A Jouney before the Rot Sets In! – Context

At 75 years, time takes centre stage and especially so when in 2009 relatives from the USA did Bath and my elder son, Roderick, wanted to know why I had not yet arrived in California to see him. With age 76 in sight and the dictums ‘acta-non-verba’ (action not words), ‘move out of your comfort zone’, ‘meet people’, ‘travel light’, ‘cope with the unexpected’ and ‘give thanks for life’ all being repeated ad nauseam, it was now or never!

Seeking a helping hand via a Google search landed Andrew of Yorkshire (A of Y) who said ‘OK, but no turning back’.

I wished to abandon my designer ethos and leave some things to chance en-route, but the fifteen-week timeframe straight jacket and the life patterns of my hosts needed matching. These tensions eventually gave birth to a multi-layered travel construct so beloved to the design fraternity.

The blog designed by a friend to augment and report upon daily happenings, I fear rapidly collapsed under the weight of my inexperience. Today it takes the form of a post-journey recall with a name created by my young granddaughter, Sophie. It draws upon my retained daily diary, text messages, images taken by myself or sourced elsewhere, plus people-centred encounters and on-trail surprises.

New posts will be arriving shortly, so watch this space!


Posted by on 21 July, 2010 in Journey Construct

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Journey Construct – Departure

21st July 2010

My London departure, fixed for 22nd July 2010, became endangered on the 21st with another visas delay, then suddenly CIBT had them for collection no later than 17.30 – without these precious documents, I would not be going anywhere! They were handed over with due detachment and I clutched them, emitted an Luggageaudible sigh of relief when I saw that they carried the Silver Belarus and Gold Russian Federation visa emblems.

Upon arrival at my sister’s London abode, I was forced to reappraise the amount of stuff really needed for the 19-day trip to Vancouver, the first respite point of my journey. Minimum weight and ease of on-journey usage converged and led to a further jettisoning of what a couple of hours ago appeared as necessary – now became redundant and never missed.

22nd July 2010

TrainI left London St Pancras station in sunshine at 08.27. Destination: Vancouver, Canada via Bruxelles, Köln, Berlin, Moscow, Irkutsk, Vladivostok, Tokyo and Beijing (transit only) to arrive at Vancouver on the 9th August – 19 days later!

Tinges of apprehension overcame me as the Eurostar smoothly sped its way towards the channel tunnel, though as always relieved by sunshine and texts from friends – Cate M (‘Glad you got away with all the necessary bumf in time, sorry not to be around to wave you off – give Belarus my love’) and Zsolt S (‘Everything OK, you can always update your blog from other PCs, enjoy your trip – Timi sends her love’) and helping hand Andrew of Yorkshire’s queries (‘Just checking Peter you are on the train and that everything going OK, have a good trip, keep in touch’). ‘Well’, I thought, ‘a touch of concern after Yorkshire’s visas chaos!’. To which I calmly responded ‘Yes on train, Cologne next, of course keep in touch’. A minor skirmish with Ant O’Flat then occurred due to unfinished business back in Bath that led to an exchange of usual sarcasm – Peter: ‘Too many tunnels’; Ant ‘Did you expect the train to skim over the water?’ – and so on…IMG_0232

Cologne gave me time for a beer, dump past photos before boarding the 15.48 to Berlin, which drew into the magnificent HBF station at 20.07.

Sent a text off to Zsolt S to reassure him that the blog would be used (‘on way to Berlin and will try to connect there’). Had one night in the budget Franke Hotel, Albrecht-Achilles Strasse, located in the Charlotteburg-Willmerssdorf neighbourhood with good U-Bahn links, allowing me to look around until zero hour for Moscow – departure 15.22 on 23rd July.

IMG_0215AThe steps of Cologne cathedral



Posted by on 22 July, 2010 in Journey Construct

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Places – Berlin – Germany

23rd July

Instead of taking the U-Bahn to the edge of the city centre, I walked down the elegant Kurfursten dam to view the famous Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. In the early 1950s, the ruined tower of the original church was saved by Berliners to become a symbol of their resolve after WWII to rebuild and renew the city. To me, as I dodged the traffic, it took the form of a sentinel staring transfixed by the unimaginable 1945 devastation.

379px Gedächtniskirche

Berlin street destruction











264px Siegess

It was very humid, with rain and heavy grey clouds; had forgotten to take a raincoat and cursed before finding a C&A who solved the dilemma. The remaining few hours provided glimpses of the Tiergarten with its rather over-egged Siegessaule (victory) monument, along with parts of East Berlin’s former GDR zone, now a vast building site of rebirth with C19 monumental structures encased by scaffolding.

Metropolis posterDeparture to Moscow was from the Hauptbahnhof, an amazing palace of integrated public transport on five levels: international, metro, S-Bahn, U-Bahn and bus. It reminded me of Fritz Lang’s futuristic 1926/27 silent film ‘Metropolis’; all levels can be seen with human ants scuttling around in this steel machine city, traversed by moving escalators and trains. Incredible, but for a stranger disconcerting. Finally, a top-level platform showed ’15:22 Moskva’ – just 10 minutes to spare!

Zsolt S and Katalin T were both concerned by lack of blog messages. I texted ‘On to Moscow no blog but have sorted categories’ and got an instant reply: ‘Great we are happy that everything is all right, we wish you an easy journey’. My sentiments in a nutshell!!




Posted by on 23 July, 2012 in Places

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Journey Construct – Berlin to Moskva

23/24 July 2010

The Russian Train 443 arrived and a retinue of uniformed staff descended onto the platform. I entered my allotted car clutching my phrase book. With the total absence of English speaking staff, getting sorted offered a perfect setting for a gesturing comedy, laced by scrutiny of my tickets. Fortunately, the finished jigsaw was accompanied by in-situ Russian smiles. Arrival at Moskva Belorusskaja was to be at 20.35, 24th July.  The route: Poznan, Warszawa, Brest (Belarus frontier), Minsk, Smolensk and Moskva – a distance of 1610km.

IMG_0432I suspected there would be many lost-in-conversation incidents over the next 29 hours. A of Y had persuaded me to take a couchette, in hindsight correctly. I managed to order the first grand mug of Russian tea, but as we travelled, a strange atmosphere of non-existence encompassed us, the passengers. At Poznan (a long stop), some staff suddenly disappeared and returned from an ALDI/LIDL shopping expedition, all bags clearly destined for home consumption. The sound of keys turning to secure the loot echoed down the carriage, while my standing in the corridor and gazing at the scenery/activity also became a bit of an irritating intrusion. I texted Ant O’F: ‘left Berlin for Moscow, all OK, grey skies, Russian train officials with gold braid have air of take care’.


Visa 2

Belarus Visa

Poznan saw a young man occupy the next berth, later joined by a beautiful young woman at Warszawa. The train crossed into Belarus at 02.45 with a shuddering halt at Brest. Border control, passport and visa for passing through Belarus (£120) and rail tickets were all taken, examined and returned 2 hours later to all those patiently standing in the corridor. Boredom relief came in broken English/German conservations with a young Russian architect student going home to Moskva after 2 years in Berlin; an ex-merchant Russian seaman who had been to Middlesborough; and then in perfect English with Olga, the beauty from Warszawa. She knew London and was surprised to see me travelling alone. After immigration the train shunted into a long shed; wheels were changed with an almighty bang to suit the Russian gauge and it left Brest at 06.00 with a rising sun. Upon leaving the train at Minsk, the beautiful Olga (with her man) gently said ‘Beware of Muscovites’!  Texted A of Y:  ‘In Moscow soon, ship to Japan ticket, will it be at Vladivostok’?  We pulled into Moskva Belorusskaja station one hour late at 21.35, with temperatures at 39°C!

Tired, I found the patiently waiting driver for trip to out-of-centre Moskva Vega hotel. Forgot to go first to the Belorusskaja Intourist Office to collect the Trans-Siberian rail ticket; driver not pleased, though still smiling through gritted teeth as he liaised robustly with a frustrated intourist official with me muttering ‘ have to get with it, no more slip-ups’.

Suddenly Ant O’ F responded ‘ How is it going with unchummy braided officers, 2nd question – do u want 10 raffle tickets?’. NO!


Posted by on 24 July, 2010 in Journey Construct

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Places – A brief respite in Moscow – Russia

25 July 2010

Vega PictureIMG_0435The Vega Hotel (left), an unlovely Soviet–era pile, stood on a raised platform facing a dull square crowded with cars being baked by temperatures not witnessed for decades. In stark contrast, a New Russian fantasy mosaic-clad apparition shimmered distantly in the heat (right).

The marginally-cooler, crowded foyer sported a Long John Silver complete with parrot, a secreted cash desk boasting a superior rouble/sterling rate to that found in the UK and fee-paying wi-fi desks for the hapless traveller! The large, milling crowd included those trying to cut a deal with Vega guests swiftly moving to lifts, guarded by burly bouncers who robustly turned away all who had no magic pass. Mine did open a pair of shining sliders to a bar/bistro – there stood lady-luck, who with a discreet wave of the wand summoned a waiter from Uzbekistan with perfect English. Despite the heat, exhaustion and the general oppressive do-nothing atmosphere, I rose to follow a trail blazed by local Russians and discover a shop/kiosk for Trans-Siberian snacks and cooling ice cream. Motivation suddenly took hold to get stuck in and start ‘Russia and the Russians’ by Geoffrey Hoskins.

The sky darkened suddenly with fork lightning, thunderclaps and heavy rain that rapidly generated massive pools. With equal speed it stopped and humidity went through the roof. Texted son Alex ‘Just had a dramatic storm. Hope James got the e-mail’. Reply: ‘Yes he got e-mail, just forgot to tell us! Glad you made Moscow OK, thinking of you – A P J S’.

At 21.30 the driver reappeared for the Trans-Siberian departure from Yaroslavsky Station at 00:35 on 26th July. A now well-disposed Intourist Official spelled out kindly the must dos and not to dos, then quizzically looked me straight in the eye and wished me a good journey. A long, hot wait with many other people/families of all ages ensued. I shared luggage-watching duties with others, regularly oiled by language confusion and peals of laughter. Then midnight struck; I went to find an open-air platform and mingled with a shadowy crowd who conversed softly between themselves. The train sat brooding in the darkness; suddenly those in the know gathered around their designated on-train door – mine was Moscow to Irkutsk, carriage 09, berth 10. Made it!



Posted by on 25 July, 2012 in Places

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