Monday, August 05, 2013

RTW2013 Leg 1: Boston to Reykjavik to Helsinki to Moscow

I really heartily dislike the breathlessness that mostly goes with the idea of "'round the world".  Ever since transoceanic nonstop air travel became a thing, it has been largely pointless -- you don't do anything special to get on a very expensive bus with wings and wake up twelve hours later on a different continent.  Do this enough times in the right point-to-point order, and you can end up back where you started.  The only way for this to have any value at all is to do as much of it as possible on the ground, rather than through the air, and to interact, for real, with the people you meet on the way.

It was more to do the Trans-Siberian than to go around the world that I set up this trip for summer 2013.  The round-the-world aspect only came in because 1) it would happen accidentally; 2) I hate going back the way I came, on any journey; and 3) it would be easier and less expensive, financially and time-wise, to continue east from Vladivostok rather than going back to Europe for some dumb reason.  So, I did it, but the point is not that I've managed to go around the planet without falling off the edge so much as that there's now no meridian of longitude between Antwerp in the west and Tokyo in the east that I haven't crossed by surface transportation.  I can cross off the rest of North America (my longest continuous stretch there is between about Madison, WI and Bangor, ME) later; this huge chunk of Asia ties together most of the rest of my travels over the last 25 years.

As with previous travel things, this has been transcribed from notes done en route, with minimal editing after the fact for a "you are there" feel, and should not be assumed to be consistent or correct all the way through.


6/22 - Beverly

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0001. Монсерат станция, for comparison purposes.

I've not been this nervous since Hong Kong -- the last time I got out of my comfort zone abroad.  This is farther and harder and more dangerous -- not that dangerous, really, but still the first trip I've had to contemplate not coming back from.  In three and a half weeks, I'll be back here -- should be back here -- but in what shape, I can't say.

- Boston -

Twenty-four days in the longest I've ever stayed 'out' so far, and to do it, I'm hauling a shitload of stuff.  No camping supplies this time, so my pack's lighter, but I don't have the frame pack either: I'm going around the world with a German army rucksack that despite some repairs is very much on its last legs, and a Danish schoolbag.  Not so good for rigidity or support, but doing intensive hiking in this kit = Doing It Wrong.

I'm also testing some experimental ideas in gear load composition.  My expectation is "wear mostly fitba shirts" on the theory that they're light, breathable, non-bacteria-friendly, and in all ways can take the abuse of light tourism for days on end without getting nasty.  If this works, there ware few reasons to ever take another kind of shirt overseas.

I'm also packing a ton of (new) electro stuff.  This is half for commo, half to alleviate inevitable train boredom.  In total, I've got about 170 Gutenbooks on a kindle, about 20 GB of various video stuff over two flash drives and a tablet -- intended as an upgrade on my old and usually non-functional netbook -- and then two language courses (Russian and Chinese) and about 50 albums on a mp3 player.  The most major concern in this is running out of power: tab plugged in except on the boat, mp3 and kindle across the great empty spaces.

Partly to kill time, partly to keep my place, and partly to keep my writing muscles sharp, I'll be putting in occasional notes about the books I read on the train (or other transit) as I finish them.  As noted, these are like 170 Gutenbooks including almost everything Edgar Rice Burroughs ever wrote and an enormous amount of Bulwer-Lytton-styled romains de la gare.  Only building structures of criticism will allow me to grind through multiple Corellis and Donneleys.

- over the North Atlantic -

So Icelandic does have Lazy Town in the entertainment options.  Lulz tourism is still tourism.

A Few Words On (01):
A Prisoner In Fairyland (A. Blackwood)
This is an unfocused and melancholy volume that would likely have worked a lot better as a novella; Blackwood's best work (see The Willows) is on this distance, and there's a lot of page-padding theosophist claptrap that breaks up the narrative.  In another twist, it's uniformly positive, down to the happy ending.  Knowing Blackwood's other work, my entire read was colored with foreboding, suspecting at each turn that the fairy world of night would at last exact a price for itself, and the melancholy would get darker, but it never did.  This leaves us with a sentimental wish-fulfillment tale, well done in parts but achingly, inextricably Edwardian.  Within a decade of the likely time of composition, the Scaffolding of Night, down to that Swiss border, would be blown apart by the novae of flare shells, and nobody could ever dream of spreading Beauty to the human race by concentrated positive thinking ever again.  The Starlight Express is filled with refugees, and the approaches to the Cave are mined.

6/23 - Keflavik

The bracing cold of Iceland, the neat, quiet, half-open but crowded terminal; all these are an island of stability in this adventure.  Breakfast is done, and with the folding skyr spoon packed away, it should be a matter of minutes until boarding again.  I didn't sleep enough, and won't sleep enough on the next leg, but I should have enough genkisa to get on to Moscow -- and sleeping there to be sure to get out in good order in forgivable.

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0002. A wicked quick look at the mountains while boarding.

A Few Words On (02):
Four Weird Tales (A. Blackwood)
This collection ("The Insanity of Jones", "The Man Who Found Out", "The Glamour of the Snow", and "Sand") finds Blackwood back on his usual track and in his normal metier.  The results are mixed; "The Man Who Found Out" is the highlight, compact and novel -- a proper superclass of Lovecraft's Great Race by at least 20 years -- but Sand gets bogged down in reiterating mystery after an excellent start, and "...Glamour..." is basically a rework of The Wendigo for more civilized climes.  The text is a good, fast read, and the content is good, but closing up before finishing "Sand" to get on with something else is definitely ok.

- Helsinki -

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0003. A quick look at the bus park in front of the terminal.  I didn't need to immediately get on the bus, and so got a chance to look around, which I did not get in 2011.

The flight was marginally delayed, but the narrow layover meant that my pack was one of the first bags out (LIFO stack ftw), so I got moving through the transit system back on schedule and figured out the VR machine to get my ticket for the run to Moscow.  Now it's about an hour wait for the train, and chagrin at getting a top bunk.

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0004. Main face of Helsinki station.  Despite having been in Finland before, and normally going everywhere by rail, this was the first time I'd been inside.

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0005. Pedestrian street down to the harbor.

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0006. Harbor, wide shot.  I've been here before, this is just for the impression.

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0007. Cathedral on the island in amazing light.

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0008. Main square by the station.

I got everything I needed out of the market I basically lived out of in 2011, including two new caps (Karhu continues to be elusive), then repacked everything, got back to the center, and picked up a chicken-bacon deli sandwich and some ice cream, being intimidated by the weird options at the sausage stand as much as the potential of having to order stuff in Finnish.  More exercise, less food (this is kind of lunch and dinner rolled together), keep going.

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0009. Under the canopy.

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0010. Garden inside.  The Helsinki track area is wicked nice.

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0011. Out to the start of the train.

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0012. To Russia via the top bunk.

6/24 - Moscow

Partly due to terminal exhaustion and partly due to being social with Piotr and Olga, my compartment-mates, I didn't write or shoot much on the train to Moscow.  I was also in a top bunk, and spent a lot of time dealing with that, and its attendant difficulties in sleeping.  The rest of the trip is in lower bunks, gottseidank: better luggage stowing options, less risk of rolling out of bed to a cracked skull.

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0013. The Red Arrow headed out to Питербург.

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0014. Lenin statue by his indirect namesake station.

It was a while finding an open exchange, but I got it done, got my cash swapped (well, the first bit), and got some breakfast and the change to get on the metro.

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0015. Spires from in front of Leningradskiy Vokzal.  The kinda-purple one in the foreground is Kazanskiy Vokzal, where my next train leaves from.

I didn't get pickpocketed either buying a metro pass in Komsomolskaya or in the giant pigpile going down to the 5 line, but that's no reason to let your guard down.

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0016. Descent to the 5 metro from Komsomolskaya.

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0017. Relief in the 9 metro, waiting to go out to Tul'skaya.

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0018. Planter art on Varshovskoye, headed south to the hotel.

So far, Moscow feels like a giant -- emphasis on giant -- collision of Beijing and east Germany.  Not knowing the language sucks, but I can sorta read stuff and pick out snatches of spoken language here and there.  I'm in a bad location for tourism, but I'm going to try to get out this afternoon without the pack and see some stuff, get some more money changed, and try to break my big bills down a little.  Nap first and a clock test -- I can afford, kinda, to miss stuff as long as I wake up in time to get to Kazanskiy by noon/noon-thirty tomorrow.

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0019. I'm not sure that "Hallertau" is even a real place.

This is a "Bagbier", which is kinda lulzy in English and verging on a slur in German.  Tonight, after tourism, is going to be all about new caps.

I was close to giving tourism a pass, but I'm glad I didn't.  Moscow has plenty of stuff, even in two hours.

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0020. Relief in the subway, changing from the 9 to the 1 metro.

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0021. Looking towards Red Square after getting out at Okhotniy Ryad.

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0022. Panning south along the Golden Ring from the same spot.

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0023. Walking south, looking back.

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0024. Front of the Lenin Library, waiting for the light to change.

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0025. Kremlin corner tower, and tourists entering.  In the outside world, "the Kremlin" is often misunderstood as St. Basil's Cathedral, and not the red-walled fortress/palace combination right next to it for the next couple city blocks.

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0026. Off around the ring.  Moscow has a great sense of space and expanse that you don't get in many Euro capitals -- this is almost an American or Chinese city in that respect.

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0027. Across the ring to the Kremlin.

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0028. Chunk of cathedral and cool sculpture -- see both later.

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0029. Cathedral of Christ the Savior -- it compares well with Leipzig's Voelkerschlachtdenkmal for sheer size, and is the tallest Orthodox church in the world, but there's apparently one in Belgrade that is even bigger by total footprint/volume.

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0030. Alexander II -- not as much for pooping on as the one in Finland.

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0031. Pedestrian bridge over the river to the cathedral.

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0032. Crazy ship/explorer statue.  This is my favorite piece of public art from my travels, narrowly beating the Superman jammed headfist into the ground I saw in Prague in 2005, and this is a permanent rather than temporary installation.

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0033. View up to the Kremlin from the south.

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0034. Sign by the cathedral park.

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0035. Across the river to the theater.

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0036. Transliteration = translation.

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0037. Bridge sign and detail.

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0038. Under the bridge, north to the Кремл.

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0039. Forged reliefs under the bridge rail, waiting for the light.

If there's one memory of Moscow that I didn't get a picture of, but don't need one to keep, it's the patrols of water trucks in the center, spraying rainbows on the pavement to keep the dust down.  The chilling mist, the red tanks, the playful shrieks of the underdressed девушкый caught on the curb, the transient rainbows in the air and the floating ones of oil slicks on asphalt that remain behind, the gigantic голубый sky above; synaesthesia, and symbol at least for me.

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0040. Up to the Kremlin, same corner.

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0041. This entry was closed, but photons can travel where police close the way to adventurers.

The Kremlin, remember, is still the seat of government for the Russian Federation.

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0042. Corner round tower.

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0043. WWII memorial with guards for the eternal flame.

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0044. Nicholas II on horseback by the entry to Red Square.

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0045. Inside; Second Empire much?

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0046. Church buildings on the west side.

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0047. Lenin mausoleum and Kremlin towers.

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0048. St. Basil's, tourist view.

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0049. Front view, Lenin's tomb.  (Not currently admitting, apparently.)

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0050. Uncle Joe, relegated to the back.  Kind of fitting, balancing his Hitler and Churchill sides.

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0051. Kremlin clock tower, not quite as imposing as in Western (let alone Soviet) propaganda.

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0052. St. Basil's, full front.  You kind of have to shoot this from way back and have the crest in the square give you a false range, because as cathedrals go, it's wicked small, and looks smaller in comparison to the expanse of Red Square around it, and the much larger expanse of the Kremlin right next to it.

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0053. Out of the square to the east.

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0054. Statue by St. Basil's, probably the conversion of the Rus'.

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0055. Back west through a temporary fence.  Despite the tourist kakerlak, this is Moscow's central public space, and events get held here, just like Alexanderplatz in Berlin.

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0056. Ikons on the way out.

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0057. The hood; waiting for a light on Varsovskoye.  If you want the real Moscow, the Azimut out here forces you to go through a lot of it just to get to your lodgings.

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0058. New caps inc.  I spent too much, but believably broke my 5000-руб bill and got 6 new caps at the supermarket by Тульская metro.  I can change my next chunk of cash in the morning, but I have provisions to at least Yekaterinburg, and plenty of new beers to make a night in of it.

As befits a fucking expensive outer-ring suburb in trendy Moscow, the excellent selection biases foreign.  There are a lot of Russian caps I need to get into from the minimart by Комсомольская, but that -- and changing my next chunk of cash -- can wait until tomorrow.

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