Posts Tagged With: Public transport

Day Two in Santiago

It was so crazy here last night after Chile won the football, the city partied for hours. The pick up to the show was 40 minutes late – I was starting to be sure I had been forgotten but the lady at reception assured me they would just be running late. Once I got picked up I could see why they were running late, the traffic was gridlocked! Luckily they had a traffic warden at most intersections.

There were cars with flags hooting with people hanging out of windows. people standing almost leaning out of cars. people on the street and in cars waving flags and chanting “cc le le le chile!” (or at least that’s what I think they were chanting). The police did not seem to be bothered at all by the people hanging out of cars, so very different from NZ. I must look up the road toll as the cars do not always look road worthy, cyclists mainly don’t have helmets, and to my NZ conditioned soul people hanging out of cars is not going to end well.

There is an amazing amount of graffiti in this city, just about every building has some tagging. A lot is graffiti but some are works of art. This on private houses, public buildings, shops and on walls and riverbanks. There are also a lot of stalls and makeshift shops selling 2 dollar shop type stuff. A small number of homeless people, but not beggars that I saw.

At the show we got to sit with the tour group which I was pleased about. I sat next to a very nice young couple from Brazil who luckily had not come to see the football. They came for the skiing. The show was interesting, sometimes the dancing reminded me of a mix between Maori and Pacific Island.

They got members of the audience up at regular intervals, luckily they had plenty of volunteers. If you did not know the basic dance steps I don’t think you could have managed, but I guess that could be part of the fun. The whole night the show was interspersed by “cc le le le chile” and occasional breaking into song. I got round the problem of ordering with no Spanish or menu by ordering what the young couple had. I have got their name but it is packed as I am currently in the hotel bar waiting to be picked up to go to the airport.

I got back to the hotel just after midnight. I had worried I might not sleep after my long nap but I slept without waking up until I woke up at 9.50, what the?! So then I had to rush around packing. Things did not seem to go back in as well (as predicted) but I managed to shove it all into the box and bag and then head down to reception to check they would look after my stuff until 10pm tonight.

Next stop: the city tour. I asked reception about getting a taxi to where I could get the City Tour bus and he said “No no need, just go 3 blocks up and you will see the stop”. So with some misgivings I went 3 blocks up and found the stop just as the bus pulled up – unbelievable.

It was freezing on the bus and I had not dressed warmly enough but luckily I had a warm jacket. The circuit takes 2 hours if you don’t get off, so first of all I did the whole circuit without getting off. During the next circuit unbelievably I started to fall asleep again, probably because in NZ it would have been about 3am.

I got off at the Furnicular Santiago. It makes the Wellington cable car pale in comparison. The trip up takes about 5 minutes up and is very steep. On the way back down the guard was explaining to a couple what would happen in an emergency, but it was in Spanish so I missed most of it. But I was not reassured by the tool he was showing them that he would jam in and stop the cars in an emergency, but of course it must work.

The Furnicular was built for Santiago by the Italians, not sure why, will have to google this. There was a Zoo on the way up but I did not stop at it as it did not look particularly big or interesting.  At the top of the Furnicular I took some photos, you could see the snow topped Andes behind the city, but the amount of smog meant they were very hazy.

At the top, there were what I am starting to realize are the obligatory 2 -3 stray dogs for every public space. So far most of the dogs had looked older in years and I wondered if there was a revoking programme for the younger dogs. They do not seem aggressive at all and don’t beg for food, so I am not sure how they get fed. They are not skinny but they are slim.

After I came down again I wandered around some markets and then went to go back to the Turistik bus stop but I could not find it. I walked up and down a couple of times as knew roughly where it was, as I had of course got off at it. I was getting annoyed at myself for not having taking better notice but had been falsely reassured by the fact that all the stops had big “Turistik” bus stop notices. In the end I asked a lady – by asked this was limited to smiling and pointing at my Turistik pamphlet. The stop it turns out was 200 meters up the road where I had gone to a couple of times but it did not have the Turistik bus sign that they are meant to have. So I am not going to count that as lost, so that means so far I have been overseas for 48 hours and not yet lost!

I was amused by some of the power lines, there are numerous wires in a tangle going from lamp post to lamp post, unlike NZ where you have to cut back your trees.

Once back at my stop I wandered around the shops for a while and then headed back to the hotel to wait to be picked up. I had 3 hours to wait, but I had had enough of wandering around.

Next stop is the airport, hopefully there will be no issues with customs or the weight of my bags, and then off to Colombia.  I have enjoyed Santiago and am looking forward to coming back in a few months.

Categories: Chile, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Transport, dogs, wind and directions

All the cites so far have had trams and buses and trains. Every country road we have been on has also had a bus stop about every two kilometres. Some of them have shelters but most don’t – it must be horrid in the sub zero winter! However although there are plenty of stops the buses do not appear to be that frequent. I have been past hundreds of bus stops in past two weeks in the country but so far have only seen a couple of buses. The bus stops seem to be in deserted places, but if you look really hard you will see a wee dirt drive going to a house or a house in the forest.

The transport has been excellent in the cities. In Russia I thought “well they have a population of five and a half million in the city, of course they will have a great transport structure” but even in Tallinn with a population of 400,000 in the city they had great transport. Today in Riga with a population in the city of 300,000 and there are trams and buses. The longest wait for a tram all day (have caught 5) was three minutes.

The buses are like two buses hooked together with a middle bit that bends, not sure if you walk through it, have not yet been on one to see.

Double trolley bus in Tallinn photo from Virtual Tourist

It seems to be very common to have a dog, in particular in the countryside, there are lots of really enormous dogs, thankfully mostly are fenced. We have had a couple of run ins but they have thankfully left us alone after barking at us until we have rode past what they obviously consider to be their zone. A number of people keep dogs in the apartments and you can see them out walking them in the shared grass spaces. Given that the apartments are not big and they are in apartment blocks, the dog must take up half the lounge and it would be a pain taking it in and out to the toilet but then I guess it is all about what you get used to.

At the open air market in Riga today it seemed every third stall that was not produce was dog food and treats.

The wind
It is not as windy as Wellington but it has been fairly steadily blowing, not sure what the phenomenon is that causes the wind to change direction every time you do, to me it is just like biking in Wellington but it is really getting to some of the other riders. I must admit though when I was imagining the ride I had imagined it minus the wind. The temperature in Latvia is about 17 degrees in summer and drops to -5 degrees in winter so not as harsh winter as Russia but a much milder summer.

Those of you who know my navigating abilities will be interested to know that apart from a couple of wrong turns that I quickly spotted, I have not yet got lost (helped of course by following Daphne and Shirley who are experienced at this and have a good sense of directions).

As I already blogged about earlier, we get instructions on the route plus the major turns are orange ribbon flagged.
The types of written instructions we get are
S – straight
RA – round about
L – left
R – right
LRA – left at roundabout
X – cross road
RHS – right hand side
LHS – left hand side

So typical day’s instructions look like:
R out of hotel
2.8k R onto dirt road (Euroveld 1)
X 10.8k S
Pavement / Euroveld 1
13.6k dirt
13.8k sharp L
14.1k R
15.3k R
16.9k R at t junction/ sign to Tallinn
24.35k L
Sign to Viru – Nigu
Immediate L follow sign
35.75k L follow Euroveld signs
36k R at t junction/ sign to Kunda
47.6k L at RA
Take 3rd exit to sign to Tallinn
48.9k S ra follow signs to kapepa
51k lunch truck!
72.8k R sign Vihaka and Vosu
78.8k stay L St T junction sign to palms
82.2k R onto Euroveld sign to Tallinn
85.5k sharp L
94.4k L at RA take 2nd exit
97.1k R sign to Kasmu
101.6k Laineka camp LHS

This is backed up by the orange flags and maps and GPS. There is also the sweep who is one of the tour guides riding at the back of the group, not that this would help if you had gone in the wrong direction.

Detailed directions, photo from Tour d’Afrique

Categories: Cycling trip, Information | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Lost in Russia III

Once again up early and onto the Metro to Nevesky Prospekt (spelt it wrong yesterday). I met Igor for a tour on foot around the many and various interesting St Petersburg sights. So many bridges, statues, cathedrals, parks, and a castle.

Sites today:
Alexandrisky theatre and ballet building
The Palace Square (designed by famous architect Carlo Rossi)
The Anichkov Bridge with four horse statues
An exhibit on Tsoi – an famous Russian rock star who died in a crash
St Michaels Castle
The Summer garden, which have just been restored and reopened two week ago
The Field of Mars, with an eternal flame for the Russian soldiers who died in the second world war
The Capella Opera hall and the three court yards

St Michaels Castle (from St

We also had coffee at Elessevs, which is the Kirkcaldie and Stains of St Petersburg (but posher). In the times of the Soviet Union it was the only place you could get luxury goods but at a very hefty price, well out of the range of the average worker. Igor told about how he used to have to queue for 2 to 3 hours to buy shoes and 2 hours for fruit such as bananas.

After this Igor left for work and I will not see him again this trip as he is working in the morning tomorrow and then going away until Sunday. Igor has made the last few days very special, I have been to places I would not have got to without him, plus I have been able to ask him endless questions about Russia. PLUS I have not got lost at all whilst with him.

I then went to the James Cook Pub, sat in the sunny courtyard and a cold beer and sorbet, which may sound a bit strange but was just what I wanted. After that I caught a double decker bus and went on a 1 ½ hour trip around St Petersburg and saw many of the same sites but from a different perspective.

Then I just sat for awhile on the Nevsky Prospekt, just watching people go past.

Nevsky Prospekt (from Panoramio)

When I decided it was time to return to the hotel, I went back to the same Metro that I have gone to the past 3 days in a row, into the same entrance and somehow I got lost!! Unbelievable this time, even I was surprised. I got off and had no idea where I was and could not simply go back the way I had came as the opposite line went elsewhere. I catch the blue line but the opposite line was red! But by looking at the Metro maps I worked out how to get back onto the blue line, phew!

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Things that have interested me today:

1. The shops open at 10am and all stay open to 10pm. There is one shop – Gostiny Dvor – that fronts onto the Nevsky Prospekt that covers 14 acres and is 4 stories high – you could do some serious shopping in there, but from my glance into the window I would say you would also have to have some serious money.

2. There are no campervans (or at least any that I have seen at any of the tourist sites)

3. In the winter it gets as low as 30 degrees below zero. Igor told me how he once walked 300 meters from the bus to his flat without his ears covered properly and he got frost bite.

This morning at breakfast I saw three people that could be tour riders (one was wearing Lycra, always a good clue) and tonight they are sitting in the bar but I have not yet gone up and introduced myself, as am not ready for this segment of my holiday to be over, I will spend plenty of time with them over the tour.  As they say loneliness is the pain of being alone but solitude is the glory.

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My daughter Kelly asked me what I do in the evening and what I eat.

As it is still light until midnight, I usually stop to buy something at a roadside cafe and return to the hotel. When I go to sleep it is still bright lights, and when I wake up it is light.

I have thought about going on the boat trip at night to see the lights but would be 1am in the morning and am not keen on then getting back with my sense of direction (or lack of, as my children would say). In my room I read but usually quickly fall asleep. I tried the TV last night because the hotel blurb said you can get English on one channel, but it was just snow, there were no other channels in English. I did watch the Simpson’s in Russian for a couple of minutes just for the novelty.

In terms of food in general, on every corner there are people selling hot dogs, drinks and ice cream. There are so many open cafes, it’s like Allen and Blair street – paved but with tables and  longer, hot sunshine and a few canals. There are lots of pastry shops here but also steak, salmon, sea food.  There is also KFC, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hutt, and McDonalds. I went into McDonalds just to see what the spelling of the burgers was and if it was different food. The food was the same but it was funny seeing all the different names.

McDonalds in St Petersburg (from Wikipedia, 2004)

Food at McDonalds (from whyevolutionistrue)

I have yet to see a curry place or Chinese restaurant or takeaway. There are lots of cured meats, pickles, sauerkraut, cheeses, loaves, cheese cakes, pastries. It is like lots of small Moore Wilsons everywhere. Fantastic.

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My travel phone which worked perfectly in NZ will not ring out, although thankfully I can send and get texts. I have read the guide book cover to cover to no avail. There is a helpline to ring which would be fantastic if only I could actually ring it!

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Tomorrow I am going to Pushkins Palace and Gardens, Igor has taken me to the tour company, I have paid for my ticket and I have to meet them just past where I get off the metro. Friday I am going to Peterhoff Gardens and castle by boat.  Igor has dawn a map for from the palace square where I have met him twice. It is quite detailed so should be pretty foolproof but after today’s effort on the metro, well  .  . . .

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lost in Russia II

Today I went to visit the Hermitage Museum (the main museum here). I caught the Metro, I popped out at  Neski Prospect and met Igor as arranged. The Hermitage opens at 10.30 so we got there at 10am, even so the queue was over an hour. Igor says it can be up to 3 hours sometimes. There were so many people, an endless sea of swarming tour groups clearly trying to see the place in an hour as they barge through stopping for 30 seconds at the pictures. I spent 5 hours there, it was fantastic but also overwhelming. There are 4 floors including the ground with one corridor on each but the rooms mostly flow into each other. The ground floor has 90 rooms, the 1st floor has 189, the 2nd floor has 303 and the 3rd has 85.

The Main Staircase of the New Hermitage (from The Hermitage)

What a place! It used to be a palace and one wing is still set up like when the Tsars lived there , glorious ballrooms, reception rooms, gold and marble columns marble floors with 12 types of wood inlaid.

There was a wing of Italian painters, a wing of Dutch, rooms filled with Rembrandt, Reuben, Leonardo de Vinci and other famous artists, and many priceless ornaments. On the ground floor were artefacts from Egypt – a room full of stuff from 4 BC !!! There were rooms full of Greek statues. It was unbelievable and well worth the visit.

Art of Ancient Rome of the 1st century BC – 4th century AD (from The Hermitage)

I had wanted to go to the 3rd floor, but Igor left to go to work after we had seen the other floors and I went to the cafe for a much needed break. And then to the great surprise of all who know and love me I could not find the 3rd floor!  I went over the Museum backwards and forwards, I asked directions at least 10 times and ended up in various parts of the Museum. Once I thought I was getting it finally but no, I ended up in the cloakroom (which of course I could not find without a few attempts when I went to leave). So after visiting the rest of the Museum – some of it multiple times – the Russian roomminders that I had asked for directions starting talking fast and jabbing their fingers mostly back to the way I had come. So I decided with the swarms of people to call it a day (then of course searched for awhile to re-find the cloakroom).

I then went and sat in the sun by the canal and had a cold beer. It was $20 – but a very enjoyable setting. I sat there reflecting that there is nothing I have to do for the rest of the day, nowhere to be, no one expecting me, the time is totally mine.

Observations of the day

  • I am really bad at walking on the wrong side of the pavement. Good practice for when I bike. I am ok when concentrating but start to drift once I start looking at the sites.
  • Russian supermarkets are called Cynermarkets and they are like our 4 Squares.
  • At the rivers and canals you see students painting and sketching the amazing buildings.

Tomorrow I am meeting Igor at the Neski Prospect Metro stop again, at 10am. I am not sure where we are going, he did tell me while we were at the Museum but I did not want to tell him that not only do I get lost, not really know any of the Russian poets, writers or paintings, but I am also fairly deaf, and very deaf in background noise. So tomorrow will be a surprise.

I have not yet seen any of the other bikers yet, I have been keeping an eye out and have not seen anyone who looks likely. They should start arriving from now onwards. Mind you, I guess I probably don’t look like someone who is going to bike over 6,000 kilometres either. For all I know could have sat next to a fellow biker at breakfast already.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Today started with good news and bad news

Good news: I found the (previously lost) instructions to make phone calls with the travel sim, so I can now do that
Bad news: The charger for phone has gone on holiday as well, and refuses to work.

Note to self: always bring two. I was confident that Igor would be able to help me find another, however it is disconcerting to not be able to find out the time, I spent the first 1/2 of the day twisting my neck at angles to see people’s wrist watches.

Today I set out to catch the Metro to town to go to the The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Russian Art Museum and then meet Igor at the palace square at 3.30. Well, much to my surprise, and anyone who knows me, I did so without a hitch 😉

The cathedral is amazing, all mosaic panels on the inside and spectacular on the outside. It was very badly damaged in the second world war, and work was only started to restore it in 1972, it was open to public in 1980 but the restoration it is still ongoing.

Church of the Saviour on Blood (photo from FanPop)

Next I went to the Russian Art Museum, it was full of Russian art work, there were paintings dating back to the 12th century, unbelievable. One artist Valentin Serov died when he was 46 but has 5 large rooms of his art in this museum, and that’s only what’s in the ownership of this museum.

At the museum, and every other attraction, in every room is a Russian women employed to ensure you do not touch any of the walls or art. They have a chair and sit all day watching you.

I met Igor at 3pm and we went to a phone shop and I got a charger. It cost NZ$200 but at least I will now have the time and a phone again.

After getting the phone we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress built in 1703 by Peter the Great. Amazing views from the top of the battlements and interesting to see some of the places I have visited from the other side of the river.

Peter and Paul Fortress (from In Your Pocket)

A few observations of the city:

The St Petersburg traffic of course is on the opposite side of the road as what I am used to so I have to be careful. I also have to be careful as although the speed is meant to be 40km through the city, the cars are going much faster. I certainly would not recommend trying to duck across the road in between traffic like we do at home.

Smoking is very common here and people smoke every where – the restaurants, in hotel lobbies, taxis, even the ambulance crews drive around smoking.

It’s funny the things you miss when you are in another country and often not what you would expect: I miss being able to drink tea at the hotel, there are no jugs in the room or tea making facilities. So by breakfast I hit the restaurant like an addict looking for a fix. The cups are tiny so I gulp down 3 to 4 before even thinking about eating. Today I saw people using the porridge bowls as cups so they can get a decent size cup.

The Metros are amazing, they were built just before the second world war. You go down a very deep escalator to get to them, and they go under the river. There are 5 lines and they run constantly every 3-5 mins in the busy period and I asked Igor how often they ran off peak – he said every 10 minutes, unbelievable.
Also unbelievable is that on the way down the escalator all the Russians stand in single file so that if people are in a rush they can get past with no problem (such a rush they can’t wait the couple of minutes to the next train?).   I had not appreciated this system at first but after being nearly bowled twice I quickly learnt. The ride is very cheap, the equivalence of 10c (the only cheap thing I have found in St Petersburg but more on that later). Also the teenagers stand up to let the old women sit down. No, not me, I said old.

The weather is about 18 to 19 degrees, but although the weather report said it would be fine when I checked it before I left, so far each day there has been a couple of hours of very heavy rain. Unfortunately due to the weight restrictions with my luggage, the only water jacket I have is my riding jacket, which is a vivid yellow reflective jacket, which happens to be the very same style and color as worn by the street cleaners. So if I get rubbish that needs seeping pointed out to me I will know why.

The average wage in St Petersburg is equivalent to 6000 euro a year but it is a very expensive city, you could easily go through that in a fortnight. I have managed to spend $1500 in 3 days (this includes a trip to Pushkin to the Amber room, the 8th wonder of the world on Thursday). To give you an idea, a hamburger and chips cost NZ $40 at the hotel! Luckily for the bank balance this rate of spending will cease when the bike trip starts.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lost in Russia

When I went to sleep last night it was light – and when I woke up it was light! Not surprising given it doesn’t get dark till 11:30pm and dawn is at 4am, but twilight finishes at 1:15 and starts at 2:30!

I woke up around 6am and sorted out some stuff then went down to have breakfast. There were all sorts of different foods, some I will try over the next week and some … maybe not … but I settled on porridge and pancakes. The pancakes were what we would call pikelets and came with jam and a type of sticky custard.

At 8:40am I set off with my fail safe directions to met Igor at the palace square.  I felt quite  confident at first , then it started pouring and then I realized I was lost. I spoke to a couple of people but they did not speak English. To add to my confusion, there was a marathon taking place so every time I wanted to cross the street I had to dodge runners! At one intersection the green light to walk was not going and when I was waiting at a major intersection, there were two traffic police, one was yelling at me but of course it was in Russian so I had no idea what he was saying and he started to sound quite angry, so in the end I ran across a gap in the traffic and the runners. Probably what he had been yelling at me to do as he didn’t shout at me when I was running.

After walking for quite a while I found a taxi and arrived at the square.  It took me awhile to find Igor as our meeting point was also the finishing point for the marathon, and there was a crowd of people (I should have just followed the runners!). Luckily Igor was still waiting for me, even though I was nearly an hour late. Igor had not realized the marathon was  happening, but he was a gentlemen to not mention that the first runners had just come in, and had I been on time there wouldn’t have been a crowd.

The first thing we did was to go for a walk and see so many amazing buildings, palaces everywhere and cathedrals and buildings all with the most amazing and detailed sculptures, turrets, and intricate design. There are so many museums and art galleries I would need to be here for a month to visit them all. There is a museum of curiosities, the main museum has paintings by many famous artists and there is a huge museum with art of only Russian artists.

Today I saw the famous statue of Peter that took 12 years to build, and we went into St Isaac Cathedral – first we went up 250 steps to the 2nd level where you can walk around the outside and see the views. My mind is reeling with all the cathedrals, museum, and art galleries you could see. We then went inside, oh my god it was so beautiful, I had tears in my eyes. A lot of the paintings are not actually paintings but mosaic works. This place took 50 years to build and is on the site of 3 previous cathedrals. We then had something to eat at a restaurant made famous as Pushkin used to write his poetry there. He had supper there before he left for a duel – he died three days later from injuries from this duel.  Then we set off to St Catherine cathedral, which was also beautiful .

We went on a boat trip around the waterways river and canal, and saw many beautiful things. We sailed around the Peter and Paul fortress. Igor took me and showed me where the Russian Museum was next to a cathedral that
was built for the memory of Alex the 2nd to commemorate the spot where he was killed.

Igor then arranged that tomorrow I will meet him at the same place as today but in the afternoon and I will visit the Russian museum and the above cathedral first.

To facilitate this happening, Igor took me to the Metro and caught the Metro with me and then walked me to where I could see the hotel, thereby ensuring that I would not keep him waiting tomorrow and would get back to my hotel safely. He also programmed his cell phone and a taxi number into my phone for me.

I have taken lots of photos but even if I could follow instructions in Russian, the internet terminal here was born long before this technology was possible. So I will do this when I am able.

Now I’m off to put plasters on a couple of blisters, have something to eat and then bed. It is 9:17pm here, so about 5am in New Zealand I think.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments