Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 22: Moscow, Russia)

22 Aug 2011 (Day 22)

Time difference: 4 hours behind Singapore.

Met a fellow traveler, Ardi, from Indonesia who took the same Trans-Siberian Train with me. We went to take the Metro to our hostel. Navigating the Moscow's Metro was an adventure in itself. Everything is in Russian. The signs, the Metro System Diagram, the Name of the stations, the Map, everything. Oh, the people speak only Russian too! Very few people in Moscow speaks English.

So we had a hard time finding out where to go, which platform to go and which side to g. The thing is that the colour of the Station Names, Signs & Arrows doesn't correspond to the Metro Map. I had to know the Name of the Station in English and memorise the Cyrillic Alphabet and then match it to the map and signage in the Underground Metro. To make things worse, there were tons of people going in and out of the Metro at any one time. And I heard that there are many pickpockets in the Metro and had to be really careful. It was scary.

Oh, the architecture in the Metro Stations is beautiful. It is different for every station and some stations are really grand. It is a sight to see!
Somehow managed to find my way to the Metro Station I was supposed to alight and I had to do 2 Metro trains transfer! Walking from one line to the other was stressful. Because of the large number of  people walking around me and I had be wary of pickpockets. Carrying my HUGE Haversack too.

Got out of Kitay Gorod Station and got lost while finding my hostel. It was supposed to be a 15 mins walk but turned out to be 45mins. I asked for directions, and even showed people the Address in Russian but they still did not know the place or they didn't know what I was taking about. It was just frustrating. Thank God that I met this gentlemen after 30mins, and he can speak English!!!

First person I met in Moscow who understands English. He was so nice to me and led me all the way to the front door of my Hostel! Couldn't be more thankful! Otherwise, I might walk for more than an hour and still not find the Hostel.

Dropped my Haversack and went out immediately. Didn't even take a shower! Just so you know that I didn't shower for 6 days during the Trans-Siberian Train Ride even though there was a attached Shower Room in my cabin. It was too cold and there was no water heater. So I went out with the same clothes that I wore for the past 6 days without bathing! I just wanted to make use of all the time to see the place. In smell--ly clothes & body though.

Changed currency to Rubles (Russian Currency) and off I went to the Red Square. Didn't get to see the Red Square in all its glory because there were spectator stand erected and occupied half of the Red Square. It was long and wide nonetheless. A big Square. Oh, the Square isn't Red by the way.

The Kremlin Walls are Red though, and it is really high. It goes up to 19 meters at some parts.
(Kremlin Walls)

Saw one of the most famous landmarks in Moscow - St Basil's Cathedral, which is big and colourful.
 (St Basil's Cathedral)
(Outside the Kremlin)
Met my fellow traveler, Ardi, at GUM Shopping Center (which is an attraction itself) and continued to walk with him to Old Arbat Street (which is a street full of souvenirs & buskers) and to New Arbat Avenue (which is an avenue full of upscale shops & restaurants). 
 (Old Arbat Street)
(New Arbat Avenue)
Ardi and I wanted to try some Russian Cuisine and went to look for a recommended restaurant. We walked for quite a while only to see that place under construction. Maybe the building was being torn down or undergoing some renovation. The time was already 10:15pm (Moscow time) and we were starving. While looking around for some Russian Cafe or Restaurant, we stumbled upon one of the World's Most Expensive Street - Tretyakov Drive. All the big brands are there. And then some. 

Showrooms for Super Cars are located in that vicinity so I got myself a Lamborghini, 2 Ferraris, 3 Maseratis, and a few Bentleys since I was already there. 
Finally found a random Russian Restaurant Bar and had my First Russian Cuisine. Tasted a bit unusual from what I was used to. Nice nonetheless.
(My Frist Russian Dinner)
By the time we finished with our food, it was already 11:40pm. Before the trip, I've heard lots of horror stories about Moscow so I was really cautious on my way back to the hostel. It was dark and I was walking so fast that I can feel the muscle burn in my legs. Ran for a while too. Took me about 15mins?  

For your own sake, please do not walk back alone at such a late hour in a foreign country, whether it is the former Soviet Union or not. I seriously don't recommend it.

I was staying in a 4-bed mixed dorm and the 3 ladies who were staying there were already sound asleep. I did my best to be quiet but the moment the door opened, 2 of them woke up. Quickly went to the toilet and bathed for the first time in almost 7 days! Never felt so happy bathing before! 

Go to Moscow and YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.......................EEEEE....................................EEVER, BE THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 17-22: Trans Siberian Train, Beijing to Moscow)

17 Aug 2011 (Day 17)
Slept for 2-3 hours the previous night. Some anxiety about my 6 Days Train ride to Russia. This train will take me through 7 time zones!

Carried my HUGE Haversack, Day Pack, & 4 Plastic Bags worth of food, drinks and other items.

The short walk to Beijing Railway Station almost killed me. I realised I bought too much! Typical Singaporean huh?
Got into my 1st Class Cabin (hey, this was the only time I splurge ok. So don't look at me like with those eyes) and I was grinning ear to ear when I got in. 2-bed cabin and I was the only one occupying it! Comfortable!

There was an attached shower room in my cabin! The toilet is at the end of each carriage and is shared of course. It was decent.
Many people asked me what I'm going to do for 6 days on the train. 6 days! I really don't know. But I know that I'm not worried about it. 

Got a free Lunch and Dinner for that day. Was surprised that they actually provided meals, well, the first 2 at least. I read online that you have to pay for the meals. 

Sunset was stunning. I was in awe at God's creation. Spent the whole evening admiring the sunset. It turned out to be the most beautiful sunset in my 6-day ride.
Reached China's Immigration Checkpoint at Erlian Station. Waited for a couple of hours while the wheels of the train are being changed. Reason? The tracks in Mongolia and Russia are different from China's. 
Now on to Mongolia's Border. Interesting. They got their customs officers (in Green Camouflage Uniform) to check our cabins. And they actually speak English and Mandarin. A female officer came to my cabin, saluted me, and said, "Out". And out I went. Stood outside my cabin and saw how she checked my cabin. I don't know, I just found the whole process interesting.

Another officer came to collect our passports and we waited in the train. I am always jittery when the officers take my passport. And that wasn't my first time. I feel weird traveling without my passport with me, even if it is just for a few minutes. Hey, you never know what can happen right?

18 Aug 2011 (Day 18)
Made breakfast. Bread with Tuna spread. Ate it while watching the world (well, Mongolia) pass by.
Went past Gobi Dessert. Sands & dunes surround me as I continued watching. Didn't take pictures of it as I was still half asleep.

Had cup noodles and canned Unagi for lunch.

As we go further up North, the grass gets greener and greener. And of course, more and more people.
 (Healthy living...Drinking Vegetable soup!)
We were allowed to hop off and on the train when the train stops at different stations. Not for very long though. For the most part, it was for 10-15 mins. It was good nonetheless. To be able to get off the train to stretch a little and to catch a glimpse of the place.

1:20pm. Arrived at the capital of Mongolia -- Ulaan Baatar. Wow! At that moment, I sort of thought that I was living in a well all my life. I didn't expect Mongolia to be like this - with high-rise buildings and structures. I have always thought of Mongolia as a huge dessert with Tents and Horses, where Genghis Khan rule. Don't you have that impression of Mongolia? Come on, admit it!
(Ulaan Baatar - Mongolia's Capital)
I will explore the place next time!

The landscape is simply gorgeous as I continued my train ride. With mountains, rivers, lakes, Mongolian tents & horses (without Genghis Khan, of course!).

Crossed the Mongolian-Russian border at night. Same thing. Took my passport in Mongolia. And waited. Was so happy that I reached the Russian border, until they came and took my passport. Now, a Russian officer came to check my cabin. Then another officer checked again. Then another officer took a Siberian Dog to sniff the carriage. Then waited for my passport. The moment I got it back, I turned to the page where the Russian Immigration Stamp was and starred at it for awhile. Can't believe that I'm officially in the Russian Federation!

I'm still in Asia though. Russia is actually in 2 continents - Europe & Asia. Hence, it is in this super-continent called Eurasia. One thing to note though; most people refer Russia as a European Country. I'm in the Asia part of Russia.

19 Aug 2011 (Day 19)
Made breakfast. Bread with Tuna spread again.

In Siberia and the landscape is made up of trees. And more trees.

Then I saw the world's oldest and deepest lake -- Lake Baikal. It was nothing short of spectacular. "The Pearl of Siberia" is definitely a place to visit. If you love clear waters and nature, this is the place for you.
(Lake Baikal)
Lunch was cup noodles and canned food, again.

Did some reading and thinking. Was a good time alone.

20 Aug 2011 (Day 20)
Made breakfast. Bread with Tuna spread yet again.

Lunch was cup noodles and canned food, yet again.

I realised that I was eating too much and decided to exercise a bit. Need to do some workouts! So in my small cosy cabin, I did stretching (from head to toe), push-ups, crunches, sit-ups, bench-press, and even jumping jacks! Ok fine, I didn't do the last one.
Did more reading and thinking. I liked the solitude.

21 Aug 2011 (Day 21)
Made breakfast. Bread with.......Yah, you get the idea.

I looked around me and saw that I still had loads of food! So I took out the snacks and munched on it. I munched. And munched. And munched. And munched. Don't remember the last time I ate so much snacks in half a day.
Then the time came. 12:45pm. I finally crossed the Asia-Europe border, which is marked by a White Obelisk. I was on the train when it happened and it happened so fast. I literally jumped for joy!!!

I'm in Europe now baby!

I made it to Europe by Land from Singapore! I was super triumphant!

I fulfilled one of my Dreams!

Hey, it was anything but easy. Traveling alone with 2 bags and 2 cameras? Crazy.

Thank God for keeping me safe and for sending Angels throughout my journey!

Ate some more.

22 Aug 2011 (Day 22)
2pm. Arrived in Moscow with the biggest smile on my face. My very first city in Europe!

This 6-day Train ride was totally worth it. No regrets. It went by so fast. I really enjoyed the time alone to pray, read, think, and be still.

Will update more later.

Take the Trans-Siberian Train and YOUR LIFE, WILL NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE..................EEEE.....................EEVER, BE THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 15-16: Beijing, China)

*Update: Video Uploaded for Day 3: Vientiane; Click here
*Update: Video Uploaded for Day 4-5: Vientiane-Hanoi; Click here
*Update: Video Uploaded for Day 6-7: Halong Bay; Click here
*Update: Video Uploaded for Day 8-9 & Day 10-11: Hanoi-Beijing; Click here
*Update: Video Uploaded for Day 12-13: Wang Fu Jing, Beijing; Click here
*Update: Video Uploaded for Day 14-16: Beijing University; See below
15 Aug 2011 (Day 15)
Went to do my last round of grocery shopping!!!

And I found a super-delicious stall in the Shopping Centre that sells Fried Dumpling. It is like Fried "Xiao Long Bao". Simply love it!

16 Aug 2011 (Day 16)
Decided to go for massage!
Was looking around for a place that was recomended but couldn't find it. Went to another one that was nearby. The massage was good. I did a 60-min Full Body massage. Felt so much better after that. 
Ate lunch at a Hong Kong Cafe because I missed the chicken that I ate in Hong Kong last year. The verdict? Just average. I think I must really go back to Hong Kong to eat that. Not during this trip though.
I wasn't happy with the food so I had to eat something else. I went back to the Fried Dumpling stall that I went the previous day. Haha.....

Super-delicious as per yesterday. This time I ordered 8 pcs!

This stall is tucked away at Basement 1 of Henderson Shopping Centre.  It is called A Chun Fried-Dumpling. The Dumpling is soft at the top, crispy at the bottom, tender-meat inside, and soup that ooze out when you bite!
If you are ever in Beijing, go try it. I highly recommend it. It is just outside Beijing Subway Station. 

Love it! 

Ok, now I need to get ready for the my Trans-Siberian train ride to Russia!!!

After eating the Fried Dumpling 2 days in a row, my STOMACH WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE................................EEEE...........................EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

Land Trip - Europe (Day 12-14: Beijing, China)

12 Aug 2011 (Day 12)
Where to go? That was my question. 4 years ago, I came to China and went to Wang Fu Jing (which is probably the most famous shopping district in Beijing). I decided to go back. 

Took the Subway and reached Beijing's Orchard Rd (so to speak).
(Wang Fu Jing Street)

Went to Gourmet Food Street and saw "Live" Scorpions on sticks!!! That is for eating by the way. And the Scorpions were still moving! Eeww......Wait till you see the video...
(Entrance to Gourmet Food Street)
Oh, if you ever go to Beijing (Peking), you must definitely eat Peking Roast Duck. After all, it is from there right? Go to Quan Ju De Roast Duck Restaurant. That is the most popular place to eat Peking Duck. I tried it 4 years ago and waited more than 30mins in the queue. More than worth it! (I blogged about it in a previous post.) This time round? I gave it a miss. Was too pricey for my budget & wanted to try something else.
(Quan Ju De Roast Duck Restaurant)
I did a lot of window shopping for the whole day. Walked from one Shopping Centre to another. Quite interesting to see some of the shops that they have here.

Did some grocery shopping before I went back.

13 Aug 2011 (Day 13)
Stayed in my room for pretty much the whole day. The only time I went out was for Dinner. Had curry rice at Viva Curry fast food restaurant. Nothing fantastic but it filled my hungry stomach.
Did more grocery shopping before I went back.

14 Aug 2011 (Day 14) 
Peking University was my next destination. It took me slightly more than 30mins to reach by Subway.

I was happy to visit one of the top 50 Universities in the WORLD! This is the place where many young local students dream of going. And it is tough. Real tough to get in. It is very competitive and you must be in the top 5% to get in. 
(Beijing University-East Gate)
Because of its rich history and culture, Peking University has become one of Beijing's most popular tourist attractions. When I was there at 11:30am, there was already a long queue forming at the East Gate of the university. When I left at 2pm, the queue was even LONGER!!! Fortunately, I went earlier.

I was wondering why must we queue to get into the University Campus. Initially, I thought that we have to pay to get in, just like many other tourist attractions. But to pay to visit a University? It doesn't seem right. It was only later on that I found out that they were registering people who enters the campus. Whew....
Toured the place and I could see the integration of the old and the new. The buildings on the Eastern side are modern and the ones on the Western side are traditional. 
The campus has a huge Lake called "No-Name Lake" or "To-be-named Lake". In Chinese, it is called Wei Ming Hu. It means that the Lake is yet to be named. Beautiful lake. I read that in Winter, the whole lake will be frozen and people actually skate on the lake! Cool huh.
(Wei Ming Lake)
The West Gate of the University is a hot photogenic spot with endless tourists snapping pictures.
(Beijing University-West Gate)
Left Peking University after 2pm and went to search for a recommended Restaurant that serves good Dim Sum. It was only 1 subway station away and it is at the "Zhong Guan Cun" Station. When I got of this station, I was bombarded with IT gadgets, Cameras, and Electronics. It was everywhere in the mall.

Went out of the mall and followed my instincts to East Ocean Restaurant. When I found it, I was taken aback because I saw that the restaurant occupies 2 floors of the building. Must be very good huh? They are known for their seafood and Dim Sum and I chose Dim Sum. It was close to 3pm and there were zero customers there. It was just weird eating alone in such a big and classy restaurant. Ordered 5 different dishes and I particular liked the "Xiao Long Bao", "Har Gao" & Chicken feet. Good stuff! 
I thought that meal would cost me a bomb but it turned out to be 110 yuan (SGD$20). Considering that it is a classy and popular restaurant, I happily foot the bill and left.

Did a whole lot more grocery shopping before I went back. (Hey, I need to stock up food, snacks, water and other provisions for my Train ride to Russia.)

I knew that there was a Carrefour Supermarket nearby and went to look for it. Somehow, I spent more than 2 hours buying stuff! 

Getting more and more excited that I'm reaching Europe soon!!!

Go visit Peking University and YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.........................EEEE..........................EEVER, BE THE SAME, AGAIN!!!