Archive for the year 2011

Day 197 (Moscow, Russia)

MToday is my 14th day in Moscow and it is time to move onto Saint Petersburg for a little while. I bought a night train ticket that leaves today at 8 PM so I will be there tomorrow morning. I have several CouchSurfing hosts setup and it will hopefully all work out nicely before my flight to Cairo, Egypt on the 24th. Yesterday I got my first tattoo which is pretty cool I think. It took about 70 minutes to apply I think and it didn’t hurt much at all really. It wasn’t that cheap but it was quality work at a quality shop and I am happy with the results. I have to take good care of it for the next few weeks but hopefully it won’t interfere with me seeing Saint Petersburg and having a good time.

MThe Moscow Invasion was so amazing. It was 5-6 days of events that were really organized amazingly well. I am not just saying that because I was hosted by one of the main organizers. It really was well planned and had interesting events. Thursday we had a pre-invasion party that was organized by a guy from Holland months before, who also was staying with the same host that I was. It was a good start and I met some interesting people but the venue for this event was not great and the owners didn’t seem to like us for some reason. The next day was the big party at a place called Studio 7 which was more like a dance studio that we rented for the evening. Sadly you won’t see me in many pictures from that event as I got way to drunk way to early which was a mistake, but oh well. The pictures I saw made it look amazing and for the 2 hours of lucidity that I had it was a very fun event.

CThe next day we all met at a dance club which was another fun event but I was terribly hung over and the venue was too small in my opinion. Also the drinks were expensive but I have come to expect 200-300 ruble ($7-$10) pints of beer as normal here. The day after this was the boat trip along the river that runs through Moscow. It started as a very rainy day but 10-20 minutes into the boat trip it cleared up and we really got to enjoy the views from outside. The boat had a very large indoor area anyway so it wasn’t a big deal if the rain had not stopped. We sang some karaoke and I got some personal tour information from a local Russian journalist who is very knowledgeable. The boat trip lasted around 3 hours and after that we went to a nice pub/bar and played some card games for the rest of the night.

The games we played were the classic UNO that everyone knows and a game that I think is somewhat original to Russia called Mafia. This game is actually very fun and it really is more of a role playing game then a card game. I was surprised people liked it so much as it seemed really nerdy actually. Of course I enjoyed it as I am competitive and it involved lying which I always thought I was rather good at. I had played the game the week before during a weekly card game night that I think should be mandatory in every city as it’s an awesome way to get together and meet the community. I had also gone to a club with my host and his friends the week before so I knew some of the people prior to the invasion.

CBetween and before all this invasion craziness I did some walking around Moscow and generally just relaxed and had a good time. I ate mostly groceries during my time here as Moscow is not cheap for eating out. Fast food that would be $6 in Canada comes to $10-$11 here typically. I personally feel it’s the most expensive place I have been but others say it’s not that bad so maybe I just haven’t found the cheap places yet. I have learned 85% of the Cyrillic alphabet and mastered the metro for the most part so I am getting around the city rather easily now.

On a future note I have been playing around with the cost of flights in South-East Asia with a company called AirAsia and things look very promising for visiting a huge amount of places on the cheap. Most flights are under $40 which is what I paid for most bus trips inside Europe. The only question mark in my mind is if I can manage to see Japan. I think it will depend on my bank account at the time as it will cost roughly $500 more for the plane tickets. That’s it for now, next post will be in Saint Petersburg, possibly on day 200!

Day 190 (Moscow, Russia)

MIt’s been half a year already since I left Saskatoon for the rest of the world. It seriously feels like only a few weeks ago that I took that 59 hour bus ride to New York and met my first Couch Surfing host. But it’s actually been 27 weeks and the days/weeks keep flying by rather fast. Since my last post I kept moving North toward Russia which took me through Kiev, Ukraine for a few days. Enough time to walk around and see some sights and take in a free tour. The best place to eat in Kiev in my opinion has to be Puzata Hata which has authentic Ukrainian food in a buffet style restaurant for a extremely cheap price. I ate there most days and it rarely cost me more than $5 CAD for a huge amount of food.

CDuring my time in Ukraine I got to take a day tour to Chernobyl which was well worth the cost. They take you basically as close as you can get to the failed reactor without being an actual member of the cleanup crew. Then they take you to the city of Prypiat which is a ghost town since the disaster and is really an amazing place to be. We got to go inside several buildings and check out the famous amusement park that never got the chance to function as the disaster happened a few days before it was set to open. If you are ever in Ukraine I really recommend the tour as they give you much more access than I really expected they would.

After Kiev I took the train to Moscow on August 31st as my visa to Russia begins on the 1st of September and I didn’t want to waste any time on the thing as it wasn’t cheap. If I get one again I will likely go a cheaper route. Getting a visa outside your home country can be hit and miss on prices and what exactly is required of you. For example I was attempting to get my visa to India while in Moscow and they wanted hotel reservations and return tickets which I don’t intend to ever have. When I looked up doing it in Egypt it appears to be 10 time easier so I will attempt to do it when I land in Cairo in a few weeks.

PI have been in Moscow for almost a week now and really have not done a huge amount. I have gone to several CouchSurfing events which have all been fun. One was a weekly game night were I learned to play a game called Mafia and was reintroduced to the fun of UNO. Another was the weekly meeting where I met some cool people that I hope to see again in a few days. I am in Moscow during the CouchSurfing invasion which is a yearly thing that some CS communities do in which they plan many events over a period of a few days. There is a party on Friday that is going to be amazing with unlimited food/drinks and 2 live bands playing for 2 hours each. I hope there is a good turnout as it is a really interesting event. Then on Sunday there is a boat trip for 3 hours followed by going to some clubs after that. Should be an amazing weekend either way.

LI went to a few clubs last Friday with my host and his French guest. The clubs here are full of beautiful women which is always a good thing. I actually had an interesting experience of our group not being allowed in the club because we had 1 girl with the 3 of us. They actually had too many women in the club and were only letting men in which is completely backwards from Canada. Another odd thing in Moscow is that any car on the road is a potential taxi ride as if you put your hand out people just stop and pick you up for a fee. I have seen a few people do this during my time here and my Russia host says it is rather normal in Moscow, which may explain the small amount of actual taxi’s for such a massive population.

I will have many more pictures to follow hopefully as I will be doing a free tour for the CS invasion and also I still have a week here before I take the train to Saint Petersburg. I will be in Saint Petersburg for roughly 10 days before I catch my already booked flight to Cairo, Egypt. That will be an entirely new kind of trip and I am looking forward to it very much.

Day 178 (Chisinau, Moldova)

MIn 1 week I will have officially traveled for 6 months, I will try and do a post on that day as it’s kind of a travel milestone, the half a year mark. By the time I reach that goal I will have visited 34 cities in 25 countries and will have 1 city left before I leave Europe and begin the Africa/Asia parts of my trip which will likely last another 6 months or more before making it to Australia to begin operation “make my money back”. Which if it goes well means much more travel in the future.

I was in Turkey last time I posted and since then have been making a mad dash north toward Russia so I can arrive at the same time my visa starts and not waste any days. I went through Bulgaria, Romania and currently Moldova. I have a ticket leaving here for Kiev, Ukraine tomorrow which will arrive on the 28th giving me 3 and a half days in Kiev before I take the train to Moscow and my last country in Europe. I have booked a tour of Chernobyl with my hostel in Kiev which I think will be an awesome look back into communist era life as the area was evacuated in a hurry when the disaster happened. It’s a bit costly but I rarely do things like this and it just seemed like a cool story for later.

MThis is the first time in a while that I have done a post the week after my previous post, hopefully it happens more often but it all depends on free time which I sometimes have and sometimes don’t. I am getting better at managing time while traveling and taking small breaks in between days. I wish I had more time for these countries that I am going through on my way to Russia but that’s just how it is and I can always come back if I want. And in case your wondering my hair is slowly growing back but is still very short, still not sure what to do haircut wise.

Day 171 (GOT MY VISA!!!)

SFinally got my visa to Russia! I have been in Istanbul since the 6th of August and gave them my passport on the 8th. The process although expensive was very easy and I recommend it to others who get a headache thinking about a Russian visa and have a Canadian passport and $220 USD. All I did was give this guy my passport and a photo of myself and 11 days later I had the visa ready to go which I paid for in Lira (390 TL). I just booked my flight out of St Petersburg to Cairo, Egypt for the 24th of September at 6:50 PM. I will likely arrive in Moscow on the 1st or 2nd of September and I have a place setup. Then I just need to go about the annoying process of registering when I arrive in any Russian city.

I also bought my ticket today to Plovdiv, Bulgaria which leaves in a few hours and will be an overnight bus. My plan is to stay in Bulgaria for a few days then move on to Romania. Likely I will stay a few days in Bucharest and a few days in Brasov so I can go to Bran Castle and say I have been to Transylvania. Then off to Kiev, Ukraine likely for almost a week. I may take a detour and check out Moldova for a few days and spend less time in Ukraine but I have not decided on that yet. Then from Kiev it’s off to start my Russia trip for 3+ weeks before I fly to Egypt and finally rid myself of Europe, in the most positive way of course but I do want to move on.

II went to a really cool art gallery with these mutant things interacting with humans that looked very real. It was free and had several levels so I really enjoyed it for those qualities alone. I am not much of an art person but seeing as how I like science fiction type stuff this was right up my alley. I was imaging a world were these thing existed and just walked around like a second species or maybe like really scary pets for people. Either way I will pepper this post with pictures from the gallery as I didn’t really take a ton more pictures since my last Istanbul post.

So I haven’t done a lot of stuff during my waiting time in Istanbul. Made some friends and just hung out generally. I got rid of my 3 t-shirts that I had when I started this trip, also got rid of the 3 shirts I bought from the GAP in London and 2 shirts that I was given while in Istanbul that I instantly disliked. I bought one shirt while here that I really like and am now down to only 3 t-shirts and 2 button shirts which I think is fine for now. One of my button shirts needs a button sewed back on which I have no idea how to do so I will just keep asking people until I find someone with the skills and supplies to help me out. I’ve kept the jeans I bought in Berlin but not sure for how long as I really don’t like them the same way I did when I bought them. But all this has made a much lighter backpack which is always a good thing.

ISpeaking of lighter things, I had an Estonian girl shave my head while I was at the hostel just so I could finally see if I liked it. Turns out I don’t. But as it’s been growing back for about a week I actually like the level it is at currently with just a few millimeters of hair evenly distributed. I will likely let it grow back to normal level and just get a basic hair cut while in Egypt. For those that don’t know I intend to get a tattoo in Russia to commemorate traveling for 6 months and to finally get a tattoo as I have thought about it forever and just never done it. I have heard Russia is a good place to get a tattoo and it will add to the story when I tell people about it. I will likely get a small round compass on the inner forearm of my left arm. I will keep people posted on the progress of this of course.

That’s it for now but my trip is about to get a whole lot more exciting I feel, and it almost feels like I am just starting my trip as I have gotten too familiar with Europe and am ready for Africa and Asia. That sounds weird but basically I am just really looking forward to some of the upcoming destinations. I am going to try and get more couch surfing going as I have been a bit lazy as of late mostly due to poor planning and lack of effort in sending requests. But expect me to have some CS hosts on my way to Russia and beyond.

Day 160 (Istanbul, Turkey)

MWell it’s been 19 days since my last post and a lot has happened. I had a great time in Italy and met a lot of cool people along the way. I still have that string bracelet on which is an accomplishment that I haven’t lost it or something. I did buy a book which I forgot on the bus. I also lost my eye mask on a ferry which sucks because I really liked it. Also I think I forgot a ring that I brought into a bathroom but it was only 5 EUR so I guess I will get over it. I bought a pair of sunglasses today which I am hoping to not lose for at least a few months.

An update on my progress since Rome is as follows. I spent a week in Rome before taking a bus north to Florence for a few days were I stayed at a really nice campsite that had a great view of the city. Met some cool people and mostly just hung out and did a small bit of sightseeing but never made it to see Michelangelo’s David. Then I took another bus to Venice for the same amount of days were I went to a second campsite by the same company as the first and it was equally good but a bit further outside of the Venice that you see in the movies. A shuttle took me in easily and the city was very fun to walk around in. Found some good food and my kind of art in one of the random Venice streets. It’s fun walking around a city with no cars, bikes or anything else besides pedestrians and pigeons.

After Venice I took a ferry all the way to a city called Patras, Greece which is a port city for Greece and was as close as I could get to Athens from Italy. I then took a bus into Athens which took a few hours and is were I forgot my book. Now I had met a really cool guy in New York City a few days into my trip who said I could stay with him if I was ever in Athens. I wasn’t sure if he would recall me but he did and he said I could stay which was awesome. I helped him move from one house to another over a few days with another couch surfer he had with him named Rafal. We went to the beach, had super with his family, hung out with his friends and many other things. It was one of my favorite couch surfing experiences and sadly I was so into it I took exactly 0 pictures of Athens. Rest assured I had a great time and saw everything I wanted to see.

MNow more recently I took a bus from Athens to Istanbul via a train ride through Thessaloniki which was in Greece. It cost me 45 EUR for a visa to enter for 90 days which sucks because Canadians pay more than any other country in the world to enter Turkey and I am not sure why. I have been in a hostel in Istanbul for the last few days and will be here for at least another 10 days. The reason I am staying as long as I am is that I have decided to get my visa for Russia while here and a travel agency currently has my passport. I really hope things work out as I was refereed to a third person by the Russian Consulate in Istanbul, but the guys did seem trustworthy enough so hopefully it works out. It actually feels a lot like when I got my visa for China where I just gave it to some random person and then days later had a visa. Just like then I filled out no forms, didn’t get an invitation and gave it to some person who looks like they have nothing to do with visa’s. I will keep everyone posted on the visa thing and will do a post as soon as I know what happens.

TA word on this hostel. It feels like the house that Tyler Durden lived in on Fight Club. The building across from it has no walls and is falling apart yet people work in it. My room in the basement has water everywhere, except near my bed luckily. The toilet/shower is disgusting in every way possible. The beds look like the kind you would find in a Turkish prison if not for the mattress that is barely on the frame. The internet works almost never. When I first arrived the key was thrown down to me from a 3rd story window and I was told to unlock the door. Oh and there is a bunch of chickens living outside the door. Besides that though it’s good for 4 EUR a night and I actually kind of enjoy the place in a sadistic way. It is good training for what India will have to throw at me hopefully.