Tag Archives: Transit

And…we’re back!

This marks the end of our little not-vacation* in Milan. As usual pictures will be posted as soon as I finish sorting through them.

*) I still hold that it’s not a proper vacation when you’re less than 1000km (as the bird flies) from home. It’s more like a little (extended/multi) day trip. Another sign for a not-vavation is when your flight time is only an hour and about half of it is taken up by take off/landing and taxiing.
Signs that you’re (probably) on a proper vacation include:
– you need to bring your passport to be let into the country (or even need to apply for a visa in advance)
– your destination is in a different timezone
– using a travel SIM card in your phone is not more expensive than just roaming with your home SIM

Almost there…

Sitting at STR sipping a cappucino. Made it thru security… it took a bit longer tho – at least for Oliver. But on the positive side, we now know that he’s explosives-free.

Our flight departs in about 70mins and arrives at MXP one hour later. The distance – as the bird flies – is only three hundred something kilometers. Probably my shortest flight ever.

The Special Ferry SU ZHOU HAO

Our most favorite to get to Japan is by ferry, the SU ZHOU HAO, from Shanghai to Osaka. Flying is okay I guess (well, maybe not these days), but taking the ferry is really something different. You can relax, while the ship does all the work. It’s a bit like the train rides we did on this trip so far, but on the ship you have so much more space to walk around and explore. You can go outside whenever you want, they have a nice Japanese bath on board and the food… well, food is available.

The last time we were on the ferry, we soon had a group of 8-10 people who hung around most of the time. That was really a great time. But that was when the Expo was, so a lot of people were on the ship to start with. This time there weren’t as many. There was this Otaku couple from England, who weren’t going to Japan for the first time either (just the first time on the ferry), a South Korean guy from Seoul, who had been traveling the world for several months now (a lot by bicycle) and was writing a book about it, as well as 3-5 other people we didn’t see often enough to enable some kind of exchange. All others were Chinese and making conversation is quite hard. I only managed once with a Chinese business man in the Japanese bath, but that was quite difficult, even when we used all four languages we knew together.

And then there were our cabin companions, Maija and Kim. A Swedish-Finnish couple who took a few months off to travel around. They were great fun to be with. During the day we’d just hang out, reading, talking, taking photos. And in the evening we’d play games. Shanghai, Shitty Pants and Goat Testicles. Also we… hmm, what do you mean? Oh, the games. Okay, maybe a little explanation is needed. Let’s start with the most simple one, Shanghai. It’s basically Uno with two regular 52 card decks (including Jokers), just some slight differences, for example that you could Shanghai (politely ask the person who’s turn it was) the open card when it wasn’t your turn. Shitty pants (as I’ve researched by now, the Finnish name is Paskahousu, which makes it basically a correctly translated title) is a card game where the players always need to raise the cards lying on the table. And then there were the Goat Testicles. Okay, we made that title up, because we didn’t know the name of the game. But the game was a genuine Mongolian game, which you play with ankle bones. The player throws the bones on the table, where they can land in one of four positions, named sheep, goat, horse and camel. Then you have to flip one bone onto another one of the same kind without hitting another bone. You do this until you miss or hit a different bone and after that the next player continues. The winner is the one who collects most of them. You can also tell the fortune with those bones (since Mongolia has no access to the ocean, we weren’t sure if it is good or bad luck to roll them on the sea, so we settled for special luck). As I learned by now over the Internet, those bones come in sets of four in a leather pouch and are called Shagai. If we’d only learned that while still in Mongolia. Those would’ve been a great souvenir and gift.

Out companions traveled a lot more through Mongolia, so we could learn a bit more about the country and culture from them (like drinking games). In return, we were able to give them some starters and tips for Japan.

One more thing about the food. On the ship are some vending machines (going to Japan after all) with drinks and food, as well as two restaurants, a regular and a special restaurant. We weren’t allowed to eat at the special restaurant (just to join the Karaoke later) and the regular one served set meals which were just okay (like a cafeteria). But in front of the restaurant was a display with other meals, which we didn’t seem to get in the restaurant. On the last evening I had the crazy idea to just ask for one of those. That was so crazy that it actually worked. (They should really post a note about this. Or if they have, add one in English.) Looks like you don’t have to be special to get some different meal.

And yes, “special” became our running gag on this trip.

So after our special voyage on the special ship with all the special stuff and our special companions, we arrive in special Osaka for the special immigration and special customs.

Trans-Siberian: From Moscow to Irkutsk

This post is a bit late. I wrote it partly on the train with my cellphone, partly in Irkutsk and now am finishing it in Ulaanbaatar.  I will need to catch up a bit.

We were on the Trans-Siberian Railway on our way from Moscow to Irkutsk. Being on a wagon of the second class, we got a somewhat comfy little compartment with four bunk beds and a broken TV. We shared our “room” with Jian, a Chinese student of computer sciences from Paris on his way back to Beijing. At the beginning the fourth bunk was occupied by Alexej, a vodka loving Russian (a pleonasm I know). He left on the afternoon after the first night, which improved the air in our compartment, but also took away some form of entertainment. Since Alexej only speaks Russian (and a hand full of German words) which none of us speaks, conversations were usually a guessing game.

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The other people on our wagon were mostly Scandinavian, who were on a big, organized tour. While they have the same stops like we do, we don’t share the same timetable, so we’ll part with everyone, including Jian, after arriving in Irkutsk (but should meet the Scandinavians again in Ulaanbaatar) They officially gave their support to the German football team, which is surely one of the reasons they won. Unfortunately we weren’t able to watch the game and our only connection to the internet was luck in finding an open Wifi at a train station or Steffen’s expensive data option. Neither Steffen or I are what you would call a sports fan, but we would’ve liked to witness the final game.

Biggest challenge on the Transsib is to kill boredom. While we were passing beautiful scenery (wide planes and a lot of evergreen and birch forests) and nice little towns, it got old quite fast. At least it’s a good way to catch up on some books, though. But Steffen was done with his two books half way to Irkutsk. I got an ebook reader, so I’m lucky to have more material, but am of course dependent on power. We had four power outlets on the wagon, unfortunately none of them in our compartment, but a bit away in the hallway. We also carry battery packs, but those are more for emergencies. But actually boredom isn’t really an issue if you got the right company and are prepared for long distance traveling. It’s just that you could be so much more productive with steady power and an internet connection. But then again you would miss all the fun of the ride itself.

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Every stop of the Transsib is a welcome break to walk round a bit, experience the outside of the train and hunt for Wifi. The later isn’t as easy as in Moscow, where you found free Wifi at every second corner. Actually, outside of the towns you often don’t even get a phone connection.


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The train was actually quite good. When you think of the Transsib, you usually get the image of old well-used trains with a steaming samovar. This had a modern samovar, quite good banks/beds, an air-con and displays at each side of the hallway showing the next stop, the inside temperature and most importantly, if the restroom at that side of the hallway was in use or free. We got fresh sheets that came in plastic bags like you get your stuff on airplanes. The food in the dining car was good (but no caviar  for my pancakes), though, we mostly relied on snacks and something we could pour hot water over (our mothers would be so proud that we were cooking and eating well ). The crew spoke English good enough to get around and even a few word German. They cleaned the carpets every day and the restrooms all the time (you got the feeling they rush in to clean it, right after you leave).

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So all in all, the first ride on the Transsib was quite comfy. The only time where it got a bit stressful was for me, when I didn’t get back in time for the train to leave, so I had to jump onto a wagon at the end of the train. That one was behind the dining car, which was locked, so I had to convince the local conductor to let me through the wagon so I could get back to mine.

Asia 2014 – The Beginning

We’re tired, so just a short summary.

Early in the morning we left the Bottwartal for our voyage to Moscow. Getting to Stuttgart was the easy part, but Steffen already got a mail that our ICE trip was half-canceled (would’ve ended a few cities too early), so we had to rebook. That actually went well, aside maybe the tiny little fact that the other train was already 20 minutes late before it arrived in Stuttgart. En route, this ICE continued to delay its own schedule, but we managed to arrive at Frankfurt Airport in time to catch our flight.

Getting onto the plane wasn’t much of a problem… well, except for Steffen who enjoyed an intimate frisk at the security check. Turns out his shoes were the problem, probably a bio-hazard alert. The flight was okay, just a bit chaotic, since Aeroflot doesn’t seem to care much about their own carry-on baggage rules and not everyone was able to store their stuff in the compartments.

We arrived in Moscow without any further problems. And… we got into the country and out of the airport without any further problems (aside a bit lacking orientation due to the Cyrillic letters everywhere). We expected a more thorough check after all that hassle we had filling out our visa applications (during the prelude, so to speak), but no, they didn’t bother. We claimed our baggage, passed the green tunnel without a second glance, got cash from the ATM, found the shuttle train to Moscow… all way too easy and fishy.

But it hit us after that. Understanding the metro system was above our tired heads in this muggy weather with 20-30 kg of luggage on our shoulders. We must’ve looked really confused and fortunately arose the mercy of a lovely young lady who spoke remarkably well English. She explained our route to the hotel and gave us valuable starters for the metro system, so we were able to head out and finally found our hotel.

More about the metro (war memorials everywhere) and our hotel (4 stars, 26th floor, not enough outlets) in the next few day.

Okay, that wasn’t really short.


Leaving Japan was no problem, the flight was swift, the food okay and we had a quite new entertainment system, that allowed us to watch the movies in 16:9/10.

We arrived in Istanbul. No problem getting into the country, only the long wait for our baggage was a bit annoying. For some reason they were not as fast as we’re used to that. Since we ordered a shuttle service, we were greeted with a sign – nice for a change. After that we were driven at high speed (like 70-100 km/h, depending on the traffic) through Istanbul and arrived at our hotel in just half an hour. Nice place, very close to the main tourist sites. Let’s see what we can check out in the next two days.


We managed to catch our NEX, arrived at the airport, checked our baggage (17.3 out of the allowed 23kg for me this time) and passed security (without any incident this time). Now we are sitting at Gate 34 and the waiting game begins again.


At least they have free Wifi here now. So I can actually publish this without shelling out the equivalent of 5 EUR like last time (though that was still very cheap compared to what they wanted at London Heathrow).