Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


decided to start a new post for stolby and provide some beta about the area since we found none before we went...

first, directions:

- from the krasnoyarsk train station, take bus 36 or 56 to the Opera Ballet Theatre Stop (next to Hotel Krasnoyarsk)

- take bus 50 from the Opera Ballet Theatre Stop to turbaza (second to last stop). the stops are not signed, ask the fare collector to let you know when to get off (stolby).

- get off the bus, cross the road, turn right and take the paved path that parallels the road. the path will cross a bridge after a couple of minutes and join the paved road to stolby. turn left on that road.

- walk ~6 1/2 km along the road to a picnic area. it's the end of the paved road on the stolby maps posted along the road. do not try to take the path up to the stolbys that cuts off the road halfway up, you will get lost.

- at the picnic area, there's a small kiosk and you'll see a dirt path that goes uphill on the left. this path leads to 1 stolb after 5 minutes.

- take a picture of the map displayed on the boards, it's very helpful.

stolby is like a cross between joshua tree and city of rocks. coarse granite pillars with more aesthetic lines and cracks. contrary to what we though, people do climbed roped there, we saw quite a few bolted lines (which looked really hard, 5.12s, 5.13s). we did see one person free solo something relatively easy, but no one climbing down head-first. we brought our shoes and bouldered a little bit (found a nice short easy hand crack) but that was the limit to our climbing there. it's a beautiful area, and great to be back in more mountain-like settings after the coast and train. worthwhile visit if you're in siberia, but not to make a special trip out there just to climb.

in siberia, after 86 hours on the train...

we made it to siberia, after spending 3 1/2 days on the train from moscow to krasnoyarsk, a day in krasnoyarsk, then another 17 hours from krasnoyarsk to irkustk, where we are right now.

the train ride wasn't quite what i expected. don't know what i was expecting, but i guess something more memorable. we rode in kupe (2nd) class, which has cabins with 4 berths in each. they're small and cramped but not too bad. scenery was okay, it didn't get interesting until the last part of the train ride. a lot of siberia is swamp land and uninhabited. our cabin mates were nice, russian, but didn't speak much. so pretty much 3 days of starting out the window and reading. getting exercise was difficult. we tried walking up the train one time and that was enough for us. so during the longer train stops we'd get out on the platforms.

the platforms at the smaller cities were interesting, lots of vendors selling fruit, fish, shoes, random stuff. less so at the bigger cities. we bought all our food before getting on the train, stuff we could eat with just hot water of without cooking (noodles, soup, bread cheese). it was nice to get off the train though.

we spent a night in krasnoyarsk, primarily to visit stolby, which climbers will know from the patagonia video. that was interesting, we ended up staying in a real russian hotel. they had no cold water (yes cold water, not hot water), who knows why. so ended up we didn't get to take a shower after being on the train for 3 days. i'll write about stolby in another post.

arrived in irkustk last night after one night on the train. we're going on a guided 4-day trek tomorrow in the southern lake baikal region and hope to climb a little bit afterwards. that's still to be worked out.

a little frustrating today as we are trying to buy our train tickets to mongolia to make sure we have tickets and leave russia before our visas expire, but it seems we can't do it from here, since we want to have a stopover in ulan-ude. i guess we'll hope for the best and either find a way to buy tickets here through an agency or try our luck in ulan-ude and hope there's room on a train...

fortunately the bed bug bites pretty much don't itch anymore. erick had bites show up the day we got on the train and got to spend the worst part of it on the train. now we're checking all the mattresses we sleep on when we arrive at the hostels/hotels.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


we've spent a couple days in moscow. unfortunately those stupid bed bug bites made my life very difficult the past few days. I have over 200 bites and most of them decided to flare up. Yesterday I had to wear shorts because pants hurt too much rubbing against the bites. I look frightening large bright red spots covering my legs and arms. people definitely gave me a wide berth. at least I wasn't concerned about getting robbed since no one would want to touch me. took some pictures but they're too scary to post. luckily much better today the swelling has gone down, itching much less, and could actually walk around the whole day without going crazy with pain/itchiness. erick found a couple bites today on his ankles. I can see how people go crazy living with bed bugs.

moscow is nice. the metro stations are pretty amazing from their depth to elaborate decorations. we saw lenin today which was memorable and the red square is really beautiful. also went to the cosmonaut museum which is highly recommended. some really cool exhibits (all in Russian) and things to see and cheap admission fee.

we get on the train tomorrow for 3 1/2 days to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, where stolby is (for the climbers). spend a day and a half there then back on the train for 17 hours to Irkutsk. we'll spend a week and a half in the area, visiting lake baikal and hopefully the Sayan mountains for some hiking and climbing. should be interesting and exciting.

Monday, July 20, 2009

bed bugs and st. petersburg

looks like i got eaten alive by bed bugs at the vana tom hostel in tallinn (our best guess). my arms and legs are covered in over a hundred small red, very itchy bites. after lots of researching on the web, my self-diagnosis is bed bug bites. it fits the pattern of very itchy, small insect-like bites, some in patterns, many in groups of three. they're extremely itchy (as i've already said a few time) and more keep showing up everyday. we stayed at the hostel for 3 nights and the bites take up to 9 days to appear, so i'm hoping today or tomorrow should be the end of it. we should've suspected something when the sheets provided at the hostel were burgandy color, not the typical white or light color...

spent a few days in st. petersburg. lots of adventure buying train tickets, mailing postcards today. some of you can expect to receive a postcard with 5 stamps on it. yes 5. hard to fit on a postcard...

st. petersburg was nice. spent some time at the hermitage yesterday looking at the art and mostly looking at the palace room. we were by far most impressed with the hardwood floors there. some really intricate inlay patterns, pretty amazing.

we head to moscow this afternoon on the train, will be there for 3 nights, then on thursday board the train to krasnoyark (in siberia), a train ride of 3 1/2 days. should be fun or at least memorable.

e-mail us your address if you want a postcard from somewhere weird. we realized we don't have a lot of your addresses...

tips for buying train tickets in russia

lessons we've learned so far for buying russian train tickets and not really speaking russian:

- writing down in cyrillic the destination, date, desired class, and desired train is very helpful

- make sure to write the date with day.month (roman numerals or preferably spelled out in russian).year. use "." between the day, month, year, do not use "/" between the day, month, year. using "/" can result in buying a ticket for the wrong month, as happened to us. we asked for a ticket for july (VII) and got one leaving in august (VIII).

- specify which train you want, either by train number or departure time (research online before going to the ticket office). writing "afternoon" (in russian) leads to some interesting facial expressions and complete confusion.

- pay in cash, even if there is a visa/master card label on the window. we have no idea what the purpose of those stickers are, but if you hand them a credit card as i did, be prepared to hear some a very exaspirated string of russian and then a quick run to the nearest ATM machine to withdraw lots of cash.

- always double check your tickets after receiving them. even with an english speaking ticket seller and an explanation of the ticket, we discovered that we purchased tickets for the day after we wanted to depart (july 29th instead of july 28th).

- outside of major cities (st. petersburg and moscow) you can only buy international tickets for trains originating from that city (ie cannot buy tickets for trains leaving from ulan ude from irkutsk). makes planning more difficult.

this list to be updated as we buy more train tickets...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

st petersburg

we're finally in russia, took the bus from tallin here yesterday. luckily the border crossing was straight forward and easy, except the immigration officer couldn't scan my visa page in my passport and examined every page of my passport and tried scanning other pages. called someone else over to look at my passport and made some comment that i've travelled a lot. asked me if i speak russian, i said a little bit, and he asked "why?", half laughing. interesting.

st petersburg is a city, a bit overwhelming. we're very glad we learned how to read cyrillic and a few basic russian words, it's come in handy already. walked around st petersburg today and it's a beautiful city full of old architecture, some amazing churches, and nice canals. we'll make the obligatory visit to the hermitage tomorrow, from the outside it looks massive, no wonder people can spend days inside.

other adventure so far is we bought train tickets for moscow today. as the book recommended, we wrote out where we wanted to go, the date, class in russian. we got the tickets no problem (though a lot more expensive than we thought it'd be). checked the tickets and they're for the wrong month! (august instead of july). good thing to remember is to write the date with "." in between the day-month-year not "/". after standing in line for another 20 minutes, she changed our tickets to us for the next train (our first option was fully booked) and we'll be going to moscow on monday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


we've made it to the last point in our Baltic states and Europe portion of are trip (treating Russia as separate from Europe). we're in Tallinn now and head to st petersburg on Friday.

our time in hiiumaa was enjoyable. we rented bikes one day and biked a total of 50 km. we saw the tahkuna lighthouse, old military ruins from the soviet era, hill of crosses, the airport (huge runway with no planes at the airport) and palukula church which is abandoned and used for target practice in WWII. also stopped at some glacial boulders with our climbing shoes in case there was any potential but unfortunately nothing.

the next day we rented a car with a Finnish couple we met at the guesthouse. they go to hiiumaa almost every year so were very familiar with the sights and history. for them they liked the laid back life in hiiumaa and the old farming life reminicent of Finland 30 years ago. we hit the rest if the sights on the island, the kopu lighthouse, kassari area, the wool factory, surremoisa castle, and another trip to the airport.

came to Tallinn yesterday and after spending so much time recently on islands with fewer tourists we were a bit overwhelmed at how touristy Tallinn is and how many people there are. if course having 5 cruise ships in yesterday didn't help. after checking out the suburban bus schedules decided there's no way we can explore the bouldering we found online. even if there were more than one bus a day it'd be a miracle if we actually got off at the right place.

covered the old town sights yesterday and went to the zoo today. nice zoo with lots of different goats and sheep, polar bears, a snow leopard, and a takin.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


after spending a couple more days in kuressaare visiting a meteor crater and some old windmills (with some fun swings) we headed back to the mainland to haapsalu. our guidebook misled us a little bit by saying all buses to Tallinn from kuressaare go through haapsalu, which isn't true. but at the bus station they told us to take the Tallinn bus and get off in virtsu after the ferry crossing and wait an hour and a half for the bus to haapsalu. bus didn't stop and the bus stop turned out to be a covered bench (with 40+ mph winds that didn't seem like an attractive option) so we decided to stay on the bus to Tallinn. caught a bus in Tallinn to haapsalu.

spent a couple nights in haapsalu which is a nice town with a castle but unfortunately the promenade and beach were dug up and under construction.

took the bus and ferry this morning to the second largest Estonian island, hiiumaa, where we'll stay here in kardla for a few days, probably rent bikes to see some lighthouses and other sights.

then on to Tallinn and the next portion of the trip, Russia and the trans-Siberian railroad.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


well bad weather finally caught up with us. after spending a few days in parnu, including a day trip to the island of kihnu where we expected to find something interesting to see and didn't see too much (there wasn't even a map of the island) and then it started storming. we ended up spending an hour huddling next to the cashier kiosk to get out of the wind and rain.

we're here in kuressaare right now, the main town on the island of saaremaa. we're staying in a nice little studio apartment place but distances on the island are pretty big and limited busses. yesterday we went to the panga cliffs to see the highest (21 meters high) cliffs on the island. it was beautiful, but unfortunately all chossy limestone and unclimable. today we were going to try to visit the island of vahalse, which supposedly has large glacial boulders and bring our climbing shoes but the weather has other things to say about that. rained last night and cloudy and sprinkling all day. weather forecast is for rain the next week, hopefully that'll change.

posted two new albums on picasa of parnu and kuressaare (so far):

Thursday, July 02, 2009

photos round 2 and parnu, estonia

first off, posted some more photos from stuttgart through latvia. they can be found at the usual place:

we've left latvia, after spending a day yesterday looking at a windmill and wandering around the latvian country-side, including walking along the side of the highway to get to and from a hidden train station.

we're now in parnu, estonia, which is the self-billed summer capital of estonia and filled with lots of tourists. we'll stay here a couple of days before heading to one of the big islands...