• Date and Time: Sunday 9th September, 2007. 4:38am Moscow Time
  • Location: Internet cafe next to the Kremlin, Moscow
  • £10 for an umbrella?! £4.50 for two hours of internet?! This place is killing me.

    I didn’t actually have enough roubles to pay for my umbrella – the only one in the street, so I used all my charm, wit and intelligence (?) to persuade the rather stroppy woman in the shop to accept Chinese Yuan instead – which she did.

    I’m considering trying to sell it back to them tomorrow at half price.

    Having paid so much for it I’m almost hoping that when I get out of this basement level internet cafe it’s still piddling it down, as the BBC widget tells me it should be.

    It took me about an hour to get up to date with stuff : Send and receive a stack of emails; update the Mumble and its mirror; Download this month’s audio book – thought I’d learn a bit about Taoism… ; upload a load a photos to Flickr, download the new version of iTunes; order my vitamins so they’ll be ready to keep me epilepsy-free when I arrive in the UK; find out where the Belarus embassy is to get my transit visa tomorrow; marvel at all the new iPods that Apple have released (but funnily enough not lust after them all that much, I rather like my 30GB classic); listen to Skype messages; do a bit of banking; check the weather forecast; take a quick peak at international news (rather dull, the only thing that caught my attention was Pavorotti’s farewell. I’d always wanted to see him live…); download new podcast episodes; check my RSS feedreader (over 300 new stories – I declared RSS bankruptcy, and will start from scratch!); updated my exchange rate converter thing.

    Oh yeah, all this is part of the re-entry plan.

    So, the 60-hour journey finally came to an end. I found myself getting really excited as we neared Moscow (when I say ‘neared’, I mean within about 7 hours of arrival), and was unable to sleep. Had to get up again and make a list of things to do once back in the UK.

    I’m tremendously excited about returning now. My motto for this year is “I must be all I can be”. It’s gonna be a big big challenge, but I will strive to make this year in the UK one of my best yet.

    Reading some of my friend’s blogs who have just returned to the UK from their year in Japan takes me straight back to my last return after a long stint away, in 2003. I remember being shocked at the rudeness, the loudness, the inconsiderateness. I’m hoping that this time I’ll adapt much more quickly – after all, it’s all in the mind. I could choose to be put out by it all, or I could chose to return with a positive attitude, one that sees me embracing the differences.

    It’s been great getting messages from *Twinkle* on her mobile (they use email in Japan rather than SMS), it feels like she’s just around the corner. Her business is going so well it makes me sickeningly proud of her – in a non-patronising way. I’m dead excited about going back there and living with her after my amazing 2007 / 2008 in the UK. I love home-making. What’s even better about home-making this time around is that we now have all the basics that a home needs, so it won’t cost us an arm and a leg.

    5 hours later, back at my Moscow hostel

    I never did tell you what happened to our engineless train on the Mongolian/Russian border did I? Well, it turned out that the international part of the train was actually only two carriages long and the other 8 or so had been shunted off after their domestic run, leaving us to wait for immigration to come on duty at 9am. After that, we were joined by 8 carriages which formed the Russian domestic bit.

    And I never did tell you about my second day in Krasnoyarsk did I? The incident with the chipmunk? The appearance of Woody the Woodpecker? The big rocks sticking out of the ground?

    Pepe meets the chipmonk

    It was a ‘nice’ day. I had an easy morning, looking for a toilet as the water in the hotel had been cut off just for my benefit. I eventually located one in a fast food restaurant – which even had toilet paper! Quite a novelty for Russia (and I thought Japan was bad not providing hand-drying facilities… that toilet roll I stole from the hotel in Osaka has been coming in mighty handy 🙂 It was then a case of finding some lunch, so off I headed to the one supermarket listed in the guidebook which, just for my benefit, was a pile of rubble that morning. So I tried to locate some other place that sold food, a place that wouldn’t involve too much pain, perhaps a place where the display behind the counter wasn’t so far away that pointing became a pointless exercise. I eventually located some kind of delicatessen staffed by a friendly looking girl in her mid 20s, where homemade Marks & Sparks type dishes were sold from great porcelain dishes, porcelain dishes that were within easy reach of my index finger! The only minor problem was that I didn’t have a clue what any of the labels on the dishes said – all I could do was guess by the textures and colours. I was lucky though: when it came to lunchtime I found I’d selected a gorgeous smoked salmon dish, followed by a heavenly beetroot and cheese salad. Well done Joseph. This following your instincts business really works!

    Trees grow on big rocks, so they do

    It was then off to find Bus 55K departing from just north of the river – and here I felt totally indebted to a very kind girl (who lives just up the road from the Arts Tower in Sheffield) whom I’d met at the hostel in Irkutsk. She had given me detailed instructions on how to reach Solby nature reserve, located some 20km south of the city. It turned out that the trans-siberian guide book that we were both carrying was hopelessly misleading: it talked about taking bus 55a from the station, and gave no details of where to go once one had got off the bus in the village of Dhakov.

    But with her gift of knowledge, and my little scrap of paper with “please tell me when we get to Dhakov” written in my best Russian handwriting, I was prepared. She’d told me to take the little road on the left a few hundred yards from the bus stop, to follow it until it turned into a dirt track, and to just keep on walking.

    She said keep on walking, but I didn’t think she meant keep on walking for that long! Crikey oh riley, that track never ended, it went on for, like, 3 billion miles. Up and up through the woods – I was sure I was going to end up face-to-face with a polar bear in the arctic. It was a bit scary actually. I let my mind wander, and thought that the gang of construction workers putting up a safety barrier by the side of the road were going to murder me, and when I managed to escape them (by walking past as calmly as possible and pretending I wasn’t actually there) the chap in the huge lorry that buzzed up and down was going to run me over.

    He didn’t in the end. Nor did the driver of the great Japanese digger that was clearing out the ditch swing his shovel round and knock me to the ground. The man who ran the little shop by the log-cabin-chapel didn’t try and shoot me with his rifle either, and in the end even the bears decided not to eat me. I tell you, by the time I reached the sign announcing the entrance to Solby Nature Reserve, I felt blessed indeed.

    I’m unsure as to why Solby nature reserve plays host to some mightily impressive pointy rocks, but it does. Some rise as high as 80 metres from the ground, towering above the surrounding trees. I followed the path for some time between various turrets, until eventually I was overcome by the desire to climb one of them. That turned out to be not such a wise idea as I got rather stuck halfway up one, memories of that time I climbed up a Swiss Alp covered in ice coming back to haunt me. I nearly died that day, and since then have not been all that keen on rock-climbing in trainers.

    Still, after about 15 minutes of an overly-cautious descent, I made it back to the safety of solid ground, and decided to calm my nerves with that beetroot salad bought earlier in the day.

    It wasn’t long after I’d tucked in that Mr. Chipmunk turned up.

    I must say, I was quite pleased with these shots.

    Having regained my confidence I set off through the woods once again, passing by numerous woodpeckers (unfortunately too high up under the shade of the forest canopy to be made to look lovely with my 200mm zoom), until I found the path back down the mini-mountain. As I walked I listened to an inspiring audiobook, and smiled at all around me. I was happy.

    Once back in town I discovered to my delight that the rucksack I’d left with the hotel receptionist hadn’t been stolen, and that I had ample time to make my way through the dusty suberbs to the railway station, where a couple of hours later I boarded train 55 for Moscow.

    It had been a lovely final day out and about in Asia. I was going to miss the peace and beauty of those vast expanses of open grassland and dense birch forests. Perhaps, once back in the UK I might be able to recapture that feeling of freedom by biking out to the Peak District at weekends. Or by playing Second Life in my student flat when supposedly studying kanji.

    Tomorrow I head off to the Belarus embassy to try and convince them to give me a transit visa on the spot. After that, if the rain’s eased off, I may do a spot of Moscovian Site-seeing.

    If you have an hour or so to spare, do feel free to join me.

    Love joseph