Chris Dickson

Joined September 2017Living in: Sydney, Australia
  • Day27

    Yekaterinburg plus

    September 12 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 6 °C

    This post comes from train number 100, Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk, travel time 53 hours, local time at destination three hours ahead of departure.

    We hopped on this train in Yekaterinburg, after a couple of days looking around. Yekaterinburg is a bit dour and dusty; the cars and in particular the 1960’s (or prior) buses, trolley buses and trams haven’t seen any soap and water for many a year.

    It is, however attractive around Istorichesky Skyver, the parkland around the expansive City Pond, and we enjoyed walking around, following a red line painted on the pavement joining the attractions.

    The handsome Church Upon the Blood marks the spot where the last of the Russian Royal Family - the Romanovs - were rather cruelly done in by the Bolsheviks, and the city was, of course, the birthplace of Boris Yeltsin.

    We rode up 52 floors to the viewing platform of the Vysotsky Tower, and enjoyed the views to all ends of the city from there, but in truth it was really just a big city without a lot to see.

    We checked out of the pleasant Marins Park Hotel, with their free laundry service, and wandered over to the station to catch our next train. Due to some flaw in the system the Brickwoods actually checked out with still-damp laundry, which they proceeded to hang all around their compartment Chinese laundry style.

    It was our third overnight train, so we were familiar with having people speak in Russian to us and send us on our way without knowing what on earth they were talking about or asking us to do.

    We had smuggled some wine and beer on board, but naturally this was gone pretty quick smart, so from then we had cause to use the dining car, and that was quite interesting.

    Not interesting for the food, perhaps, which would best be described as nourishing and rather bland (the sort you should have when sharing two toilets between 36 people, in fact) but eating out is all about the experience, after all.

    We walked in for lunch, and a waitress with a set of metal front teeth to rival Jaws from the James Bond films plonked down a couple of wrinkled old menus and stood with her pen poised.

    There was English on the menu, but it didn’t help really, as almost everything we pointed to she shook her head and said “Nyet”. For dinner we ordered three pork somethings and one chicken, and got two of each.

    We ordered a bottle of wine, which arrived sans glasses, and every time we ventured up to tell someone they shooed us away. Then when you picked up your glass to have a drink the carriage would get up such a shimmy shake that you nearly lost all of it anyway.

    At dinner time the dining car was a bit rowdy. It’s a requirement that you eat, so two funny young guys opposite were having a meal of potato crisps, washed down with endless beers to which they were adding some kind of mystery hooch. They were actually very friendly, if completely pissed, and we had a long and unintelligible conversation with them. They took one look at Don then used (probably) their only English word - Santa!

    In fact, a few other people used the expression Santa when we left the train. Despite being completely innocuous and keeping entirely to ourselves (as indeed did most of our fellow passengers) we (or at least Don) had apparently made an impression. We were even given gifts by some of them.

    At the next table were two older guys, already red eyed and staggering, settling down to lose a few more days with a freshly opened bottle of vodka.

    Kim and Sharon asked to have their photo taken with the provodnista, who had been exceptionally friendly the whole way and insisted on putting her whole uniform on for the photo.

    The scenery was amazing, particularly if you are partial to trees. Trees when you have lunch, trees when it gets dark, trees when you wake up. Trees when you wake up the following day. Winter comes early and hard so the leaves were already turning quite beautiful shades of yellow with the odd patch of red.

    We slept pretty well, and our accommodation was quite adequate, but we are still looking forward to our next stop in Irkutsk, where we will no doubt be swaying for a day or so until we regain our land legs.
    Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day22

    Kazan

    September 7 in Russia ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Our first overnight train was an easy one - Moscow to Kazan, leaving at 11 PM and arriving just under 12 hours later. It was comfortable and we enjoyed the included breakfast - a hard, dark bun of some kind that even after tasting we weren’t sure if it was chocolate or dark bread, some juice and an entire family-sized block of dark chocolate each.

    We chose Kazan because as the capital of Tatarstan it has a lot of Islamic influence and we thought if we were going to look at a whole lot more churches on the trip we might as well look at some mosques as well.

    We went to the Kazan Kremlin, built on top of the highest point around and with high walls all around its 1.8 kilometre perimeter. It contained an interesting mix of museums (not that we visited any of them), the magnificent Kul Sharif Mosque and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation.

    Next to the cathedral was the Soyembika Tower - 58 metres tall and looking rather Pisa-ish with a pronounced lean.

    One museum we did visit was the quirky Soviet Lifestyle Museum. Its small collection contained patriotic toys and clothing and some appliances as well as a lot of pop memorabilia. There was a constant stream of fascinating pop clips playing - wooden performers, wooden audience looking scared to stop smiling and Eurovision circa 1960’s music.

    The lively and exciting Bauman Street runs from the Kremlin down to the scenic Kaban Lake and is full of bars and restaurants, buskers and other street performers. Think lots of people dressed up as horses and the like in a style best called early Hanna Barbera.

    We took a taxi out to the Temple of All Religions, an architectural mashup incorporating elements from all the major religions of the world - including, inside the building, retail. Conceived by a local artist of some repute, its construction is ongoing and it is an appropriate addition to a place where Moslems and Orthodox Christians live quite happily side by side.

    We caught bus number 45 for our return to the city, which was a pity as we should have caught bus number 2. Bus 45 began well, heading directly back to town but turned off and set out for the outer suburbs before we knew what was going on.

    Luckily, with the help of an old lady out to do her shopping, the young, friendly conductor (one lady even paid him her fare in apples) figured out enough of our gibberish to show us a stop near a metro station that would take us back to the city. To think that we may well have been the first Australians ever to catch the 45 bus!

    We finished off our very enjoyable two days with a walk around the Volga River foreshore, enjoying the views of the attractive Palace of Agriculture, before boarding the rather spartan train 378 for Yekaterinburg.
    Read more

  • Day19

    Moscow

    September 4 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Four days in Moscow and its surrounds has been barely enough to scrape the surface of this big and very definitely foreign city. But it was enough to see some fascinating sights and have a great time.

    The weather was fine and warm when we started our first full day with a trip out to VDNKh Park, an expansive playground for the citizens of Moscow to remind them of the wonders of the motherland. It was the last day before school went back and there were cadets - literally thousands of cadets - at some sort of function, with accompanying parents, siblings, teachers etc.

    The beautiful fountains, gardens and a pavilion dedicated to each of the former republics (including, superfluously, Finland) were quite nice, especially filled with Muscovite families enjoying a Sunday out. The cosmonaut pavilion, with some 1960’s space memorabilia outside (we didn’t go in) was interesting. It’s ironic really that the Americans now depend on Russian rockets to send a lot of their stuff up there!

    We looked in at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, made famous as the place where Pussy Riot were arrested, then visited a few of the quite beautiful Moscow Metro stations. The metro was an adventure in itself, but fortunately easy enough to work out.

    We then spent two days out of town, in Suzdal and Vladimir, two towns on Moscow’s “Golden Ring” and about 180 km away. Churches, monasteries, convents, more churches, a kremlin and in Suzdal’s case a picturesque river winding its way around all the above made for a great couple of days.

    Vladimir’s Cathedral of the Assumption, a riot of gold and portraits from top to bottom and the place where many of the Tsars were crowned, was fabulous, even with the usual sour attendants, souvenir sellers and beggars.

    Back in Moscow, we finished off our few days with a visit to The Kremlin and the Armoury Museum.

    Full of all sorts of things from wedding dresses to carriages to suits of armour, it was the gold and silver ornaments that were mind-boggling. From tea sets to jewel-encrusted gold bibles there were all sorts of things that a powerful ruler would expect to receive as a gift. The workmanship was astounding, the value of the collection incalculable.

    Then, having taken our snaps of St Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square, we took our leave of Moscow, the end of another stage of our trip.

    Tonight we hit the train to Kazan, as we begin to make our way across the country.
    Read more

  • Day15

    St Petersburg

    August 31 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    We are prepared for a more Russian Russsia as we get further into the country, but as an introduction St Petersburg has been brilliant, easy to get around, polite and friendly people and a host of the most amazing treasures and buildings we have ever seen.

    In fact, St Petersburg is perfect for a relaxing four or five night stay, which is rather a pity, as we only had three nights. However, we did our best and had some fun and experiences doing it.

    We caught the metro to our hotel, and in the process went as far underground as we have ever been. The escalators were so long they could have done with seats, and the actual train trip was but a small part of the experience.

    We joined about a thousand other tourists for an intimate wander through the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, quite incredibly decorated from top to bottom with mosaics, all shades of blue and very beautiful.

    Then we immersed ourselves in the squeaks, rattles and confusion of the suburban train system and made our way 25 kilometres south to Pushkin, and the Catherine Palace, a monument to wealth and extravagance if ever there was one. It contains the Amber Room (beautiful - no photos allowed but plenty on the internet) which is completely lined with Baltic Amber and seems to glow red/orange/brown from every crevice.

    The story of the near-destruction of the palace during the siege of Leningrad, and its subsequent restoration, was well told through photos and quite moving.

    We caught a hydrofoil - a very impressive-looking vessel, like Sputnik with tail fins - out to the Peterhof, another shack in the country for the use of royalty and to infuriate the peasants a bit more.

    The gardens and the world’s most extensive set of fountains are what it is justifiably famous for, and we snapped away for a long time at the Great Cascade, all gold and spray leading from the palace down to the sea.

    Finally, late in the day and after the crowds had abated (you wouldn’t have thought so) we visited The Hermitage, with its huge collection of art in a stunning set of buildings on the riverfront.

    Some of the art was donated, some purchased and a lot acquired by the simple expedient of nationalising all the art in the country and taking it.

    It was a fascinating few hours (where a few days would be needed to take it all in, assuming you had the knowledge, patience and stamina).

    We have eaten a variety of (all non- Russian) meals at night, all around Nevsky Prospekt, the main shopping street, which absolutely buzzes in the evenings, with bands playing on street corners and a glimpse of light reflecting on a canal every few blocks. It really is a beautiful city.

    We are now on a Sapsan train en route to Moscow, where our holiday continues.
    Read more

  • Day11

    Helsinki - Via Manchester

    August 27 in Finland ⋅ ☁️ 21 °C

    We caught the train from a warm and sunny Liverpool morning to a rather stifling Manchester afternoon, where we took a walk around.

    We went to Manchester Town Hall, a massive neo-gothic pile that will probably be worth a look through when it reopens in 2024. 2024 - that’s a big renno!

    Then came the John Rylands Library, another philanthropic gesture from an extremely rich mill owner’s wife.

    Actually, the library is a magnificent building, complete with a beautiful and incredibly atmospheric public reading room. Now part of the University of Manchester, it is still a free public reference library.

    A short flight a day later brought us to Helsinki, where we met up with Don and Kim and installed ourselves in an apartment for two nights.

    After a look around Senate Square, with the Cathedral dominant from high above and beautiful civic buildings all around, we then marvelled at the markets, all full of brightly coloured fresh produce and Finnish-looking souvenirs.

    We caught the ferry out to the Suomenlinna Island Fortress and wandered extensively around, enjoying the views and appreciating the fortifications and guns and stuff. It was built in 1748 by the Swedes and completely failed as a line of defence against the Russians, who the ran the place until 1918. Only then did Finland gain its independence.

    Then we did a tram trip out through the ‘burbs, stopping at Temppeliaukion, the Rock Church, hewn out of the bedrock and a very interesting and beautiful building. The copper and glass ceiling was quite incredible.

    Tomorrow morning we have shopping to do, as in the afternoon we enter Russia -the world of the Cyrillic alphabet - and won’t be able to read a single thing.

    Next post (hopefully) will be St Petersburg.
    Read more

  • Day8

    Liverpool

    August 24 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    We caught the train from Edinburgh to Liverpool and installed ourselves near its very historic waterfront for three nights.

    From there we visited a few different places, each in some way related to the history of the city and the disproportionate contribution it has made to the modern world.

    The Beatles Experience proved to be a very interesting, if sanitised, telling of the Fab Four story, especially the early years in Liverpool itself. It was quite a feeling standing in an exact replica of the Cavern Club circa 1962. Too bad about 80% of the population wasn’t even born then.

    Liverpool the port proved to be a very pleasant place to wander around. The waterfront area was originally home to the trade in cotton and slaves then emigration and of course later the flow of materiel into Britain during World War Two. It was saved from redevelopment in the eighties and is realistically and faithfully preserved.

    We ate a couple of times on the Royal Albert Dock, steeped in history, and generally wandered the shoreline from Pier Head. The architecture was spectacular, befitting a pre-eminent port city and one with a UNESCO listing.

    Liverpool Cathedral was spectacular too, in a dark, square, brutal way. The UK’s largest, it was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, whose eclectic body of work also includes the red telephone box.

    Finally, unable to resist the siren sound of Gerry and The Pacemakers any longer, we took a cruise on the Mersey Ferry and spent some time on the Wirral Peninsula opposite the city.

    Mersey Ferries, in a bizarre and maybe vengeful effort to diversify, bought a salvaged U-Boat - U534 - and sliced it up for display at their Woodhead Terminal. It was interesting peering into the rusted hulk and reading the history of the boat.

    Then we caught a train a few stops down to Bebington and visited Port Sunlight, a village built by William Lever to house the workers at his soap factory.

    By all accounts a humane and enlightened man - as well as a master soap marketer - he provided his employees with houses with separate bedrooms, plumbed-in baths and a toilet each, all otherwise rarities for working class people. Of course, he was also pretty much guaranteed his workers would turn up to work on time (and sober) as loss of their job also meant loss of their house.

    The Port Sunlight Museum was a small but informative hour or so, the preserved cottage next door very interesting and our walk through the local streets of a beautifully laid out and pleasant village was excellent.

    We did find the poor side of Liverpool wasn’t far from the surface, too. There were people sleeping rough all through the shopping precinct, and once away from the river it wasn’t quite so clean. There were quite a few beggars. Despite that, though, we thoroughly enjoyed this extremely interesting, attractive and historic city.
    Read more

  • Day4

    Edinburgh

    August 20 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌙 12 °C

    After what seemed like a lifetime of planning and last-minute organising of visas and ticket couriers we finally made our way to Edinburgh via Singapore and London.

    We caught the train up from London Kings Cross, detouring around the security-controlled queue of Harry Potter fans (“Potterphiles”? “Potteristas”? “Potties”?) waiting for their photo op at platform nine and three-quarters. What an absolute phenomenon those books are.

    The train was a good way to relax for the day after the long flight, although it was packed, with people sitting and standing in the vestibules.

    Even though we knew it was on, we hadn’t reckoned on the effect of the Fringe Festival, from the crowded train to the packed streets to the pop-up bars in Princes Street - it was an exciting place to be.

    Other than the street atmosphere we managed to see a few of the more traditional Edinburgh attractions.

    We caught the bus out to Leith and walked through the Royal Yacht Britannia, all spit, polish and tradition. The ship was quite tastefully done out in a manner suitable for the impressing of lesser dignitaries.

    Back in town and at the bottom of the Royal Mile we toured the palace of Holyroodhouse, all dark and hung with tapestries and harking back to an age where the lesser dignitaries were more easily impressed. It would have been a cold and depressing place to live, that’s for sure.

    That night brought us to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, sitting up in the chilly grandstand with the magnificent backdrop of the castle in front of us.

    The show was great, a mix of tradition with modern elements. The images projected onto the castle walls were clever. The New Zealand military band that dropped their instruments mid-set and did a haka was out of left field.

    We climbed Calton Hill the following morning for some more views of the very hilly city, then in the afternoon caught the train out to South Queensferry and took a cruise on the Firth of Forth, under the bridges and out to Inchcolm Island.

    It was probably a very nice place, with its atmospheric ruined abbey and numerous fortifications, but in the cold, blustery wind and sporadic rain the returning boat, with its welcoming warmth (and on board bar) was what we really wanted.

    Today we move on to Liverpool, which will hopefully be just as much fun as Edinburgh has been.
    Read more

  • Day23

    Mystic Nagarkot

    March 9 in Nepal ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Our final stop on this trip was Nagarkot, high up in the hills east of Kathmandu and with great views of the Himalayas - on the one or two days a year that are clear, it seems.

    But that was in the future as we boarded a Buddha Air ATR-72 for flight 101 - destination “Mountain”, a flight past Mount Everest. It was quite magical, not exactly reach-out-and-touch-it close but crystal clear in the early morning sunshine. No doubt that’s as close as we will ever come to the highest mountain in the world.

    Later in the morning we drove out of Kathmandu, stopped for some booze (these guides are easy to train once you get the hang of it) and drove to the Pashupatinath Temple, another complex of Hindu temples on the bank of the Bagmati River.

    This was another cremation experience, fascinating and unnerving at the same time.

    A cremation was commencing as we looked on from the other side of a narrow, poisonous looking river. This person was apparently well-known and had attracted quite a crowd, with spectators lining all the vantage points across the bridge and on both sides of the Bagmati.

    Just up the river another body was being prepared for the same destiny, feet being washed in the river and river water seemingly poured over the face. Some banknotes were left on the body as well.

    As this all took place life went on around it. A woman washed her hair under a tap in a far corner of the cremation area. People shopped and stickybeaked. Fake or real sadhus badgered us for money for a photo. Monkeys and dogs wandered around looking for scraps.

    It was the wails of a relative of one of the deceased that broke the spell for us. In all of our tourist-perving it was too easy to forget that these people were father or mother, son or daughter, loved and lover - real people whose death had caused real suffering.

    Back in the van and a little quietened, we drove on to Bhaktapur, a nearby township with another UNESCO Durbar Square.

    After lunch in another atmospheric rooftop restaurant - these seemingly breed like rabbits around medieval Nepalese squares - we took in the finer points of some carved pillars on the appropriately named Erotic Elephants Temple, copulating elephants (among other 1600’s erotica) being exactly what is depicted.

    Later in the afternoon we had an hour’s bone shaking drive up a rough track to Nagarkot and the Mystic Mountain Resort.

    It was certainly mystic, 2,100 metres up with the hills rolling away into the distance, and, somewhere beyond, the snow capped Himalayas. It was also certainly cold, quite a shock after the temperate weather we had enjoyed.

    We relaxed for a day, alternately cold or hot depending on the clouds that would regularly clear overhead but leave those elusive mountains invisible, reflecting on the incredible sights, experiences and fun and laughter that the last three weeks have brought us.

    Finally, at sunrise on our last day as we packed to leave, the sun rose to a clear day and we were treated to the magical reflections of the sun on the snow covered mountains, a fitting end to a great holiday.
    Read more

  • Day20

    Kathmandu - Land of the Living Goddess

    March 6 in Nepal ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Well, Kathmandu is now more than just an evocative name on a map for us.

    Having flown in from Delhi, the immediate contrasts were striking.

    It is a dusty city, but generally without rubbish everywhere (or cows, for that matter). Unlike most public areas in India it doesn’t smell like a public toilet. And, astoundingly, the locals get on with their business of driving like maniacs without using the horn. Kathmandu traffic is like watching a movie of Indian traffic with the sound turned down!

    We visited Patan Durbar Square, which the locals are still patiently reconstructing in places after the 2015 earthquake. The Royal Palace of the Malla Kings, dating from the 1600’s, occupies one side of the square and its courtyards were fascinating. The wood carvings were quite beautiful.

    The other side of the square is taken up with numerous temples and idols, seemingly randomly placed. We had earlier visited the Swayambhunath Stupa and found the same thing, only this time with monkeys and acres of cheap singing bowls for sale.

    We were lucky that our guide explained a bit about the bowls, and grateful that none of us had been tricked into buying a cheap, factory-made imitation.

    Actually, it was no wonder we were taken with the beauty of the Durbar Square, because earlier in the day we were each personally blessed by a Living Goddess.

    We ascended some narrow steps into a dingy room that smelt of mouse droppings, then a man carried the Goddess - the Kumari - in and sat her down on a kind of mini-throne. In turn we were able to pay some money, be daubed on the forehead with red powder by a four year old and take a snapshot of the scene.

    The Goddesses are selected from the Shakya caste and must meet strict physical, astrological and psychological requirements. Once they are chosen their feet are not permitted to touch the ground until their goddess-retirement.

    They remain a goddess until puberty, after which a new one is selected. It was in equal parts quaint, bizarre and - for the poor girl removed from the normal life of a child - extremely cruel.

    In the afternoon our guide took us on a fascinating walk through what must have been his local territory. One minute we were walking down a narrow alley off the market, next we ducked through a narrow, low doorway and emerged in a courtyard full of timber, derelict-looking buildings, with children kicking a ball around and dogs and chickens in equal numbers.

    There were small temples and idols scattered throughout the numerous alleys and courtyards that we walked though on this most interesting expedition.

    The capacity of the Kathmanduvians to find a way to make a living was illustrated by the number of tiny eating places in the narrowest of laneways all scattered through the area in which we walked. A couple of seats, a two-burner stove, a fridge and a dirt floor was all that was required.

    We seem to be rushing towards the end of our trip, and last night was the obligatory bad cultural show. This one had dancing - very well performed, if uninteresting - along with bad food, bad rice whiskey and no atmosphere whatever. Still, every trip has to have one!
    Read more

  • Day19

    "Steven! You need beer?"

    March 5 in India ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Back in Delhi for a night before heading on to Kathmandu, here is the indulgence of a few general impressions.

    Firstly, a massive shout out to Anand, the driver who has patiently ferried us over a thousand kilometres of Indian highways and back roads.

    His rather stentorian voice would boom through the bus, “You need break?”, or more infamously the title quote above. He was at our disposal to go out in the evenings and was always ready with a great restaurant if we needed. Nothing was too much trouble, and he was quite unflappable.

    He was stopped by the police one time, and sprang out of the bus to talk to them. “Did you get a ticket?” we asked. “No,” he said, “I just paid them some money.”

    He would not only translate for us to buy drinks from some pretty dingy looking wine shops, he kept an esky in the bus topped up with ice so we could have a cold traveller in the afternoon.

    We could not overstate the difference having a private driver has made to our trip.

    Speaking of which, we spent a fair few hours on the road and grew quite used to the Indian traffic flow system. Slow trucks and fast cars share the right lane, no one moves over for anything, the horn is an always-on accessory and motor cycles, auto rickshaws, ox carts and the like make up the left lane of a multi lane road.

    Cows, of course, have right of way everywhere and may and do use any lane they please.

    The hard shoulder is reserved for slow vehicles, which could be travelling in either direction, plus pedestrians, pilgrims and roadside stalls.

    The trucks, mainly slow unarticulated Tatas or Ashok Leylands, all look overloaded and are decorated to within an inch of their lives, with black rope-like streamers attached to their mirrors, colour everywhere and a most unnecessary sign on the back - “Sound Horn”.

    The Indian government is working hard to sort out the traffic. For example, their speed hump technology is world class, and nothing speeds traffic better on a four lane highway than some random steel barriers across a lane or two.

    The poverty in India is in your face pretty much everywhere. You will see slums, people washing themselves in the street, people going to the toilet in the street. It is so common place that no one even seems to notice.

    And yes, India is in many ways filthy and polluted. The streets and even the country roads are lined with rubbish, the cities have amongst the world’s most dangerous air quality and there is a constant battle to preserve the monuments from the pollution.

    But despite all that we found it one of the most amazing destinations we have ever visited. Enormous cities full of wealth and monuments, Rajasthan outposts with their ubiquitous forts-on-a-hill and of course the incomparable Taj Mahal. Go if you get a chance!
    Read more

Never miss updates of Chris Dickson with our app:

FindPenguins for iOS FindPenguins for Android