31 May 2009

Petrozavods

Visitamos a bela ilha de Kizhi com igreja russa em madeira, patrimonio da Unesco. Ikha verde e calma depois de SP. Bilhete de barco caro (40eur/pessoa) mas na ilha conseguimos o preco de estudante russo (3 eur) em vez do preco para estrangeiro (15eur), com algum nervosismo.
Ontem fomos ao Devil Chair, um monte noutro lado do lago com vista para a cidade. As pessoas fazem piqueniques deixando lixo junto aos caixotes de lixo ja cheios. Aqui na Russia toda a gente bebe cerveja na rua a tarde/noite (ha luz solar toda a noite). Garrafas e latas fazem a paisagem as bordas dos passeios.

Moscow - Elena and Alex

Elena and Alex have a kid, Dmitri, year and half old. They like cycling and in their last mail they said "from Monday you can stay as long you want, but we mightn ot be here on weekends". "Here" is Moscow. They lived in nice suburbs building, about 45 minutes from the center after tram and metro. The appartment was almost in western standards even if they used the big room for sleeping instead of living. Again the usual mess, no order whatsoever and almost no free space on the kitchen to put things to eat. This lack of order also means lack of cleaning of all kitchen appliances. Since some time we are used to this.

We stayed in Dmitri's room, in a IKEA sofa, quite confortable. Unfortunately better beds always mean less contact.

Monday they said we could arrive after 15:00 but at 15:20 they send an SMS that from 16 to 22 they are not there. As there was no time to arrive before 16, we were stuck until 22. They were nice when we met and we talked a while. Alex works on IT field, is big and beautiful; Elena finished her PhD on Maths modelling. Alex goes to work around 9am. we were tired from the train and wanted to sleep.

Next day at 10:30, when we finished to dress up, Elena says we have to leave in 15 minutes. Eva still tried "but we can leave afterwards...". "No, you leave with me". And Alex should be home around 20. At 19 a SMS: "will you be home before 21?". Understanding we replied that we arrive only at 23. He thanks and we arrive late so he can go to cycle. Time to leave next morning is 9+-15minutes, after we questioned. And "would you be interested to sleep at our Datsha tomorrow?". He wanted to go there and we had to follow, no way to say no. "There is a pool and you can do banya" he added to try making more appealing. "Ok", next day we carry all day stuff to bring to datsha as we can't return home before.

Her parents there are very nice and we had good time.

Thursday we leave datsha at 10 and Elena takes us to see a monastery called NewJerusalem. At 12:15 we arrive home to leave the bag and then she says that Alex will be back at 22:00. tuck outside again, we contacted Jolanda, Eva's brother's friend, to take us to some art show. At 22, while we were going to train station to buy ticket for next morning train, an SMS "we will be home only at 23. sorry". Luckly we were not yet going home. At 23:30 we were going home. Not feeling bad at all about the late time but in any case we warn them that we estimate to arrive around midnight. The tram we take, even if the good number, is going to "depo" and takes a different way. We have to stop a car and go home for 100R more. At 0:15 we arrive, Alex is sleepy and opens the door. "Good night" was the only changed words. Friday morning when he wakes up we are ready to leave. "Bye, maybe see you in Switzerland" we said ironically.

Train trip with Oleg

We took the overnight train from Petrozavodsk to Moscow. We got the 2 side beds, the lower bed can be converted to a table and 2 chairs. It was very hot in the train, forbidden to open the windows. As before, the ventilation is turned on about 45 minutes after departure. We read, eat, look out of the window. After an hour or so, the train stops (for 30 minutes, sais the announcement). People get out, walk on the platform, buy food (one can even buy a whole smoked fish there...).

On one of the seats next to us, there's a man of around 65. After some time he starts talking to us, using the title of the book I'm reading as an "excuse". He introduces himself as Oleg. He speaks very good english, that he has learned from a canadian teacher back in the 60ies, when people came to the Soviet Union from the USA and Canada as volunteers to "help" the Soviet people. "That's how I learned proper pronunciation". He wanted to become a teacher, but had to go to the Army. He lived in Eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia for some time, then worked for Intourist (the Soviet travel agency).

"Why don't you travel business class?" he askes us (meaning second class, with 4 bed compartments). He has never seen foreigners travel 3rd class...

At some point I go to the bathroom to change clothes and prepare for bed. When I come back Miguel is making my bed (which means folding down the table, unrolling the "mattress" and prepare the sheets and pillow). Me: "??" Miguel: "He suggested I make the bed for my lady while you're in the bathroom". :-)

Later on, I'm already in bed but still reading (yes, there was still light at 11 pm, thanks to northern latitude). Oleg comes back from the bathroom and sits on his bed. After a few minutes: "If you don't mind, please don't look in my direction. I will get changed." Ok with me, I'm reading anyway. After 2 more minutes: "You are now free to look where you want."

And he goes to sleep, his feet sticking out from under his cover.

30 May 2009

Kizhi island, the photo

If you check the last edition of Lonely Planet Russia, from March 2009 (but some very outdated things, I'll do a post later about it), there is this wooden church in the cover.

We went there and it is very magical island in Karelia (well, the island does not belong to Karelia, but we come from Petrozavods which is in Karelia). Very old, all made of wood and Unesco patrimony.



We went there by boat, which was the most expensive thing on our trip so far but on the island we were warned about also high foreign prices to visit, so we prepared the Russian price we saw before boarding, 200R/person. Once there the price list in Russian was different and more complex and we do not see anymore the 200R price. So we decide to give 130R/person, which was writen for something. The lady look at us and makes strange face, asks "studenty?" and I give 100R more thinking she would not believe we are students. At same time I say "Da" and she gives back the 100R and also 40R of change. So we got the Russian student price, 130R instead of the 650R for foreigner price. What an achievement.

29 May 2009

View on Kiszi Island


SSCN0062
Originally uploaded by eva_p
In the background you can see the famous wooden church of Kizhi. In the front, a typical russian bus...

27 May 2009

Buying train ticket in Russia - experience I

First case, go to central train ticket office of Sankt Petersburg where many guichets have different roles, in russian, and all have not moving queues of 10 people. There's the 'administrator' guichet with no one as you pay if you disturb her. Two machines to buy tickets and a couple more to check timetables. All in Russian. We give up.
Finally we went to the flying ticket office which was empty and for 120R (3E) more we got our ticket to Petrozavods.

26 May 2009

Twitter like impressions of Sankt Petersburg

- Autocarro case de banho, por 15R ao lado do museu naval, mijei la dentro.
- Registar os vistos numa agencia por 900R, depois de lutar para encontrar a entrada do numero 54 da rua X.
- Quase rezar para que a carrinha-autocarro nao tenha nenhum acidente no zigue-zague do trafego para SP. Os corajosos ciclistas so podem ser crentes ortodoxos de uma religiao qualquer.
- Bar (com DJ) lavandaria, com nota alternativa

Russian Toilet Experience - 2

St Petersburg. Walking around in town. There's a bus. But something is different. It's not moving. It's a toilet bus! Yes, a trolley bus, converted into a toilet. Women on the left, men on the right.
Inside, a counter where a lady collects the money. And then, the smallest space I ever had for a pee. Basically, tiny cubicles, the side wall not higher than my shoulders (so when I stand up I can see everything my neighbor is doing). I can only close the door completely when I actually sit on the toilet.
In every cubicle, a sign reminding the women that you are supposed to sit on the toilet and not stand on it.
And there's something wrong with the flush: instead of flushing everything down, the previous user's "products" are flushed up again...
Interesting place.
Miguel took pictures so maybe he will upload one later.

24 May 2009

Russian Toilet Experience - 1

Ivangorod Bus Station. Small town on a Sunday afternoon. We just arrived in Russia, crossing the border on foot. Waiting for the bus to St Petersburg, and I need the toilet. I'm prepared for a horrible stinky bus station toilet...
Next to the door, a middle aged blonde lady with a cat, collecting the 12 Rubles. Inside, walls painted lilac, green plants hanging high on the wall, cleaning items behind a flower curtain, a framed black-and-white photo of a giraffe on the wall.
I stand in the queue.
The toilet is of the "hole-in-the-ground" type (never forget to empty your trouser pockets or you will lose everything into the hole...) but clean, with toilet paper, a sink and soap.
Sometimes, there are nice surprises!

St Petersburg nights


SSCN0058
Originally uploaded by eva_p
We had almost white nights. This was the view of St Petersburg at around 11 pm. Magical.

23 May 2009

A museum visit

We are now on our last stop in Estonia: Narva. More than 90% are Russian speakers, so it already feels a bit like Russia here. Actually it´s just across the river (which we plan to cross tomorrow...). We spent the afternoon walking around, looking at some buildings from industrial times, a half destroyed lutheran cathedral (most churches we´ve seen so far are completely destroyed and rebuilt) and the fortress. In the fortress we saw some posters for some interesting-looking photo exhibitions, so we went to the "Art Gallery" which is also called "Narva Museum" but the castle is also called the Museum... whatever.
Inside the Art Gallery, a typical museum experience for this part of the world:
We enter. To the left, the cloakroom with space for about 200 coats (at least). There are about 3 coats hanging there. To the right, a door saying "kassa". Inside, the "kassa" with a nice lady. We buy the tickets and start to go upstairs (the lady told us to do so in a mix of English and Russian). Another lady comes with us. She opens the doors to the different rooms, switches on the lights (and switches them off again after we have left the room). In one room the alarm goes off (she forgot to switch it off I guess). When we have finished one room she shows us where to go next.
We might have been the only visitors all day...
The exhibitions... well, they were not the ones we thought (they were actually in the castle museum). But never mind, just the museum is worth the experience!

Tallinn - Kumu


SSCN0056
Originally uploaded by eva_p
We arrived to Tallinn from Tartu, by train in the evening. We were met at the train station by Marion, yet another couchsurfing host, who took us to her home in a district of nice wooden houses close to the old town. For me, quite the perfect location.
In the evening we went to a cafe called "Kompressor", where we had the best pancakes ever, and a huge portion!
The weather was rather fresh and windy, with a bit of rain, but that's actually the best weather to explore a city. One day we went to "Kumu", the art museum. We started on the top floor with the interesting temporary modern art exhibitions, followed by shorter visits to the other floors. The cafe was invaded by finnish seniors who were apparently starving (at least they were very impatient in the queue). This photo is taken just outside the main entrance of the museum.
I liked Tallinn a lot. It's not too big, has a nice old town and a lot of art galleries. It's definitely on the list of cities where I could live.

22 May 2009

Need your input!

During our stay in Russia we will take part in a volunteering project in southern Siberia (Buryatia, an autonomous region close to Mongolia). It's a Summer school organised by a local girl who lives in Moscow now and who wants to bring something from the "developed" world to 2 small villages there. So we will be teaching the kids there for a week each.
Because of my professial background, she would like me to do something health-related, maybe sexual education (as nobody talked about this there and they have a lot of teenage mothers).
Well, I do have some ideas of course, but need a bit of input from you out there. Any ideas? What do you think about talking about health and/or sexual issues to the kids there? And in which way? Maybe I should include some non-verbal things like arts/painting?
Whatever your ideas and thoughts, let me know. The project starts end of June.
And this is the website: http://buryatiasummerschool.narod.ru

Simplify your life

I notice that we are used to all kinds of things that are just for our comfort but not really necessary.
The first thing, we are travelling with just a small backpack and few clothes, and we manage.
And then, we see others peoples places and lifestyles and I think we can learn a lot from this.
A few examples...
- One can actually manage without a fridge if there's a market close by and one can just buy everything fresh when it's needed.
- It's possible to live with just one sink for everything (dishes, brushing teeth, washing).
- If one has a shower at the work place, one doesn't really need a shower at home.

Think about it...

Regarde le ciel...

Look at the sky!
I will say this a lot of times in the weeks to come I guess.
We are in Tallinn (Estonia) and the days are getting longer and longer. Last night we walked home after midnight and the sky was of a very special blue colour, I had never seen this before. The horizon was even still a bit greenish from the sun! This is as dark as it gets now.

20 May 2009

Body Combat - Tallinn class

Wednesday night, as it was usual in Geneva, I gave with Ulla a Body Combat team-teach class in Tallinn. It was great, I could already learn two BC39 songs and show up my special BC12 stretching choreography. But yesterday and today... oh my muscles! Thanks a lot Ulla!

17 May 2009

In Estonia

We are now in Estonia. First was Parnu and now is Tartu. Next will be Tallin. It is cold, minimum 2 and maximum 12, but there is lots of light. Sunrise at 4:40 and sunset at 21:40! and here after the sunset there is still good amount of light until 23:00...

The Rough Guide to Backpackers Services - Bycicle renting

Now is the time in Portugal to invest in a nice big bike repair/selling/renting shop. In the center (or not far from) and close to a metro station. Flyers in tourist office and hostels; suggested trips to Sintra, Caparica; free info (and selling maps) on routes around Portugal.
Propose electrical bikes for those afraid of sweting or riding uphill. One month try&buy system. For bike rental, different types of bikes, ask what person wants to do and his experience and then advice. Rent bikes with good gear system (Deore at least), as is harder to brake and easier to use. Breaks should work very well, so short check at the end of each rental period to see if tunning is needed. Same for gears. Bikes are like airplanes, cars, everything: regular maintainance keeps them alive for much longer. Helmets, lockers are part of the renting.
Selling bikes, while is a business, true, it is nice to advice and say that required accessories (helmet, lights, locker, mud guards) are expensive and should be part of the budget.
When repairing, custumer relationship is important, keep history, try to know the kind of cyclist the customer is and suggest improvements to the bike.

14 May 2009

Napkins and country development

Before I had already wrote (in my diary) that country development can be very well defined by the space and priority given to the pedestrians. This can be measured in existence and size of side walks, cars parked or not on them, cars stopping for pedestrian crossing, existence of sidewalks on coutry side or marked trails, etc.

These days I've notice a different measure tool for this country development in ex-soviet republics and it is called: napkin.

On our move towards East the things had improved. Yes, it is true. In Poland the restaurant napkins were so thin that hardly you could use them, they were just like the ones used in the Portuguese coffee places to put below the cake. Crossed the border, in Lithuania we had real paper napkins, but the ones of small size. Now here in Latvia, yes, we have the ones we got used everywhere else. We wonder how they will look like in Estonia - colors? fabric?

A word about trains

Wherever we can, we try to take a train. In Poland people told us several times that trains are slow, expensive and uncomfortable. Well, I don't agree....
It's true that in Poland trains are slow, mainly because they usually stop at every possible train station, quite often for as long as half an hour and they can't go very fast (60 km/h is good). In the Baltic States the train network is quite poor, with infrequent trains and not many train lines.
Still, there are so many advantages...
- In a train you can: eat, drink, sleep, read, go to the toilet, walk around, talk to somebody, talk to nobody, look out of the window at the nice countryside, play cards, re-organise your backpack, buy a coffee from the lady who passes in the corridor, take photos, read your guidebook.
- In a train you're not in the hands of a half-criminal driver (well maybe the train conductor is crazy, but at least he can't overtake and risk a head-on crash)
- It's interesting to watch people in a train. You can discover something about the country just by seeing the trains, train stations and travellers.
- One can (usually) open the window (which allows to somehow neutralize other people's smells)
- Ok, the air conditioning never works (but then it doesn't exist at all in Eastern European buses)
- You can usually take the bike on a train (but not on a bus, unless the driver is in a very good mood and you buy him chocolates)
- ALL the trains we took so far were on time (which means that the 30 minutes stops in the countryside were included in the timetable), wheareas some buses took ages to get into bigger cities because of traffic

Sadly, tomorrow we will have to take yet another bus from Riga to Estonia, because there simply doesn't seem to be any trains.

Unexpected internet - no train

We were quite happy today that we managed to get a train from West-Daugava Riga to main station just in time to get a connection train to go and see the Sea. But after buying the connection train ticket we realized that this good connection was only on weekends. so no we have one hour to use on the internet cafe just opposite the train station in Riga.

11 May 2009

Riga Market


SSCN0052
Originally uploaded by eva_p
Just an impression from the huge market in Riga.

10 May 2009

Miguel jumping from a pole... crazy?


SSCN0051
Originally uploaded by eva_p
In Riga we were hosted by Inga, who invited us to join high rope climbing. One of the tasks was climbing up a pole (which was the easiest part), then standing up on top of it (which was the really difficult part). And then, just jumping off!

09 May 2009

The Hill of Crosses


SSCN0049
Originally uploaded by eva_p
In Lithuania, close to a small city called Siauliai, is the Hill of Crosses. It's basically a small hill covered in all kinds of crosses, of all kinds and all sizes (and also little Jesus figures, angels and other sacred beings like the one on the photo). When we were there it was very windy, which made the smaller crosses move around and make differend sounds.
After visiting this place we left Lithuania and with it the deeply catholic countries of our trip (Poland and Lithuania).

08 May 2009

Eastern European Oddities


SSCN0053
Originally uploaded by eva_p
This is something we saw a lot in several eastern european countries, but especially in the Baltic States: when people get married, they fix a lock to a bridge, usually with their names printed on it. I guess it's supposed to make the marriage last longer... We also saw this in Russia, but I'm not sure it works very well (according to our Lonely Planet, divorce rate in Russia is 60%....).

For all our readers...

07 May 2009

The Rough Guide to Backpackers Services - Internet Cafes

It is nice when an hostel offers internet access for free, when they have a computer available for the guests. However this computer should have a restricted account, an updated anti-virus and not be used by the hostel personnel to download movies. Else in few weeks, as was often the case, computer is slow and infects any memory card connected to and annoys more than it serves.

All this is also true for internet cafes, where furthermore, you pay for. And when you pay for a service, good condition keyboard, mouse and screen are the only way to make the client to stay longer and come back. In Gdansk they even offered a coffee! And as everything was working well and was comfortable, we paid and stayed an extra hour. Even if this was the most expensive internet place we have been in Poland. You feel efficient when you have work conditions and one hour there was, at the end, cheaper than hour and half elsewhere with worst computers and less comfort.

One idea(l) internet cafe would be with rental laptops, not very big, that probably run Linux (or windows at extra charge) and that you attach with a security cable to the table, not only for safety but also not to fall off the table. And the table would have the electricity plug of course. Just wi-fi access (your own laptop) would have an hourly price convertible in drinks that day.

The Rough Guide to Backpackers Services - Overview

Yesterday I rented the best bike ever rented. It was not perfect but almost.
Business is not one of my skills even though, during this trip, several times I felt tempted to open one. This mostly because I feel in Portugal is now the time to invest in a real bike shop/service, just before people adhere massively to bikes.
For Eva and me the important backpackers services we use are internet cafe, bike rental and laundry.

06 May 2009

The Centre of Europe Park


SSCN0048
Originally uploaded by eva_p
This park is near Vilnius, the lituanian capital. The geographical centre of Europe is supposed to be somewhere there. The park actually has nothing to do with it (except the name), it's just like a small forest with lots of sculptures of all kinds. Maybe you have heard of the biggest sculpture of TV sets that got into the Guinness book. Well, this sculpture is not complete anymore but there's a lot of other interesting stuff, like this wheel that you can make turn by walking inside it.

05 May 2009

Please scroll down!

For those of you who don't follow our blog with an RSS feed (like Google Reader or so): There might be new posts further down, as we don't have time and opportunity to update the blog regularly, so we use our oldfashioned notebooks to write down our ideas. In order to keep the logic and correct timeline in the blog, we backdate the posts to when the fact actually happened, and not when we typed it. There might also photos be added to ancient posts.
So, please, scroll down to discover!

03 May 2009

O dia em que a Eva perdeu o guia de viagem

Pousou a seu lado num banco para buscar outra coisa no saco e la ficou, mas menos que os 20 minutos que demoramos ate regressar ao banco depois de, no topo da colina com vistas sobre Kaunas, nos termos apercebidos das poucas gramas que o saco da Eva pesava. Eva pontapeou repetidas vezes o banco como a lamparina do genio dos desejos mas nao funcionou. Teremos assim a oportunidade de fazer busca ao tesouro de um guia em ingles. Felizmente parece ser mais facil no Baltico que no Joao-Paulo-2-landia.

Sunday late morning in Kaunas, Lithuania


SSCN0046
Originally uploaded by eva_p

02 May 2009

Forgot my brain in Poland?

After leaving Poland we spent a weekend in Kaunas, a small but nice city in Lithuania. It was yet another sunny day so we set off to explore the old town. At some point we sat down for a few minutes to look something up in the guidebook, then we continued. At some point I noticed that my bag was funnily light... and the guidebook gone. I had no memory of having left it somewhere or lost it.... By logical thinking I must have left it at the spot where we had been sitting, just putting it down next to me instead of in my bag. So we went back to the spot... the book was not there anymore. I got pretty angry at myself (also because the guidebook was a present to Miguel from some friends, with their signatures inside) and even tried to make it appear by kicking very hard into a wooden board, but with no success :-)
Finally we went to a bookshop which had all possible guidebooks in english (to our positive surprise, as in Poland this would have been close to impossible...) and bought a new guide (which is even more recent than the one we lost).
But - where did I leave my brain??

01 May 2009

Computer all night

Bogdan knew I was computer scientist and that we wanted to use internet. In the evening he told we could use and we went to the private part of the house - his kitchen, living and sleeping room, all-in-one. "The cable does not arrive further away". "No problem", we said. For 10 minutes we checked emails and he says "Maybe you can make router back to work". Since he changed provider it did not work and the computer was cable connected to a restaurant 100meters away where cable modem served internet. "If you solve problem, you can have my laptop whole night". After 5 minutes the confliting IP problem was solved and he had now wireless internet on his and on his daughter laptops. I used the computer in the public area part of the house until 1am. Everyone was happy.

Poste restante

On the road we have almost everywhere a way to access the internet, it can be an internet cafe or at our host or hostel. However in most of these places the time we can access the internet is limited (also because of the good weather outside). Thus we do not as much time as we would like to read, write and reply emails, neither to post here.

But we do not want to cut personal contact with you, neither that you cut it with us, so we propose to come back to old methods, meaning pen friend and exchange letters (or post cards, or exibithion tickets...) using the Poste Restante.

We have put on the right column a new section where we will put destinations we will certainly pass in the near future and you can address letters to us, which for sure we will reply sooner than email. In the link you can see how to address letters and you know our names: Miguel Anjo / Eva Pfarrwaller. Just send to the city and we will go to the main post office to pick them up. Remind that international letters take usually between 1 and 2 weeks to arrive. No need to email confirm, we will go to ask for Poste restante in any case, so we will be happy for any surprise letter.