Tuesday, January 30, 2007


So we finally arrived in Mongolia today, after four days on the Trans-Siberian. To our surprise, it wasn't really the scenery that was the highlight of our trip. This can partly be blamed on the dirty windows of the train, which we tried multiple times to clean, with little success. The highlight was really the interesting characters we met on the train.

Our first night, we shared a place with Andrej and Oxana (I think that's spelled wrong) from Kirov. After we were settled in, they started bringing out all sorts of food and really treated us. We had biscuits, bread and caviar (which I really didn't like, a bit too salty.) Afterwards they tried for hours to teach us some Russian, which was somewhat successful but I don't think I retained much. At about 1:00AM we were getting really tired but Andrej kept going. He was really adament that we learn some Russian. Eventually they gathered from our yawning that we wanted to sleep a little. Andrej got up at once and started making our beds for us! He went on about how he was in the army and that he knew how to really make a bed well. We slept well that night, despite the intense heat of the cabin. I thought the carriages were going to be cold but they were really hot.

If my memory serves me right, it was the second night that we met our most-awesome Scandanavian friends. Johanna is from Finland and Kristin is from Sweden. We hung out with them pretty much the whole day, if I remember correctly. I read a bit of my Brothers Karamazov, but not much. We had a warm beer in the restaurant car, and were forced to pay for pistacios we didn't want.

It was the third day that we met Sergei. However, we first met grumpy Dmitry. He barged into our room at 10:00AM at one of the stops and demanded the bottom bunk that Austin was sleeping on. Because he did have that on his ticket he was able to get it. We learned later that he was only on for a couple hours, so he was just being a big baby. He was really unfriendly, but later warmed up just a little. He even gave us some old Soviet money. We said goodbye to him and hello to Irina. I don't recall what stop we picked her up at but she was on her way to a small town in northern Russia to visit her daughter. She was really sweet and even left us some chocolates the next morning! Anyway, Sergei was a really cool guy. At 16 years old, he seems to me to be a genius of some sort. He is studying physics at Novosibirsk University and was on his way to visit his parents in Ulan-Ude. He tried at one point to explain some time travel concepts, the topic generally not for beginner English speakers and did an alright job. You could tell his brain was moving very fast but he was unable to get everything out at once. We kept the piece of paper he wrote some formulas on because we are fairly sure it will be worth millions one day.

The fourth day was as well interesting. We had some New Zealanders on board and talked to them about all sorts of things. They had started their travels in Finland and were going to Asia and then to South America and on and on.

This morning we arrived in Ulaanbaatar and were greeted by Idre from Idre's Guesthouse, where rooms go for about $5.00. The service is probably much more than what you could normally get for $50. The coolest thing is that we're basically staying in their home. So as we are walking around, Idra's little son is running around and his daughters are singing and laughing. It's a really neat environment. The city itself is quite impressive too. We met up with Lawrence and Susan Savage, who are working as missionaries in Mongolia. After being treated to tea and cookies, we drove around town (driving is insane) and saw some Ger towns and a large Soviet Monument which looks over the city.

Tomorrow we are going out of town to do some horse-back riding and such in the national park nearby. It should be quite fun. I would fully recommend staying at Idre's when you go there for the obvious reason of a nice place to stay, but also because he can organize tours very, very inexpensively. Tomorrow's tour, which includes horse-back riding, hiking, gas (it's 70km from UB) and a driver, only costs about $20 each.

Thanks again for reading,

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Hey everyone,

I have responded to the comments on the last three posts, so be sure to check that. Sorry for not having time to post in the last couple days. We have had trouble finding internet.

Leaving St. Petersburg was quite tough as we had really gotten close with Marina and her family. They took such great care of us and it was an incredible experience. On the last night they told us all about Russian history and places to see, as well as the history of their family. Marina's grandmother showed us old photos of her relatives and an old sketch of a soldier that was her father (I presume). Afterwards we showed them photos of Calgary and Banff and so forth. It didn't make me feel homesick, but rather made me really happy to be from Canada, and I think it renewed in me a desire to explore my own country. Hopefully this lasts and I will be able to travel a bit more around Canada. We will definately be keeping in contact with them and when they come to Canada, we can return the favour.

We left Piter (St. Petersburg, as it is called by the locals) on the night of the 22nd and arrived in Moscow on the 23rd at 10:00 AM. Austin didn't have much luck sleeping but I slept quite well. I think I got about 6 or 7 hours. We took the cheap train which is called the hard-sleeper. I'm sure many of you know what this is all about, but this trip is my first experience with trains. Hard sleepers are slightly padded, but not very well. If I slept this well on the hard-sleeper, I am confident I will sleep quite well on the soft-sleeper of the Trans-Siberian train.

When we entered Moscow we were met by Alexander, a friend of Austin's mom, Lori. He first took us to our host's place which was actually quite easy to get to. The Moscow underground, once you get a bit accustomed to the Cyrillic alphabet, isn't too difficult to navigate. The St. Petersburg underground was much, much busier because it's not quite as extensive. Our SERVAS hosts are a lovely couple by the name of Leonid and Valentina. When we arrived we were greeted with a hot cup of tea and sandwiches. Valentina is a geologist and Leonid is a biologist. They had been on many expeditions to remote places of the earth and so we talked about these adventures of theirs.

We met up again with Alexander and visited Moscow State University as well as Red Square. Getting to Moscow State University was interesting and we got somewhat lost. On the other side of the Moscow River there is a large hill and we climbed up that. We stumbled across what looked like a ski hill at one point...Red Square was also quite impressive, but like everything, is much smaller than you would think. The Lenin Mausoleum was closed that day so we decided to return the next day. Afterwards we said our goodbyes to Alexander and went back to the home of our hosts. We had a delcious dinner and talked about Russia and Canada and other topics.

The second day we decided to get our tickets for the train. It was an interesting experience in that it was the first time in a long time that my French actually came in handy. We found the office of the ticket agency but couldn't get inside. There was a big metal door with a number-lock (not sure the correct name). We went into the grocery store next door and asked if anyone spoke English. Nobody did, and we couldn't understand what they were saying to us in Russian. Finally, a young Russian guy came in and could speak a little English. He said something about pressing 2 on the lock on the door. Austin and I proceeded to thank them and walked out and back to the ticket agency. We pressed 2 and someone said hello. We said that we didn't speak Russian and tried saying "Bilet" which means ticket in Russian. Finally, she asked, "Parlez-vous Francais?" Relieved, I asked her where I could pick up my tickets and she let us in. It turned out she wasn't actually the ticket agency, but was the neighbour, so she knocked on the next door and there, finally, was the ticket agency. Afterwards we went and visited the Lenin Mausoleum which was interesting.

Anyway, I am running out of time and will post later. We are going on the train tonight at 23:00 and should be in Mongolia in about 5 days. Talk to you then!


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Just when you thought I couldn't get any cheaper...

Here are some photos:
The first is a Lada, which is a Russian car th at I'd never seen before but heard about on the Simpsons. The second is of the church called: Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. It was named this way because on the place where it was subsequently built, Alexander II was mortally wounded there in 1881. The third photo (of terrible quality) is of the main square in St. Petersburg where the Hermitage is located. The fourth photo is our train compartment on the way to St. Petersburg from Riga. The last photo is the spot where Roskolnikov, a character in Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", lived.

Here are some tips I have learned from my time in St. Petersburg.

1: The free morning breakfast should definitely be taken advantage of. If you eat as much as you can in the morning, you can skip lunch without too much trouble. This saves you many rubles!

2: Spam isn't that bad. There is Spam served with breakfast here as well as some Russian cheese spread. Due to my inherent Dutch nature, I was unable to see free food and not take full advantage of it, so I made two Spam and Cheese sandwiches and stuffed them into my pockets in a bag for dinner!

3: Bring a student card or some type of ID! We have saved ourselves many rubles by pretending our Driver's License is a student card. The Hermitage was free. St. Isaac's was half-price.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Good Morning From St. Petersburg

Well, we finally made it to Mother Russia and it has been quite spectacular. Right when we got to the station, our friend Marina whom we met through SERVAS was waiting for us. This was a great surprise because I had emailed her the day before with the time that we would be coming in but she didnèt (the keyboard here is messed up) email back so I figured we would be walking to our hostel, which wasnèt terribly far. However, after seeing how crazy the metro was, I am glad she was there. She was accompanied by her friend and I feel terrible because I still canèt figure out how to say his name. He is a really cool guy and told me a hilarious math joke. How do you find Lenin Square. (Again, keyboard messed up, no question marks.) You multiply the height by the length! Hahaha, I thought it was pretty good. They took us all around Nevsky Prospekt and by the Neva River and by the Hermitage Museum, from which our hostel is basically one minute away.

The highlight of my day was when Marina showed us the places where Dostoevsky lived and where his characters are thought to have lived, or rather, where Dostoevksy imagined them to live. We first went to Alyona Ivanovnas supposed home, the area being a little sketchy. Marina did not feel bothered at all so we followed suite. Then, we walked the 730 steps from her place, where he murdered Alyona, to Sonyas flat, and then back to Raskolnikovs flat. I will hopefully post some photos tonight of these areas.

This morning we are going to meet Marina at the Hermitage Museum!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Riga Day 1

Hey everyone,

We got on a bus this morning at 10:00 and arrived in Riga at 3:00 PM. It was a great bus ride and the sun showed up for a great deal of it, which is nice. We met a really cool German guy by the name of Markus, with whom we talked for almost the entire 5 hour bus ride. We talked about politics, Canada, Germany, the Nazis, and David Beckham's recent move to LA.

I had read about Friendly Fun Frank's Hostel in Riga, which was voted on Hostelworld.com as the best hostel in Europe. We trekked up and down the street it was supposed to be on and couldn't find it. We finally got to the correct number and there was no sign. We walked in the door and an unfriendly security guard told us to go around the other side of the building. I was beginning to question the quality of this hostel. We walked around the back of the building and saw the door. We rang the doorbell and a voice from the intercom asked why we were here. We proceeded to tell them we required a place to sleep. They let us in and we walked up two flights of extremely steep stairs. There was a second security door which we had to be buzzed into. When we got to the top the lady at the desk was smiling and we felt a little better. We talked to her about our bookings and such, and then she said to sit down and she would bring us a beer on the house. We walked into the lounge and sat down, and had a lovely Aldaris beer with our new German friend.

After this, we went to the Latvian National Opera house and watched a ballet rendition of Cinderella. In short, it was a very different from the story from what I'm used to. It took place in a brothel for starters and was quite strange. It being my first ballet, I really enjoyed the movements of the dancers. It was quite remarkable.

After that we had a coffee at a Cuban themed cafe and headed back to our hostel. Our locker, which was opened fine before we left, decided not to work, so for tonight we cannot get out our stuff. To the credit of the hostel, the girls tried for at least a half hour to get it open. They really are dedicated to the service here at Friendly Franks. Tomorrow they will get someone to break it open for us or a locksmith or something.

Tomorrow we explore Riga...


Saturday, January 13, 2007


Check out this link to see some videos I've made. The link will be on the left side of the page under LinkLand.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Some photos....

Here are some photos of Warsaw. The first one is the photo of a bus in downtown, which I thought was quite humorous. The second one is of Shooshoo in front of Stalin's gift to Warsaw, the Palac Kultura (Culture Palace.) The third is of our gracious and most awesome hosts, Andrzej and Ana, with Shooshoo of course. The fourth is of the old town of Warsaw, that was restored after WW2. The fifth one is really for Julie, because I know she will crack up when she sees it. It's a statue in Wilanow, a place in the south of Warsaw with castles and gardens and such.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Some important information

Dear all,
There are two important notices here:

1. Again, thank you for all the comments. They are fun to read and I look forward to them every day. I usually respond to your comments, so be sure to check back to see what I've written to you!

2. I have been informed that some people are unaware of how to comment. You'd think they'd make it straight-forward, but it's not. Therefore, I will show you how it's done.

-At the bottom of the blog entry, it will say "Posted by Will at 2:59 AM X comments," X being any number. Click on the "X Comments" part.

-On the right side it will say "Leave your comment." Inside the box type your message.

-At the bottom there will be funny looking letters, type those into the box below it.

-Also, click on the Other button. Then, put in your name.

-From there you just click "Publish your comment."

Hopefully that helps. If it's unclear, send me an email at wvanengen@gmail.com

Hope to hear from you,
Will :)

Warsaw Day 3 and 4

The last two days have been excellent. On Tuesday we went to a place called Wilanow. It's a park in the very south of Warsaw with some very old castles. It would probably be much more beautiful during summer but during winter it had an interesting feel to it. The bus ride there was fairly long but quite interesting. On the way back there were some very drunk men on the bus. I took a sound recording with my camera which I hope to post somehow. We got Andrzej and Ana to take a listen to it. I guess the guy was talking about some beautiful teacher with long brown hair he had once.

Yesterday, we explored the museum of the Rising. In August 1944, after many years of Nazi control, the citizens of Warsaw staged an uprising, which was quite successful considering the odds against them. It lasted only 63 days but they had large parts of Warsaw under control and even instituted their own government again. The USSR could have helped them but didn't, because they eventually wanted to take it over themselves, and such a group of young, well-trained insurgents might have been troublesome for the Stalinist regime to come. The people of Poland really had it bad in the 20th century. They finally get independence in 1918 and then in 1939 they are brutally oppressed by the Nazis, and then they get "liberated" by the Soviet Union.

After the museum, Austin and I began preparing a Mexican feast for Andrzej and Ana. It was comprised of beans, beef, home-made salsa and tortillas.


Monday, January 8, 2007

Warsaw Day 2

Hey everyone,
The sun finally made an appearance today. If you haven't read my dad's comment, he had mentioned that he would order some sun but figured it would take too long to ship here. He was evidently wrong. It was an absolutely incredible experience. It really did lift our spirits. It also seemed that we saw many more smiling people around town than we did yesterday. I think sunshine makes everyone happier. There was a story I was once told about a town in Austria that set up computer timed mirrors to reflect light into their city during winter to combat seasonal depressions. I thought it was maybe made-up, but here is an article on it.


We visited the old town of Warsaw, which I guess was rebuilt after WW2. Pretty much everything had to be rebuilt after the way. It is still a very nice part of town. The metro here is actually quite great too. We have a train close to Andrew and Ana's flat which takes us right into "Centrum," the center of the city. We met some interesting people today, including a British girl who was sitting off the to the side of the street in old town doing some sketches. She was really quite good.


Sunday, January 7, 2007


Hey all,
We got up early today and took the 8AM train to Warsaw from Krakow. It took about 2 and a half hours but was good for getting a little rest. Warsaw, at the moment, is rather grim and grey and raining. Our host, however, is in complete contrast. Andrew met us at the station with his "Canadian...Eh?" t-shirt and a big grin. He is one of the nicest and most hospitable people we have met so far. He prompty got us a metro pass, which was awesome, so we can get around Warsaw (pronounced War-SHAW-VAW in Polish). He then took us to his awesome apartment and fed us an excellent rice/chicken meal. It turns out he spent a year in Argentina and speaks fluent Spanish so we chatted it up. I feel bad now because I think Austin felt pretty left out. Andrew's wife is due to come back from her post-grad exam tonight. Her name is Ana or Anna, I'm not sure how it is spelled. Tomorrow we plan to venture into the rain to see Warsaw. There is an interesting place built by Stalin called the Cultural Palace, which should be interesting. Also there is a Museum dedicated to a Polish Uprising of some sort. We shall find out tomorrow. Until then, keep commenting!


Friday, January 5, 2007


Hey everyone,

Thanks again for all the posts. We have just arrived in Krakow, and it is raining miserably. We will probably be heading out to check out the town and hopefully get some good exploring done! Hopefully, but not for sure, I may have some photos up tomorrow. From now on I am going to put the majority of the photos on Flickr because the Blogger interface isn't super great.

Oh I almost forgot, don't be fooled by RyanAir. It is not as marvellous as people deem it. The prices were good and it was worth it, but by a small margin. A $5 flight turned out to be 50 with all the taxes and everything. Still, that's not a bad deal. However, you have to take early flights in the morning, which means sleeping in an airport where it is tough to sleep. Also, instead of having assigned seating, it's first-come-first-served, which was like herding cattle into a pen. It was ridiculous. Still, pretty cheap and the interior isn't horrible. No leg room, but that's okay for two hour flight.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Finally, some time to blog...

Hello all,
Thanks for all the comments! I was surprised that there were so many! I am finally able to sit down and write some stuff down. We are currently in West Sussex at a beautiful country home, in which live excellent country people. They have been extremely hospitable to us! Tonight we went out for Indian food and then for a pint at the local pub. It was quite a nice experience. I had a Sussex Bitter beer. It was my first bitter, and it was great!

We got into London on the 1st of January and went straight to the flat in East Dulwich. On the way there we passed a Millwall football stadium and saw that a game was about to begin. Austin mentioned that Chuck, our good friend and wise mentor, had advised him to check out one of said team's games. They are well-known for their drunken roving mobs. Apparently, people have been killed at these games over sport. Anyway, we got to the flat and met with Naomi and Pete, our London friends. We asked Pete about the game and he said it was about half-over.

We booked it to the train station, got off at the stadium and managed to get in half-price. We picked our spot and started watching the game. (Check Austin's blog for photos.) I really wish I had brought my camera because you can record sound on it, and that's what I will always remember. If you know the movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, there is a large henchman for Harry. I forget his name in the movie, but he ends up with an axe in his back. Anyway, this guy has a particular accent and manner of speach which is exactly what the guy behind us at the game sounded like. There were obscenities I hadn't even heard of before or thought were commonly used, especially around the young kids at the game. Anyway, it was a hoot and a half and Millwall won, thankfully.

The next day we did the usual tour of London: Big Ben, Westminster Chapel, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar, etc. It was pretty fun. Tomorrow will be extra fun because I am meeting up with Alyssa, whom I haven't seen for a year almost! T'will be fun!

P.S. Check out the Flickr link on the side for more photos!

Monday, January 1, 2007

quick entry

I must type quick for my time is almost up. We went to a football match here. It was awesome. Check for photos coming soon!