Off the plane at Heathrow and to the Copthorne Tara (Hotel in Kensington) for a brisk shower on the hottest day in London for decades, and then to dinner with Tara, Tim, Lucinda and Marzena (my old RWP family when “events” were our business.
A stroll down High St Ken and Exhibition Road to the V&A to meet Tara and have a “1st in the queue” tour of the Pink Floyd Exhibition (assembled and coordinated by by old mate Aubrey “Po” Powell. A serious trip down memory lane with lots of stuff that I thought (and probably hoped) that I would never see again. And judging by the long queues of PF “anoraks” as we left – A huge success.
Not quite sure why, but I have to confess I had never been inside the V&A before despite having lived close to its doorstep for decades. So to kill some time before I headed down to Gatwick I wandered through the Jewels and Bling galleries. Almost rivals the Hermitage, but as usual no photographs allowed of the jewels. But some iconostatis doors (Non-Orthodox of course) just in case I haven’t seen any for a while !!
Then down to Gatwick and an afternoon of escaping the sweltering heat in the BA lounge before flying down to Malaga and making it home at around midnight.
All well at VLS though weird not having “the kids” around. However that was all about to change………………
A 4 hour stopover in Tokyo Airport which turned into 10 hours due to “leaves on the runway” or some other lame excuse from Chinese Air Traffic control. The only beneficiary (some might say conspiracy !) of this delay was that several trips were made to the Duty Free Shop conveniently right next to the Lounge and the credit card took a bit of a hammering ! I did succumb to the temptation of an amazing set of wireless noise cancelling headphones by Bose that of course meant that all flight announcements were totally obliterated. Made in to the Beijing Hotel by around 0200 and another blissful night in a static bed looking forward to a day in the Forbidden City in the morning.
The moral of this tale is if you ever try to do a day of sightseeing in Bejing, avoid Mondays as everything is closed. All Museums and the Forbidden City is – well just that !
I guess that I should have known something was up when the first sign that I saw when I emerged from the hotel was:….
Judging my the huge number of confused tourists in Tienanmen Square this is a fact that is not well known and was a tad frustrating to say the least ! So exterior shots only but you should get the idea……..
And it doesn’t get more closed than that !!
So a stroll around Tienanmen Sq
A Cab back the the Hotel some abortive blogging as I discovered that China are still blocking Google and thence Gmail etc. Grrrrrr !!
So up at crack of dawn fore the ride to the Airport and a long but great flight home courtesy of BA first class (God dont you love those air-miles !!). And I dont care what Brian May says, I think their new layout is amazing and who wants to look at all those clouds anyway ?? Well I guess he does…………………
Tatiana took us all to a fantastic Sea Food restaurant. Apparently eating sea-food is a novel experience to our Russian comrades but the close proximity of Japan means that slowly they are learning and enjoying the delights of seafood & shell fish. Needless to say all washed down with many shades and flavours of Vodka !!
After dinner we ware treated to some local entertainment including “Throat Warbling”, a string section playing to a backing track of Abba (!!!) and some mind or at least body bending display of contortionism.
Don’t try this at home.
Then back to the Hotel for a good nights sleep in a static bed before starting the short breakfast (more farewells) and the long haul home.
The arrival in Vladivostok was marked by a group photo of the remains of our group (10 having opted to abandon “ship” in Mongolia) at the station marker.
By the time that you factor in the Mongolian Detour and my St Petersburg to Moscow Excursion to the 9288Km above, I have just completed over 11000 Km on the train, covered 9 time zones an unbelievable experience !!! Though I have to admit that is great to lie in a bed that is not rattling, shunting & swaying !!!
Vladivostok was a bit of a disappointment apart from being shrouded in fog – which apparently is quite common – comparisons with San Francisco Bay are somewhat wide of the mark ! Yes it has a bay and some hills and also a less than gob-smacking suspension bridge but thats where the comparison ends.
Due to our late arrival due to the old English excuse of “works on the line” our city tour was cut short, which was probably just as well as we saw lots of fog, a rusty submarine, a cruise missile destroyer, some very drunk sailors, Oh and I almost forgot – a statue of Yul Bryner – which I didn’t even bother to get of the bus for.
The guide almost failed to point out the statue of Alexander Solzhenitsyn striding purposely ashore. I can only assume that someone in Soviet or Other times must have turned the statue around as any purposeful striding in Vladivostok would surely and almost certainly have been in the opposite direction !!
Then back to the Hotel for a quick change before going out for the Last Supper.
Various shots of the scenery from the train which did not change much in the 3 days that we traversed the permafrost & taiga (or was it the Tundra) for the final 3000+Km.
Very few signs of life or habitation on a scale that is unimaginable. Any signs of civilisation were usually deserted or ruined………… Most are lopsided as as slowly succumb to the thawing of the permafrost in summer.
After some late night border procedures we arrived in Ulaan Baatar in Monglia. A quick coach tour of the city which now contains 50% of the population of Mongolia with all the urban congestion and traffic issues that that implies…………
The Main Square with large monuments to Genghis Khan and a visit to a Buddhist Monastery with a HUGE gilt Buddha and lots of chanting monks and prayer wheels for days. Then back on the bus for a long drive out of town into the countryside. First stop a VERY HUGE Stainless Steel Statue of Genghis Khan on his horse and various other Khan related exhibits……….
Then a trip to a National Park to a “traditional” Nomadic village with Gers and Lunch after which there was a display of Mongolian national sports – Wrestling, Archery, Horse Racing etc. Audience participation was encouraged……….
A visit into an authentic living Ger before a tedious journey back into Ulaan Baatar and gridlock ! An unsuccessful visit to the State Department Store in quest of souvenirs – Bling, Dead things, More Bling and loads of Cashmere. Then across town for Dinner and time to say farewell to some of our fellow travellers who had opted out of the final 3 day train journey to Vladivostok.
After dinner entertainment included throat warbling (to a backing track) a team on horsehair cellists (with a backing track of Abba !!) and a very supple contortionist.
Then back to the Train for re-entry into Russia for the 3 day train bound trip to Vladivostok.