8/01/01: Hamburg - Copenhaven - Stockholm: Upon awaking we found out that Aimee was sending us off to school with turkey sandwiches, a ton of baked cookies and snacks. Thank you very much (you too Chris). Off to the train station then to catch our 4 hour train to Copenhaven where our train boarded a ferry (yes that is correct). On the X2000 we slummed it in 1st class where Elvira served us lunch and drink as we enjoyed the beautiful lakes and views along the way to Stockholm. Once in Sweden Byran and John got a dose of Wanderboy wandering. We made them walk around long enough looking for a cheap place to stay until they offered to pay the difference between a nice place and a cheap place (the plan worked). Wandering so long that all restaurants were closed we ate at the train station. Then we went out for the evening hobnobbing with the Swedish elite.
8/02:01: Stockholm: While Bryan and John cought up on their beauty sleep, Scott and Carlos headed out to find the Chinese embassy. After about an hour of searching, walking around a park, we finally found it. We entertained the man behind the counter with all our questions as he scolded us. The whole experience was quite humorous and easy, to our surprise. Back at the hotel we switched places and Scott and Carlos slept while Bryan and John went out hunting for information on the Archipelago. Carlos and Scott updated the website and then we all met at dinner. Scott, Bryan and John had an interesting experience with their new Finish friend George. We ended the night at the Spy Bar with all the trendy people.
8/03/01: Stockholm: Today we took an old steam ferry 2 hrs. to Vaxholm, the capital of the Swedish Archipelago. The place was very quaint despite the pyscho, crazy, homeless girl who proceeded to latch onto us and stalk us for a good 45 minutes. After diplomacy failed to dissuade her, we opted for sprinting up a hill and around a bend to finally lose her. We then hid in a restaurant for the rest of our stay on the island and had dinner. Back on the ferry, we played Kings and then in Stockholm we had another fun night on the town.
8/04/01: Stockholm: Realizing that we couldn't buy our tickets to Helsinki and still make our ferry to the island of Sandholm we chose Grinda as our unplanned surprise island and were delighted to arrive on a beautiful wooded little island. After walking the scenic paths around the island, we sat down to have a drink with some fellow Americans who chose Grinda for the same merits. They had missed the other ferry too. We all hopped on the last ferry back and enjoyed one last night in Stockholm.
9/05/01: Stockholm - Helsinki: Scott and Carlos spent the morning looking for somehwere to burn our pictures on a CD (to clear memory space on the camera for the next 200 pictures). Unsuccessful we jumped on a geriatric bus to visit the Vasala, a 17th century warship which was hauled off the bottom of the Baltic Sea after 333 years and now stands on the shore in an awesome museum. Bryan and John had visited it earlier in the day and we all met up to make it over to our ferry to Finland. Once onboard the Viking Line overnight cruise to Helsinki, we stuffed oursleves at the buffet and were entertained at the onboard pub by some rowdy Finns who were on their way home from losing a soccer match in Sweden.
8/06/01: Helsinki: Awakening in our cavelike inside cabins to the surprise that we were already in the Helsinki port, we diembarked and headed to the train station tourist office to book a hotel room. We all were a bit shocked to hear that there were 2 rooms at the Ramada for an affordable price but headed over and checked in. After a quick nap, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of no food for John, Carlos, and Scott, we headed down to the Kapelli Cafe, highly recommended by Mrs. Fonseca. A drink, some dessert, and good info from the waitress sent us to Dick Tracy's for dinner and Mollie Malone's afterwards. Mollie Malone's turned out to be the jackpot. We watched an awesome cover band playing several U2 songs to the delight of U2 in Berlin veterans and met Maria, Riina, Laura, and Nora, four of your typical shy Finnish girls. After closing out Mollie Malone's we all tore up the dance floor at Lady Moon much to the dismay of the early working environmental saviour Maria.
8/07/01: Helsinki: Scott and Carlos spent the morning running errands: for Scott a haircut, for Carlos books in English for the looming 7 days on a train, and finally a place where we transferred our pictures from the camera to a CD. At 1:30 we met Bryan and John at the Helsinki Cathedral. We also visited the Orthodox Church, a park, a church carved into stone, and a sculpture which tried to kill Scott and Carlos. Back at the hotel, we decided to take a sauna, a unique Finnish experience which we were warned should be taken seriously. Carlos set the solemn tone and we sweated 7 months of angst out of our pores. After some Mexican food we once again visited Mollie Malone's to listen to Uncle Ben and met up with Riina and Maria.
8/08/01: Helsinki - St. Petersburg: After a very early godbye to Wanderbro vL and John it was time to start our trek east into Russia and the land of no English speaking. Our 7 hour train ride to St. Petersburg wasn't the sleeping experience we hoped for when we were regularly checked for passports, visas, customs, and money exchange. After finally arriving we faced our first moment of the trip where we had no idea what to do. We had a hotel reservation but no idea where it was or even how to get out of the train station. A few failed attempts at finding an English speaker made us think harder. Let's check our visa documents. What do you know? A map from our Russian travel agency with the hotel on it, and where we would be arriving. We're better than we thought. Walking at a quick pace with frequent glances to out left and right we made our way to the hotel. Not unlike our arrival experience we met no easy situation buying our train tickets to Moscow. A few laps around the train station and standing in a few wrong lines, we finally got a helpful English speaking girl to translate for us. We paid and got a ticket we couldn't read, we'll see what happens.
8/09/01: St. Petersburg: After the evenings entertainment of mosquito hunting in our room, we woke up to do some sight seeing. We walked through the Summer Garden and Mars Field until we came upon a beautiful onion domed church. We found out it was the Resurrection Church and inside made our most important discovery in Russia. You can just say you are a student, get in for half off, and they require no proof. So we fibbed a bit. After all, we are students of the world. A few hours later, we had been humbled and beaten into submission by the size and splendor of the Hermitage. A tour of this enormous museum should be taken with plenty of vitamins. Exhausted we laid down in the Palace Square to the delight and bewilderment of the Russians. One Babushka was upset that we would catch a cold laying on the cement like that. At least that is what we think she said. Well rested we walked along Nevsky Prospect, had dinner and went to get information at our unofficial tourist office around the world, the concierge of a nice hotel (it is Never ours). The Sheraton lady gave us a map and pointed out Mollies where we spent a nice evening.
8/10/01: St. Petersburg: We awoke fairly early to pay for our third night in St. Petersburg (we had reserved only 2 nights 8 months prior when we made our Russia travel arrangements) and had been assured with a "Maybe" that it was no problem to stay an additional night. This is a common response in Russia that while leaving us a bit uncertain seems to mean "yes". The gold domed St. Isaac's Cathedral and the fortress of Peter and Paul were the tourist activities of the day. For dinner we returned to Mollies and were instructed to visit a club back by the Resurrection Church by the helpful bartender. Let's just say this was not your typical American club.
8/11/01: St. Petersburg - Moscow: A late wake up call left us less than an hour to shower, pack, check out, hail some guy down on his way to work, run to the train (in the rain), and find the train to Moscow (no easy feat in Russia) with 5 minutes to spare. We make this travel thing look easy. Inside our bear-cave sleeper car we quickly fell asleep after our heart rate lowered and 9 hours later we were in Moscow. Unfortunately the ghost train had no food nor water so we went without either. In Moscow, Sergei, from White Nights, met us in our car, gave us our Trans-Mongolian train tickets and offered us a ride to a Guesthouse. Upon arrival the Guesthouse had no room and Sergei managed to get us an extremely affordable 2 room apartment in a Russians only hotel, quite a find. We have never figured out even the name of this place. Quite hungry after over 20 hours without food, we made our way to Patio Pizza and had an absolute feast. MMMMmmmmmm Patioooo Pizzaaaaa.
8/12/01: Moscow: Fresh from a good nights rest, we took our clothes upstairs to the Guesthouse to be washed and set out on Moscow. We headed straight for Red Square and Lenin's Tomb. As the 1pm closing time rapidly approached, we realized in line we would be cutting it close. Finally at the front, we were turned away with a stern "no big bags" from the entrance soldier. We decided quickly that one of us could enter while the other waited with the daypacks. Due to an earlier comment, Scott was the one who got to descend into the eery darkness and catch a glimpse at the well preserved historical figure. Next was the unique St. Basils Cathedral and its uncharacteristic labyrinth inside which took us by total surprise. The rest of the afternoon was spent inside the Kremlin touring its several cathedrals and the Armory Museum. Little did we know that our PADI Open Water Diver Card would save $10 on entrance to the Kremlin at a student rate. For the evening we took on the infamous Hungry Duck night club. If you have heard about this place, we can confirm that it is all true. There must be something in the Vodka.
8/13/01: Moscow: Today we basically rested, updated the website and tried to mentally prepare for spending 6 days on a train. We did however manage to tour a few of the ornate metro stopps and get hassled at Red Square by a policeman wanting to fine us. On our way to see Red Square at night this policeman approached us and demanded to see our passports, visas, and hotel cards. We had everything in order, stood firm but friendly, used some misdirection on him and turned him into our "friend". We even waved to him on the way out of the square.
8/14/01: Moscow: We checked out of our mystery hotel and headed to the nearby supermarket to gather supplies for the long train ride ahead. With the clerk speaking no english and us speaking no russian, we managed to stock up on Cup O'Noodles, water, cookies, chips, batteries, toilet paper and even two forks. This was all accomplished by the fine tuned language of pointing and gestures that we have picked up quickly. The only misunderstanding occuring when the clerk thought Scott wanted a claw when he made a fork out of his fingers. Fortunately, Carlos had to make no gestures for the toilet paper. Thouroghly weighed down we headed for the train station and waited 11 hours for our train to Beijing. When we finally boarded we were happy to have a very pleasant Chinese conducter, Wong, incharge of our compartment. He promptly served us a Chinese beer and chatted with us a bit. So far so good.
8/15/01: Trans-Mongolian Train: We awoke somewhere in Russia rocking and rolling on our way to the Ural Mountains which divide Europe from Asia. We have to be careful lest the occasional lurch of the train break our neck. Right out of Better Homes and Gardens we arranged our prison cell, we mean compartment, into distinct areas, sleeping quarter, living room, pantry, entertainment area, and cleaning supplies. We are ready to go. With that done, we decided to sit, lay down, stand up, eat, sleep, read, write, talk, drink, sit, sleep, lay down, use the toilet, look out, sit, lay down, read, until the day ended, all the while inching that much closer to China.
8/16/01: Trans-Mongolian Train: Who knows what day it is or even what time it is. Regularly turning our watches ahead an hour as we zip through time zones, it's hard to keep track of the time of day. Not that we have anything to do or any meetings to attend. We do occassionally get off the train for about 5 minutes at one of the few stops during the day. Everyone then tries to figure out the name of the town and where we are. The highlight of the day was the United Nations Party we held in our compartment. Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, China, and the US were all represented. Listening to "Back in the USSR" while conversations went on in 4 different languages and even having a heated debate about Cold War politics, the Wanderboys did an excellent job of bringing together the nations of the train in goodwill and merriment.
8/17/01: Trans-Mongolian Train: We awoke bright and early, 3PM, local time. It really makes absolutely no difference when you wake up or when you sleep for we are living in the Twilight Zone. For lunch we had potatoes and chicken, beef, or pork, you pick. For dinner, we had potatoes and chicken, beef, or pork, you decide. We also read alot. A note about the scenery, there are many many trees in Siberia. After dinner, the U.N. reconvened in Wagon 8, Berths 1-4. This time Russian vodka was the ice breaker and many treaties were discussed and agreed upon. A few more days and world peace is a sure bet.
8/18/01: Trans-Mongolian Train: We had a great idea for the day. Having only done the "sink" shower the last 4 days, we were in need of a washing. Josh, a fellow train companion, had read that one of our stops was close enough to Lake Baikal that we could take a quick dip for good luck. The largest lake in the world and famous for its clarity, it seemed our best option for a brief rinse. Wong assured us that it was indeed possible, or maybe impossible we're not sure what he said. After a moment of indecision and watching Josh take off ahead of us, we sprinted off the train towards the water. We chickened out of the original idea of skinny dipping and were happy to soak the feet a few seconds and snap a picture. With a check of the watch we realized that we had five minutes to spare and started our leisurely job back. The heart rate spiked and a sinking feeling in the stomach ensued as we watched our eager train pulling slowly from the platform. We actually had plenty of time to catch our slow starting train and enjoyed a sense of relief back on our moving home. We were famous to some, silly Americans to others, but it makes a good story.
8/19/01: Trans-Mongolian Train: Sometime around 1AM we began the 6 hour border crossing from Russia to Mongolia. Unfortunately for us, the banks were closed and we're stuck with $300 of Roubles that nobody will change. Once in Mongolia we were promptly robbed. A 10 year old kid climbed in our window like a monkey as we were pulling away from the border. Scott intervened, but he made away with one of our speakers for the walkman, not much of a loss. During the day we enjoyed the scenery from the train: stark nothingness. There is a certain beauty to absolute nothingness, and Mongolia is blessed with endless hours of absolute nothing. At Ulaan Baatar, the capital, most of our friends departed, while we stayed on for the last 24 hours to Beijing.
8/20/01: Trans-Mongolian Train: We were lucky enough to do the second border crossing into China at 1AM once again. This one was slightly more entertaining as each car of the train was separated, hoisted by mechanical lifts, and had new wheel carriages installed since Russia and China use different railroad guages. After a quick glimpse of the Great Wall we finally pulled into Beijing 134 hours after leaving Moscow. In search of a nice hotel to take our first shower in 6 days, we managed to finally escape the train station and stumble upon a reasonable 3 star hotel. We cleaned up and met Tom and Lily for a great Thai dinner before curling into a bed that was not shaking and jolting, at last.
8/21/01: Beijing: Tom arrived to rouse us out of our comfy beds to go see Beijing. After a wrong turn we decided for a cab to Tian'anmen Square. Although it is the biggest public square in the world and we had the help of our mandarin enterpreter, Tom, we had much trouble finding it. From there we entered the Forbidden City and strolled all over the very remarkable Palace. We want to see "The Last Emperor" again. To escape the heat we ascended Coal Hill in Jingshan Park for a great breezy view of Beijing. Thoroughly tired we went back to our hotel to rest. For dinner we had amazing Peking roast duck and chopstick impossible slippery melon balls at our hotel and headed out to some bars.
8/22/01: Beijing: We got a late start to the day and after booking our flights to Shanghai, we set out to see the Summer Palace. We made like emperors and enjoyed the beautiful gardens and lakeside setting. We headed back to the same Thai place for dinner and met Tom and new traveling companion, Cathy, for a drink.
8/23/01: Beijing: Tom and Cathy hired a taxi for the day and picked us up on the way to see the Great Wall. We visited the wall at Mitianyu and took a furnicular to the top. We walked the wall, enjoyed the great view, fought a few Mongols and rode down the 2km toboggan ride to the bottom. Back in Beijing we went to Lilly's home to update the website before going out to dinner at Hard Rock Cafe.
8/24/01: Beijing - Shanghai: We flew into Shanghai and checked into the YMCA Hotel. Glad that we actually had a nice room and weren't sleeping in a gymnasium we met Tom and Cathy for a nice meal at the 1931 Cafe near Tom's hotel and had a few drinks.
8/25/01: Shanghai: We missed Tom and Cathy at the Pacific department store and spent the day walking around the very modern Shanghai, including People's Park. A failed attempt at locating an internet cafe led us down an interesting street and a glimpse of the Shanghai of old. For dinner we ate some exotic animals and then walked along the Bund, Shanghai's scenic waterfront district. We had a short night out after a disappointing experience at a few bars full of old westerners spending quality time with their friends for hire.
8/26/01: Shanghai: We ventured out of Shanghai to see Suzhou, one of the smaller culture centers of the region. We walked through the "Venice of the East" to the Ruiguang Pagoda, a very beautiful setting with temples and a lake. The experience was very entertaining, watching Tom ring the gong louder than anyone has before and then starting a feeding frenzy for the hundreds of fish in the lake. We then leisurely toured the Master of the Nets Garden in 4 minutes as it closed. For dinner, our Mandarin tour guides oordered us eel, duck, shrimp, and some kind of weed. We just smile and eat what is in front of us.
8/27/01: Shanghai: After 32 countries without a problem, our iron stomachs met their match in China and we are considering suing our Mandarin tour guides (Tom and Cathy). Although quite tasty, we think the culprit might have been a small wonton shop which to us looked like a betting parlor. We were assured it was Kosher. Regardless, we spent the entire day procurring our transport to Japan. To make a very long story short we decided to purchase airline tickets from Shanghai to Osaka and then to Hong Kong and had to return our ferry tickets to Osaka we had purchased earlier during the day. After dinner Scott headed back to the Y to do a set of squats and Carlos watched the Planet of the Apes on Tom's computer. China has somehow bought the rights to make and sell the DVD before the movie has been released in China. All for $1, amazing!
8/28/01: Shanghai - Kyoto: We flew into our 34th country and immediately felt the sting of the high cost of living when we could only find a hotel for $100. We countered with a $2 dinner of ramen noodles and watching U-571 in our room. Now for the exciting part of the day. We quickly discovered that our hotel room toilet was not your standard issue toilet but instead a high tech throne complete with instructions and a mission control panel of buttons and knobs. Carlos was the first to experiment. Upon taking your position, the pressure activated seat initiates a bowl rinsing and then after "taking care of business" you have your choice of bidet or posterior rinse with water pressure control. The squeals heard from the bathroom were proof that it wasn't your typical bathroom experience.
8/29/01: Kyoto: The tourist information center of Kyoto was the most helpful tourist service of the entire trip. One stop shopping we booked reasonably priced accomodations for our next two nights and found out how to get to Tokyo economically. Once settled in our new hotel we bussed over to the Eikan-do Temple and strolled the Path of Philosophy to the immaculate scenic gardens of the Ginkaku-ji Temple. That evening we walked along Kiyamachi-dori where the karaoke phenomenon is in full swing and were surprised to find out we were off the radar as the karaoke hawkers not only did not approach us, we were invisible.
8/30/01: Kyoto: The 2 temples for the day were Higashi-hontanji and Toji. That night we donned the laundry outfits: commando style slacks, least used shirt, and tevas, and for the first time did our own laundry. We ate beef bowls at the traditional Yoshinoya restaurant and headed back to Kiyamachi-dori.
8/31/01: Kyoto - Tokyo: Budget travel in Japan has its drawbacks and today we had to take 7 different local trains, make 6 changes and arrive 9 hours later in Tokyo instead of taking the $130 3.5 hour bullet train. Once in Tokyo we met Sean, a vL family friend, at his work and he took us over to our free accomodation for our stay in Tokyo. We are staying at Sarah's appartment (Sean and Sarah are tying the knot later this month, Congratulations) which is being sublet by Pat who kindly agreed to put up with 2 dirty wanderboys for a few days. Thank you all. That evening we were treated by Sean and Pat to a delicious Japanese meal and drinks in the Rappongi area of Tokyo.