Sunday, July 5, 2009

Europe, Russia, Mongolia & China 2009

" The Young Once forever singing The Young Ones. The Old Once forever singing The Summer Holidays " 

" The true wisdom of living is living moment to moment "

" Success is not getting rich at once. It is achieved through day to day, moment to moment progress " 

My 45 days solo visit to Europe, Russia, Mongolia & China - My first Spring experience in Europe, Baltic states and taking a Tran-Siberian train ride from Russia to Mongolia and China ( 3/5 - 16/6/09) - It only takes one pair of eyes to see the world; two will be wonderful !

After my Middle East trip ( Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey - see my earlier travel blog: ) in Sept/Oct 08, I started planning for my trip to Europe and the Tran-Siberian train ride from Moscow to Mongolia / China. It took a few months for me to firm things up especially on matters relating to hostel bookings , transport arrangement and Russian visa application & protocol etc.
On 3rd May 09, my younger son drove me to the LCCT KL airport terminal. On arrival at the airport, I had this queer feeling in my mind. 45 days in Europe, Baltic states, Russia, Mongolia as a first timer ? Am I ready after all the homework I had done for this trip ? What was it like entering Russia from Tallinn, Estonia by bus via the Russian border ? KGB or Mafia roaming the Russian streets ?

Like an athlete, as soon as you enter the sport arena, I believe you are ready for a challenge awaiting for the referee to shout the following words before blowing the whistle :

"On your mark .... Get set .... Go" >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Did I finish my race in 45 days ? Where did I go ? How was it ? 
Thank god I came home with all my arms and limbs in original and natural proportions !!! So once again my mental, physical and spiritual strength were stretched and put to test in this memorable 45 day trip !

For this free and easy trip, I travelled solo but my faithful travel buddies were: 1 luggage trolley, 1 medium size back- pack, 1 small day- pack and 1 sleeping bag !!! Oops, I should also mention that I brought along a mini Panasonic rice cooker, learning to prepare my own meals in the hostels during the trip. This had considerably reduced my food bill a lot !

How time has flown, I started my trip on 3rd May and returned to Malaysia on 16th June 09. I lost 1.5 kilos of my body weight for this trip. But became wiser in travelling to that part of the world especially in Russia, of late warming up to welcome more travellers to this ex-communist country but the fear of KGB or Mafia is always lingered in one's mind the moment you set foot on this bureaucratic country , once upon a time called Soviet Union or U.S.S.R.

My travel trophies were 3,500 pictures taken on 12 countries and I take the pleasure of sharing some of these interesting photos with you ! The 12 capital cities I visited were:

1) London, UK
2) Amsterdam, Netherlands
3) Brussels, Belgium
4) Paris, France
5) Prague, Czech Republic (also visited Cesky Krumlov & Ceksy Budejovice)
6) Budapest, Hungary
7) Krakow, Poland (took a train from Krakow to Warsaw but did not visit the city)
8) Riga, Latvia
9) Tallinn, Estonia
10) Moscow, Russia (also visited St Petersburg, Irkutsk & Lake Baikal)
11) Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia
12) Beijing, China

In my previous trips, I focused my visits to places which fall under the UNESCO world heritage sites or the civilised or natural wonders of the world category. For this trip, I was able to visit the following:

UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
1) UK
-Tower of London, UK
-Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey & Saint Margaret's Church
2) France
- Palace & Park of Versailles
- Paris, Banks of Seine
- Notre Dame Cathedral
3) Belgium
- Grand Place, Brussels
4) Czech Republic
- Historic Centre of Prague
- Historic Centre of Cesky Krumlov
5) Hungary
- Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter & Andrassy Avenue
6) Poland
- Krakow's Historic Centre
7) Estonia
- Historic Centre ( Old Town) of Talinn
8) Latvia
- Historic Centre of Riga
9) Moscow
- Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg
- Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow
- Lake Baikal
10) China
- Imperial Palace of the Ming & Qing Dynasties in Beijing

Travel highlights:

1) London, United Kingdom (A warm welcome ! Thanks to Air Asia for flying from KL to Stansted, UK)

2) Amsterdam, Netherlands (Sitting on an extraordinary large Dutch clog to admire the surrounding canals & cobbled streets of Amsterdam)

3) Brussels, Belgium (Manneken Pis - The world famous peeing boy !)

4) Paris, France (The tall and mighty Eiffel Tower of Paris)

5A) Prague. Czech Republic (The Old Town of Prague)

5B) Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic ( Have you ever been to Alice the Wonderland or Fairyland - so picturesque, how not to fall in love with this place ! )

5C) Cesky Budejovice, Czech Republic (A small country town , 25km from Cesky Krumlov)

6) Budapest, Hungary (Is Buda town infested with hungry pests in Hungary ?)

7) Krakow, Poland (I skipped Warsaw and picked Krakow for my Poland visit - did I make the right choice ?)

8) Riga, Latvia (A far away city near the Baltic Sea - never dream that I set foot on this place !)

9) Talinn, Estonia (Getting close to southern Russian border - my nightmare is about to begin !)

10A) St Petersburg, Russia (Built by Peter the Great in 17th century , renamed to Leningrad in 1924. The Hermitage & Winter Palace - both are stunning)

10B) Peterhof, Russia (The Russian Versailles) - stunning and most impressive Grand Cascade fountains , 25km from St Petersburg)

10C) Moscow, Russia (the famous St Basil Cathedral, Kremlin & Red Square, awesome & magnificent to see !)

10D) Irkutsk, Russia (The 3rd largest city in south east Russia - a stopover to Lake Baikal)

10E) Lake Baikal / Olkhon Island , Russia (The world's largest & deepest fresh water lake, over 20 million year old)

11) Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia (The Great Empire of Temujin - Genghis Khan)

12) Beijing, China (Forbidden city - off limits for 500 years - my 3rd visit since 1997)

Travel Itinerary:
Kuala Lumpur > London > Amsterdam > Brussels > Paris  > Prague > Prague > Cesky Krumlov > Cesky Bedejovice > Budapest > Krakow > Warsaw > Riga > Talinn > St Petersburg > Moscow > Irkutsk > Lake Baikal > Ulaan Battar > Erlian > Beijing > Kuala Lumpur 

Airline Flight Itinerary:
Booking Date: 19-2-09
Flight No: D7 2008
Depart LCCT KL on Sunday 3-5-09 at 17.00
Arrive Stansted Airport, London on Monday 4-5-09 at 00.05
Return: D7 2613 Depart Tienjin airport on Tuesday 16-6-09 at 23.00 (delay by 6 hrs due to bad weather)
Arrive LCCT KL on Wednesday 17-6-09 at 05.00

A) Air Tickets (include taxes & meals, insurance) : Rm793 (UK)+ Rm381(Tienjin) = Rm1,174
B) Travel insurance: Rm188
C) Russia Visa Support fee: US$30=Rm105
D) Russia Visa application fee: Rm140
E) Russia Visa registration fee : 600 rubles (Rm70)
F) China Visa application fee: Rm30
G) Land Transport ( trains, buses, trams): Rm1,284 + Rm1,617 +Rm560= Rm3,461

By train: Polish, Russian & Mongolian train tickets: Total Rm1,284
1) St Petersburg > Moscow (3rd class - 1 night) : 633 Rubles (Rm76) + US$10 (agency fee) = Rm114
2) Moscow > Irkursk (3rd class - 4 nights) : 3,117 Rubles (Rm374) + US$27(agency fee) =Rm469
3) Irkutsk > Ulaan Baatar (2nd class - 2 nights) : 3,828 Rubles (Rm444)
4) Ulaan Bataar > Erlian, China (2nd class - 2 nights) : US$36 + US$5 (agency fee) = Rm144
5) Krakow > Warsaw train ticket (2nd class - 3hr) : Rm113

By coach & sleeper bus: Total Rm1,617
1) Eurolines bus 15 day pass (7 cities expiring 22/5/09) : Euro$240 (Rm1,200)
2) Riga > Talinn ( Eurolines bus) : Euro$12=Rm60
3) Talinn > St Petersburg (Eurolines bus): Euro$30=Rm150
4) Erlian > Beijing (private taxi - day trip): CNY200 (RM107)
5) City transport - 12 countries (bus , metro, tube & trains ): Total Rm560

H) Hostel (dorm bed) : Total Rm1,994:
1) London (3 nights): Euro$35 (Rm175)
2) Amsterdam (2 nights): Euro$49 (Rm245)
3) Brussels (2 nights): Euro$40 (Rm200)
4) Paris (3 nights): Eur0$69 (Rm345)
5) Prague (1 night): Euro$15 (Rm75)
6) Budapest (2 nights): Euro$28 (Rm140)
7) Krakow (2 nights): Euro$11 (Rm55)
8) Riga (1 night): Euro$9 (Rm45)
9) Talinn (1 night): Euro$10 (Rm50)
10) St Petersburg (3 nights): 1,420 (Rm165)
11) Moscow (3 nights): 2,480 rubles (Rm290)
12) Irkutsk (2 nights): 1,000 rubles (Rm116)
13) Ulaan Bataar (1 day): US$6 (Rm21)
14) Beijing (3 nights): CNY140 (Rm72)

I) Tour package ( Lake Baikal 3 days 2 nights incl transport & meals ) + North Olkhon Island day tour : Rm463
J) Entrance fees ( Versailles + Peterhof + Russian concert ) : Rm205
K) Food & groceries: Rm400 ( own prepared meals )

Total Expenses incurred (45 days): Rm8,230

" I took Eurolines bus from London to 10 capital cities in Europe and the last stop was St Petersburg (a total distance of 3,759km) ! From St Petersburg to the rest of the Russian cities, Mongolia and China, it was trains all the way (a total distance of 8,947km) - I had enough of travel on Eurolines bus & Russian & Mongolian trains on this single trip for the rest of my life !

The Secret of Life - If worries can cure your sickness, then go ahead worry; If worries can prolong your life, then go ahead and worry; if worries can change for happiness, then go ahead and worry !"

D1-D5 Sunday-Thursday London,England (5-7/5/2009)

I arrived at the LCCT KL terminal at around 15.00pm ( flight departure 17.00) and then proceeded to the Air Asia check in counter. As I bought an one way ticket to London, the counter staff queried my travel to UK and had to check with her superior before allowing me to check in. After knowing that I had a return Air Asia ticket from Tianjin to Kuala Lumpur, the counter staff accepted my explanation. Not a great start but I cleared the first hurdle.

The Air Asia flight I took arrived at the Stansted airport, London at around 00.30 ( midnight) . At the immigration counter, I had to answer a few questions posed by the Immigration Officer on duty. Again it related to a single journey ticket to London. I had to explain to the Immigration officer that my stay in London was a short one, as I would be touring Europe and then to Russia & China. I also advised the duty Officer that I had an approved Russian & China visa and a return ticket from Tianjin to Malaysia. After looking at my Arrival Card details and visa documents, my passport was stamped and allowed entry. Another hurdle cleared !

Surprise! No Custom officers were on duty at this late hour, so I walked towards the exit door and rested at the airport lounge for 5-6 hours before taking an airport shuttle bus ($10 Pound) at around 5.30am to Victorian Coach Station in central London. The trip took 35 minutes as there was no traffic congestion in the early morning in down town city center.

As it was too early for my hostel check in, I lugged my luggage and walked to the Buckingham Place , which was within walking distance from the Victorian Coach station.

After the Palace visit, I bought 4 underground tube day passes ($5.40 Pound per day covering Zone 1 & 2) from a nearby tube station at the Victoria Coach Station and used a current day pass to get to Russell Square for my hostel ( Smart Russel Square Hostel - Euro$11 dorm bed) check in. Smart Russel Square hostel is within walking distance from the Russell Square tube station ( just one street behind) . In front of the tube station, there is a Tesco supermarket where I bought my food & groceries (rice, capsicum, Scottish skipper, spaghetti , apples etc) . The hostel provided free breakfast ie bread, juice, coffee, tea, jam, honey, milk, butter & cereals. From the station, I picked up a Visitor's Guide to travelling around London (your bus, Tube and rail map) April 2009, which provides the main routes to various tourist sites in central London. This information was extremely useful for travelers who are on a short stay in London.
For the next few days, it was hassle free for me taking the underground tube especially after the peak early morning office hour ( 9.30am ) .

For my 4 day stays in London - Where did I or tourists go ? As a British colony, I believe many Malaysians had in the past visited UK, in particular London so the places I visited during the last 4 days were favorably known to most Malaysians.

1) Buckingham Palace - No body barking at me when I paid a courtesy visit to this Majesty place at around 07.00 !

2) Tower of London - A civilized wonder of the world !

3) Big Ben - In Chinese, it is called the big dumb bell tower. The tower is 150 yrs old ! British Airways London Eye - Any difference compared with our KL Eye now operating in Malacca !

5) Tower Bridge - Like the London Bridge - standing tall over the River Thames 6) Westminster Abbey & Houses of Parliament - Old and elegant looking. the power house of British Government.

7) HMS Belfast - Anchored in River Thames , like me now retired no longer in combat action & 8) Harrods - What a grand shopping center for the rich and famous ! A class of it's own .

9) St Catherine Church - old and unique, lovely to see & 10) China Town - roasted pork, crispy duck, tim sum, buffet meals eat as much as you like for 8.50 pound

11) British Museum - founded in 1750. A great display of Egyptian, Greek & Roman antiquities.

12) National Gallery - for art admirers & 13) Millennium Bridge - maybe I should rename it as Millionaire bridge.

14) St Paul Cathedral - another Roman heritage's building ! & 15) Natural History Museum - greeted by a big dinosaur as you enter !

16) Nelson's Column & Trafalgar Square - Who won the battle of Waterloo ? 17) Wellington Arch - also took a picture of a Marble Arch, Wellington statute and a war memorial nearby.

18) River Thames - nice to take an evening cruise along the river & 19) SOHO - I like to watch the colorful signboard of sex shops operating in this area.

20) Regent's Park - Flowers, flowers blooming every where. Also visited the Hyde Park & Green Park & 21) Covent Garden - street performers singing Pavarotti songs to entertaining you for a song ! A great place to wine & dine during the day.

21) London's Transport Museum & 22) Royal Opera House - both are in Covent Garden. Of course you need to pay to enter.

23) Downing Street - Heavily armed guards with M-16 at the front gate deter any one from gate crashing to see Tony Blunt !

24) Horse Guards at Whitehall - watching the changing of horse guards at Whitehall.

25) Camden Town - far from the madding crowd. A small country town, accessible by tube from central London. An interesting visit to the Horse Tunnel Market selling horse accessories !


Something to ponder in London: Be prepared to pay a parking fee of 2 pound (Rm11) per hour in central London if you drive a car around to visit major tourist attractions. In Subang Jaya, I pay only Rm0.50 per hour.

" My first glimpse of London, costly to visit but enjoyable. I missed seeing Stonehenge and other interesting places outside of London due to time constraints. Not to worry as Air Asia has regular flights to London. So when are you making a date to visit London Bridge before I sing the song London bridges falling down , falling down !!!

The Secret of Life - Understand money isn't everything "