Port Baikal to Irkutsk

After very little sleep due to train noise and thinking about losing my brain function, we ate our dehydrated noodle breakfast and waited until it was time to leave the rent-by-the-hour room. (I wasn’t aware it was RBTH, I felt dirty once I found out!)

Onto the little boat to take us to the other side of the mouth.

Lush to watch the sun come up over the mountains while on a boat coursing through icy waters.

A whirlwind visit to Irkutsk, as no sooner had we arrived by bus it was time to catch the train back to Baikalsk. Innokentiy showed me a cafe next door to the train station which was very elaborate for a cafe.

Slow train back to Baikalsk and fly back to Saint Petersburg.

Flying over the lake can see it’s now starting to melt.

And back in Saint Petersburg to enjoy my last few days with Oksana.


Moscow day two

Went back into the city and visited Gorky Park. A giant area to escape the city. Over winter becomes a giant ice rink. And now, in spring, roller skaters everywhere, walkers, dogs, kids climbing up bridges.

The sweetness of doing nothing. Just enjoying being, walking, people watching. No pressure, just taking it all in.

I realised there was a Couchsurfing English language group meeting that afternoon, so I messaged them to join them.

There were a few characters there, and a very handsome Russian, who I obviously was not paired with. Gutted.

Instead I had to experience language learning like speed dating with one guy who had no hobbies, just work, and then refused to talk about his work, and another guy who looked like Ron Jeremy, but was more interesting and even gave me ideas of where to travel to next!

It was exhausting! And it’s my first language! Crazy!

I made my way back to where I was staying via the metro, where, let’s face it, they put our little London Underground to shame. Chandeliers, mosaics, statues. It’s all going on underground here!

Some of these are Saint Petersburg, just thought I’d include it all in one place!

Spring is springing!

Once the snow melts and the sun starts to show its face, the Russians arrange a picnic and BBQ to celebrate.

This was a lot of fun, and something you wouldn’t get from staying in a hotel or hostel!

Met up with Oksana’s friends, and head into the woods for the best spot to picnic.

The boys hard at work doing man-fire-cooking. While we enjoy the sun!

The boys had done a good job! So much food! They made shashlik

This was a great send off as it was my last day in Saint Petersburg, I was off to Moscow that night on the sleeper train!

When I woke up, I was in Moscow. Convenient, although not the best sleep as you can imagine!

Alexandra, who was going to host me, met me straight off the train.

It was still early in the day so once I’d freshened up and unpacked we went on a whirlwind tour of the city.

Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, which meant the whole world and it’s dog was out, but that didn’t stop the thrill as we approached St Basils!

I was so excited to see this church, ever since I can remember, and have a picture of it in my bucket list book! So that can now be ticked off!

Look at that smile!

I may have got a little carried away and taken photos from every angle!

And sketched it…

Reluctantly moving on, we walked past a film set, for a film we will probably never get to see in the uk.

Over the bridge to the ‘island’.

I can’t get over how hot it is here. I packed layers of clothes and bobble hats and it’s like 18 degrees out!

Saw the Kremlin from the outside.

Alexandra and her husband Andrej took me to a Russian Soviet restaurant. Which was basically like stepping back in time to the 80’s.

I’m getting a bit obsessed with Piroshki, filled buns, the meat ones taste like corned beef pasties!

After the attempted sleep on the train and a day of sight seeing, I was ready for bed!

What people call ‘transformation’

I’ve been there, scrolling through my Instagram or twitter or whatever social media platform, seeing people’s ‘before’ and ‘after’ pix, thinking ‘yeah, great, THEY can do it.’

These pictures never inspired me because they seemed so false.

It was just a picture.

The ‘before’ picture doesn’t explain how unhappy that person was with their appearance, what triggered them to make a change, what changes they made that weren’t some miracle, quick-fix, idiotic diet, or even how they got to that point in the first place.

Just as the ‘after’ pic doesn’t say what hell they went through to get to that point, how long it actually took, how many days where they thought they wouldn’t see their end goal, how many social events they had to turn down because they were sick of explaining to people that they don’t drink, don’t eat certain foods, have to be up early because they are dedicated to another plan.

Another term we all hear is ‘Mind over matter’, again, no one really takes the time to explain all this. Something has to spark off in the mind to make you want to completely overhaul your way of living to make a huge physical change.

So, for me, I had been comfort eating since Mom was diagnosed. I was exhausted from working full time, caring part time and living with an inept partner who wouldn’t think to prepare a meal for his burnt out, drained girlfriend.

It was an agonisingly slow process, from having to sever the relationship, which took months of back and forth. Repairing family relationships. Taking a step back and seeing that I was being guilted into staying in my job when I knew my family was infinitely more important.

Having to learn to take time out for myself, with all the running around making sure everyone else was taken care of, I neglected myself in so many ways.

These were just the first steps, and these took months. While all this was going on I was always cooking healthy food for Mom. Researching and inventing new recipes to make boring food interesting for her. I just forgot to make stuff for myself! Which lead to quick to cook foods, pastas, breads, potatoes. Fast food, always labelling it as a treat and wouldn’t do it again. I stopped going to dance classes, I stopped going to the gym because I wasn’t feeling it anymore, and so the spiral downwards began-where you eat to feel good, then you feel crap once the sugar high stops so you eat more and so on…

Once Mom was gone, I thought I was taking control by enrolling into a fat camp in Ibiza. Although it was a good experience, and I learnt that my body was a lot more resilient than my mind told me, it wasn’t a long term help.

Eating 1000 calories and exercises for 5 hours a day isn’t maintainable in the ‘real world’.

The weight went back on.

I buggered off to China. I felt massive! I went traveling, this helped me lose a bit, mainly through all the walking and sight seeing and attempting to make healthy choices which were generally cheaper!

Back in the UK, I joined some kickboxing classes and eventually found some confidence again, I made the decision (just in time) to hire a personal trainer.

I had always put off hiring a personal trainer on the basis that I’m not an idiot, I know what food is good and what is bad and that exercise is imperative.

But without a plan or someone to answer to, I was my own worst enemy.

Cain of GB Fitness required me to complete a questionnaire about basically everything!

He designed a meal plan and several exercise plans for me.

Just after the first meeting I felt hope.

Someone believed in me.

Yes, I paid him, but it’s also in his best interest for his business and his reputation that I succeed.

So I am now beginning to see the pain and glory behind those many ‘before and after’ pictures.

I am learning all the time while I change my lifestyle-and that is the key-it’s a lifestyle change. No quick fix, no fluctuating weight, just bloody hard work, food prepping all the damn time to make sure you don’t slip. Watching as your friends order three course meals while you try and inconspicuously eat your chicken and veg out of a Tupperware and hope you don’t get kicked out of the pub! Drinking water, lemon water, green tea, when sometimes you just want a full fat coke!

2014 is when I started piling on the weight, we are nearing the end of 2017 and I’m still not where I want to be physically, but I’m definitely where I want to be mentally.

And for me, that was about 90% of the battle. Getting my mind to believe I could achieve this goal!

And even though I’m not looking how I want to, I will share my progress photo.

I want to re-iterate, this is a BEFORE and CURRENT PROGRESS pic. This is a long-haul journey, no bullsh*t, just actual commitment to a plan.

I’m not putting this out here as a sob-story, I’m hoping readers can relate. You are not alone. There is always someone going through something similar. And you will come out the other side if you choose to.

The city that never sleeps

The city might not sleep, but we did after finally arriving after 1am to Broadway Hotel and Hostel.

First day of finding our feet around New York City. One of those places you don’t have to go far before you see something you recognise.

Finally made it through Central Park after getting sidetracked by the vista of the southern skyline.

Had to have a pretzel!
Arrived off the subway into the downtown area to be greeted by very amiable ticket touts trying to sell boat trips to see the Statue of Liberty. Having done my research regarding the sightseeing, I knew Staten Island ferry was free and had views of the French icon.

She seemed a lot smaller than I expected, but then we weren’t up close.

The New York City skyline from the Staten Island ferry.
Quick turnaround at Staten Island, getting off the boat to queue up to then get back on the same boat to head back to the city. We would have explored Staten Island but there was nothing of real interest there, that we knew of.

Downtown is packed full of sights, we walked through the financial district, Wall Street to get to ground zero and the new One World Trade Centre.
The icon of the financial district is the big bronze bull. It drew a large crowd of people wanting to touch it. Maybe it’s considering financially lucky? 

Now the tallest building in New York as far as I have seen so far, the One World Trade Centre that now stands over the Ground Zero pools.
Felt a bit bad smiling for selfies for these considering what they represent.

Was early afternoon and we hadn’t stopped to eat (apart from the pretzel, but that doesn’t count!)
We re-fuelled and then found a Welsh link.
The white horse tavern. The pub that the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas apparently drank in when he visited New York.

Doesn’t surprise me, he was fond of a drink! 

Beautiful Bali

Started the day with super healthy breakfast at the cafe on the corner by the villa, Remix & co.

Took a dicey motorcycle ride with Laura to the ATM. (The roads were dicey, not Laura’s driving.) Today is the day before Nyepi, or silence day. 

This evening will be a huge festival and procession where they burn effigies of the evil spirits, Ogoh Ogoh. 

Tomorrow, silence day is basically Bali on lock down. No one is allowed out of their homes, no entertainment, no noise, no lights on, no working, and no pleasure. 

So we have to stock up on food and snacks or it will be a fasting day for us!
Once we had done all the boring shopping we hired a driver to take us to to the temple in Tabanan.

You can wade through the water to this temple, have a wash in the holy water while a snake looks on, then the monks place some rice on your third eye and a flower in your hair.

On our drive home we passed a few of the Ogoh Ogoh models that will be burned later.

Messed around in the pool for a hour or so before it was time to get ready for the festival.

Leaving gifts for the gods.

We waited for darkness to fall and the procession of the demons began. 

After all this excitement it’s now time to batten down the hatches and prepare to be silent for silent day. Ha! 

Desired chill out day

After all the temple walking I was ready for a day of doing very little, maybe sit in a cafe and watch the world go by and possibly a massage…
Miles is staying at a 5 star hotel with his family, which has a pool. So a day chilling by the pool would be perfect. 

This was nice while it lasted. Or at least until Miles got bored of sitting around!

We hired a tuk tuk just to take us to town for some lunch, the driver offered to take us to see the sights and said he would wait for us while we have our lunch.
I had suggested the Cambodian BBQ place as it sounded a bit different. 

You have a big metal cooker put on the table with a load of vegetables and some pork fat.

They pour in stock and butter and you have a selection of meats to cook on the dome.

We had all the usuals, chicken, beef, pork. Then some unusuals, crocodile, shark, and swordfish.

It was pretty good, but there’s something about eating bitty food, doesn’t quite do it for me. 
This particular restaurant is on Pub Street, where various beggars come to you at your table while you are trying to eat. This doesn’t make for the best dining experience.
Once we’d settled the bill, which took longer than needed as none of our twenties were good enough, (establishments won’t take your notes if it’s crumbled or torn or written on, which is crazy. It’s money) we went back to our tuk tuk driver and he took us to the war museum, which personally I had no intention of visiting, but it was pretty enjoyable. Mainly by the big kid Miles playing with all the guns and even suggesting I pose with some artillery. 

Yeh, I felt stupid. But it lightened the mood a little, some of the info at this museum is really dark. Like most of the equipment was tiny, because it was built for children to operate. There were photos of children in full war gear. And the free museum guides were war veterans. Just a bit disturbing.
We were taken to the Killing Fields next, again, a place I wouldn’t really want to visit as although it’s an important part of the history of this country, I don’t like the horror of it.
They have built a stupa which contains the skulls and bones they have found so far from the mass genocide.

When we walked around, there were Buddhist monks living in the area. It seemed to be washing day as there were a lot of orange sheets on the washing lines.

I was done with history after all this. It makes me feel a bit sick that so many people died needlessly.
We found a candy shop, just to add a bit more diversity to the day.

You can watch them make the candy right there in the shop!
After this Miles went back to meet his family for a show, and I walked back to my hostel, but not before stopping for an ice cream.

I am attempting to plan the rest of my time here in Cambodia, but every time I sit in a cafe and get my books out I get distracted or side tracked by all the possibilities!
As today was meant to be relaxing I thought I would indulge in a massage. Massage by the blind are popular here, I went with the one that was recommended in the book as apparently there are some places that exploit the blind, and I wasn’t about to support them.
It was a bit of a surreal experience, it was a male masseur, which I’ve never had before, coupled with the obvious fact he was blind.
He definitely knew what he was doing, and was quite firm on my poor temple-tired legs. 
Bit of a weird moment when he asked me to lay on my back, opened my legs and got up onto the table to massage the tops of my thighs!

He also massaged my stomach which isn’t really done anywhere else, he dug the heels of his hands into my belly, and pressed on pressure points I didn’t know were there.
Once my massage was complete I was saturated with oil, which did keep the mosquitoes off! I went back to the restaurant opposite my hostel for food with the intention of eating, showering then napping. 
I then made friends with an Australian, Ben. So we had dinner together and swapped travel stories. He’s been to Battenbang which is my next destination, so he was able to offer some suggestions for tours and places to stay.
After dinner I definitely had to wash this oil off. It was Miles’ last night so we met on Pub street to enjoy some last drinks in Siem Reap.
The Irish bar was quiet and away from the booming of pub street so we spent most of the night there until they closed and we were kicked out. We then found a cafe with Predator outside!

But it was closed, we stumbled across a sports bar, when we asked what time they closed they said ‘When the customers leave’. So clearly we were drinking here! They were still serving food too, so I did have a bacon sandwich. Just because I could! 

By now it was past one in the morning. Time to sleep. Tomorrow is my last full day in Siem Reap and I still haven’t properly planned my next move!