The line of police cars was right behind Marty and I. There was a crackle of something inaudible in Russian over loudspeakers interspersed by sirens. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing but if their lights are blazing and they are bearing down on you with great speed then the list of viable options is as follows: pull over. That is all.READ MORE
Imagine escaping for a few hours by yourself to wander the coastline of the Great Ocean Road. Margaret O’Connor walked 15 kilometres and didn’t lay eyes on another human being…READ MORE
The bridge between the city of Rezina and the city of Ribnita, over the river Dniester is eerily silent for a road that connects two major cities. There are no lane markings and the bitumen has been neglected, in spots wearing through to the concrete substructure. This is because it is essentially no man’s land, existing between the Republic of Moldova and the breakaway republic of Transnistria.
When crossing from Germany into the Czech Republic you notice a marked decrease in the quality of the road’s surface. It degrades from a freshly ironed tablecloth to a patchwork quilt of filled in potholes. There are other differences too — almost instantly my phone with its German sim card went into roaming mode, unable to receive data and the relatively decipherable German signs yielded to the clustered consonants of Czech. Both conspired to mean that should I deviate from the pre-recorded GPS route I would be well and truly lost.
“You have to realise that the world has moved on from the clandestine superpower struggles of your heyday. We enjoy ourselves now. Here, in Riga, Latvia, we go to the pub for a pint on weekends, we don’t guard top secret nuclear missile silos, waiting for someone to steal a strip of microfilm. If, say instead of pointing that gun at me, you went right now and stood on the cobblestones, you could see the finest collection Art Nouveau spill from the eaves of apartments, not grim Soviet worker blocks.”
His features remained fixed in his trademark smug smirk. I could see that the appeal to his love of architecture, suave and cosmopolitan though he looked in a black tuxedo was a futile pursuit. I changed tact.
Elliott Bakker writes: In this fast moving world where everything is instantaneous, there are also those taking the long road — the one going through the Mongolian steppe, the floating markets of Bangkok or the vastness of the Sahara desert. They all have different stories to why they are here, but one thing in common; they took the life changing decision of living full-time on the road.
Eugen Reimer, 28, with both a German and Russian passport in his backpack, is one of them. Born in Siberia, but of German descent, Eugen and his family returned to Germany when he was seven, following the footsteps of many compatriots at the time. Since then, Eugen has travelled to 52 different countries.
To get to Kotelnichesky Lane from Moscow’s Taganskaya Metro station you have to go through an outdoor market. From streetside stands babushkas, with their head wrapped in kerchiefs, peddle fresh and pickled vegetables, homemade cheeses, flowers and kielbasa.
To one end of these rows of stalls is building number 11. This unassuming, pre-revolutionary structure is painted beige and exhibits nothing suspect, except for a windowless ground floor. The interior is a different story, for the building is little more than a façade and houses a massive dome used to shield the entrance of an underground military complex from a nuclear strike on Moscow.
I considered it a glaring omission from an otherwise comprehensive travel CV that I had never been couch surfing. I’m usually the last one to climb aboard with these sorts of things, happy to leave it to the social media vanguard to try and test it. Let them root out all the serial killers and emotional vampires that prey on the lonely traveller while I stay in hostels.
Yet by the time we had traversed half of Siberia and reached the Russian city of Tomsk a few things became apparent: firstly, that an undeveloped hostel system in Russia meant local contact and interaction, the backpacker’s Holy Grail was illusive as ever. Secondly, our next destination, Perm, did not have any hostels, only hotels that were either highly expensive or in the city’s boon docks.
I pulled the bottom of my t-shirt through the V-neck to make an ersatz crop top, extended my arm and raised a thumb. Another wave of cars rounded the corner and rocketed past us. I returned my shirt to normal. It’s strange how quickly in the full force of the Siberian summer sun, standards can degrade. Not two hours ago the thought of hitchhiking was something done by fatalists, it was the foolhardy transaction of mortgaging safety for a free ride. Yet there we had been, for over an hour on the vast steppe, being stung by squadrons of horseflies the size of 50 kopek pieces, trying in vain to hitch a ride back to Perm.
First get a bed sheet; green if you have it but don’t worry if you don’t. Now get ten to twelve shoes of various sizes and arrange them randomly on the floor. Shake out the bed sheet and let it fall, resting over the shoes. Kneel down and lower your head as close to the floor as possible, looking out over the lumpy bedsheet. See that? Welcome to Mongolia.
Marty and I had booked a one night tour of Gorkhi-Terelj national park the day before, then promptly went out that night. Something about having finally shaken off the grim reserve of China made restraint next to impossible. So, it was through the filter of squinting eyes and a hangover that I watched two Germans with bulging backpacks descend the stairs, load them into the boot nearly filling it up. “Shotgun!” one of them said.
Ulaanbaatar is the smallest capital of any country I’ve ever visited. Standing in the busiest street of the CBD you can see the naked hillsides nearby through gaps between the low-rises.