Archive for December 2007
Back in the late 90’s I took the Trans Manchurian from Beijing through to Moscow in the middle of winter. The world was surreal in it’s white starkness, like picture postcards come Christmas time. Outside on the stations amongst the fishmongers, bag ladies with fresh bread and milk, the air was so cold it felt brittle. My thermometer, which measured -20 Centigrade refused, like a reluctant teenager, to budge from its little cocoon to tell me the real temperature. Suffice to say it was cold and I was not going to risk having a quick open air pee.
I loved that particular journey. The five days passed quickly and I was never bored, not even for a second. It was as if I had entered another world where everything slowed down. I could watch the white snow capped houses and trees whizzing by for hours. Almost zen like I lulled myself through Siberia.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to redo the trip only this time in Summer. It did not disappoint. While the scenery was different and my train companions more affluent I fell into the same dreamlike state. Something like the Matrix’s “bullet time” everything slows down but seems hyper real.
Ever since then I’ve wanted to do similar sorts of train trips. I’ve toyed with the idea of taking the train through Mexico’s Copper Canyon and I’ve taken the train from Singapore up to Bangkok but the journey I really want to do runs through Central Asia. I’ve been lucky enough to see Kashgar and Urumqi in Western China but what I’d love to see are the almost mythical cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. What better way to see them than by train. A train that runs all the way from Hong Kong to Moscow but rather than running through Siberia it runs right through the heart of Central Asia. These dreams lead me to John Armitstead’s site http://www.johndarm.clara.net/silkroute/intro.html.
John’s journey is one I’d like to take. For now though I’ve just put it into my “travel I like to dream about” book ….. do you have one of those books?
Noticed a few people reading this post are coming here looking for information on the Trans-Siberian. If you wish to read another account of travel on the train have a look at Jon Evan’s (the Backpacker Thriller author) post here http://rezendi.com/blog/2006/09/second-person-siberian.html
Image: Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/theroadisthegoal used under Creative Commons Licence
A lovely photo of the ice from heaven (not quite mana from heaven) that left my car looking like a golf ball. Lucky I have it insured otherwise that’d be my Malaysian trip done and dusted.
This was another post from my iphone (except for this bit in italics added later). I’m trying to get it right so I can take pictures and post from the road whilst in Malaysia. When I say road I actually mean a decent hotel. Old backpackers don’t die in hostels, we die in 4 star hotels and resorts whilst reminiscing about how the old hostels had a much better ambience.
Anyhow, the iphone post works ok (see here for details on mobile blogging http://www.blogger.com/mobile-start.g ) however it does seem to put the formatting out a bit. Not a major problem in short posts but longer posts would be more uncomfortable to read.
My first real backpacking experience was in Singapore and Malaysia
almost 20 years ago. Since then I’ve returned to the area on numerous
occasions. This was convenient as I worked in nearby Indonesia. It has
always remained one of my favourite travel destinations.
Why? You may ask? Simply put .. it’s the friendly people and the
delicious food. I love a good beef rendang, roti parata or a Laksa.
Now I’m off there again in January and I’m looking forward to
rekindling my old flame … Malaysia. This little post is to just wet
my appetite (oh, and to try posting to www.whereoldbackpackersgotodie.blogspot.com
via the iPhone).
A story I wrote whilst living in Amsterdam back in 1994/5.
Amsterdam’s typical ‘brown pub’ had taken on a decidedly orange hued air. Men and women alike, with orange sponge clog hats on head, cheerfully downed their genevers as a prelude to their beer. Bursting from the speaker all manner of stout and hearty singalong type songs. And singalong with gusto did this pub. Arm in arm and swaying to the beat they belted out these football songs.
A hapless Irishman, silly enough to enter the "bruin kroeg" after his team had been defeated by the mighty Dutch, was forced to down a green bowler hat’s worth of the brown bar’s brown nectar. Not however that he seemed to mind. As celebratory in loss as in victory this Irishman had no intention of turning down such a "punishment".
The Dutchman next to me, obviously appreciating the fact that I was enjoying the situation, endeavoured to teach me the intricacies of the Dutch football singalong. Suffice to say the only remnants that remain are a memory of some old voetbal schoen (football shoe) and something about k k k k Koeman, followed by a huge shout and then back into the chorus. It was whilst teaching me these rudimentary basics of being a supporter of Oranje (Orange, being the colour of the royal house, is the sporting colour of the Dutch) that my Dutch singalong partner let me in for some news.
"This is nothing", he would have me know, waving his arms at the joyous mayhem around us. Niets!" (sounding like Nix) he said in Dutch as if for emphasis. "Wait until you see Ajax play!", and with that he burst into an Ajax song. Within moments the rest of the bar had joined in singing the decidedly English lyrics of, "We love you Ajax, we do. We love you Ajax, we do. We love you Ajax, we do. Oh Ajax we love you!". Now to the rest of us this may just sound like some commercial jingle for household cleaning fluid but to the Dutch it was more well known than their national anthem. (Incidentally, while we’re on the cleaning fluid discussion, Ajax is pronounced "I YUCKS").
That was the summer. Summer watching football, summer watching tourists in the town of Amsterdam. Town is an appropriate word for although Amsterdam is undoubtedly a city it has the feel and character of a quaint old town. Small enough to wander around in, yet cosmopolitan enough to satisfy any city lover.
Come summer the population grows. Tourists from near and far come to gawk and gape. The juxtaposition of old world culture and that of the new, youth dominated, culture ensure that all have reason to visit the city of canals. Queues of elderly and young line up outside the house of Anne Frank. A tall imposing building overlooking the canal, its heritage is all that saves it from becoming the new headquarters of some globally minded company. Some of those in the queue are here because their guidebooks tell them that this is "one of the sites you must see", others, aware of the history, come to pay homage. Few appreciate the drunken sounds of football songs that echo up from the passing canal boats. Holland has won another match but this city of Amsterdammers looks forward to the long cold winter.
The winter of few tourists. The winter of snow and iced over canals. The short dark days where little sun is seen. With luck the winter’s cold enough and all can skate the canals. Better yet, winter’s the time for cafe culture. Days spent inside warm and cosy pubs. Nights spent watching their team take on the world. All winter long they watch and they celebrate. Amsterdam once the mightiest of cities lives again through its team.
None stand before Ajax and the crown. Many cringe and cower. Come the final night where Europe’s best clash for the honour of European best. The bars and pubs, always full, have known no day like this. In the Ajax colours, with Ajax scarves the Amsterdammers cheer "their" boys. With wild abandon the game is played and Ajax come up victors. Like a storm unleashed the city goes wild. Striking all corners of the city the parties do not abate ’til the early hours of dawn, only to re-awaken a few short hours later upon the triumphant return of "their boys". The settling of the storm reveals the carnage. Parties gone wild and property damaged but nothing daunts the spirit of the Amsterdammers. Days later the newly arrived tourist is still likely to come upon roving bands of Ajax’ers singing, "We are the champions!".
Amsterdam, the city of culture. Amsterdam, the city of sex and drugs. And Amsterdam the city of Ajax, the city of Champions.
And where do they go to die?
Aside from moving to staid old jobs, obtaining mortgages and taking part in that old rat race we long eschewed we continue to hanker to travel.
That’s this blog. My attempt to satisfy the travel demon within. It’ll contain plans for trips I’ll never go on. Ideas for jobs in foreign countries I’ll never get. Countries I’d love to visit.
It may even contain actual trips, photos and stories from the old days… back when Lonely Planet only had South East Asian editions and it was somehow hip & cool to be carrying an LP edition with you.