Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A More Efficient Belt

Unfortunately there is a horrible thing that happens to your body when you are cutting back on the cost of food while doing incredible amounts of exercise by walking nearly everywhere. What happens is that because your energy intake is less than your output you burn excess energy by converting muscle or fat mass into kinetic energy. This is really bad for myself as I don’t have any fat on my body to begin with, so instead I’ve started to become ultra skinny. The first step was to add another notch in my belt so that I can keep my pants up.

One more notch for the road

From now on I’ll try eat more food I promise, but it is hard. I can’t have the same breakfast I normally have at home because a) there is no such thing as weetbix in Russia b) there isn’t always a fridge where we are staying so can’t store milk. Then seeing we are eating out lots it is quite expensive, so I usually go for the cheapest thing on the menu which generally is the least filling item.

Look at my sweet fashion, blue/purple top, yellow t-shirt, faded brown now grey pants, oh and the whole pants don't fit thing.

It is a double edged sword the old trying to live on a shoestring without dying. But fortunately it does do a good job of getting you to some pretty awesome locations. Although the situation is complex, as it seems that chicks travelling are all putting on weight???? Bizarre but true.

Trimmed muscle, couldn't get any finer than this.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Finally in Russia!!! The big post of St Petersburg.

The Glory of St Petersburg, The Hermitage Museum

Getting off the train from Helsinki into St Petersburg was one of the biggest culture shocks I’ve ever experienced. Police, security gaurds, old women speaking thick Russian, streets teaming with people all whom look like they are from a Russian mafia movie. Only upon seeing a statue of Lenin outside the train station did I feel slightly more comfortable about where I was. With the guide book informing us that this was the spot where Lenin returned from being exiled out of Russia it was with some relief that we were actually where we’d planned to go and not been sent to some gulag by ‘mistake’.

This shock was then taken up a notch by getting on the metro. Within moments of walking, or more like swimming the river of people through the door Tom managed to get pulled out by the collar from a security guard who caught him snapping a picture within the metro building. Luckily I’d converted over some euros to rubbles and flicked the guard 100 rubles (about NZ$5) after he pointed at some piece of paper he had with a list of fines, specifically to the one which said 100 rubles on it. The culture shock continued until we arrived at our hostel, with our first experience of the St Petersburg metro being really interesting as after the fine we got to experience one of the longest escalators in the world (only topped by one in Moscow), and then battled the crowds of one of the busiest metros in the world while listening out for our stop names in Russian. Somehow we managed to count the stops right and slightly recognize our transfer stop and final stop being annouced to get off at the correct place without problem and easily find our hostel within a few minutes walk.

Lenin in front of the Railway Station

After the culture shock wore off, we came to realize that St Petersburg is actually a really great city and experienced a number of amazing cultural pieces, social interaction and historical sites. So I thought I’d put together a small helpful 5 day guide to some of the things we did and possibly help other people who are visiting St Petersburg in the future.

Day 1:

The Hermitage:
First of all, wake up early and don’t bother to plan to do anything else today apart from The Hermitage except for maybe resting and massaging sore worn out feet at the end of the day. Next ensure you have a student id on you before arriving, it doesn’t matter how fake it is just have one. We managed to stick a passport photo of Tom onto my old expired id and use that for Tom who is not a student by any means. Lastly, possibly get yourself a written guide to the museum or a friend who knows a lot about art.

Big Paintings in The Hermitage

Arrive at the hermitage from the gateway located at the end of Bol'shaya Morskaya Ul. This welcomes you with an amazing view of the hermitage framed by the gates elliptical shape. Then proceed through the front entrance way and find the queues to the ticket office. A good trick is to walk around to the second queue that is to the north of the queue starting to trickle out the door as no one realises there is more options than the first queue present. Flick your student id to the angry lady behind the desk and get your free pass. Also don’t bother with buying a photo pass as no one checks this at all.

Man gets one in the groin in The Hermitage

The hermitage holds thousands of paintings and ancient artifacts, from greek vases, Egyptian tombs, pieces from Di Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso to even some terrible stuff showing off old Russian culture. I’m not an art master so will not try to tell you what to see, instead if I were you I’d pull out a guide to help you find whatever it is your interested in. We spent about 4 or more hours wondering around the museum at a moderate pace, this gave us enough time to see nearly everything, and also to stop and look in more detail at the master pieces. The only problem is that there is only one café at the museum which is really over priced and pretty poor, so we were starving by the end, and with hardly any seats around its three floors it was a real work out on the legs.

Gateway to the Hermitage

Day 2:

After a lot of walking around the Hermitage it is probably a good day to sit around in some funky cafes and bars, spliced in with a bit of sitting around in some nice parks. The best café we found for eating was Zoom Café, the menu was about 100-200 roubles for mains, and food ranged from pasta, to more traditional Russian meals like meat with potatoes, onions and mushrooms, and had some nice desserts to finish off like ice cream on apple pie. Just round the corner was also a little treat of a bar. We found it due to it also being a Laundromat and we needed some clothes washed. The Laundromat is actually just three washing machines and two dryers they have out the back of the bar. The bar served brews for you while you either waiting for your washing to dry or while you enjoyed some of the local dj talent that would play there. The good thing about St Petersburg is that quite a few young people can speak a little bit of English unlike elsewhere in Russia, so it is possible to get by at restaurants without accidentally ordering the tongue delicacy.

To the north of Nevsky Prospect (the main avenue) there lies the summer gardens park and the eternal flame memorial. These make for a nice place to sit around on a warm sunny day. Unfortunately for us, the weather was terrible, supposedly the cold was quite unseasonable and temperatures never rose above 10 degrees. We ended up only walking through the eternal flame memorial as sitting down would probably result in freezing to death.

Come night time the city comes alive with little bars spotted around the main part of town. It probably takes a little local knowledge to find bars that are worth going to, luckily we’d met people who knew of some pretty good locations and we had a really good time every night we went out. The best places for drinks were Fidels, Actung Baby,and the bar next door to Actung Baby. We experienced these with some Russian friends we’d made who showed us the custom way to drink, or maybe the custom way to make foreigners drink. The best night started first in our hostel with a round of vodka drinking games based around learning the Russian numerals, then heading out for a beer with the Russians. Everything was going well, until the Russians put their spin on things, that is to have a vodka shot in between every beer. Of course being in Russia you have no option but to accept the customs. So while I didn’t drink too many beers, the fact that in between each one was a shot of vodka made it a night that was felt well through the next day. It seems fine while in the bar, you have a beer, finish it off, then have a shot. The only problem with having a shot is that it is over quite quickly, and your thirst does not retire for long and so to sip on something you buy another beer. The next day I complained a lot about life, but at least held it in unlike Tom a few days prior.

Day 3:

Hopefully not nursing a large hangover, you'd best check out some of the other amazing sites around St Petersburg. The north side of the Neva River, is the Peter and Paul Fortress. This is an amazingly solid looking wall around some pretty cathedrals. There is probably a lot more info to it, but we didn’t bother really getting to into it. Past this there is a few sites worth walking around to on this side of the river including a big mosque, and a navy ship that contains propaganda from soviet days gone by.

Inside the Peter and Paul Fortress

After checking this out you could head down back to the south side of the river past the Vasilyevsky island and check out the monuments on the side of here, then end up at the palace on the other side.

The wannabe St Basils along a canal

If it is on your way home, stop past the Cathedral of Spilt Blood. This is a similar looking building to St Basils in Moscow. This cathedral is nicely set along one of the canals running through the city and would look amazing on a snowy winters day or in the middle of a blue summers day. Unfortunately we were there on a miserable grey day and so was not so photogenic.
After checking this out for the day, why not hit up a ballet or opera performance. We tried to go to the mack-daddy of theatres The Mariinsky, but it had nothing on that day. But did find a performance of Swan Lake the Ballet. This was thoroughly enjoyable, I’m not really one for normally going to dance recitals but did end up really enjoying this. The performance started a little shaky with a few dancers missing the beat or not getting in a full twist. But once the ensemble warmed up there instruments, and the classic Swan Lake pieces came on, the dancers started to show their full potential and proved that St Petersburg is the home to ballet. Being cultural people, we nearly walked out half way through the performance as it was intermission, but for some reason we’d clapped the performers. Fortunately some Swiss girls behind us had a Russian program which they could read and told us to stick around for the amazing end.

Day 4:

Spend the day at the markets and shopping malls around the south side of Nevsky Prospect. The markets here are typical Russian markets selling millions of jeans, fur coats, and wool socks. Unfortunately there isn’t much else apart from cheap fake sport shoes, so unless you are after one of these items don’t bother. Pretty much I walked through these just complaining to Arnika about how lame they were, and so went to a mall which was slightly better, but in the end I didn’t really want to buy anything so am not sure why I actually went shopping.

To finish off the day you could do what we did on our second to last day, which was to see off some friends we made at the hostel by going out to have some beers before their train at 2am. I’m pretty sure they made it to their train as we heard out of them another day, but feel sorry they had to do the 1/2 hour walk to the train station with a big pack and a few brews in the belly.

Day 5:

There is probably still tons of stuff you can do in St Petersburg, but what I’d really recommend seeing is the monument to the siege of Leningrad which is in the south of the city on the way to the airport. You need to take the awesome St Petersburg metro there so thats a double bonus. The monument is this huge obelisk sticking up in the middle of a huge round-about at the bottom of the main avenue going south. The obelisk is surrounded by a huge circular memorial piece, and also contains a few sculptures and a museum with it. Check the video below for more details!

The Siege Monument, it was Awesome!

Lenin points the way, kinda near the Siege Monument

After checking this out, if you woke up early enough unlike we did, so had to do it the next day, go to the museum for the siege of Leningrad. The museum is pretty small and not really informative seeing everything is in Russian. But you do get a little A4 sheet written in English with the run down on the siege which is really interesting, and it is cool to see all the stuff about how people were living while being cut off from the rest of everything and how they managed without any supply of food or energy resources for 900 days. If you are really prepared, then head round the corner to the erotica museum which has good old Rasputins penis preserved there in a jar. The rest of the museum isn’t really a museum but just a hallway to a women’s clinic for some celebrity doctor so not really worth the entrance fee which is just a forced purchase at the souvenir shop. But the penis makes a great self take photo…

Penis! Self Take!

We finished our time at St Petersburg watching crappy Russian tv at the hostel until our 1am train to Moscow. The train was really sweet, as was an overnight train so we basically just got a free nights accommodation by taking a train. Speaking of free accommodation, the staff at the hostel we were staying at where not really on to it, or at least didn’t really care to much. So we managed to spend two extra nights at the hostel than what we paid for. This was a sweet play as it ended up being a nice and cheap week at one of the sweetest cities we’ve been to. I won’t give the name of the hostel, just in case they someday come across this, but if you are them and work out that it was us, then don’t worry as we gave our recommendation to other travellers so totally made up for it.

View over the Neva River

5 nights accommodation whilst paying for 3 at 550 roubles a night = $82.50
Sights: ballet = $35, hermitage photo pass = $5, other museums = $10
Food: approx 6 days at 200 – 300 roubles a day (cooking own dinners saved lots) = $75
Drinks: 2 big nights out at about 100 roubles a drink = $40
Train ticket to Moscow was 615 roubles = $30
Total = $4573+ $300 = $4873

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Helsinki Is Shut On Sundays, Surprise!

It dawned on us pretty suddenly in Estonia that staying two nights in Helsinki was more than just passing through. Prior to arriving in Finland it had seemed as though it was just this dot on a map that we must go through to get to Russia. And with the ultimate, Russia, being well in focus it was our mistake to overlook Helsinki. Everything took us by surprise.

Finnish Sculptures

The day before taking the ferry across the Baltic Sea we found out that all the hostels in Helsinki were either closed for winter or fully booked out for the weekend. This left us in a bit of a frantic hussle to find something that could accommodate us. The options being, a free sleep at the airport (rated 4th best airport in the world to sleep in, LINK), email everyone we know and every person from the website 'hospitality club' to find a couch to sleep on, find some alternative to a hostel like a camping ground, or splash out on an expensive hotel or apartment. In the end we did not receive any replies to our couch requests before leaving Estonia, but thankfully found a camping ground that had a cabin going for the same price as a hostel which was only a small metro ride out of town.

Arnika in the magical world of butterflys

The ferry ride was rather bumpy and not very pleasant, but to our surprise we arrived in Helsinki to be welcomed by one of the best markets that I’ve visited so far. We enjoyed a delicious smoked salmon sandwich which was so freshly caught it could have still been released back to sea. Soon enough we found some things to do in Helsinki, we chose shopping. A new beanie and sunglasses from H&M (greatest store ever) were topped off with a visit to a vintage clothing shop and second hand book store. It was here at the book store where our second surprise came. The back room was actually a private gallery filled with an absolutely incredible array of butterflies made from rose petals. We were close to being locked in after the shop had closed as we’d got lost in our own little world of fantasy nature.

Enjoying an awesome salmon sandwich at the side of the port

The camping ground turned out to be a fun in a 'different to a hostel' night’s sleep. The cabin was nicely warmed with a heater which was much needed as Helsinki is cold. Temperatures have dropped by going north so far that 10 degrees in the day is all we are allowed. According to some maps I looked at, we’re about as equally north as the tip of the big peninsula of Antarctica is south.

Beaded horse in the cool gallery

With a quick nap snuck in, we headed out to find the Helsinki night life. Great success at first, warming up with a beer at the Kola café/bar, but then after not really researching into the foreign cities nightlife thoroughly we ended up walking for about an hour and a half for nothing, and had to return to camp without a real Finnish party experience.

Chillin out before leaving the camping cabin

Sunday we woke up to something that we hadn’t expected which was that everything is shut. We found a hostel for the next night in town called Erottojanpuisto. The place was a hostelling international hostel which we’ve tried to avoid due to the fact that are generally sterile and boring, but seeing all hostels in Helsinki are HI we had no choice, but this was OK as no one else has the choice not to go HI, so there was plenty of friendly people to socialize with especially after a long hiatus of social activity since Riga.

It was here where we were finally back in range of some wifi that we found out that we’d unfortunately missed the chance to get lots of free accommodation from all the people we'd emailed. But such is life, and the afternoon was sipped away in a cup of coffee at the only open café in town. “We take Sundays easy”, the blackboard in the café said.

The night seemed to be over and we were all preparing for the 7am train the next day into Russia. That was until Arnika received an email from one of the hospitality club members saying we could go over to their place to experience some typical Finnish life. Hesitant about going to a random person’s house who we had just met off the net I reluctantly hopped in this random person’s car with Tom and Arnika and was driven to a flash apartment 15 mins out of town to join the four locals and one kiwi living in Finland.

The train into Russia, hell yeah!!!!

Things started out pretty normally with drinks offered and polite conversation. But right from being introduced it was subtly obvious that these people were not normal. The guy who picked us up was suffering from short person syndrome, and the people at the apartment all had certain characteristics that I’d assume would make them outcasts at school. I generally try to not judge people, so participated in the general conversation for a while until it was going absolutely no where, with calls like “I’m a Buddhist” from the kiwi drinking a beer and “Here is a towel, let’s have a sauna”. Unable to easily get out of the situation we were led down to the basement where the typical Finnish sauna is located. Giving Tom and Arnika the ‘let’s get out of here’ eye we talked our way out of joining the socially defunct young people into removing all our clothes and getting all sweaty with each other. This unfortunately did not stop the male hosts from flopping out their long john silver’s. As it is possible that this is just normal Finnish behaviour we were as polite as possible in saying that we must get back to our hostel quite frankly due to the early train in the morning. After much protest from the hosts, we managed to escape the ‘very friendly’ Finnish kids and catch a tram back to the hostel, with many a laugh had at every single awkward moment. In a way I was glad that we got to meet some locals and experience life as a Finn, but also wished that we’d not found them off the internet without firstly knowing them at all and instead met up with Finns that were friends of friends or whatever.

The 7am train to Russia was not near early enough.

Helsinki Accommodation 2 Nights = $80
Food = $30
Metro (about 5 rides @ 2 euro each) = $20
Train to St Petersburg = $121
Running total = $4573

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Baltics And Now I Have Serious Question

Beautiful Women...

Flying in from Berlin on a short one and a bit hour flight got me into Riga, the capital of Latvia. This is the first of two of the Baltic states I visited, the other being Estonia. Here is also where I met up with my comrades Arnika and Tom (Arnika who has been travelling all over Eastern Europe -read her blog-, and Tom who arrived from NZ).

Stalin's Wedding Cake, Riga

When people get married they put a lock on a bridge, Riga

Getting off the plane and into Riga the first thing a typical kiwi male would notice is that there is a plethora of beautiful women. There seemed to be a good looking shela every where you looked. It didn't take long for Tom and I to devise a system of working out the percentage of girls that were very attractive and made sight seeing oh so much more enjoyable.

The new architecture of Riga

The two nights we had in Riga were spent at the hostel named Friendly Franks. This was a hostel that we'd normally have not chosen as it was run by Aussies and described as a party hostel, but Arnika booked it after a few Moldavian wines. It turned out to be a good place to stay despite the fact that there were 70 German students there on a field trip who were aloud to drink and smoke with their teachers. The first thing we received upon checking in was a free beer, and the price for a night (7 euro) was a welcoming relief from Germany. That mixed with the social atmosphere made it an enjoyable stay.

The soviet monument, Riga

The red army, Riga

We spent the next day seeing some local sights, the old town with its art nouveau streets, the free occupation museum, the huge soviet monument and the Russian markets. These were all rather entertaining and quite educational into the last 50 years of Latvian life. To then get a feel of local culture, we tried the local delicacy of dumplings (yum yum in my tum tum) and went to a soccer game. Unfortunately Latvia lost to Greece 2-0.

A cathedral in Riga

After two nights we caught the bus up to Tallinn the capital of Estonia. Again the women in my opinion were even more beautiful than Latvia. The city has a similar feel to Riga, with an old town that is good for exploring and a few sights that had Baltic influences. There is also a number of good eating and drinking joints around. Our first Estonian meal was savoury pancakes (I had grilled cheese and bacon which was a bad mistake). Later on we tried to experience the local night life. This was slightly unsuccessful, after wondering around for a while we saw a local beat-box competition that was crazy as the MC's spoke english but all had terrible accents. Arnika then gave up and went to bed without us even finding anywhere to have a drink. So we then went exploring without her, found a nightclub that was $25 to get into so chopped that, then found a big club with crazy medieval guards which also had some weird system we couldn't work out to get in. So ended up at some lounge that was rather classy but free and had a nice drink, followed by finding that all the real night life was only metres away from our hostel and had a final beer in a packed pub before calling it a night without having too much joy.

Getting my tourist on in Tallinn

Two nights in Estonia were plenty especially seeing that we were in the most boring hostel ever, Vanna Toms. Do not stay there... Then we caught the ferry across to Helsinki.

Bizzarre wall mounting, Tallinn

My impressions of the Baltic's were mixed, there is beautiful people everywhere, but the land is poor and there is little to do apart from party and learn lots about the history. But after doing this all through Germany it would be nice to be able to do something active like snowboarding or going tramping. But unfortunately the land is flat and small and we are pretty useless so sightseeing is all we did. Also the place is a lot colder than Germany. The latitude is similar to that of Scotland so temperatures were maxin out at about 10 degrees.

The main square in Tallinn

The most interesting thing was the history though, even after all of Germanys. The baltics were a inconvient mass of land between Russia and Germany so have been occupied by both countries and had years of oppression under the USSR. The land is poor and only now upon pinning itself to the EU has been able to rise into economically stable countries. It would be very interesting to stay here for a few months and get out of the main cities to see the country side where all the industry isn't located. Also would really help to learn a bit of the language so that talking to the beautiful women is possible.

A palace Csar Peter 1 built for Catherine, Tallinn

Hostel 2 nights: $30
Food: $25
Transport to Tallinn: $20
Soccer Game: $15
Beer: from supermarket $5 for 4, $4 for one from a bar
Hostel 2 nights: $40
Food: $25
Ferry to Helsinki: $45
Hot Chocolate from a cafe in the square: $4 (best one ever)
Running Total: $4322

Thursday, September 11, 2008

East Meets West: Berlin

Berlin loves The Smiths, so do I

Want culture? Want history? Want art in all its forms? Want to party in the best clubs in a world? Then head to Berlin. It is so rich in all of these. I only had two nights in this amazing city, which was definetly not enough. With over 200 museums, and more historical sites than you can ever imagine, it was difficult to even get a glimpse of everything.

Victoria stands at the start of that Avenue where live 8 was...

Sweet graffiti on a big wall

Berlin is a huge city, supposedly covering more than nine times the land area of Paris. I was only able to see around one section of Berlin called Mitte. Luckily this is where all the really important sites are located so I was able to very quickly cover a large number of places within my limited time.

Getting a bit reflective at the holocaust memorial

The holocaust memorial could represent German solders standing in formation while you the viewer might be a Jew being overwhelmed by them

Because of the short period I had here and the amazing story that goes in behind everything I had to do a guided tour. I chose the free bike tour done by newline tours which only asks for a tip to your guide at the end. Although technically a free tour, was actually really well run and the guide was very educated and thoroughly enjoyed her job which made it well worth the small tip I gave.

Self take on the corner...

Bullet holes straight from the Nazis in WW2

The sites visited were all very important, and maybe unknown to some readers so here is a bit of media that shows important events happening and some photos of me there just to give you a good idea of why they are worth seeing.


View from the Reichstag

From inside the glass dome on top of the Reichstag

The Reichstag

The Reichstag is the current parliament building for Germany. This was only recently moved into as West Germany had kept their parliament in Bonn until recent reunification. Yet this building was used as parliament prior to WW2 until Hitler got some communists to burn it down and therefore claim that it was very important he be given more power.

Brandenburg Gate

Me feeling kinda average outside of Brandenburg Gate

Horses are cool at the Bradenburg Gate

Big Bradenburg Gate

This is the symbol of Berlin and Germany. This gate represents a lot to the German people as is closely associated with victory over the city. Napoleon marched through this gate in 1806, the Soviets did the same in 1945, and after years of the gate being blocked by the wall Ronald Reagan stood nearby and said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", then shortly after it was marched through with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Napoleon Enters Berlin Through Brandenburg Gate

The Berlin Wall

The bicycle tour goes past the Berlin Wall

August 13, 1961 East German troops are ordered to erect a wall that is to keep the people of East Berlin within their city after millions had moved to the west to escape the communist regime being pressed upon them. This wall then stands for the next 28 years until 1989 separating the western world from the eastern world, representing the border of freedom.

Square where a mass book burning was ordered on 20,000 books written by Jews.

Cost Updates:
Hostel 2 Nights @ Heart of Gold = $75 (kinda rude staff)
Tour with The Free Bike Tour (Newlines) = Free + $7 tip
Food = $40 (should have gone to the supermarket)
Transport on local S-Bahn = $8
Running Total = $4104

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dresden, somewhere i'd enjoy living for life.

Jesus on a Horse, 1288 - 1307 AD

Dresden was a welcoming relief, after being in Frankfurt which was pretty boring it was good to be hoping off the train to be immediately presented with sights that you know have a large history and a lot of culture that go in behind them.

Frauenkirche, Dresdens Big Daddy

Golden Man on Golden Horse

The efficient metro system in Dresden and as with all of Germany made it easy to get to my hostel lollis homestay. The hostel is located in the north side of the central city, in hip quarter of Neustadt. This place was where during under GDR rule was home to a few artists and breakaway people who wanted some freedom in their lives. After the fall of the wall, the suburb became a place where all the new liberals hung out. The 90’s influenced this place with the punk/grunge scene and so dreggs of those are still around now. But what makes this place interesting is the buildings, they are all old 4 or 5 storey close quarter homes built after being bombed out in WW2. During the free period of the 90s everyone felt it necessary to express themselves, this came in the form of graffiti. The pictures and writing on the walls of every building tell as much a story about the situation over the last 2 decades as does the buildings say about the last 100 years.

Picture of Angry Communist Man

The Projects, German Stylez

After being a little ripped from the hostel (they kept adding on to the price with you having to pay for linen, breakfast, a really big key deposit) I felt the need to relax, German styles. I need not walk much more than a hundred meters to the local dairy to buy a cool drink (beer of course, 1 euro for a big 0.5L bottle) and then go chillax at the local park with everyone else in the afternoon sun, sipping away on a tasty brew.

Having a Beer in the Park

Historic Panoramic Shot

The next day after eating my rather poor breakfast, compared to the free one at the last hostel, I borrow one of the hostels old bikes and take off to see the sights. The free bike made the hostel worth staying at, as was an authentic yester-year bike complete with a single gear, pedal breaks and curved handle bars. Dresden is a paradise for the eco friendly traveler. There is no need for a car, and biking is very enjoyable as there is plenty of bike lanes, people expect you to ride on the footpath, and you don’t need a helmet so don’t look like a dork. (Many lessons could be learnt for New Zealand).

The Gardens at Dresden

The Norse Gods Came to Town

Using the pedal power I was able to make my way around the old town and see all the historic buildings, which was really impressive especially compared to Frankfurt. Luckily bombing in the war did not destroy all of these buildings, and ones that were partially destroyed have been restored to former glory. After seeing these I felt it necessary to visit some classic communist apartment blocks. I found it interesting that these buildings were now some what a decent place to live in as have been given a new coat of coloured paint and are a lot more individual than any western mass housing project. It again was interesting and partly a shame to see that around the bottoms of every building was graffiti, suggesting the huge change people experienced here in the 90s.

Workers Unite

After a quick ride through the city gardens I took off to the town of Meissen which is 30km west of Dresden. The ride took about 1.5 hours each way, but was thoroughly worth it. Meissen is home to a large castle that was begun about 500 years ago and is still currently being worked on. The town was a small peek into what life was like before cars, and was very interesting to see how towns would have been 150 years ago and you’d almost would be better to live there presently, especially with the ability to train into central Dresden within 20 mins. The day was very hot, so thankfully the ride back was broken in two by a stop at a local beer garden (I really didn’t have any option…). With a tasty half litre of pilsner down in my belly I was able to power home.

Castle Albrechtsburg

Me and the Wall in Meissen

Sunnin' at the Castle

Refreshing Beer on the way home from the Castle

The day had exhausted me, but was definitely the best of the trip so far. Once back at the hostel there was little to do except go buy another beer from the diary and go lie on the grass at the park, it seemed so right.

Horse and Cart at the Castle

Dresden was a very interesting place, it was very forward in terms of environmental problems of large cities, but this is possibly because it skipped the evolution western cities had. The fact I could bike around easily, enjoy a beer in the park, and have easy access to attractions just out of town were all great positives. Although you could start to see that consumerism was starting to take its hold, with new malls popping up in the outer suburbs, and bright shop signs polluting the old architecture. Yet it was somewhat weird, maybe cool, that the people still dressed like it was the 90’s with gothic dress still accepted, and ¾ shorts and sandals still being rocked by the dudes. At least they aren’t trying to be anyone else except themselves.

Hostel in Dresden 2 Nights = $80 (huge rip consdering it was going to be $60 until they added on everything else)
Beer = $2 a bottle
Food = $10 (cheaped it up at the supermarket)
Train Ticket to Berlin = $50
Total Running Costs = $3974