1. Taking a taxi no longer involves crossing your fingers and praying to any deity that might be handy.
2. Nor does crossing the road.
3. Public toilets that have toilet paper and don’t cost money.
4. No longer having to worry about exposing too much skin and getting hassled, or merely stared at.
5. Or PDA.
6. Better bread.
7. No humidity THANK THE SWEET LORD.
Why, hello, Australia.
Nepal trek content will continue to be added to finish us off in the next few days.
We’re back in Kathmandu, having spent a pleasant afternoon in the lakeside town of Pokhara and then a half-hour flight to the capital, which despite a rough landing easily beat a repeat performance of the sweaty six hours on the bus. Serendipitously, this leaves us with a last free day in Kathmandu that also coincides with a certain date.
Last night we went out for dinner to a traditional Nepali restaurant with our trekking group, but before leaving, Gum enticed us into the hotel bar and then produced a black forest gateau and a scarf to hand around my neck for good luck. Loz swears he had nothing to do with it. This morning, we’d booked to take the ‘mountain flight’ around Everest. A driver picked us up at 5:45am and drove us to the loosely-controlled chaos of the Domestic terminal at Kathmandu airport; then finally, we boarded our little 30-seater plane for the one-hour mountain flight. As the plane rises above the chaos of Kathmandu, it flies you along an endless panorama of snowy mountains – Shisha Pangma, the sacred Gauri Shankar, Cho-oyu, and finally, hovering behind Nuptse and Lhotse, the cone-shaped peak of Sagarmatha, Chomolungma, mighty Everest, with wisps of cloud boiling off its peak. It was worth every penny, and an incredible way to start a memorable birthday.
On landing safely, we had a belated breakfast and retired back to bed for a few hours. In the afternoon, we both had our kinks painfully but pleasurably worked out at Seeing Hands, a Nepali/English community project where young Nepalis blinded by disease are able to retrain as massage therapists. Afterwards, we spent some time wandering in the Garden of Dreams, a beautiful walled garden in central Kathmandu where the storms of dust and honking somehow seem to retreat. We lay on the grass in the garden amphitheatre, watching the birds and the clouds. The day was rounded off with dinner and sparkling wine at the legendary Rum Doodle’s.
There’s only one thing I can say really: I’m a very lucky girl.
So, Moscow. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but it grew on me, slowly. We spent less time pursuing the usual tourist things this time, and more assembling supplies for our four days on the Trans-Siberian, which took us out of the centre of the city and into the parts Muscovites experience. Our first day, after getting off the sleeper from St. Petersburg at 8am, we were forced to wait several exhausted and grumpy hours to check into our hostel, which led to Day 1 being something of a write-off. Day 2 took us on a quest to find outdoors shops to acquire some insulated mugs and a pocketknife; we succeeded, at the cost of a fairly amusing pantomine performance of ‘no, a smaller knife than that… no, a bit bigger…’ with the Ukrainian shopkeeper. (Russian outdoors shops appear to be slightly less about the hill-walking, and more about the enormous guns and, for some reason, metal detectors.) We did take in Gorky Park on our way, though, and found it beautiful – forest paths, lakes, cafes, a tree-walk, and an entire squadron of ping-pong tables. In the evening, we ate at a vegetarian Indian restaurant that seems to serve as a counter-cultural hub, listening to an American argue vociferously with a Russian about the impact of the homophobic laws on the Russian arts. (‘The Marlene Dietrich exhibition was such a success, but the Greta Garbo one isn’t going to come here now!’) Walking home, we got drenched to the skin in a thunderstorm.
Our last day was grey and consistently rainy. We did our duty as tourists; the bus tour, a walk around the Kremlin, St. Basil’s cathedral., the GUM department store The city has obviously had significant money invested in it in recent years, and gives off the vibe of being a modern European city much more strongly than St. Petersburg and its faded grandeur. At the same time, it gives off the sense that it, like London, has acted as something of a black hole, sucking in all the money from the surrounding country in a way that has left it resentful. Construction is everywhere; architecture has been preserved; parks are green and pleasant; things glitter; every Western designer has a glossy boutique. It could have been a London on its best behaviour (and with comparable prices for everything). But both of us had started to get tired of our whirlwind tour of cities and museums, and weren’t sorry to pack for Siberia.