Archive for August, 2006

Nor-way Jose!

Oh yes, the greatest title yet!

Right… I’m having a somewhat lazy evening in Helsinki and thought I would use a bit of free time to post a bit of a catch up on my Norwegian exploits.

I arrive in Oslo at around 8AM after my overnight train from Malmö, Sweden, only to find that my hotel had an even more outrageous check in time (4pm) so I had the best part of the afternoon to check out the City. I picked up a few guides to give me some ideas about things to do and hit the streets. A backpackers budget guide to Oslo which warned me straight off about how expensive Oslo is, a comment I didn’t pay much attention seeming that I am used to pretty expensive cities having lived in Hong Kong and London. In reality Oslo makes London and Hong Kong look relatively cheap. Being a traveler, I’m not really concerned with taxes or the general cost of living as a resident but instead the backpacker essentials such as food, entertainment and beer. After paying nearly £6 for a sandwich and some orange juice for breakfast (from a 7-11 no less, hardly Michelin starred service) I decided I would do well to watch my wallet very closely. As such I decided my best bet would be to rent a bike and simply look around for the day and try my best not to buy anything unless I was starving to death.

The bicycle rental system in Oslo is clever and surprisingly cheap; you pay 60Kr (around £6) and you receive a smart card which works on bicycle racks which are scattered across the city for 24 hours. When you put your card in a rack, a simple bike (4 gears, two wheels etc…) is released which you can ride around for up to 3 hours before having to replace it at any of the other racks in the city. Using this cool little system I just pedaled around seeing the typical tourist’s sites. The most impressive of these is probably The Vigeland Sculpture Park. I don’t know much about the artist in question but the park has hundreds of cool sculptures in a picturesque setting. Otherwise, I have to admit that Oslo didn’t provide a great amount to excite me. Maybe it was because I was feeling a little down. I’m not totally sure why. Maybe I was just being a big girl, maybe it was because I miss my little puppy Chili or even just because I am a tight bugger and spending so much money was stressing me out, but either way Chelsea losing 2-1 in the last minute to Mark-Bloody-Viduka-Boro didn’t help. Fortunately, I was heading to Bergen the next morning and it turned out that it was exactly what I needed (even though I didn’t know it yet…)

Before heading on this trip I had heard that the Oslo to Bergen railway is one of the most impressive in the world. It is. Only an hour after leaving Oslo the first signs of a leaving the city and entering the great outdoors are apparent. Then suddenly, the fairly standard issue countryside lakes and forest scenery are swept into the darkness of a fairly long tunnel. When you emerge, the world changes. I don’t know what sort of odd portal we went through, but the next 4 hours were spent with my face/camera stuck to the window devouring the epic landscapes along the route. It’s easy to forget that the world outside the frame of the window is actually there and as countless lakes, mountain vistas and even Glaciers pass it would be easy to become desensitized (in a television violence kind of way…). However, I can honestly say it was the first long train journey I have taken where the traveling was more enjoyable than arriving. Pictures fail to capture quite how amazing it was, but I tried to take some none the less. The town of Bergen, though, turned out to be a quite a match to the train journey there.

My hostel was conveniently located right by the fish market in the center of town, and after checking in (finally a hostel with a sensible check in time!) I headed out to see what I could see. Bergen is small, but what it lacks in size and things to do, it more than makes up for in charm and beauty. Instead of wondering what activity was next on the list I was more than content just walking around and looking at things from the port and fish market, to the old wooden buildings to the tips of the 7 mountains surrounding the city. One thing I did notice about Bergen that day (aside from the fact it wasn’t raining, which it supposedly does 90% of the year) was the number of metal head touring around the city. Though I fit right in with my At the Gates t-shirt and general attire I couldn’t help but wonder why I had seen more pasty arms and legs, dodgy black t-shirts and even dodgier black hair today than in the rest of my trip combined. The answer was only a beer away. As the sun spectacularly set on my first day in Bergen (see pic above) I decided to find a place to have some food and some fizzy golden travel fuel and on the advice of a girl in a rather fetching Morbid Angel t-shirt I went to a bar called the Garage. It was Hole in the Sky festival. Tonight, under this very bar, would be a metal-stravagaza with bands such as Necrophagist and Morbid Angel playing. What’s more is that this would continue for 2 more days with Celtic Frost, Witchcraft, Satyricon and even Atheist playing. As I tucked into a horribly overpriced beer and complained that I couldn’t find a ticket and American accent beside me muttered “Hell, we are playing tomorrow night and we can’t get downstairs”. Turns out even if you are in one of the headline acts you couldn’t get in if you weren’t playing that night and so began my evening of drinking with the guys from Atheist.

I awoke refreshed by a night of beer and death metal, and determined to conquer one of the mountain peaks surrounding Bergen, however, the famous Bergen rain was to dash my hopes for now. The highest peak (Ulriken) was engulfed in clouds and they didn’t look like moving. I waited the day out to see if it would clear up but by lunch time it became clear that I would have to settle for visiting Floyen and small peak closer to town. I can’t imagine what Ulriken was like because the view from the top of the Floyen funiculaire was spectacular, but I had my sights set on a long walk up to a higher peak. Armed with a bottle of water, jacket and MP3 player I headed through the rain up a 3km trail to a nice looking lake. A few hours or so later I was still walking and couldn’t seem to figure out if I was still on the right trail. What I did know though is that I was heading up, and that was good enough for me. The weather was deteriorating, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn back as every corner revealed a new perspective down the mountain to Bergen, a nice lake or some forest older than time itself. At this point, I may have already seen my original lake (there were so many it was hard to tell which one was the right one) and I abandoned my quest replacing it with a newer one. To make it to the top of this wall of rock if it killed me. Never in my life have I been happier to be tired, wet and hungry on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

I came back down a new man, the slight sadness of the previous days was behind me and I didn’t even care that I didn’t have enough money to eat a nice meal when I got back down. I was exhausted. I bought some supermarket pasta and sauce, cooked it at the hostel and fell asleep almost instantly. Tomorrow was to be the start of a busy two days of traveling in which I would make my way from the west of Norway to Finland by means of train, bus and even a ship. Sleep was just what I needed then, and it is just what I need now.


Pictures online now!

Hey guys, got to Finland safe and sound. Staying with an old friend from Hong Kong who has an incredible computer setup and I have been able to finally get some pictures online. Go have a butchers HERE!

Or for a more interesting perspective on the pictures, go here!

My Norwegian adventures will be summarised when I have a bit of free time but right now I’m going to tuck into the bottle of duty free vodka with an old buddy. Happiness and silliness ensue…

Peace and Unity!

The Invisible Maze

Don’t ask me how, soon after I wrote my last post I found myself in an invisible maze. I had to memorise the route (which changed day by day) and navigate my way through a big empty room without hitting the invisible walls, which would cause my head to vibrate. But first, a bit about Denmark…

My first day in Copenhagen was a bit of a damp squib. Whilst waiting for the rain to calm a bit back at the hostel I started chatting to a Brazilian guy. I told him that I was going to see a few sights and then find a pub that would be playing the Chelsea match and then try and get in touch with a friend of Bjorn’s for something to do in the evening. He liked the sound of that plan and the next thing I knew we were out cruising the town together (when the sun decided to make a cameo). Over the next two days we walked about the place, took in the sights and sounds and talked a lot about football and complained about prices and weather a lot.

Copenhagen is a cool city fully equipped with impressive architecture, a rich history, Vikings, a teeny weeny little mermaid on a rock and loads of people on bikes. I wanted to rent one of these contraptions to aid me in my sightseeing, but unfortunately the deposit was more than the maximum payable amount on my debit card so I had to settle with my trusty feet (sadly, attached to my not so trusty knees). I must have walked well over 1000 miles over the days and the old boys held up well. I was there and saw all of the old buildings and tourist sights, saw Chelsea open up a frosty tin of whoopass on Man City and even went to the erotic museum. The museum starts basically as a surprisingly interesting summary of eroticism (basically old pictures of people getting at it) throughout different periods in history. From here you are taken through to the present day via a maze of artifacts and narrated videos (and even Denmark’s first ‘real doll’) with a particularly detailed section on Copenhagen’s prostitution. This section holds the single greatest museum exhibit I have ever seen. In one corner is a little window with a curtain you are instructed to peek through to get an idea of what a prostitute’s bedroom would have looked like circa 1850. To cut a long story short, it is a few bits of painted cardboard with two shop-window mannequins (nipples and pubes drawn on) moving mechanically to and fro on top of each other with the occasional grunt or groan over a speaker system. I have never laughed so hard. I thought they might throw me out. Sadly, they didn’t.

Later, the Copenhagen National Gallery to see a French Master Drawings exhibition (which strangely included Picasso…who wasn’t French the last time I checked). This was great, and the Copenhagen national gallery is a wonderful building. It was here that I had my experience with the invisible maze, the basis of my little allegory at the start of this post. You figure out what it means, it was something about traveling but it seems so long ago now the moment is gone. Copenhagen was fun and even though Bjorn’s friend never showed up I had Bienardo to hang out with which was cool. The city was stunning when the sun finally decided to shine, there was no end of cool stuff to do, but eventually I had to leave and it was another goodbye, and onwards to Oslo. I swear by the time I have finished this trip I will have a sofa to sleep on in every country on Earth! I am currently in Oslo having already spent a few days in Bergen (in the west of Norway) but I am rapidly running out of time and as usual I have far to much to say so I guess this is another post cut short. By Sunday I will be in Helsinki at a friend’s house where I may finally be able to get some of my photographs online for you all to see and also finish my Scandinavian adventure!

Now where the hell is the bus to Stockholm?

Heading East Part.2

Why is it that hostels all have the most nonsensical check in/out times? I arrived in Copenhagen today at 8.30AM, went to my hostel only to be told I can’t check in until 2PM which irritated me greatly. The place is in a great location though, right in the centre of town, so I can’t complain I suppose. Last night was an interesting night, I got to Berlin hoping to be able to easily booking myself a couchette on the Euronight Express from Berlin to Malmö (in Sweden, but only 20minutes from Copenhagen) but wound up having to pay €30 for a proper bed as the couchettes were sold out. It hurt my bank account, but it was nice to have my own room with a nice bed and even a shower in the hall. When the conductor came around asking for my ticket he also asked me to sign a boarding card for a boat telling me that about 3AM we will be setting sail. Just what I needed; having to wake up mid-slumber to climb onto a boat. Much to my surprise, the train actually pulls onto a boat, sails for a few hours and pops back off in Sweden without us having to ever leave our cabins. I didn’t even know that was possible! I sincerely hope they made the peasants in the second class couchettes wake up and pull the train on board manually.

Anyway, Prague…

On arriving into Praha my first destination was Dejvicka (pronounced *David’s Car*, later to be known simply as The Car) to meet Colin at a pub. Now I was incredibly happy to see Colin again because the last time we parted ways we didn’t get much of a chance to say goodbye properly as we had been out that night and a series of events led to me standing on the street alone at about 5AM whilst my him and my other housemates were already on the night bus. I didn’t get home until ages later, everybody was tired, went to bed etc etc…. This time we could have a proper send off and we went about it in style. The first night was pure Prague party carnage. Again, accounts are not necessary; anyone who knows me and Colin will pretty much get the idea. Sadly, this left the next day as a bit of a write off, however, sticking to my rules I refused to waste a day and about 9PM I headed out alone to see the City by night leaving Colin and Neva to watch a film on my portable DVD player at home. I decided not to get too adventurous and just headed up Prague castle which I had heard had its ground open until 11PM each night.

Let me say beforehand, if you ever visit Prague and do not visit the castle by night, you may as well have not bothered going. Of all the things I did in my 5 days here, this is the one thing that will stay with me forever. Climbing the old castle steps I completely neglected to actually look behind me until towards the top, an Australian couple about to stroll back down commented on the beautiful view. I turned around and uttered a brief poem which I felt summarised succinctly my emotions at this exact moment in time and space. I like to call it, “Holy Sh*t”. Fortunately the couple found this as amusing as I, and I continued to climb until I reached the gates. At around 10PM the castle and grounds were near enough empty which made for an almost ghoulish atmosphere as wandered through the small ‘village’ that is the inner castle grounds. At the centre of the grounds lies the single most impressive religious structure I may have ever seen. As I turned the corner to view the front of the St. Vitus Cathedral my earlier poem ran through my head but didn’t seem to do it justice (plus I doubt Jesus would have appreciated it much as a poem). Standing by the base of the entrance I felt dwarfed in a way no building has made me feel before. I mean I grew up in Hong Kong, so I am no stranger to buildings far bigger than this, but St. Vitus has a presence that makes you feel completely powerless and humbled. Maybe it is a religious thing.

I must have been there for the best part of an hour before some armed guards started to usher me away to close the grounds. I went back and tried to put the place into words but felt it best if we just went again tomorrow by day. We went back and it didn’t seem to have the same aura. Maybe it was the hordes of like minded tourists or the lack of dramatic lighting but it simply wasn’t the same. We spent the rest of the day doing the usual tourist route over the Charles Bridge into the old town to watch the Astronomical clock chime the hour, I bought a copy of The Trial at the Franz Kafka bookshop and we had a few beers in some nice bars and restaurants.

The rest of my stay passed in much the same way, chatting away the days in the sun with Colin and Niva, enjoying the finest Czech Pilsner, accidentally finding ourselves in the nudist section of the local swimming lake and that sort of thing. I have to say, Prague is one of the greatest places I have been in the world, and one I would jump at the chance to back to any time soon but after 5 days I had already blown my chances of seeing Berlin and didn’t want to do the same with Scandinavia so off I went…

…and now, here I am. Copenhagen is calling me and I only have 3 minutes and 12 seconds left on this account, hopefully the sun has tried to shine whilst I have been in here otherwise it could be a damp day, but either way I am sure it will be fun.

Heading East Part.1

Its interesting how you come to learn the way in which different cities across Europe work in comparison to each other when you are jumping from place to place. For example Vienna’s heart is contained within the Innerestadt, contained within a circular ring road. Prague on the other hand is broken up into numbered districts, with the two main areas connected by the spectacular Charles Bridge (which I continuously seem to call the George bridge). Once you understand this, in the same way you soon learn that London is in fact one enormous amorphic blob which seems to have landed on the planet with a smoggy splat rather than ever adhere plan, you find the cities that bit easier to navigate and you can finally begin to get around with minimal difficulty. I suppose the City I have got to know better than any other on my trip is Prague because I have been here for twice the time I have spent anywhere else. But that would be getting ahead of myself, last time I checked we were still in Vienna…

Reading my last post makes me chuckle a little, because soon after I wrote that I might “take it easy” that night, the room was invaded by a horde of partying Irish-folk who force fed me beer and made me go out and party until sunrise. “Ce la vie”, I muttered as I left the hostel at midnight to Vienna’s famed ‘Bermuda Triangle’ (the name is pretty self explanitory, but for the slower of you it is the official party district). “Zut alors!” I was slurring as I was forced to check out of the hostel at 9am and somehow find my way to Slovakia.

Fortunately, Bratislava and Vienna are the two closest capital cities in the world and are only an hour or so apart by train. Even more fortunate is the fact that Bratislava was the end of the line because no sooner had I put my bag on the rack had I fallen asleep and was awoken by an amused looking couple at Bratislava station, god knows where I would have wound up otherwise. I went straight to the hostel and went asleep again and woke up about 2PM and refused to waste a day and hit the streets.

Old town Bratislava is a maze of cobbled streets and alleys and is easily the smallest city I have visited on my trip so far. The weather was awful but that did nothing to take away from the charm of the place, though sad as it may sound charming old town centres with with winding streets and the odd church here and there are becoming the norm in my travles so far, which is why the castle looming over the old town provided a unique perspective on things in more way than one. On visiting the castle during my second afternoon (a far sunnier day) I gained an entirely different perspective of Bratislava. A 360 degree view from the castle mound revealed a cascading view to the beautiful old town to one side with the castle gardens to another. However, the river lying north of the castle acts as a swelling border between two very diffferent eras in history. Rows and rows of communist block housing stretch as far as the eye can see on the opposite bank of the river and to one side of these, equally endless fields of wind turbines. Try as I may to get a picture of this startling view, the limitations of the camera simply do not do it justice, though it is not something I will be forgetting any time soon, it’s just a shame you can’t share it with me!

By night Bratislava is good craic. Back at the hostel I met some keen partygoers and the usual shenanigans took place, all of which aided by the fact it was a Saturday night and the Slovak locals were all out as well. They don’t take too kindly to you chatting up their women though (of whom 75% are ludicrously good looking), which I found out from two guys who simply told me, “these are our women, stay away”. They turned out to be nice guys though (successfuly) trying to wind me up, and they took us out for the night and showed us how the Slovakians party….very hard. I won’t go into details of the night out, but the dinner we had before heading out is worth commenting on primarily for the quality but as much so for value for money. The simplest way of putting it is that a 0,5L glass of nice beer here sets you back less than a bottle of water, a glass of Coca Cola or even a pack of chewing gum and the food (providing you chose your location carefully) is not much more. Six of us all ate a traditional Slovakian main course and had a couple of beers each at a local restaurant recommended by our hostel receptionist and the entire bill came to just under 15 pounds for the lot. I ate Bryndzove Halusky, the Slovakian national dish, which is esentially potato dumplings in sheeps cheese, but in reality is possibly the greatest and tastiest stodge unde the sun. Ideal for soaking up those 30 pence beers and tasty to boot! Others had Goulash and other local dishes which we all shared around and it was a surprisingly civil and sociable experience compared to rest of the night!

All in all…go to Bratislava, it is great!

Right now I am in an internet cafe in Berlin, waiting for my overnight train to Copenhagen. This post, however, is becoming very lengthy and I haven’t even got going on Prague yet so I guess I will have to call a close to part one of this entry before my time runs up and hopefully I will finish it off tomorrow morning in Copenhagen before I go out to meet up with some friends of Bjorn’s in the afternoon. Hope everybody at home is doing well, and get in touch to say hi if you can! Stay tuned!

So far, so very good

Only 6 days into my trip and I feel like I could happily go home tomorrow and remember this as the trip of a lifetime. Its hard to cast my mind back to Hardelot (in the North of France) because it feels like a month ago already but here goes nothing.

I left Kilburn at 6 AM on the 5th, and I got to Hardelot at about 6PM which seems ridiculous as it is only an inch away on a map, but the trip was good fun. On the eurostar over I started chatting to a girl sat next to me who turned out have left from the very same road in Kilburn as me that morning. She was an artist on her way to Normandy to do some ‘collaborative art’ with a friend of hers on the beach. The conversation eventually lagged over into a Parisien coffee shop 3 hours later where we realised we would have to part ways which was a shame. We swapped e-mails so that she could send me some photos of her work when it was done so I am excited to see if that materialises but if not, then never mind.

Hardelot itself was magnificent. It’s a nice little town that you would never visit if you didn’t know someone there but the beach, few bars and large group of really friendly guys made it all the better. We drank, we sang, caught shrimps in the sand and acted like we felt…never without a beer in hand. It was great to see Julien again and we really had fun with each other, he is working in Singapore next year so we made plans to meet up somewhere in the east.

After that I headed on a sleeper to Munich from Paris, where I hung out with some guys from a chorale who were off to Salzburg to sing at a cathedral and I agreed to go see them in Salzburg when I got the chance. I never did. Munich itself is a great city, beer is a national past time and I found out all sorts of interesting beer related facts whilst visiting. The city is beautiful and my trusty guide got me to most of the major sights and sounds from the major cathedrals, to the best beer gardens and just around the general old town centre. Of significant importance is that I made the decision to put my vegetarianism on hold whilst I travelled. Now this might shock some people who know me better but I stand by my decision. I genuinely felt that I couldn’t experience the cities of the world without being able to sample all of the food and whilst sitting in the ‘Chineser Turm’ biergarten with my new found buddy Brian feasting on bratwurst and slugging back Munich’s coldest and finest I realised how glad I was that I decided to do so.

Brian is an American longshoreman (dock worker to us brits) from California and we have been hanging out for the last few days and travelling around together. I guess if there is one thing I have drawn from travelling alone is that you have to speak to anybody and everybody or you will find yourself on a pretty lonely trip. I have met some great people and have some phone numbers to ring in different cities but Brian and I have been pretty much inseperable for the last 72 hours, and have not once run out of things to say or beers to drink. He had been hanging out in Sweden for longer than he had planned and was determined to get the most out of his pass before flying back to the US, so I told him a little about where I planned to go for the next couple of days and it turned out we both wanted to go to Salzburg.

Salzburg is beautiful and probably the highlight of my trip so far. Standing on top of the Festung Hohensalzburg, Bavarian alps surrounding, looking down onto the old city is a moment I won’t be forgetting any time soon, especially because I have about 100,000 pictures of it. The weather wasn’t great but the misty mountain tops and occasional streak of sunlight thorugh a break in the clouds only stood to add to the atmosphere of this fairytale fortress. We grabbed some food and saw some of the other sights before heading off to Vienna. Brian came along to Vienna with me on the grounds it is a better connected city than Salzburg and would give him more chance of reaching his goal of making it to Italy, where he is going to tonight. We arrived in Vienna late and with nowhere to stay but found a place, had a few beers and hit the hay for the night.

Today was spent roaming the streets of Vienna, another beautiful city it would take a lifetime to see all of. We did the usual tourist routes seeing Parlament, Rathaus and Hofburg. The climbed the Stephansdom tower at one point which was a terrible idea that left us sweaty, dizzy and in need of immediate Shcnitzel based refreshment. The highlight of the day, however, was our discovery of this great little indepedent art gallery on the bank of the Danube which was showing a great exhibition of original H.R.Giger work. The gallery itself ( is an amazing building which actually has a Giger statue as part of the permanent feature. The exhibition was incredible and had everything from sketches through to the full scale concept models for the original Aliens, but the centrepiece had to be the full Harkonnen furniture models originally made for the film Dune.

After this we headed back to the hostel where we are now and Brian is just organising the last bits and bobs before his overnight train to Venice. I on the other hand sat down to write this, and wonder what tonight holds. I might take it easy as we have been hitting the wallet quite hard what with all this wonderful German/Austrian beer we have been working through, but you never know, I guess I will hang out at the hostel for a while and see if I pick another drifter or join a group of guys perhaps. Tomorrow morning I head to Bratislava for the weekend and then hit Prague on Monday which stands to be pretty savage seeming Colin has booked tickets to see me there. Anyone who knows us knows exactly what that means…

Bring it on

Locked, Stocked and ready to rock…

A triumphant day

The booking of my travel insurance today marked the final pre-trip purchase before departure. Yes, I left it pretty late. I am picking up my tickets and VISAs on Friday 4th for a 5th A.M departure so had I gone to book my VISAs a day later I would have been in a bit of a pickle. However, it would seem fate is on my side for once, and with any luck my lack of organisation will be more that compensated for by enthusiasm and luck. Here is a quick breakdown of what I been doing for the last 2 weeks:

Trans-Siberian Ticket

After consulting my Lonely Planet guide to the T-S Railway it became clear there are a few ways you can get hold of ticket for this mother of all train journeys from booking through a local agency to pitching up in Moscow station and asking nicely. Though I tried to meet cost and risk half way I wound up paying slightly more than I could have in order to insure all of my tickets are in the right places at the right time. In other words, I booked my ticket through a London based agency. Regardless, after all was said and done I had not spent a horrendous amount (I don’t think) which I will weigh up in a bit.

When I talk about a trans-siberian ‘ticket’, I am really referring to several tickets. The trans-siberian railway is not simply a single train line from A to B but a combination of several trains which travelled on in different orders can take you to one of a many places with dozens of potential stops in between. Now I am not going to present a list of every train combo available (that is available here) but my particular itinerary looks like this:

#10 Train : Moscow – Irkutsk (‘The Baikal Express’)
This will be the longest train journey I will probably ever do, lasting the best part of 3 days and 4 nights. It will drop me off in Irkutsk, not far from Lake Baikal. I am going to spend 4 days here, and spend my time visiting the lake which astounds me. Aside from holding 1/5th of the worlds fresh water (more than all the great lakes combined) and having a frozen surface alot of the time it is pretty damn epic (see above) and has big piles of cool wildlife.

#364 Train: Irkutsk – Ulaan Baatur
This overnight hop saves on a nights accomodation and of course takes me to Mongolia. I have heard mixed opinions about the charm of Mongolia and whilst some people love it, others have described it as the ugliest place they have ever been. I am going to go with an open mind and spend 2 days getting the most I can out of it!

#24 Train: Ulaan Baatur – Beijing
Another sleeper and I am in Beijing! From here it is single tickets all the way back to Hong Kong so my plans can be as flexible as I want (or as my funds can take me).

Of course there are a whole host of other routes I could take. For example I could have skipped Mongolia all together to save money on another VISA, but it turns out my Hong Kong Identity card has more than one use!


Again there are two ways your can sort these out, through an agency or independently. To do it yourself you simply need to get yourself along to the relevant consulate or embassy, fill out the right forms, pay, then wait. I have provided some useful links for UK residents to the relevant embassies in my links section. On the other hand, you can have an agency do it for you and save the queuing up and other hassle associated…at a cost. In my case I decided the cost was a worth while one to endure and booked through the same agency that did my tickets, essentially allowing me to pay all in one lump for everything and not have to worry. Now this was not entirely laziness; the price of travelcards to make two seperate trips to the consulate/embassy in the centre of London paired with the inevitable extra costs of these trips (lunch in town etc) basically accounted for the extra £25 or so I am being charged for the service. Plus, I don’t have to queue up in the Russian consulate from 6AM only to find myself turned away at the last minute (I have been told this isn’t an uncommon occurence and I was shrot on time).

The Cost
The full price I paid for all of my VISAs and tickets was £720.

Yes, I know, its a huge amount of money on travel, but breaking it down takes the hurt away a bit. Besides, this price includes 7 nights accomodation I won’t have to pay for as I will be sleeping on the train (the same also goes for Inter-rail). Also, a ticket from St. Petersburg to Moscow is included in this price as it worked out easier to book that way, and of course there was the VISA charges in there too.

Okay, if you know your stuff you will see that this is still over the odds and the reason lies behind a big mistake I made. I simply left booking my VISAs too late. As a result I was forced to pay for express VISAs instead of the standard price and this is a significant increase in price. So in reality if you were not as daft as me, your price could be as much as £100 or so cheaper than this, but then of course there is the fact I didn’t have to buy my Mongolian VISA as a Hong Kong identity allows 14 days of travel in the country at no cost (British passport holders must pay a fee). All in all, it hurt, but it was a neccessary pain.

So after a quick tally:

+ £720

Again, it looks like a huge sum (and it is) but in the end, all things considered, for 2 months of constant travelling and the sheer distance I will be covering its actually a fairly reasonable price to pay. Or at least I will keep telling myself that…