A castle on an island and a republic of artists…Vilnius

Sitting, sipping beer on the grass, in the evening sun, we learnt that we’d missed a few “hipster” trends in the almost year and half we’d been travelling. Firstly hot dogs with heaps of toppings were in, you were no one if you didn’t have a top knot and you weren’t in vogue unless you had a pet husky (in Lithuania anyways)! We had managed to find a very cool weekend food market, with lots of the best restaurants in town setting up a stand to sell take away delights to a cool Lithuanian crowd. There was even a DJ to soundtrack proceedings and don’t worry, he was of course supporting a top knot of his own. It was great to see a real side of Vilnius, and locals who were enjoying their city, we even managed to talk to a few of them… except they lived in St.Albans not Lithuania… Either way, the city gave a great first impression!

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Sand, sea and a lagoon…The Coronian Spit

With Russia to the south, a lagoon towards the mainland and the Baltic out to sea, the Coronian Spit is a unique corner of Lithuania and Northern Europe. The spit itself is not only a beautiful national park, intertwined with cycle and walking paths, but also a UNESCO world heritage site due to the ever shifting sand-dunes which make it. The area is also a draw for german tourists (let’s be honest where isn’t), who come in search of the summer-house of Thomas Mann, a famous german writer, situated in the small town of Nida. This town is also where we stayed for our trip to the spit, in one of the most difficult to find guesthouses this journey had yet thrown us…don’t worry we eventually did.

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Castles in the woods and daisies in the beard…Sigulda and Liepaja

Since moving to Australia and then travelling through Asia we had not seen spring for many years. It felt like in Perth (where we lived) spring maybe lasted a week before the scorching summer sun came out! So to see blossom, the light green of new leaves on the trees and wild flowers growing amongst the hedgerows was lovely. To celebrate the fact we made daisy chains in the sun and filled Ryan’s beard with as many flowers as it could hold…travelling had changed us into flower power hippies, at least for a little while in the Latvian countryside!

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Pickled vegetables in a zeppelin hanger…Riga

As we rolled into the Latvian capital of Riga, the sun was shinning and there seemed to be flowers everywhere. Not only were all the parks and gardens choc a block with multicoloured tulips and pansies, but there seemed to be flower sellers on every corner, or someone clutching a bunch. So we discovered Latvians like flowers…we were also to discover they like pickled vegetables, smoked meats and drunkenly fighting at bus stops (obviously not all Latvians, just two gentlemen in particular) but that was all to come!

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Medieval alleyways and cheap booze…Tallinn

So if you are an avid reader of our no flying adventure you will know right at the start of our trip we ended up on a cruise…for two weeks…with three thousand eighty year olds. We chalked it up as an experience but felt it probably wasn’t something to repeat until we are eighty ourselves. However, upon leaving Helsinki on an overnight boat to Estonia we once again found ourselves on yet another cruise. Granted it was very different, but there were still eighty year olds getting their ballroom dancing and buffet dinner fix… sigh. There did seem to be a secondary purpose to this cruise though, and that was for the Finns to come on board and buy cheap alcohol when in international waters, you haven’t lived until you have seen elderly Finns fighting over the last bottle of Jagermeister! As the boat docked in Estonia a whole 10 hours before we were allowed off the ship we realised our mistake in taking an overnight ferry for a two-hour journey, but hey, we had a cheap cabin for the night… it could be worse…

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Silly hats and celebrity chefs…Helsinki

We were disposed to enjoy our time in Finland before we even stepped foot on its soil. As all the other Russian travellers on our train were interrogated, their passports checked carefully, the Finnish border guards looked at our British passports, smiled and said ‘Enjoy your stay in Helsinki.’ Ah being back in the EU…amazing!

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Sour cream blinis and Vodka…St. Petersburg

We had managed to go almost an entire month in Russia without having a drop of the country’s most famous tipple, vodka. We thought perhaps we’d be offered some on one of our many long train journeys, but instead we’d been reprimanded by stern police guards for having a beer we’d bought on the station platform! However, luck was on our side on our last night, in our last city, our hostel hosted a Bilini (Russian Pancake) party complete with ice-cold “Fire Water”. We were taught the proper way to drink it as well, always start with two shots in a row, a bite of something salty after each, and absolutely no sipping! It was an ideal end to our time in Russia, a country not known for its generosity had been good to us that night!

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Moscow, where every woman has a tiny dog

OK so this might not be strictly true…not every woman in Moscow had a tiny dog or a dog of any size for that matter. But it was definitely a city where some people have a lot of cash and they’re not afraid to show off about it…chauffeur driven car with blacked out windows anyone? We became distinctly aware that wearing hiking boots and a fake Northface jacket were not considered the height of elegance and was probably not going to get us into many bars or restaurants. So after a quick dash to H&M and some footwear purchases later, we were ready for what this great capital had to offer.

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Nuns in the snow…Kazan and Suzdal

Having now jumped the border into Europe, the continent was very keen for us to know it, and greeted us with a sight that we had not seen for a very very long time…. Rain!! Holding onto the hoods of our waterproof jackets to battle against the wind and the cold rain we made our way to our hostel in the city of Kazan, and decided the sights could wait until tomorrow…

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15 Months of Travelling…. Our trip in numbers!

15 MONTHS AGO ago we set off from Australia attempting to get back to the UK without flying and so far we have made it to Finland! So how exactly have we done it? Well heres a short post on our trip so far in numbers….

Countries Visited:  13 (Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Russia and currently in Finland)

Distance traveled without a plane: 64,500 km or 40,250 miles

Beds slept in: 257

Transportation – we have used:

122 buses, 41 boats, 30 cars (taxi, private or rental), 48 trains, 31 subway systems, 6 mopeds, 2 Hovercrafts, 1 horse, 1 camel and a variety of tuk-tuk type vehicles.

Our most expensive accommodation (per person): £37.59 ($43 AUD) – Ramada hotel – Ulaanbaatar (very special treat)

Our cheapest accommodation (per person): £1.27 ($2.33 AUD) – Aman batik house, tuktuk, Sumatra

Our Most expensive meal (Per Person): £13.98 ($27 AUD) – Moose and Roo Pub for Christmas Dinner, Hanoi, Vietnam

Our Cheapest Meal (Per Person): £0.24 ($0.44 AUD) – 1 Naan Bread, 1 Bowl of Curry, 1 Fried Bread Pastry and a cup of coffee. – White Cafe in Hpa an, Myanmar

Books Read: 38

Bed Bug Experiences: 3

Pairs of sunglasses Broken: 14

Pairs of Flip-Flops worn out: 9

Celebrity Spottings: 1 (Hugh Dennis in Laos)

Tubs of Hummus: 4

Free Things we have been given: 4 x Free bus rides, 2 x Ice Tea, 1 x Longhi (traditional Myanmar skirt), 1 x Free lonely Planet guide book, 6 x pieces of fruit, 2 x Bars of Chocolate, Free clothes wash, 2 x Bowls of traditional Thai Fish soup, 5 Malaysian Ringet, 1 x key ring, lots of flowers (mainly little Myanmar girls giving them to Ella), 2 x Cups of coffee, 1 x toilet fee (The last two were from a monk), 1 x free night of accommodation, 4 x bottles of water, 5 x noodle soups, 1 x free breakfast, free rice and chilli sauce, 2 x free coconuts, 2 x silk scarves, 1 x free tuk-tuk journey, 1 x free snake (edible), 2 x Banh Mi Sandwiches, lots of free potatoes and bananas, 1 x free tote bag, 1 x free ferry ride, 1 x free tourist boat trip, 2 x free ice coffees,  beer (we have actually lost count of how much), 1 free stick of BBQ goat’s udder, 8 x free dinner, 1 x taxi ride, 4 x bananas, 1 x chocolate dessert, rice wine…, 1 x free use of a motorbike, 2 x Jagermeister shots, 1 x free xe om journey, 2 x free bike hire, 2 x bowl of noodles, 1 x blueberry juice,

New in the last 3 months…: 2 x buckets of booze, 1 x USB charger, 1 x t-shirt, lots of fireworks, 1 x Postcards, 2 x Panda bread, Vodka, Vodka made from Camel milk, Vodka made from horses milk, Beer, Rice Wine, Various milk based products (Mongolia), 2 x Slices of cake, 8 x Buuz (Mongolian dumplings), 1 x Easter cake, 2 x Russian biscuits, 2 x Glasses of Wine, 2 x Russian remembrance tags, and lots of Belinis (Russian pancakes)

We will keep writing stuff like this down and update it again when our trip has come to an end…. Thats right, less than three months left….

R&E