Whinging Poms

Submitted by alex on Mon, 08/01/2016 - 06:41

It’s winter in Australia, which means it’s cold and damp. I admit that I found that idea pretty hard to swallow before I got here. My image of Oz contained hot, arid landscapes stretching into the horizons, kangaroos bounding through gum tree forests, and beaches full of surfers looking out into the ocean, checking for sharks. But hot. Well it is like the above, but its cold and damp. The roos still bound around, but they do so in their woolly coats. Despite the season, the landscape is verdant with eucalyptus and palms; I doubt the Aussies ever look out through bare, skeletal branches of denuded woods and hedgerows that reveal what you can’t see during the summer months. And though it’s the depth of winter, there are still days where you can lie on the beach and make sandcastles in the warm sunshine, which is what we did yesterday.


The bones of Airbnb

Submitted by mike on Thu, 06/16/2016 - 11:07

The author hard at work in an Airbnb apartment
The author hard at work in an Airbnb apartment

I awoke this morning to two messages via Airbnb: the first was Anna, asking us what time we’d be arriving at her apartment in Irkutsk, assuming we’d be arriving into the airport and offering to pick us up for 400 roubles (about £5). The second was from Olga in Vladivostok, letting us know that her apartment was unavailable. When this happens Airbnb automatically offer you a whole host of other, available places to stay. I scrolled through to find another apartment: a slick looking studio flat with a double bed on a mezzanine, washing machine, wifi, decorated in a contemporary style; its 5km from the city centre but close to the port where we pick up the ferry to Japan.

From Russia With Love

Submitted by mike on Sun, 06/12/2016 - 13:31

Listvyanka (Листвянка), or to be precise a place called Tyekh uchastok (Тех участок). We’ve arrived here on Friday by mini-bus from the provincial capital of Irkutsk (Иркутск) which is one of the largest cities in Siberia. We’re back to AirBnbing it and are staying in a flat overlooking the Angara River’s glorious exit into Lake Baikal; although it’s actually the other way around: Lake Baikal empties into the Angara River. Our host had advertised the place as being in Listvyanka, but it’s not really: It’s about half an hour’s walk from the outskirts of it. I’m quite glad about that, as this is a quiet non-place: no tourists; nobody trying to sell you stuff.

Overnight to Smolensk

Submitted by mike on Fri, 05/13/2016 - 14:01

It's 2.29am and I'm standing barefoot in a t-shirt on Brest station platform taking a breath of fresh air before the gigantic Russian Warsaw-Belarus-Moscow express train makes its departure for Moscow at 2.52. It's got pretty hot in the four berth carriage we're sharing with two others.  The air-con is off because most of the systems are off on the train whilst they change the wheels to fit the wider gauge Belorusian-Russian railway system.  You might ask if it makes a bit of noise? I can tell you that it makes a lot of noise.  

Berlin to Poznan to Warsaw

Submitted by mike on Wed, 05/11/2016 - 11:03

A Soviet era block with renovated façade in East BerlinThe Polish train trundles through the suburbs of old East Berlin past the ten-story Soviet-era apartment blocks on it's way home to its native country.  The cityscape in these parts has a kind of utopian feel about it; residential blocks set in parkland with plenty of trees and green space, wide avenues, and localities selling this and that; people relaxing under the shade of a tree; kids playing in a play park.  At least that's how it looks through the window of the train as we go by; I have no idea what it's like to live here, but from our experience staying in an Airbnb in one of these areas, I feel that life here might be alright. 

Un jour dans Bruxelles

Submitted by mike on Wed, 05/04/2016 - 16:35

Arrived at Oxford station yesterday morning and bought tickets into Paddington.  Boy was that train packed to the gunnels.  There were a Swedish couple travelling with their three kids, a toddler and two twin babies.  It seems like having a pair of twin babes is a little like trying to play two games of tennis at once.  One's okay then the other goes off, then you switch to calm that one, and then the other is triggered off, and then they both go off and then you try frantically not to drop all the balls.

Anyway, we got to St Pancras, which is now a wonderful station (in fact the whole King's Cross-St Pancras area is much transformed) and entered into the sleek Eurostar terminal.  The train was superfast now on the British side, unlike in the old days when it ran from Waterloo, and we were in Brussels in two hours.  A quick hop on the metro and we got to our flat.  A bit of a struggle with the keys and working out which door was ours and we were in.