Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Moscow, Russia - Day 78-82 : Beautiful yet broken



Moscow has been such a mixed bag and in many ways reflects how beautiful yet broken Russia is.

For starters our high-rise apartment for 4 nights in Moscow turned out to be a dump. The hallways in the Soviet ear building smelled like a combination of stale dog urine and body odour exacerbated by the absence of any kind of ventilation or natural light.

We also had a frustrating time trying to sort out the Trans-Siberian train tickets. The Lonely Planet recommended travel agent (who we paid quite a premium to) hadn't added Isaac to our tickets. The agency was unapologetic and unwilling to help, which meant we had to queue up at the train station to get it sorted out ourselves. Russia's service industry - tourism, hospitality et al needs a major rehaul.

The irony is that Moscow ranks among the 3 most beautiful cities that I have ever visited. The beautiful birthday cake like Stalin-skyscrapers, the golden Church domes in the Kremlin, the polychromatic St.Basil's cathedral gives Moscow such a distinct and unique architectural identity.

We also met 2 friends of T's - Igor and Oleg, who graciously gave us the insider's tour of the city and pointed us to some beautiful parks and watering holes.




Here's a video at the Kremlin on our last day in Moscow -

video

Thursday, June 25, 2009

St.Petersburg, Russia - Day 77 : Peterhof Palace


Perhaps the highlight of St.Petersburg was Perterhof Palace - the summer residence of Peter the Great. Again given the time constraint, we opted out of entering the palace, instead just wandered around the beautiful Lower gardens which in itself took us nearly 4 hours. Our toddler was mesmerized with the Grand Cascade fountains (or "FON-TEN" as Isaac has begun to say).

A short video of the Grand Cascade at Peterhof -

video

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

St.Petersburg, Russia - Day 76

With just 4 days in St.Petersburg we were constantly forcing ourselves to decide between the numerous sights to visit. Telling ourselves that we must return to St.Petersburg some day when we don't have a toddler on our hands, we grudgingly opted-out of visiting the famed 'Hermitage' and other museums.

Shortly after taking this picture outside the Hermitage, we sat at a restaurant that had this dated picture taken from about the same angle. Those beautiful tram tracks is now a congested road and there are hardly any trees in sight.




And this is the wholesome Borscht we had at lunch which Isaac didn't quite appreciate.

Monday, June 22, 2009

St.Petersburg, Russia - Day 74 : Easing into Russia

The border control between Finland and Helsinki was surprisingly quick and efficient given the stories we had heard of tedious checks and immigration officers disappearing for hours.

We arrived in St.Petersburg a littler after noon and checked into our first Russian apartment which we booked through HOFA. It's basic and in need of some repair and refurnishing. For a bed, we have a small pull out sofa - a little larger than a twin bed for the 3 of us. As the guidebooks and every other source warned, good-value accommodation is hard to come by in Russia. I am not complaining just yet - at least we have a washing machine.

At first glance, St.Peterburg looks like a large sprawling version of any Western European city - which is exactly what Peter the Great had conceived it to be. But like our apartment, the city is in need of some care and bursting at the seams with cars (and car fumes). Historic pre-war buildings are topped with large commercial signs which seem both tacky and out of place. T has always loved St.Petersburg but it definitely isn't love at first sight for me. It doesn't help that I am still easing into Russia. I am constantly looking over my shoulder for Militsya (local civilian police) to stop and harass us for our papers. Perhaps I just to need to  drop my guard and relax a little.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Helsinki, Finland - Day 73:Preparing for our Trans-Siberian journey


Tomorrow we leave for St.Petersburg. We will be embarking on what may be my life's greatest travel experience - a journey that will take us from Europe to Asia on the world's longest railroad.

I am scrambling to make sure we have our accommodation sorted out in Russia. Train travel and finding short-term apartment rentals in Eastern Europe was rather painless. If Ukraine is any indication, I am fully expecting that language is going to be my biggest challenge in Russia and finding accommodation will require a lot more patience. As of now we have made home-stay bookings through HOFA, which arranges lodgings with English speaking Russian families. While this will give us the 'authentic' Russian experience, we are weary of what to expect.

I am also very anxious of the police harassment that Lonely Planet points out in Russia - especially Moscow and St. Petersburg. My biggest concerns are the numerous reports on racist attacks directed at non-Caucasians. Amnesty International has put out an alert on the situation and even President Medvedev has acknowledged the problem. While planning this trip in NYC, I had several inhibitions about bringing Isaac to Russia and I am still a little torn on whether I am doing the right thing.

The Trans-Siberian leg of the journey will be the most strenuous series of train rides we will be taking, making this segment almost like a marathon with scheduled pit stops along the way. Our visa is valid for only a month and we have to make it from St.Petersburg to UlanBator (Mongolia) in this very tight time frame. So as to keep the stress of traveling with our toddler to an absolute minimum, we have planned it as bite-size rides - each train will be less that 18 hours and by making them overnight rides, we will be able to have our son sleep through a better part of it. En route, we will be stopping at 9 Russian cities with a 2 day break in each city. The only exception will be St.Petersburg and Moscow where we will be spending 4 days each.

T says I am going into Russia with far too much pessimism and dread and it's true that in my mind, Russia is almost synonymous with the mafia and xenophobia. I am hoping to be proved wrong.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions



Studies show that traveling around the world is people's single most popular fantasy. Everyone I speak to say that we are living their dream. With a little planning, anyone can do what we are doing. Here's a list of questions that I get asked a lot and hopefully will help catalyse your dream trip -

1. How are you funding this trip?
My husband and I have known each other for 5 years now. We live a very 'basic' lifestyle by New York standards and have therefore been able to keep aside enough money to satisfy our yearning for adventure. We are debt-free, don't have money tied up in property (land or house), don't own a car and don't have any student loans.

2. How much will it cost?
Our daily budget while on this trip is $150 for 2 adults+1 child.
200 days of travel adds up to $30,000. Our daily budget of $150 includes the cost of accommodation, food and train tickets. This does not include visa costs, international medical insurance and other fixed costs (such as our rental storage unit and mail forwarding service) we will continue to incur in the U.S. when we are out of the country.
We estimate that given all contingencies and adding up our trip costs plus fixed costs in the U.S, our total cash outflow will be $40,000.

3. Isn't $30,000 a lot of money?
Yes it sure is and comes with sacrifices both before and long after this 200 day trip is over. But in the end we know it will be well worth it. We would rather be traveling and living our dream than sitting at work or standing in a grocery check-out line.

Also note that $30,000 is what we are willing to spend to travel in 'relative' comfort - this means apartment/hotels with private showers and toilets, 4 berth coupes and a restaurant meal every other day. If you are willing to rough it out a bit - stay in backpacker hostels or 1-star hotels, travel in 6 berth train cars, and limit yourself to self-cooked meals, you could do this trip for well under $20,000 or even less. When we did the math at the end of 80 days, we found that our monthly cost of living in the U.S - paying for medical insurance, taxes, NYC apartment rent, daycare costs, groceries and utilities would be comparable to the cost of this trip.

4. Why now?
Shortly after Thanksgiving 2008, the financial meltdown dominating the headlines became a personal reality when my husband was let go by his firm. With 2009 being a wash-out year, the timing was perfect to travel on a shoe string budget rather than getting frustrated looking for a job. As for me, I resigned my job and opted to do this trip instead. I am hopeful that my travels and 8 years of work experience will open up other career possibilities.

Secondly, our toddler was 20 months at the start of this trip. While some may say he is far too young, we see 2 benefits -
a) He isn't in school. Even if he was, I would have home-schooled him for a year. Children learn more about finance, history and language when they travel.
b) A 20 month old adds relatively little incremental cost to this trip. Hotels/apartments, trains, museums and buses do not charge extra for a child under 2.

Thirdly, we are in our 30s and healthy and can replenish our funds by saving wisely after we are done with this trip. We are both averse to the idea of waiting till we are 60 to live our dream.

5. What did you do with your apartment?

We were renting our NYC apartment and decided to give it up. We moved all our stuff into a rental storage unit, and terminated our rental agreement by finding tenants to take over our lease. Would we do this trip if we we owned our own house/apartment? Yes, we would have simply rented out our furnished house/apartment to fully or partially cover our mortgage cost. I have read of several other 'Round the world' travelers who have done exactly that.

6. Why do this by train?

Because of our toddler, we wanted to make this experience as comfortable as possible. We would have to pace ourselves to preserve our own sanity and to ward off travel fatigue. We quickly ruled out driving by car or hopping on flights, as both would mean strapping our son to a seat. We both love the slow and easy romance of train travel and it would allow our toddler the freedom to run the length of the train car. Besides, the economy of doing this journey by train was far too enticing to turn down. The longest continuous train journey is from Portugal to Vietnam covering a total of 17,852 kms and most of it included the countries we had on our wish-list. With a bit of creativity and lots of research, we knew it was possible.

7. Why did you choose this itinerary?
Apart from safety and steering clear of countries with civil unrest, our primary criteria was to pick countries that needed more than 2 weeks to explore. The logic being that a 2 weeks vacation is what we could spare while still holding onto our jobs. Given their vastness, both Russia and China fell into that category. We then added bordering countries to the wish-list.

Our second criteria was to have a common thread to our itinerary - most of the countries we added to our itinerary had a Communist past (or present in the case of China) or totalitarian regimes that have failed in recent history.

The third criteria was cost - we chose emerging economies and countries that wouldn't stretch our budget. This would also serve the purpose for T's research which he is documenting on his blog - The road less traded.

8. Isn't traveling with a toddler hard? How is your son handling the travel?

Yes, we find it challenging but only at times. For the most part, our experience has been that much more enhanced and enjoyable because of our toddler.

We have found surprising homogeneity in consumer goods. Department stores in the most obscure towns sell diapers, wipes, pasteurized milk and baby food. Apart from generic store brands, large consumer brands such as Johnson&Johnson and Proctor&Gamble are ubiquitous. Case in point - I have found Nestle's HoneyNut Cheerios and Pampers Size 4 diapers in every country I have visited thus far.

We interject trips to museums and other places of interest with trips to parks and playgrounds so that our son can gets his daily fix of outdoor play. We are also traveling with a few matchbox cars, 2 of his favorite books, some educational DVDs (that can be played on my laptop) and washable crayons. All of these provide endless hours of play.

Children make friends fast. They find play partners on trains, in playgrounds and in restaurants. Isaac has turned out to be the best ice-breaker in any situation. He gets everyone to loosen up and we have made several new friends and won many favors from station attendants, museum and church caretakers as a result of Isaac's charms.

9. Doesn't staying in hotels get tiring?
By our 2nd week into the trip, I was tired of over-priced restaurant food and washing clothes in the bathroom sink. Our solution: short term apartment rentals. With the exception of 3 cities, we have stayed at apartments in every city we have travelled to. These apartments are fully furnished (washing machine, equipped kitchen) and sometimes offer free wi-fi. Apartments also help us maintain some semblance of continuity for our son by cooking meals he is accustomed to. More about apartments at this link.

10. How far in advance have you booked your tickets and made reservations?

We limit making reservations or ticket purchases too far in advance. In the unfortunate event that we have a personal emergency and need to bail out of the trip, we can do so with the least amount of sunk cost.

For apartments/hotels, we make reservations about 7-10 days in advance. We check online if the trains are getting filled up and plan accordingly. Most Eastern European trains were booked only a day in advance as most trains run half-empty. In the case of the Russian trains, we booked some through an agent but the rest were bought about 2 weeks in advance directly from the Russian railways service counter.

11. What about medical insurance and pediatric care?
We have bought international medical insurance from Seven Corners. In the case of a dire medical emergency, we can ask to be evacuated and brought back to the U.S. They offer a variety of plans, but we opted for one with a high deductible that covers all the countries that we will be visiting on this trip.

We consulted with our pediatrician before we started on this trip. She made sure that Isaac was up-to-date with all his vaccinations. We are traveling with Isaac's medical records and immunization schedule as well as a medical kit to treat regular fevers, colds, coughs and bruises.

We have visited a pediatrician twice on this trip and during both occasions we found medical care to be perfectly on par with U.S standards. Lonely Planet guidebooks lists English speaking medical services in major towns.

Updated on July 01, 2009 (Day 83 of 200 days)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Helsinki, Finland - Day 71: Midsummer's Weekend


Today is the summer solstice in Finland and the longest day with the sun not setting till almost midnight. Midsummer's weekend is the single most significant holiday in Finland - as celebrated as Thanksgiving in the U.S. Midsummer's was first celebrated as a pagan solstice ritual by the Nordic tribes and has evolved into a National holiday. Everything shuts down in the country and Helsinki felt almost like a ghost town as we arrived by the early ferry from Tallinn this morning.

T's old colleague - Mattias invited us over to celebrate Midsummer's with his family and friends and offered to pick us up from our apartment at noon. The Erickkson's have 4 beautiful children between ages 13 to 2 years and they make parenting seem decievingly simple and far too much fun!

Fins (and Swedes) toast their drinks by breaking into song and a few Aquavits later, everyone was drunk silly. I lost miserably at a game that was an amusing mix of croquet and bowling. Isaac and the youngest Erickkson child - Rufus tired themselves out jumping on the trampolene and fell asleep almost simultaneously.


It was a magical evening that I will think back to often for years to come. I remember looking out of the window around 11:30pm and seeing the midsummer sky awash in an iridescent purple-blue glow, and the enveloping warmth around the dinner table as great conversation flowed in the company of old and new friends.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tallinn, Estonia - Day 70 : Baby travel fatigue

In the past week we have had to take Isaac to the pediatrican twice. Over the weekend in Riga, we were worried about a bruise on his forehead that hadn't receded or changed its disturbing blue-black color from a fall 2 weeks ago. Yesterday we took him to the doctor because of a boil in his inner thigh that I felt needed to be examined. Thankfully in both cases, the doctors told us that Isaac was perfectly fine.

Yesterday he threw up his lunch, has lost his appetite and hasn't been himself ever since. Perhaps it's just a minor case of food poisoning that he needs to recover from but I have this unneasy guilt that he may be disoriented from all the travel.

Tallinn, Estonia - Day 70 : National Identity in the Baltic States


I have often clubbed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as the 'Baltic states' and could barely tell them apart on a map. As I discovered on this trip, these countries hold fiercely independent identities forged together only in recent history by having been part of the Soviet Union.

The population composition differs vastly - Lithuania has a large Polish population, Latvia has a large number of citizens of Russian descent and Estonia holds more cultural similarity with its Scandinavian cousins across the Baltic Sea than it does with either Lithuania or Latvia.

To a visitor such as myself, the Lithuania and Estonia capitals - Vilnius and Tallinn seemed hip, vibrant and even compensating for its lost years of European kinship. In contrast, Latvia's communist past still holds sway over its' capital - Riga, evident in its ubiquitous Stalin-era architecture and a looming sense of misplaced identity.

Unlike Lithuania or Estonia, little Latvia is struggling with its new found political independence. Whilst part of the USSR, Riga served as a strategic seaport for the USSR with the Soviets establishing a large number of factories. Understandably it was Latvia that felt the pains of jump-starting its economy after the Soviet Union fell, unable to employ the thousands that were once gainfully employed in state run industries and beaureaucratic offices. As a Latvian acquaintance said, "Today Latvia is showing all the symptoms of the 'new country disease' ... excessive government control, corruption and fiscal mismanagement". Another young Latvian said that her parents feel a sense of nostalgia for the Communist days, "Back then atleast everyone was employed and there were no criminals on the street."

After years of mandatory Russian, the Baltic states are using their respective languages to assert their ethnic identity. In Lithuania 'language police' are tasked with the job of ensuring that street signs, books, menus and official documents are written only in Lithuanian, despite its large Polish population that would have a preferred a dual language system. In Latvia, hiring is unofficially dependent on your fluency in Latvian, very odd considering that present 30 year olds in the workforce studied Russian as their first language in public schools till the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 80s. And then there is the 50-60 set who have spoken Russian all their lives being forced to conduct all their legal and official affairs in Latvian.

These measures may be seen as necessary to renew their national identity, but personally, I see it as totalitarian and contradictory to the very ideals of democracy that these countries are emulating.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tallinn, Estonia - Day 69: White Nights


Situated at a longitude of 59.417 degrees, Tallinn is the northern most point that I have ever traveled to. It is very disorienting to have the sun set only close to midnight. We took a walk out today at 9:30pm and that's how bright it was. There's a clock in the background to prove it :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tallinn, Estonia - Day 68 : 4000 kms from the Black sea to the Baltic sea


View Road Less Traded in a larger map

We walked along the Tallinn harbor today and saw the Baltic Sea. It's a great feeling of accomplishment to have traversed 4000kms from the Black Sea (Odessa, Ukraine) in the south to the Baltic coast in the north. I would be the first to admit that it has sometimes felt exhausting but that doesn't take away from how much we have loved the romance and adventure of extended travel.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Riga, Latvia - Day 66 : Angry Riga rain Gods !


It's been raining for 3 days now and we haven't been able to see the beautiful old town of Riga as much as we would have wanted to. We attempted venturing out in the rain but all it did was make me hungry for warm food!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Riga, Latvia - Day 64 : Communist era apartments


We got to Riga yesterday and have been staying with our friend Sergey's aunt. Sergey's family has been warm, hospitable and the best hosts despite not speaking a word of English.

The apartment itself has every modern convenience imaginable, but from the outside these apartments tell a very different story. Rows of concrete apartments buildings stand tall and straight, devoid of any color, architectural style or embellishment. The windows are evenly spaced and shaped, every building has the same number of floors and looks exactly like the one next to it.

A young woman (a friend of the family's) - let's call her "M" told us these apartments were built by the communist government to serve as accommodation for factory workers. So for example, a Soviet electronics manufacturing plant would allocate apartments for its employees in these buildings based on their rank and tenure. Chaos followed the fall of USSR - factories got privatized often in fire-sale prices and apartments such as these became 'private' almost overnight. If you stayed in a state-owned apartment at the time of the fall, you became the default owner by virtue of being the residing tenant. Today, these buildings look dilapidated and in need of repair if not a complete facelift.

In recent years Latvia has seen a real estate boom fueled in part by families looking to upgrade to newer apartments but also by the U.S phenomena of 'easy' home loans for an individual of average means. The economic crisis has hit this little country hard, unemployment is at 14.5% and the real estate market has tanked. Here is a recent story by PBS which our Lithuanian friend Ivona helped translate/produce. The morning that we left Riga, a TV news report stated the government was about to pass a budget to avoid immediate bankruptcy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vilnius-Dauavpils - Day 62 : Meeting Daniel

Today, we took a 2 hour commuter train from Vilnius to Daugavpils a border town in Latvia which is also the second biggest'city' after the capital Riga.

On the train we met Daniel, an 8 year old Russian boy who spoke conversational English. When asked how he had learned English, he said, "I watch English movies and music videos". In 2 short hours he engaged us with a game of cards, stamped us with temporary tattoos, wrote us our names in Cyrillic and tried his hand at portrait photography.


Vilnius, Lithuania - Day 62: Quirky city

Vilnius is such a quirky little city. 2 things I absolutely loved about it:

1. Most shops in Vilnius have pictographic panels showing store timings. So a hair salon will have images of scissors next to their store hours or a shoe shop will have pictures of black stilletos alongside weekday hours and red stilletos alongside weekend hours. And this idea extends to bookshops, banks, restaurants and souvenir shops.
2. The district of Užupis, is a small patch of land that has declared itself a Republic. It's like NYC's Willamsburg, a small conclave of artists, hippies and by some accounts, 'a ghetto peopled by prostitutes, alcoholics and other miscellaneous misfits'. It has it's own flag, president and even a constitution that is nailed to a street wall that's full of idiosyncratic articles.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vilnius, Lithuania - Day 61: Biking to the Green lakes

Vilnius has a vast network of bike lanes and car-free parks that make it an ideal city to explore on a bicycle.

After having traveled through the better part of Eastern Europe, I now know that a city that has dedicated bike lanes and biker friendly roads speaks volumes of its respect for the environment. It is also indicative of a certain lifestyle - chances are that the locals do not suffer from obesity, spend a lot of time in the outdoors and live a simpler life. A biker for example will only buy provisions sufficient for tonight's meal which can fit in his bike basket. Compare this to an average American who needs all the space in his SUV to transport his monthly supply of groceries from COSTCO. I don't want to make this an essay about the benefits of non-polluting vehicles, but suffice to say that I hope this current global financial crisis gets people to rethink the cost efficiencies and health benefits of riding a bike to work, school or the local grocery store. We spent all of today biking nearly 40 kms around Vilnius' main park and then to the beautiful Green Lakes nestled in the thick forests of Verikai Regional Park.

There was a certain energy that filled the air as we approached the lakes - echoes of children laughing as they jumped into the water rang through the trees and suddenly the forest cleared up and the sun lit up the clearest green waters I have ever seen.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Vilnius, Lithuania - Day 60: Making new friends



We met Ivona yesterday on the train from Sestokai to Vilnius. Isaac kept jumping up on his seat and peering over her shoulder prompting us to start a conversation. Perhaps the nicest part of a journey like this is the opportunity to make new friends.

Ivona invited us to her home for dinner in Vilnius this evening with no qualms of us being strangers that she had just met on a train.

We had a lovely dinner and the fantastic company of her husband and multi-lingual children. Ivona is one of those interesting people who can talk passionately on just about any subject under the sun - world music, Montessori education, travel destinations, languages....

I sincerely hope we get to meet and hang out again.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Warsaw-Sestokai-Vilnius - Day 59: Day trains


If train schedules permit, we prefer overnight trains. It kills 2 birds with one stone (morbid expression, but I can't think of any other); We save on a night's accommodation AND sleeping is a better option than running behind a very active toddler!

Unfortunately, only day trains run between Warsaw and Vilnius with a switch of trains at Sestokai (a town that borders Poland and Lithuania). All in all, it took about 9 hours, and since there are no restaurant cars, we have to shop, pack and travel with enough food and milk to sustain our son. Thankfully, Eastern European trains seem to run half empty, so there is always lots of room to stretch out and catch up on some reading/writing.


That's Isaac amusing himself with some strange stuffed giraffe ritual.

Warsaw, Poland - Day 59: 20 years of freedom

Before we arrived in Poland, T had warned me that Warsaw was perhaps the most polluted and dirty city he had seen when he visited as a boy in the early 90's after the fall of communism.

A CNN article once wrote - ...'there was a time in Poland when the economy was so maddeningly out of touch with the needs of its people that anyone lucky enough to own a car would remove their windshield wipers at night and take them inside. In their command economy -- oblivious to the laws of supply and demand -- some official forgot to order wipers and consequently, they weren't for sale anywhere. Inspired by a hungry black market, thieves would work late into the night snapping them up.'

20 years later, Warsaw has little trace of the city my husband and the article said it once was. It has clean modern buildings, a beautiful preserved old town and very few reminders of the decades of Soviet neglect.

The timing of our visit couldn't have been better - Warsaw is full of infectious energy - street art, concerts and exhibits celebrating 20 years of the transition from communism to capitalism and the 'Autumn of Nations' . For 3 days, we walked through an open air exhibit near the old town - an inspiring reminder of the sequence of events that led to the breakaway from Soviet domination.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Warsaw, Poland - Day 56-58: Perogis and 'Milk bars'


Last night, we had dinner at Zgoda Grill bar - a Polish restaurant that served up heavenly perogis and warm red wine. Polish perogis are very similar to Tibetian Momos or Chinese dumplings - just lighter and way more tastier! T's best friend - Robert is of Polish descent has always waxed eloquent about the comfort of warm homemade perogis. We loved it so much, we went back twice.


Today we had lunch at a Polish "milk bar" that I chanced to read about online. The food itself was plain and watery, but the experience was priceless - trying to decipher a huge Polish menu list tacked to a wall and watching matronly women serve up large portions from steaming vessels. Milk Bars are one of the few remnants of the Communist era - basically a cafeteria style restaurant that provided subsidised food to Polish factory workers much like a company canteen.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Prague - Warsaw, Day 55 : Polish train safety

When planning our train travels through Eastern Europe, we had come across several warnings about Polish overnight trains. What had me most nervous were 'gassing incidents' - passengers in coupes who were gassed before being robbed of their belongings. We checked with several sources and everyone said it was safe now and that the incidents were more of an urban myth.

We got safely (and uneventfully) from Prague to Warsaw. Interestingly, we were told at the ticket counter that the only available tickets were 2 upper berths in a 4 passenger couchette. We bought it grudgingly with visions of being pushed off the upper berth by my toddler who I would have to share it with.

The coupe turned out to be 6 berth couchette and completely empty! So much for the Polish train reservation system!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prague, Chech Republic - Day 52-55 : Wrestling tourist mobs!

It took us 4 hours and 3 different trains to get us from the lil' town of Velke Mezirci (where Lucia and Matt had their reception) to Prague. There are buses that ply that route in less than 2 hours but getting Isaac to actually sit on a bus seat seemed highly improbable, so we opted for the train(s).

Prague is pretty without a doubt but what overwhelmed me was the quantum of tourists (even in this cold damp weather!). At times I was elbow wrestling just to get them from stepping on my toes. T had to fly to London for a potential job interview, so Isaac and I had about a day to ourselves. With T gone, I stuck to simple domesticity - walked through town, took Isaac to a park beneath Charles Bridge and cooked a Kerala fish curry paired with some chilled Chech beer. Large departments stores (such as TESCO) are so homogenised, even in Prague I can pick up the fish, coconut milk and spices to make such a peculiarly regional dish!

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