Posts Tagged ‘houses’

Cities

1st November 2010 by Helen

It’s been interesting (to me at least) to see how some of the cities we have seen have differed and reflected their countries.  This is just one of my ramblings of comparison.  We’ve not set out to visit cities, in fact, in a Land Rover Defender set up for overlanding and camping, cities have been more of an inconveniences.  Nonetheless, they have provided some interesting (I think) comparisons.  If you don’t agree, please ignore what follows.

Almaty is no longer the capital of Kazakhstan, since the creation and development of the of Astana.  Yet Almaty is still a huge draw for many visitors.  It still retains the feel of being the capital, is a modern and bustling city, with rich and poor alike.  Like most Western cities little of the rural lives of the country are reflected here.  Perhaps the only reminders that Almaty is in Kazakhstan come in the frequent power cuts and daily water cuts throghout much of the city.  Whatever outsiders think of the long term rule of the president there is no doubt that many people, young and old, are very supportive of him and the way he has brought Kazakhstan through the difficulties of separation from the USSR and into the modern world.

Ulaanbaatar was sprawling and very cosmopolitan, in complete contrast to the rest of the country.  Although some people were living in gers, mainly on the outskirts of the city, Mongolian culture and history did not predominate.  It could have been any Westernised city anywhere.  A plethora of Irish pubs suggest a large ex-pat community, and indeed many Western faces could be seen in the city, far more than mere tourism would suggest.  Perhaps more than the other cities we have seen, here we saw the extremes of poverty and wealth that often charactrise cities around the world.

In Russian cities it would be impossible to forget which country you are in.  They all have at least a Lenin Street, or a Lenin Square, and a statue of Lenin.  However, of all the Russian cities we visited it was Vladivostok that stood out as the most individual.  The importance of the Naval history in this port city was everywhere, from the museum WWII submarine, to the countless statues of naval heroes and lists of honoured naval serving men.  Water dominates this city, the sea is visible from almost everywhere.  Yet here too, the old history of the country is clearly evident in the traditional wooden houses still in occupation in the sprawling suburbs.  The docks, the railway station and the bus station nestle side by side, overlooked by the statue of Lenin.  And it’s here that the Trans Siberian railway ends, having taken all but a week to travel from the capital city of Moscow.  Despite this tourism is not pandered to and it’s hard to find somewhere even to buy a postcard.

2010 11 01 - 6 - signposts in anchorage (4) - Copy

It's a long way home from downtown Anchorage

2010 11 01 - 10 - cook monument in anchorage - views across the bay (9)

Captain Cook's view across the bay - the one he never saw because he never actually landed here!!

Anchorage has been another contrast.  Today we walked ‘downtown’, following a walking tour suggested in the Frommer’s guidebook. Downtown is very touristy, much like central London, bristling with ‘souvenir & craft’, ‘craft & Native art’, and ‘Native art & souvenir’ shops.  Whilst we both enjoy Native art, the commercialism manages to cheapen it and we were disappointed.   Tourism is evident elsewhere too, in the supermarkets and other stores, with Alaska hats, books on Native history, Alaskan wildlife and scenery.  With the white topped mountains looming over the city, and it reported that wild animals frequently stray into the city, they can perhaps be forgiven for the unabashed promotion of the glories of this the 49th US State.  Statues to Captain Cook, looking out over the magnificent bay, and Eisenhower, along with some of the public art such as the bronze Blue Whale and the Tlingit totem poles, are a welcome change from the more touristy representations of Alaska.  Anchorage is a young city, beginning, according to the guidebook, as a tent camp for the workers building the Alaska Railroad in 1915.  Hardly surprising then, that to us the architecture of the city gives it a kind of dated 60’s feel – big modern buildings in the often characterless style of the 60’s.  A few traditional wooden buildings have been preserved but they are few in number.  But it’s clean, tidy and well maintained.  And easy to navigate, laid out as it is in the traditional American grid system.  Anchorage even postdates the time when Alaska was bought from Russia in 1868 for 2 cents an acre, although I’m sure $7.2 million seemed like a lot of money at the time.  The Russians have kicked themselves ever since the Klondike gold rush, and the discovery of other minerals and oil!

Ah well, wonder what the next city will bring?

Weekend in the forest

17th October 2010 by Helen
Camping in the forest

Camping in the forest

With our next priority to arrange Landy’s shipping to the US we set off for a final weekend camping in the forest.  To get here we have driven about 100 km back out of Vladivostok.  Where the road ended we followed a dirt track for another 6 km.  We have been surprised by the number of houses tucked in amongst the trees but now there are none.  We know that about half a kilometer further on is one more house.  So we feel it is quite deserted here.  Paul is looking forward to a couple of nights peace and quiet away from the hubbub of sleeping in lorry parks over the last week (ah – see blog Snuffles!!).

Over the weekend we have repacked some of our clothes into rucksacks, added a tent and our sleeping bags and some bits we can use for washing ourselves.  Despite slimming our packs down from the original packing they are still ridiculously heavy (well, Paul’s is, mine’s not big enough to get ridiculously heavy) – we might not be walking that much after all.  We’ve given Landy a wash inside, repacked the things off the roof so everything is now inside, so that sometime next week he can be ‘containerised’ ready for shipping to Seattle.  It’s taken us about four times longer to do than we anticipated!!  But that seems pretty par for the course really!!

The nights are dark and cold.  By moonlight the hunters are out – the human kind.

ice patterns in the sap

ice patterns in the sap

On Saturday morning we awoke to the sound of wind and rain, which lasted until lunchtime, so we stayed in the tent and listened to the sounds of nature.  Camping isn’t camping without the sound of rain on the tent.  Then we heard a ball of wind rustling the leaves a couple of hundred yards away.  We listened to it’s approach, getting nearer and nearer, the sounds of rustling becoming more insistent, until the wind hit the car and tent, rocking us for a few minutes, before passing by.

After a frostier night, on Sunday morning we were enchanted by the grasses, displaying crazy ice patterns where the sap had frozen during the night and burst out of the stem. 

As each day wore on we were amazed at the number of cars trundling back and forth along this otherwise apparently deserted track.  Locals were out cutting down trees – not sure if it’s for firewood or building – I suspect the latter as they are quite picky about which trees to cut and the ones they choose all seem to be the same size.

With some sadness, as this really marks the end of this leg of our trip, on Sunday night we headed back into Vladivostok.  No more the plush hotel but we are moving into a backpackers hostel.  But for tonight we are too late to be wanting to negotiate the last stretch of roadworks into town to get to the hostel and, having packed up the tent, we kip in the cab one last time during this leg of our trip.  Same spot we slept in on our first arrival in Vladivostok.