The little red button

I'm sitting in an Internet cafe in Moscow around the corner from Nate and Jen's flat. There's a little red button next to the monitor. If I press it, a waiter comes out and will refill my beer.

Moscow is a twenty-four hour city. Fifteen lane freeways are the norm. You can whizz halfway around the city in a jitney cab for about a pound. Beer is good, everywhere and cheap. It's sunny and hot.

Surprise, surprise, I'm loving it.

We spent a few nights in St Petersburg, which is a lovely and totally different city. Much more old world and classy, but also slower and poorer. The Hermitage was mind blowing, of course.

Tomorrow we're off to a Golden Ring town overnight, then back to Moscow again.

Back from Russia

Haven't had a chance to write about our experiences in Russia yet. Tomorrow night I'll be picking up our photos and will spend the night scanning them in and writing about it.

We had a fabulous time and many thanks to Nate and Jen for putting us up and showing us around.

Now it's back home and back at work, sadly.

The English could learn from the Russians

You've probably heard me moan about English beurocracy before. Well they're nothing compared to the Russians! I'm trying to get a tourist visa so I can go and spend money in their country, boosting their economy. Silly me!

For starters, the Cold War never ended, if the visa procedures are anything to go by. You have to get an official invitation confirming you have accomodation booked for your stay. Then you can get the visa from the embassy, 9am-11:30am a few days a week. When you arrive in Russia, you must register with the Interior Ministry, just so they can keep track of you.

So I have a question for them, and phone them up to ask. "Look on the web site," the none too cheerful woman answering the phone tells me. I've already looked, and the information I need isn't there, I tell her. "Well I can't help you. Call the consular number." Problem is, when the consular number isn't engaged, they don't answer the phone.

"Welcome to Russia," says my friend Jenny, "and you're still in London. Yes, often they don't answer the phone. Maybe they're busy serving customers, or maybe they're in the consulate kitchen drinking tea and eating cake."

And I thought getting my National Insurance Number was hard...

A great weekend away

Helmet found at Sutton Hoo burial mound

We got back last night from an excellent weekend away with Matt, Maz, John and Anne. We were staying in a National Trust property, Sutton Hoo, the site of many Anglo-Saxon burial mounds, including the mound that contained this amazing helmet now at the British Museum.

Amazing place and an excellent weekend in excellent weather. We had loads of fun, eating, drinking and enjoying the brilliant weather. As usual, Anne won the game of Settlers.

Cycling in Norfolk

Holly and I went cycling in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire this weekend. It looked like rain and my back had been sore on Friday so we didn't do the planned Colchester to The Wash ride. Instead we headed out on Sunday from Cambridge.

Sunday night was spent in Welney, the town from which my great-great-great grandfather came before heading to Australia on the Second Fleet. Was great to check it out.

The whole region is an incredible piece of engineering, dating back hundreds of years. Naturally it's a relatively useless swampland. Drained, it provides the most fertile and productive farmland in England. The enormous drainage system keeps the lands relatively dry and also protects against tidal flooding.

Of course all this man-made change to the environment comes at a cost. The swamps form an important ecosystem, particularly for migratory birds. Some efforts are being made to rectify the situation.

Disaster struck on Saturday after we left Ely when my rear wheel buckled very badly. This was my first ride on a new "extra strong" wheel I had made. I'm most annoyed and will reconsider letting these clowns get any of my money in future, based on their response to this shoddy work.

The problematic wheel meant it took us far longer to get to Welney than normal, and also meant we had to curtail our trip for safety reasons. The wheel is absolutely screwed. Grrrr.

Anyway, we had fun and even got a bit sunburnt, as well as rained on. Photos here.

Booked for Russia

We just booked our flights to Moscow for July. We'll be spending two weeks with our friends Nathan and Jenny. They have a flat in Moscow and another in St Petersburg so we'll be dividing our time between the two. Yay!

Now we have to sort out our visas. They don't exactly make it easy!

A week in Devon and Cornwall

Holly and I got back from a week in Devon and Cornwall on Saturday night. Very fun, though the weather was a bit crap.

The week started with us hiring a car in London. Holly can only drive automatics so our choices were a bit limited. When we went to pick it up, the back door of the car wouldn't open. So they upgraded us to a very nice sedan. Added bonusses included a CD player, power windows, individual heat controls and, get this, seat warmers. That's right, bum feeling the chill? Stick on the bum warmer! Never knew such a thing might be necessary, but it does help warm you up very quickly!

The first weekend of our holiday was spent at Wortham Manor with about fourteen others. It's a Landmark Trust building so very old and really nice. We hung out, drank in local pubs, played board games and did a murder mystery on the Saturday night. Really fun and I'm looking forward to the next one, but that won't be until next Winter.

After that Holly and I headed South to Dartmoor and Grimspound, the remains of an Iron Age village. As we reached the moor, a thick fog descended over us. At one point we could barely make out much beyond the edge of the road. After driving around for quite some time, we finally found the place. Despite being a National Heritage site, there are no road signs pointing to it. Probably not a huge problem when you can see things off to the side, but a major problem when you can't see much! Fortunately one of our mates driving with us had an OS map.

From there we headed our own way to the beautiful town of Fowey (pronounced "foy", rhyming with "boy", for no discernable reason). It's a gorgeous, if rather touristy, little seaside port town. Really postcard quality views. We stayed in a 16th century inn.

Eden Project

Next day was the big one: The Eden Project. The view when you see these weird, Buckminster Fuller shapes emerging out of the Cornish countryside is incredible. The site is nestled into an old china clay pit, and can't really be seen from the outside roads. So once you get in and get that first glimpse, it's quite amazing.

Inside, the project is much more advanced than I expected. It's only been going (and growing) for a few years yet they've managed to plant many fully-grown plants with an incredible diversity of items. Even on a cold, wet Winter's day, the number of visitors was huge. I can't imagine how crowded it would get in Summer! The warm, wet, tropical dome was my favourite. Quite a shock to the system after wandering around a cold, rainy England.

The next day we were due to go to The Lost Gardens of Heligan which are supposed to be a amazing, but the weather was just too crappy. Instead we headed further along the coast. Along the way we saw some pretty amazing neolithic stuff.

Marconi Centre

We drove around Lizard Point, the Southern-most point of Britain. After that milestone we started hunting for Poldhu, site of Marconi's 1901 transatlantic radio transmission. It turns out a special centre, managed by the local amateur radio club, has been built there. Unfortunately it was closed, something we found a fair bit in Cornwall during the Winter. Regardless we got to see the site, wander around and look at the memorial.

Tintagel

Lands End and onwards wasn't very exciting, so we drove up to Tintagel Castle, supposedly King Arthur's birthplace. The town is incredibly tacky but the castle is amazing! The wind and waves have been buffetting the headland for centuries, and bits of it fall into the sea all the time. As we walked up the stairs to the headland, we heard a loud thunder-like noise. Looking left we saw a huge chunk of headland fall off and into the ocean. Quite amazing, and a bit worrying considering we were just heading up there.

The best thing about Tintagel, though, was where we stayed. A beautiful little pub with great food and a really nice room. Excellent after a day of driving and wandering around.

Back home

On our last day we had hoped to do a walk in Exmoor but the weather, once again, worked against us. So we decided to head back to London.

All in all, a great trip. Cornwall is excellent, though it's a bit frustrating how everything closes during the off season. We also missed out on the telegraphic museum, because it was closed. I was really looking forward to seeing that one!.

Brummy land weekend

Holly and I went to Birmingham, the UK's second largest city. Largely underrated due to its Midlands location, this city was the heart of the Industrial Revolution which probably caused more social upheaval than any other technological advance.

The architecture is a bit Canberra with freeways through the centre for my liking, but the city seems to be finding its confidence. We visited a rather great art gallery and danced all night in a really good club, albeit listening to London DJs. Breakfast was in a cafe that would be quite at home in Newtown.

All in all, an excellent weekend. If only they could lose the silly accent...

A little bit of snow...

It snowed last night here in London, which is quite unusual. It was really more of a blizzard at work in NW London, with about three inches dumped in only a few hours. Of course this meant there were no trains running and traffic wasn't moving. We ended up walking a couple of kilometres to Wembley Stadium station and catching a suburban overland train, the only train running anywhere near my work.

This morning was no better with the Bakerloo line out North of Queens Park. Yeesh! We're not talking much snow, but it completely screwed up everything.

The city does look beautiful, something of a winter wonderland. Can't complain there!

And I can't really complain when much worse is happening with public transport elsewhere.