis Khan vodka session and the desert heat I spend the last 24hrs on the train in a state of delirium. After spending 10 minutes with my new Mongolian room mates (studying at university in Beijing) we are all shifted about and I move next-door, to guess what! More Swedes! Henrick and Anniki make great new room mates and we have a fun day looking for camels, eating our free breakfast and lunch in the Chinese diner (unexpected but good), waiting for the Great Wall and generally having a giggle. The border crossing from Mongolia to China takes forever because as well as 2 lots of passport control, we also have to change the wheels for Chinese size - so each carriage goes into a shed to be jacked up and generally shunted about a bit, whilst we are all stuck in our cabins (in the middle of the night again, and no toilet!) In the morning we are suddenly hurtling along at China speed with the horn blowing every 5 minutes (they love their horns here, buses, bikes, cars, trains!) and I am just in a state of 'I have no idea what is going on' until all of a sudden we arrive in Beijing and splurge out onto the platform - exactly on time (check that out National Rail!)

So full of optimism, I say farewell to my remaining buddies (expecting never to see them again in this huge city...) and set out confidently in the sunshine to 'just buy a train ticket to Vietnam and get a hostel.' Wham!!! No such luck. Man, what a nightmare, I spend 4 hours trudging around Beijing with backpack and accordion. To this ticket desk, up that escalator, down that lift, to that building, no that hotel, on that bus, to this train station, to that ticket desk, the police, the army, the eastern saloon and up and down and in and out until I burst into tears and give up!! So I squash on a bus and somehow find Tianamen Square and leap off to ponder. Amazingly I spot Ruud and the Dutch (from the Trans-Sib) and they console me, help me out and I wander some way with them. Off on my own again to half blindly wander down alleys and somehow find the youth hostel Henrick and Anniki are at and find a bed. I am overwhelmed by the number of Chinese people who endeavoured to help me today (successfully or not) but am frustrated by the language and my bag is just too heavy. I have got to get rid of something or get a massage or both!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

004 Trans-Mongolian Express 8th Sept - 10th Sept

The time has gone all funny now! The train runs on Moscow time so we stick to that but now we are going to +5hours in Irkutsk so it is midnight on our watches but getting light. Spend a wierd day not knowing whether to sleep or eat so don't do much of either! I wake up to see Lake Baikal at dawn, so lovely, lot of canoes of people fishing. At the next stop I buy some smoked fish which is nice actually but very salty -I am running out of food again so I am a bit desparate! Onwards to Mongolian border where we wait and we wait and we wait, on and off the train. I am inspired to write this poem, cheesy maybe but it is how I felt ok!

The Continent

I had a chance to see the world today,
In all of its pure glory.
I opened my eyes as far as I could,
and sucked every view into my soul.

Even now I cannot remember them all;
the trees, the houses,
the people and the land.
But I know I saw great beauty today
and it has touched me
and changed me

Later on I succumb to Genghis Khan vodka in the amazingly beautiful, carved, wooden Mongolian restaurant car and stay up late chatting to my new good friend Michal from Poland. I coveted the bow and arrow on the wall!

Up early to say good bye to the Ulan Bator group, Anna, Maria, Matteas, Connie, Fieje (the Swedes), Michal and Joel and all the others leaving there (hope you are having fun!). it is really cold at Ulan Bator, I need my woolly hat, but then off through the desert which gets more and more sandy and hot (35 + degrees c), lots of yurts, space and camels which I failed to catch on camera! We cover Mongolian in 24hours (it seems a shame), sad to say goodbye to new friends, but onwards to China......

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

004 Trans-Mongolian Express 5th September - 7th September

I was helped on the train at Yaroslavsky station (quite a dodgy area nearby, lots of drunks, police and urine!) by a Russian and an English guy who spoke Russian, that I had met. I started to meet everyone; surrounded by Dutch and Swedes who are all lovely and great fun. I am in carriage 11, there is no carriage 1, 2, 3, 4 or 12 (never discovered why no 12! - I tried to ask the Chinese conductor but he ran away !? (we became better friends later on though...) The cabin is small so it is cosy but compared to the bus there is acres of space! Days pass easily, reading ( i borrowed The Idiot (Dostoevsky), but never finished it sadly), eating, walking up and down the train, chatting to other travellers, getting off at stations and milling about, playing games, playing music, listening to a few Kalinka's (thanks to my cabin mates! - Red Army version best I think!) It goes surprisingly quickly. The views are amazing (sorry I can still not sort out photos!), Russia is so huge and empty. Lots of trees (pine and silver birch mainly) and then open plains, a few small villages and a couple of large towns. The villages are so beautiful, I love the houses and the little veg plots but they seem quite empty of people and so isolated. I start to think that this railway line is an important link for people living here for communication and employment. There is a lot of nothing, not even fields of crops or animals like in the UK - nothing but nature, I love it! (I can't tell you about the whole trip at once, so more soon....)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

From Moscow with Love

Wow! The journey has well and truly begun, right in at the deep end. Bus to Cologne was fairly easy and it was fun to go on the ferry to Calais, great to leave the 'ole White Cliffs in the darkness. After a few hours in Cologne watching street artists and marvelling at the cathedral I got on the next bus - Slightly scary as no one seemed to speak a word of English and the bus only said to 'Minsk' but they said to get on, and I thought at least it is in the right direction! (the whole trip seems to be about just going with the flow, so I will continue with my stress free attitude to it all (and allowing two hours extra to get anywhere!)) This bus was slightly more eventful, lots of views of the lovely Poland and Belarussian countryside. After leaving Germany (lots of wind turbines and bicycles! great stuff) it all got a lot more rural and more woodland. Mist over the land and great dark forests (oh to be in Wales!). On the second day I spent a long time fuelled by adrenaline, chocolate and grapes only after my bread went mouldy and we spent 2 1/2 hours at the passport control to Belarus. They took our passports off us three times and tried to sell me medical insurance (and the two other europeans who had got on the bus!) I declined. I sat through 8 Russian Dvd's in total (mainly about soldiers!) and spent 63 hours surprisingly un-bored considering I could only speak a bit of French to one guy and found one girl from Belarus who I spoke to a couple of times. I just sat back and enjoyed the scenery, tried to forget my bum had gone numb and read my book. Not much sleep was had but overall I would recommend it (but learn a bit of German and Russian first!) Now to Moscow, I have stayed in a lovely little hostel, the Yellow Blue Bus (translations sounds like 'I love You' apparently!) It is like being in someone's apartment, very cosy and friendly. Today I went to Red Square (St. Basil's Cathedral and The Kremlin) and of course saw Lenin's Tomb, ( I am going for the big three communist leaders - to see Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Min over the next few weeks!) Also lots of wandering around lost, but I came across some nice buildings and a few good buskers playing, so it was cool (great violin player made me think of Tabitha my lovely friend and fab fiddle player!) Next to the Yaroslavsky train station to get the Trans-Siberian...I am so excited, some people I met here have just come from China on the train and have told me a bit more what to expect and from what they say it is going to be great....On a green note, I have found recycling bins so far in Cologne and Moscow so I am trying to do my bit.