Tag Archives: Russia

One Year of Faces: Part 2

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One Year of Faces: Part 1

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On the 23rd of this month Richie and I celebrated one year on the road! 365 remarkable days! If there’s one thing that has characterised the experience for us, it’s the people. As a tribute to the places we’ve been and the friends we’ve made, I offer a gallery of faces: each one beautiful and unforgettable in its own way.

These are people with whom we’ve couch surfed, Wwoofed, played, partied, wept, worked and dreamt. Thank you, each and every one of you, for the inspiration you’ve offered us; the chance to mingle our life journeys with yours.

Thank you… شكرا… спасибо… σας ευχαριστώ… gràcies… 谢谢… tak… merci… მადლობა გადაგიხადოთ… תודה… grazie… ຂໍຂອບໃຈທ່ານ… با تشکر از شما… mulțumesc… ¡gracias… teşekkür ederim… diolch i chi… Ake Issrebeh Moulana… tanemmirt…

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‘dem APPLES

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When you’re travelling some days turn out scrambled and others sunny-side up. Our day in Almaty was going the way of the former: scrambled. The apples, we were told, were no longer on the trees, and the co-ordinates we’d been given for the wild apple forests were more than a day’s walk away, beyond the reach of Almaty’s public buses and the elasticity of our rapidly shrinking budget.

In the Sayran Bus Station we picked up a weak wifi signal, slapped out the laptop, and stared in befuddlement at a Google Satellite image. N43.22.11’, E77.40.36’ was a nameless collection of bunched green ridges, gullies and veins of rock. With a little over 24 hours  remaining on our Kazakhstan visas, finding Malus sieversii would be like looking for a needle in a haystack with the added diversion of a ticking time bomb resounding in our ears. Admitting it hurt like a shot in the foot. “Sorry guys it’s off the cards”.

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Our timing in Kazakhstan had been off from the start. By the time we entered the country on the 14th of October half of our 30-day Kazakhstan visas had already elapsed. It was our fault really, a foolish burst of optimism that had made us think we could dance our way around Russian visa red tape in Tbilisi in under three weeks. The two unscheduled weeks in Astana waiting for our China visas was the final undoing. We’d gone about it all wrong, and as a result, we’d be entering China sans the precious Malus sieversii seeds. Continue reading

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Visa advice for the hapless and hopeless romantic who insists on travelling overland from Georgia to China

VISA ADVICE FOR THE HAPLESS AND HOPELESS ROMANTIC WHO INSISTS ON TRAVELLING OVERLAND FROM GEORGIA TO CHINA

Acquiring a visa for Kazakhstan in Tbilisi 

Cost: US$45 in cash

Type of visa: 30-day tourist

Length of wait: Five days

Ease: Fairly straightforward

Note: Biggest bumma about applying for a Kazakhstan visa in Tbilisi is that the Kazakhstan consulate is at the top of a really big hill. I mean really big! You can catch bus number 66 from the main bus station on Chavchavadze street and it will drop you directly out front of the gate, which is handy. Otherwise, you could grab a taxi or stretch your legs. There were very few people applying for visas, therefore the service was fast. No unruly queue.

As well as submitting our application form we submitted a copy of a hotel booking and a cover letter – the latter was unnecessary. Note that the consular services are NO LONGER on Orbeliani Street. You need to go to 23 Shatberashvili  – the security guard will show you what to do in order to be seen. BE AWARE THAT THE VISA STARTS TICKING FROM THE DATE YOU SPECIFY ENTRY ON YOUR APPLICATION. WE DID OUR CALCULATIONS WRONG AND ENDED UP LOSING HALF OUR TIME IN KAZAKHSTAN BY STAYING OVERLY LONG IN GEORGIA. Continue reading

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Georgia to Kazakhstan in photos

For a full account of our adventures on the Georgian Military Road, and the rails, border towns and train compartments between Vladikavkaz (Russia) and Astana (Kazakhstan), see Richie’s blog.

Total distance travelled: 3,800 km

                    Total number of changes: 7

                                        Time taken: Four and a half days

                                                            Adventure Factor: High!

The Georgian Military Road: Tbilisi to Kazbegi

high places near the Jvari Pass, 2379m

the bumpy mashutka ride is worth it for the views

misty mountains

vintage transport in Kazbegi

rained-out hiking to the Gergeti Trinity Churth. Any m’rooms about?

ella-mental: rock, wind, ice and eagles!

Mt Kazbek (5,033m)

At the Border – Kazbegi to Vladikavkaz

praying for dear life

a loaded Lada – dropped at the Georgian/Russia border

thumbs out for a lift across the border – no pedestrians allowed

uninspired border architecture

on the Russian side of the border

Inside the Carriage – 4 nights on the rails

still life – snacks & instant noodle paraphernalia

samovar – our saviour

catching up on sleep

Russian sunset

steppe of western Kazakhstan

waiting for the train, Askaraiskaia

platform life, near to Volgograd

smoked fish, Russian speciality

The People – unexpected help arrives!

lift in a Lada from the border to Vladikavkaz

Sam and Dmitry, one of many guardian angels!

sharing food and photographs

a new Uzbek friend, inspired by a photograph of Australia

Richie meets a Kazakh geologist specialising in oil exploration

our new Uzbek friends scrutinising photos on their way home to Tashkent

‘the circle of bewilderment’: Nina and Sam encircled on the platform at Askaraiskaia

I wholeheartedly recommend this route east to China to anyone seeking an alternative to the Tran-Siberian or Silk Road-route through Iran and Pakistan – especially if you manage to pre-arrange visas in your home country (more on this in the next blog). Hello China, here we come!

ps. It’s snowing here in Astana. The coldest capital in the world!

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Breaking crust

The farmhouse, Momavlis Mitsa

Saturday morning in Argokhi. There is work to be done: water butts to fill; pigs to feed; floors to sweep; tea to brew – but there’s no hurry. I sit on the steps cracking hazelnuts, listening to the sounds passing up and down the lane on the opposite side of the above-head-high metal fence. I hear ducks squawking, the lazy turning of cartwheels, neighbours fussing, the crank of the timber grape press, and the occasional sound of apples falling from the tree. It’s mid-autumn. Every warm day between now and Christmas is worth its weight in gold.

Working on Momavlis Mitsa (Future Earth) farm in Argokhi has ameliorated the discomfort of waiting for visas in Tbilisi. Instead of sitting like ghosts in some disembodying hostel, milking the wifi and kicking stones down Marjainishvili on the way to the Metro, we’re working outdoors, using our lungs and hands to lift things, fix things, bake things, grow things.

Creating new raised beds

Richie and Sam adding rotted compost to the soil

In the garden we’re asked to do things we’d never do at home, in our own garden: pull weeds, hoe earth, turn soil, plant monocultures and raise new beds without mulching them. I bite my lip as Inken, the 18-year-old longterm German volunteer, instructs me on how to break the ‘crust’ that has formed on the surface of the soil due to successive phases of watering and sunshine. We work the hoe forward while simultaneously walking backwards down the aisles. I wonder if I’m disturbing the roots of the small plants, and why there are no bugs or worms in the soil.

Continue reading

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Georgia on my mind…

In the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, you can still find homes arrayed around large central courtyards set-back from the road. As many as six or seven families share these communal courtyards: coming and going at all hours of day or night… washing hanging, children playing, and the scent of cooking wafting through windows. Everyone’s business is everyone else’s business because everything here is open and transparent. A lot of yelling goes on, and a lot of retaliation.

Three generations of women reside in the house where we’re staying. One of them speaks English. There’s a dog too. His name is Pushkin. We’ve become used to nosing through the womens’ quarters on our way to and from the bathroom. We’ve grottied the courtyard table more than once with watermelon juice. It’s nice to know that when we tire of the cramped conditions inside the house we can step outside for a breather, airing our stained towels on the outside line and waiting under the poplar tree for our Russian and Kazahk visas to mature. We wish Sam would put his shoes out once in awhile!

A Tbilisi courtyard – homestay.

Tbilisi is a pleasant place to be waylaid. It’s the bottle-neck through which we hope to pass into the wilds of Russia, Kazahkstan and, eventually, China.  It’s not a simple or a speedy process but as our Syrian roommate pointed out to us, we’re extremely lucky that if we follow procedure by filling out the relevant forms and providing the stipulated amount of money, we can travel more or less unimpeded through any territory on the planet. The apple forests of the Tien Shan Mountains still feel a long way off, but the breeze is blowing from that direction.  Continue reading

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