Thumper…

January 27, 2013

12 Months Ago Today

Filed under: Idle Ramblings — pearsey @ 1:34 pm

Here we go, 12 months ago today…

Before

Before – Groom with future sister in law

After

After – Bride and Groom

Happy Anniversary!

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January 20, 2013

Departing Irkutsk for Ulan Ude

Filed under: Russia,Trips — pearsey @ 7:23 pm
Tags: , , , ,

My last blog update was here where I spent the arvo hanging around in Irkutsk.

After our evening meal and having a bit of a clean up in the bathrooms, we headed off to the station to catch the train for the next part of the Trans Siberian journey. This section of our journey was an overnight train from Irkutsk to Ulan Ude. Unfortunately for me, perhaps the most scenic part of the Trans Siberian, the part around the lake and shore of Lake Baikal would be completed in the dark.

Angara River Bridge in Irkutsk

Angara River Bridge in Irkutsk

Our train tonight was one of the newer ones, but still farily standard with the facilities – a vaccuum toilet with a wash basin and 6 bunks per “compartment” (no doors) with two bunks in the corridor opposite each “compartment”.

Obviously no doors means no privacy and no security.
So here’s where I describe the next intersting encounter with the people in the Irkutsk area.

Generally on the train you have a bit of a “lights out” type situation – a bit like being at school camp almost! The main lights go out, then you’re left with minimal lighting til the wake up call the next morning.

This partuicular time, not long after the lights had gone out, I joined a couple of others in the queue at the toilet. I hadn’t been there too long before a policeman (or train security) came up to me to have a chat. “Chat” is used loosely, because I don’t speak much Russian…

So he starts talking to me… and talked away. I looked blankly back at him… eyes getting wider, face getting blanker the longer he talked. The more I did that, the more
he talked. I’d like to say I had some idea what he was talking about, but I had no clue. The closest I could come up with was that perhaps you weren’t allowed to go to the toilet after the lights went down on this particular train. (But then why wasn’t he talking to the others, so I wasn’t convinced on that one.) So when he’d finished, I shrugged and said questioningly “English?”. He sighed, rolled his eyes and proceeded to repeat his tirade, this time with hand gestures, which included patting his body and pointing toward the bunks. So I slunk off toward my bunk and thought maybe I’d sit there a while and see what happens. Then I heard the lovely policeman having a “chat” to some of my friends in the next compartment. So once he’d gone from there, I headed in to see what he’d said. Yes, the irony of that is that they don’t understand Russian either, but I was hoping that maybe they’d be able to shed more light…

Turns out that one of our travellers had left their ipod out on their bed. He’d noticed it and assumed that it was mine. When I’d gone back to a different bed, he obviously realised it wasn’t mine and gone and talked to the correct people. It was a huge relief to know that I could go to the toilet…

Next morning we woke in Ulan Ude. Even though it was early (7am), we headed to our hostel, hopeful that for the first time since leaving Moscow (7 days ago), we could have a shower (apart from those who had found one at Novosibirsk station four days ago). Imagine our disapointment when we arrived at the hostel to find that there was one shower. ONE shower between 17 of us and those who were already there. It was nice of the hostel to allow us to check in early I guess. We settled in for a long wait… one shower… so many people… I guess at least they had a good common room and it was fairly central. Lots of tourist info and the hosts are very helpful. (For the record it took nearly 3 and a half hours for us all, plus other guests to get through. And yes, I was one of the quick ones!)

So while we were waiting, a couple of us went for a wander round Ulan Ude. Think we found all the dodgy places that exist there… Down by the river we found the drunks and homeless, the area littered by broken glass and rubbish, overgrown weeds and the footpaths and landscaping that were there, was in serious disrepair. On the walk back we found the seedy area of town, with the dodgy looking bars and some “beauty parlours”. Despite that, you didn’t feel unsafe, but perhaps that was because it was morning – later on in the day it may be a different story.

Rubbish near the Uda river edge

Rubbish near the Uda river edge

More on Ulan Ude later on…

January 19, 2013

Summer Entertaining

Filed under: Food — pearsey @ 9:06 am
Tags: , , , , ,

With the Christmas period comes a break in regular activities – leaving more time for watching the cricket, cooking and entertaining. I haven’t been taking many photos of the cooking efforts recently, but I have managed to get a couple of some desserts I’ve made. They’re loosely based on the yoghurt fool idea, but substituting the ingredients I don’t like for ones I do and then just adding extra anyway.

The first offering is the rhubarb and yoghurt fool – natural yoghurt sweetened with some honey. In this recipe I based the yoghurt/honey balance on this recipe 250gm natural yoghurt to 2 tablespoons of honey, but in subsequent times, I’ve just thrown them together “to taste”, no measurements used at all. Then I layered the rhubarb, strawberries and yoghurt, finishing up with a drizzling of chocolate sauce. After I made this one, I decided I wasn’t a big rhubarb fan, I can eat small amounts of it, but this wasn’t small enough. Rhubarb in my friend Margaret’s rhubarb slice is quite good however!

Rhubarb and natural yoghurt topped with some strawberries and choc sauce

Rhubarb and natural yoghurt topped with some strawberries and choc sauce

The second offering is similar, using the available summer fruits, but avoiding rhubarb. I used yoghurt and cream this time (not natural yoghurt) and this gave a lovely creamy layer to go with the strawberries and apple. I kind of used this recipe as the base for the yoghurt/cream, but admittedly I gave up on the measurements here before I’d even started and just poured both in til it looked and tasted ok. I topped this one off with some chopped macadamia nuts and fudge.

Apple, strawberries, yoghurt and cream mixture

Apple, strawberries, yoghurt and cream mixture

Topped with fudge and macadamia nuts

Topped with fudge and macadamia nuts

A couple of other great, easy recipes were found on the net to start off with. A pasta and vegetable bake, which was really simple and tasted good (yes of course I modified it so that it had vegetables in it that I liked) and a pork, mustard and cream casserole which was so easy to make and tasted good (and yes, I modified that as well). Both were very forgiving recipes – in that you could make it a bit more or less depending on how many people you needed to feed and how many vegetables you cut up and it didn’t effect the taste or consistency. The mustard and cream casserole also worked well with beef.

January 18, 2013

Whirlwind tour of Irkutsk

Irkutsk – Weddings, churches, honey show, markets, wooden buildings, sculptures, interesting locals and oh yeah, weddings!

Pig Pastries at the market, Irkutsk

Pig Pastries at the market, Irkutsk

Wooden houses, Irkutsk

Wooden houses, Irkutsk

We had an afternoon to look around Irkutsk, and no agenda, no idea what to see and no idea where to go! As we had been “dumped” at the museum, that’s where we decided to start. So, we headed into the Volkonsky’s house at the Irkutsk Region Historical and Memorial Museum of Decembrists. We met some lovely (cough cough) locals here. I’m sure the museum staff were lovely, they just haven’t quite mastered the art of charades yet. So consequently we had absolutely no idea what they were trying to tell us or get us to do. Despite being shooed from one room into another (the best we could figure out was that there was an order to the rooms and we’d gone the wrong way), we eventually managed to find an english version of the life story of the Volkonsky’s. Great fun was had reading that out loud as I assumed the role of Narrator on the museum tour, I’m sure if the other visitors had any idea what we were saying they would have got quite a laugh out of it as well, instead of just laughing at us…

Irkutsk Region Historical and Memorial Museum of Decembrists – SG Volkonsky’s manor house, Irkutsk

Irkutsk Region Historical and Memorial Museum of Decembrists – SG Volkonsky’s manor house, Irkutsk

The Volkonsky’s were exiled to Siberia – and we were under the impression that they had lived a hard life. We figured that surely the house had been done up later on by somebody else. But no, the Volkonsky’s had turned their life around and turned out to be quite the aristocrats of Irkutsk, holding many social functions with the well to do in their house. And by the way, the house had been moved from another location, not now, but in the 1800’s! Who’d have thought they had that kind of technology back then! The house even had it’s own indoor greenhouse, growing quite exotic plants for Siberia. Some of the plants were rather originals I think, but even after a few weeks in Russia I still hadn’t quite picked up enough Russian gardening words to figure out what one of the staff was trying to explain to us. In the end, she actually entered the greenhouse and pointed out the pineapple. A pineapple growing deep in Sibera. Who’d have guessed hey?

Pineapple, Volkonsky's Manor House, Irkutsk

Pineapple, Volkonsky’s Manor House, Irkutsk

Wandering around the streets of Irkutsk we stumbled on markets, with all the fresh berries, food, fruit, nuts, baked goods and pets you could want. Yes that’s right. Right on one of the footpaths there were all kinds of pets for sale, all kept in conditions that would nearly make even the most hardened animal hater cringe. This area of town had many old wooden buildings from a by gone era lining the streets. I’m not sure how some of them were still standing given the angle they were at, but they were.

Berries at the market, Irkutsk

Berries at the market, Irkutsk

We dropped in to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church, where we met some more wonderful locals. As I remember the incident, I just sit here and say Oh dear… I can’t remember if we had to pay or not, I’d be guessing not otherwise we’d probably have left. There were 3 of us, but for some reason Ev was singled out to wear a pretty head scarf. None of us had hats on, so I’m not sure how come she had to wear one and not the rest of us… We had a good chuckle at Ev anyway. This church was being done up on the inside when we were there (about July 2012) so there was plenty of scaffolding and work going on. We found one of the ladies to ask whether we could take a photo and when she didn’t speak english, we decided to get one of the younger ladies there to ask for us. I’m not sure she spoke english, but she understood enough of what we said to figure out what we wanted. She went up and asked one of the old ladies for us. I feel a bit sorry for the young lady coz she got a 30 second (no kidding it was that long) lecture in Russian before coming back to us looking totally confused, shrugged her shoulders and left us with the old lady. After a lot more of an exchange (ok, no exchange, just long long sentences from the Russian lady at us), we figured out that we could take photos but she arranged us in the place we could take them. Maybe it was the better angle, who knows. We sat on the steps outside for a bit and just as we were heading off, one of the old ladies comes running outside after us. We’re wondering now whether you weren’t allowed to sit on the steps, but this lady actually knew a few words of english! She didn’t know much except hello and goodbye, but we did learn she was from Holland and perhaps it was their best attempt at trying to help us leave with a more positive memory of them.

Inside the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church

Inside the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church

After that experience, we decided no more Irkutsk churches, so we steered clear of them. Around in the square near the theatre we stumbled upon some flower stalls, КвАс (kvass drink) and a honey show. Ev, the only brave one to try it, reported that the kvass drink was very very ordinary, and thanks to google, we found out that it is a fermented drink made from rye bread with a low alcoholic content. The flowers though were excellent and the honey show was even better! Free samples of honey, entertainment from singing bears and bees and songs in Russian promoting the honey market blasting out from the platform! Quite a find and I got some Russian honey as a souvenir!

Honey with nuts!

Honey with nuts! A great souvenir.

We headed toward the Angara river, stumbled upon another exhibition in Kirov square – the sculpture exhibition, admired the buildings and then we got to attend the Russian weddings. A gangster theme, quite a few traditional ones and the most stunning pair of wedding “dress” pants I’ve ever seen – only because I’ve never seen a bride in pants before. Only problem with these pants was it left NOTHING to the imagination. It was just like looking through a window.

Wedding pants - not the best angle to highlight the "window" effect of the pants...

Wedding pants – not the best angle to highlight the “window” effect of the pants…

While there was plenty happening around the banks of the river, there’s nowhere to eat at all down there. We thought there’d be heaps of cafes – ok, even just one cafe or something like that around there to eat at – but nothing. Should’ve learnt that lesson from other Russian cities, I guess. Maybe three months of summer is not enough to sustain a business year round, but every other place I’ve been to that has a river has places to eat alongside it.

Angara River, with Moscow Triumphal Arch on the left (big cream rectangular arch)

Angara River, with Moscow Triumphal Arch on the left (big cream rectangular arch)

We ended up eating at a place opposite Kirov square, can’t remember the name of it, but something english and it had good food, a good bathroom and was showing the tour de france!

Lovely lasagne!

Lovely lasagne!

The railway station was next on our timetable and the Irkutsk locals hadn’t finished with me yet – but more of that later!

Some highlights of Irkutsk.

January 6, 2013

The End of Lake Baikal – Here comes Irkutsk

Continuing my Russian journey…

So, we’d spent a short time at Lake Baikal, but today was our last morning and by the end of the day we’d be back on a train heading further across Russian Sibera.

Before we left, we had one more highlight to come: A cruise on Lake Baikal, touring the Bolshoe Goloustnoe area from the lake. From the water we had a different perspective of the area. There really weren’t too many houses at all along the shores of the Lake outside the village area. In the summer with the warm weather it would have been nice having nobody around, but in the winter with the snow and ice, I could imagine you would feel very isolated. Maybe the houses that were there were holiday houses perhaps? The wind on the lake was fresh and consistent (it was reasonably strong and was cold enough to need a good jumper). From the water you could also see how rugged and how high the hills of the Pribaikalsky National Park were, although the photos don’t really do the height justice. There was a guy fishing on the edge of the lake and the mountains towered behind him. There was a little fishing port at the village, but not sure how successful it was.

How High!

How High!

Holiday Home?

Holiday Home?

As I wandered back through the village to our accommodation to grab my stuff and meet the transport, I reflected on my time at Lake Baikal. The 90 hours on the train seemed like a lifetime ago and a world away. This area was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, the hosts of the homestay (we were the first to stay in the new building), the rustic lifestyle, the beautiful scenery and ahh, the serenity!

The shore line

Ahh, the serenity!

I’m sure our group would have voted to spend the rest of the day there, but unfortunately our transport to Irkutsk had been arranged and couldn’t be changed. I grabbed some supplies from the store next door to where we were staying – a pizza sort of thing for lunch and of course some ice cream. Prices were still cheaper than Moscow, almost unbelievable!

The little shop

The little shop

I managed to stay awake for the trip back to Irkutsk, and was privileged to see an eagle actually capture its prey. It swooped from the sky, grabbed the little animal, then flew away. Somebody asked whether I’d managed to get a photo, unfortunately not, I thought I was doing well to actually see it! The scenery on the road back is great, the rivers that wind their way through are a lot like the little streams that flow gently through the hills in the mountains around Victoria, deceptively seeming to wind along slowly, but as the water rushes over the rocks, you realise it is flowing quite fast. Except that they’re much wider – I guess they’re rivers not streams…

River

River

The rest of the day at Irkutsk – in the next post.

January 3, 2013

Christmas Haul 2012

Filed under: Idle Ramblings — pearsey @ 7:46 pm

This year Christmas came around again and again it was a great day. I had lunch at home with Mum and Dad before we headed down to my sisters where we met the rest of the family. We had another cooked meal then ran it off on the nearby manicured lawn area, playing classic catches (in the absence of a cricket bat or pump to pump up the footy).

After that, around about 9.30pm, we thought perhaps we’d better exchange presents seeing as that would take the better part of an hour and half or so. We all have this habit of wrapping up each present individually, making it heaps more fun, but tripling the time to actually open everything! And of course only one person at a time opens so we can all see what everyone else got!

So, here we go with the annual Christmas present list. I certainly did pretty well again this Christmas!

  • 2012 calendar
  • 2 bags of landscape mulch (wood chips), 1 bag “wetta mulch” and 1 bag of potting mix
  • Pick, shovel and pick axe
  • 3 Bush Christmas plants for the garden
  • 2 11 x 14 photo frames and 2 12 x 16 photo frames
  • 2Tb expansion hard drive
  • 20 pc screwdriver set
  • Spirit level
  • Tape measure
  • LCD Screen Cleaning Kit
  • Scrubbing brush and miniature scrubbing brush
  • Ball pump (now I can pump up the footy!)
  • Fudge, shortbread, handful of favourites, cashew nuts, wafer sticks and some chips
  • Bathox liquid soap
  • Small gardening fork and weeding fork
  • Gift certificate at Word Bookstores
  • Foam kneeling pad
  • MP3 FM Modulator
  • Green beaded necklace

I can report that the plants are now planted and the mulch has all been placed on the garden.

January 1, 2013

Pribaikalsky National Park Bolshoe Goloustnoe

For the regular readers, you’ll know that it’s been a while since I’ve updated about my trip, which I finished way back in July. I’ve left you hanging in Russia, on the shores of Lake Baikal at Bloshoe Goloustnoe, one of the best places in Russia. My last post, here described our first day there and brought promises of more to come. So that’s where we pick up the tour of Russia!

While I was in Uganda a few weeks ago, I’d headed out to Lake Bunyonyi in the country’s South West. I’d spent some being paddled around in a canoe on the lake by a couple of locals where they had proudly proclaimed that Lake Bunyonyi was the second deepest lake in the world. They were extremely proud of this fact. While not lost on us, our most obvious question was – “What is the deepest lake in the world then”? They didn’t know, but went back to exclaiming, this is the second deepest lake in the world. For some reason (probably due to lake of time and internet coverage) I hadn’t gotten around to looking up what was actually the deepest lake in the world.

Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda, second deepest lake in the world

Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda, second deepest lake in the world

Fast forward to Russia, about 2-3 weeks later and I’m standing on the shores of Lake Baikal.

We had gathered early for a walking tour with Eugene into the nearby Pribaikalsky National Park to see Dry Lake. I must admit, I was sure hoping this walk wasn’t too strenuous today as I was nowhere near 100%, but no way was I going to miss out.

We wandered along the shore of Lake Baikal, a nice flat easy stroll through the village, past the new tourist camps popping up and the locals enjoying their lake. Then we stopped on the edge of the lake, looking out over the water and Eugene proclaims proudly “This is the deepest lake in the world”! I’ll admit, I did a bit of a double take and got him to repeat that. “This is the deepest lake in the world” he said. I did get a bit excited at that – I had inadvertently turned my tour into the “deepest lakes of the world tour”. But still, it was nice to know the answer to my question asked about 2-3 weeks ago on the other side of the world.

The shore line of Lake Baikal, south of Bolshoe Goloustnoe village

The shore line of Lake Baikal, south of Bolshoe Goloustnoe village

We headed into the forest, following the narrow path that led us to Dry Lake. The area opened up and there was a body of water. I just thought this was a little side attraction along the way, not the destination – but no, we’d found Dry Lake was really wet lake. Apparently about every 3 years it fills with water and we saw it at one of those times. Perhaps to Russians, a lake that is dry 2 out of 3 years is dry enough to be called dry, but true dry lakes, like we have in Australia fill a lot less frequently than that.

Dry Lake with water, Pribaikalsky National Park, Bolshoye Goloustnoye, Russia

Dry Lake with water, Pribaikalsky National Park, Bolshoye Goloustnoye, Russia

It was great just spending some time on the shores there, a long way away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, far enough away even from the people in the nearby village.
All too soon though we had to leave, and it seems that we left about the right time as Dry Lake is apparently quite popular and more than a few people were arriving to have a picnic there.

Posing at Dry Lake

Posing at Dry Lake

On the way back Jen met some friendly locals who were more than happy to introduce her to some of the local food – ants I think – that is meant to make a great snack if you feel a bit peckish along the way.

A local helping Jen find some bush tucker

A local helping Jen find some bush tucker

After another home cooked lunch, we went down to the local community center to share some stories on our home countries with some of the locals. I think the idea of this is to give something back into the community and inspire some of the younger ones with life outside their village. Unfortunately not many there, apparently it was school holidays.

Not everybody was enthralled at the community session...

Not everybody was enthralled at the community session…

By now the day had turned quite a lot cooler, but our time on the shores of the great Lake was running out. This meant that if our brave souls from yesterday really did want to do what “every” tourist must do and go swimming in the lake, they had to go now. The water in Lake Baikal is around 10 degrees Celsius. The wind was blowing a gale and the rest of us were rugged up (rugged up for summer time). The nearby locals couldn’t believe what they were seeing and I’m not sure whether their animated gestures were trying to dissuade the girls from going in, or laughing at them. We went for the latter.

Before the big dip, the Kiwi, Pom and Aussie

Before the big dip, the Kiwi, Pom and Aussie

Even though I wouldn’t call what Hannah and Aleisha did “swimming”, hats off to them for getting mostly in the water. Although I blinked and I think I missed it…

The Big Dip - blink and you missed it!

The Big Dip – blink and you missed it!

Another banya, followed by a home cooked meal and a special farewell cake from our hosts topped the day off.

Farewell Cake

Farewell Cake

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