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Archive for July, 2009

Paris

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 15, 2009

June 25-27, 2008

All Pictures

Paris

Ah Paris…

We started our day by checking into a hotel. My brother made the reservations. He wasn’t leaving anything up to chance or me anymore. We signed up for a night tour of Paris for the following day. Then we took the subway to the Arc de Triomphe. We walked around the monument for about 20 minutes taking tons of pictures.

scammers hard at work

Le Scam: Did you drop this gold ring?

As we were walking around Paris going from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower we came across a man who seemed to have just found a gold ring. He walked over to us and asked if it belonged to any of us. Of course it didn’t. It was his fake gold ring.

We told him that it wasn’t ours, and how lucky he was to have found a gold ring. He gave the ring to my mom telling her she could have it… and if she could give him 10 or 20 euros that would be great.

There are many ring dropping scammers in Paris. We were approached by many other people trying to “sell” us a ring they had “just found”. They mostly seem to work around the area near the Louvre and towards Notre Dame near the water and they didn’t like their photos being taken.

That’s more like it!

I love to love Paris!

Paris was great! I really enjoyed it. It seems to me that if you take an average looking man and give him a French accent he becomes attractive. If you make him speak French he becomes drop dead sexy!

I enjoyed hearing everyone’s accents. I even enjoyed listening to the garbage men arguing early in the morning or eavesdropping on the subway. I don’t speak or understand French. I just like hearing it.

I just want to comment on the photo above. I saw these two middle-aged people on a bench in Paris lustfully making out. The passion that they expressed for each other was so powerful that they were on the verge of falling off the bench. I turned to my brother and told him, “Now that’s what I was expecting to see in Paris!” I don’t know what the story of these lovers are, but I’m sure it is a fantastically romantic one.

I vowed that day, that when I get to their age I would come back to Paris with my lover, husband, boyfriend, or random guy and make out on a park bench too!

All Pictures


 

The European Union
(France)

How to get there:

You can enter the E.U. and France by land, air, or sea. I’m not sure what needs to be done to get a European visa before hand. Americans are issued stamps at the port of entry which allow up to a 90-day stay.

Phone:

  • Emergency number: 112 for fire, police, and ambulance (for France and most other EU countries)

Website:

Downloads:

Videos: The E.U.:

France:

Notes:

  • In most E.U. countries almost everyone speaks some English and many people speak English very well.

EuroStar: Paris from London

How to get there:

Go to St. Pancras Railway station. The ticketing office opens at 6:00 am during the week.

Hours:

  • The train leaves about once an hour from 9:00 to about 20:00.
  • The ride is about 2.5 hours long.

Website

Videos:

Notes:

  • The London to Paris train goes to Gare du Nord in Paris.
  • It’s best to book your ticket ahead of time.
  • Look for specials to different European cities.
  • The EuroStar goes from London to Paris, by way of the English Channel Tunnel, sometimes referred to as the Chunnel. This is the longest undersea tunnel in the world.
  • There is a security check point like that of an airport.

Arc de Triomphe How to get there:

  • 48°52’25.6″N 2°17’42.0″E
  • Go to Charles de Gaulle Etoile metro station.
  • Do not try to cross the street to get to the Arc de Triomphe. You will most likely be run over if you do. There is an underpass that you can safely use.

Phone:

+33 1 01 11 01 03

Cost: Free

Notes:

You can climb stairs to the top, but I don’t think it’s free.


Eiffel Tower How to get there:

  • 48°51’30.1″N 2°17’40.0″E

Go to either Bir-Hakeim or École Militaire Metro Station. Public Bus – Take #42, #69, #72, #82, or #87. Website Cost: To take the stairs to the 2nd floor is 3.50Euros Elevator To the 2nd Floor

  • Adult 24+         8.20Euro
  • Youth 12-24    6.60Euro
  • Child 4-12          4.10Eur0
  • Handicapped   4.10Euro
  • Handicapped’s Assistant 4.10Euro
  • Baby 0-4            Free

Elevator to the 3rd Floor

  • Adult 24+        13.40Euro
  • Youth 12-24   11.80Euro
  • Child 4-12          9.30Eur0
  • Handicapped   9.30Euro
  • Handicapped’s Assistant 9.30Euro
  • Baby 0-4            Free

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 0:00 mid June – the end of August
  • 9:30 – 23:00 The rest of the year
Videos:

Notes:

  • Do not miss the entrance time on your ticket. There are no refunds.
  • It is not free to take the stairs all the way up, but the rate is a lot less.

Sacré Coeur

How to get there:

  • 48°53’12.1″N 2°20’35.2″E

Bus numbers 30, 31, 80, or 85 will take you to the bottom of the hill. Go to Anvers Metro Station.

Address:

Baslique Du Sacre-Coeur De Montmartre
Adoration Eucharistique Jour Et Nuit 35,
Rue Du Chevalier-de-la-Barre 75018
Paris, France

Phone: +33 1 53 41 89 00

Website

e-mail: basilique@sacre-coeur-montmartre.com

Hours:

Everyday 6:00 – 22:30

Notes:

You can climb up the dome for a view of Paris from 9:00 – 19:00 (18:00 in winter).You can also visit the crypt.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in France, Paris | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

London

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 14, 2009

June 22-24, 2009

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Queen Victoria

A Morning at St. Pancras

We got to the London Stansted Airport very early in the morning and our plan was to take an early EuroStar to Paris. We took a bus from the Airport to St. Pancras Railway station.

As we walked in, we were met by some security guards. They asked us if we had tickets for the train. We told them that we did not, expecting them to tell us to leave. They told us that the ticketing counter opens at 6:00 am and that we were welcomed to hang around in the vicinity. They pointed to a fake grassy area. We looked in the direction they were pointing and saw two people fast asleep, or passed out on the Astroturf.

A St. Pancratic nap

So, naturally, we slept on the Astroturf too. Luckily for me, it was right next to a 24hr Starbucks, so I ate some yogurt before fluffing my backpack and falling asleep.

The EuroStar ticking office at St. Pancras Station

At 6:00 am we went to the EuroStar ticketing office and bought tickets to and from Paris.

There weren’t many tickets available so we got ones for Wednesday to Paris coming back on Friday in 1st class. (My brother paid for the first class tickets. Thanks Malcolm!) Then we headed out to look for a hostel.

My brother was a bit worried because I, in my usual manner, did not make any reservations at a hostel. My plan was to just show up. I told him that there are many hostels near the Bayswater tube station, so we should just go there and look around.

He really wanted to go to an internet cafe to look for places to stay. But since it was still so early in the morning, and most internet cafes weren’t open, it would have been a waste of time. My mom and I left him outside an internet cafe waiting for it to open. By the time it did we had found a place to stay at the Smart Hyde Park Inn, which was good since we had forgotten to leave him any money to pay for internet time.

He just looks so happy!

Malcolm started to have fun

My brother’s biggest complaint during the trip was the lack of ice for his drinks. When ordering a coke in China a waiter would hand him a room temperature bottle of cola. He would then ask for a glass of ice.

waiter:  I’m sorry sir, are you sick?

Malcolm: No. I want some ice for my drink.

waiter: For your drink?

Malcolm: Yes, I would like a cold drink. May I have some ice.

waiter: Why?

Malcolm: It’s a hot day. I would like a cold drink.

waiter: Would you like me to get you a fan?

Malcolm: No, just some ice…

waiter: I’m sorry, but we don’t have ice for drinks.

He had this conversation in every restaurant. All the waiters were perplexed as to why a man would want his drink colder than room temperature. No one had ice for drinks.

Determined not to give up, he set out to look for restaurants with their drinks kept on display in refrigerators. We walked past restaurant after restaurant until we found one. We sat down at a table and ordered our food. Then Malcolm walked over to the fridge to grab a nice cold Fanta and the Fanta was warm.

The refrigerator was unplugged. It was being used more like a display case for drinks rather than a cooler. Malcolm was defeated.

In Russia and Finland it was cold, so even room temperature drinks would be cold. But in London, Malcolm got all the ice he wanted with his drinks.

He was most happy about speaking English again. Though I must say that for being in Russia for only 2 days, Malcolm picked up quite a bit of Russian. He could introduce himself, order food, and be polite. He even learned some cyrillic. He said that he had Russian co-workers back in Ohio and had a head start. But still…

“If we do a trip like this again, I’ll just meet you guys in England.” – Malcolm

All Pictures


The European Union  
(Great 
Britain
)

How to get there:

You can enter the E.U. and the United Kingdom by a train, plane, or boat. I’m not sure what needs to be done to get a European visa before hand. Americans are issued stamps at the port of entry which allow up to a 90-day stay.

Phone:

  • Emergency number: 112 for fire, police, and ambulance (for the UK and most other EU countries)

Website:

Videos:

The E.U.:

The UK:

Books: 


The London Eye

How to get there:

  • 51°30’12.3″N 0°07’10.1″W
  • Go to Waterloo Station.
  • Look up, the Eye can easily be seen.
  • Walk to it.

Address:

Merlin Entertainments London Eye
Riverside Building
County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
London
SE1 7PB

Phone:

  • 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Sunday
  • Telephone: +44 (0)870 990 8883
  • Calls cost 10p per minute plus network extras

Website:

Cost:

Hours:

  • Usually 10:00-20:00
  • Open everyday, but Christmas
  • Time changes each season
Videos:

Notes:

  • You can have parties in the Eye.
  • You can get some of the best views of the city. The best time for romantic looking photos are just before sunset.

Buckingham Palace

How to get there:

  • 51°30’04.9″N 0°08’30.6″W

Use any of the below underground stations:

  • Green Park (Jubilee and Piccadilly lines)
  • St James’s Park (Circle and District lines)

Website

Cost:

  • Tour                                      £8.7515.50
  • Changing of the Guard   Free

Hours:

  • Tour: July 31 – Sept 29  9:45 – 15:45

When the Queen is not in residence 19 State Rooms are open to the public. Book in advance to ensure admission. £8.75-15.50

  • Non-Tour

Well no one can stop you from strolling by at any time day or night, but it’s best to pass by during the changing of the guards.

  • Changing of the Guards

It takes place in front of the palace at 11:30 everyday in summer and every other day in winter. In the summer it’s gets pretty crowded so come with some sort of icy beverage and grab a good spot.

Videos:

Notes:

It’s great to just walk around and see the gates of her Majesty. Who knows, you might even get a quick glimpse of one of the Queen’s butlers.


Harrods

How to get there:

  • 51°29’57.8″N 0°09’47.8″W

Go to the Knightsbridge tube station. Go west down Brompton road and pass Lancelot place. Harrods should be on the left side of the street.

Website

Hours:

  • Mon-Sat 10:00-20:00
  • Sun 11:30-18:00
  • Opens later on Sale Days
  • Open even on holidays!

Notes:

  • A tour guide once told me that anything can be bought at this store if the buyer has enough money. It’s a great place to do some serious shopping if you are rich. If you don’t have a lot of money, it’s a great place to buy a knickknack or two on sale. There is one floor that is always decorated for Christmas. What more could you want in a store? By the way, this place also has the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever seen in a store.
  • For the American shoppers, when using a credit card here, the buyer is given the option of paying in pounds sterling or U.S. dollars.
  • Don’t forget to stop by to see the Dodi and Diana memorial.

221B Baker Street: The Sherlock Holmes Museum

How to get there:

  • 51°31’25.7″N 0°09’30.3″W

Go to Baker Street tube station.

Hours:

  • 9:30-18:00
  • Open everyday, but Christmas

Website

Cost:

  • Adults £6
  • Kid’s (<16)  £4
Videos:

Notes:

I can’t say what this place is like since I never went in. It was good enough for me just to take a photo of the outside. I’m not a big Sherlock Holmes fan.


There are lots more to see and do in London, but we had very limited time. Since I had lived in London for about five months in 2005 and this wasn’t my mom’s first visit, we let my brother decide where we should go.

The beefeaters tell the most gruesome stories in the most wonderful ways. I only wish I were British so that I could be a beefeater when I grow up!

How to get thereGo the Fenchurch or London Bridge tube station. map

Cost:

Hours:

    • Tues-Sat opens at 9:00
    • Sun-Mon opens at 10:00
    • Mar-Oct closes at 17:30 with last entrance at 17:00
    • Nov-Feb closes at 16:30 with last entrance at 16:00

Videos:

An Introduction

Although I never actually went to see it, I’ve always wanted to. But then again, I don’t really want to. I think wax figures are a bit creepy. (Dead communist leaders aren’t creepy, but wax people are…)

How to get there:

Go to the Regent’s Park or Baker Street tube station map

Cost: Click here for Madame Tussauds’ web site and complicated ticket pricing.

Opening Hours:

    • 9:00-18:00 open until 19:00 in the summer
    • 9:30-17:30 on school days

This is the closest I’ll ever get to Isaac Newton or a British queen.

How to get there: Go to St. James’ Park or Westminster tube stations

Hours:

    • Mon-Sat 9:30-15:30
    • Sunday and religious holidays it is open only for church services, but everyone is welcomed to join.

Cost:


Here are some free things to see or do:

  • Big Ben (51°30’02.6″N 0°07’28.6″W)

How to get there:

Go to Westminster tube station  map

It’s free because you can’t go inside without special permission.

Unfortunately I have no idea who one would ask to get such permission. If you know, please tell me.

Other than that you could always run for parliament, but I doubt it’s worth going through all that trouble. But you can walk around it for free any time of the day.

I once joked, before I had ever seen it, that I wanted to put my foot in the Thames. But after seeing the river, I have no urges to jump in. It’s still really romantic to walk along the Thames.

map

Stare at the extremely tall monument to Lord Nelson. In case you care, this is where you can find the South African embassy.

How to get there:

Go to Charing Cross tube station  map

Exit #4 is right next to Trafalgar Square

I’m not a big fan of art, but when I lived in London, my apartment didn’t have air conditioning.  So I spent hours staring at paintings and cooling off.

There was one of a skull that I really liked. When you stood in front of it and looked at it, the people in the picture looked normal, but the skull looked odd.  You have to stand off to the side on your toes to see the skull in a proper perspective. If you ever go to London, check it out.

Remember that Wayne’s World movie quote?

This is a very crowded part of London, which is a very crowded city to begin with. In every city, there is a part of that city which looks like it could be any city in the world. This is London’s any-city section.

You have to see it to say you’ve seen it.

How to get there:

go to the Piccadilly Circus tube station then go above ground.

When the city starts to get to you, just go to a park. One thing I loved about London is that there are many lovely parks to choose from. This one is filled with flowers, especially in the inner circle.

How to get there:

Go to Regents Park tube station. Cross Marylebone road.

Hours:

    • Opens at 5:00 every morning.
    • Closing time varies.
  • Hyde Park: (51°30’26.1″N 0°09’56.4″W)

This is a huge park which is connected to other parks like Kensington Gardens. This is a great place to have a picnic or an afternoon nap. I wouldn’t walk alone in this park at night though.

Don’t miss the Princess of Wales Fountain.

Look for the peter pan statue.

This park is very big.

How to get there:

One way is to go to Hyde Park Corner tube station, but there are many ways to get in.

Hours: 5:00-0:00

Videos:


Notes:

Oyster Card:

Get an Oyster card. It can be used to ride both the subway and buses in London. You can get one from any tube station for a refundable £3. You can also get one for free with the purchase of any monthly bus or tube pass.

It lowers the cost of a single fare ticket.

If you can’t decide whether to get a single fare ticket, return, or day pass, the card will decide for you. At the end of the day, you will only be charged for what the cheapest option would have been.

When your vacation is over you can return it at any tube station and get your £3 back. Yes, there is a tube station at Heathrow Airport.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in England, London, United Kingdom, The | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Where is everybody?

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 10, 2009

June 20-21, 2008

All Pictures

2:00am in Finland

The White Nights

The sun never set while we we’re in Finland. We arrived in Helsinki in time for what they call The White Nights. It’s the time in the summer when the sun doesn’t go all the way down at night. Unfortunately for us, it is also the time of year when just about everyone in Helsinki goes to their summer homes up north and the city is practically empty. It was quite a shock to go from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where there are so many people that they have to push and shove each other to get into the subway, to Helsinki where sometimes we were the only ones on the bus.

Our Olympic Room

Not having a setting sun to tell you when it’s time to go to bed was a bit weird. I would wake up at 3:00 am to use the bathroom and look out the window and it looked like 8:00 am. I thought that it was odd that people would go further north at this time because that would mean the sun would set less lower in the sky than it does in Helsinki… and, wouldn’t it be colder too?

The Olympic Hostel

Like a ’52 athlete

We stayed at an Olympic stadium that was turned into a hostel. It was the nicest hostel I’ve ever seen. There were so many of everything. Our private room had 9 beds, the bathroom had many showers and toilets, and there were many bathrooms. Helsinki itself, was my favorite city on the entire trip. Everything was neat and clean. Everyone we met was very friendly. Maybe all the mean people were up north. The streets were so un-crowded. They had broad sidewalks, but no people. I would like to go back to see what the city is like when there are more Helsinkians there.

Ice on the sidewalk in June in Tampere, Finland

RyanAir from Tampere

For a cheap flight to London Stansted we booked a flight on Ryan Air out of Tampere.

We were going to spend a day sightseeing in Helsinki, but everything in Helsinki was closed since everyone had left town. So we went further north to Tampere earlier than we’d planned. This is the furthest north I’ve ever been.

Sadly, everything in Tampere was also closed since everyone there had also left town. We walked around Tampere for a bit after we ate some kabobs (you know, traditional Finnish food). But then it started to rain and became really cold. (Yes, this was in June.) So we figured that we would be better off at the airport.

Jumping out of boredom

But the airport in Tampere was pretty much closed except for terminal 2, the Ryan Air terminal. My mom and brother fell asleep on a bench in terminal 2… I mean THE bench inside terminal 2; there was only one. I went wandering around and eventually got so bored that I begged my brother to come out side and take pictures.

The best advice I can give anyone going to Finland is to try not to go during any type of holiday. Other than that, Finland seems like a great country. I really want to go back to see more of it. I think I would even enjoy living there. Maybe someday…

All Pictures


 

The European Union
(Finland)
(Suomi)

How to get there:

You can enter the E.U. and Finland by land, air, or sea. I’m not sure what needs to be done to get a European visa before hand. Americans are issued stamps at the port of entry which allow up to a 90-day stay.

Phone:

  • Emergency number: 112 for fire, police, and ambulance (for Finland and most other EU countries)

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

The E.U.:

Finland:

Notes:

  • In most E.U. countries almost everyone speaks some English and many people speak English very well.

Stadion Hostel

How to get there:

  • 60°11’15.8″N 24°55’33.4″E

2.5 kms north from the main railway station.

You can take Trams 7A , 3T or 3 B to “Aurora Hospital” stop (300m).

Address:

Stadion Hostel
Pohjoinen Stadiontie 3 B
00250 Helsinki

Phone: 477 8480

Website

e-mail: stadion@hostel.inet.fi

Videos:

Notes:

  • This is where the 1952 summer Olympics were held.

Temppeliaukio Church

How to get there:

  • 60°10’22.8″N 24°55’30.9″E

Take tram #2 to Kauppakorkeakoulut

Address:

Lutherinkatu 3, SF-00100 Helsinki, Finland

Phone: +358 (0) 9 2340 5920

Website

Cost: Free

Hours:

  • Mon & Wed 10am-5pm;
  • Tue 10am-12.45pm & 2.15pm-5pm;
  • Thu & Fri 10am-8pm; Sat 10am-6pm;
  • Sun 11.45am-1.45pm & 3.30pm-6pm

Video:

Notes:

  • It is also known as the Rock Church, Temppeliaukiokirkko, and Church in the Rock.

Sibelius Park

How to get there:

  • 60°10’55.7″N 24°54’48.4″E

Take Bus 24 to Mechelininkatu.

Address:

Sibelius Park 00260

Website

Cost: Free

Hours: Always available

Notes:


Tampere Airport

How to get there:

There is a bus from the Tampere Railway station, but I don’t remember how much it costs.

Website

Notes:

Sometimes it might be cheaper to fly to/ from Tampere when traveling to/ from Finland.

Notes:

  • There is nothing to do at this airport.
  • If you are flying on RyanAir, bring your own water, snacks, and reading material because the rest of the airport could be closed, even if the RyanAir counter is open.
  • The snack shop in RyanAir’s terminal is only open right before boarding time, and the food is not that great.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in Finland, Helsinki, Tampere | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Russia

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 10, 2009

June 17-19, 2008

All Pictures

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

What did you put for “address”?

When we landed in Moscow I went and stood in line to get my passport checked. My mom and brother quickly went to the restroom. As I filled out my landing card, I never thought to be worried or nervous. When my mother and brother got back, they started asking me about the answers I had filled in. It was almost like they were cheating off of me in a 3rd grade test.

Getting Rubles

My mom asked me, “What did you put for address’?” I told her I put “Hotel”.

“That answer is not good enough. This is Russia! You need an actual address.”

But I didn’t have one. I usually put “hotel” or “guest house” as my address when I travel. It has always been good enough. Besides, I never know which hotel I’m staying in until I actually check-in. Very rarely do I make reservations.

As the panic started to set in, I realized that it was my turn. So… I let my mom go first. If I was going to be thrown in jail, at least my mom would be thrown in jail first… and then my brother. Maybe they would run out of space by the time it was my turn.

Of course nothing happened. “Hotel” was a good enough answer.

The Lenin Mausoleum

Lenin is REALLY dead

Last stop on my Dead Commie Tour 2008, was Lenin. Like with Ho Chi Minh and Mao no one is allowed to take pictures, all bags must be left at the Left Luggage for a fee, but going into the mausoleum itself is free. Lenin’s mausoleum was very creepy. There weren’t many people there. My mom, brother, a British girl we met at Galena’s Flat and I, were the only tourists in the tomb. It’s not very well lit and the walls and floors are black, so it was a little difficult to see where the steps were.

When I saw Lenin, he didn’t look waxy like Mao or Ho Chi Minh. He looked like a dead man… a very dead man. His fingers were rotting, and his ears were turning black. They said that Lenin would be buried soon. I can see why. I know that Lenin has been dead a lot longer than Mao or Ho Chi Minh, but after seeing him, it makes me wonder if the other two, especially Mao, were real or just wax dummies.

Russian Nesting Dolls

Galina

We stayed at Galina’s Flat. Galina is a Russian lady who likes to feed bread to pigeons. She lives in an apartment by herself and she has some extra rooms which she rents out to backpackers. The Ritz, it is not, but for a night or two it’s great, especially since Moscow is very expensive. She also has helpful books and notes left by travelers that have passed by. This is where we met Ellie, who gave us a tour of the Kremlin. You can find her address, Galena’s not Ellie’s, in the Lonely Planet or by just following the information at the top of this post.

To Leningrad!

The Other St. Pete

Because of my visa, we only stayed one night in Moscow.  Our second Russian night was spent on a train to St. Petersburg.

Early one Russian Morning

Does anybody know how to get to Helsinki!?!?

We got to St. Petersburg at 4:00 am at the Moskovshi Railway station and expected to buy our ticket to Finland there before heading out to go sightseeing. When we got to the ticket counter we were told to go to the Ploschand Railway station for trains to Helsinki. So that’s where we went. Of course, in my usual style, we got lost.

We met a very drunk guy who was more than happy to show us the way. He also wanted us to go with him to his house. He told me how beautiful I was. I felt flattered but then, not 5 seconds later, he said the same thing to my brother.

“You are very BEAUTIFUL man,” he told Malcolm.

The guy standing thinks my brother is beautiful too.

When we got to Ploschand they didn’t want to sell us tickets, or at least that’s how it seemed. Eventually, we figured out that they were trying to tell us that we had missed the train which made us very confused. How do you miss a night train at 7:00 in the morning?

Wrong station again

A man who spoke English, hearing the miscommunication, decided to help us. Ploschand only has early morning trains to Helsinki. We missed those trains, though we didn’t want any of them. We needed to go to Finlyandski for evening and night trains to Helsinki.

After getting lost one more time, we finally got to the Finlyandski Railway station. There seemed to be several very long lines with no indication as to where the lines were going. But there was one sign in English and it said something like Train tickets for Foreigners. So we went there.

We met a lady, a Russian who works in Finland, who was also caught up in the confusion of which railway station has night trains to Finland. She helped us get our tickets and we took her to see the Winter Palace. Yes, WE took HER.

on the subway with our new Russian friend

Although she was Russian, she was from a different part of Russia, nearer to Siberia, and this was her first time in St. Petersburg. We figured that since she arrived in the city at 7:00 am and we got there at 4:00 am we had actually been in St. Petersburg longer than she had and knew the city 3-hours-worth better.

Later we took a night train to Helsinki and got to the border several hours before my visa expired. No Russian jail for me, this time.

All Pictures


 

Russia
(Россия)

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, air, or sea. Just make sure to start working on your visa early because the process takes a long time.

Make sure to ask for more time than you think you need. Unlike most countries that have a standard period of time based on your nationality (like Americans get 90 days entry on a tourist visa to Japan) Russia gives you exactly the days you say you’re going to be in the country (ie. July 15 to July 19 2008). If something happens and you need extra time, the Russian government has a go-f@*%-yourself attitude about things.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • I repeat this again because it is very important. Start your visa request at least 2 months before you intend to go to Russia.
    • This is a complicated task.
    • You will need a letter of invitation.
      • You can get this from the hotel you will be staying in Russia.
      • Or you can buy one from an online company.
      • Be careful where you get your letter. Some companies will rip you off. (Unfortunately I don’t remember what company I used.)

Galina’s Flat

How to get there:

  • 55°45’47.4″N 37°38’49.3″E

Go to the Chistye Prudy metro station (Чи́стые пруды́)

  • then head south towards green Chistoprudnyy Bul’var (about 250 m),
  • then turn left at Bol. Khariton’evskiy pereulok and
  • after 230 m turn right at Chaplygina street.
  • Galina’s Flat will be on the right side of the street opposite the Latvian embassy.
  • Go through the arch to the yard and turn right.
  • The entrance is #3.
  • Press the button for ‘Galina’s Flat’.

The walk takes about 7-8 minutes.

Address:

Galina’s Flat
ул. Чаплыгина, 8, 35, Moscow, Russia
105062

Phone: 8 (495) 621-60-38

Website

Videos:

Notes:

  • It is better to call ahead and make reservations. There aren’t many economic places to stay in Russia, so the flat is usually full. But if you don’t have reservations and are in Moscow you should still call or drop by and ask if there are any beds available.
  • It’s a great way to see what a real Russian apartment is like.

Red Square (Красная площадь)

How to get there:

Go to Borovitskaya (Боровицкая) or Okhotny Ryad (Охотный ряд) metro station. Then follow the herds of tourists.

Websites:

Cost:

  • Red Square – Free
  • The Kremlin – 700RUB to see the armory and 350RUB for everything else
  • The Lenin Mausoleum – Free. But no bags or cameras are allowed in. Lockers are available for a fee.

Hours:

  • Red Square – Always Open
  • The Kremlin – Everyday from 10:00 to 17:00, except Thursday when it is closed.
  • The Lenin Mausoleum – 10:00 -13:00 everyday except Mondays and Fridays when it is closed.
Videos:

Notes:

  • Stalin is buried near the Lenin Mausoleum.

Leningradsky Rail Terminal
(Leningradsky vokzal)
(Ленингра́дский вокза́)

How to get there:

  • 55°46’39.4″N 37°39’16.1″E

The railway station is near Komsomolskaya Metro Station (Комсомо́льска).

Website

Notes:

  • This is the railway station to get the a train to Helsinki or St. Petersburg.
  • The train to Helsinki is the 031/032 Lev Tolstoy ( Лев Толстой) to Helsinki Central.
  • Here, like every railway station in Russia, you will get free access to the bathroom if you bring your train ticket with you to the facilities.
  • There is a decent grocery store near this railway station if you want to pick up some snacks for your trip.

The Winter Palace
(Зимний дворец)

How to get there:

  • 59°56’25.4″N 30°18’49.7″E

It’s a block away from Dostoyevskaya Metro Station.

Website

Cost:

  • 350RUB
  • Free for all students with student ID.
  • Free for everyone on the first Thursday of every month.

Hours:

10:30 – 17:30 (until 17:00 on Sundays)

Videos:


Finlyandsky Rail Terminal
(Finlyandsky vokzal)
(Финля́ндский вокза́л)

How to get there:

  • 59°57’24.5″N 30°21’20.8″E

This railway station is near Ploshchad Lenina Metro Station.

Notes:

  • This is where to get a night train to Helsinki.
    • The trains are the 033/03 Repin (Репин)
    • or the 035/036 Sibelius.
  • Here, like every railway station in Russia, you will get free access to the bathroom if you bring your train ticket with you to the facilities.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in Moscow, Russia, St. Petersburg | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Land unforgotten by sand

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 10, 2009

June 11-17, 2008

All Pictures

In a Mongolian Ger

Sand, Sand, Everywhere!

The first thing I noticed about Ulaanbaatar is that its name is never spelled the same way twice. The second thing that I notice about Ulan Bator is that it is 85% sand and dust, and 75% of that sand and dust got into my eyes. I couldn’t really see much while I was there.

Street Pool in Ulan Baator

I did see many sidewalk sweepers in town. How do they know when their job is done? The sidewalks are just… well… dirt… and so are the roads. My brother said that maybe they are actually sweeping the dirt from off the street back onto the sidewalk. I think they could probably not show up to work for a couple of weeks or months and no one would even know that they were slacking off.

At Ulaanbaatar’s Black Market

The Black Market

As we were going out to the country side for a little trip, the car we were in had some trouble. So our guide and driver had to get another car for us. Luckily, we broke down near “the black market.” We decided to go shopping.

They call it “the black market” but I don’t think that it is, because there was nothing secretive about it. It seemed like a regular flea market to me. I think that something just got lost in the translation.

My mom went looking for a t-shirt, my brother looked at bikes, and I looked for food. Good food is hard to find in Mongolia…

In the 45 minutes we were at the “black market,” we experienced two quick sandstorms. This is where half of the Gobi got into my eyes. Sunglasses are of no use here. The next time I go to Mongolia, I will bring goggles. I will look silly, but at least I will be able to see!

Solar Powered Ger with Satellite TV

The biggest and best nothing I’ve ever seen

We took an over night trip to Terelj National Park. We were able to book it through Gana’s Guest House, where we were staying. It took us about 2 hours to drive out to it. We stayed in a ger in the middle of nowhere. There were only a few farming families that lived nearby where we spent the night.

We walked around the country side and there was no one around except for one or two goat herders. There were some wild horses running free and a bison or two.

A Mongolian farmer and his horse

The bison seemed to be very tame. They would walk around eating grass and every once in a while a 13-year-old farm girl would come by to chase them away. The huge bison would run in fear of the tiny Mongolian girl.

Baby Bisons

We ate all our meals here with a host family. It was great. With our guide as translator they talked with us and we got to ask them questions about living in Mongolia. They explained how the food we were eating was prepared and about other traditional dishes. We talked about holidays and they even asked us questions about our countries. (Although we’re all Americans, my mom was born in Belize. My brother was born in Panama. And, I was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and had been living in South Korea.)

In the evening, after dinner with the Mongolian family, we went back to our ger. It got very cold really quickly, so we had to light a fire in the stove in the middle of the ger. Our guide showed us how. Once the fire was lit, my brother read horrifying fairy tales  to us from a book he had on his PDA.

The mountie in me

Small Horses and a big Khanggis khan

One thing I wanted to do when I got to Mongolia was to ride a tiny Mongolian horse. I know you are looking at the picture of me on the horse and you are thinking, “Man that girl is HUGE!” But it is not me that is big; it’s the horse that is small! Though, I am quite tall with freakishly long arms.

This was only my second time riding a horse. The first time, I had some trouble getting on the horse even though I was using a stepladder. This time, I just climbed up onto the horse without much help.

I loved riding that small horse! My family and I seemed to have gotten horses that matched our personal habits very well. My brother’s horse kept farting and my horse kept stopping to eat. I’m sure my mom’s horse was cold the whole time.

Who’s bigger than Ghaggis Khan?

Later we visited a temple with a rope bridge. Then we saw a ridiculously huge metal Ghanggis Khan. They were repairing their metal monstrosity when we went there, so we were not able to go inside.

I have no idea how the spell that guy’s name. Every time I see it, it’s spelled differently.

street downtown

I’ll give you Vietnam and China for Russia.

Once back to the very dusty Ulaanbaatar, I needed to get a Russian Lonely Planet book. The lightest and cheapest thing to do was to find some book store or hostel to trade books. In the Lonely Planet: Mongolia they mention a book store that had a book exchange, but when we went there it was closed. However, in our hunt for this book store, we found the equivalent to “Main Street” in UB.

I guess it’s cheaper than paving the whole sidewalk…

Finding this street on our 1st day would have been helpful, since we spent a few hours looking for a bank to exchange money. We stopped several people and asked them where the nearest bank was, but no one understood us.

Then, I found the word bank, written in Cyrillic, in my Lonely Planet: Mongolia and pointed to it. This made people even more confused. They pointed us in one direction or another, but there was no bank to be found. I was beginning to think that there were no banks in our part of town.

Then, we found a man in a suit and asked him. He spoke English and he told us exactly where the nearest bank was. We asked him how to say bank in Mongolian and he said, “Bank.”

mobile home?

This main street was quite close to where we were staying and there were a thousand and one banks there, along with restaurants with picture menus, drug stores with drug labels written in English, and book stores with books in just about every language; Korean being the most popular, even more popular than Russian or Mongolian.

There was one book store that looked kind of fly-by-night-ish. It was actually a very small store with a tent in front to make it bigger. This was where I traded in all the books I was finished reading and 2000 Tögrög* for one Russian & Belarus LP book. My backpack felt happier!

* Unfortunately The Tögrög is not popular enough to have a currency converter on google.com.

That’s him!

Thievery: Mongolian Post Card Salesmen

We got up early one day and walked down to the AirMarket travel agency to buy tickets on Mongolian Airlines to fly to Moscow. At the time, we thought that this was the quickest way to get to Moscow. Later, we would realize how wrong this assumption was.

Afterwards we spent the afternoon looking for a park that didn’t exist. Well, it used to exist and it will again someday, but right now, and for the foreseeable future, it does not exist. It would have been nice if the city’s cartographer would take the park off the map for its non-existing period.

During our search, we met a man….

In Mongolia the vendors are very non-aggressive. This gives you a false sense of security. When pushy vendors approach you, your first instinct is the hold your purse or wallet as close to you as possible. But in Ulaanbaatar people will ask you once if you want to buy something. If you say no, they go away.

So, we met a man who spoke very little English. He gave us a piece of paper that said he was selling postcards and that his house burnt down some time ago, killing his wife and kids.

Something about this man didn’t seem too right and we didn’t want to buy any post cards. We politely said, “No, thank you” and expected him to leave like every other vendor in town. But instead, he followed us.

Me and Mongolian Drew Carey

I am quite tall. My mother is taller than me. And my brother, so he claims, is even taller than my mom. This man was short, even for a Mongolian. So the fact that he had followed us for about a block didn’t worry us, but it was annoying and as I said before, something seemed odd about him. Just before he left us, he went up to my mom and told her in broken English that Ulaanbaatar is a bad city and there are too many pickpockets.

Later, my mom realized that her camera was stolen. But we would see the post card man again… and again…

What is that phone plugged into?

What is it plugged into?

Another thing that I noticed about the street vendors is that they all have phones. Not cell phones, but the kind with cords that plug into walls. They sit on the side of the street with their goods to sell and their phone on boxes. I’m not sure what it’s for.

Please let us into the terminal. We just want to leave Mongolia.

Leaving Mongolia attempts No. 1-9

ATTEMPT #1
We were tired of UB and ready to see Russia. We got up earlier than we had to because we wanted to be first in line. The seats are assigned when you check in and we wanted to make sure that the three of us were sitting together with lots of leg room.

When we got to the Ghanggis Khan International Airport, the international terminal was still closed. So we stood in line at the door. Our flight was schedule for 8:20 am and we figured that check-in would start by at least 6:30 am.

The guards are just watching cartoons.

ATTEMPT #2

But the joke was on us, as 7:00 am came and went, and the doors were still locked. The security staff was inside. Some were watching TV. Others were sleeping on the bench. At around 7:30 am when the mob got too big, one of the security officers came to the door to tell us that the plane was delayed and would leave at 10:00 am. Then he went back to his cartoons. I think it was Tom & Jerry.

ATTEMPT #3

Around 8:00 am, which would have been the start of check-in for a 10:00 am flight, we were told that there was another delay and to come back in an hour.

The hopeful waiting in line

ATTEMPT #4

One hour later, we were told the same thing again, but in a more annoyed way. I guess the guy was upset that he had to leave his TV to tell the passengers what was going on. Though, he didn’t really give much additional information.

ATTEMPT #5

At 10:00 am, they told us to come back at 8:00 pm.

Why are we waiting?

ATTEMPT #6

At 10:10 am they said, “Just kidding! The flight will actually leave at 12:00 am tomorrow. Now, Shh, Matlock is on!”

No one told us why the plane was delayed. They all seemed to get very angry when anyone asked them anything.

ATTEMPT #7 (Just kidding again! ha ha! Stupid tourists.)

They checked us in, gave us tickets and seat assignments and told us to, “leave! But come back around 1:00 am and tell your friends to fly Mongolian Air…”

This is why we were waiting; a sandstorm is coming.

It was sometime in the afternoon when an official of the airline told us that the reason for the delays were due to a sand storm. But by then, it was obvious, since we could see things flying around the parking lot that should not be flying around. One billboard was ripped to shreds.

ATTEMPT #8

Some time that night, I took a picture of the screen with the departure schedule. When I looked at the picture to see how it came out, I noticed that our flight time had changed from 1:00 am to 2:30 am.

This just keeps getting better 😦

ATTEMPT #9

At 12:30 am, they made an announcement that the flight was canceled. “ha ha”. We found out from other passengers that the canceled flight was rescheduled for the 17th of June at 8:20 am. They never made an announcement about the rescheduling of the flight, so anyone who heard the announcement of the cancellation and didn’t talk to any of the Mongolian speaking passengers would have been out of luck.

So we had to go back to town somehow. We had already spent all our tögrög since it is useless outside Mongolia. As we were negotiating with a taxi driver about the fare and if he would take euros, a lady with a Mongolian Air uniform passed by and overheard our conversation. She stopped and told us that there is a bus to town.

Lady: “Just go up stairs.”

Us: “Is it free?”

Lady: “Yes, just show them your ticket.”

on a free bus to somewhere

And it’s all free?

We got on the bus, and apparently not many people knew about it. Only those who asked about it were told. Most passengers who didn’t live in Ulaanbaatar just went home on their own dime.

We got on the bus without a clue as to where the bus would take us, but we were too tired to care. We figured we could find some hotel that would take euros; our old guest house did.

We drove around and passed by some really fancy hotels. Some people got off and then there were fewer and fewer people on the bus. Finally, we stopped at the last hotel and everyone was told to get off. No one knew what was going on. We all stood in the lobby of a really nice hotel and we were told to pair up. We three-ed up. Then they gave us keys and left without any type of explanation.

That guy will make any type of omelette you want, just ask him.

FREE HOTEL!!!!!!

The hotel came with free breakfast and, man… what a breakfast! My mom said that the hotel was more of the style of accommodation she was used to, but for this backpacker, I was… speechless.

I thought that it was funny that no one from Mongolian Air ever told us anything. We found out about the cause of delay from looking outside. We accidentally found out about the bus and hence got the free hotel, for 2 nights. And we found out from other passengers that the flight was rescheduled and not just flat-out cancelled.

It turns out that sandstorms happen a lot in Ulaanbaatar and flights are always being delayed or cancelled. So next time, I’ll take the train. It’s quicker.

When are we ever going to get to Russia?

My Russian visa

The next morning started out great! I woke up really early because I was hungry, like every day Traveling makes me hungry. I went downstairs to ask about near by grocery stores and was told that breakfast came with our accommodations. I danced down the hall to the breakfast buffet.

The flight being rescheduled was a huge problem for me because of my Russian visa. It expired on the 19th. So I had to be out of Russia by midnight on the 19th. Not on a train leaving Russia, I had to be OUT of Russia or I would be thrown in jail. I’ve never been to jail, and I didn’t want my first time to be in Russia.

We went to the Russian embassy in Ulaanbaatar to see if there was anyway to extend my visa. That was useless. It was like a combination of embassy helpfulness mixed with Russian-official kindness.

Our plan B was for my brother to get on the internet to find a way to extend my visa and my mom and I to find a way for us to stay on our flight and go to Berlin instead of getting off at Moscow. After dealing with 2 Russian embassies, one in Korea and one in Ulaanbaatar, going to Berlin seemed a hell of a lot better. I was sick of Russia already, and I hadn’t even set foot on Russian soil yet.

But nothing came of it. There was no way to extend my visa, nor for us to go to Berlin. We came up with a plan C. Run through Moscow and St. Petersburg.

It turned out that 2 days of Russia was all we could handle anyway. Maybe the countryside would have been nicer… somewhere less crowded, less foggy, less… Russian.

What is my brother doing?

Leaving Mongolia attempts No. 10-11

ATTEMPT #10

This time, we did not go to the airport early because Mongolia Air provided a free ride to the airport and it was late. It didn’t matter anyway because the flight was delayed. It would actually leave Ulaanbaatar at 10:30 am instead of 8:20 am.

There is a plane!

ATTEMPT #11 the successful attempt

We got on the plane and took off at 11: something that morning.  I almost cried like an athlete who had to overcome so much and had to fail so many times before she could see her dreams come true. I had a dream… a dream of leaving Ulaanbaatar… and it finally came true!

All Pictures.


 

Mongolia
(Монгол улс)

How to get there:

The only way you cannot enter this country is by boat.

I recommend not flying into Mongolia mainly because of the constant sand storms. Many flights are delayed or cancelled.

I recommend taking the train. It’s a long trip since there is only one real city in Mongolia and a whole lot of nothing around it. But, it is still an amazing train ride through the Gobi.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Notes: 

  • If you are a North Korean refugee and you are caught in Mongolia, you will be sent to Seoul, South Korea. Mongolia does not recognize the DPRK as the true Korea. So, many North Koreans will risk death by crossing the Gobi on foot for a chance to get deported to South Korea. China, on the other hand, will just send the refugees to Pyongyang.
  • There is very little other than sand between the Mongolian border with China and Ulaanbaatar. So, unless you are a North Korean refugee, do not attempt to cross the Gobi on foot.

Narantuul Market
(The Black Market)

How to get there:

  • 47°54’35.7″N 106°56’52.7″E

I really don’t know how to get there by public transportation. You can take a taxi there, I’m sure.

Cost:

  • 50MNT to enter,
  • then haggle your heart out once inside.

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 19:00 Wed – Mon

Notes:

  • This place is also known as “The Black Market” but it’s really more like a flea market.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • This is an okay place to try different types of Mongolian foods.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
(Горхи-Тэрэлж)

How to get there:

  • 48°09’13.0″N 107°41’06.6″E

You can find many hostels and guest houses that offer trips to the park.

I’m not sure if you have to go with a tour, or if you can just rent a car and go on your own.

Notes:

  • It gets very cold at night, even in the summer when it’s hot during the day.
  • It’s not too far from Ulaanbaatar.
  • This is a great place to do a home stay. You can sleep in a ger near a family and eat with them in their house or ger.
  • This is also a great place to ride a tiny Mongolian horse.
    • The horses are not really tiny, just a lot smaller than other horses.

Gana’s Guest House

How to get there:

  • 47°55’08.5″N 106°53’50.8″E

If you have reservations at the guest house they will pick you up for free from the train station.

Otherwise just tell your taxi driver to take you to Gana’s Guest House near the Gandan and Betuv monasteries.

Address:

Gandan Ger District Gandan tuul 2-22
Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

Phone:

  • 976-11-367343

Website

e-mail: gharchin@yahoo.com


Giant Ghengis Khan Statue

How to get there:

  • 47°48’28.6″N 107°31’47.8″E

You can either go by taxi or join a tour group.

Address:

It’s somewhere called Tsonjin Boldog which is about an hour away from Ulaanbaatar.

Website

Notes:

Supposedly you can go up into the head of Genghis Khan, but the day we went there, it was closed for reconstruction.

Videos:

Click here for Google maps 

Posted in Mongolia, Terelj, Tsonjin Boldog, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Trans Mongolian Express

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 9, 2009

June 10-11, 2008

All Pictures

The Trans-Mongolian Express

The Trans-Mongolian Express

We went to the Beijing Railway station , on subway line 2, to catch the Trans Mongolian Express to Ulaanbaatar. While we were waiting for the train, some officials rounded up some people and made them weigh their luggage. Oddly, only Chinese people were ordered to weigh in.

When we got on the train, we discovered that the beds had no sheets. They came by later and gave us sheets and took our tickets. We had a standard class berth with 4 beds. But since there wasn’t a 4th person in our berth, we put all our stuff on the extra bed.

In our exploration of the train, we saw that the first class berths had 2 beds and a bathroom. However, there was no shower. The bathroom is shared by 2 compartments. I’m not sure if they get refilled with TP.

1st Class

There were also electrical outlets in the aisle of the train for the standard class berths. First class has an outlet in the compartment. I put my mp3 player to charge in the walkway area and sat near the door of the compartment to keep an eye on it. The outlets are the F or C socket types.

If you are going to take the Trans Mongolian Express I would recommend bringing:

  1. A few books
  2. An mp3 player with lots of memory for music and/ or audio books
  3. Lots of snacks. There are dining cars, but they aren’t always open.
  4. Playing cards
  5. Toilet paper. There was TP on the train, but sometimes they ran out.
  6. Tea, cup noodles, and hot chocolate mix. There is a hot water dispenser in every car.
  7. If you go in the summer bring a fan. There are fans in the cars, but at some stops they turn off the electricity.

arguing over ramen

Food stop: Datong

At Datong, the train stopped to pick up more passengers. This gave us an opportunity to buy food. We bought some cup noodles and fruit. They were also selling some freshly baked (maybe fried) bread, but some Chinese guys ran off the train, pushed their way to the cart, and bought ALL of the bread from all the vendors. I guess they had taken this trip before and knew the bread would sell out quickly. Very few novice riders were fast enough to get any of the bread.

There was one more stop to buy food before getting to the border.

In some cars there was a bathroom that was hidden behind an open door at one of the ends of the car. Most people missed it and therefore the TP there lasted longer. It also stayed clean throughout the whole trip.

Changing the wheels

Changing the wheels: Erilan

We stopped at the border between China and Mongolia for passport control. As soon as we pulled into the station the officials came by every compartment to check under the beds and take our passports. Everything was very serious and they all seemed to hate their jobs, their lives, and everyone on the train. I could imagine all of officials going home to beat their wives or husbands, scream at their kids, and kick their dogs.

We were in Erlian for about 8 hours. For the first 2 hours we just sat on the train as the train kept moving back and forth. Later we found out that they were changing the dining car. Every country has its own dining car that goes from border to border.

After two hours of rocking back and forth, we were told that we could get off the train and wander around town but we couldn’t get back on the train until it was time to go.

Lifting up the train to take off the wheels

Just hold it

I wanted to get off the train, but my mom wanted to take all her important stuff with her.  While she unpacked and repacked her things the train conductors open and then closed the doors. So we were stuck on the train.

The train pulled into the “garage” and the next 4 hours were spent lifting the train up and pulling the wheels out. They slid smaller or maybe bigger… I don’t remember now wheels under the train. During these 4 hours there was no electricity so no fan and the bathrooms were all locked.

The Trans Mongolian trains have no a/c. All you get is a tiny blue wall fan. This would have been a great time for me to pull out my own personal fan, but I didn’t bring one.

the train’s wheels

The last two hours were spent back at the station where everyone who left got back on board and we waited for them the give us back our passports. Apparently they got to roam around the town with no passports. They also got to buy stuff and use the bathroom.

Because the train was in the station, those poor saps like us who stayed on the train could not use the bathroom for the whole 8 hours we were at Erlian.

When we passed the actual China/ Mongolia border there was a little Chinese soldier standing guard with his guns making sure the Mongolians don’t sneak into China. There were no Mongolian soldiers on the other side. I don’t think the Mongolians spend too much time worrying about the Chinese. Maybe they’re too busy sneaking into China.

70USD!? Malcolm really travels light.

Finally in Mongolia: Zamynuud

At the Chinese border everyone had official looking uniforms.  Even the janitor had a couple of stripes on his sleeves. But in Mongolia, only the lady who took our passports wore a uniform.

The mood in Mongolia seemed a lot lighter than in China. The officials were laughing and making jokes before they got on the train. Once on the train they acted quite serious, almost like they were pretending to be Chinese border officials. Once they got off the train they continued with their merriment.

I tried to stay awake as long as I could to see if I could spot any interesting things moving about in the desert, but there was nothing. So I fell asleep.

Cosmos the Cosmonaut

Call me Cosmos: Choyr

The next morning one of our rest stops was in the town of Choyr. There wasn’t much to buy. In fact there was only a 12-year-old boy and his friend selling un-cold water. Of course, we bought 2 bottles.

On this trip I didn’t drink as much water as I should have. But drinking enough water means peeing a lot… peeing in public bathrooms… dirty public bathrooms!

Here we met the statue of Cosmos, the first and only astronaut of Mongolia. I know what you’re thinking… “How fortunate for him that he was born a ‘Cosmos'”.

Some time ago, the Russians decide to Russianize Mongolia. The first thing that they noticed was that most Mongolians didn’t have a family name. So they made it mandatory for everyone to get a last name. Most people looked at their family tree to find one. It turns out that a lot of people are related to Genghis Khan. Other people either couldn’t find a suitable ancestor, or just wanted to be creative and made up their own last name.

This was the last stop before the final stop at Ulaanbaatar.

Sleeping on the Trans Mongolian Express

Backpacking Must Haves

When backpacking there are some items that you must never leave home without.

1. A photocopy (colored if possible) of every important document you have or need; passport picture pages, visa pages, prescriptions or medication labels. If it is something that you cannot live without or something that might be hard to describe in another language like an inhaler; take a picture of it and bring it. You should also keep a scanned or e-version of everything on an SD card and online. You can always e-mail them to yourself to keep everything in one place.

2. Toilet paper/ wipes and hand sanitizer or soap. Just assume that nowhere has toilet paper and that you will need to wipe down everything you touch. You don’t need to bring tons of TP and wipes since you can buy them at general stores on your trip, just bring enough to get you through a day or two.

3. A small memory card with important information on it. You never know when they this might come in handy. Since I travel a lot and get jobs around the world, I keep a copy of my resume on my tiny memory stick. (I actually got my job in Korea while on this trip. I did my interview while waiting at a train station in Paris.) Just make sure you have some type of reader for it; a camera, some mp3 players, or a card reader.

4. Travel Insurance. I use worldnomads but there are plenty out there. Shop around and find the best price for you. Also scan the receipts for everything you are taking that can be claimed with your insurance. That way you can file a claim while still on your trip if some misfortune befalls you. You can upload documents to Mediafire.com or google documents, that way everything you need for your trip is in one place or you can always e-mail them to yourself. Mediafire is free and your files are saved as long as you log in at least once a month. Make sure you set your file as private unless you want to share it.

5. Drugs. Bring cold, diarrhea, constipation, pain, allergy, and whatever medicine you need. You can buy these drugs in every country you visit, but when you’re sick and in a country where you don’t speak the language you might not be in the mood to find a pharmacy and search through new brands of drugs written in Russian. Just make sure that it is legal to bring your drugs into the country. (You cannot bring Sudafed into Japan.)

6. Get your shots. This might seem like going overboard, but isn’t it better to be safe? Then you can eat whatever mystery soup is given to you without worrying about contracting hepatitis B.

7. A universal outlet plug adapter.

8. Duct tape. You don’t have to bring a whole roll. Just enough to quickly patch a backpack. You can re-roll it as the guy in this link does. There are many reasons to bring some along.

9. A few dry bags. You can buy them online, at a Wal-mart, or at Target. If you don’t have any you can also use zip-lock bags but, they tend to get holes in them after a while. I use dry bags to keep my electronics in. If something wet spills on your backpack, or you get caught in the rain, or you drop your stuff in water, you can at least rest assured that your gadgets will be okay.

10. A swim suit. This is obvious when you are headed somewhere like Bali. But I would bring my swim suit even on a ski trip. There have been so many times when someone traveling with me had to buy an overpriced and tacky swim suit because they didn’t think they would need one on a non-beach/ non-pool related trip.

11. Clothes for crazy weather. If you’re headed somewhere warm, bring one light sweater and a pair of warm socks. If you’re going to a cold place, bring one pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

12. Cash Money! Bring 3 times the cash you think you will need. And, get a bank account from a bank with international ATMs for emergencies. In my case, I use Ally, which has no ATMs of its own; any ATM worldwide can be used to get money without fees from Ally.

All Pictures


Buying Tickets For the Trans-Mongolian Express

Where to go:

The ticket office is in the Beijing International Hotel on the second floor. The company is called CITS (China International Travel Service).

How to get there:

  • Go to Jianguomen subwaystation station and go out of the Northwest exit.
  • Walk West towards the Forbidden City and look for the hotel in the picture to the right.

The train departs from the Beijing Railway station. Here is a humble map: Beijing Railway Station.bmp.

Here is a map of the path that the Trans-Mongolian Express makes: Trans-Siberian_Map.jpg.

Videos:

Notes:

  • If you are traveling with a group and not using a travel agency, only one of your group will need to go to buy the tickets in person.
  • You will need to know the passport numbers of all the passengers  for whom you plan to buy tickets.
  • All this information may have change between the time this post was written in 2008 and the time you are reading in now. It’s China; things change.
  • Visit Seat 61 for more information.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in Beijing, China, Choyr, Datong, Erilan, Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, Zamynuud | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on The Trans Mongolian Express

A City Cleaned up

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 9, 2009

June 5-10, 2008

All Pictures

My mom and me near Qianmen Subway station. She’s so happy to see me in a dress.

Mother and Child Reunion

Once in Beijing, I met my Mom, whom I hadn’t seen in almost a year, and my brother, whom I hadn’t seen in a year and a half. It wasn’t until my plane landed in Beijing that I wondered how I would find my mom and brother. I knew they would be flying in from LAX, but I didn’t know the flight number or what time the flight would get into Beijing. I didn’t even know if it was a morning or afternoon flight.

I thought that the best thing for me to do was to find a computer somewhere in the airport, email them telling them to meet me at the gate 12 or something, then just wait for them for however long it took. I had just gotten through the passport check and was fishing around in my purse for internet money when I heard my name. I looked up and saw my mom.

me:      How did you know where to find me!?

mom:  I didn’t. Malcolm and I just got off our plane and were standing in line at passport control when we saw your afro.

My brother was still in line and came walking over about 5 minutes later. We took a bus from the airport to the Qianmen subway station. We stayed at the Qian Men Hostel, the same place I stayed when I was in Beijing a month ago.

At Qianmen Hostel in Beijing

The Qianmen Subway station is very near to many main attractions for which Beijing is famous. I recommend finding accommodations in this area of Beijing when sightseeing.

Buying international train tickets

Buying Tickets on the Trans Mongolian Express

Normally, to buy a  ticket on the Trans Mongolian Express, you just call up an agent. They would run down to the ticket office, purchase the ticket or tickets for you, and then mail it to your hotel in China. But because of the Olympics, all international train tickets had to be purchased first hand by at least one of the passengers and within two weeks of the departure date.

For directions click here.

So this was one of the first things we did on our first full day in China. I was a little nervous that something would go wrong and we wouldn’t be able to get train tickets, but I didn’t let my mom or brother know. Ninety percent of the time, something will go wrong when travelling through China. But for the first few hours at the start of this day, everything went fine.

Peking Duck

SCAMS: Stay away from the art students

There are many scams that are run on tourists. Tourists are often identified by the clothes they wear, their cameras, and they’re standing around tourist attractions instead of going to work. Here is an example of  one of the many scams that we encountered while in China. I call it “The Art Student Scam.”

After buying our tickets to Mongolia, we headed towards the Forbidden City. Along the way, we met a young man who said he was an art student. We had a long conversation with him and he taught us some Mandarin. His story was that he was going to Europe to sell  his paintings and he just wanted to show some of them to us.

We were flattered. Obviously this guy could see that we knew art, so we followed him to his teacher’s studio where his paintings were on display. They were nice. His teacher, the great salesman, tried to get us to buy some paintings. The teacher told us that the student needed to sell some paintings here, so he can afford the plane ticket to sell more paintings in Europe.

The Forbidden City

I have no money; neither do I want to carry a fragile painting around Mongolia and Europe so, I didn’t buy one. My soft-hearted brother bought one to help the “poor” student get to Europe. But the teacher wanted him to buy four for better “feng shui“. If I remember right, my brother ended up buying two.  (He says his feng shui has not suffered for lack of symmetry.)

Later, when we were in the Forbidden City another “student” wanted to show us her art. She too was going to Europe to sell her paintings and needed to raise some money by selling paintings. When we saw the art, it looked suspiciously just like the art the first “student” had “painted”. Those sneaky “students”!!!

The Mao Mausoleum entrance side

The East is Red

It’s a great deal they have there, at the Mausoleum. It is free to get in, but if you want, you can buy a flower for comrade Mao at the Mao Mausoleum (Maosoleum?). Then, you place it at the foot of the statue of Mao. I’m sure, they put these same flowers back for sale when no one is looking. You also have to pay to put your stuff in lockers, because Mao hates bags.

Mao looked just as creepy as Ho Chi Minh did, but maybe a little more bloated. Then again, Ho Chi Minh was a scrawny guy and Mao was fat.

The Great Wall of China and my brother, Malcolm

The Great Wall: Scams and all

The Lonely Planet was only somewhat helpful in getting tourists to the Great Wall of China. The directions are above. Watch out for scams.

We walked up and along the Great Wall. I was hoping that it would be more spiritual, walking along this very old wall with so much history beneath my feet. But it was way too crowded for me to get into any mood of tranquility or oneness with anything.

On our way down we passed a bear garden. There were some poor pathetic looking bears on display. Their owners were selling corn and fruit to tourists so that they, the tourist, could toss some food at the bears. By the looks of the scrawny bears, that might be the only food they get.

Where is this lady taking us?

The Underground City: closed

Reading through my Lonely Planet book, that great source of half-information, I saw an entry about an underground city. Mao had it built because he feared the Russians and their nuclear weapons. It was a secret when it was built and it apparently is still a secret because nobody could give us directions to it. No one had any idea what we were talking about.

Later I looked up the information on Wikipedia and there were several addresses for it; each for one of the many entrances.

The Lonely Planet book for China didn’t mention anything about it having more than one entrance. It had one location for an entrance given in map form and another location given in address form. But the book gave the impression that they were both the same place. It confused us.

Eventually, we decided to look for the street address and found it quickly. Of course, first we followed some old lady on a bike who claimed to know where it was. She actually wanted us to buy Mao’s little red book from her and took us on a wild goose chase.

Unfortunately, it was closed and under reconstruction for safety reasons. We were told to come back in a few months. We were all quite disappointed. But if you go to Beijing after September 2009, be sure to check it out and tell me how great it is.

Update: I read somewhere that the Underground City is closed for good and will never be opened to the public. Or maybe the Russians are still a bit of a threat…

Lama Temple

Lama Temple

After that, we went to The Lama Temple. As I have said before, to me, ALL temples look the same. The Lama temple is no exception. Same, Same. But it did come with a little CD  of nice “Lama” music.

Heavenly Dancing

The Heavenly Temple Park

We went to the Heavenly Temple Park, but we didn’t see the Heavenly Temple. We were tired of temples. They all look alike anyway. We were more interested in the people at the park. This park is where the happy people go to hang out, play games, dance, show off what they can do, or learn to do something new. It was wonderful watching folks teaching each other how to dance, do tai chi, or fight. Happy city people warm my heart!

The summer hangout of royalty

The Summer Palace

After the park, we took a public bus to the Summer Palace. It was a really hot day and going to where the kings of ancient China went to cool off seemed like a great idea. It was a little cooler there and very beautiful… so beautiful that it didn’t look real. It was a great place to spend our last day in China.

All Pictures


China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

The Mao Mausoleum
Máo Zhǔxí Jìniàntáng
(毛纪念堂)

The Forbidden City
Zǐjinchéng
(紫禁城)

Tiananmen Square
Tiān’ānmén Guǎngchǎng
(天安门广场)

How to get there:

All of these things are close together. Well, close if you’re used to walking a lot. They are all right next to each other. But because they are really big, it might be a 20 minute walk to go from the Mao Mausoleum to The Forbidden city. You will have to walk though.

Go to Qianmen Subway station. The nearest attraction will be the mausoleum. You can’t bring anything in the mausoleum with you, so you’ll have to walk to the baggage check area first.

Behind the mausoleum is Tienanmen Square and behind that is The Forbidden City.

Cost:

  • It’s free to see Mao. But if you have stuff, it will cost you to put it in a locker. You pay based on how many bags you have, how big the bags are, and how many electronic devices you have in the bags. The lines at the baggage check can get long, so it might be better, if you are in a group, to have only half of your group go see Mao while the rest watch the bags.
  • It’s also free to see Tiananmen Square. But if you pay 15Yuan you can walk to the top of the gate and look out on the square.
  • Entrance to the Forbidden City is 60Yuan.

The kept luggage costs for The Mao Mausoleum (2008)

Hours:

  • Mao Mausoleum          Tu – Su 8:00-12:00
  • Tiananmen Square is an open area and therefore always available. **Update: The last time I was in Beijing there was a security check that people needed to pass through to get to the grassy area. This security check does shut down in the late evening and opens back up early in the morning before the mausoleum does. You can still walk around the area when the security check is closed, just not in the main part. **
  • The Forbidden City    8:30 – ??
Videos:

The Great Wall of China (长城)
Badaling Entrance (八達嶺)

How to get there:

  • 40°21’35.3″N 116°01’11.7″E

There are many ways to get to the Great Wall since the wall is so… great. These are directions to get to the Badaling Entrance, where most tourists go. (Most tourists go to this entrance because it is the most accessible entrance.)

1. Go to the Deshengmen gate (德胜门).

Take the subway to Jishuitan station (积水潭站) on the circle line. I don’t remember what exit we took, but the place to get the bus was right next to the Deshengmen gate (德胜门). So ask someone how to get to the gate when you are at the subway station. Don’t get on any of the buses until you get to Deshengmen gate; the gate is a walkable distance from the subway station.

You can also get the Deshengman gate by taking Public Bus 5, 305, 315, 344, 345, 380, 670, 914, or 919. For these buses, Deshengman gate is the last stop.

2. Take the 919 bus.

The bus is 919, but  be careful. You want a green one like in the picture below, not the public/ city bus.

The green 919 to the Great Wall of China

SCAM: There are local 919 buses, that do not go all the way to the Great Wall and there are fake 919 buses that give tours and cost 400 Yuan. If you find someone who tells you that there are no public or non-tour buses to the Great Wall they are liars! We found one such man.

Ignore anyone who points out the local 919 buses as an example of the non-existence of a 919 to the Great Wall.

The buses at the Deshengmen gate are big, green, and costs 12 Yuan, at the time this post was written, to get to the Badaling entrance and they leave as soon as they are full. The next one is right behind it. So you’ll always be right on time for a bus.

Use the picture of the bus in this blog as a reference.

You can also take the route given by google maps which takes you to the Badaling Railway station.

Cost: 

  • Adult – 45 Yuan
  • Over 60 and Students with ID – 25 Yuan
    • Seniors bring your passport. My mom got the discount.
  • Kids under 1.2m and the disabled – Free

Videos:

Notes:

  • NEVER pay to take a cab to the entrance after taking the bus to Badaling. The small climb to the wall is nothing compare to the climb along the wall.
  • If you don’t feel like walking up the hill to the wall, it’s better to take the coaster up. You buy the ticket where the 919 drops you off. It’s 30 Yuan one way and 60 Yuan round trip. Then you walk straight pass the bear garden. Yes BEAR; not Beer.

The Underground City
Dìxià Chéng
(地下城)

How to get there:

  • 39°53’55.6″N 116°24’06.9″E

First get a map and go to Qianmen station, then head East, as if you are going to Chongwenmen subway station. Use one of the addresses below and try not to get lost. Do not buy anything, take any offers for a ride, or follow any little old ladies riding on a bicycle.

According to Wikipedia.com, there are many entrances to the Underground City. It gives three addresses as follows:

#1. 62 West Damochang Street in Qianmen

#2. Beijing Qianmen Carpet Factory at 44 Xingfu Dajie in Chongwen District

#3. 18 Dazhalan Jie in Qianmen

Unfortunately I do not have anymore information about it because when I was in China last, it was closed for repairs.

Update: The Underground City might be closed for good.

Videos:


Lama Temple
(雍和宮)

How to get there:

  • 39°56’51.6″N 116°25’02.2″E

It is a short walk from the Yonghegong Lama Temple Station.

Or you can take the following buses:

13, 116, 117 to Yonghegong (Lama Temple, 雍和宫) or 18, 44, 62, 684, 858, 909 to Yonghegong Qiaodong (雍和宫桥东)

Address:

12 Yonghegong Dajie, Beixinqiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing

Website

Cost: 25Yuan

Hours: everyday 9:00 – 17:00

Videos:

Map


The Heavenly Temple Park
Tiāntán
(天坛)

How to get there:

  • 39°53’01.3″N 116°24’46.2″E

The nearest subway station is Tiantandongmen Station ( 天坛东门站).

Address:

N39 50 44 E116 26 41
Tiantan Park, Beijing

Website

Cost:

Nov. 1 – Mar. 31 ~ 30Yuan
Apr. 1 – Oct. 31 ~ 35 Yuan

Hours: 6:00 – 20:00

Notes:

  • I don’t remember if the park is free, but it costs more to see the temple in the park than to just go to the Temple of Heaven park.
  • If the park is free then the prices above are for the temple. If the park is not free, then the prices above are just to enter the park and you will have to pay extra to see the temple.

The Summer Palace
Yíhé Yuán
(颐和园)

How to get there:

  • 39°59’60.0″N 116°16’31.7″E

Take any of these buses heading to the palace:

331, 346, 394, 469, 704, 718, 732, 737, 808, 817

Address:

No. 19, Xin-jian-gong-men Road, Haidian Dist., Beijing

Phone: 8610-62881144

Website

Cost: 60 Yuan

Hours:

  • Apr 1 – Oct 31 ~ 6:30-18:00
  • Nov 1 – Mar 31 ~ 7:00-17:00
Videos:

Map:

Click for Google maps

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