Other Trips

While we have been lucky enough to do some long trips we have also been stuck at work with only limited holidays and had to do shorter trips. These are some of the trip emails from those shorter jaunts.

The USA, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, England and Hong Kong, were actually after our year in Latin America. It was a long and wonderful trip.

Fiji is always a wonderful destination and just too temptingly close to New Zealand to ignore. The friendliest people I have ever met, relaxation, diving and warm weather. Bliss!

Vietnam and Cambodia are two of my favourite countries to travel. The further off the beaten track in both the better.

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Bangkok to London Overland

These are the original emails sent to family and friends as we travelled from New Zealand through Asia, across Russia and into Europe. We wanted to do as much of the route overland as possible and managed to do Bangkok to London by train, bus, bicycle, boat, tuk tuk, motorbike and a lot of walking.

We started in Indonesia before going through Thailand, Burma, Laos, China, Mongolia, Russia, Eastern Europe, Croatia at which point we unfortunately ran out of time and raced through Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Belgium and France before getting a ferry to England.

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Croatia

Croatia was stunning. The weather was perfect, the sea was crystal clear and still, great food, reasonable prices and the location was, well, look at the photos. . .

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All photos above are of Hvar island off the coast from Split, Croatia.

We caught the ferry back to Split then caught a bus to Frankfurt via Slovenia and Austria before catching another bus through Belgium and France, onto the ferry to Dover then up London. We arrived at Victoria Long Distance bus station early in the morning, it was grey and overcast, the Circle and District lines were closed for maintenance despite it being a week day, the newspaper had a story about 600,000 council workers threatening to strike and the 1-hour train up to our friend’s house in Aylesbury cost a small fortune. Some things never change in this country, but in many ways it’s great to be back for the next year or three.

Eastern Europe

Tucked into the Baltic coast south of Finland, the Latvia is green and forested with a lot of charming farm houses. Riga, the capital is a charming, relaxed city. It was the first place we’d been for months where language wasn’t a barrier and the food was ‘normal.’ From Latvia we caught buses and trains down through Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria before arriving in beautiful Croatia.

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Riga, Latvia

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Warsaw, Poland

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Budapest, Hungary

Russia

OK, quick pop quiz. What's the biggest forest in the world? The Amazon? What about Indonesia or Central Africa? Not even close. The Taiga is by far the biggest, and while it's not as critical to the atmosphere as the fast growing and diverse Amazon and other tropical forest, it is absolutely massive covering an area the size of India. In my ignorance, I had expected Siberia to be rolling grasslands - I wasn't expecting dense, ongoing woodlands punctuated by the occasional city and many small villages of dachas, or Russians' weekend country retreats. I also wasn't expecting Siberia to look so idyllic. In early summer it looks absolutely beautiful, untouched and peaceful - the sort of place you would have wanted to be sent to get away from Stalin and his fellow mass-murderers. Human impact, even along the railway, which is almost the only inhabited part of Siberia, is tiny. After the over population and massive natural destruction in so many parts of Asia it was wonderful to see.

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Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest and holder of a fifth of all unfrozen fresh water. You can drive across it for about half the year.

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Part of the Taiga forest whizzing past – it went on and on and on and on for days. Almost completely untouched!

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Many Russians have dachas that they go to on the weekend and tend small gardens.

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Four days later and we finally arrived in Moscow. I could have quite happily continued on the train for another week. It was brilliant!

Moscow is an extraordinary city, and, like the Siberia was quite different from how I thought it might be. I was anticipating a mixture of old and new with far more of the latter in the form of horrible, Soviet-era apartments and greyness. However, we were delighted to find Moscow to be a beautiful, unique, challenging, crowded, drunken, and, at times, breathtaking city.

One of the best introductions to Moscow is the underground, which in many ways sums the whole city up for me.  It services 9 million travellers a day. That’s more than London and New York combined. Its escalators descend deep underground so that the system could be used as a huge nuclear bunker during the cold war. Despite this, many of the platforms are stunning – some with huge crystal chandeliers with Romanesque columns, others with murals of patriots or farmers or engineers, others with statues of prominent figures.

Above ground Moscow is much like any other quality Eastern European city albeit with defining onion domes. There are lots of parks, rivers, churches, grand hotels and fine government offices. Where Moscow varies from many other European cities is the complete lack of helpfulness, friendliness and huge amounts of public drinking. You can buy beer (often at 15%!) everywhere and some estimates suggest that up to 50% of Russian men are alcoholics. In fact, Russian men live, on average 12 years less than women largely because of drink!

Red Square is the centre of Moscow. It’s a large, rectangular, cobbled square with the Kremlin on one side, Saint Basil’s at the eastern end, one of many excellent museums at the western end and the amazing Gum department store, now replete with Dior, YSL, Prada and all the usual suspects.

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I suspect that there are few other buildings quite as famous as St Basil’s Cathedral pictorially that receive comparatively few international visitors. It really is as amazing and Disneyesque as it looks. Inside, it’s almost as strange with small rooms with shrines interconnected with painted corridors. The Kremlin (square-looking clock tower and wall on the right of the first photos) is also astonishing, with lots of delightful and historic churches, including the one where devout atheist Stalin ordered a service to be held as the Germans advanced.

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Inside St Basil’s Cathedral

Getting in and out of Moscow was frustrating. Even with my extremely rusty schoolboy Russian we struggled to get a train ticket out. Our desired destination was Tallin in Estonia, but we didn’t manage to get tickets and ended up having to go to Riga in Latvia.

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