Sunday, January 27, 2013

Trans-Siberian Railway Part III: Lake Baikal and Listvyanka

This is Part 3 of a series on my trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from St Petersburg to Beijing. It covers the time I spent at Lake Baikal, Listvyanka and Irkutsk, Siberia.

Part 1 (St Petersburg) is here and part 2 (Moscow and Siberia overland) is here.

This post is much delayed and for that I apologise... packing has commenced here as well as some lack lustre and depressing job hunting, so I've had no time to do anything fun.

We arrived in Listvyanka after 4 days and 4 nights of train travel over Siberia. Lisvyanka is a tiny dead end town that runs along the edge of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal. Azerbaijani oil billionaires build their mansions here and local people struggle on with money from the trickle of tourists that stream steadily though the town via nearby Irkutsk.
The lake has its own eco system and if you emptied it and directed all the worlds rivers into it, it still wouldn't be full after a year! It's the oldest lake in the world and has it's own native breeds of fish and seal.

A delicious cool breeze flowed over us from the water, everything felt fresh after the stifling conditions on the train and it was the ideal place to get ourselves together for a couple of days before travelling on to Mongolia.

A map to show you where we are now
In Listvyanka we are in home stays, sleeping in the spare rooms of local people. We stay with a quiet woman called Luiba, her sons are away serving their time in the army so she has an empty house. We never find out if she has (or had) a husband. She wears a big sweatshirt with English words written on it in clip art, including the word 'cellulite'. We are given tea to drink before we can have much dreamed of showers. We are given slippers to wear indoors.

After our showers, we walk down into the town past the edge of the lake. Thousands of tiny winged flies throng on the rocks and moored boats. I dip my feet in the icy, lapping waters.

A stuffed bear entices tourists to go and view the real bear within (we didn't)
Extending my life by 5 years by paddling in the freezing water.
A sad Karaoke place
Misty and cool jetties

Lunch at the cafe

I bought original Soviet coins and badges of Lenin off this friendly guy who posed seriously for me to take a picture. He laughed at me said I was a 'dirty capitalist' when I tried to haggle.

The miniest of mini Russian dolls

Welcomed back into the sparklingly clean home of Luiba, we are served the most delicious meal of fresh fried fish, direct from the lake, rice and salad. This was probably the best meal I've ever had, it was so nice.

So good.

Me, enjoying eating anything that isn't a pot noodle.

The room we stayed in. Half asleep in bed at night I still half imagined the movement of the train in my bones.

We walk up a steep road to a view point, the sun sets around us. There are strange chalked figures on the path, probably because it runs through a camp where children holiday in the summer
The view that greets us

We walk across a strange landscape of half cut trees to a hotel that literally has bullet holes through a sign outside the front door. We drink vodka and there are more stuffed bears in the lobby.

The next morning before we set off for Irkutsk for a night and then on to catch our train to Mongolia we look in the tiny Lake Baikal museum.

A seal native to the lake

Strange stuffed fish.

And wolves.

There are some amazing cars.

We head to Irkutsk to catch our train that will take us across the border to Ulaan Baatar ('Red Hero'), the capital of Mongolia.

Internet cafe

I think this was chocolate packaging.

The absolute best sushi of my entire life.

The hotel corridors were like a nightmare.

The train to Mongolia gets top marks for interior decor - plastic flowers and floral bedsheets on all the bunks as well as complimentary bottle of water. We settle in for our trip across the Siberian border to Mongolia.

Hopefully my next post won't take as long to write - it's going to be my favourite one I can already tell - MONGOLIA!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Arabian Nights - N Puttapipat

Just wanted to share some photos of this incredible book which is now in my possession.

Aladdin (Walker 2011) retells the famous story in six delicate and exquisite fold out silhouetted scenes. I've written about the illustrator N Puttapipat before, and here you can see some of their work in full context.

Although it's technically a 'pop up' book, the book is decidedly not for children as it's far too delicate. The illustrations are just gorgeous, I will treasure it for a long time and keep it well out of Mostyn's grabby little hands.

Here's more about Niroot Puttapipat.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Edward Okuń

I don't know much about Edward Okuń except he was a Polish Art Nouveau painter. I found these images from this website and they were so lovely I had to share them:

Wojna i my 1923 - A fantastical vision of war (the old woman), the artist and his wife

Filistrzy, 1904 - philistines
Mazurek Chopina (fragment), 1911
Cztery struny skrzypiec, 1914 - the death of the violinist
Walka Dobra i Zła -1900
Koncert - 1911
Chimery - 1904 - personification of 'night'
If you'd like to see more, as well as some other beautiful Polish Art Nouveau pictures: see this website

Friday, January 18, 2013

Every day sexism. Every day.

I am a woman, yes
The other day I went to my friends house, she lives at the end of a dead end terraced road with a small turning space at the end of it. Cars park along the turning space if there isn't enough space by the houses. I parked at the edge of the turning circle right behind another car - a perfectly legitimate place to leave it.

I was in her house an hour or so later when we saw the bin men go past with their lorry. I thought they might be wanting me to move my car so they could turn round and sure enough, one banged on the door and asked if anyone in the house owned my car. Fine I think, in seconds I can move my car, they'd be on their way and I can get on with my day.

So far so non-sexist.

I step out the front door and look the bin man in the eye. Without a greeting, he shouts straight at me "TYPICAL WOMAN DRIVER". I am taken aback. Ha ha. The bin men think it's all very amusing. I suppose technically he was right, it is the act of a typical woman driver to park her car in a perfectly normal car parking space.

"Sorry, I didn't know you were coming." I say,

"Well it is Thursday. Typical woman driver eh??"

"I don't know the bin days because I don't live here, I'm just visiting. Where is best for me to move my car?" I am opening the door of my car at this point, feeling irritated and wanting to get this interaction over with as fast as possible.

"Just move it forward" he points 5ft in front of my car.

I get in my car and shut the door, he's still shouting indistinctly at me through the window. I turn the key and look round at him,



Unfortunately I was so annoyed I had no witty retort. I just scowled, moved my car and went back to the house as soon as I could, seething with a vicious rage that ruined my day and left me imagining all the brilliant things I was too surprised to say at the time.

It's the sheer unfairness, the feeling of utter impotence it leaves you with. If I wasn't a woman the bin man would have said "Alright mate, can you move your car there" and that would have been the end of it.

When this sort of blatant and aggressive sexism happens it's inevitably such a shock to me that my only response is to ignore it and get out of the situation as fast as I can.
What can you do when you're cycling down a hill and pass a group of guys who yell "TITS" at you? When you're walking down the road in shorts and a guy scuttles up behind you, slaps your arse and runs away laughing? When an estate agent says that 'as a women' I wouldn't want to be 'trying' to drive down any narrow country lane shortcuts?



Monday, January 14, 2013

Mothers on Motherhood

I was happy to write a few words for the 'Mothers on Motherhood' series at oh! you pretty things blog.

Josie from oh! you pretty things writes candidly and eloquently about being a mother. Reading her blog (and indeed the many other motherhood blogs I follow) is very refreshing and I find myself cheered as I re-realise that mothers are all in this together. It's so easy to get caught up in your own experience so catching up on the words of others on the subject centers me and provides context.

My contribution:

Becoming a mother at 26 was a conscious decision for me, fueled by a overwhelming biological urgency that had been nagging in some primitive part of my brain for a while. Despite shaky employment and not owning our own house, having a baby suddenly seemed like something I had to do right away and fortunately my long term boyfriend felt the same. 

 I became pregnant quickly and instantly found myself embedded in the neurotic world of anticipation that will be familiar to anyone who is expecting or has recently had a baby: stultifying hours of product research, preoccupation with saving money, obsessive parenting forum reading, endless inspection of ones bodily changes and intense contemplation of the week by week formation of unseen and infinite brain cells, tiny fingerprints, perfect functioning organs and innate guidance systems. 

 Then, after a grueling 52 hour home labour, gas & air, a twisted baby head and blue light hospital transfer for the syntocinon drip, I successfully gave birth to a 6lb 4oz son and was left, dazed and bleeding into stiff hospital sheets on a drizzly September night, alone but for the tiny sleeping stranger in the clear plastic cot by my side - a stranger who inexplicably belonged to me. I remember everything about that night so clearly, the first time I'd ever changed a nappy at 3am, his first clothes, summoning the courage to press the button so a woman would come to help me try to breastfeed. The next day, high on exhaustion and hormones I demanded to leave, that I was fine, no, I didn't need pain relief thanks. After hours of waiting and tests we left the hospital with a tiny scrap in his car seat and new hat, my finger clutched by a miniature starfish hand, not comprehending the tears, love, work and wonder we had to come...

You can read the rest of my post here, thanks for sharing my words Josie!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Leibster Award... again

Confession of my own imbecility: I did the 'Leibster award' before without actually knowing what it meant or what I was supposed to do other than selfishly list 11 facts about myself. I was tagged properly by lovely Helen at sittinginthekitchensink so here it is again - I'll try and think of 11 more facts but I may have to recycle because my previous attempt took me ages to write. Pretend you didn't read the first one...

"The Liebster Award is for bloggers with under 300 followers and the rules of the award is that the nominee must link back to whoever awarded them, write 11 random facts about themselves, answer the 11 questions from the award giver, and then nominate another 11 bloggers and make up 11 questions for them to answer. It's a great way for new and undiscovered bloggers to meet new people, get more followers and find some blogs that they want to follow."

11 random facts about me:

1. I was literally traumatised by a warning video about the dangers of glue sniffing (the little boy died!!!) in a science lesson in year 8 and as a result I have never done any drugs, and I didn't even drink until I was 18.

2. I was home educated until I was 7.

3. I am 5ft 9.

4. I once pierced my own ear with a needle and a lighter because I wanted two holes in one ear - it healed wonderfully and I still have it now. I also pierced my nose but couldn't get the stud all the way though the hole so had to let it heal up.

5. I wore massive flares for far longer that necessary during that brief moment around 2001 when they were fashionable again. (cringe)

6. I used to be an atheist - now I'm not, but I'm not religious either.

7. Hilariously, I failed to pass the online aptitude tests when applying for a Christmas job at M&S.

8. I like the idea of wearing hats but I do not look good in any of them.

9. Huw is my 3rd ever boyfriend.

10. I miss chalk landscapes.

11. I've no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

My questions from Helen are:

1. What job did you want to do as a child? Do you do anything similar now? As a child I wanted to be a cave man or a Victorian - sitting, hermit-like, in my flat writing is a bit like being a caveman I suppose..
2. Favourite holiday destination? Anywhere at this point...  I haven't been abroad for years
3. You've got toast for breakfast. What would you like spread on it? Peanut butter and apricot jam.
4. Do you play a musical instrument? I play the violin mostly but I have been known to play the double bass, the viola, the piano and the accordion
5. Describe your house in three words. Small, beige, rented
6. Early bird or night owl? Night owl forever
7. What's your go-to dinner recipe? Pasta and sauce made from whatever I can find.
8. What song is guaranteed to get you dancing? The Magnificent Seven - The Clash
9. Do you collect anything? Not really, I don't have the space!
10. What is your favourite cheese? Ossau Iraty (a Pyrenées sheep cheese)
11. Who would you invite to a fantasy dinner-party? Oh god, I'd invite Dorothy Parker probably, I bet she'd have some hideous things to say about me.

My questions are:

1. Do you have any recurring dreams?
2. What item of clothing do you wear most?
3. Desert Island book?
4. First record/CD you ever bought?
5. Embarrassing teenage celebrity crush (me: Lenny Kravitz)
6. Most used app (if you have a Smart Phone)?
7. Where do you get your news and current affairs?
8. Favourite chocolate bar
9. Did you get what you wanted for Christmas?
10. Guilty music pleasure?
11. If it snows, are you more likely to be inside watching it or outside playing in it?

And I tag (I don't think enough people read my blog to get this list up to 11!):

A Life In Writing - Zehra Cranmer
little sleep
My Little Acorns
This Girl is...
Anyone else who reads this and wants to do it!

When the sun shines after days of dark...

It makes me feel like this song.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Count down to relocation

We are moving into our new house on Valentine's day and I can't wait! Expect lots of pictures of how I make it look nice on a severely limited budget. I will be scouring gumtree and freecycle for furniture, storage in small spaces will be my priority and I am going to make the house feel like home as soon as possible as we will probably be there for a while.

If I had 27 hours each day I might have set up a Pinterest to fill with pictures of inspirational interiors but I have not. I signed up to Pinterest once but I haven't had the time or quite frankly the motivation to do anything with it - I can't keep up with all my existing site accounts as it is.

Some pictures from my dad's house this weekend. Always lots of inspiration for me decorating wise.

By the lemon tree, watching for deer to appear in the garden (they didn't)

Showing off his new words to his grandad
I'm trying to de-clutter but on my first day back at work I caved and bought all these beautiful things from the Accessorize sale.. they were all 70% off though!

My beautiful little peachy face - I am going to make your new room the best of all!