A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: stuhutchuk

Think I'm turning Japanese

semi-overcast 27 °C

Having left China, where the word and associated behaviours of manners must have been left out of the dictionary, I arrived in Japan...home of cleanliness and etiquette (Even the staff at 7 eleven convenience stores bowed as they served me budget sushi snacks). The place I landed was called Saga city, and despite its name no Dame Thora Hird stair lifts or Werther's Original toting grandparents were in sight. The beard also has to go, I knew the Japanese were skeptical about tattoos due to their links with the Mafia or Yakuza as they are known in these parts, but with this look, I was it seems, guaranteed the royal search treatment at the airport. It was the politest and most apologetic bag search to date, but it didn't stop them searching through absolutely everything....brave chap going through that dirty washing bag! Ello, ello what do we have here then? We have found some contraband....ah no just a very suspiciously packed bag of Sichuan peppers officers...as I'm there doing my best spicy food impression - after all these months of practice I'm going to clean up in the annual new years charades! Half an hour later they were done with me and sent me on my way. Next mission get some cash and get to the train station..... what's that, there's only one ATM at the airport and it doesn't work with international cards....luckily I still had just enough Mao money left to exchage.

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I arrived to the station in Saga, collected my rail pass for the next three weeks and booked onto the first train to Hiroshima. A quick mention to the rail pass, which is a great idea for people travelling to Japan. It essentially gives you unlimited rail travel across the country, meaning you get the chance to feel like one of the older generation back in the UK with their bus pass, just riding on transport because you can. It would also seem that half of Europe is here on holiday booking up every train and hostel in sight....well the Mediterranean countries at least and in particular Spain, taking full advantage of their month long shut downs back home...no wonder their economies are on the blink, get back to work! (I am fully aware of the hypocrisy in this statement and before anyone says anything, my days of being a floppy haired lay about are nearing an end....well the floppy haired part anyway, the next hair cut/shearing session is pencilled in)

I borded my first Japanese bullet train and before I knew it had arrived to Hiroshima. The city, having recently commemorated the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped which flattened it and helped end World War Two, was on first impressions a very normal place...pretty remarkable considering its history. The only real evidence of its past being the 'A-Bomb dome', a building that miraculously survived that day and the droves of tourists that probably like me only knew about the places existence for the events 70 years previous. For my first night I'd unknowingly booked into a traditional guest house, which basically means you sleep on a roll out bed on the floor...IKEA can't have made it over here, as for less than £50 for a Billy bookcase and bed combo, their days of sleeping on the floor would be numbered. I also went out to eat the local delicacy called okonomiyaki, which is basically a fry up containing noodles, cabbage, egg and bacon, covered in an incredible sauce and all cooked up in front of your eyes, in my case by Japans answer to Delia Smith (without the drunken outbursts of course). At first I was the only non local in there, but as other tourists saw this bearded wild westerner having such a great time, I was gradually joined by a few others. This included an Italian couple from Milan, who were to pass on a few words of wisdom on other places to visit, as well as share a second round of food with me...if the Italians like it, you know its good!

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The chef on the second night. Delia smith, where are you?

That night I slept surprisingly well on the straw matt floor (maybe they're onto something) and set off back into town to go to the peace monument museum....a very harrowing display of the after effects of that day in 1945.
Aside from the museum and eating my own body weight in the local speciality there wasn't that much to do here, so when I bumped into the Italians and they proposed that I join them on a trip to a local island I jumped at the offer. What a great decision, as following a short ferry ride and wander through an old style village we climbed to the top of a small mountain - although for the diminutive locals it may have been more like Everest - and the views were sensational.

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The view was equally good at the bottom that evening, my best impression of a certain celebrity walking on water also coming off....no not the big mans son...Dynamo the magician!

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No perspex walkway in sight and as for feeding the 5000, better move fast as this lot have got a taste for fish...

The next morning I carried on heading up the country by the ever impressive bullet train, my destination Kyoto, the ancient capital of the country and packed to the rafters with temples. On arrival I headed straight out to one of the many shrines, where it would seem the locals are keeping traditions alive by donning the traditional attire and walking everywhere in clog style flip flops...a lot of the temples were painted orange as well, maybe a bit of Dutch influence...all I know is I was glad to be in my trustee walking shoes and not dragging half an oak tree around with me.

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Temple seen the hunger pangs started and I'd almost given up on finding a restaurant that wasn't full of package holiday folk, when I found a small place that looked very local and sold anything you could think of fried and on a stick. Beer ordered and plate of fried goodies in front of me, I started 'chatting' with the guy next to me who had just finished work by the looks of him. Now the locals English over here is limited at best, which led to entire conversations being played out through sign language, saying well known celebrity's names (notably Mr Beckham), saying or singing well known songs and lots and lots of laughter and this was no different. What was different though, was this guy clearly liked his syrup and wanted to make sure that I got to try the full complement of local spirits with him. 4 bottles of sake (a local spirit) and a few beers later, along with another new found friend, I couldn't believe he would be able to get up for work the next day. This cued the other guy to proclaim...'Japanese-a strong drinka'. You couldn't have timed it better as within 2 minutes the business guys eyes rolled backwards and he snuck off to the toilet to sleep it off, leaving me and the other guy to converse through the medium of Oasis song singing. Before leaving I did let the owner know he had someone snoozing in his toilet...I'll let you imagine how that mime went...

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The next morning I woke with only a mild feeling that I'd drunk enough sake to wipe out an entire department of salary men. My mission for the day, see as many temples in this place as possible. The highlight of these had to be the golden temple, that was policed by this indimidating chap...

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Shotgun policeman for the YMCA themed Christmas party.

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I made it back to my hostel happy with what I'd seen, only to be shown pictures of another must see place...tomorrow was going to be an even earlier one.

This place reminded me a lot of South Korea, with one important exception.... there is actually stuff to see here! This led to me working out in my three weeks here I would have to speed around the country at a pace similar to Ben Johnson, at the point in his career when his eyes were bulging from his steroid infused body. So with this in mind I rose at 5:30am the next morning and had virtually the whole of the must see temple to myself, bar a few local dog walkers. Stunning diversion seen, I headed on to my intended day trip destination a place called Nara, famed for its Chatsworth-esque free roaming deer and you guessed it more temples. Once again I had the place largely to myself, and got to soak up the spiritual atmosphere (not the local spirits this time), before the hoards of tourists arrived. The early start and associated sleep deprivation nearly caught me out though as I had to be stopped by an elderly security guard before accidently joining a religious procession.

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It was also here in Nara I witnessed a new phenomenon, something becoming far to familiar in this part of the world...lots of miserable people getting to a good view point, extending a small metal pole which their phone is attached to, this then has the miraculous side effect of their mouth muscles contracting to what look like smiles, they take a quick photo before the stick retracts and then they go back to not speaking to each other and wishing they were back home eating tapas followed by a 'hard' earned siesta. Another phenomenon I was now starting to be skeptical of was the extreme levels of politeness the locals exhibited...the politeness almost seeming a bit robotic at times....wait a minute, isn't this the country that always appeared on Tomorrows World, with robot drivers/nurses/cooks...you heard it here first, Phillipa Forrester would never lie to us!

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Another child is spawned from the tree of politeness.

In this short time I'd really come to like Japan, the food was incredible, the people/robots the friendliest I'd met to date and they drive on the correct side of the road, making crossing the road much less hazardous for us European island dwellers. What does make the roads hazardous though are the mad cyclists, bad enough are the locals but even more scary is when you have Juan and Juanetta bearing down on you. 'Wiiiich side of the road?' 'Que?' And on arrival to Takayama in the Japanese Alps, I was still very firmly on the tourist trail. I can't blame them though as once again the place was littered with ancient temples, this time with a mountain backdrop. Alas the number of tourists meant I had to press on again after just one night, they really need more accommodation here, my next stop, home of the winter Olympics in 1998, Nagano.

Nagano was intended purely as a stop off and a chance to recharge the batteries but once again I got a useful tip on something to do in the local area... I really need to stop being so inquisitive. This time it was a chance to see the snow monkeys of planet earth fame, and do my best David Attenborough impression, these chaps enjoying a warm dip in their local hot spring, apparently unique behaviour amongst monkeys. I think I need to enlist their help in beard grooming...

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'You're next in line mate. Would you like a wash and rinse too?'

The next stop on my charge through the country was a town called Matsumoto, known for its castle, second only in fame to the fictitious Takeshi's castle from the cult 80s TV show of the same name. No mad Japanese TV here though, just a fine looking fortification and a chance to finally have a relatively easy day before the main physical challenge of the trip...climbing mount Fuji. My base for the next two days was a hostel in the shadow of the mountain, that's if you could see the thing....

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Insert mountain here.

On arrival I could just see the top slither of the mountain, which soon disappeared behind yet more cloud cover (unfortunately in Japan the summer coincides with the wet season...hang on, sounds like an English summer). I decided that to seek inspiration on the decision to climb or not I would go to a local restaurant/bar and see what wisdom the locals could impart. What a place! I was greeted by the four female staff, with their fists full of meat skewers and yet more incredibly friendly locals. The guy next to me explained that it was a happy day for him as his wife had just had a baby that day...'You've had a baby mate and your down the pub talking to me? Fair play, I just hope your Mrs is as understanding!' He then also said that meeting a man with such hair on his chin had further improved his mood, so much so that he was going to pay for all my food and drink, and on leaving (after a few more shared whiskey and sodas) left enough money behind the bar for me to have two more...what a guy! Whether it was the mood in the air, the smell of the delicious food, another guy shouting at me 'Japanese Crazy' or the alcohol starting to flow through my viens, the decision was made...clouds or no clouds, Fuji was getting climbed in the morning!

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I rose early the next morning, was it cloudy....yes, was my head sore....a little, was I ready to complete this Japanese right of passage....

All aboard the Konichiwa (Hello in Japanese) express, in the land where its polite to be polite I felt it necessary to say hello to everyone on the way up the 6km mountain trail...it felt like being back at home, and I don't mean London where people don't know their own next door neighbour, but like I was on a stroll in home village Wingerworth, everyone responding and waving....the higher I got though the less enthusiasm I was met with, often receiving a grunt, followed by some Japanese which probably meant 'Why is that English twit so damn chipper? This is horrible'. The robotic politeness switch must have some altitude issues, much like me when I did reach the summit after a blistering 3 hours 30 minutes (the recommended local time was around the 7 hour mark, they do only have little legs though). The view on the way up was otherworldly, however with just 200meters to go I was in no doubt I was on this planet as the heavens opened...the typhoon lashing I had been warned about the night before had arrived. Despite the biblical downpour that welcomed me at the top I still found time to amuse the sodden onlookers and pose for the ultimate tourist snap, looking about as Japanese as Sean Connery in his disguise in Die Another Day...another one for the scrap book!

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The writing on the bandana says Nippon - In this instance both the name the locals give the country, and a form of local Derbyshire colloquialism that described my current temperature. Time to get off this mountain!

Fuji conquered I returned to the same bar as the night before to inform my fan club. All four members were suitably impressed and despite my friend from the previous night not being present (I'll assume his Mrs didn't think going out the night your child is born is a good idea) I was treated to yet more local delicacies and a glass of pop on the house. The next morning I decided to head north in search of better weather (not often you here that) as the recent typhoon was making its presence felt, first up a stop over in a town called Nikko just north of Tokyo (where I should add the religion of consumerism is alive and kicking. Inside the most famous temple in the area a 'priest' used some wooden blocks to make a big echo sound in the main hall. He then dangled some shiny gifts in front of us in a hypnotic manner, and in true Derren Brown style mind control, led us over to his alter of cheap tat) and then onto the top island Hokkaido.

For the island of Hokkaido I had pencilled in a week, the first two nights in cities and the rest out in the sticks. I spent the second night in the largest city up here, Sapporo, home to the best ramen noodles I've ever tasted and my home for the night, a capsule hotel. Roomy, spacious, cavernous...these are all adjectives that would definitely not describe the place, however what it was, was the ultimate man hotel. Think Men Behaving Badly but without the two women to distract you from completing your man tasks...drinking beer, reading comics, watching sport, having a dip in a huge bath...all whilst wearing nothing more than a robe and pair of fluffy slippers. And when your done being the ultimate bloke for the evening, you get to retreat to your own little man den/cat box and sleep it all off. The only hair in the ointment (aside from the actual hairs in the ointment) the snoring symphony that played out through the night, from the highs of the young tourist, to the basey lows of the drunk salary men.

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I spent the following three days further inland at the spa town of Sounkyo Gorge. The lack of young people in Japan in clear evidence in the 'youth' hostel, the average age being a sprietly 70. They were all incredibly fit though, and on scaling the local mountain and in the process completing my own version of the Japanese 3 peaks challenge (South - Mount Misen near Hiroshima, Middle - Mount Fuji, North - Mount Kurodake)...no hairing about in 24 hours here, much more civilised...I was greeted by a tide of them at the top. I was also after 20 minutes greeted by a different form of tide, as once again the heavens opened. Michael fish must have been back at the met office, as the predicted wall to wall sunshine turned into the heaviest rain I'd seen in months. Luckily the views on the way up were clear and on the spectacular side....

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Big woodpeckers around here....the effects of Fukishima in full swing...

What better way to round off my trip in the north than to soak my aching bones in the local public hot springs. Again another blokes club, this time with the unmissable opportunity to share a bath with the locals and in other circumstances disconcerting, but in this one normal, discuss my trip to date with a naked old bloke in the tub next to me...his golden advice in broken English...'In Tokyo you could sleep in a park to save money, but a bad man could come and get you...I give you no assurances'. He did also say I had a pirates beard right before nervously grabbing his stuff and hot footing it for the exit. Suitably rested and relaxed, it was time for the last stop on my asian adventure....Tokyo!

And what a last stop it was. The city wasn't much of a looker, but once you got under the skin of the place it was something special. I spent my three days here in typical style seeing as much as I could in the capital of weird. This included watching some fat blokes grapple in their underwear, sitting in a cafe surrounded by cats, more crazy Asian baseball, crazy Asian rugby (after failing to get into even more crazy Asian baseball), a 5am trip to the worlds largest fish market to watch chaps chuck around a bunch of frozen fish and then eating the same fish for breakfast, watching one of the worlds busiest road crossings and to help smooth it all out a few glasses of the local tipple. By the end of my few days here, much like Paul Gascoigne when he was turning out for the likes of Boston Utd, I was a spent force. Thanks Japan for a great ending to the trip, or as the locals would say Arigato!

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How do you pronounce Arigato like a local, Japanese Alan Partridge?
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Simple, 'Harry Gateaux'. Thanks to everyone that's read the blog over the last few months, I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and living it. See you soon England!

Posted by stuhutchuk 18:32 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo kyoto nikko japan travel train hiroshima backpacking hokkaido fuji matsumoto sapporo takayama sounkyo gekkoji Comments (1)

Made In China

overcast 32 °C

So this is what is feels like to be a rock star...long hair, jet lag, another hotel room, all thats missing is the fame, fortune and wild parties, unless you count two bottles of Tsing Tao, a pot of jasmine tea and some Peking duck as a wild night out. I'm also getting stared at out here constantly like a minor celebrity by every man, woman, child, baby, dog....although to be fair, with my current appearance the same would probably happen back home. Welcome to China, an intense country full of flavour, crazy traffic, smog and people....absolutely everywhere. Oh yes and home to the great firewall meaning no Google, Facebook or any other medium of expressing free speech for the next two weeks...I best be careful. Tiananmen square incident, what Tiananmen square incident?? ( I did see a policeman having a punch up on the square when I was there, I can feel another wikipedia page coming on...)

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The chairman is watching...

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These guys are a bit paranoid and to get a visa you need to provide details of your whole trip. Aliens though..someones been watching a bit too much ET...

I started the Chinese leg of my journey in Beijing having flown in from Istanbul via Azerbaijan of all places. A quick mention to Baku in Azerbaijan, which has possibly the most extravagant airport I've ever seen...shows how far sitting on a bit of oil can get you, never mind that the place was in the middle of a desert and half empty. Onto Beijing though and as I feared into the smog...the pilot gave the weather report on the ground as 25 degrees and sunny, I'll assume he was being paid by the 'Everything's OK, keep smiling' department of the Chinese government, as on getting out of the plane you could barely make out your hand if you put your arm out in front of you. After a quick ride on the local metro, which was all in 'Engrish', a strange form of English only the interpretors of China can explain, I surfaced near my hostel for the next 4 nights, right next to the infamous Tiananmen square. Putting the jet lag to one side I staggered through the square and forbidden city before retreating for a well earned plate of mystery meat dumplings and long awaited sleep before heading to the grand designs of boundary construction, the great wall of China, the next day.

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A real natural wonder of the world, the sun does shine here sometimes

For my trip to the great wall I entrusted myself to a team of Germans/Austrians, that I'd met in the hostel the previous day. A wise choice I thought based on their reputation for excellent time keeping and planning....wait a minute, didn't your guide book say 'don't get off the bus before the last stop'? Unfortunately we did, part of a local scam to trick us trusting travellers into getting a taxi for the final leg of the journey. Having bargained with possibly the most cheery con artist imaginable (probably because we were about to pay him enough to take the next year off) we were bundled into two cars and eventually made it to the wall.

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Talk about impressive, who cares if you can't actually see it from space, this wall is an engineering marvel and to top that the Chinese are milking it for all its worth, constructing a series of cable cars and fake period towns around the wall to cater for the ever increasing army of Chinese tourists. Forget keeping the Mongolians out, the wall is now to keep the tourists and their valuable Chinese Yuan's in and spending it on all kinds of home made tat. The effort to make it to this section of the wall was more than worthwhile, as we virtually had the place to ourselves (apparently other more touristy parts of the wall are so busy you can't see the wall due to the number of people on it)......the only other people around being a few families and the usual blokes wearing their Beijing bikinis (where they roll their top up to expose a rather full looking beer belly) who seem to be everywhere with their ever suffering other half's, even taking their tops off in restaurants...it seems the motto in China is 'If it feels good then do it', this bunch could do with a few weeks in finishing school!

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The following day I visited the impressive forbidden palace and took in a smoggy view of the city from a view point behind the palace. The day was rounded off by eating the iconic food of the area, some Peking duck. It was like a doctors surgery at the restaurant as the chefs donned their operating gowns and sharpened their scalpels, except the patient in this case came out in small pieces with a side of hoisin. Get this duck some spring onion and pancakes quick!

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Beijing dress code, bikini on!

The next day I left Beijing for a trip to head to where my Grandpa was born, a city called Tianjin...yes I have a Grandpa who was born in China, and unfortunately no, that didn't result in me being any good at table tennis...I'm still getting over missing out on selection for the under 14s team for my local vilage! The trip also meant I got to experience Chinas ultra modern bullet train...faster than a left hook from Bruce Lee and cutting through the smog like a knife through....smog, I made the 150km journey in less than 30 minutes. I imagine this place has changed a fair bit since my Grandpa was here... by the look of it I imagine it has changed a fair bit in the last few months. I was greated by high rise construction after high rise construction, and a pretty impressive skyline which I took in by boat cruise...purchasing the ticket being the usual pointing, shrugging and awkward laughing exchange I'd got used to by now. 'Yes Mrs ticket lady, hard to believe it, but I do want to buy a ticket from you to go on the boat and not option b a rocket to the moon'. It was yet again a real pea souper of a day, not just the smog this time though but the river too. I know in Chicago they dye the river green for St Patrick's but this was no celebration here, still it didn't stop the locals going for a dip and emerging looking like the increbile hulk and it also didn't stop them fishing their dinner out of it.

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I'm not sure Google translate has ever seen the sentance 'Is that terrapin his dinner?'

A quick note to all those athletes that are competing here in the athletics world championships at the end of August...I know your reading it Mo! I really feel for these guys, I made a short trip to the birds nest athletics stadium that evening... If I was a bird I'd steer clear of this place, that's if I could see it for the smog....I'm not sure a 100m race has ever been called off because you can't see the finish line...'Which way is it?' 'Come on Usain, nice and straight, then its all the MSG laced Chicken MaoNuggets you can manage'.

On my last day in Beijing I continued the world tour of dead, waxy looking leaders I'd started in Vietnam, by visiting Maos mausoleum. The main difference this time being the sheer number of people here to see him. Apologies Ho Chi Minh, but in the number of followers stakes your very much Accrington Stanley on an away trip to Torquay, whereas Mao is World Cup final day. Having seen Mao up close though and knowing the Chinese reputation for knock offs, if I was the owner of madam Tussaud's I'd be checking my communist leaders section...this chap looked waxier than the sweepings pile at the crayola factory. It didn't stop the droves of people walking by and leaving flowers, and in the land where you ask no questions, I made my way back to my hostel to prepare for my first sleeper train Chinese style.

I really can't believe how modern this country is (well the cities and infrastructure at least). Its almost like the Chinese government are playing a giant game of Sim City, rebuilding and modernisation taking place everywhere. So I shouldn't have been surprised that the sleeper train I borded was brand spanking new. My 5 bunk mates for the night, 3 generations of the same family, including their 9 year old daughter/granddaughter who despite being in school holiday mode was forced into an impromptu English lesson. Apologies to her later in life if those Derbyshire pronunciations hold her back! They even bought me a beer and taught me the Chinese cheers equivalent in return...Gānbēi!

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Next on the pre agreed itinerary was a trip to Xi'An. One of Chinas ancient capitals and home of the self proclaimed 8th wonder of the world, the terracotta warriors... I'm sure I've seen about ten 8th wonders of the world now, at least 2 of them in China...come on guys, think of a new tag line! The city of Xi'An was also packed full of historical monuments and was surrounded by another huge wall...damn good brickies this bunch. On my visit to the terracotta warriors I was befriended by some Chinese students, keen to show me around and practice their English....with all the chaperones you'd almost think I was being watched...and despite having to further perfect my skills of pushing through hoardes of locals, the visit to the warriors was fantastic. Apparently each warrior is unique, and their mission was to protect emperor Qin in the afterlife...should have chosen metal weapons mate, everyone knows wood rots!

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Terracotta warriors FC new signings will hopefully sort out their static back 4 and statuesque strike force.

I also found out in Xi'An that a pet store and a supermarket are interchangeable in China. Among other weird and wonderful items you could buy toad at a mere £1.80 a kilo and terrapins were a snip at £3.20...I'm not so sure about my friends intentions with his 'pet' tortoise in Tianjin now.

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Xi'An done I borded my next night train to Chengdu, famous for its panda breeding centre, and as I was to find on arrival some of the craziest scooter drivers to date. There were scooters everywhere, pavements, roads, cross walks, even the lifts...

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Forget look left and right...here its up and down too...

I couldn't come to China and not see the national emblem, plus also what is probably the only animal I haven't seen on a menu to date. (Quickly on the subject of food...the menus are full of the wierdest things I have seen on my trip to date, a few of my favourite items are listed further down and also there was no chance of Dracula following me here from Romania, as every meal is served with heaps of raw garlic) The Chengdu panda centre was basically a panda production line, pandas apparently growing in a laboratory, before being upgraded to a cot, and finally settling into a life of eating bamboo and sleeping, whilst having a thousand cameras thrust in your face. Actually that last bit sounds a bit like being a western traveller over here.

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Back to Chengdu and yet another metropolis being modernised at a rate of knots. The towns focal point being a huge Mao statue and the peoples park, where you guessed it...there were lots of people. Chengdu is also the capital of Sichuan state, home of some of the spiciest food in the country. Step forward the newest member of sichuan pepper addicts anonymous...these peppers aren't so much spicy as they are mouth numbing....they must contain a form of anaesthetic, as eating anything with them in leads to your mouth having an out of body experience. Forget having an injection next time at the dentist, ask your dentist for a fist full of these potent little things!

Having just about recovered my taste buds it was time once again to head on. The next stop, via a 15 hour day time 'express' service, my final planned stop in China, Shanghai.

As I arrived late at night I had to wait until the following day to take in the city scape this place is most known for.
Unfortunately for the city, this view, incredible as it was, was all it really offered. On a local top 10 things to do blog I found the top three were:

1. See the city scape in the day
2. See the city scape at night
3. See the city scape by boat

Hmmm I'm beggining to see a bit of a pattern here!

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Over the next few days I managed to find a few other things to do...go to a local football match and support the team in blue until the 80th minute, when I realised I'd actually bought the home teams away shirt and they were in yellow (I'd also been slating the number 27 on the yellow team, until I realised it was his name on my shirt) and finally head to the city's old town... or as it was, not so old town, having been redeveloped and now packed with the vast array of shops and hoardes of locals I was now just about getting used to.

Going back to the top 10 list I mentioned before, I finally completed the top 4 on the list, which believe it or not meant riding the high speed train to the airport. It was the fastest commercially operating train in the world apparently, so for all those train spotters out there blink and you'll miss it. The tourist trail of China seen it was time to head on to my final destination on my Asian odyssey, the land of the rising sun, and hopefully some mighty fine sushi, Japan.

As promised a few of my favourite menu items:

The steam fries a round mass of food
The wood beard fillet
Spicy duck tongues
Spicy dry burning frog
Spicy toothpick meat
Lamb spine hot pot
Fried enema
Big hot pepper tatty intestine
The fire explodes the kidney
Breeze flavour chicken
Domestic life bean curd
Special snake
Not a restaurant item, but in a supermarket I saw an item called...surprise commodity.

And finally some standard answers I received in China:

Its not smog, its always this cloudy
Why do we need google, the Chinese version of events is much better
Mao is the greatest thing sinced sliced bread
Cough, Sneeze, Snort, Spit...sorry what did you say

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Eating - check, sleeping - check, recycling....get back to me on that one. Great leaders say wishful thoughts make for short life, I focus on eat and sleep parts.

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Cheers China

Posted by stuhutchuk 18:03 Archived in China Tagged travel china beijing shanghai backpacking xi'an chengdu tianjin Comments (2)

Behind the Eurovision Curtain

sunny 35 °C

After over 5 months on the road in Asia I decided to head back to Europe for a few weeks for three reasons...
1. A friend was having his stag do in Prague, one not to miss
2. I had been planning a trip back to Eastern Europe with another friend for a few months and finally...
3. I really needed a good kebab...so what better place to start than the home of westernised kebabs Berlin and what better place to finish than the place where the real deal was born, Istanbul.

In between Berlin and Istanbul the plan was a whistle stop tour (is there any other way) of several countries I'd only previously experienced through Eurovision, be that a bizarre attempt at europop, or some startchy looking person saying United Kingdom nil points with a backdrop of their city straight out of a communist propaganda video....I wanted to see for myself what these places had to offer and correct any false stereotypes because based on my current exposure they were all going to be woeful singers, have a terrible taste in music and run around in sequin covered outfits, with velcro skirts that rip off...oh wait a minute that was the UK!

14 hours after leaving Mongolia and via a lay over in Moscow (where at the airport, despite the Russians apparent homophobia, I heard a bit of Freddie mercury and Queen as well as Culture Club playing...keep trying Vlad, maybe its those topless hunting pictures you keep releasing that is confusing your loyal followers) I arrived to Berlin, back to where my trip had started in the snow all those months before. Time to figure out the next few weeks itinerary with my mate Moss and also tell a few travelling stories, mainly about how sore I was from that horse still and how grim horse milk is. After 2 days it was time for me to head to see some other friends...a short bus ride to Prague to surprise Matthew Atkinson on his stag do. A great city and an action packed few days, unfortunately though as everyone knows what happens on a stag do stays on a stag do and the privacy waiver I was made to sign prevents me from sharing anything. 'Stag do, what stag do?....

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After 3 days of civilised behaviour and feeling suitably refreshed, I borded a flight to Ljubljana. Not before, I should add, a local woman in Prague took a shining to my wallet, that happened to be in my pocket, and I happened to see her hand entering my pocket....not a story from a previous night, but a lucky escape for me from eastern Europe's small time Ronnie Biggs and a reminder that out here it was sometimes more wild west than east...

I arrived to Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, and once again met with my friend Moss. We then hired bikes to take in the few sights the city had to offer...the old town, a strange gimmick in the centre where they claimed to have created their own microclimate - basically 4 hosepipes with holes in them suspended above, and a castle with views to the neighbouring Alps. The city seen, we headed back to the hostel for a local beer and food before next mornings train to Croatia. Having been on Asian trains for the last months I'd forgotten how good trains could be, in particular out east. As part of the Soviet hangover these guys have some pretty palatial carriages and travel at rock bottom prices. Take note British rail, this is how it should be done. A few hours later and we arrived to Rijeka in northern Croatia, where we collected our steed for the next few days...Dwight the hire car, not a horse/donkey in sight.

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We spent the next few days cruising the coast, heading to the incredible Plitvice lakes, taking in a football match in Zagreb...where the highlight was the hot dog and beer outside the ground and finally ended up in the tourist Mecca of Dubrovnik. A real highlight of the trip though was a short excursion to Mostar in Bosnia. The town is famous for a bridge that was destroyed in one of the conflicts in this area and has since been rebuilt. Its also possible to jump off it for the price of 25 Euros....we overheard an Australian asking why should she pay as she's jumped off stuff before....well I've jumped off the 1meter spring board at Queens Park leisure centre and you don't hear me bragging about it, especially next to a 25metre high bridge where the next round of the Red Bull cliff diving series is. If I was you darling I'd keep your jumping off your trampoline into your paddling pool stories to yourself and pay up.

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Eastern Europe-ometer: 10 days, 5 countries, 4 currencies

After Croatia the real fun started as we left the package holidayers and caravans of Holland and Germany behind and headed more into the unknown, next stop Montenegro...the real eastern Europe was beggining. At the first roll call on the bus over the border the names being read out made this even more apparent....Stankovic, Markovic, Ivanovich....more itches than the morning after a night in a midge infested tent in Scotland. The first stop in Montenegro was the bay of Kotor...what's this more package tours and cruise ships! The place was overrun yet again, and despite its stunning location we headed swiftly on down the coast the next day to the town of Ulcinj. This place proved to be a real find...not due to the town, but thanks to our host for the night, a local chap called Milla who could only speak German but who cares... the place had beds, he had some beers and he then serenaded us with some Montenegrin classics before getting out his home video collection to show us his recording of a Madonna concert...I 'reluctantly' at this point said goodnight to Montenegro's answer to Pavarotti and called it a night.

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The next day we planned to press on to Albania, home of the gangsters in one of my favourite films Taken. I'm sure that the film has done wonders for the tourism around here. Before we left Pavarottis though we were treated to a home cooked breakfast and some more home videos, this time of him at his holiday home...topless barbequeing...definty time to leave. After a short bus ride we arrived to the town of Shköder, where we needed to change for the capital Tirana. What kind of accent to great us here...a Brummy one of course. The chap in question who wouldn't have been out of place in down town Dudley informed us there were no more buses and we would either have to wait here for the night or get in one of the taxis, who's drivers looked like a line up from Americas most wanted...where's Liam Neesons number on speed dial when you need it? I needn't have been concerned though, as apart from being a maniac behind the wheel, swearing and gesticulating at every car with a Kosovan number plate and telling us he had served 5 years in a German prison our taxi driver delivered us to Tirana. 'What's the matter guys? Why so pale?' At this point our entourage had gained 3 brazilians, 2 Serbians and 1 Dutch, just the kind of mix you would expect in these parts....the real adventure had begun and although Tirana was a strange city, once again lacking in sights, it had that all important eastern feel. We spent the next few days with our fellow jet setters drinking the cheapest beer to date and eating plates of eastern European meat...it was then time to head even further east to Skopje, in Macedonia, via a brief lay over in Kosovo.

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Eastern Europe-ometer: 14 days, 7 countries, 5 currencies

Macedonia was where the odd eastern European feel really set in. Despite not being the most affluent of places, Skopje, the countries capital was heaving with statues and monuments, las Vegas esque Roman style buildings (all built in the last 20 years) and more footbridges over the central river in the space of 200 metres than london has over most of the Thames. Within 5 minutes walk of this you could then be in neighbourhoods where houses were made out of mud and straw....corruption and misspending of public money at its finest. That evening we went to another football match, this time a much more lively affair between the champions of Macedonia and Cyprus. Although the game was a bit more exciting than the one in Croatia, I still think it was the vast quantities orange juice and cola being consumed that was putting the crowd on edge...so much so that on the final whistle being blown the players had their shirts and shorts ripped off of them...quick, get these blokes a beer.

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The next day we escaped the city and went to a local gorge and river, yet another stunning location but the real highlight was a chance meeting with Macedonia's answer to the God Father at the bus stop on the way home. He had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand, not that we could understand a word of it, and rather than risk waking up with a horses head next to us the next day, we played along and breathed a sigh of relief on getting back to the city. Yet again no time to rest though, as the next morning we headed on to Bulgaria.

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The controversial high speed Mansfield horse and cart line still has its critics despite linking them to London in only 4 days 2 hours.

Eastern Europe-ometer: 16 days, 9 countries, 6 currencies

Into Bulgaria and this time just a short layover in Sofia to break up the journey further north...although in this short period I proved once and for all that a beard is not a good look for international travel, the local police took a shining to me and couldn't believe my bag contained no contraband...Eastern European rubber glove treatment avoided, we lived on the the local trains over the next day and a half including a wheel change on the Romania/Moldova border...an interesting experience where they split the train into individual carriages, lift it up and then slide on some shiny new wheels...an F1 pit stop this isn't though, think 1 hour rather than 10 seconds....and at this stop it seemed to be regulation for every staff member to smoke a full packet of cigarettes, imagine that in the Mercedes pit.....'Yeh one minute Lewis, Dave's just got to roll me one'. The train was also a sauna and for a joke I said to the conductor can you turn the ac on, to which he replied about our clearly soviet made surroundings...'Sorry its broken, as its German made'...good to see the pride in the motherland still going strong. Our final destination on this train was Chisinau, capital of Moldova and one of the poorest countries on the continent.

On the scale of weird Moldova would rank pretty high. As one of Europe's poorest nations...recently a well known businessman/politician was accused of stealing £1billion from the country, roughly 1/8 of their entire GDP... they aren't exactly rolling in it. We were greeted by a local market where locals were seemingly selling anything and everything, this one stall offering that well known combination of goods...a toasted sandwich maker and trousers...

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...and at another local market it became apparent that here forgot you are what you eat, here it's you wear what you eat and in this case as the local model in green kindly shows a cabbage.

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Eastern Europe-ometer: 19 days, 11 countries, 8 currencies

The more I write on this blog, the more I realise how much we covered in a short space of time, as once again the next day a train took us from Moldova to the penultimate country on this leg of my journey, Romania. My preconceptions of this place had also been shaped by Blue Peter and their yearly shoe box/tin can appeals to help the countries less fortunate. On arrival to Bucharest it seemed like their dirty work was still being finished off by half of the world's population of Scouts....these guys were everywhere. The city of Bucharest was vast and contained the second largest administrative building in the world, second only to the Pentagon. An over the top, marble fest, over 1million cubic meters apparently, dedicated to the memory of the old communist dream. The building and its 2000+ rooms now playing host to droves of tourists, and a few conferences...probably to discuss Blue Peters next tin can appeal...'Next time we should ask for marble instead of tins, we could use another few rooms on the back of this place'. This city has also been confused with a few others on the continent by some of the intellects of our times...Michael Jackson apparently said on the balcony of the palace to his adoring fans 'Hello Budapest' and Robbie Williams said he 'Couldn't wait to play in Belgrade'. I'll remember to leave Robbie off my pub quiz dream team next time.

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After two more days and failing to see another football game...this lot had a stadium ban, Moss and I went our separate ways. He headed back west and I headed further east to the place where East meets West, Istanbul.

I had the next two days in Istanbul, and having been met by my host Atilla...I just can't seem to shake off those Mongolia connections...and getting a quick overview of what was on offer, set off into the old town... after that all important first kebab of course. The cultural mix and architecture was incredible and that was before I got off of the residential street I was staying on...the local streets were straight out of a Charles dickens novel (his Turkish brother at least), teeming with activity and how life probably used to be in more mediaeval times elsewhere. In the old town the streets heaved with tourists and the place was full of mosques. To name a few you've got the famous blue mosque, the new mosque and the one that Dickie Bird must have named, Eyup Mosque. That evening I watched the sunset over the Bosphorus and then the full moon rise over it. The following day and my last on this leg of the trip, I took ferry to the near by Maidens Tower, sight of many wedding photos, the local hairy man swimming club...where to be a member you must be 1. A man, 2. Local, and 3. Hairy enough to be confused with bigfoot and also where Dame Judy Dench playing 'M' was held captive in the James Bond epic die another day, as James bond saved the world from nuclear melt down beneath the Bosphorus. And what better way to round off a trip to Turkey than 2 kebabs from a local gem of a place... even better after the guy on the till asked me where I was from, stroked my beard and said 'very good'. In any other situation I may have said something, but not when the guys mate is brandishing a huge kebab carving machete.

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Eastern Europe-ometer final reading: 24 days, 11 countries, 8 currencies, 5 genuine Turkish kebabs

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Apparently this blue moon phenomenon only happens once in a blue moon. Who'd have thought it?

Whistle stop tour of eastern europe complete its time to leave Europe and head back to Asia... bring on the Orient (and I don't mean Leyton in North London), next up Beijing.

Posted by stuhutchuk 02:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged cities travel eastern europe backpacking Comments (2)

Genghis Can't - The John Wayne Diaries

sunny 35 °C

I've just spent the last 10 days on the remote Mongolian steppe...talk about going back in time from the previous fortnight in futuristic south Korea. As the title also suggests I've been on a horse too...fair play to good old Genghis, any one that can take over half of the world and put up with the feared saddle sores at the same time deserves a bit of recognition. What better way to see the country I thought...having completed my expedition I can now recommend motorbike, car, pogo stick....

Back to the start of the Mongolian adventure, and I landed at the aptly named Genghis Khan airport. Everything here is named after him, probably as the only other famous Mongolian (who I saw a statue of) was his mum...and she's only famous for popping him out, a proud day in the khan household and little did they know a day with implications for half of the populated world. My chauffeur then whisked me off to where I was to start my horse trek across the Mongolian steppe the following day, a ger camp on the outskirts of Ulan Bator.

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After arriving at the camp and telling the hosts I was a complete novice, apart from an hour clinging to a horse for dear life in Europe a few years back, they said I really should take a day to practice (once the look of shock had left their faces). I'll admit to being a bit nervous especially after being told the horses are half wild so a bit kicky and bitey....great news...news that made me sleep really well that night... The morning came and the days practice went surprisingly well...maybe due to me being given the horse next in line for the glue factory, let's just say speed wasn't its greatest asset. This was also the first time I got to properly see the vast openness of the steppe, which would be my home for the next week and the first chance to meet my fellow riders who would be joining me 'Genghis' Hutchings in my riding posse...a Frenchman who was allergic to horses 'Stuffy Nose' Farid and a 17 year old American 'Field Trip' David fresh out of Santa Monica California on his first trip away from home alone. The young American was only joining us for the first two days as he was going 'solo' riding, which basically means heading out with no guide and all of your luggage on a pack horse.....in the middle of a drought, in a country where no one speaks English and the only McDonalds are a family of ex pat Scots making a living selling knock off Mongolian whiskey....time to see how this one pans out.

The John Wayne Diaries

Day 1

The intrepid horsemen head out with their guide Mick the Mongolian and support car driven by a former wrestling champ, Conan the Mongolian. Day ones itinery is to head out on the steppe and reach the local Bogdkhan national park by sundown.

(*the names along with the vast majority of words are unpronounceable over here unless you have an inhuman amount of saliva in your mouth, to save people spitting as they read certain names and places may have been changed for the sake of cleanliness)

Genghis Hutchings

What have I got myself into, 10 minutes into the ride and my horse bolted at the sight of an orange tent. I just about managed to hang on.
Incredible scenery out here, some of the most dramatic on my trip to date.
Had to cook dinner after the guide said all he knew about cooking was how to chop stuff. Is that part of a finger in the bowl?
Got grabbed by some locals and had an amazing evening singing songs, sinking beers and a bit of local vodka. Also learned that it is disrespectful to step over a bucket of meat to get a beer and slapping a big bald man on the head in the case of a misunderstanding is potentially life shortening - fortunately he couldn't handle his pop and passed out.

Backside redness colour rating - Salmon Pink

Stuffy Nose

Sacrebleu I knew I should av taken those anti-istamines earlier.

Field Trip

Man this is so cool, I feel just like Will Smith in the Wild Wild West. Two days time and its just me and my two horses, yee haw.
The cool English guy went for drinks with the dangerous looking Mongolians. I asked the guide if it was safe for me to go too, he didn't look so sure but said if I held his hand and agreed to leave on his code words 'bareback riding' he thought I'd be OK.
These locals sure are crazy, giving me vodka and I'm not even 21....my head feels funny. I sure hope mom and dad don't hear about this.

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Day 2

The team head further north into the hills, across vast open countryside in search of good times and a cure for 'Field Trips' sore head.

Genghis Hutchings

Day two in the saddle and more incredible scenery. Hard to put into words the vast openness and emptiness of the place.
I've decided to call the horse 'Pritt Stick'...Red Rum this horse isn't.
Went on an unsuccesful hunt for water...this place is bone dry, I think the guide needs to watch a few survival programmes or invest in some divining rods.
Support car following like the tour de France/ the Top Gear challenge alternative vehicle...although in this case I'd rather be in the alternative...I'm a bit on the sore side.

Backside redness colour rating - Red Carpet Rouge

Stuffy Nose

Damn, I av been taking anti malarials instead of my istamines. Ah well zer is so merch horse poop ere I don't want to smell it anyway.

Field Trip

So this is what a hangover is...cool.
Stupid packhorse is slowing me down, ah well at least tomorrow I'll be at the national park and all set to go it alone.
I sure do miss pancakes.

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Day 3

After leaving the safety of their hilltop camp, the brave trio set out further into the wilderness - their destination, Terelj national park.

Genghis Hutchings

Finally figured out how to make my horse run, a good old slap on the backside...whatever turns you on I guess. Great fun until Clint Eastwood Jr looses control and careers into you...
Set up camp on the steppe and left the young American to look after things as a test. Got to go to an old soviet town...always an interesting experience and sample a local delicacy, deep fried dumplings containing a beef burger... watch out burger king, the Mongolians are coming.
Made it to the national park....by car. The guides tom tom must have been on the blink and old Tonto didn't know any better, we ended up about 20kms in the wrong direction.
Saw a huge Trojan horse style statue of Genghis.... London history museum take note, if you get a large present in the post.....you all know the ending.

Backside redness colour rating - Maroon

Stuffy Nose

I av finally taken my pills and it iz not the orse making my eyes water. It iz seeing zeez men cook...a crime against cuisine. Ziz food is more for ze Michelin man zan ze Michelin star.

Field Trip

I went really fast on my horse today, it was awesome. I lost control though and ran into the cool English guys horse. I hope he isn't mad.
I put my own tent up today and cooked some noodles. If only mom and dad could see me now.
It sure is lonely out here, its not like being with my buddies on Santa Monica beach.
I sure do miss deep pan pizza.

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After 3 days in the wild the team were looking rough...a shave and a bath were in order

Day 4

After a tough night on the steppe 'Field Trip' has decided to stay with the posse and ride out of the steppe into civilisation in 2 days. Between now and then, two days gruelling ride to base camp through more incredible scenery await...

Genghis Hutchings

Big festival coming up where all the locals compete in horse racing, bird handling and topless wrestling.... sounds like the running order for a night out in Yorkshire.
Plenty of kids training for the horse racing, basically tied on to the back of a horse..no saddle, no helmet and a car with a bloke shouting at the horse to make it go faster...I don't think the health and safety brigade have made it out this far...
Made it to camp by a river and played Mongolian Olympics consisting of three events....skimming stones, throwing stones in the water to see who can make the smallest splash - a kind of Tom Daley style stone diving where little Tom is played by the smoothest stone you can find and the final event, lasso the unsuspecting tourist.
After collecting my gold in stone skimming and silver in the stone diving, ate dinner whilst watching the sunset over the steppe.

Backside redness colour rating - Black and Blue

Stuffy Nose

I won ze gold in zer stupid Mongolian Olympic lasso competion and zey didn't even play ze French anthem. Sacrilege.

Field Trip

This horse riding isn't like the movies. I've seen Django Unchained and they made this look far more fun.
I've spoke to mom and dad and my dog buster and they all agree I should hang out with the cool English guy and the sniffy French one. Probably for the best, I'd hate to get lost out here, I never did get round to watching Into the Wild....
I sure do miss cheeseburgers.

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Day 5

The final day in the saddle for the intrepid trio. The promise of the ranch with its home comforts and all important ice cold beer awaited.

Genghis Hutchings

Last day on the steppe and last day in this incredible heat, over 35 again..not much cover out here other than the Mongolian cover music I can hear from the drivers car.
After a hard ride made it to a traditional ger...our reward, fermented horse milk and horse cheese...these guys best never see a cookery show, it would blow their mind. Horse milk by the way is the single most disgusting thing I've ever tried, no wonder these guys get angry in a wrestling match, so would I if my corner man in the ring gave me a bottle of this stuff.
Saw a horse getting milked....really wish the ability to unsee things existed.
Made it back to camp, Genghis khan beer never tasted so good....maybe the people who gave it an award had also just been strapped to the back of a horse for a week.

Backside redness colour rating - Anything below the waste is a figment of my imagination

Stuffy Nose

Finallee I av commandeered ze kitchen, time for some proper cuisine. What no garlic....zat iz it, get me out of ziz place

Field Trip

Oh man I can almost taste that fried chicken.

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Trek complete we returned to the base camp. There was still no love lost between rider and steed.

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'Come on Pritt Stick, smile for the camera....no....true to form until the bitter end'

I spent one further night at the camp before heading to the capital city Ulan Bator for my last three days in the country. The contrast between the city and the countryside was huge. After a 10 minute drive you go from people hearding sheep for a living and drinking horse milk sold from a tent, to high rise buildings, western restaurants and drinking milk from a carton... its just not the same. Ulan Bator was one of the strangest cities I have visited on my travels, an extreme mix of wealth from the recent mining boom and poverty as a result of a very harsh winter which forced millions of nomadic families to the city in search of work but unable to leave their way of life behind....the sea of ger tents on the outskirts of the city stretching as far as the eye can see...a Mongolian Glastonbury if you will, less the music and hippie ideals.

I spent my three days seeing what little sights the city had to offer and doing my best to avoid the horse milk based local diet. After a trip to the local history museum, where surprise surprise Mr Khan filled all but one of the exhibit halls, a trip to Genghis Khan square, visiting the local dinosaur museum ( a lot of fossils are found in this place...not all of them related to Genghis... Unfortunately it would seem that most of them are in museums around the world, as this place consisted of a single room with two skeletons in it...even less than in Jimmy Savilles closet) and finally watching a mans trousers spontaneously combust it was time to leave. Time to board another flight...I really should have collected those air miles. The next stop, back where it all began....Berlin!

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Welcome to Ulan Bator, where anything goes.

Posted by stuhutchuk 11:34 Archived in Mongolia Tagged travel backpacking mongolia genghis ulan bator horsetrek Comments (0)

Anyone for Korean BBQ?

rain 24 °C

After 4 flights in as many days and apologies to any environmentalists out there, but increasing my carbon footprint/bodyprint dramatically I touched down in South Korea.

Before I left though I was in two minds about whether to change destination. The country was in the middle of a health crisis due to a contagious breathing disease caused by getting a bit too close to a camel. Not that there are any camels here of course, just tourists that like that kind of thing and brought it this way. The disease, Mers, also had a similar name to a certain UK singer, Olly....if the illness was half as bad as his warbling it was one to avoid. In the end I decided to stick with my plans, unlike a lot of others, as I boarded my flight to Seoul to be greeted with an empty plane...cue more Mansfield Town home game jokes.

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Arriving in to Seoul was like landing in the future, even more so after spending the previous 5 weeks in India. Everything was clean, efficient and worked. I was at my hostel within 1 hour of landing and quickly realised it was time to hold my hands up and say I knew nothing about this place, other than the food was meant to be something special and they have some pretty angry neighbours to the north.

After a bit of research my must do list went as follows:

Get a Chinese visa - Always get the boring paper work out of the way first
Visit the DMZ - Heavily guarded no mans land to keep those no good communists out of the capitalist dream
Head down the country to see what's on offer
Check out a baseball game - This place is hooked
Eat enough Korean BBQ to counteract my strict vegetarian Indian diet

Rough plan decided and a taste of Seoul experienced over 2 days (eating lots of fried chicken and drinking a local spirit called Soju) I headed out east with a new travel companion.... Arnie Schwarzeneggers long lost brother, and I'm not talking Danny Devito out of the underated hollywood masterpiece Twins. By subway and bus, all leaving and arriving on the dot we arrived to the port town of Sokcho...I was almost getting bored with how well everything works over here....for my German friend however this must have been paradise!

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Sokcho wasn't the prettiest place but it was located next to one of Korea's top national parks, where we took part in their national past time... hiking. It doesn't matter where you are in this place, the locals will be decked out in all the latest gear from all the best brands....word of advice though, when trying to earn trekking brownie points don't tell the chap who asked where your shoes are made they are from China....cue much laughter about why my shoes were probably going to disintegrate in the rain we were experiencing. He still seemed happy enough to have a picture and drink some holy mountain water with me though. Trekked out we decided to head further south on a day trip with our hostel owners brother to some caves and a Korean war exhibit. I should add that our hostel owners name was Yoo...we never did get his brothers name so for the purpose of the blog I'll go for Mii. This country is also exceptionally clean, so much so if your food drops on the floor there is no 5 second rule....I was therefore not that surprised the day before when we were told we would have to delay our cave visit as it is closed once a month for a spring clean....who cleans a cave? We did make it to the cave the next day, the Korean slant being neon lights everywhere and names that really captured the mood of the place (see picture below)..Mii our guide was also scouring evey inch of the cave with a torch, I can only assume it was his national duty to be on the hunt for any pesky northerners.

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I know your in there Kim Jung

After the cave the day trip took us to unification park, scene of the area where North Korea invaded back in the 50's and also where a spy submarine ran aground in the 90's. A chance for me to wear yet another hard hat, and this time pretend to be one of Kim Jung's comrades aboard his sub....
The day was rounded off with a first for me...some English/Korean fusion food, you heard it here first...Squid stuffed with black pudding, incredible!

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Korea is probably the most high tech place I have been, touch screen tourist maps in the underground and at the beach, everyone has the latest phones and gadgetry and there is free WiFi everywhere....but when this extended to an 'ancient' cultural village where we went to on our trip further south the next day you start to think its gone a bit too far...'and now on your right you will see the oldest house in Korea and if you look slightly to your left you will see the air-conditioning unit of its latest resident, his 4 wheel drive kia and the first WiFi hot spot to be installed in town'. Who needs authentic, we need to stream the latest game of thrones! That night we reached a city called Gyeongju, home of some more ancient relics, not a reference to the local elderly people, but a series of tombs, and the best temple in all of Korea (according to the Korean government, and who am I to argue). As long as there weren't WiFi terminals and flat screen TVs everywhere I'd be happy...

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We pressed on with our journey southwards and after a short stay in the city of Busan boarded a plane for an island south of the mainland called Jeju, which I can only assume means very wet place when translated. Let's just say it was a bit on the moist side and flippers would have been more appropriate than my still in one piece walking shoes (put that in your pipe and smoke it Mr Korean hiking snob!) The island reminded me of Cornwall with its rolling countryside, rugged beaches and as previously mentioned dodgy weather...sadly no clotted cream ice cream though and despite the weather we donned our trekking gear once again and climbed the highest peak in the country before I left the next day to head back to Seoul.

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Back to Seoul and back to feasting on the local food. I ticked a few more sights off the list... the local palace, an inner city river, the korean war museum and then went to what turned out to be a real highlight of the trip....a baseball game. Let's just say the atmosphere beat the sport hands down. These guys are mad for a bit of karaoke, so the singing wasn't a surprise. What was though was the dance routines, cheerleaders and some crazy bloke instigating the whole thing. For the four hours the game lasted everyone was out of there seats giving it some...the Chesterfield FC faithful have a long way to go to compete with this!

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The next day was my last in Korea before jetting off to visit Genghis Khans family in deepest Mongolia. What better way to spend my final hours here than looking at some oppressed people through a set of binoculars...aka a trip to the north Korean border. Unfortunalty the joint security area where you can actually get to the border was closed due to ongoing health crisis, so the next best thing was a trip to an observation tower to watch a south Korean propaganda film and then stare into what felt like the human zoo of the north. 'Look at that one, he's planting crops by hand', 'You would think they'd build them a nicer enclosure, some of them don't even have roofs on their houses', 'Oh how quaint, they don't even have mobile phones over there'. The experience was very bizarre, even more so when coupled with the sight of the south Korean border guards taking some down time....

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I finished my trip off that evening with a trip to a local football match...let's just say some things are best done back home...yes even as a Chesterfield fan and one final blow out BBQ feast. What Korea lacked in sights it more than made up for with its culture, sporting events (baseball at least) and its incredible food...I'm back to my fighting weight! Time to leave the future, bring on Mongolia!

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Hillbilly style, it had to be done...who said that beards were in fashion.

Posted by stuhutchuk 19:43 Archived in South Korea Tagged baseball travel seoul korea backpacking bbq jeju sokcho gyeongju busan dmz angdon Comments (1)

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