London to Hong Kong Part 9 – “Harbin”

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Leaving the farm stay

Our time had come to an end and though I couldn’t wait to continue the journey, I felt somewhat nostalgic when I realised that I would probably never see Vladimir again.

We left at approximately 9am and made our way back to Irkutsk. Vladimir dropped us off at our next destination and he urged the boys to come visit him when they were bigger. I hope they do. I hope they will one day trace the steps we took on this trip and reconnect with Vladimir.

Things to do in Irkutsk with little time

We arrived at a quaint little unit that I found the night before scrolling through Airbnb. It is close to the tram and quite central for a decent price. We paid $72AUD for the night, but you can get it cheaper. The host were extremely accommodating and will help you out with anything you need!

With only had half a day that evening to check out Irkutsk. We had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets of Irkutsk. I wanted to look for a Russian hat or even some warmer boots that were typically Siberian. We found the
central market in Irkutsk. Lots of produce and meat, which were able to purchase or our next rain journey. Just on the outside of the building though were more shops and small clothing markets.

I found a pair of Siberian boots that seemed to be the fashion and I didn’t waste any time in switching to these. I fitted right in with the locals!

                                                     My Siberian boots

That evening we had dinner at an Argentine Steakhouse and had an early night because the next day we woke up before the crack of dawn (mind you dawn isn’t until at least 9am). I wanted to catch an Uber from the unit to the station, but the argument was that traffic could be bad and it would make us late. Also, we had a tram around the corner of the place and it was more reliable. I didn’t win this argument and so we walked to the tram stop and made our way to the Irkutsk station.

On the tram very early and it’s cold

Waiting at Irkutsk station for our train

now awaiting to board the train

 

Irkutsk to Harbin

We were back on the train, this time for a two-day journey to Harbin. We knew what to expect and this brought about a sense of familiarity and confidence.

 

Goodbye Russia!

We finally arrived to our last Russian town called Zabaykalsk, which is the border town between Russia and Manzhouli, China. Zabaykalsk/Manzhouli is one of the three direct connections between Russian and Chinese Railways.  We had a 6 hour stop over here, so that the train could change over to accommodate to Chinese railway lines.

Zabaykalsk is a small town, with hardly any trees and no high buildings. We walked around and found ourselves in rundown, dry, dusty, pathless streets with dogs in every house barking at us. It wasn’t THE place to spend 6 hours in transit, but it was still very pleasant because the people in the corner shops were extremely friendly. We bought a Bilash for a snack, which is like an empanada with meat inside.

25 minute journey

                               

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London to Hong Kong Part 7 – “The Trans Siberian train from Moscow to Irkutsk”

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We weren’t expecting much, so to our surprise, we got more.

As opposed to the nail biting stress we experienced in St Petersburg getting to the station on time for our train to Moscow, we allowed PLENTY of time to board the Trans-siberian.

This IS the journey we have anticipated for so long. An amazing trip that some only ever dream of doing, is becoming a reality for us.

What lies ahead of us is 3 days and 4 hours on a train, sharing facilities with other passengers.

We don’t know what to expect of this train trip, but from what we read in terms of reviews and online information, we knew that the Rossiya was the best choice. What we didn’t know was that it would surpass all expectations!

Expectations vs Reality

We had read blogs, books and talked to other people about this journey. Here are some of the things we had heard:

* how expensive the trans-siberian train can be

* how there may not be adequate heating on board, or if there is, it’s quite primitive (a bit of a worry when we are in the middle of winter- surely they would have that down pat?)

* how unhelpful/unfriendly the Russians can be

* that vodka is drunk all the time by Russians

* we didn’t think we would be able to have access to fresh water. We had convinced ourselves that we would need to use the water from the urn to fill our stainless steel water bottles and leave the water to cool down over night. So we brought a lot of water on board just in case.

* reviews of the restaurant cart were pretty bad that we did not plan on visiting the restaurant. Instead, we bought a load of 2-minute noodles, snacks, milk, porridge etc…

* we weren’t sure whether our cabin would have power to charge our electronics so we brought various battery chargers

We actually were quite surprised to find that the train was well heated, almost to the point of boiling stinking hot! The restaurant cart was actually decent and they have a chef onboard. We tried the schnitzel with fries for two nights in a row (haha). Although the schnitzel was not big and the fries were a little greasy, it was tasty and better than what he had expected.

Each cabin has their own power socket, which was most helpful!

Thankfully our huge luggage fit under the seats. The Russian ladies on board were very friendly (although there were exceptions on the other carriages).

And… to top it off, the carriage was well kept. The ladies emptied the rubbish, cleaned the toilets and vacuumed every cabin everyday – It was wonderful!

Booking our tickets

We booked our tickets in second class with Rossiya train 002. There are many options as far as trains on the Trans-Siberian, but we read many reviews about the different trains and all said that the Rossiya was the best option. Considering we would be spending three whole days on a train we thought it best to do it on a decent train. Of course this train costs just that bit extra, but on boarding our train at 11.20pm, I was glad we opted for Rossiya.

You can book tickets at: http://www.rzd.ru

Our tickets were approx 40,000 Rubles for the four of us.

The trains are very punctual and at 11.45pm on the 1st January, the train left Moscow. Our carriage number 2, was not full. In fact there were only four out of the eight cabins occupied.

First class consists of a two-birth cabin, while second class is a four-birth cabin. It’s cozy and similar to the Niece to Moscow train we caught from Warsaw, with the beds just a little more narrow.

Third class is all in the carriage with no closed doors. The seats convert into beds and is the cheaper more popular option for most Russians.

They say:

“In a forest of a thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. Similarly, no two journeys along the same path are alike”.

Here we are experiencing this grand journey on the Trans-Siberian and no matter what our journey brings, it will never be the same as another.

On the train there are not too many places to go to except your cabin, the hallway, in between carriages and the dining cart.

The scenery is a rotation between small villages, train stations and snowy trees/bare lands. After a while the novelty wears off, but from time to time there is something that grabs our attention and whenever a new person boards the train it feels like they are entering our family (as strange as that sounds).

The people in the cabin next to us is a group of four friends travelling together. Harry and Diane from the UK are both journalists, Paola (polish is married to Harry) and Max who is originally from the UK but lives in Tokyo. We met with them the first night at the restaurant cart and ended up staying until late playing cards over drinks.

On our other side there was a lovely Russian couple from Omsk, also with two young boys (6yrs and 3yrs). We exchanged contact details and hopefully will stay in touch in the future.

On the second night, we thought we’d have our free meal that they offer on board. We were disappointed as it was horrible!

We ended up going to the dining cart. We bought a bottle of Georgian wine. Unfortunately they did not have a bottle opener (go figure!). The lady signalled “one moment” and left with our bottle of wine. After a few minutes she walked passed with some pliers and a screw driver. From that moment we knew we would be having corked wine. We tried to signal to her that we probably didn’t want the wine anymore, but it was no use.

Corked wine it was. Nevertheless, it served as a good laugh and something we will remember for a long time.

The restaurant staff weren’t what you’d say extremely expressive, but they were amicable and with our limited language communication we were able to grasp their humour and friendly nature.

We tried to get off the train everytime it stopped for around 20mins in order to go for a quick walk and breath in the very dry, fresh, cold air. Nearly everyone on the carriage got off to stretch their legs. It was a mix of smokers and those just wanting to wander up and down the platform. I found that it was a nice gathering of us all and it almost became a ritual to greet your fellow traveller at each stop.

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On the third day a man arrived onto the train, in the carriage next to ours – he took over where the lovely family from Omsk had been. He was an intetesting man but quite strange. He had limited social awareness. He greeted us in Russian and commenced having a conversation. We tried very hard to comprehend and even got google translate, but with little reception, it was useless. He plonked himself on the seat next to me and was telling us something that seemed very important to him. Everytime we shrugged our shoulders and said we didn’t understand he would roll his eyes in frustration. He then lifted his sleeves and showed us a tattoo of a parachute he had on his left arm. Pointing to the boys who were in their own world watching a movie he was chatting passionately.

Jason made out that he was trying to communicate that he had served in the army and was part of the forces sent to save the children in the Beslan school siege in 2004. Once we affirmed we had understood, he seemed relieved. He was a troubled soul and I imagined that an event like that would have definitely scarred him.

He continued to talk but this time he was whispering and and shut the door of our cabin. This is when I started to feel uncomfortable. Not only did he invite himself into our cabin, but now closed the door and started to behave oddly. We got the Google Translate out again to see if it worked. We set it to ‘conversation’ and it picked up:

I’ll just take your wife.

From then I wanted him out of the cabin! I took my Google translate to the lady and told her that the man made me feel uncomfortable. No other words were needed and she came to the rescue and asked the man to leave in the most polite manner possible!

We went to get dinner at the restaurant cart again and from what we heard, the same man had just left the cart after causing a little bit of a scene and had to be escorted back to his room. We felt sad for him because he probably just wanted company but he was troubled and seems to seek comfort in alcohol. I hope he finds what he’s looking for.

As we progressed into Siberia it got colder and drier outside. It was also crazy to see how the window to our room froze up from the condensation. Towards the last night the doors leading into the next carriages were so frozen up and that some of them stopped opening. We got stuck at one point coming back from the dining carriage and the maintenance guy had to come and fix it.

We were getting close to Irkutsk and I was slightly nervous about what was to come. We were going to be picked up by a man from Eastories and I was hoping he would be there!

London to Hong Kong Part 6 – “St Petersburg & Moscow”

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Over night train from Warsaw to Moscow

The train was very comfortable and possibly the best overnight train we have ever been on so far. New and clean, with everything you need – even a shower if you wish! The compartment has a little bench that when the top is lifted, is a wash basin.

The only con was that we had never really experienced an overnight train shake as much as this one. It felt like we were laying on one of those massage chairs – making sleep ‘interesting’.

We arrived into a snowy Moscow on Christmas day, but it felt like any other day. It appears the Orthodox Russians celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January.

We caught the metro to the station where we would head to St Petersburg. But first we stopped for lunch and were impressed by the grandeur of the buildings in both restaurant and metro!

They say first impressions last and that you sum up a person within the first couple of seconds of meeting someone. I would say that similarly you sum up a country by the way you experience the roads as a pedestrian. We were somewhat surprised to find that the Russians giveway to pedestrians at the zebra crossing or jn general. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we sure didn’t think they would be so polite. Of course you do get the odd nut job who drives straight through.

St Petersburg

The one thing we remember from this train journey was the fact that the food was similar or worse than airline food. Pricey, not much in it and not so cheap.

We arrived in St Petersburg and although there was a ceiling at the platform station, the platform was full of snow.

Our first night we had dinner at a place called Kazan. And we stayed at a really nice Airbnb unit on Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa right near Admiralteyskaya metro. We really liked this place because it had three bedrooms, was cosy and close to everything. The only downside was that the prior guests smoked in one of the rooms and the smell would not leave no matter how much we aireated the room.

The Winter Palace and Hermitage museum

Similar to other museums, the Hermitage may be a little much for young kids. For adults it’s quite amazing and full of works by famous artists like Rembrandt, Pissaro, Egyptian artefacts etc…. and definitely a must! With kids, you may find yourself walking that little bit faster past rooms.

One way you may wish to engage your kids during your visit is to prepare a booklet for them. I selected a couple of artworks that I knew would be at the Hermitage and got them to find them as we walked around. They then had to write/draw their thoughts about this artwork, or try to recreate the artwork in their own “style”.

Just some images of the Museum inside:

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Church of the Saviour on spilled blood (also known as The church on spilled blood).

This cathedral is one of the most popular sights to visit in St Petersburg. This church was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded by political nihilists in March 1881. The church was built between 1883 and 1907. The construction was funded by the imperial family (wiki).

We didn’t go in but it is a spectacular cathedral to admire from the outside.

The Sitadel and Cosmonaut

Moscow

We found a small unit in the Arbat district and very close to Smolenskaya subway. It wasn’t the best unit as j bad to use my jumper as a pillow because it was too hard and stunk of mould; the shower was tiny and had no water pressure; the toilet didn’t flush very well. Nonetheless, the location was great and it was good value for money.

Moscow Metro

It’s difficult to believe that an underground metro can be a popular tourist attraction, but when you visit Moscow, you’ll soon realise why.

The Moscow metro, also known as “the people’s palace” is one of the biggest and densest in the world.

  • Trains come past every 90 seconds!
  • Contains 12 lines, 200 stations
  • The deepest station is 84 metres below ground (Park Pobedy) and has the longest escalator – 126 metres long!

Most Moskovits know the quickest routes to take underground, connecting one line to the next. It’s another world down there with everyone walking to-and-fro! Clearly we didn’t know these quick routes, and on our arrival into Moscow from St Petersburg, we needed to go from Leningradsky station (situated on Komsomolskaya Square) on Line 5 to Smolenskaya on Line 3.

Unfortunately we didn’t take the right entrance and ended up having to carry our suitcases up and down many stairs. It was very stressful and tiring especially while trying to manage two boys during peak hour people traffic.

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We were very impressed with how quickly the Russians stand to give up their seat for children! I don’t think there was a trip we did with the boys through the metro, where they stood – amazinginly polite people!

The Yusopov Palace (or Moika Palace).

This was an interesting visit to the house of the Yusopovs and see how rich this family was. This was so the place where Grigori Rasputin was murdered.

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The Red Square

The Kremlin

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It was New Year Eve and the Red Square was feeling very festive. Security was very tight with all sections of the square and city closed and full of security checks. We stayed at the square to celebrate. We grabbed dinner at an American style diner on Arabat street (go figure).

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We left our unit at Moscow at approx 10pm on 1st January, to head to the station for the commencement of our Trans-Siberian journey.

London to Hong Kong Part 5 – “Poland”

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Our journey to Warsaw started with the train being delayed by 75mins. The sign kept changing from 30mins to 45mins to 80mins and then 75mins.

The train journey was ok. There were issues with heating in our carriage, which felt like a fridge compared to the other carriages. It took just under two hours for them to rectify this.

Once we got off the train, everything happened so quickly. We were warmly greeted by Marta, a friend of Jason living in Warsaw, whom he hadn’t seen in 25yrs!

The station was swarming with hurrying bodies to and fro. We walked through a huge mall to get to the car park. I had forgotten how close to Christmas it was and how crowded the shops can be.

The family welcomed us into their home with a traditional polish dinner.

Traditional Polish dishes

We tried gołąbki also known as “pigeons” in English- not made out of pigeons though. It is a meat based dish that is covered in cabbage leaves that have been steamed/simmered or fried softened. They are served with a delicious tomato salsa on top.

This is something you should try if you’re in Poland.

The first night we arrived we ate polish dumplings called “riskie pierogi” with potatoes and cheese filling. The boys devoured this.

We also tried some traditional salads with herring, potato and veges.

Overall, polish food and deserts are quite unique and definitely something worth savouring.

The old town

This part of the town gives a glimpse of what Krakow looked like before the second world war, as it has been restored.

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Krakow

We had an early train departing at 7:45am. The platform number was not easy to follow when it changed. The polish system has a platform number and a track number. So if you’re travelling by train- take note it’s different from Australia.

It was 7:46am and there was still no sign of our train on platform 3. A train finally arrived at 7.50 but when we asked a young girl about our train she pointed to the other side and said that our train had already left.

It was frustrating because now we needed to find a way to Krakow. We ended up hoping on the next train that we saw leaving to Krakow. Unfortunately for us, what should’ve been a 2-hour journey turned out to be a 4-hour train ride. This train was a very slow commuter train and it was absolutely packed that people were crammed into the aisles, and sitting on the floor everywhere.

Thankfully we managed to get a seat at the “cafeteria” and stayed there the entire journey.

Wieliczka Salt mines

We knew about the salt mines through some cartoons the boys watched called “Go Jetters“. The Go Jetters visit various icons from around the world and save them fron the destruction of master Glitch. On one episode they visit the salt mines – UNESCO site since 1978.

We are already late from the long journey so we immediately get an Uber to the mines, arriving at approx 1:30pm. Entrance cost us $250PLN (approx $100AUD) for a family of four.

The tour begins with a descent of 60 metres worth of stairs deep into the mines. From there the guide explains the history, process, people involved and displays of an underground metropolis with extensive infrastructure.

The mine allows for many underground concerts, masses, weddings and other functions. The church being 130mtres deep.

Highly recommend the Salt Mines tour. One was blown away that this was built hundreds of years ago! The guides were knowledgeable and overall it is a place like no other. Just be mindful that the tour takes approx 2-3hrs, finishing with an interactive 3D video of the mine – amazing!

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Auschwitz (Oswiecim)

This is a place we have been wanting to come visit for a while. Having done Dachau 3 yrs ago, we would not miss our chance whilst in Warsaw.

What I didn’t know was that this area is actually called Oswiecim in Polish and was later adapted and changed by the Germans to Auschwitz (very similar pronunciation).

The Germans occupied this area and it became German property. When we asked the guide why didn’t other countries find them and attack them? She said that the implication was that England knew that there was something occurring in Poland, but didn’t know any exact location. Auschwitz just appeared as being in Germany.

So why in Oswiecim?

This was a very central city in Europe and easily accessible by train from other cities/countries.

This place was built for a very specific purpose, and that was mass killings. There was no other reason to have a train line leading up to the gas chambers and crematorium.

Prisoners were taken out of the over crowded carriages, selected as fit or unfit. Those fit, would go to one side and literally worked to death (average life span on the camp was 3 months). Those selected as “unfit” would be sent straight to the gas chambers.

Auschwitz 1 and Berkenau

We were fortuitous upon arrival as the English tour was about to start at 10:30am. We started in the museum and worked our way through the barracks and things collected/donated from the time of captivity.

These items were very confronting, as they really personalised the victims and the atrocities that occurred. The following are images of reading glasses, shoes, suitcases/bags. Were not allowed to take photos of all the hair that was cut off the Jewish women – but there was an enormous amount of hair!

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Our guide was exceptional. Just the right amount of factual information, survivor stories that was closely linked to the entire tour to help you understand the living conditions.

We got moved to Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz 2). This place is unbelievable. Not in a positive sense, but in a way that one would never imagine such a place exists. Unlike Auschwitz 1 that was originally went barracks and then adapted by the Germans to become concentration camps, Birkenau was constructed purely for extermination – a chilling thought.

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Our friends in Poland were so friendly and gave us the best polish experience we could ask for. The boys will miss their dog Thiago. We just hope that one day they will come visit us in the land down under.

Poland, besides the trains running late, you were great – thank you! 😊

London to Hong Kong Part 4 – “Berlin”

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The train journey from Paris was quite pleasant. Frist class on the TGV was really spacious on the second floor, with a great view of the world. I got stuck into a book given by our friends in Paris called “Aleph”, which they thought would be quite appropriate, given that it captures Paolo Coello’s journey through the Trans-Siberia.
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At Mannheim we changed trains to Berlin and the boys went to a kinder group onboard. The first hour or two child-free since our trip!

Arriving into Berlin Hauptbahnhof felt like we were returning to a familiar town, even though neither of us has ever been to Berlin. The fancy lights, the very large christmas trees, the organised busyness all seemed so familiar to our last German visit. We love Germany, and we are happy to experience it again in December.

There is not much to do on the first day, because we arrive in the evening and all that is left is to grab dinner – which we do close by to our place at ‘Stadtklause‘ on the recommendation of our airbnb host. A really cute pub, with a home-style menu doesn’t and it disappoint. The meal sizes are quite generous and you can only pay by cash. I recommend visiting this place if you ever get a chance.

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Topography of Terror Centre & Checkpoint Charlie:

We have started to become accostomed to the sun rising around 8am. The boys are waking up close to 8 and I don’t have to feel guilty about staying in bed until at least 8:30am! It’s like a sleep-in every day.

Our target today is to visit the Pergamon museum, wandering the streets on our walk there to see what we find. We first come across part of the Berlin wall and Topography of Terror Centre, which was apparently THE headquarters for all the crimes committed! This is a very interesting place to visit. Children may not find this as appealing as a lot of it requires reading. The one thing the boys did take away from this place was the fact that not all the SS officers were blonde/blue eyed, but also had dark hair. Why did a country need to build a wall? And why did everyone like Hitler if he was so mean? All of these are sound questions, and I have often asked myself, how could anyone with such outlandish views receive so much public support and very little opposition?


Checkpoint Charlie:

 

Christmas markets

 

Gendarmenmarkt

Everyone raved about the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas markets, because it is “the biggest and the best in Berlin”. As you can imagine our expectations were high. The square is undoubtley very beautiful, surrounded by the German and French Cathedral and Schinkel’s Konzerhaus (concert hall). We walked into Gendarmenmarkt around midday. There was still quite a bit happening, but obviously not as much as what would occur later in the evenings.

If you enter the market after 2pm you have to pay $1Euro. This was the first time we have ever come across a German Christmas market where you have to pay. Whilst it’s not expensive, compared to the other markets we visited that were free, we didn’t think Gendarmenmarkt was THAT amazing other than the location. With kids, there no rides, as found in other markets. This market would be best enjoyed if you’re going as a couple (without kids).

 

The Berliner Weihnachtszeit

is apparently the oldest christmas market in Berlin and also attracts quite a lot of people. It has a large ice-skating rink, huge ferris wheel, rides and Santa visits and talks to the children from the sky on his moving sled. It’s very impressive at all the little intricacies put into this market. As a bonus, we got to enjoy a Glühwein while the boys had a ride on the merry-go-round.

 

 

Postdamerplatz

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River cruise

We came across a river cruise, it was a bit chilly (or so I thought) and the next session was about to start in 15 minutes. To our suprise, Anna, who was the tour guide was very animated, friendly and quirky in her presentation. She made everyone laugh and was quite knowledgeable.


I would highly recommend getting a cruise and hope that you get Anna as your guide!


Tiergarten & Victory Column


This is a huge park (520acres) in size and leads to the victory column.

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Island museums

These are some amazing museums that if visiting without kids, you would be able to take your time, read all the signs, listen to the audio with intense interest and soak all the historic information in with a sense of awe and appreciation!

Our boys did well walking through the Pergamon and Neus, but we didn’t get to experience this museum as you would child-free. My audio guise ended up having to be shared and half the time I was rousing on them to not run around and hit each other. The Ishtar gate will be remembered as the moment I stood admiring it’s grandeous size, letting my imagination run wild, only to be sadly and abruptly interrupted by a little person desperate to go to the toilet! 😡

If you want to really soak in these museums – go child-free!

Pergamon and Neues museum


Unfortunately the Pergamon gate was unavailable this visit as the museum is undergoing renovations.

 

 

Brandenburg gate, Reichstag, Sinti & Roma memorial

 

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

This memorial is quite artistic, containin 2,711 concrete stelae that seems representative of coffins. It also has a an terranian information centre. This is to honour the up to  six million Jewish victims throughout Europe.

 

The Berlin Bunker story:

I highly recommend this museum! Very informative and has many original photos of events, a remake of Hitler’s Bunker and his whole life.

Visit this museum if you are ever in Berlin!

Natural history museum & Berlin wall memorial

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Some other pics around Berlin

London to Hong Kong Part 2 – “London”

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Day 1

Our flight arrived into London at 6am. It was a cloudy, cool day and we couldn’t get into our Airbnb until the afternoon. We had a whole day to kill, but we were tired and had our luggage with us. We ended up catching the tube to Piccadilly circle in search for snow/winter boots for the boys. It was a little struggle trying to pull around 25+kgs of luggage and manage the boys – particularly when some of the metro stations had no lifts!

We caught a taxi with a most chatty/friendly driver. He gave us a brief rundown of the history of Brixton and told us to take care as though things were better, it was always better to remain vigilant. The unit is in a big building complex that looks like it was once housing and pretty rough sideof town. With large thick gated security, I wondered whether it was worthopting for the cheaper accommodation.

We had dinner at “The Lord Nelson”, where the boys had a little game on the pool table and we sat back and relaxed.

Day 2:

We walked through Borough markets and grabbed lunch. We passed the Tate Modern, crossed the Millenium bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, walked across Blackfriars bridge and then walked along South Bank and checkedout Winter Wonderland in this area.

 

Day 3:

We went to the Belarus embassy in the morning to get thetransit visas. We then spent the day in the Natural History museum. In the evening we tried ice-skating outside the museum. According to Marcus, ice-skating is just a matter of step-step-glide. He soon found out that this is not as easy as it sounds.

Day 4:

We returned to the Belarus embassy to pick up our visas and then walk around Kensington palace and the gardens. It was a spectacular day, with blue skies. The boys really enjoyed playing in the Diana memorial playground, which had some great equipment like a big pirate ship, musical instruments, tepee huts, tunnels and not to mention squirrels that wandered around like little thieves going into people’s prams and bags that were left lying around.

We passed the Diana memorial fountain, went to the science museum that was quite interactive and enjoyed by the boys. Finally, we made our way to the British museum. Out of all the museums, the British museum was the one that the boys enjoyed least. At lot was based on history and old arti-facts, which although interesting, was not age-appropriate. 

 

Day 5:

We catch the tube to Piccadily circle and return to Trafalgar square. Unfortunately for us the day is not quite as spectacular as yesterday and it is cloudy and gloomy – something that one would expect of an English winter. The change of the guard at Buckingham palace is in on the cards and so we walk there and soon discover with the growing crowd that there will also be a marching band and parade of the guards. It seems only logical towait and see such a spectacle. As ceremonious as one can expect, the show ofthe guards proceeds, yet I never quite understand why in the 21stcentury there is a need for guards to continue in such antiquated traditions.My only conclusion is that it makes for good tourism and some traditions areworthwhile keeping.

Our next stop is the Tower of London. This is quite a magnificent site and more-so at dusk with the bridge in the background. This is definitely a place that the boys enjoyed and was easy to keep them entertained. The artillery,the armoury, the castle-like buildings, the royal jewels etc… This isdefinitely a place that the family can enjoy.

Our final destination for the day is none other thanPaddington station. A visit to London would not be complete without having paid homage to Paddington bear. There is nothing amazing about this place, except that the boys recognised the station and were able to take a photo with thePaddington statue.

 

Day 6:

Mr 6 has woken up unwell and with fever from last night. Him and I stay home while Jason and Mr 5 head out to find the Elephant man at the Royal London hospital museum. The boys heard a story by John Hammond a couple months ago about the elephant man and of his experience when he went to visit the skeleton. This impressed the boys so much that all they talked about for weeks was going to visit the elephant man when they are in London. Mr 5 saw the replica skeleton and was happy to have the evidence to show his friends andfamily back home. Our time in London has come to an end and we exit that afternoon on the 3:31pm Eurostar train to Paris.

 

Singapore to Chiang Mai Part 7 – “Nam Tok to Bangkok (via death railway)”

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It was a relaxed morning with not much to do but to let the rain pass. Then it was organising the taxi to the pier, ferry back to​ Don Sak pier and a bus to Surat Thani train station.

 

I was quezy from the windy/bumpy taxi ride to the pier, so it wasn’t a good start for me on the ferry. It was up and down, side to side. The ferry journey took every fibre in my body to avoid being sick. This may sound crazy, but it felt as though I was going through contractions. Not assimilating the same pain felt, but the amount of mental power and energy I exerted the entire journey.
I kept telling myself to “breath in, breath out”…. “mind over matter… mind over matter” over and over again. It was an Olympic mental effort. Just when I thought I was feeling ok and “I have this under control” the so-called contractions would reappear and I had to go through the entire breath in, breath out… mind over matter self-talk. This went on and on for the entire 2.5hr boat ride. I learned to go to a happy place, or somewhere else where I could focus my attention. Continue reading

Singapore to Chiang Mai Part 6 – “Ko Phanang”

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Our stay at Haad Salad Villa (16th- 18th December 2017) felt too short. It was a quiet beach, away from the riff-raff and the simple accommodation made it feel like we were glamping. The beach was a stones throw away, the food and drinks at the restaurant were cheap and good value for money. We figured, staying at a cheaper place such as this would also pay off as far as the drinks and food was concerned. It is likely that drinks and food at a 5-star resort would not be the same price.

We hope to come back one day and spend at least a week on this beach. I would recommend this beach to anyone who is looking for a quiet beach and cheap accommodation. Just a little warning, if you look on the “Haad Salad Villa” the place in real life looks a little more run down than in the pictures.

 

 

 

 

Singapore to Chiang Mai Part 5 – “Penang to Surat Thani”

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Our journey sketched out. Except this is shorter than what we were actually travelling for. Need to take into account immigration etc..

11.40am

Today we will be getting on our third train journey and I’m kind of not looking forward to the long day ahead.

In order to leave Penang, we need to get the ferry back to Butterworth. We are waiting, however, the ferry did not come at the time it was supposed to. They are supposed to come every 15mins. This ferry just wasn’t coming! We need to get the ferry across to Butterworth in order to catch the 12.25pm train to Padang Besar via a Kmuter train. It is now 11.40 and still no sign of any ferry. Jason is frantically trying to make a decision. We book an Uber to take us across the bridge to Butterworth.

11:55am

We are in the car and it is now 11.55am and our Uber driver was not too hopeful that he could get us there on time – as it’s dependent on traffic.

12.04pm

It is now 12.04pm and we have 20mins before the train leaves and we still need to buy tickets. You can’t buy these tickets online unfortunately. If we miss this train, we will miss our connecting train crossing the border!

12:24pm

Our driver is amazing. He sped as much as possible with the traffic and got us to the station with 5 minutes to spare. Jason slipped some extra cash for the speed and for getting us there on time. It was a hectic and stressful start.

The train takes off at 12.33pm.

1:00pm

We are now trying to find accommodation for tonight somewhere in Surat Thani. We think that if we stay close to the pier we will not have to rush tomorrow morning to the ferry.

1.45pm

We finally find accommodation close to the pier where we can stay for the night. The problem is that the room has only a double bed in the description. The site is linked to a taxi service, so I call the number to see whether they could pick us up from the station.

A lovely man called Chris who with his broken English agrees to wait for us at the station at 8:30pm. I also asked him if they could accommodate us by placing a mattress for the boys. It seems that this is ok, but with the language barrier – anything is possible! Let’s just hope there will not be any issues (fingers crossed).

2:30pm We arrive into Pedang Besar. We wait for a very long time to go through all the immigration ring-a-roll.

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16:20pm

There is a slight confusion about what time we will arrive to Hat Yai. Our ticket says that our train will depart Hat Yai from 16:23. However we are on the train and our phones say it’s 16:20 already. The locals are also telling us that we will never make it. They are all travelling to Hat Yai to purchase groceries, like the salted fish and chicken. We are a little confused and I’m feeling a little worried again. We are unsure what time we will arrive now, nor do we know how we will get to Surat Thani if we do miss that train.

16:24pm

We finally arrive to Hat Yai and we get on our train with no problem – time to spare. It seems we shouldn’t really trust what locals or western travellers tell us!!

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20:10pm

We are nearly at Surat Thani. It has been a long day of getting on and off trains, queing for immigration and not knowing what is going to occur next.

22:40pm

After an hour and ten minute drive, we arrive to our accommodation. The boys crashed out in the car and I’m exhausted. We decide we will go to Ko Phanang. But let’s decide on accommodation in the morning!

They really want to play in sand/dirt!

With our lovely host Chris

‘Stone art’ 😂

Singapore to Chiang Mai Part 4 – “Kuala Lumpur to Penang”

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We caught the 9am train from KL Sentral, which arrived into Butterworth at 1pm.

Our tickets were all spread out. Two seats in the D carriage but in aisle 1 and 10, whilst the other two were in carriage F. Buying tickets online using the ktmb.com.my website using a phone is impossible. If you’re going to buy ETS tickets then best to use a tablet or a computer. We booked our accommodation the night before arriving to Penang.

The train journey to Butterworth went by pretty quickly with entertainment, colouring in and playing games. We received a complimentary morning tea snack from the workers.

I was quite impressed that there is a constant cleaner on board, ready to sweep and ensure the toilets are clean. Whilst I was thankful that the train was clean, there was something about the new Malaysian trains that did not quite have the same ambiance/vibe as the older trains we travelled in Vietnam. They seem almost too clinical. It’s hard to explain.

Once arriving into Butterworth, we caught a shuttle bus to the Ferry that took us to Penang.

It has been a long day and we needed to find lunch as it was nearing 2pm.

We found a nice spot around the corner from where we were staying called Sri Ananda Bahwan. Excellent Indian food and well priced.

Things to see/do in Penang

1. Magic world

The boys loved Magic world, although Mr 4 found it a little scary at times – particularly when they “chopped me in half”. It was a good time killer away from the heat and they loved it.

 

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2. Fort Cornwallis

Not a whole lot to see here. Just a few canons and bit of interesting reading.

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3. Butterfly farm

This place is really interesting and well laid out. There’s so much to see and I would definitely recommend this for families. It isn’t all about butterflies. There is a lot about bugs and insects and overall the underworld.

Around Penang

We enjoyed Penang. It reminded us a little of Hoi An. It’s not quite like Hoi An, in the sense that it is still missing more of the cultural atmosphere, but the colonial buildings, the street art and people certainly make this place attractive.

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Jelly in the shell of an egg! Kids party ideas?

Our place. We stayed in the far left corner – bottom and top floor.

Where we had lunch one day

Our accommodation in Penang. We were happy with it