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PERSONAL SPACE AND ME TIME…….

Last week we got a text from good friends Corina & Werner, asking how we possibly cope without much personal space and me time – well in all honesty it hasn’t really been something I have thought about much because it is not really something that is very possible – especially as we are trying to traverse a continent and a half by train. Apart from the occasional walking to the local shop to get supplies there hasn’t really been much chance to do anything on our own – nor should there be really cause this whole trip is mainly about family time rather than me or us time. Anyway the text made me really crave for some me time and my response was:
“OMB! (Oh my Buddha – though I should switch back to OMG since there are so many beautiful churches around) – You are speaking my language – I just haven’t thought about it I guess – me time!
Mmmmmmm! If I had some me time I’d be at a yummy Italian Restraunt with a glass of Prosecco followed by a delicious pasta meal and a Spritz to end with and lots of wonderful adult conversation & gossip before having to run across the road to the groovy Art Deco cinema for a thought provoking Iranian movie that just won the Sundance film festival -ahhhhhhh! That would be nice – but for now I’ll have to dream about it while we share a cramped train carriage with the kids for 47 hours”.

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Anyway – my first attempt at some me time has been nice but I should’ve been more organised – I completed my first task at getting us 5 tickets to see Swan Lake (little kids allowed to sit on our knees which saves some rubles) – we think it would be a travesty of justice to come to this amazing city St Petersburg – and not see one of the classical ballets – and the kids are quite into it – though Zoi and Emilio have only seen Angelina Ballerina before. So that is tomorrow night – we thought we’d go tomorrow to celebrate my brother George’s birthday.
I’ve been craving going to a movie and all the posters of movies have guns in them and my general rule is if there’s a gun on the poster it’s not for me – so there was only one movie applicable and it looked good – (not sure what it would be called in English) – but with all my walking to the theatre – tickets were pretty cheap but I wanted to avoid the commissions so I walked to the actual Conservatory theatre ticket office – and then to the cinema I missed the first movie time slot by half and hour and at the second cinema I tried the next showing isn’t for two hours at 10pm…….
Therefore I am content with just sitting quietly, sipping my green tea and eating my delicious and very creamy and naughty cappuccino cake from an exquisite cake shop that I wouldn’t want to walk into with the kids. It tastes so much better without having to worry about noise levels, or reminding them that they can’t put the umbrella up inside, or playing chasey inside wouldn’t be the best idea, or being asked to read a book or why would this man called Hitler want to bomb the exquisite Hermitage museum, or how did he die, or why didn’t someone try to stop him…….. Ah a bit of peace and……..me time.
Sandy’s turn in a couple of days…….and Sandy suggested that when we are settled in Crete and the kids have gotten used to school etc we should have 5 days each where we go somewhere new on our own! Mmmmmmmm! My mind is starting to boggle.
May your day be awesome and epic (kids love these words)

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Christos

2

BORDER CROSSINGS, SUNRISES, RUSSIANS, HOMESTEADS and SIBERIAN LAKES…….

Hello, I don’t get to see many sunrises these days as there are so few dark hours in this part of the crazy world that the sun has normally been up for at least four hours before I wake up (it gets totally dark around midnight and is light again by about 4.30am).

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However this morning I woke at about 4am and just couldn’t get back to sleep which is unusual for me – I would really be the world’s worst insomniac – I get very grumpy.
Anyway – how could I be grumpy when I decided to actually get out of bed rather than toss and turn to spend my last day at Lake Baikal blessed with this glorious sunrise as i go for a walk on the headlands and write this blog.
It rained overnight and is quite nippy at the moment so everything feels bright and fresh and the smell of the lake is really special.

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I have wanted to come to Lake Baikal for a very long time – Siberia in general has fascinated me ever since I became addicted to looking at atlases in my late teens, though this lake in particular is quite amazing. For a start it doesn’t look so big on a shrunk map of the world though it is just massive – very long – you can’t see from one side to the other and it holds more than 1/5 of the fresh water reserves of the whole entire world – that’s just mind blowing in itself – though also in the winter it freezes over and is covered by an average of 2 metres of ice – I would love to come back here twice more – once in the middle of winter and skate on the ice and do a drive/camp on the ice, but also another time to see the incredible sight of all the ice breaking in March and April.

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It’s amazing to sit here and see the trees and shrubs around – they have to do all their business in just about 4 or 5 months before the September frosts set in – doesn’t leave much time for spring, summer and autumn.
The other reason I have wanted to come to this lake for a while is that I once read a book – I think it was called ‘The long walk’ by a Polish political prisoner who was sent to Siberia in extremely harsh conditions. He eventually escaped and walked across this lake, into Mongolia and China and since the Chinese would have sent him back, he eventually walked to Tibet and to safety. A very fascinating story. We met a Polish traveller with her dad who old us it had been made into a movie. It’s on my ‘to see’ list.
We have been staying at an amazing place called ‘Nikita’s Homestead’ – recommended to us by our friends Bernie and Ryan who came here in January.

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They described it as a Mittagundi type of place (for those who don’t know Mittagundi – an amazing, isolated and rustic place in NE Victoria that provides incredible outdoor experiences for young school age kids).

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We thought we would need a week here to relax after traversing China where we were a walking circus and then nomadic Mongolia. It has been so nice to stop and also amazing to have 3 meals cooked for you everyday in the canteen and not have to worry about what to eat today – and the food has been so amazing – lots of vegetarian Russian soups, cabbage salads and lost of fish at each meal – I’ve even got used to the sweet bread with dinner each night. There are wooden rustic yet ornate houses and buildings dotted around everywhere – one night they had 200 people staying.

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One of the highlights definitely has to be the Russian Banya – just so refreshing and cleansing – I think the kids have written about the one we went in as a family that they have here in the complex but yesterday I went in a little one on the beach with Kalika and Zoi – set up in a small trailer with a wood fired heater in the back, boiling up the water and hot stones and steaming the trailer up – after 5 minutes you just need the relief of the cold lake – the in and out, in and out many times for 1/2 an hour.

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We also had a birch broom massage – basically birch made into a broom and warmed up by the boiling water coming out of the heater, the the lady who runs the banya comes in and slaps you all over with this birch broom and ends with having to take 3 big sniffs of the aroma. Quite exhilarating.

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I was wondering how cold the water actually is – and I eventually got to ask someone who knew – and it is 4 C -I was expecting lots colder – like 1 C – oh well, it feels way way colder than southern Tasmania which is the next coldest place I’ve swum in.

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Definitely another humungous highlight was meeting our friends Luke & Maria and Kathleen and the kids – Levi and Gabby – our kids instantly became friends and then wanted to spend every waking hour of the next four days together. It was great – hopefully we’ll see each other again if I can ever convince Sandy to visit the US or if they come to Australia. Our kids are planning on keeping in touch at any rate. Kathleen had some great Sarah Palin jokes! Love those…..

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We’ve been in Russia more than a week now – and initially on our first wander around Irkutsk we stumbled on a market with loads of fruits and veggies which was so exciting after Mongolia where we didn’t have any fruit in the ger and only a choice of 3 vegetables.

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I just re-read the last sentence and it made it sound like I didn’t like Mongolia – but I did – I loved it despite the vegetarian challenge. However I find it hard to get to a new country or place and not instantly compare it to what we’ve just had. It’s bizarre – maybe it’s just human nature. Anyway – Irkutsk is a beautiful town on the river – as you walk along the river you are hard pressed to find a spare spot to put your heart padlock on the rails – to I guess, entwine your heart with your beloved for ever. Or lock it in anyway!

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Our first Russian meal at a Russian fast food place that supposedly offered sushi and lots of salad and other Russian delights was a bit disappointing and showed us just how difficult not knowing the language (despite me knowing Bulgarian and the Cyrillic script and being able to piece some things together) is and not to trust the pictures that are on display – most of those things aren’t available ‘today’. The kids are getting so much better with – ‘don’t believe what pictures and brochures say – the reality might be completely different’. However – on our second day we found a vegetarian Hare Krishna Restaurant and OMB! it was so delicious and scrumptious and yummy and amazing and incredible – lots of flavours and super healthy desserts too and even ginger lemon water – now that takes me back to India!

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The above photo is the entrance to our hostel – a converted apartment on the 3rd floor – very interesting use of space!

Our entry into Russia deserves a bit of space…….
I find border crossings so interesting and they always seem to happen in the dark hours when you really want to be asleep but you need to wait up otherwise they’ll wake you anyway…….and the toilets – well if you have to go to the toilets during the 4 or so hours it takes to go through Mongolian customs and then Russian customs, you either need to have a discrete container or just hold on till you really hurt – You see they spend at least an hour or two at each border post but they shut the toilets (so that you don’t have lots of poo and piss at the stations as the ‘stuff’ just goes down to the bottom through an open hole in the toilet. Anyway I’m sure you don’t want to hear about train ablutions!

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Anyway the big Mongolians (many of them are pretty big) enter the train first, asking to open my bags – golly it’s been a while since someone asked that (they are very sensitive about people stealing their national treasures after that idiot tried to buy their dinosaur bones for $1M at an auction in New York) and border crossings always happen around midnight for some reason- all kids and Sandy were sleeping. I wait to give out passports, accept them again and open bags of kids clothes! The bags were everywhere as this is the first train trip that we were allowed to all squeeze into a 4 berth carriage to save some money. The Chinese mainly do it by height so we had to buy 5 tickets in China – I guess the Mongolians don’t really care as long as you can fit in – it was quite squeezy but surprisingly fit really well – lots of top and tailing – I became Kalika’s ‘twin’ for the night.

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Eventually after I opened a few bags of clothes they waved to me to stop – I was starting to have to lift beds up while sleeping children were on them to get to the bags – I think they could tell we weren’t stealing rare dinosaur bones or Genghis Khan’s remains! Then we get to the Russian side and by this time I was seriously thinking about what would happen if my bladder actually burst and whether they would see me if I peed out the window! The Mongolians were actually friendly in comparison to the Russian guards – we had a big burly woman in high heels stomp in to get our passports to stamp – she kept counting to seven and shining her torch and shaking her head and she made all her colleagues that walked past count as well as if it was the biggest scandal they had seen. Then I had to pass each passport one by one and lift their sleeping heads so she could tell it was them and not some other person we were trying to smuggle in. Toby was a classic cause as I lifted his head he just grumbled, shook violently and almost fell off the bed – I think she got the picture after this so didn’t look too closely at Zoi and Emilio. The dog leading customs officers get on next and have to go through all our compartments to make sure we weren’t smuggling any stowaways. – Kiki didn’t even blink as I lifted her whole bed up to check the bags and space underneath! They even check small holes in the passage way floor for refugees -I guess. I wish I had the guts to take photos of the customs officer – she was mega scary!

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That brings me to next topic – Russians – we have met some of the nicest people and some of the rudest people – it just doesn’t make sense! Then our friend who had lived in Moscow for a year explained that Russians have a ‘circle of trust’ – once you’re in that then they will do anything for you, though you kind of need to earn entry to that. That maybe explains why people at ticket offices just hold a sign or point a finger as if you have if asked them to rip their teeth out instead of actually smile.
Another great example is one woman at the market who was selling watermelon – very messy when travelling and Kiki just loves it so I asked if she could cut one in half – golly it’s as if I asked her to amputate her leg with a 40 year old rusty bomb. Obviously the answer was no!

We went on a boat cruise on Lake Baikal – the captain came out two or three times at the start and yelled at the kids, in the gruffest voice, to sit down so they didn’t fall off the back.

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After our lunch stop and hike the Arctic winds came in while on the lake so he came out with blankets for the kids to wrap around each other, his face softened and he eventually invited them all down to the warm little room under the steering room. I guess we entered his ‘circle of trust’.

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Also – check out the jetty we had to walk on to get to the boat – one of the most rickety I’ve seen.
What we have found though is that when the Russians know English well then you are in that circle already and they are so helpful and want to walk you to the train etc! There was a lovely family with a baby on the bus back from Olkhon island to Irkutsk and the mother was an English teacher – great at translating, calling us taxis, negotiating with the driver about drop off points, and giving us her email if anyway she can help us further!

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Much love
Christos

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News from Toby the fisherman

Russia

On Thursday we went on an excursion by boat to the mainland to a special spring where you can get water that is apparently very healthy for you. We went on this trip with our new American friends, Luke and Maria and their kids, Levi and Gabrielle. The guides and the rest of the group sprinted towards the spring while we were trailing behind.

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The water was like normal water but cold as if it had been in a fridge for ages. The water was from an underground spring I think but it came out through some wooden pipes to fill up from. There were two pipes – one for women and one for men.
We hiked back to the beach for lunch – which was picnic sandwiches that were provided by Nikita’s homestead – they were quite good. It started spitting and became very cold as we got back on the boat and as we were huddling around blankets, the captain invited us in to the cabin where it was very warm.

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I asked Luke to tell me about the story of when he got attacked in Moscow. He told us the story again and we asked him to tell us more stories about stuff like that – there was one story that was very interesting about the time when he was 12 years old and nearly broke his back by falling from a cable wire that was apparently enormous fun but 5m above the ground. When he called for help he couldn’t speak, his heart wasn’t going too well and his lungs were struggling – all he could do was scream very loudly. Everything that the brain controlled was shocked. His younger brother came to help him when he screamed and Luke was much heavier and bigger but somehow his very light brother flung him over his shoulder and took him back to the house. Pretty amazing. He couldn’t walk without help for a few days.
Our second stop was a holy temple that was on the top of a hill. People were walking around the temple (which was like a stupa – you couldn’t go into it) clockwise, first you had to walk around in silence, then praying for what you want to happen and then a third time saying what you are grateful for. There were lots of rock sculptures and pyramids of rocks and just piles of rocks that people had made near the stupa.

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When we got on the boat for the way home they cooked us meat soup, bread and salad – it was delicious – especially I liked the salad and dipping the soft bread into the juices.

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After eating we went back into the cabin and Luke told us about his cat they have at home. They had a mouse in their cupboard that they caught one day and they put the cat and mouse in a box together hoping the cat would eat the mouse. Then there was a scruffling or running sound and a mieow, mieow. He thought that ‘oh no – the cat had made friends with the mouse’, So then he let the cat go and decided to let the mouse go too so he went outside and opened the box and only saw the cat but the mouse wasn’t in there – then he saw two bloody paws which meant the cat had eaten the mouse. Once the cat had tasted blood he knew it was his favourite food so the cat was very busy catching birds and golfies. It would dig a hole and the golfies don’t like holes in their tunnels so they would fill it up while the cat was waiting to pounce and eat it. As a present to Luke and his family the cat would leave the bones but would eat all the guts and meat. So then every morning when they went to the garage the cat would be there waiting with bones of a small animal. He would be smiling as if he was saying ‘Look what I caught – aren’t you proud of me?’
We had lots of stories and they were jolly well good on the slow way back to the beach to go home. We we starving for dinner by then.

On Saturday, mum, Kalika and I went on a fishing trip with one of the local fisherman of Olkhon Island. We were driven to the boat at the long beach near Nikita’s Homestead. We got on the boat and went close to the village harbour to start fishing.

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We used rods that the fisherman had to catch fish. Once he caught a fish, I asked mum how he caught it and she said that when the floaty goes down give your rod a sharp tug and reel it in. It took half an hour to catch our first fish. Our first fish was 28 cm long. A little while later the fisherman caught another fish and it was just a pretty small fish – 22 cm long. He had a ruler on his tackle box. When we caught the first fish he put it in a yabby net and put the net in the water so the fish was still alive – to keep it fresh. Mum caught the third fish and it was 23.5 cm long.

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Kalika and I were really eager to catch a fish so when the fisherman or mum caught a fish they gave the rod to us so we could reel in the fish. When we caught our first fish the fisherman did a tradition on us – he got the fish while it was still alive and slapped it over our face three times, it felt really weird. We started catching more fish – all together six fish – then we started going back to go to the toilet, then back to the harbour and started catching more fish.

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It was a while before we caught another fish. My casting got better and better every time I practiced. We caught three more fish and one of them I caught all by myself. Mum said ‘look is that a seal’s head over there?’ I had a quick look and then went back to the fishing. I was practising what I should do when I catch a fish, but while I was practising the floaty went down which meant the fish was nibbling so i quickly yanked it and got the fish on the line. Then I said ‘I got one I got one’ but the others ignored me cause they were still looking at the seal. I got the fish out of the water and onto the boat – it was hanging in the air above mum’s head, then I shouted ‘I got one’ again. Mum spun around and said ‘Oh my gosh Toby – did you get that by yourself?’ It was hanging right near her face.’ That fish was 24 cm. We caught 6 fish that time and threw 3 back in cause they were too small.
We went back to a small rocky beach to cook the fish. First, Kalika and I got all our fish and measured them again and wrote the lengths down. Then we saw how many fish the other group we were working with had caught. They had three more fish than us and the biggest was 31 cm long. The fishermen then tried to have a bit of fun – he opened one of the big fish’s gills and stuck my finger in and out of the fish’s mouth. He put two on each hand.

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The we started to gut the fish – this is the first time I learnt to do this. I gutted two fish – I had blood all over my hands. Mum said ‘why don’t you go and wash your hands in the water’ but I didn’t want to because my hands felt good. I thought the intestines looked weird but felt good.

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We played around a bit then had fish soup and BBQ fish on coals with salad. It was delicious and I loved it. It was a great day – I was so grateful to do it.

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By Tobes

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Zoi the Siberian princess

RUSSIA

We met some lovely friends called Gabby and Levi. We played lots and lots and lots and and lots and lots of games with them. Our favourite game was ‘Cat Robber Steal’ but that’s boring now. Gabby and I looked alike – we have the same hair. I love Gabby and miss her very much. I hope she visits me at my house.

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I love the food at ‘Nikita’s Homestead’ – at breakfast time I love the pancakes, at lunchtime I love the Russian soup and the bread and at dinner they always have sweet bread but I have to eat my soup and veggies and fish before my sweet bread. There is a lot of fish around here.

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At the beach I like the cold water – I put my head under the water with my gorgeous baba, it was so cold – if you put your head in the water you live longer. I played with Gabby and Levi at the beach – they were my friends but now they are on a train and I miss them. We played finding special rocks and we built a rock statue. We climbed on a cliff really high and it was slippery because I had my thongs on. In America they call thongs flip flops – it is such a funny name. Gabby and Levi spoke with an American accent.

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We are leaving Olkhon Island tomorrow and going a train for 2 nights – that’s a very very longtime.

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A couple of days later…….
Right now we are on a very long train trip for 2 nights from Irkutsk to a place called Omsk which is still in Russia. It’s a very very big country. I’m doing my school work and baba is writing in my blog. I know my letters very well now.

I miss all my friends at school.
By Zoi

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Yasi’s Siberian reflections

12/7/2013

Today our American friends, Luke & Maria, grandma Kathleen and the kids Levi and Gabriele, left to go back to Irkutsk and then catch a train to another place in Russia starting with K. After there they are catching trains to Ekaterinbrug and Moscow and then flying home back to America.

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Yesterday we went on a cruise around the islands on a boat with Luke, Maria, Levi and Gabriele but Kathleen was resting.

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We saw some heads of seals sticking up from the water though they were a bit far. First stop we went to a fresh water spring on the mainland. We collected some water – it’s supposed to have some really good minerals in it. Someone had placed a hollow log where it comes out from and the water ran down the log like a tunnel. There were two logs, one was meant to be for boys and the other side for girls.

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We walked back to the ship for lunch and had a picnic on the rocks. Nikita’s homestead – where we are staying had made us sandwiches with cheese, cucumber and tomatoes and also some little sweet donut biscuits but I didn’t like them – too sweet and weird dough. It was very cold and windy as soon as we got back on the ship. They gave us blankets to cuddle into but then the captain invited the kids to come to the little room under where they drive the ship. It was toasty in there.
In the little room, Luke told us lots of stories about his life – once when he lived in Moscow when he was mugged sounded very scary. He lived in Moscow for a year when he was younger so he knew lots of Russian.
Then we stopped at another island that had like a mini Temple kind of thing. If you wanted to walk around the temple you had to take 108 steps and walk around three times, the first time silently, the the next times you need to pray for want you want and then what you are thankful for.

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Our boat was very slow so it took so long to get back to this little village. Dinner time had already even started.

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In Irkutsk, we walked around the city and saw markets, and lots of buildings and it was a nice city.

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By Yasi

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Kiki’s update from Siberia

12/7/2013
Olkhon Island, Siberia

In Russia after two nights in a city we went on a 5 hr drive then on a 10 minute car ferry to an island called Olkhon Island.

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We went to a playground at a place called ‘Nikita’s Homestead’ where we are staying for a week. We got to hold the dog and the rabbits. Just outside the playground where there is a little water fountain thingy I met some kids named Gabby and Levi who you’ll hear heaps more about later because we became very good friends and we spent four days with them.

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The next day we went to breakfast at the canteen – there are three choices – eggs, pancakes and porridge – I don’t really like the porridge which I normally like so I have pancakes and eggs and bread. Then as usual we did words, writing in our journal and maths. We then went to the playground to play with our friends Gabby (Gabby is short for Gabrielle) and Levi. We played with them all day except for lunch and dinner but even then we sat together. Some people thought we were a family of 7 kids and 5 adults- they were travelling with their parents – Luke and Maria and their grandma Kathleen. They were going home to America from a year living in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong they went to a school called an Academy in Hong Kong. They had some hamsters there. Gabby’s first hamster got its leg caught and died, this happened the first two weeks they were home which was sad. Levi’s one was named Superman, Gabby’s other one was named something like Cutie. Her second one was named Snuggles which suited her because when she wanted to be picked up she would climb on her two hind legs as if she wanted to be picked up.
After dinner that day we played a cat game. I was the owner and Yas was the cat robber. She tried to steal the cats who were Levi, Zoi, Emilio and Gabby – and we tried to save them.

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Earlier that day we went to the beach – it was freezing – I dove under twice but it was way way way too freezing to play for too long.

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We climbed up high on the rock hills and found some fishermen on the other side. We found special rocks like crystals and glass that had soft edges. There were lots of coins that people had put on the rocks that were offerings to the gods they believe in, or prayers for their good health – I’m not quite sure.

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For dinner I had delicious carrot pasta – we all squeezed together on the one table, Baba and mama and Toby had to sit on the window sill.
The next day we did the same thing – after school work we played and played but that cat game totally did not work cause everyone wanted to change which character they were and Emilio was missing cause he took too long with his school work. The lunch was different of course.

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We did go to a different beach further along the trail – which I had seen the day before over the cliffs. There was lots of sand, cows on the beach and lots more glass and stones and trees – it was basically just beautiful. We played a game of collecting more special shells and glass. We also went to the place over the cliff where we were throwing rocks the day before but we had to get home quickly because we had booked a Russian Banya which is basically a special type of bath – the way traditional Russians would wash. The banya was cool (actually hot – I mean the other cool – like awesome) and refreshing. It was warm water and you could put cold water on yourself to cool down. After the banya we went to have dinner again and then we all got to sit on one bed and stay up late watching a movie on Luke’s computer – have you heard of it it’s called the Lorax.

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It is about a boy who has a friend who really wants to see a real tree because they have only plastic ones. His one at home can do disco on his tree remote, even Autumn, Summer and Winter. And the girl called Audrey had an awesome painting of a tree on a wall. When she went to do some more painting one time it was gone and the wall was completely white because someone had painted over it. This is because they wanted to keep the world free of trees. Towards the end the boy had got a real tree seed and went back to his home. He got the seed from the person who chopped down all the trees to make a sneed in the first place. He re-planted this seed and trees began to grown everywhere. Their names where Tropular something seeds. Someone told them that trees are filthy and they grow in the ground and drop their leaves wherever they want but these trees didn’t do that, they were different – they had some hair sort of things and are softer then silk and they smelt like butterfly milk. They convinced them to be on their side by saying they give fresh air for free and they were all singing a song called ‘Let it grow’ and then Mr Hair came out – he was the only one who didn’t say it – he didn’t want trees to grow because his company sold fresh air out of a can and it would spoil his business. Then he said ‘I say let it die, let it die, let it die’. One of his helpers put a thing on his head that makes people fly and he went zooming off. Out of town where there used to be trees you could see where the tree stumps were because they knocked down the wall and the person who knocked down the trees came out of the building he was living in for hundreds of years and planted the little baby trees – they now dug a hole and sowed the plantings – it grew and grew and grew in the centre of town. Earlier the little boy was dreaming of kissing Audrey and kissed the cereal box instead. His mum asked what he was doing and he said -‘ I do love this cereal’ – as he turned it around. In the end Audrey kissed him on the cheek as he was planting a tree and the there were lots of trees in the world again.
You might wonder why I am not writing about the next day – cause my Baba said I’ve done enough and I need to leave things for the other kids to write about and I talk so fast and he’s a bossy boots.
By Kikibelle

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From Mongolia to Russia by Moochie

Mongolia-Russia

Hello – I went to a ger and there were lots of goats – I named them Cutie (brown), Toughnut (black), Tunnel (he is gold coloured) and Elvis is black with a white fringe. We named them these names because we were training them to not go to their mummies (its because they were becoming kids and we wanted to milk the mummies) and we were the people who were rounding them up. We used to go in their pen and hold them because they were so cute. Cutie and Toughnut were the cutest ones.

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There was a little boy at the ger and one day he was nudie and he went on a wild horse with no saddle bare back and all nudie with his uncle, Janba. The little boy was 2 or 3 years old. He had a difficult name to say so we called him ‘You’re so cute’. When we say his name he doesn’t know that’s a name so he just nods when we say ‘Are you so cute?’ When we say – ‘you’re a cutie’ he smacks us but it didn’t hurt its quite funny. We played lots of games with him, we played lasso games and I was the horse and he caught me with a big lasoo. I was like his big brother. I lifted him up if things we played were hard. Sometimes he would take my Lego bits to his ger but his great grandma brought them back.

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The horses were epic. We took the brown horse and the black horse for a ride to the well so they can drink water. Then we took both of them in the valley where there can be wind storms. We had a wind storm so we felt what it was like.

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The food in the ger was good. I liked the dumplings most – we gobbled them up and I liked the little boy eating with us. He made such a mess – he didn’t have any nappies he used to poo sometimes in his clothes.

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When we got back from the ger we went to see ‘Monsters University’ the movie, and we got our very own popcorn – we didn’t have to share. There were big monsters and small monsters and the biggest monster was on the green guys team and he let out the biggest roar. They learnt that they shouldn’t cheat in games but the big monster did.

The train ride to Russia was good because we all got to sleep together in the one carriage. We had two people on little beds except for mummy who slept by herself. It was exciting to get to Russia – there was even a fruit market that had delicious bananas.

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Levi was 6 and a 1/2 years old, I’m so glad we met him cause we just played all day long. We threw so many rocks in the water, some were skipping rocks and some were bigger rocks. We tried to get them to land on the big rock in the water. We threw rocks at the bad plants that were very prickly. We went in the water the first day but it became windy so it was more colder. I liked sitting with Levi to eat dinner but now I cannot cause he is on a train and is going back to America where his real home is. We are still at the same place which is so fun.

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There is a cute little puppy – it’s dad has died but its mum hasn’t, he bites lots and chewed up Kalika’s thongs. Now he mustn’t be very hungry – he was thirsty cause he drank up all his milk and didn’t even leave any drops – he got every single one.
By Moochie

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Zoi – the accidental goat rider

When we stayed at the ger with Janba and his family I liked horse riding and camel riding. I even got to ride on the camel’s neck. When I was helping to milk the goats I was sitting on the goat so it wouldn’t move when they were milking but goat took me for a ride and I was crying. It was an accidental ride but I was the first one in our family to ever ride on a goat.

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There was a little boy who we used to play together but he used to love my Lego. He took our water bottle. I also played bubbles with him.

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I cooked with the grandma – I made cookies, and dumplings. I loved playing with the dough.

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I went to a movie called ‘Monsters University’ in a cinema in Ulaanbaatar. I really liked the movie and I had my very own popcorn that I didn’t have to share. In the movie there was a monster called Mike and Sullivan. Sullivan jumped up to a window, they won the scary games.

I got to go on a row boat by myself in Ulanbaatar. We only had a short ride because we were rushing for the train to Russia. We are on the train now.

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WE SAW A BIG DINOSAUR bones in the main square of Ulanbaatar. It was gynormous – even way bigger than us.

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By Zoi

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Toilets, family time, adventure, challenge and who know wat…….

I don’t recall when I last wrote. My mind and experiences blur into one.
So how is it really I hear you ask?
Hmm. Hard to describe. I could relate different perspectives on things we do or tell you about the little markers of positivity or negativity. At the moment there is no cohesion to my thoughts or themes to my thinking. Hmmm, that in itself says something- when things feel calm and make sense I often find connections and synchronicities in my inner world. When things feel random and unsorted they are not necessarily problematic I just feel more on-the-spot rather than intuitive. I prefer the latter but try to be patient with the former.

Firstly though to put it out there. Christos and I can both state out loud now that we brought too much stuff! It has taken us a while to admit it, but each time we pack up we increasingly realise there are packs we have not opened. Perhaps it is the seven sleeping bags, seven sleepmats and two and a half tents and camp cooker that is pushing us to the limits and requires an Olympic effort each time we attempt to get in and out of trains? (Whilst we have used the camping stuff on several occasions; in villages in China, on the Great Wall and the sleeping bags in the ger… on each and every occasion we could have hired equipment and saved all the lugging!)

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Or perhaps the excess is relating to the fantastic but relatively untouched homeschool equipment in a mini suitcase on wheels that Christos hauls up steps and along narrow train corridors. I think it is both actually, along with quite a few unnecessary pack repair bits, more bathers than we need, and the occasional odd thing I can’t even think of now- it’s been so long since we took them out of a pack. So in all, we figure that Christos and I could get rid of our packs entirely as well as the schooling suitcase thing and just get the kids to carry all the stuff. That would be much more fun!

So back to random offerings of observations that activate bewilderment and curiosity.
Train wheel change. A fascination of a few weeks ago was watching a train wheel change on the Mongolian Chinese border. The train stops for 4 hours. At the start of the adventure (9pm) many people get off the train and some explore the town of Erlian… Our kids were asleep so we tag teamed a quick visit to the train station shop to get supplies, and then got on the train to try and see what others talk about but I could not imagine.

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It’s crazy. Chinese Border Control does its things with passports, then checking luggage compartments for stowaways/refugees etc.. And then after massive jolts that have you wondering whether the train has been hit by lightening or not and much stopping and starting we find that the train has moved into a massive ‘hanger’ stye shed where each carriage has been separated and placed between four massive hoists. The carriages are literally lifted off the Chinese carriageway/wheels and these are wheeled out from beneath us- then a new Mongolian friendly gauge of wheels are wheeled into place beneath us. After we are lowered from lofty heights we (we are one with the carriages) are reconnected to our moving parts and the banging and clanging happens again as the train joins back up into a long noisy pooing and weeing metal snake on a track and returns to the station of waiting passengers.

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An added fascination for us was watching the hoist worker out our window proceed to pick every bit of unnecessary mucous from both nostrils with the most intricate detail- a very thorough job indeed. For those travellers that did not realise the stop at Erlian was so long, our train wove back into the station and many weary travellers and children made their way back to their resting place for the night.

Travelling with kids is a different kettle of fish to travel pre-kids. To tell you the truth I can’t actually put a finger on a lot of it, I just feel moments of discomfort when we work our way through something new. For instance, I don’t think we touched western food in China, apart of course from ice creams and chocolate… The kids were great and enjoyed our surprise at their adding chilli to plain Chinese veggies. But Mongolia had Christos and I a little nervous on the food front, known for its meat culture and fatty meat at that, not to mention the use of all parts of the animal, we had even heard of testicle soup… So for the first time in our travel memories we were happy to embrace and explore the range of western foods on offer. As idealistic and budget conscious travellers in our 20’s we would never have contemplated this. Now I can’t imagine not having a French bakery treat or two! And the kids love thinking they are getting treats so often.
The other difference for Christos and I in relation to our previous single life travel is letting go of agendas; catching a taxi when the road is long (never previously an option in our younger independent determined minds), and checking the time of any adventure. Early morning and late night train arrivals and departures can alter the course of a trip. Ie/ there appears (so far) to be no reasonable train times for our planned Yekaterinburg stopover (where the Ural Mountains draw a line between Asian Russia and European continental Russia), so basically it might not happen. That is unless of course we hear back from a ‘Servas’ member email we have sent and there is an offer of a pick up…. It’s kind of nice to have a different set of lenses by which to make decisions even if it has taken us a while to recognise the activities/elements that can make or break us.

Nomadism in Mongolia – so much to learn and what a way to live.
In life there are layers of transition, permanence and impact. Mongolian nomadism is I suppose, one way of living at the ‘lighter footprint on the earth’ end of the spectrum.

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We, the Milikings are to an extent nomads at the moment…modern consumer, global nomads of a kind. An unusual, seven part, paleish haired (those of us who have hair anyway) massive backpacks with all the modcons-lugging, train and the occasional plane catching, Lego carrying, connected to the net and wifi where possible kind, of nomadic family.
I have been pondering movement, impact and all that jazz in this last week. So many thoughts and attempts to understand why and reason how it came to be that things are done the way they are, how dynamics, relationships and all of life are impacted by the resources we have and way we live in the world.
You have probably read in the kids musings on daily life that we have just spent a week with a nomadic family on the grassy planes of Mongolia, about 4 hours or 200 km from the capital Ulanbataar.
What does one think of when you are told in the information session that Mongolia has the only thriving nomadic culture left in the world???
It has inspired layers of contemplation for me. I lived in an untouchable village in India for 15 months in my mid twenties… So village life is something I am very comfy with, I feel I get it to a degree… I have been involved with the environment movement for half my life in some form (though I could improve a lot of what we do at home) I am aware of water issues, wood collection and land pressures… I grew up having horse riding lessons instead of swimming lessons after the initial swimming skill was achieved in keeping myself safe… I felt I was kind of prepared for this; I didn’t realise I would be so active in my mind digesting the experience.

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I think in part this window into nomadism impressed upon me how our relation to the land can colour so much of our relationship to animals.
There is nothing physically permanent in terms of structures about this family’s impact on the environment. They live on massive open plains with an enormous rocky range to the north, sand dunes about 8 kms away to the east, the national highway off to the south about 8km and who knows what to the east, (can I just mention that the sun rises about 5.30 am and sets (fully dark) about 10.30pm – try sticking to reasonable kid bedtimes with that!). There are no fences. There are no fences. There are no fences. Did you get that? No fences. The animals roam; goats, horses and for some families cows and camels. We appear to be in quite a sparsely populated area compared to what we saw on a drive today. We only see our goats and horses during the day. The horses, apart from I think three ‘broken in’ horses, are wild to a large extent. Mare milking seems to happen every couple of days when a huge effort is required. It seems the strategy is to tire out the herd of about 20 or so horses by chasing them around either with a motorbike or one of the blokes on a horse.

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Then they lasoo the four foals and wrestle them to the ground (you know the way a shearer might grab the legs from beneath them and sit on the torso). Each foal is given a handmade halter (some are rope, some are made from what I suspect is home prepared leather). Then the chase is on to lasoo the corresponding mares for milking- each is hobbled with three of its feet tied so it can’t move far or fast.

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The foal is then bought to its side, gets half a minute to feed, the ‘grandma’ simulates suckling and milks a mare. During this time each foal is tied to a very strong rope tied between two strong sticks banged into the ground. My impressions sway from; this is barbaric treatment of the horses and what happened to holding out a carrot?, to ‘ I don’t think it would even enter their minds to try and entice the horses’. The full on manoeuvring on motorbikes and horses that we saw; the skidding along the ground on the heels by the men as they lasoo a horse but it won’t stop, or the breaking of the rope, etc… A true spectacle that many of our horse loving friends and family would be gob-smacked at.
Then there is milking the goats- a much milder affair and great to be involved in…But what I find interesting here is that the yards- literally smaller than our lounge room at home (now that is consumerist permanency to an embarrassing degree) is created from beautifully smoothed wooden slabs shaped by years of wear and tear tied together by random straps of rope/ leather/ clothing off cuts… We seriously re-tied the fences several times a day during our stay. At the end of a season (apparently this is the summer location the family comes to each year and the winter camp they stay at for 9 months) all this is untied and carried away…. Non permanence has an impact on how you work with, round up and keep at hand the animals on whose products your life depends.
So back to the horses… It appears that what happens is that one horse (tame) is left tied to the treeless yards for about 24-36 hours and then is let free as one of the others is rotated in for use…

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For days we wondered where and how the livestock got water. We went up rocky hills trying to find water to no avail. Now we realise why every now and then someone would jump on the horse or a bike and hoon up past the empty looking camp in the gully behind us. There is a well. So the only permanent infrastructure I can work out is this well. But all water needs to be pulled up in a cut blue bucket with a rope handle and poured into- yes you guessed it a transportable tractor tyre that has been cut so it opens out in a long strip with sides and ends that curl up a bit. We filled it for cattle- not sure where they came from but they were thirsty (I had never observed the hierarchy of cattle before- there was a definite bully cow who did not let anyone else drink until she had her fill, and then others took their turn as ‘superiors’ moved on) and we walked ‘our goats’ up too. We poured water out until they had their fill and then left it full- ish. But there wasn’t much in the well I fear. It was communicated by charades that in spring the well overflows and a river runs here… Perhaps it is a dry season.
Ah, I knew there was another bit of worldly insight I wanted to pass on. It is my new found wealth of knowledge and experience in cooking fuel collection. Are you aware that wiry great grandmas of 80 years can put to shame a family of seven in mountain scampering for firewood and dung collection? What a gorgeous capable hardworking soul she is.

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But my excitement is this… Did you know that horse pooh is crap for cooking with! True. Cow manure is much denser, bigger blobs and much hotter and slower burning… A ten litre tub of water (for drinking) can be at a rolling boil in minutes. More efficient than our fancy new camping stove whose fuel cannot be carried on aeroplanes nor found in Chinese or Mongolian shops! Oh the joy and fun of it all. By the way the water does need a good boil… It is literally pale brown when it comes out of the well and much to no one’s delight it is strained after boiling with the strainer that is used for collecting the meat fat after a big cook up.
Has anyone written about the animal parts hanging in the other ger- goat feet, skin, intestines, hooves, heads, jaws full of teeth… but we all know nothing is wasted when a animal is killed, well not here anyway etc… Actually I hate to report the number of horse hooves that one finds on a wander in the fields another aha moment… why else would you keep wild horses if not for meat? A bit slow on the uptake I know but the hooves really bought it home to me.
Another interesting experience would be the toileting- there is much to write on this from China but check this out for efficiency – the Mongolian ger family dogs are protectors not pets and have been known to slurp up ones numbers twos as one continues to wipe ones rear end! Charming and a definite deterrent on dog petting.

Movement, expectations and perspective

I know not what else to share, so much happens each day… Christos and I are glad to report responding more and more calmly as the weeks move on. We try endlessly not to snap, shout or burst in frustration; but that is a part of travel too. We oscillate between smiles of ‘this is priceless’ and ‘ what a fantastic learning/opportunity/experience’ to ‘ I really hope they don’t hold this trip against us for the rest of their lives’. Fortunately the latter usually coincides with hunger, tiredness and the beginning of something they are not keen on but end up loving…
A perfect example of this was the Terracotta Warriors in China. I had read about these in a magazine about 9 months ago and thought them quite interesting. The kids were dead against it, so we traded a visit to a panda rescue centre with the Terracotta Warriors tour. Ironically the panda centre was a bit disappointing. The Terracotta Warriors was our first bigger group tour. It was a day that Christos was in bed, actually more likely in the shower, trying to ease extremely painful stomach cramps. Me and 5 kids on tour on someone else’s timeframe- things weren’t boding well!

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The location is spread over a 40 hectare site. An ancient tomb of an emperor hidden underground for centuries discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a hole for a well. There is heaps more to it than that obviously, but the exciting thing was that the kids got so into it!

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Their imagination went on overdrive, we even bought a book that the original farmer who uncovered the initial relic signed! He received 10 yuan (about $1.40) for his find back in 1974 and the village was relocated.

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And because horses have become such a thing for the kids this trip, we bought a small replica horse to replace, oops I meant supplement, the mascot meerkat we were presented with by our neighbours Suz and Pete and family for our trip…. Actually, we don’t seem to be much of a mascot family as the horse nor meerkat feature in many photos… Perhaps some of these purchases are some of the ‘excess’ we are carrying around! Anyway the point is, the interest and excitement of the kids in history and detail was such a thrill to feel and be a part of. A happy ending to a shaky beginning.

Oh, one last thing… Christos’ latest realisation, that I am still not quite ready to relearn or re-embrace, is about expectations. We have often found and needed to discuss with the kids about how there is a shiny brochure, website, words and photos that promises so much…. but the reality can often be so different. It is great to have these conversations and the kids are even bringing it up themselves, so i suppose the next step is tempering expectations in the first place … Of late we have been very excited about things we have planned, then when we get somewhere initially there has been some disappointment for all of us to be honest. Hopefully and usually, that gives way to making the most of the opportunities and by the end it is all ‘awesome and epic’… But in those moments of sadness and disappointment we can hear the line more than once in an accusational tone ‘You said this was going to be fun!’ To which we reply less and less defensively each time – ‘check your attitude!’

 

At this our friend Fi might suggest ‘throw the expectations out the window’.. And I have enjoyed ‘no expectations’ previously in my life and the joy and freedom that perspective brings, but how to impart that to kids… Especially when I haven’t washed for many many days and I ‘expected’ that this location would have a good space for a really good scrub up and major kids wash and clothes wash… As yet we have not found a time slot on the banya (shower) door! And we are located 100m down the road from said wash space in separate rooms so I can’t even cuddle Christos to soothe my grumps! I think that implies that for me it is time to; give myself a break, toughen up, plan a lush hot wash tomorrow, grow up and keep my expectations in check.

Until next time, thanks for helping me to bring my thoughts together a little in this blog (Christos does prod me every couple of weeks and I thank him for that), the goddess knows I haven’t made time for my own journal or writing …. Getting perspective in itself is soothing to an unwashed me, and getting your comments or reflections adds a sense of warmth and connectedness to this physically removed space.
Sxxxxxxx

Russia – so much is familiar and foreign at the same time.
Hi again,
It is amazing how lovely life is after an afternoon nap and a hot Russian steam bath. What a gorgeous experience. All seven of us naked in a multi-compartmental space (I can hear my mum cringing at this already) – first an entry room, then a dressing room, then a drying room, then the hot wash room, then the sauna all spiralling around a big hot furnace. Each room is progressively hotter…. and we washed and groomed ourselves with relish. There is a hot tap that spurts out boiling water into a low tub into which you ladle the desired amount of cold water from a 44 gallon drum.

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Outside, whilst it is a relatively warm day, their winters get to minus 50 degrees, the wind off lake Baikal is cold and polar fleece tops are essential. This place, Nikita’s homestead on Olkohn Island is great. It was recommended to us by Bernie and Ryan. They came last Siberian winter and drove on the lake that we have swam in and had to catch a boat ferry on… I cannot imagine winters here. Summer nights are cold. The wind is arctic – it feels that way anyhow.

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The sun goes down at 11.30pm and is up about 5 am…. What would winter be like! Anyway, this was a place described to us as a bit like Mittagundi for backpackers, and it is. There is a great kids play area, creative little rooms and buildings, camp style food and dining area. Three meals a day provided… The only draw back is that they were full and so we were allocated two rooms at a neighbours 100m away from this communal complex…. That was the initial disappointment. But as life goes things are lovely none the less. We have met a great American family who are travelling home after a year working in Hong Kong with two kids and grandma Kathleen. We have, it could be said spent every waking moment with them since we all met on the first day. The kids are inseparable and so good together, and we have found lots to chat about over hot green tea. I’m sure the kids will write lots about them so I’ll stop there.

I just want to tell you one experience from Russia. I got up early the morning we were leaving for lake Baikal. We wanted to check out the cost of train tickets if bought directly from the train station and not over the Internet. It was my job. And a bit of a challenge that first solo adventure in a new country. I was hoping that Christos might do it because he can understand the Cyrillic script and work a little bit out because the spoken language has some similarities to Bulgarian which he knows… But he had already done two solo trips for supplies and he was working on uploading some of the kids blog entries which I also am not that adept at. So, choose between two unknowns, and yes I went for the less technological of the two. I have done it many times as a solo traveller how hard can it be, and the city at dawn, quiet and still… That was an extra enticement. I enjoyed the quiet walk in the cool morning, looking at old ornate wooden buildings and the heavy mist over the river…

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Low and behold, I thought a smile and looking apologetic and appreciative could encourage even the sternest character into a helpful mood. It was not to be. Initially a sign was held up in my face, no worded or looks or smiles… ‘Go to building one for tickets’, so I did. That lady spoke at me in Russian with not an ounce of softness and wrote a few numbers on paper indicating prices. Then I was waved off. It was then the goal to withdraw some money but the ATM on my first attempt said – insufficient funds. Fair enough, that could be right, I need to work out the station WiFi to transfer from one account to another…. Follow the stickers saying WiFi on the station floor. I found a woman sitting behind a desk. Middle aged and grumpy looking, it is 7am. After huffing at me when I asked about English or WiFi, she pushed her noisy chair back and stormed off to two rooms and points to a sign in Russian that I can see says 60rubles (their money) and 20 something else… I follow her stout and strong figure back to her desk and she waits impatiently for me to hand over money, I hand her 50rubles and the frustrated sigh I received was demoralising. I gave her the other 10rubles (it was a genuine mistake she ruffled my feathers and intimidated me!) and she pointed to another room and turned away from me. I timidly went to the other room and could not find out how to connect to the WiFi. There was no password written anywhere, and I knew not what to do. I tried my most humble of approaches to the person most likely to have some English words that I could see in the waiting room. He was great and looked at my receipt then took me to the lady again… He found out the important info. That the WiFi only works in a 10 metre zone. Why cant that be written on a card and stuck on the wall? So I transferred the money, withdrew it from the ATM and caught a bus back to our bizarre but good little hostel, a deflated and demoralised woman. I choose to continue to believe in the power of humility and appreciation and patience when in a foreign country where you do not speak the language but golly it took me a while to bounce back from that sad space.
Fortunately, I have had more positive experiences in the last few days but the Russian language is still so foreign… I am about to start Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ to try to get a bit more of a grip on the psyche and feel of the place albeit a bit dated…
Cheers and love
Sandyxxxxxxx

A great quote to end with from the Montessori book I’m reading – “A foreign country isn’t designed to make you feel comfortable, it’s designed to make its people feel comfortable.”

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Moochie’s wrap up of time in China

Sorry once again for the lateness of this blog – Baba’s wifi fault…….

Athe Tiger Leaping Gorge I saw the rock that the tiger jumped off the cliff onto a little rock then a big rock then onto the other side.

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We climbed the Thousand Turtle Mountain and there were lots and lots of steps – you had to take off your shoes and socks. My legs are getting stronger and stronger because I’m getting bigger and we are doing so much walking and climbing. The leg muscles are the strongest muscles in your body. Even stronger if you eat all your food and your veggies.

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We went back to Shuhe and saw Alex again who took us to the stone forest – that was so much epic awesome fun cause you got to climb up lots of rocks.

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Yeshi took us to an awesome Tibetan Restraunt in Shangri-La. It was the best food we had in China. I loved the meat and the potatoes and everything. For dessert we had cake with mint on top. I like mints but I left the leaf. I ate some of the cake – it was yak cheese cake – I only ate half cause I was so full.

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A the Great Wall of China I liked It cause we got to run down the hills and run up the hills. They were really humongous hills. We were talking about our Giagia and Papou & grandma walking up these hills – they definitely wouldn’t make it. The hills were ginormous. I could make it there and back to the camping ground cause my legs are strong now. I was walking very slow when the hills were very steep. We camped with some other nice people – their names were Sam from Canada (he spoke funny in French), Hayley and Isabelle from England and Elizabeth and Melanie from America. They were good walkers. Sam was the fastest – he even walked further. I walked with him – we were the fastest.

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Beijing was awesome because we got to go on lots of subways and we went to a cake shop. We even found a Lego shop which was so there was policemen ones but i chose a small police lego and a car lego – the airplane is supposed to be red and the car blue. I love playing Lego. Beijing was a very big place and smelly cause there were lots of smokers. I really liked the meat sticks – the dark ones were the best – the red ones were too spicy.

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Today we are on a train going to Mongolia. It’s a night train but its morning now so it’s a long way to get to the night. When I finish my school work I’m going to do my Lego and watch Happy Feet 2 on the computer. Goodbye from Emilio