Friday, 26 November 2010

Saint Petersburg, 19 - 24 November 2010

All dazed and culture shocked I stood there at the reception desk being checked in whilst lots of half dead people appear from the dorms and head to the kitchen for breakfast.  I was shown around and told that I'd have to wait until midday until I was able to find a home for my bag and somewhere to sleep.  Taking the first opportunity I grabbed a towel and headed to cleanse myself of the nights travelling.  Finally I was feeling refreshed and headed to the kitchen to meet the fellow travellers and have something to eat.  I was confronted by many people, so many I couldn't quite take in who said what and where they had come from.  One Australian guy welcomed me to Russia and presented me with a Big Bong, a Russian equivalent to Pot Noodle but in a bowl and having tried it later that evening, much nicer!

A certain amount of relaxation is required by all of us mere mortals so I decided to take the first day easy and just have a walk around the local surroundings and get my Russian visa registered in Saint Petersburg.  Not only do you have to fork out a lot of money to buy a visa for Russia, you have to also register it within three working days of entering the country at an extra cost of 600 Roubles (about 20GBP) and again if you go and stay in another city for three or more working days.  Real Russia who I got to acquire my visa for me, gave me a name and address of their partner company in Peter who could register it for me.  Luckily enough it was only the next road up from the hostel so it shouldn't have been a long walk.  But me being me I walked the wrong way up the street until I found some building numbers and realised I went the wrong way.  I got there in the end though and sorted it out easily.

Having registered my visa, I took a walk down Nevski Prospekt which is the main street in Saint Petersburg.  I was struck by the grandiose buildings that were built down the entire length of the street and throughout the city.  After Tsar Peter the Great gained the land during war against the Swedish he build the Saint Peter and Paul fortress and begun the development of St Petersburg and taking inspiration from European cities, he used serfs and prisoners of war to build 'the Venice of the North'.  Once completed, the capital of the Russian Empire was moved from Moscow to Petrograd by order of the Tsar.  It's a truly bizare place and must have been worse during the USSR days.  Such grand buildings and yet so many poor people.  After the revolution Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow.

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

I stumbled upon the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.  It's was my first sight of this type of Russian architecture and was absolutely amazed, it was like something out of a fairy tale.  I began to read the plaques outside and discovered that the church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.  I was going to go in but was stalled when I saw the entry price and that non-Russian Federation citizens have to pay double.  That price was too steep as I had little money left after paying the hostel and visa registration costs.  A few days later I did get to visit and the inside was completely decorated in mosaics and was absolutely fantastic. 

I was utterly disappointed to be in a snowless St Petersburg, it was cold, bitterly cold down by the river and by the Peter and Paul Fortress.  The fortress was built by Peter the Great to protect the Russian Empire from Swedish invasion as they had previously been able to sail straight down the Neva.  However, the fortress was never used for that purpose and became a prison for enemies of the state, such as, Dostoevsky and the Decemberists.  The Peter and Paul Cathedral was also quite a sight, here most of Tsars lie in state, including the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II, his family and servents who were executed in 1918 during the Bolshevik revolution in Yekaterinburg.  Their remains were recovered from a mine shaft just outside Yekaterinburg and were brought back to rest with the other Tsars but in their very own chapel within the cathedral.  Two of Nicholas' sons were never found.

During my stay I went to see Il Viaggio a Reims at the Mariinsky Theatre. The theatre was absolutely amazing.  The opera was in Italian, and they had subtitles in Russian so I didn't understand a word.  I really enjoyed the performance, unfortunately a lot of the action happened off stage in the auditorium which I couldn't see from my seat.  The turn around with shows at the theatre is truly amazing, they have a different show on every night.  I would like to see how quickly they can strike a set and rebuild for the next show.  As I left the auditorium, smiling at the fantastic performance I had just seen, I was confronted with St Petersburg under snow!  It had been snowing all day but nothing had settled, but during the show it had laid and was quite deep.

They say that you should get a taxi after dark in Russia because it is not safe to walk around, however that would mean you would need to get a taxi before 9am and after 4pm.  Since being in Russia, I have not felt threatened once and have been able to walk around unhindered.  I'm not sure if it's because I can pass myself off as a Russian or whether it is as safe as it feels.

To pass yourself off as a Russian, you must follow some simple rules:
  1. Never smile
  2. Let go of doors which means smacking the person behind you in the face
  3. Pretend people aren't getting off the metro and walk through them to get on board.
Saint Petersburg also hosts The Hermitage and Winter Palace. The palace originally built by Peter the Great was the home of the Russian Tsars.  The Hermitage is one of the largest art galleries in the world and was the creation of Catherine the Great who wanted to share the countries collection of art.  I'm not the biggest art fan but the building itself is a piece of art.  Every room has it's very own decoration style and I found myself more interested in the building than the art hanging on the walls.  If you are a fan of art, you could easily spend a whole week looking through the endless collection.  They have so much they can't show it all at once and continually rotate it.  The Hermitage also has collections of artifacts too, such as Ancient Egyptian mummies.

I returned to the hostel one night to find that a crazy Brazilian man who wore florescent trainers and a Brazil fleece had joined us.  He said that he was surprised that he got stopped by the police and asked for his passport and registration documents.  He was a very strange man who kept going on about how he hated the English because of what happened to Jean Charles de Menezes, and I tried to convince him that we also didn't like what happened to him either.  Then he said that he would like to see Elizabeth II die and he'd visit her grave.  At this point I was speechless and didn't really want to be alone in the same room as him!  He did teach us all a trick of his though.  He said that he doesn't like sharing toilets on plane journeys, so he take a bar of chocolate and covers the toilet in melted chocolate which stops others from using it.  This all made us laugh hysterically although it might have been down to the consumed alcohol.

During my last day I wanted to visit the Leningrad Blockade Museum which commemorates the The Siege of Leningrad which lasted for 900 days and saw 332,000 army and over 16,000 civilian casualties.  Unfortunately you never know which days places close in Russia as they seem to be any day they like and it so happened that the day I wanted to go, it was closed!

Since arriving in Saint Petersburg I wanted to go out for a drink, but the people staying at the hostel were all couples and didn't want to go.  This all changed when I was about to leave as a couple of British guys came and wanted to go out for a drink.  Unfortunately it was my last day and I had planned to go and see Giselle at the Mikhaylovsky Theatre.  As I had seen an opera, I thought I should see a ballet too.  Unlike the Opera or theatre, you can understand ballet (if done well) as there is no language.  I enjoyed the performance and the dancing however became tired at some points as it seemed like they were just repeating the same choreography.  I sat right up in the gods and next to this lady who decided that it would be a great idea to blow her nose during a very calm section of the performance, and also was texting on her mobile phone during the second act, to which I gave her a look that said 'put the bloody phone away'!

After leaving the theatre, I needed to get back to the hostel where I would have about one hour before I needed to catch my overnight train to Moscow.  When I am travelling, I like to be at the place of departure with plenty of time to spare just incase anything happens.  I was however convinced by the people in the hostel to chill out for a bit and Pavlik, who worked in the hostel, would take me there.  We got to the train station five minutes before my train was scheduled to leave, which would have been plenty of time if my carriage wasn't the last one. So I had to run down the platform being very cautious of the ice as I did not want to slip over and hurt myself!  With a minute to spare I gave my passport and ticket over to the provodnitsa (Attendant) and was thrust onto the train with the door closing behind me and the engine kicking into life.  I found my compartment and was impressed with the quality of the train.  I was met introduced myself to Vladimir, a business man and there was a guy already asleep on the top bunk.  Vladimir wasn't very talkative so I climbed up to my bunk and made myself at home and fell asleep.  The train was extremely hot it was like stepping off a place in the Mediterranean but stepping out of the freezing cold of Saint Petersburg into the warmth of the train.  Eight hours later I arrived in Moscow.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Back in the USSR - Friday 19 November 2010

After spending an hour and half in purgatory between Estonia and Russia, not having a clue what was happening, we finally got back on the bus and headed through another gate officially marking the border.  I had a overwhelming sense of relief as the barrier lifted and we drove into the Russian Federation.  I had finally made it after years of planning and dreams.  I suddenly realised why the bus was taking 7 hours to get to St Petersburg, the roads were in an incredibly poor state of repair and the bus drove at a steady pace of 40 miles per hour for a fair distance.

Looking out of the window in a sleepy state I inspected the snow covered Russian landscape and saw some incredibly run down houses that looked like shacks and it reminded me that Russia has a fantastically huge gap between the rich and poor.  I soon fell back into a state of unconsciousness and woke up several hours later once we had reached the outskirts of St Petersburg.  The scene this time was completely different and there were countless number of people scuttling around, running for buses and people working on the streets.  The clock read a little after 6am which I though was a bit early for this type of activity.   However, I was unsure of the time difference between Tallinn and St Petersburg but was sure it was in alignment to Moscow time which is +3 GMT, in which case it was actually 7am, perfect time to commute into work.

An hour later, the bus arrived at the Baltic train/bus station in St Petersburg.  I had no idea if I was in the right place.  I approached the driver and using the international sign language of pointing and repeating Baltic station, he simply responded "Da!", as we were in mutual agreement, feeling semi relaxed and reassured I headed off to find the hostel.

Before leaving Tallinn I consulted the world wide web and wrote some directions down for my journey from the Baltic Station to my hostel and realised that it was only a 'short' metro ride to Moscow Station where my hostel was situated.  I wondered into the train station and took my time to get acquainted with the building and noticed that every sign was written in Cyrillic.  I approached a beautiful young lady who was squashed in a ticket booth and had my first chance to practice my Russian and asked 'Do you understand English?' to wish she simply but politely responded, 'Niet!'  However, she pointed me in the direction of the metro entrance and said something which I could only assume meant that I buy metro tokens outside, to the right and inside...

As I struggled my way through a bombardment of Russian workers, I noticed that not one person was smiling.  I finally made my way down into the deepest underground network in the world and it is absolutely spectacular.  The metro stations in Russia are all decorated in different styles and they are incredibly clean.  The London Underground is an absolute disgrace compared to the Russian's spotless and more efficient metro network.  I suddenly realised that I had arrived in Saint Petersburg the same time as everyone making their way to work.  I purposely chose this time as I could save money on a nights accommodation.  Was this a good idea?  Not sure.  The word courtesy is not synonymous with Russia.  In an ideal world there would be queues, people would allow others to leave the train before entering themselves, people would hold the door open for the person following them instead of letting it slam in your face, people would say "dobroye ootro" and "spasiba".  Despite the Russians trying to create the ideal society over the last two hundred years, I can honestly say that this is not it.

I was pushed and shoved, squeezed and squased for my entire journey of only four stops which seemed never ending until I finally arrived at Ploschad Vosstanyia where my hostel was just a short walk away.  I left the metro station the only way I could and walked out into the biting cold of Saint Petersburg, happy that my first ordeal of the metro was over.  Having seen the "how to get to the hostel" video and armed with my directions, I felt confident I knew my way, so I walked in the wrong direction for quite a long while until I decided to turn around and consult a map.  I found a map on a wall outside of the train station and quickly looked at it to find the road I needed and this time, walked in the right direction and I finally arrived at Soul Kitchen Hostel, warn out, hot and in desperate need for a shower.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

And in the beginning... Estonia, 14-19 November 2010

Hi all,

This is my first update since beginning my journey around the world.  I left a rather rainy England and headed for Estonia.  As soon as I stepped out of the car at Stansted Airport, I was complaining about the weight of my backpack, although I spent the previous two weeks unpacking and discarding non-essentials and repacking the bag again, it was still too heavy!  Once we had checked in for the only flight I will be taking until Singapore (hopefully further, but we'll see...), we were asked to check our baggage into the outsize desk because of the straps.   The official took an interest in my bag and asked me to leave all my belongings on me outside with Matt whilst I accompanied them in their office whilst they search me and my bag.  Matt was watching the proceedings from outside and he had to laugh when the gentleman  pulled out a tin containing an All Day Breakfast which my friend Mike Hearn gave me for my trip.  Perhaps that accounted for some of the weight in my bag, also the Smarties and mint imperials...

Tallinn, Estonia - 14 - 18 November 2010

Our flight went without delay or hitch and we landed in Tallinn within good time, got straight in a taxi and arrived at our hostel, The Flying Kiwi, from the outside it looks like a dark, dingy and run down building .  Both Matt and I did not share our first impressions and waited to see the inside before making any judgments.  We were greeted by Amanda, a Kiwi, who promptly checked us in and took us to the closest bar for our first Estonian beer along with a couple of awesome Aussie girls from Perth.  we shared a great many laughs and they even went through my bag to see if I could shed anymore items.  I got rid of a few things which took a little strain off my back and onto Matt's as he had to take it home with him.

Tallinn itself is a wonderful place, the hostel was situated within the old town close to all the treasures it has to hold.  I thought it was going to be deathly cold in Tallinn but it was actually not too bad at all.  Maybe it's down to the superb Berghaus coat I've got!  We spent a few days just wondering the town and going through any open door we could find.  This also meant we walked into and open casket funeral which felt extremely wrong, especially as they were still selling postcards during the ceremony!  It amazed me that there were still people selling goods to tourists despite the distinct lack of them around.  Nevertheless, we got some rather warm nuts from a beautiful Estonian lady and Matt minted his very own Estonian good luck coin.  But before I could finished asking the trader about missing tourists, a large group of camera wielding Japanese tourists came around the corner.  Oh how we laughed.  However, it wasn't just the tourists that were missing, there were no Estonians either! 

The next day we took a day trip to Helsinki, Finland.  The journey across the Baltic took us only a 1.5 hours.  The departure point was a strange place, we climbed several hundred steps over a huge piece of Soviet architecture that houses the Tallinna Linnahall, built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics to stage the sailing events, once we reached the top I had a sense of achievement much like climbing Snowdon! The crossing was a chance to catch up on some sleep which I had been needing.

The first thing that struck me about Helsinki was the cleanliness of the city.  There was absolutely no litter on the floor.  We walked round for the whole day walking in and out of buildings, sneaking past security guards to get into museums for free and visited the most amazing church.  We were actually purposely looking for this temple as we heard good things.  So we set off armed with a rather small map picked up at the port and searching the skyline for spires, we soon reached the spot on the map where it should have been but there were no spires or church like buildings anywhere just a pile of rocks.  It soon became apparent that the temple was actually below us!  The Temppeliaukio Church was built into the rock during the late 20th century and was decorated with a lots of copper.  The roof apparently contains over 20km of coiled copper.  We were also lucky enough to hear a singer and his accompanist practice so we could hear the superb acoustics the building offers.

The day was spent with two Italian girls whom we met in our hostel back in Tallinn.  They went to Helsinki for couple of days and were embarking on their first Couch Surfing experience, something which I have never done but would like to try out sometime on my trip.  Couch surfing offers free or incredibly cheap accommodation at a participants house or just the chance to meet a local.  I have heard from them and they have reported good things!

As Helsinki, alike to other Scandinavian countries, is extremely expensive we made sure we spent as little as possible and only eat one cheap burger whilst we were there and headed back to Tallinn where birthday celebrations for the hostel owner, Jenn, were underway.

That night, Jenn, Amanda and Jonny took us to a basement bar called Shimo which was really fun.  The best thing about it was that we didn't have to make any decisions on what drink to have as we just asked Matt the barman to give us a surprise, which he did every time.  I have absolutely no idea what we drank that night but they were all very good! 

Estonian Occupation Museum

Today, Estonia has population of just under 1.4m people which compared to Russia's 145m and Germany's 81m is incredibly small.  The same difference was felt in 1939 when the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression pact was signed in which Stalin agreed Russia would not enter into war against Nazi Germany should they invade Poland.  There was also a secret pact which divided up Poland and gave all of the Baltic states (Lithuana, Latvia, Estonia) to the Soviet Union.  Estonia had such a small population at the time that they new they had no chance fighting off the Soviets or Germans so it decided to declare a bloodless handover to the Soviet Union.  This agreement was supposed to last 10 years, but cracked in under 2 when Germany invaded the Soviet union on 22 June 1941 in a surprise attack.  This was when the Soviet Union entered World War II.

(C) Matthew Duncan 2010, Thank you!
During our time in Tallinn, we visited the Occupation Museum which documented the unfortunate situation Estonia was put in and the life of the population under each regime.  During 'The Red Year', Estonia was under Soviet rule as per the non-aggression pact and the handover of power from Tallinn to Moscow.  It soon became apparent that the Soviets were arresting, deporting and torturing any person that went against the government or done anything contrary to the laws.  This problem became so severe that when Germany attacked the Soviet Union in the surprise attack in 1941, the inhabitants of Estonia were happy to see them and felt as if they had been freed from a state of terror.  Unfortunately it was inevitable that the Nazi's dream of a perfect race would release a whole new style of terror to the peace hungry Estonians.

During the battles of 1944, The Soviet union returned with vengeance once again gained control of Estonia.  Estonia felt as if they had been finally freed and raised their national flag in celebration of independence.  However, this did not last long as the Soviet's Red Army arrived in Tallinn, took down the flag and replaced it with the red flag and declared Estonia was to be run by them from Moscow.  The next 50 years saw a continual fight for independence from USSR until finally the last of the red army withdrew during August 1994.

I found it horrific to think how powerless the Estonians must have felt during the changes in rulers.  To not be able to defend your own land and just give it to whoever wanted it must have been incredibly hard and if they refused they would have just been deported to Siberia or even tortured and killed.  Unfortunately we couldn't watch all of the documentaries showing in the museum as there were 6 of them and each lasting 30 minutes.

The First Snow

The first snow fell as Matt and I were sitting in a Taco Express restaurant at around 1am and continued to fall all night.  When we woke up, we were greeted by a fantastic snowy scene and it was still falling!  That was the day we were leaving Tallinn, Matt was going back to blighty and I was heading to Russia, so we didn't wanted it to fall too much.  They are extremely efficient clearing the  roads though so it wouldn't have made a difference anyway.

At 6pm Matt left the hostel in a taxi bound for the airport and that was when I was  officially left alone for my journey across the world.  My bus wasn't leaving Tallinn until midnight so I had arranged to go to the bar with Jenn, Amanda and Jonny from the hostel for one last drink before I left.  Unfortunately they had to wait for a couple of guest who were delayed 24 hours at Stansted due to their flight being cancelled.  They finally arrived around 10.30pm and we got to the bar around 11pm, just enough time for one quick bottle of Alexandra and get a taxi to the bus station.

I always get a little concerned when the taxi driver doesn't speak English and there are more than 1 bus station in the city as you never know if you will be dropped off at the right one.  Luckily he did understand me persistently repeating "international bus station" and "Saint Peterburi" and I arrived with plenty of time to spare.

Boarding the bus it quickly became apparent that I was the only English speaker on there and no one else could understand or speak it.  I had a piece of paper thrust into my face by the Russian driver, which turned out to be the migration card you need to fill in before you enter Russia.  I filled it in, sat back and relaxed whilst the bus cut its way through the North East of Estonia heading to the Russian border, getting woken up by the stench of a cigarette being smoked on the coach.  Some things you just don't like and the smell of cigarette smoke is one... but I'm with Russians, they do as they please!

We arrived at the border around 3am and a Russian border official boarded the bus and took our passports from us and promptly returned to her small booth.  I could see her through the window as she took around 30 minutes to inspect each passport carefully and check the visa.  I spotted mine as it stuck out like a sore thumb between the other Russian ones.  I got a little concerned as she seemed to take a particular interest in mine.  But she soon arrived back on the bus with our passports.  I searched eagerly through mine hoping to get a glimpse of my first stamp, however, there wasn't one and i began to worry that I hadn't got an entrance stamp which would cause severe issues later down the road with visa registration and exiting the country.  The gates opened and we drove on another 200 metres before we stopped again.

I felt helpless as nobody on the bus spoke English and the driver barked orders at us in Russian over the tannoy.  Suddenly everyone on the bus got up, left the bus, collected their baggage and walked into a dark, dingy building.  All I could do was follow them blindly and hop for the best.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered this was passport control and the first lady was a preemptive check.  I got  my stamp and walked casually over the border with my bag in one hand and my passport in the other.  I still didn't understand anything but I knew one thing for sure...  I was in the Russian Federation!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Under 2 Weeks Until Departure

Hi all,

It's been a few weeks since I updated you on the progress of my trip.  I have got some good news and not so good news.

I'll begin with the 'not so good' news.  Due to financial and time constraints I have had to go against my rule of no flying.  I looked into several different ways of getting to St Petersburg by land and sea but it either cost a lot of took too long.  One of my favoured routes was to get a ferry from Harwich to Hoek of Holand and then train to Rostock, Germany where I'd get a ferry to Helsinki, Finland where I could get a train to St Petersburg.  However, I have got a visa for Russia which runs from 14 November to 13 December and the dates are not flexible at all.  So to make the most of the time in Russia I would have had to leave straight after finishing work, which would not be practical.  Therefore, I have decided to fly out to Tallinn, Estonia.  This way I have cut out most of Europe which I have visited before anyway, with exception to Latvia and Lithuania.  It makes me feel better when I think, I've been on a bus to Warsaw from London anyway so, I've done most of the journey already!

The good news is...  I have now completed my course of vaccinations and have finished work. 

The Scheduled Journey So Far...

  • 14 Nov 10 - Flight from London Stansted to Tallinn, Estonia, 4 nights here along with Matt Duncan
  • Overnight bus to St Petersburg, 5 days in Peter
  • Overnight train to Moscow, 5 days in Moscow
  • Train to Yekaterinburg, 3 days in Yekaterinburg
  • Train to Irkutsk, 2 days in Irkutsk
  • Hopefully spend a day at Listvyanka by Lake Baikal 
  • Possibly travel on the Circum-Baikal Railway, but this will be decided when I am in Irkutsk.
  • Train to UlaanBaator, Mongolia, before 12 December where I will stay for a week before heading to Beijing.
The World's Highest Railway

 The world's highest railway runs between Beijing to Lhasa in Tibet and reaches 16,000 feet (5,072 Meters).   I want to undertake this journey via Xi'an.  My other decision to make is whether to continue on into Nepal or go to Hong Kong.  As I have a double entry visa, I can only leave China once, so I am going to have to decide where I'd rather go. 

More details on this journey can be found here.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese new year will be celebrated on 3 February 2011 and I would like to be there for this if I could, but where?  Another decision I will have to make.  I can stay in China for 2 x 30 days so if I planned it right I could do it.  The reason why I was going to head into Honk Kong was to get a Vietnamese Visa, but this can be done elsewhere in China.  At the moment I am happy with my initial plans as Russia is the most expensive part of the first leg and had the strictest visa control.

Ciao for now people!

Oktoberfest - Heaven on Earth & Mark's Stag Do.

First day and first stein of the festival
The best way to describe Oktoberfest is 'Heaven on Earth' and that is an understatement.  What more can a man ask for other than beer, meat and very lovely ladies.  It's very hard to describe the world's biggest beer festival, it's just so good.  The atmosphere is second to none.  Everyone is out there having an absolutely amazing time, enjoying the beer, music and meat.  I would implore everyone to go at least once in their lives.  Oh the chicken, how good was the chicken!?!  It was the best piece of succulent chicken I have ever had. 

The festival ground itself is massive.  You can't believe they take it all down after the festival and put it up again next year. 

Our trip there was long and was not helped by a Kiwi who was not relenting to shout Pingu every 10 seconds when people were trying to get some sleep, however the 20 hour bus journey was definitely worth it.  We camped around 10 minutes outside of Munich and there were bus shuttles going to and from the grounds all day.  The campsite itself was just a sea of tents with thousands of Kiwis and Aussies, beer was served all day either from the shop or the beer dispensing machine.  Which meant the grounds turned into another smaller festival at night.  I honestly don't think we ever went 10 minutes without a beer in our hands!

On one of the days we went for a bit of respite from the festival and visited Dachau concentration camp and Andechs monastery.   Dachau was the first concentration camp to be built by the Nazis when they got into power.  It was home to hundreds of political prisoners who the Nazis believe were against their cause.  The camp was a sobering experience for everyone and it is important to remember what happened during the reign of the Third Reich.  It's very concerning that the circumstances that brought about the rise of Nazism is reflective of what is happening today, for instance, high unemployment, high immigration, a country in recession.  This is why parties like the British National Party concern me.  The displays at Dachau inform you how Hitler was initially ridiculed and imprisoned for his attempt to forcefully gain power and then how support for him grew rapidly after his release and release of his book Mien Kampf.  It astonished me how a country such as the Weimar Republic could change so radically and so quickly into Nazi Germany.

Andechs Monastery was a wonderful place to visit and drink.  Sitting on the top of a hill looking out on the rolling Bavarian landscape, it's brewery has been brewing beer since the 15th century and I can confidently say it was beautiful. They offer three varieties of beer, Dunkel (dark), Weiss (Wheat), and Helles (Light).  Of course we tried all three once and then the Helles and Dunkel again to conclude which beer was the best.  My favourite was the Dunkel by far. 

Andechs was certainly worth a visit and was a highlight to the trip.  That night I discovered my limit to beer consumption.  I did not feel unwell but I literally couldn't consume anymore, my stomach was full of the beautiful stuff.  It's true what they say, this beer does not give you a hangover.  The main reason for this is Reinheitsgebot or 'Purity Order', which restricts breweries to use only the main ingredients of hops, yeast, barley and water.  This makes the beer absolutely incredible and easy to drink.  Since being back, I clearly taste the difference Bavarian beer and British larger, the British larger is full of the nasty stuff like preservatives which gives you the hangover.

Our last day was spent going on the fairground rides and having our last drinks.  On the first night Mark, Duncan and I went on the most amazing ride whilst drunk... A-MAZ_ING.  Walking into a beer tent and ordering our first drink of the day, watching the ladies go by and listening to the band, we were completely unaware of what we had walked into...  We were politely informed by a merchandise salesman that in that tent, on that day, it's gay day.  Our eyes were opened and the filter which makes our brains only recognise females was lifted and it was so obvious!!

We left there after we finished our beer and went on a revolving bar to enjoy a weiss beer whilst watching the world going round and then returned to the Lowenbrau tent where we started to gobble down our last taste of heaven before our return to England. 

What a fantastic place and a brilliant experience.  Words cannot do justice to how good it is, so I'm not going to bother to write anymore....

If you'd like to see more photos, click here.