Lilypie Pregnancy tickers

Saturday, October 28, 2006

In Beijing Still

6:20am in Beijing - (yesterday).

Leaving in about a half hour for aday trip to the Great Wall. In many ways, yes, we aretourists. On the other hand, often also justappreciators and travellers, meeting up with people,listening to the sounds of traffic, and getting achance to see an enjoy so many things.Beijing has been, from my vantage, an excellent city. Bike friendly, great food (incl. veggie friendly), andthe old hutong's where you can be in the centre ofBeijing (with a population just less than half of allof Canada) but still feel like rural France withsingle story buildings and narrow walkways with fewcars, people meeting in the street and chatting witheach other, chidlren running with a bowl of food intheir hands, hawkers selling all manner of wares.

Onthe flip side, the modern urbanism also seems somewhatsane with a bike lane near Tian'amen Square about thesame width as 5 North American car lanes, dwarfing thecar traffic beside us.We have been tourists...

Yesterday we rented bikesand toured the city on two wheels. Felt great to beon a bike again and Chris and I both loved the feelingof freedom on a bike.We visited the aforementioned square with the tvimages of a massacre imprinted on my brain as wewalked through it. We spent hours in the Forbidden City, appreciating thearchitecture and art while listening to an audio guidethat gave us a bit of a glimpse of the life of theEmperor's within. We were also shut out for a longtime, unable to leave the Forbidden City, becausethere was a state visit going on. I asked a Chinesetour guide what was going on and she replied, "TheEmperor of France is visiting." Napolean? No. "Emperor Chirac," she said, "is visiting the ForbiddenCity." Chris and I walked away with amused grins.

Next we ran to join the queue to see Mao before the4pm closing. Thousands of people visit him every day,many of them Chinese carrying yellow-flowers that arelovingly placed in front of a statue of Mao with someprayers thrown in for a good measure. We were herdedpast a preserved Mao (wearing make-up like he shouldbe the poster boy for Revlon) and after our 20 secondglimpe of the old fella, we were off again. Strangebusiness this visiting dead people. Back on Tian'amenSquare, a hawker approaches us to see if we'd like tobuy a Mao watch. "Let's see," says Chris, "it WOULDgo great with my Stalin keychain and my Hitler lighter,but I think I'll pass on the emblems of massacre." Orsomething to that effect.

Then last night we went to a 'Chinese Opera' althoughI use the term loosely as it seems more intended forforeigners and is a bit of a easy-to-digest version. The musicians in their crimpled satin outfits revealedtheir blue jeans and sneakers underneath. (I thoughtof some of the authors I've read about culture andcultural maintenance in an age of globalization wherewhat remains becomes a parody of itself. Everything,somehow, echoes Disney. Fun, entertaining, never toomuch of a strain on the brain. I also thought of thebook Memoirs of a Geisha where after the ancienttradition of geishas came mostly to an end during theSecond World War, soldiers were entertained by"geishas" i.e. prostitutes who sold them the idea ofexoticism without really even being geishas or havingthe intense training behind it.) Still, despite thesecritisms, the costumes, make-up, dancing, and singingwere still fantastic. The opera was in one ofBeijing's oldest theatre, the oldest wooden oneoverall. On the wall were black and white pictures ofthe great actors of before and I could imagine atheatre, some time in in the 1700s, before tourism(maybe you could genuinely call it travelling before),when the theatre was packed with Chinese lovers ofopera. The hustle and bustle of the old theatre rangin the ears of my imagination.Back in to our old hudong.

The hostel where we'restaying in fantastic. With a small old schoolcourtyard, it boasts a self cook kitchen, excellentquality common showers, dorms rooms for 4 guests, free30 min. internet, a tour service, bar, free billiards,free DVD rental, free laundry, and the best location Icould imagine. I don't usually write ads for theplaces where we stay, but this has been an astoudingplace. And for central Beijing, or central any bigcity, $8.50 Canadian per night per person is extremelyreasonable.Phew. Yes, my legs are aching.

It's funny but allthe places we've been have made me want to stay, learnthe language, and really get to know the place and thepeople better. In Russia, it was the small town ofKuzhir on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal that made myimagination wander and think that maybe some day Icould return and learn for real and with a depth thatthis passing through doesn't allow. Mongolia hit mewith the force of a camel carrying 250kg. It washauntingly beautiful and deeply powerful.

More later, especially about how much we loved our trip to Mongolia.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sain Baina Uu from Ulanbataar

Time is tight, so here are some excerpts from sent email that will elucidate our current travels ever so slightly:

All is well here, staying in Ulanbataar Mongolia until tonight, then to Beijing. This town reminds me a bit of Makassar Indonesia- lots of action, good markets, really friendly people.

Russia was an amazing place to visit. In all we got to visit St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan, Omsk, Tomsk, Kolorova, Krasnoyarsk, Abakan, Kyzyl, Irkutsk, West Baikal (Olkhon Island), and Naushka, but only for short visits. Wish we could have stayed longer, but what a great experience! Maybe next time we will get to go to Vladivostok and the northeast islands.

Now we are in Mongolia, another amazing, and very different, place. We spent 7 days sleeping in yurts (ger) of nomadic families, mostly in the Gobi desert. This is something I never thought I'd do. It was the most expensive thing we did but there is no way we could have done it on our own without help from local experts, and it was a fantastic experience. Mongolia is largely a Buddhist nation and the concepts of detachment from material desires really really make sense here. If something can't be carried during the seasonal move it can't be kept, and that includes the housing. Each yurt weighs 250 kg, the maximum weight that a camel can carry. (The yurts are therefore fairly small and sometimes hold very large families - Western concepts of privacy go up through the hole in the roof along with the dung smoke.)

Speaking of camels, Mongolia has 10 livestock animals per person so we got to know a lot of goats, sheep, camels, cows, horses, and some yaks. Rode a camel to the giant (600 feet high) sanddunes. Crazy. All my Beaver Bank posse would have loved it, including the mongolian 'highways', basically a bunch of winding criss-crossed dirt roads, made for 4 wheel drives and strong hearts. We drove 1800 km in all (by 'we drove' I mean that Gigmei, the professional driver we hired, drove us - we never could have found our way around the countryside, there are no roadsigns whatsoever and endless possibilities for error - would have been fun to try though).

It is so amazing the way the nomads live here, so multiskilled they are in the art of survival - they are herders, mechanics, solar experts, climatologists, cooks, and all around hardy individuals. I can't imagine a way of life more different from my own, and I wish I could have spent more time here, maybe grown to understand it better. But I am honoured to have had the exposure to such human and natural beauty.

Now we go to the busiest, craziest, densest city of Beijing! Cant wait to ride a bike there.

Will elaborate on all these things and more Russian stories, some day...


some more pics

Sorry these are all weird sizes... Hope you can see them anyway. Buddhist prayer flags, the Gobi dunes, Esben in front of one of the ger we stayed in, temples and the like. Very, very fun.

Pictures from Rural Mongolia

These pictures are all from our travelmate Esben's camera and website (still can't seem to download here). We visited some ruins of Buddhist monasteries that had been destroyed under the Soviets, rode camels and horses, drove just less than 2,000 km in the van, saw the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets on the Mongolian steppe, and played basketball in maybe one of the most beautiful places ever - the Gobi Desert, just some 4 km off the enormous sand dunes.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Here's a good website of someone else's pictures of Lake Baikal and Khuzhir...

Much love! Miia

Mongolia or Bust

Just wrote a long blog and argh... disappeared! Sorry then, here's the quick version without the fine details.

Arrived in Irkutsk at 6am four days ago and hung out at the train station until the sun came up. Found our way to Arena hotel which was a complete crapshoot with little heat and zero hospitality. Still, a place to rest which is always welcome.

Next day took the 5 and a half hour bus from Irkutsk to Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. As we waited for the bus to leave, we met Kim, a fellow traveller from South Korea who has taught himself Russian, and Nadiesda, a woman from the island who offered us room and board at her place for 300 roubles (about $12) per night. No problem, say we, and off we go on bus, on ferry, back on bus to Khuzhir, population 1,000. It's a gorgeous place - small, surrounded by incredibly crystal clear Lake Baikal, and resting between Siberian steppe and taiga forest. Our room was simple but amazingly located with a breathtaking view of it all.

On our second day we hooked up with some other tourists to take a day trip out to the famous northern tip of the island, known for its scenery and the spiritual significance it holds for the Buryat people. As we're still not able to post pictures, I would heartily recommend you do a google image search on Olkhon Island and Khuzhir... you will see what I mean by amazing.

I think Chris and I both enjoyed staying in the small town - no paved roads, no street lights, few cars, cows roaming in the middle of the roads. Old wooden buildings and a nightly banya (Russian sauna) and it was the place made for us. We both liked the homestay very much, the homecooked meals, and a chance to relax and enjoy a place that somehow feels very old and very strong.

This was the first time we've met other tourists since we left Moscow and it was interesting to find similarities and differences in our journeys, experiences, and impressions. I find that because Chris and I share much of the same politics and values, we tend to get similar things out of our trip. Other people do it differently and it's neat to note the differences.

So now we're off again by train. I was sorry to learn there are no third class tickets to Ulan Bataar. I've very much enjoyed our platskart rides, meeting other people in an easygoing atmosphere of exchange and sharing. We're back up to second class now and we'll see what that brings.

Much love, as always, to everyone!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Abakan flashbacks of Kazan

Hi folks, We made it back to Abakan, capital of the Khakassia Republic. I believe Miia is at this very moment giving an update of recent experiences, so please allow me to indulge in a flashback to Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan in Western Siberia.

Our overnight train trip from Moscow to Kazan was perhaps our best of the trip. We very quickly met Regina, a retired theatre actress, Ivan, a 21-yr.-old returning home from 3 months in New York State (who became our trip translator), Tanya, and a nice lady who bought us tea after talking to us at length in Russian before realizing our responses were clueless and in English (I think she was hard of hearing). She felt a little silly when she clued in but was nothing but gracious to us. En route the train stopped long enough for us to stretch our legs in Vekovka, where employees of the local glass factories were hawking giant chrystal chandaliers and classy wine glasses. We bought some chicken and fried potato bread instead.

I had another encounter with zenophobia as I stumbled to the train's bathroom in the night. A young man low on vodka growled at me in the isles and wouldn't let me pass until his friend made light of the situation by teasing my English 'excuse me' and pushed his friend aside (it's always the little ones who make the most noise). He followed me back to my bed and tippy-toed to reach my upper bunk face and let loosed a soft but stern Russian-language lecture. As he leaned closer and closer and I prepared for the possibility of a physical encounter, Regina tapped the back of his knees and told him to bugger off. Saved by an old lady again! The babushkas reign supreme here and I am fortunate that they seem generally charmed by my wife and me.

So much was Regina charmed that she invited us to her soviet bloc apartment, which was tiny and crammed with mementos of an epic life story (and one social worker who rents the only bedroom.) Regina showed us her photo album, the pages of which spilled forth Hollywood-style imagery of an actress in her prime, beautiful and expressive. There were also her travel pictures - she backpacked all the way to the Kamchatka Peninsula (in the far northeast of Siberia, not too far from Alaska) with a rough cloth backpack and had a few stunning photographs that sparkled through their black and white past. In her bed we took a much needed nap and she treated us to a wonderful home-made soup to power us up for a day on the town before our next overnight train (to Omsk).

Kazan has a slight majority of muslim Tatars and a plethora of landmark mosques dotting the skyline amidst the usual dazzling display of Orthodox churches. Our first stop was the mosque practically in Regina's backyard. We asked around a bit until we found a woman who agreed with no hesitation to take us inside, asking every person along the way if they spoke English. Miia looked up 'community' in our dictionary and the woman agreed that the sense of community around the mosque is very strong. We took our shoes off at the entrance and one of the glass-eyed men there handed Miia a head-scarf. She told me later that it was a bit strange to wear it mainly because I didn't have to and that difference separated us. (I told her I feel the same way whenever she wheres a dress.)

The inside of the mosque was uniformly adorned with a gorgeous patterned pale red rug that seemed to funnel us in the proper direction: upstairs, where the men were praying, some on their individual prayer rugs facing Mecca, some singing to God from a private corner. Collectives their calls to God filled the cavernous well-lit room, which bounced the sounds back into our bodies and filled us with a great inspiration, power, strength, beauty. We stood and smiled like idiot tourists do and just felt it: spirit.

Outside our hostess finally found someone who speaks English: Rashad, a teacher at the Islamic university. He gave us a tour of the city block and informed us that Ramadan had just begun and he was now fasting, which he finds easier and more joyful every year. He asked us what we knew of Islam and we said some, but far from much. He asked what we thought of the practice of women wearing a headscarf and Miia said it was not for us to pass judgement on someone else's traditions. I observed that in Indonesia many women choose to wear it (called the jilbab in Indonesia if I recall correctly) and many choose not to, that there it is a personal choice. He nodded, seeming appreciative of the tidbit. He himself is from Azerbaijan, but before I could ask him if it was difficult to fast when days can be so long in the north, he said his goodbyes. Being a university professor I imagine he is quite busy and, remembering a time when I was too busy, I appreciated the time he took to spend with us. I think perhaps I got more from the exchange because he never looked Miia in the eye.

We navigated Kazan easily, it was a grid and the smallest city we'd yet seen in Russia. We wandered down the canal, past the United Colours of Beneton sign, through a markplace of cafes and into the Peter & Paul Cathedral, yet another towering piece of art filled with golden icons climbing sculpted walls toward Jesus. Miia bought a nice little souvenir placard with a saintly image that we think is Peter the Great.

On we went, all the way to the Kremlin at the northwest extreme, was an open chest of treasures. We were first drawn to the Kul Sharif Mosque, a staggeringly big turqoise crested jewel in the middle of a marketplace selling pillbox hats, wool scarves, and the usual postcard kitsch. A babushka, upon learning we were Canadian, did her best to work us past the door's guards, but it was prayer time and closed to the public. We gained a full understanding of why an hour later, when we joined a non-muslim noisy stampede through the sacred ground, some flashing photos in front of the 'no photography please' sign. It was quite the contrast from our trip to the other mosque, during which we felt more like visitors than tourists. Still, the Kul Sharif is a beautiful spectacle to see.

At night-time we took a slow pace back to Regina's, nursing sore throats with green tea at a Russian pizzeria and comparing the tendency for 'ethnic' restaurants run by immigrants in Canada v. the same run by Russians in Russia. We took a quick peak at a statue of Lenin, who was kicked out of a the Tatar university for being too radical and associating with shadowy revolutionary types, then returned to Regina's bleak apartment complex and warm apartment in the dark of night. We showed her some of our own photos on our laptop and she lamented her current poverty; she cannot afford to travel like us, and she has never swam in anything resembling the lakes of Finland. We felt guilty of our own privilege then, but it reinforced how lucky we are, and how important it is to get back to social justice work, even if we fail, better to have tried to even the playing field of life just a little bit.


In Abakan for a few more hours

Train leaves in three hours for a two day train trek to Irkutsk. I actually like the train rides, the chance to meet people, the chance to relax and feel the railroad rolling beneath us.

We got in yesterday from Kyzyl back to Abakan (five and a half hours by cab; eight and a half by bus) and checked into one of the station resting rooms - gender separated dorm rooms connected to the train station for only 170 roubles per night (about $6.80 Canadian). Sat up with some folks and tried to connect past our linguistic issues. Always lots of fun.

In Kyzyl, capital of the autonomous Tuva Republic, we went in search of a throat singer... We refused the private concert with five artists and ended up at the Khoomai centre i.e. Centre for Throat Singing. We met Zoya, the director of the centre, who mistook our request to learn about throat singing for a request to learn throat singing. She disappeared and returned five minutes later with Sergei, a well beloved teacher and master. So Chris, Sergei and I closed ourselves into a small room and he proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes with Chris teaching him to throat sing. Worry not, Chris has a long way to go yet and won't be regailing you with his own stylings but man, listening to Sergei was just out of this world. The five different types of khoomei from low pitch to rough to absolutely indescribably high pitch and bird song-esque... Sergei, about half the size of Chris, sat on the chair in complete calm and with the ease of a true master, filled the entire room with sound. It was really, really, really great. As I listened I could only feel the connection to something ancient, something from the Siberian steppe, from the nomadic Tuvan people of old. As touristy as it all sounds, it was one of the most powerful things of this trip.

We had our first snow a couple of days ago but in Kyzyl it had melted by afternoon. On the drive back to Abakan, though, we saw that the mountains and the taiga were full of snow. How the landscape had changed in just a few days from when we had gone to Kyzyl. The Finnish cliche, "Kylla luonto on kaunis" (Nature sure is beautiful) just kept ringing in my ears as I gazed upon the grasslands, the rocky mountains, the rolling hills, the valleys, the crystal clear river waters. I keep telling Chris that after all our art galleries and all our visits to Cathedrals, mosques, temples, there is still nothing that can compare to nature. It is one of those profoundly faithfilled experiences when you think, "God is the great creator". I said to Chris before we went to Kyzyl that it wasn't necessary for me to meet a shaman, that I sensed that seeing the landscape alone will let me understand from whence shamanism has sprung. It was true and still, we had the good fortune to hang out with the shamans.

In (much) more mundane news, we've both been fluctuating with feeling sick and feeling good. We both seem to have a perpetual stuffed/runny nose and sore throat comes and goes. We also have had some nasty traveller's curse with Chris being the sickest a few days ago with stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and a high fever. Luckily it passed and he's back to his old self today. I keep thinking that for all the assaults our bodies take, it's always so neat how we have so many internal defense mechanisms that we can heal well. Sorry if this is too much detail but oddly, dealing with health issues always tends to take centre stage, especially when on the road.

Ah yes, a couple more things.

I forgot to attach the addresses of those folks/prisoners who might appreciate a penpal. If you're interested in writing (Russian, English or pictographs), send to:

Krasnoyarski Krai
G. Minusinsk
Ul. Gorkogo g. 114 43 24/2


Krasnoyarski Krai
G. Minusinsk
Ul. Gorkogo g. 114 YP 288/T

Also, Chris and I have bought a cell phone (alas!) as phone booths are not straightforward or easy to find. After so many years of resistance, who knew that this would be possible?

So, if you're interested, you can call us! Imagine the freedom... You may even be able to call with a calling card or one of those long distance plans so it won't be super expensive.

We're at 011-7-962-084-7671. The number might change when we go to Mongolia and we need to get a new SIM card. But anyway, there's a window of opportunity for y'all, at least for the next week.

Much love to everyone and will keep updating when we can. Miia

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

From Kyzyl, Tuva Republic

Chris and I left Tomsk a few days ago and took an overnight train to Krasnoyarsk, meeting along the way Loren and Aleksei, two great guys who were also meeting for the first time. Aleksei seemed sullen and tough but as soon as the train started moving, opened right up, pulled out the beer, and the night went on with laughs, Russian-English dictionary, what seemed like an extended game of pictionary (as usual) and good will. Loren is a student of transportation engineering and Aleksei an engineer of what we understood to be tv satellites (after a first mix up with the dictionary where I thought he worked on sputnik).

In Krasnoyarsk, and after an unusual amount of confusion, we were able to get our two tickets to Abakan, off the Trans-Siberia line, south toward Mongolia. We spent the day in Kras..., bought a cell phone (unbeliveable but true - it seems much easier to communicate this way than always looking for pay phones, most of which function differently), had lunch and met with an agency for some info.

Overnight train from Krasnoyarsk to Abakan, we met Galina, a missionary in Russian jails, Viktor, an older man who works in typography or typesetting (something like that I think), and Zhenia, Viktor's coworker and colleague. Galina talked to us about the 700,00 men in Russian jails and a letter writing campaign they have to prisoners. If any of you are interested in writing to someone, the addresses will be below. There are two addresses, pick either and send a letter in Russian preferably although Galina assures us pictures and drawings are good too.

Zhenia spoke the best English and was so interested in us and generally curious. We talked about life in Canada, life in Russia, wages, work, travelling, conservation areas, marriage. When we arrived in Abakan at 6am the next morning, all three of our new friends walked us to the bus station and Zhenia ordered our bus tickets for us and made sure we knew exactly where to be for the bus. We hugged and shook hands and smiled and thanked each other and I think all of us felt blessed for the encounter.

So yesterday was the 8 and a half hour bus trip from Abakan to Kyzyl. Lots of gorgeous mountains, grazing animals, piles of stones that look like they could be from Northern Canada but here mark places of great power for shamans. We got into town and didn't know which way to go. I asked a young man we'd met on the bus to point us in the direction of our hotel and while I expected a finger point and some turn here or there, he hailed a microbus and escorted us all the way to our hotel. "I take you to your hotel and then I go home," he said. So we were able to check into our hotel, had our first real meal in 24 hours, and headed out for a quick walk in town. We came across four young guys playing basketball and joined them to play some 3-on-3 until it was too dark to see.

Today we had a 2 hour tour with a local Tuvan woman and English teacher at the school. She brought us to the monument to the Centre of Asia (apparently the autonomous Republic of Tuva is in the centre of the Asian continent), to a Buddhist temple where there was a lecture ongoing about a lama who had recently been to Nepal, a museum of Tuvan history, and finally to a shaman clinic where she had to leave and we were left in a room with six shamans and together we tried to communicate. They see many people in the clinic, sometimes performing rituals in the clinic, in the yard, or elsewhere. Most seemed to have family members, grandparents, who were also shamans and that it was in the line in their family. Shamanism began for them with a grave illness, afterward they were able to communicate with the spirits of water, mountains, trees, stars, ancestors. (This is all a bit of a compilation of what we understood across an enormous language gulf!) What we did see, though, and feel, was an atmosphere of genuine comfort and acceptance. One shaman man was making a drum stick, covering the end with reindeer hide and sewing it together. They each had their own desks but without computers, phones, paper, pens. Instead, there were shamanic ropes, rocks, pieces of leather, headdresses, cloaks. The clinic has been there since 1993 and many of them have been shamans for even longer. They come from different parts of the Tuva Republic and each has their own strength.

A walk through the local market, a bite to eat, and now here. Tomorrow back to Abakan and then on to Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, and Ulan-Ude.

I wish I could attach photos. We've taken many and it's been absolutely fascinating being here. This few day detour to Tuva has been astounding.

I wish too that I could describe this in more vivid detail, better describe the people we've met and the overwhelming generosity we've experienced. Really something else.

OK, more later, I hope. Much love to everyone!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mockba (Moscow)

The third-class Russian sleeper trains are jammed full of entitled babushkas, young drinkers and military men, and Anya, a fitness instructor at the SP Reebok centre. From SP to Moscow she was the one bold enough to try her English on us. She seemed saddened when Miia succumbed to sleep and there was no one left to talk to.

In the early morning Leningrad station we sipped mochachino's until they closed shop for the 10 am cleaning. I was surly and sick of shuffling around with my pack; Miia was chipper and excited by giant new horizons. We entered what became a new definition of the crush: 10 million Moscavites crammed into one subway system, shoulder to shoulder squeezing flattening internal organs. We bounced from body to body out of our destination and into our hostel, several hours early, and left our pack with a woman who was destined for the hospitality industry because she radiated warmth and welcome. We ate bread and peanut butter in a nearby park with artistically spray-painted benches. I was accosted there by a local nutjob who spewed hot venomous snot from his nostrils and mouth and spit hate at me because I don't speak Russian.

Having so much time to kill we decided to make the walk to Red Square and its surrounding monuments: the Kremlin, St. Basil's cathedral, Lenin's tomb and preserved body, MacDonald's. We joined the gawk-eyed slack-jawed tourists, hundreds of people sharing a sensation of entering history. Lenin himself was creepy and as I walked out of the dark tomb with a guard-enforced sombre atmosphere with a healthy young couple the three of us burst out laughing. I gazed at statues of communism's pillar men and wondered how Russians could restrain themselves from spitting at Stalin's bust or casting it the finger at least. Strange how these men who's ideas and actions are so reviled by so many here are deified.

On our way back to the hostel I met another homeless man who's Russian pleas for help with his pregnant dog were intense and confusing. He gave up on me in time but I probably should have just given him some money. Back at the hostel we met Francois, a Corsican man of the world who enjoyed speaking French with Miia and me (to a lesser extent). He took us to the hostel he runs because the first place was full.

The next day we spent over an hour watching the most fascinating of tourist attractions: the Moscow traffic jam. Large self-interested self-acting steel entities forming, breaking, and reforming a cellular web-like mass, with occasional men in power suits descending from their SUV's to yell or direct traffic until the bottleneck breaks, momentarily. If only the cars could cooperate, take turns, develop a system where the roads had failed them, everyone would have gotten home sooner. But no one could escape their own self-interest even if they wanted to, everyone inched forward toward the congealed centre at every opportunity, and when we finally tore ourselves away the mess looked much the same as when we arrived, despite a few dynamic periods of reshuffling it was one big mess, too many in too small a space.

In the evening we visited a park and a street filled with breath-taking modern art scultures and discovered where the affordable food is found: in street stalls of course! And it's delicious and they usually have veggie options if you guess right. All the ladies treat us so kindly and patiently with our linguistic ignorance and help us find our way, our sustenance, our shelter. The men are a bit more macho but with patience and smiles also have their soft playful kittenish sides.

On our last day in Moscow we met Elena, a friend of Miia's friend Gemma (now residing in London England). She took us proudly to the State Tretyakov Gallery of pre-revolutionary art: skyscape scaled paintings by the Russian masters who reminded us how Euro-centric our worldview is. Elena was so kind and so sweet to us. Her French is good and her English mediocre, so she spoke to us in French and I responded in English. The language parade goes on. It was wonderful to get the inside scoop from a Russian art-lover, who pointed out the most famous and her favourite pieces, none of which we recognized but most of which was splendid.

And in the evening we boarded a train to the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, more to come...