From Yokohama to London in 2007
The following is a lightly edited compilation of our "Quick Trip Reports" sent by email on the global circumnavigation we did in connection with the 2007 World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama, Japan. The photos below are generally what we sent in the trip reports. They are reduced to 100kb or less; please let us know if you would like a copy of the originals, which range from 3.2Mb to 1 Mb, depending on which camera we used. We may add more photos later, as we go through, organize and select among the thousands of images we shot.
Quick trip report 07.01
24 August 07
For those of you who haven't heard, we are off on another adventure and will be gone for six weeks with sporadic email contact. If these reports are a burden of any sort, please let me know and I will drop you from the list. If you know of someone I've omitted, please tell them no slight was intended. I put the list together very hurriedly and will be happy to include them next opportunity.
We are safely in Japan. Julie Porter who will be house-sitting a couple days a week, dropped us off at SCJ, from whence we flew to Portland and onto Narita. Northwest fed us well, but the seats were too close together to use the laptop productively. I slept, watched a moved, and played Shanghai on the seatback screen. Landing (at about 4:30 pm), customs and all went very smoothly, but the very nice Japan Rail bullet train we had set up to get to Tokyo was indefinitely delayed due to an accident (rumor was a suicide) and we had to take a BART-like straphanger alternative, finally getting to our hotel at 9 pm--Where Gayle's sister-in-law, Masami Kobayashi, met us and showed us where to get dinner for about $5 (convenience store Japanese-style precooked dinners). She has us booked on a tour 0800 tomorrow, which is why I'm typing this out at 4 am! We are at the "New Green Hotel" in Okachimachi, just NE of Tokyo. We picked up temporary Japanese cell phones at the airport on our way in, but haven't figured out how to use them yet. The phone numbers are:
090-8507-9361 and 090-9950-2670, with appropriate nation code, etc. Please wait a day or two before calling, however!
The rest of the itinerary is essentially (and I may be a day off here or there)
Now to 5 Sept: Tour Japan until next Thursday, then attend the World Science Fiction Convention,
5-7 Sept: Go to Korea and visit the village where Gerry was stationed 24 years ago.
7 Sept: On to Vladivostok to take the Trans Siberian Railroad to Moscow, with stops at Ulan Ude, Lake Baikal & Irkutsk, and Ekaterinaberg.
22 Sept(?-Gayle, who knows, is sleeping) On to Kiev, Luvov, Krakow,
27 Sept(?) On to Germany to visit Andrew before the Army deploys him to Iraq,
1 Oct (?) On to England to visit Sharon, before Wycliffe bible translators deploy her to Senegal.
5 Oct. Back to San Jose in time for SiliCon.
No pictures yet--just got here.
--Best, Gerry and Gayle
Quick trip report 07.02
26 August 07
We did Tokyo in a whirlwind two days with Masami's help. Friday was a bus tour with stops at shrines, temples and markets. Saturday we did the Natural History Museum in the morning and the National Museum in the afternoon. (The Natural History Museum was a real treat--they do evolution at a higher level of sophistication and detail than I've seen in most museums.) Our picture is of Gayle and Masami with a reconstructed plesiosaur skeleton--the plesiosaur was found in Japan by Japanese students.
While most people we encounter have little or no English, there is just enough Roman alphabet signage that patient travelers can make their way around. Maybe about a third of the exhibits have short English explanations and titles--it helps to know what you are looking at in advance.
The storied high costs of Tokyo did not really materialize. Cabs are reasonable--about $6.50 a trip until the meter starts ticking, which it didn't on any of our trips. My small bottle of Sake with dinner, about two wine glasses full, was about $2.40 (at $.01/yen, not exact but easy to remember). The dinner itself (a too-big bowl of meat, veggies and noodles) was under $5. Saturday night, we ate at a western style Italian place--still under $10 with the wine $2 a glass. The pasta was excellent, and I haven't had rubbery calimari yet--Japanese or western style. Our hotel room at $110 was small, but packed full of a wondrous array of gadgets. Soft drinks and wrapped sandwiches and pastries are available at typical US convenience store prices all over (and, in fact, there are 7-11's here and there). All in all, we spent much less than we would have for a similar stay in a big US city.
Warning, however; take instructions seriously. A Mexican couple, told to be back at the tour bus at 1 pm (no miscommunication there-the tour guide spoke Spanish as well as English), didn't make it and were abandoned to a later tour bus. I doubt that they knew there would be a later tour bus, nor where to go to catch it. We arrived a little early for the train to Kyoto yesterday and got on the wrong train--just barely got back off on time! Two bullet trains from the same platform in the same hour, and the only difference on the reservation billet was in Kanji!
The trip to Kyoto on the fast train was very smooth, but the train, surprisingly, did not have outlets for laptop plug-in. We had enough time to visit the Higashi Honganji a very large, old (well, rebuilt in 1895) and functioning Buddhist temple that claims to be the world's largest wooden building (the lodge at Yellowstone will give a run for its money) and tour the City Museum of Kyoto--which has an amazing array of miniature dioramas. One large palace and grounds model (no Roman alphabet signage, unfortunately) had thousands of tiny figures in it--they could not have been 3 millimeters tall, but were recognizably monks, women, officials, etc.
One last note. Gayle has found it very difficult to talk to banks from overseas to tell them to not freeze her cards because of foreign charges. The 24 hour "service" number (on the back of the card) phone trees are frustrating, time consuming, don't cover this category of communication, and end up with "this call cannot be completed" with overseas collect calls. The banks also refuse to respond to "Contact Us" notes on their web pages for this. Luckily, I managed to discover this and make my calls before leaving Sunnyvale. (I also found out, once I got to a person, that my American Express account had been cancelled for lack of use--no notification and I even got my "zero balance" phone tree report! So I did "leave home without" that tertiary piece of plastic.) The lesson is--though it shouldn't be this way--call the number on the back of the card before you leave. Also, saying "representative" or "associate" once the phone tree starts may get you to a person quickly.
--Best, Gerald and Gayle
Gayle and Masami with a reconstructed plesiosaur skeleton--the plesiosaur was found in Japan by Japanese students.
Quick trip report 07.03
28 August 07
We've "done" Kyoto having visited several temples, shrines, a fortified palace, and the Kyoto tower last night. The fortified palace was interesting--big high stone walls persisted in Japan later than in Europe, perhaps due to lack of cannon. The interior architecture was beautiful. It's easy to see how it influenced Frank Lloyd Wright. Yesterday we did an extended hike along the "Philosopher's Path" soaking up the cultural ambiance -- buildings, temples, little shops, all very nice -- and the heat and humidity (close to disabling). Today's picture is me on the path with Gayle's new umbrella. On the way back from the tower, we had an excellent dinner at a steak bar across from our Toyoko Inn for about $30, including my hot sake. Yesterday's dinner was at a traditional-looking place where almost nobody spoke English, but we managed to order a few things (including large prawns in a mayonnaise sauce that were to die for.) Today it's onto Yokohama for the World Science Fiction Convention. Time to go...
On the "Philosopher's Path" in Kyoto
Quick trip report 07.04
2 Sep 07
This will be very quick. Worldcon is almost over, and my presentations are done, but we have half a day of panels left and need to get going. But I thought I'd take time for a catch up photo from kyoto. This is the main entrance to the Nijo Castle/Palace. More later.
Kyoto Palace Gate
Quick trip report 07.05
03 Sep 05
The convention is over; we have dined on the dead dog. For those not in the science fiction community, that means we attended the "dead dog" party, where con staff, participants, and anyone else who can talk their way in eats and drinks all the left over party and convention suite supplies. It's often the only time one gets to chat with some people. Between closing ceremonies and the dead dog, we went to the top of Yokohama's Landmark tower, where one can see Mt. Fuji on a clear day. It wasn't that clear, and the mountain was hidden in the distant mists, but the view of Yokohama was spectatular.
Today's picture is of the Convention locale taken from the tower. The site felt very futuristic--architecture, cleanliness, silent automatic doors--seamless technology everywhere. It was like a 19 60's sf story come to life.
We don't know where we will be sleeping the next three nights, other than in Korea. However, this is known territory--Gerry was stationed there for a year and Gayle has visited twice. We can read the language, sort of, and make our needs known. Also, many people do have some English. We will probably be on or near Osan air base, Tuesday night, in Daesan (near Soesan) Wednesday, and in Seoul Thursday night, before departing for Russia.
Yokohama Convention Center
Quick Trip Report 07.06
03 Sep 07
We are waiting at the gate at Haneda Airport after an involved commute from our hotel in Bashimichi just south of Yokohama. We walked to the subway and took it to Yokohama station, then took a long and poorly marked walk to the local air terminal (we were with a young Japanese man who was just as confused as we were--first time, he said). Once there, we bought tickets on a bus that brought us to Haneda airport terminal two (a twenty minute ride), where we walked into the terminal, went down to the first floor (arrivals) and found bus stop 9, where we boarded the shuttle bus for the international terminal. Airport security involved putting our checked bags through a scanner before we checked in for the flight. When we got to gate security, we were not asked to take shoes off, but otherwise it was pretty much the same as in the US, except there was a lot of hands-on assistance from their TSA equivalent security personnel; who were bright, competent, and polite. There was no money exchange within the security area--we'll need to do that at Kimpo. There is free wireless at Haneda Airport--with none of the rigmarole, acceptance of terms, and advertising you get with similar systems in the US--just choose the link and go about your business.
They are starting to board our flight.
--Best, Gerry & Gayle
Ferris Wheel near the Convention
Quick trip report '07.07
4 Sep 2007
Greetings from the land of the morning calm.
I'm writing from a huge hotel room in the Green Park Hotel, Daesan, South Korea, within easy walking distance of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) Base on Mangil San (Mangil Mountain--a large hill, really) where I worked in 1983. We got here much later than planned due to a late start because of difficulties in contacting Vladivostok Air to reconfirm our reservations and some misdirection from the Osan Air Base travel advisors about bus versus train. We took a cab from Soesan to save time, about $25 for 18 km, and the cabbie helped us find the hotel. It's spacious and must have been fairly elegant a decade or two ago, but was pretty empty now. There seems to be some restoration going on, and they had no staff on duty, just a number to call. A lady from the restaurant helped us get in touch with someone.
We walked down to the village center from our hotel, drawing curious stares, US visitors are still a rarity here. While the village of Daesan has grown much in the last 24 years, the downtown area was not very much changed. I recognized the hardware store where I purchased my Korean saws and a tea house that I visited once.
I did not, in this short time, run into anyone who knew me from 24 years ago, though some Middle School students we met on the street recognized the name of one of the English teachers I worked with. By descriptional gestures and their pretty good English, I think it may be the same man, but I have no way of contacting him this evening and we will need to be on our way tomorrow. I asked them to show him their cell phone pictures of Gayle and I and relay our greeting.
We had a delicious Korean barbecue (tabletop, cook the marinated meat and vegetables yourself) in one of the small restaurants downtown. I managed to work my way halfway through a bottle of Soju, and donated the rest to some fellow diners.
The ROKAF base is still very much active, though there has been no US contingent here since 1986. From the city center, the domes of the radar site were visible on the hill overlooking the town. The site is fortified--one would need more than small arms to take the place--and from certain directions the place has very much of a castle on the hill aspect.
Indeed, the sociology back in 1984 was probably not that much different from that of medieval hill fort town. Then there were four establishments; the farmers, the shopkeepers, the military and the teachers. Now, there is a large petrochemical plant with its workers and managers added to the mix. The seldom traveled two lane blacktop road that wound through the hills, and on which I bicycled to Soesan, has become a heavily traveled four-lane highway on which I would not think of taking a bicycle, and the town now has a couple of the huge high-rise apartment building complexes of the kind one sees all around Korea. I lived here longer than anywhere else I have lived outside of Minnesota, Michigan, and California, and am feeling more than a little nostalgia. I wish them well.
Radomes of Mang Il San over Daesan, S. Korea.
Quick trip report '07.08
6 Sep 2007
Greetings from Incheon
We're off to Russia tomorrow morning.
The picture is of the schoolgirls we met yesterday.
Daesan Middle School Students
Quick trip report '07.09
6 Sep 2007
Greetings from Vladivostok,
We arrived more or less uneventfully. I managed to lose my change purse (which contains my little Swiss army knife) and not find it until after our bags were checked, however the Vladivostok Air attendant was kind enough to offer a small cardboard box as a third checked item. I stuck the change purse in that, and lo and behold, it showed up at the other end. The Vladivostok international terminal is a very basic, crowded affair, but gets the job done. The airport is some 50 km out of town, so getting to town is a long drive. There is bus transportation available into town, but we elected to do the door to door taxi thing ($80)
I was somewhat surprised to see how large Vladivostok is and how much traffic it has. The Hotel Vladivostok where we are is another one of those "faded grandeur" places with a seedy looking outside, lots of interior anomalies, but a fairly pretentious lobby with wireless internet and nice clean rooms--apparently designed with Japanese clientele in mind. They put us up on the 11th floor and our room has a fabulous view of the harbor, which would be even more fabulous if it stopped raining. As it is, there's a steady, windblown downpour which makes sightseeing by foot impossible. The view would have been better a year or two ago, but a 23 story skyscraper has been erected in front of it. There's also more construction below us--continuing even in the downpour. Anyway, we're exploring by telephoto lens. We may go somewhere by cab later (about as expensive here as in a US city).
The photo is the harbor from our hotel room window. I've upped the contrast in the upper part to counter the mist. You can see the port terminal--the blue and white building to the left, I'm pretty sure. The train station is next to it, in from the harbor. Rain or no rain, we need to do some reconnaissance--so off into the mist.
Quick Trip Report '07.10
7 Sep 2007
Greetings from Vladivostok(2),
It's a good thing we went to the train station--it's a beautiful Victorian building, but a confusing rabbit warren inside. We think we found where to go to wait for our train, courtesy of an English-speaking tour director who mistook us for some of her flock.
We pruchased a few supplies for the train trip and headed back up hill to our hotel, stopping off at a restaurant that Gayle had latched onto from the Lonely Planet guide book. In English, it's called Nostalgiya, it has Tsarist decor, and wonderful traditional Russian food. Its a la carte menu is on the pricy side, but we got out of there with about $52, including a shared appetizer (plenty for two), a soup (Borscht for Gayle, A crab chowder for me), a main course (a salmon stew, slices of roast duck)and a Russian beer for me. They had a lady piano player in that night. We worked up the nerve for a couple of requests, and that turned into a conversation, and ended at closing time with my hesitant rendition of God Save the Tsar, in honor of the portraits on the wall. It amused her to find out that the tune was the same as Macalester's alma mater--which is why I learned to play it. If you're ever in Vladivostok, I strongly recommend that restaurant.
Eastern Terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad
Quick Trip Report '07.11
8 Sep 07
Greetings from Siberia,
Sunday noon (6 pm Saturday PDT). The good news is that we made it onto the train in plenty of time. Our compartment is clean, pleasantly appointed, and is reasonably roomy, with plenty of space to store luggage and travel detritus without looking junky. They piped one of those grand Russian marches out of the station sound system as the train left and people waved from the upper level platforms--like an ocean liner headed out.
The not so good news is that we have no English-speaking travel companions and only some of the train staff have a few English words. So, we are operating on gestures and pantomime for the most part.
As far as the "first class" accommodations are concerned, I recall Potemkin Villages. Everything looks really nice and feels solid. But the running water does not work in most of the bathrooms. We've found one with running water next to the dining car, a couple of cars up. There was only a little toilet paper, or none at all (yes, we did bring our own). Later, they seemed to get a good supply of toilet paper, so that's currently not a problem. The car with running water is in second class, I think. It was nice to have a bathroom with running water, toilet paper, and paper towels. What more could one want, except perhaps a bathroom door that locks? The other bathroom doors work, though. You can't have everything in one bathroom, it seems.
The electricity in our compartment, which was working initially, has gone off or was turned off, meaning we were on battery power for the computers. The dining car serves breakfast only on prearrangement, apparently. The attendant showed me the dinner menu, but most of the items on it were unavailable. The Samovar (hot water pot, one in each car) works so far, and has been our subsistence--along with an insulated, capped coffee mug I brought along. We had half a package of noodles by crunching the dried noodles into the coffee mug and pouring hot samovar water on them.
I managed to get off the train for ten minutes at Khabarovsk, long enough to run to front of the impressive looking train station and grab a couple of shots. This is the train station, and the other, later is the statue in front of it.
Gayle managed to communicate with one of our fellow passengers that we were without power, and the attendant stopped by. Without any common language, she managed to communicate that the lights were powered off in the daytime because it was light. But she happily turned the power back on for us--just in time for a long dark tunnel. We have managed to recharge camera batteries and computers.
Gayle also managed to have lunch in the Dining car, and brought me back a salmon sandwich. Tiny, but good and on excellent, dark, heavy pumpernickel-like bread. Then we stopped at Obluchye long enough for Gayle to buy a couple of hard boiled eggs from the vendors on the platform (putch--rhymes with pooch). At first she said she paid 50 rubles, which would have been a dollar an egg, but later revised that to 10 rubles/egg, about 40 cents. Either way, much less expensive protein than we can get on the train.
This evening (Sunday, still) we did the dining car again, early (1730) to avoid any rush and had an appetizer of sliced sausage and a big bowl of Russian meat soup. I had a big bottle Russian beer, about 50 rubles ($2). This was served with the pumpernickel-like bread. The whole bill was about $17, and was quite satisfying. Adding a main course (for about $16 each) would have made an expensive full meal, but not too expensive considering. It would have been more than we needed, though, for a day of watching scenery go by.
The vast birch forests of eastern Siberia gave way to hills of mixed pine and deciduous trees, and these to vaster grasslands. We are discussing whether this is the fabled "steppe," but it certainly fits the description. A Montana native would feel at home.
It has stopped raining, finally, but the skies are still cloudy and gray. We have a 30 minute late evening stop in the next city, and Gayle made a brief outing at Belogorsk to a small store across from the train station. She got ice cream deserts and candy bars for, essentially, the same price as those items would cost in a US supermarket.
So far, Russia outside Moscow has not lived up to it's very expensive reputation any more than Japan. Hotel prices are higher for what you get, and restaurant meat prices are higher--maybe by 50% in some cases. Restaurant beer is about half as much, however, and dairy, vegetable, and egg prices seem similar if not lower. Prepackaged food prices (candy bars, noodle soups, etc.) are lower. Language barriers have precluded any political discussions, or indeed discussions of anything more complex than "When do I have to be back on the train?" or "How do we get the electricity on?" and, of course, the price of things.
My general impression of the Russian economy is one of rebuilding. The rail rolling stock is noteworthy; it is generally freshly painted, uniform, and in good repair compared to what you'd see in a US rail yard. The buildings and housing are all over the spectrum--ramshackle shacks to modern buildings. Some wooden buildings look a bit scruffy, but may not be; judging from the satellite dishes. Roofs may be patched, here and there, but are obviously winter-capable. Public buildings look good, as if someone cares. As in Korea, there's a lot of trash and construction-leftovers piled up here and there.
There's a fair amount of security around, and more service personnel than you'd find in the US; but the service personnel are less intrusive. We are pretty much left alone in our train compartment--make our own beds, etc.
We are conscious of being in a less litiguous society in which people are expected to be responsible for their own behavior. For example, the 11th floor window of our hotel room in Vladivostok could open fully--no worries about being sued if I fell out, apparently. At train stations along the way, people can walk across the tracks without gates. fences, and prohibitory signage--apparently being thought competent to watch for oncoming trains.
That's all for this evening--no internet opportunities today; we'll see what tomorrow brings.
Khabarovsk Railroad Station
Quick Trip Report '07.12
10 Sep 07
Greetings from Siberia(2),
We are now into our third day on the train. We had the hard-boiled eggs Gayle got yesterday for breakfast (no ill effects so far) and a candy bar for carbs. To sort of categorize this experience, think of a backpacking trip of a few days, except a very plush tent is provided and the dining car is there as an expensive alternative. Except, on a backpacking trip you can bathe (assuming a stream), but on the other hand, you'd be sweating enough to need a bath. We did bring some low mass meal equipment, (collapsible cups and bowls, handiwipes, cutlery, Swiss army knives, vitamin pills, etc.) and have used most of it.
We have discovered how to get water out of our car's restrooms. The valve wheels have been deliberately disabled in favor of a spigot valve--a piece of metal sticking down from the faucet. I suspected that's what it was earlier, but when I tried to move it there was no give and I didn't want to break anything. Last night, seeing water in the basin again, I tried a little harder and found that with a sideways and up push, it produced tepid water (non-potable, but okay for washing).
We have left the plains for mixed deciduous/pine forest again, and have gained some altitude. The birch trees are in full golden color, and the landscape reminds me of an Oakland A's home uniform. There are no reds to speak of. We see a cottage here and there, but most of this looks like wilderness, though I suspect it is largely secondary growth--the area on either side of the railroad has been logged. There's an occasional ramshackle looking farm--but I suspect these dark bare-wood buildings are much stronger and cozier than they look from the train. This is rolling hill country that reminds me a lot of north-central Minnesota, but it goes on and on--a couple thousand kilometers of this.
We had a fifteen minute platform stop this morning. I got off, got some exercise, and bought a candy bar and a couple of tomatoes from a platform vender.
As we go through, the colors are beautiful, the temperature is moderate, and food is bountiful. But there is a hint of foreboding in the demeanor of people, and, here and there, winter coats are out. Gayle's guidebook gives a temperature range of -60 to +45 C (-87 to +113 F) for a town 700 km north of here. There are reasons Siberia is still sparsely populated...
The picture is of a the Siberian river our train had paralleled this morning, a tributary of the Amur that marks the border of Russian and China in these parts. I am told the fishing is excellent.
At noon, it was Gerry's turn to take the platform stop, and I bought a beer (Arsenal Special Pale Ale--after some translation work--not a word of English on the can) and a big flat loaf of Russian country bread, which was fabulous. We made tomato sandwitches and Gayle was persuaded to imbibe maybe 1 cc of the Arsenal. It had a full, rich, almost sweet taste with just a hint of spicy aftertaste and was extremelely smooth. It's good for my health if this is available only in the middle of Siberia. The platform vendors price was 45 Rubles for the beer, about $1.80, and not much different than the train price and 20 rubles for the bread; an absolute steal. Well worth it.
We are now crossing what the guide book calls the "forested southern slopes of the eastern Yablonovy range" which goes on for 200 km. It is forested (pine and birch in all stages of color change) and it is sloped--lots of rolling topography--and scenic except that the clouds have covered the higher elevations.
In late afternoon, we got out from under the clouds and were treated lots of autumn color at low angle illumination. Forest is starting to give way to open field and grassland again, and the hills are getting higher. There are vast mining scars and fire scars, healed not so long ago, it seems.
Gayle pointed out the lack of birds, and now that she mentions it, wires that in the US would be full of songbirds lined up, or doves, or pigeons, are bare. There are no flocks of birds wheeling through the sky. I've seen a couple of crows, a magpie, and a light-brown-breasted hawk or buzzrd on a dead tree, but that's about it. The hills, tress, telephone lines are all empty of birds. Hunted out? Gone south for winter already?
We ate the second tomato and the rest of the bread for dinner, not thinking it would keep through our stay at Ulan Udey, Irkutsk, and Lake Baikal. After tonight, our next night on the train will be six days away.
A Siberian stream, from the train window
A very typical Siberian home
Quick Trip Report '07.13
11 Sep 07
Greetings from Ulan Ude (Oo-lahn oo-day),
The area around Ulan Ude is a piece of Mongolia that got left in Russia, and the local Mongolian population, the Buryat, while now a distinct minority in their homeland, are still plentiful and have been having a bit of a cultural renaissance since the fall of communism. We visited an excellent local historical museum which has some English language signage (of which their curators are very proud) and took a minibus trip to a Buddhist monastery described as the "center of Russian Buddhism."
The symbology of the Soviet Union is still very much in evidence here, mainly in a huge head of Lenin (the largest in the world, it is claimed) and street names. But Imperial Russia is also in evidence with the double-eagle Romanov crest everywhere. A majestic arch commemorating the visit of Nicholas II in 1891 dominates a large and the main street (named for Lenin) is a long, wide, gently sloped, pedestrian mall that recalls Los Rambles in Barcelona.
The Buryat resemble the Inuit; a Buryat man or woman would not look out of place in Nome or Kotzebue Alaska. The museum has a number of excellent drawings depicting scenes from pre-Russian cultural times, maps of the indigenous cultural distributions, and the usual collections of costume and artifact.
The Buddhist Monastery, repressed in Soviet times, is experiencing a bit of a restoration and building boom. There is no single huge temple, but rather several smaller mansion-sized buildings used for multiple purposes. Our visit was not guided by a monk as the guide said, but rather were left to wander in and wander around (clockwise) on our own. We did find a small temple with a service in progress and sat respectfully for a few moments. Listening to chanted prayers.
The minibus trip to the monastery was an adventure in itself. Instead of big single busses, the Ulan Ude area uses a fleet of van sized minibuses, seating about 10-12 people. Fare collection (like much of everything in Ulan Ude) is very informal--one simply passes the fare up to the driver, and change, if any, is passed back. The Buddhism practiced here came from Tibet in the 1600's and is heavily encrusted with superstitious elaborations and Hindu-like deities--very lovely but I can only imagine what Sidhartha would have thought of it. The fare--for the 35 km trip--was only 30 rubles, about $1.20 each.
While we were waiting for the minibus home from the monestary, a Buryat horseman rode up (in contemporary dress). The animal was large, powerful, and well fed, if a bit nervous among the strangers.
Dinner was at the guidebook touted "New Nomad Mongolian Restaurant," which turned out to be a fairly standard European restaurant. I ordered fried liver, potatoes and vegetables (it looked somewhat Mongolian...) and was brought batter fried fish instead; no explanation was possible due to the language barrier and I chose not to make a fuss about it. Gayle ordered an appetizer assortment as her meal, and that did have some nice, juicy, meat-filled dumplings. You'll get a better Mongolian dining experience at Col. Yee's Mongolian Barbecue in Mountain View, CA. Beer and Vodka were relatively inexpensive, 60-70 rubles ($2.40-$2.80) for half a liter--the vodka actually less than the beer. Yes, at surrounding tables, they did chug whole glasses of Vodka--I demurred from that and went for a good Russian pale ale called "Siberian Crown."
The picture is of one of the exquisitely decorated buildings at the monestary.
The hotel ethernet system could not be made to work with our computers, and there was no wireless to be found in the environs. Gayle is suffering from extreme internet deprivation and Buddha only knows when you'll get this.
Buddhist Monastery Temple
Quick Trip Report '07.13a
11 Sep 07
Good Morning from Ulan Ude,
I just wanted to add a quick note and another picture. Siberia practices daylight savings time with gusto--everywhere we've been is an hour, two or even more ahead of local solar time. It's just getting light at 0700 and was still light at 2120 last night--only a few days from the equinox.
The picture is Lenin Avenue with the Nicholas II arch in the distance. Don't try to blow it up--I've reduced the picture for email and the depth of field wasn't great to begin with (misty, and autofocus locked onto something nearby).
Ulitsa Lenin (Ulan Ude's version of Los Rambles in Barcelona)
Quick Trip Report '07.14
12 Sep 07
Greetings from Irkutsk,
We've just arrived in Irkutsk and our hotel has no internet access. We found an internet cafe with free wireless and good food about a 20 minute walk from our hotel, and are catching up. Russia is still a little backward in some areas, but also catching up rapidly. We'll be going to an Island homestead on Lake Baikal tomorrow (a six-hour bus ride) and be back here in three days for another internet session.
The meal you see was about $18 US. No, we didn't let it go cold, and the lake Baikal fish was to die for.
At Fiesta, Our Internet Cafe in Irkutsk
Quick Trip Report '07.15
14 Sep 07
Greetings from Khuzhir on Olkhon Island in the middle of Lake Baikal,
We are in what looks like a 19th century Russian village after a harrowing 8-hour (NOT 6-hour) drive from Irkutsk, starting with our 6 am wakeup, our madcap taxi ride to a bus station we still do not know the location of, a last minute add-on charge for baggage (72 rubles each for our expanded airline carry-ons), an unanticipated tax after the ferry landing of 100 rubles just for being on the island, an extremely long ride over dried mud road (what is this place like when it rains, or in the spring?), and a quarter-mile hike from the bus let-off to our cabin resort.
The resort is unplumbed. They have old camper toilets, slop buckets topped by toilet seats, and hole-in-the-floor outhouses. Hot water is from a Samovar in each room and a big bucket of fresh water (it works, especially after you get used to the idea. Showering is the same in banyas (you get a private room and a floor drain to go with the Samovar and cold water). There are no plumbed showers. There's a reason for this, of course; we're in permafrost land and plumbing would not withstand the -40s for days on end during the winter without a lot of insulation and heating. Anyway, the ambiance is very 18th century, if not earlier. Cows and dogs wander the dirt streets. Junk is everywhere as if nobody has energy left over to pick it up. People survived this way for thousands of years, so we can do it for a couple of days.
But this is an up and coming place. They have electricity (2 years ago). There is construction going on everywhere. The post-office has a computer (which may or may not connect to the internet) for about $2.40 an hour, and there's a genuine, high speed $8.5/per hour internet concession in Grigori's house. We used that for a couple of high priority communications.
Think "Fiddler on the Roof" with cell phones and satellite dishes.
Okay, why did we come here? Perhaps one answer is because we could. Another is in the view of Lake Baikal from the cliffs near Nikita's cabins. I took the attached photo just after Sunset.
Tomorrow, we'll be taking an 8 hour cruise on the lake, getting back about 1830 or so, and Saturday we go back to Ikurtsk.
Evening on Lake Baikal
Quick Trip Report '07.16
14 Sep 07
Greetings from Lake Baikal,
Think summer camp for adults. Aside from human and animal fecal issues, this is a very fun and engaging place to be. We've met some people; shared dinner with a young couple from Stuttgart, just graduated and on a world tour before settling down to a job. Gayle got to talking languages on the boat with a gentleman from Lithuania, who turns out to be the dean of the "Baltic Languages" department at Siaulia U.
The boat trip turned out to be as much a hike as it was a boat trip, and Gayle didn't bring her hiking poles. Fortunately, Gerry spied a piece of driftwood that was hiking pole shaped, and, with a little work with the Swiss Army knife, Gayle had a walking stick. We crossed from Olkhan Island to the nearer shore and marched uphill for rigorous 2 km (for US 60-year olds, the 40ish Europeans with us ambled up at half again our pace) to a "sacred" spring, the waters of which are supposed to be good for digestion, etc. The brook water tasted just a tiny bit sulfurous--this is a geologically active area. The hike back was much easier. We then cruised for about an hour to an island with a Buddhist Stupa on it (apparently recent and blessed by the Dalai Lama himself). The ascent was steep but mercifully short. I walked around (clockwise...) twice, Gayle did a few more turns. The place has a wonderful view of the shores of the mainland and Olkhan Island.
Then it was back to the boat and a dash north to outrun a storm in a freshening and wavy breeze. It passed south of us, and we returned to sunlit beaches. Along the way, we observed a large forest fire beyond the western shore--the forests are huge and Russian firefighting resources are small. It will probably be left to burn itself out, after having burned an area comparable to some US states. (It has been dry here--you would think an island in the middle of the largest single reservoir of fresh water in the world would not have water problems--but remember the lack of plumbing. The village of Khuzhir has a water shortage--the reservoirs above lake level have not been filled. Climate change.)
Gerry was on the water of Lake Baikal for about five hours, total. Niche filled.
We are seeing more birds, but they aren't plentiful. Large gulls are fairly easy to spot, and I caught a line of sparrows on a roof last night. I saw a large eagle on the way up, but couldn't deploy the camera in time to catch it. Ravens are the most plentiful, but still only an occasional sighting.
This evening we joined an international campfire party, with people from Brazil, Australia, Germany, the US, and, of course Russia--the later passing around the Vodka rather freely. In a store, a liter of beer is about 50 rubles, and a liter of Vodka about 60. Those are about restaurant prices for half a liter. And it is good Siberian antifreeze.
Everytime you think you're done with one of these...
We were just getting ready to turn in when all the dogs in the compound started barking. Some background: with cattle wandering the streets, vegetable gardens and such need to be fenced in. In general, most houses here have woden fences sufficient to keep cattle out. But, occasionally, someone leaves a gate open. Nikitas homestead was thus visited by a number of cows tonight; the dogs were trying to handle them. One of the Russians came out and Gerry shined his flashlight on the cows from our balcony so the Russian and the dogs could herd them back to where they were supposed do be--saving the lettuce and tomato crop for future visitors, or so we fantasize.
We leave at 0900 tomorrow to return to Irkutsk for a day. Then back on the train Sunday evening for Ekaterinaberg.
Campfire at Nikita's.
Quick Trip Report '07.17
14 Sep 07
Greetings from Irkutsk again,
We're back in Irkutsk, which is how we managed to send the last trip reports. We went to our internet cafe ("Fiesta") a little too early, this time--during peak dinner hours, they allow only 30 minutes of connect time and you can order only from the counter--for which there was a line. I'm not sure how things will work today.
The ride back from Olkhan Island was, indeed, 6 hours, in a private minivan instead of an "official bus" but it was still cramped and exhuasting over the dirt roads. After the travel, fixing the hotel bathroom's shower/tub valve, showers, bathtub laundary, and the 3 km round trip hike to the WiFi cafe, I was totally spent and crashed as soon as we got back. Which means I woke up in the middle of the night (10 am California time). I'm processing the 50 pieces of email I downloaded at the internet cafe.
Meanwhile, here's a late afternoon picture of the huge forest fire west of Baikal.
Quick Trip Report '07.17a
14 Sep 07
... and here's a shot of Gayle just before we landed on the west shore.
Gayle at Baikal Beach
Quick Trip Report '07.17b
14 Sep 07
... and here's a shot of me with my camera. No luck in phographing the freshwater seals, unfortunately, nor the eagle that appeared briefly overhead on the hike to the spring. We did catch a flock of Gulls on a rock, but otherwise the absense of undomesticated wildlife was eerie.
On the Lake Baikal boat trip
Quick Trip Report '07.18
17 Sep 07
Greetings from the train to Ekaterinburg,
We had a bad AOL experience in trying to do email from the Russian internet facility we went to after Fiesta's restaurant Wifi died on us. With the clock running, I was trying to transfer trip reports from my computer to Gayle's which had been successfully configured for the Windows-friendly server. As a result, while I think I got the trip reports out, there were problems, and I wasn't able to read any of my email. AOL chose that moment to cut us off for some reason and demanded we call a number in the US! I hope this will change in Ekaterinburg, but if you were hoping for a quick response--uff dah (Norwegian for things not going right). Also, I think I had the wrong picture attached to one of the reports--a boat picture instead of the wooden house. So, on this one, you get the wooden house.
We had to leave for our train before we could sort things out. I hope we aren't banned from AOL for the rest of the trip!
We had a great Russian meal on the train for not too much (cold fish, meat soup, bread Geek salad and vodka) and had Vodka thrust upon us by a lonely Russian in the booth kitty-corner from us. I did my best for international relations, but really, I'm not quite on their level. Fortunately, some other Russians showed up to help drink the vodka and a beat a friendly retreat to my compartment. Unlike what you might expect, the prices for things like water, yogurt, soft drinks, etc., are the same on the train as on the platform. There's thus little incentive for people to swarm off the train to find things to eat.
Some notes while they are on my mind. I continue to be impressed by the condition of Russian rolling stock. Even the older cars, while they may be painted with several different colors and a bit dirty are not rusty or decrepit, and at least half the rolling stock looks new or at least recently painted. Our compartment and train are in excellent condition. Now that we've figured out the toilets and made attitude adjustments to things like seeing the rails below when you flush, everything is working well. It is probably working better than on a similar US train--more cleaning, more attention, more caring. Restrooms on US trains are often allowed to get pretty grundgy, but this does not happen on the Trans Siberian. Part of it, I think, is a culture of people cleaning up after themselves.
There are no elevators on trans siberian platforms, and ramps are rare. To get from one platform to another, one often needs to carry all one's baggage up three floors worth of stairs and down again. With two airline carry-on-sized rolling bags (albeit expanded) and two shoulder strap bags, we thought we were traveling light. Next time it will be lighter.
I spent the second day on the Ekaterinburg train nursing an upset stomach and low fever--I suspect something ulcerous brought on by the vodka the previous night, or maybe just tourista from the raw fish. Anyway, the cipro we brought along seems to have stopped it, and I was back to reading and writing the next evening.
We are being treated very well, if somewhat at arm's length, by the train staff. We have had no discussions with any Russians about anything, let alone politics; the language barrier puts us in a sort of eerie bubble.
We went through Novosibrisk tonight--based on what we could see from the tracks, it is clean, big, modern city with some notable architecture.
A classic old wooden house in Irkutsk, under renovation ;-).
Quick Trip Report '07.19
18 Sep 07
Due to the AOL problem, Quick Trip Report 19 was apparently not sent.
We had a great evening in Ekatarinberg with our email correspondant, a young man named Evgenie. We saw the city from an observation deck on the highest building around and then had dinner at a fabulous Russian Restaurant with a huge buffet and all kinds of good food.
The picture is of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral erected in memory of the martyred Romanov family. The Romanovs have now been cannonized by all the major branches of the Russian Orthodox Church, though the cannonization is controversial for some.
Church near the site where Russia's royal family was killed.
Quick Trip Report '07.20
19 Sep 07
Greetings from the Ural Mountains,
We have left Siberia after a dozen days and are on our way to Moscow. The Urals are old mountains, like the Appalachians, or Laurentians back home--rounded tree-covered ridges of pine sprinkled with early autumn colors and the occasional brightly painted roof of some country dacha. Glaciers and erosion have scraped them down to gem-studded bones. Gems are a specialty of Ekaterinburg. I'm sure Siberia has changed us in some elemental way, but it will take some time for us to learn how.
But we're in Europe now, and just more than halfway around the world from California. The provodnitsa are likely to have a few words of German, which helps Gayle communicate. I find that the days when Russians learned French are long gone, however--English is more likely, but not very.
In one of those events of only-in-reality improbability, the hotel staff hailed a Philadelphia guy to get us back to the Ekaterinburg rail station for less than half the normal fee. He'd lived in Philly for seven years, trying and failing to immigrate to the US. He spoke English with a recognizable Philly accent! (His kind helped make this country. Why do we make it hard on people we need?). He and his Greek wife are going to try Greece next. He's a mining engineer by education, but there's just not enough work in that anymore around Ekaterinburg--so he drives a cab.
We have found out the hard way that AOL will suspend your account and accuse you of a terms of service violation if you send too many emails in too short a time--the parameters of which they won't tell you. My four trip report burst apparently triggered it. Then they tell you to call their 1-888 number in the US! Gayle was able to get on their website and submit a query which resulted (thankfully) in a live email conversation with someone on their 24 hour help desk, which eventually (about two hours worth of hair-pulling) got our accounts restored. They may tell you that the decision to suspend is made by a committee--it was not. A computer did it instantaneously. They tell you it was a "terms of service violation" but if they don't tell you what the limiting number is, how can it be a violation? The Help chat person eventually passed on that the "violation" was 362 email addressees in an auto-AOL session--presumably some number less than that is okay. It didn't matter that 89 of the addressees were copied four times or that the messages had different subjects, or that non-Quick Trip Report emails with other addresses were included. Just the total number of addresses. They first asked if any of the email was "unsolicited," then they sent all sorts of stuff about protecting your account against being hijacked--all sheer noise in this case because they (or at least someone in AOL) knew perfectly well that their program automatically canned us for exceeding a certain secret number of emails at a time. I understand why not publicizing the number is good security and that an automated response is probably a good idea because a hijack might be involved, and that some "inconvenience" might have to be tolerated in the name of security. It's the lying about it and the extreme difficulty in getting reinstated that saddens me. Gayle had maybe three hours of sleep last night. Big AOL, little customer.
Our hotel last night, the Ekaterinburg Central was a top-of-the line Russian hotel, with a lot of service, a huge breakfast, good security, helpful people, free wireless (with a card), and a two room suite in which everything worked. We had to do a lot in a short amount of time, and they were up to it. It probably cost around $200 (including a 25% 1-night booking fee). I'm going to say it was well worth it.
The picture is of an old bridge over a valley in these rolling green hills. I don't know where the precise line between the continents is, but this would be close. Gayle shot the photo about five minutes ago as I write.
An old bridge between Europe and Asia.
Quick Trip Report '07.21
20 Sep 07
Greetings from Moscow,
Travel has its ups and downs. We found out the cosmonautics museum is closed for repairs--not even the latest (September-October) city guide had that information. The hotel (the Cosmos) is an overpriced monstrosity (across Prospekt Mira from the cosmonautics museum) without free wifi and too far from anything else that might have it. They do have Wifi available in their lobby, at $10 an hour, which is okay for email, but doesn't allow Gayle to do any real research (tick tock, tick tock). We are also unable to find anyone that can help us find where to go to get transportation to Sergiev Posad tomorrow, so we may lose that, too. Laundry service is priced to keep one from using it and they have no laundromat (a rarity in Russia, anyway). We laundered some essentials in the tub tonight and will hope for better luck in Kiev.
To top that off, I'm either coming down with something else or having a typical reaction to the omnipresent cigarette smoke. Going back and forth from sweaty heat in the subways to cold outside weather probably didn't help much either. We have medication...
On the upside, Instead of the cosmonautics museum, we took the Metro to Red Square. The Russian trains are packed, go really fast, and come about every five minutes or so it seems. There is enough information to let you get around--but only just enough. You don't need to be fluent in Russian, but being able to sound out and recognize Cyrillic place names is a necessity. Things aren't necessarily labeled, but are usually in the logical place. Anyway, despite feelings of uncertainty, we got down to the Kremlin and back. Many of the stations contain, and are themselves, works of art.
The weather went from cold and rainy to simply cloudy with patches of sun later in the day. It was actually excellent photographic weather--the diffuse light being much better than bright sunlight and dark shadows. We'll start off with the obligatory Red Square photograph.
Red Square looking toward St. Basil's
Quick Trip Report '07.22
20 Sep 07
Greetings from Moscow (2),
Good morning and feeling much better, thank you--at least well enough to send another picture--the view looking up from the alter under the main dome of Saint Basil's (at the far end of Red Square in the previous picture).
Looking up from the alter at St. Basil's
Quick Trip Report '07.23
21 Sep 07
Greetings from Moscow(3),
We got to Sergiev Posad and the visit to this visually stunning spiritual center was well worth the rigorous two hour bus trip (there are train connections as well, but Bus #388 went from where we are right to town).
The monastery is visually stunning. The first picture matches golden fall leaves with the golden domes.
Quick Trip Report '07.23a
21 Sep 07
Greetings from Moscow(3),
The Sergiev Posad Monastary was fortified, and a sometime refuge of Tsar's in trouble. Here's a veiw from an overlook.
Overlooking Sergiev Posad
Quick Trip Report '07.24
22 Sep 07
Greetings from Moscow(3)
I'ts amazing what a little sniffle can do.
You got two quick trip report 20's. The second, from Moscow, should have been
quick trip report 21. The one after that, labled quick trip report 21, should have been 22. I'd made the corrections to my file copies, but not to the ones waiting in the mail-to-be sent queue. The numbers 23 and 23a, for Sergiev Posad, are correct.
The picture is of the Kremlin, taken from St. Basil's Cathedral--which incidentally was also fortified at one time--very thick walls with archer's slots, etc. These buildings only look like gingerbread houses.
Quick Trip Report '07.24a
23 Sep 2007
From our last day in Moscow, here are some Russian girls posing on a lion sculpture (for their parents, the backs of whose heads I cropped).
Russian Girls with Lion
Quick Trip Report '07.24b
23 Sep 2007
Here is another girl posing with a lion ;-).
Gayle with Lion
Quick Trip Report '07.25
23 Sep 07
Greetings from Kiev,
We managed to get to our hotel, about 5 metro stops and a half kilometer walk from the train station. The Kiev metro is much like the Moscow metro, only deeper (to get under the Dnipr). The two stage escalator ride down to the metro takes about as much time as a 3 or four stop train ride. The nice thing is that they do have escalators--only a couple of short flights of stairs to lug the bags up and down.
The Sherborne Guest House is in an apartment building--a "private" hotel--tucked away on an alley behind the local main street. The lobby is the appartment rental office, run by a Maria Sharapova lookalike named Anna. (About 20% of the population--from Valdivostoc to Kiev--looks like Maria Sharapova!) We got there too early to get an appartment, so, I did some internet ($17 a day, at this place) until it quit on us. Then we went back into town to try to get our train reservation out of town.
Gayle has been trying to modify our schedule so that instead of two nights in Kiev, we spend only one, with the second on an overnight train to Lvov. We had gotten to the point of cancelling our second night in Kiev, but hadn't gotten the sleeper reservation--since that could (for reasons unexplained to us) only be done from Kiev. For some reason, this isn't done at the train station, but at some big, almost empty, office downtown. We found it, and found they wanted cash, not plastic. We went out on the street to get more money changed, did that, and went back in and got our reservation to Lvov! They were unable to make a reservation from Livov on, howerver, so we'll need to go through the same process there.
We got back to the apartment building, and the good news was the apartment was ready and the aprarment factotum, a young man named Sasha, had brought our bags up to it. The bad news was that it was on the 8th floor and there were no elevators. We got a replacement wireless password slip, went up, I downloaded some email and again got kicked off again. Then I looked at the slip--it said 30 min, not one day.
We went down again and headed out, with a perplexed Anna promising to contact her cyberexpert on the internet access duration. We had hopes for a lot of sightseeing, but travel issues and a frail old bodies had other ideas. Gayle has the sniffles now and we were both tired from a lot of walking in Moscow the day before. We managed some sightseeing in a nearby park with some spectacular views and had dinner at the local pedestrian underpass market food court. Then we walked down to the subway station again--intending to go into town--and turned back. Just not up to it.
Anna had generated a new slip with one day access by the time we got back, and we trudged up the to the appartment. No internet. Gayle went back down to reception, where it worked. I went to sleep.
The picture is from the park near our apartment.
Domes in Kiev
Quick Trip Report '07.25a
25 Sep 07
Here's a catchup photo from Kiev--I'm writing from Lviv. For those of you not familiar with his work, the Russian composer Mussorsky wrote a piano composition called "pictures at an exhibition" which climaxes with his musical interpretation of an imagined painting of "The Great Gate of Kiev," best know as an symphonic piece orchestrated by Ravel. It's brilliant, powerful, stirring, and thus one of those pieces that gets played perhaps too often to keep its impact fresh. Anyway, we're in Kiev, so where's the gate?
It turns out that there are numerous gates and gate-like arches and entrances in Kiev. [The design that inspired Mussorsky was never built, however, as faithful correpondents reminded me!]
The first photo is, from what we can tell, the modern version of the gate to the high city--incorporated into a Victorian-era (or maybe earlier) building front. It is big and impressive.
The next leeds to an upscale shopping area.
And the last is a recent "Friendship Arch" symbolically connecting Russia and Ukraine. There is some irony in this...
Quick Trip Report '07.26
25 Sep 07
Greetings from Lviv,
We are at a grand old hotel with shared bath/toilet (sit down, clean) facilities for what we think is less than $50 a night, in a big old room with a washstand and a westward view over trees and old buildings. They have free internet--dial-up at 52k, but no time limit (it took some time to set it up, however). They have breakfast, They have an elevator (most of the time, anyway). They have helpful English speaking registration staff. They have a lovely grand staircase. They have a restaurant that will give you ice if you ask for it! (Gayle stubbed her toe, so this is a necessity.)
We are in head-for-the-barn mode. After spending seven hours on internet and travel problems, with sore feet, sniffles, and wow-look-at-that fatigue, we couldn't even get it together for a museum in the afternoon. But we did have a nice waking tour of various town squares, a street market full of an amazing amount of things, and pretty architecture. Parts of it put me in mind of Heidleberg.
This is, for now, one of the less prosperous areas of Europe--the number of beggars approaches San Francisco proportions, and the proportion of honest beggars is probably higher. There are scam artists as well--one who repeatedly confronted us for money to go to the US on behalf of an aging relative, playing on our supposed religious sympathies. We have also crossed a Ukrainian cultural divide--from Orthodox to Catholic, Russian to central European. The Sharapovoids are less tall and as likely to be brunet as blonde--as in our picture of a typically pretty Lviv fountain and square.
Also, we did manage to make reservations out of Ukraine; we will go to Bratislava tomorrow on an overnight train, then onto Vienna for a night (and hoping to get in contact with our Austrian RR benefactor, Helmut) then onto Germany and Andrew's townhouse in Kaiserslautern for a weekend of reunion, rest, and laundry. Poland, we must save for another trip--train reservations were just too complicated.
After three course sit down lunches for $5 in student area cafˇs, the European Union is going to be a bit of a shock... Vienna will be pricey, but after that we have a US military facility and family members to lean on. Nine more days.
Quick Trip Report '07.27
28 Sep 07
Greetings from the train to Barislava.
The picture is of a west Ukrainian farmer using a horse drawn cart--I think he may be spreading fertilizer.
Quick Trip Report '07.27a
28 Sep 07
Greetings from Bratislava,
We had an interesting 2nd class sleeper experience from Lviv... more later.
We couldn't book to Vienna from Lviv on our Citystar ticket, so we have to that here. We don't have a place to stay yet in Vienna, but do have a dinner date.
The Wifi at the internet cafe in the Brataslava train station works fine on my ibook, but Gayle is having problems and was using the cafe's windows machine.
The picture is of a couple of Ukranian countryside churches, snapped from train with my telephoto lens.
Quick Trip Report '07.28
28 Sep 07
Greetings from Vienna,
With our windfall of free WiFi at the Bratislava train station cafe, Gayle scored a very nice little Penzione (Walk-up with shared baths) in Vienna for $55 Euros, a clean light little room with two single beds closet, sink, small table with two chairs and washstand. As I write, we are showered, rested, and about to hit the town.
We spent about three hours in Bratislava center, and could have spent much longer. Its a picturesque old town in layout, but generally modern-looking, clean, and spruced up. We caught found a pair of buildings in the before(right) and after(left) state. Many of the buildings that look modern are anything but.
The castle on the hill was a not too difficult climb for us oldsters; the central palace (clearly constructed on the foundation of a medieval keep) is in use for concerts and the like. Government buildings line the walls on the inside. The view of the city, the Danube and the bridges is spectacular--unfortunately it was raining, so the photos are not. Restaurants, shops and museums abound; it's worth another visit someday.
Now its off for some sightseeing and dinner in Vienna.
Before and after restoration versions of old Bratislava buildings.
Quick Trip Report '07.29
28 Sep 07
Greetings from the train to Frankfurt,
We had a fine 20 hours in Vienna! We saw Haydn's last house, toured the grounds of the huge Schoenbrunn Hapsburg palace, and had a good Vienna dinner with Helmut, our Austrian rail systems benefactor. Gayle had gone to Schoenbrunn on her first trip to Austria a couple of decades ago, so this was a memory lane trip for her.
We are on an ultramodern train, but in spite of this (or perhaps because of this) by Murphy's law, the digital assignments on the door matched our ticket, but the car didn't. The conductor didn't catch it when he checked our tickets, so when the proper occupants got on, we had already settled in and there was some rapid repacking to do. We ended up in a compartment with two young mothers and their babies. Off to the dining car!
I had a bowl of potato and sausage stew (excellent) and Gayle had a Chicken breast with tomato sauce (so-so) and rice Pilaf. I also had a beer/lemonade (50%) drink that was surprisingly good.
Quick Trip Report '07.30
29 Sep 07
Greetings from Kaiserslautern, Germany
We're staying with son Andrew, doing laundry, and maybe going to Heidleberg this afternoon. We're here for R&R until Monday. The picture is of Gerry and Andrew outside the Burgschanke Inn in the Hohenecken district of Kaiserslautern. The food was great and there was a LOT of it--main courses in the $10-$12 range.
Gerry and Andrew
Quick Trip Report '07.31
30 Sep 07
Greetings from Kaiserslautern(2), Germany
Our three days here have gone by all too quickly. Saturday (after Gayle and Andrew took a brief forray toward the French border for some pastry) we took a long, rigorous (for us oldsters, light exercise for Andrew) hike up the side of the Rhine Valley in Heidelberg. Followed by a late dinner with one of Andrew's friends. The views were spectactualr. Yesterday, we spent the morning on trip planning for England and spent the aftenoon touring the Kaiserslautern municipal gardens, which have been turned into a sort of natural history museum by the addition of a couple dozen realistic sculptures of long-extinct animals, including, of course, dinosaurs. A life size rendering of a Brachiosaur (tall) and one of the recently discovered giant diplodocoids (long). There were also a lot of dahlias of impressive size (for a flower) as well.
This picture is of Heidelberg from across the Neckar. Note the huge, partly ruined castle on the hill and twin towers of the bridge gate. We'll catch up on dinosaurs and dahlias later.
Heidleberg from accross the Neckar
Quick Trip Report '07.32
2 Oct 07
Greetings from Marlow, UK
We're just a few kilometers south of the Wycliffe Center and spending time with Sharon in the evenings, which leaves today and tomorrow pretty much free. We are planning to go out to see Jack Cohen tomorrow, if we can get rested up enough to be competent for the drive (we were leaving keys in locks and cars, coughing and wheezing, and were generally operating at about 50% last night and this morning, but are resting well now and feeling better).
Our hosts have a LAN and have lent us an ethernet line to the dining room to get this done.
The picture is the promised dinosaurs and dahlias from the Kaiserslautern garden a couople of days ago.
Dinos and Dhalias
Quick Trip Report '07.33
3 Oct 07
Greetings from Marlow (2)
Between travel fatigue and some car issues, we didn't do any sightseeing outside Marlow yesterday. Today (Wednesday) we got out to see astrobiologist and writer Dr. Jack Cohen in Newent, recovering from hip surgery and hobbling a bit, but active as ever. His latest project is breeding an historic strain of amoebae and has set up a lab in his home to do so. One of the little guys is on the TV screen in the picture, along with Jack and Gayle. Misdirection and traffic delay put us about an hour behind schedule, so we decided to leave a planned stop at Oxford to another trip.
A somewhat worrying observation: The exchange rate for a UK pound is about 2 dollars now, but there's been significant inflation as well; the prices we have paid in pounds for things here (petrol, restaurant meals, electrical hardware, B&B rooms) are about what the price of the equivalent would be in dollars in the US. Our main courses in a pub last night were around 10 pounds each. Our B&B room is about 60 pounds for two. An adapter in a local hardware store was about 3 pounds, etc. - all perfectly reasonable numbers if they were dollars instead of pounds. This suggests to me that the real value of the pound in goods and services is much closer to the dollar than the exchange rate indicates and some kind of correction may be forthcoming.
Gayle, Jack Cohen, and Amoeba
Quick Trip Report '07.34
3 Oct 07
Greetings from Marlow (3)
We spent a couple free hours down by the Thames in Marlow before returning to Wycliffe center one last time for dinner with daughter Sharon (on her way to Senegal in Dec.) and to say good-bye for what may be a very long time, as we said good-bye to Andrew, bound for Iraq, a few days ago. While, of course, fate may choose to make any parting permanent; distance, risk, and our own age raise the odds somewhat in these cases and I find myself feeling just a little sentimental.
This is probably the last trip report from Eurasia. Today we drive to Gatwick airport in UK rush hour, starting at 6 am and missing breakfast to make sure we're there 3 hours before flight time, catch a plane on Continental at 12:30 to Newark and another on to San Jose, arriving about 8:30 pm. If all goes well, we'll be sleeping in our own bed tonight.
The picture is of some rowers waterfowl on the Thames at Marlow, near sunset.
Rowers on the Thames at Sunset
Quick Trip Report '07.35
5 Oct 07
Greetings from Sunnyvale
All went as well as 14 hours on airplanes and 4 hours in airports can go. We are back home safe and sound.
We got going early enough from Marlow (about 6:20) to miss most of the traffic; what had been advertised as a potential 3-hour nightmare drive to Gatwick turned out to be about 80 minutes. So we had much time in Gatwick airport. In a bit of a what-the-heck-it's-there mode, we ate where the Europeans eat for our final trip meal--breakfast at MacDonalds. Then a long time in Gatwick Airport before boarding our flight at 11:55 local.
The Continental flights were competent, though not luxurious.
We had an hour to get through customs at Newark and barely made it--it was a very long walk to the customs area and there were big lines to get back to into the secure area, but the connecting flight was a bit late so it worked out.
Candy Lowe picked us up at SJC. I sorted mail tonight (my bio clock's off, of course). The only casualties were Gayle's yellow Japanese Umbrella (we think a Ukranian cab got that) and my bottle of Head and Shoulders that had started to leak anyway. [We also lost a Korean Dictionary that was not in our mailed-back package, as I had hoped. Someone in Daesan has that;-)]
How strange it seems to have gone full circle and be back home again.