Sunday, August 17, 2014

Luke and tilly abroad #3 – eurasia 2014

Monday 11 August 2014

Ordinary Things, Smashed and Reconstituted is back, more pulverised and reassembled than ever! (Whatever that means ...) 

The first time Til and I went to Europe it was the trip of a lifetime, so we know how lucky we are to be doing it again. For the last few weeks, whenever I've mentioned our holiday to friends and family, they've been astounded at how long we're going away for, and everybody from the doctor who administered my typhoid and hepatitis vaccinations to the hairdresser who cut my hair before I left has misheard 'four months' as 'for a month', which just keeps underscoring how extraordinary such a long break is for most people.

Travel plans
This time the plan is to hit a lot of the places we had to miss last time, plus return to a few old favourites. We're starting off with a few days in Beijing before we join the promisingly named tour group 'Vodkatrain' for a three-week train journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway along with twelve other under-25s. Along the way we'll stay in a Ger camp in Mongolia, see the world's biggest lake, Baikal, in my Russian friend Alissa's hometown of Irkutsk, and visit Ulaanbaatar and Moscow and finish up in St Petersburg on the second of September.

The Vodkatrain route. Fear not, the closest we get to Ukraine is Moscow (ten hours away), and we won't be anywhere near any Siberian sinkholes!

From St Petersburg we wanted to head south to Croatia to take advantage of the dying summer, but we were a little iffy about the Russian airline offering the flight, so we decided instead to catch the train to Helsinki in Finland and spend a couple of days there before flying to Dubrovnik with the more reputable Finnair.

After a few days in Dubrovnik we'll catch the bus to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina (on the glowing recommendation of our friend Hayley) via the stunning town of Mostar, before crossing back into Croatia for Ljubljana. From there it's north into Austria, where we'll stay in Salzburg, before we meet our friend and former Aschroft Lodge housemate Kate in Munich, Germany, for five days of Oktoberfest!

Our plans get increasingly hazy from there, but we know we'll move south after that into the north of Italy, possibly via Switzerland, before moving west into the south of France, then a tour around the coast of Iberia (Spain and Portugal), then back into France at the beginning of November. From there we’ll continue north into Germany and the clump of countries surrounding it.

Then we want to go north into Scandinavia, where we hope to see the Northern Lights (and freeze our butts off and become vitamin D–deficient), before returning to the British Isles to visit some friends before our flight home.

With such a protracted journey comes, of course, a buttload of organisation, and Til and I have joked more than once over the past few weeks that it's become our fulltime job. This, of course, wasn't aided by losing whole days to ridiculous events like possum-gate, wherein a ringtail possum somehow found its way into our oldschool gas-fired water heater:

We know a bunch of possums live in the tree out the front of our house because we've woken up to them a couple of times scrabbling around on our windowsills trying to get in and one time even lapping up the dregs of my iced coffee, and we notice they're particularly keen to get in on cold, stormy nights.

'Let me innnnn!'

It wasn't until I was washing my hands with hot water in the bathroom that Til heard violent rattling from the heater in the kitchen from our bedroom, all the way on the other side of the house!

When I investigated I could definitely smell burnt hair coming from the heater, a stench that continues to haunt the kitchen whenever we turn on the hot water. It was a pretty horrible thought that something was trapped in there, but we couldn't actually see in because there's a cover that sits over the top of it that we didn't know how/aren't allowed to remove. We thought it must've been a rat, because we thought it'd be too small for anything bigger in there. But when help finally came it all turned out okay – he just had minor burns to his paws and singed fur.

Wildlife encounters in the last days before we move out of places, of course, are becoming a trend. Remember this?:

There's a snake in my roof!

Fond farewells
Thankfully we did have time for a few good farewells before we left. Our friends joined us for drinks at the Commodore Hotel in McMahons Point on the night of the Waratahs–Crusaders Super Rugby final. Then we went for Indian in Caringbah with Dad, Brooke, Nan, Jennie, Jeff, Courtney, Bryson and Braxton, where I had one of the best Indian dishes I’ve ever had – some mushroom and eggplant thing. 

The next night Til’s parents had her family over to see us off, and the night after that I had dinner with Charlene and Alexandra in this amazing vegetarian place called Yulli’s in Surry Hills where I had a massaman curry pie, cider and sticky-date pudding with butterscotch icecream – all vegan!

Let's just say we got a bit silly.

Eager to get in as much good vegan food as I could before we left (and spent three weeks on a train subsisting on potatoes and noodles), we had brunch with Mum, Amanda and Harrison the next morning in Cronulla at the veggie burger place Pilgrims.

As a side note, when we were on our way back from Indian we were being very grown up and talking about our plans for when we get back and whatnot when Tilly fittingly found my first grey hair! Must be from all the stress of travel planning.

What a timely reminder of my own terrifying mortality … 

'Well, birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we've grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it's not 
to be. That for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing.'

Sydney gave us a good farewell, too, with beautiful weather in the days before we departed:

The view from our rooftop.

Crossing off bookcrossing
One other thing we squeezed in before leaving was finally releasing the Bookcrossing book I picked up in the Colosseum in Rome back in 2011. I read it while we travelled around and intended to take it home and release it on the Opera House steps, but I never got around to it, so I promised myself I would do it before we left this time.

We got a few snaps and left it in two plastic sandwich bags for rain protection halfway up the stairs of the Opera House, then hung back and waited to see if anyone picked it up. 

The closest we got was this guy, who picked it up but then set it back down:

I really hope someone finds it and takes it to some other landmark, and that they record it all on so I can see where it goes next!

Flying out
The last two nights before we left we got very little sleep, ’cause we were up packing up the house and organising stuff, which made it all the harder to get up at six and head to the airport.

Apprehensive, sleepy and cold upon departure.

At the airport we were disappointed that we didn’t get to make use of my hard-earned Qantas gold frequent flyer status at the Qantas lounge because the currency exchange people sent us all the way to Gate 63 (the furthest flung of them all) to collect our Russian roubles, but our connecting flight in Beijing got delayed, so we got to make up for it gorging ourselves on the extensive free vegetarian fare of the (much classier) Hong Kong lounge.

I think that’s all for now. My next post will be about our time in Beijing. I would’ve had this up sooner, but China has to be all weirdo communist and block Google/Gmail/Blogger/Youtube/Facebook from its citizens’ internet (as well as, you know … commit all sorts of other grievous human rights abuses …).

Anyway, thanks for reading!

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