Tag Archives: trains

Show me the monastery!

The Russians are a religious bunch. Well, you’d be pretty open-minded to stories about mystical beings and reincarnated zombies if you spent 25 hours a day pissed off your head. For this reason, the Federation is home to some of the most exquisite churches this side of Samoa, and none of them are prettier than the Troitse-Sergiev Monastery, which is apparently the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This collection of ornately-decorated, onion-shaped temples is situated in Sergiev Posad, a city of around 100,000 people just 75km north of Moscow. There are regular trains up there, but like everything else in Russia, buying a ticket and getting on the right rattler is far harder than it should be. After an hour spent wanderin around Yaroslavsky Station with a confused look on my face, I was lucky I didn’t end up on the fucking Trans-Siberian Express, sleeping on a pile of potatoes.

Once I actually made it onto the train, it was a pleasant ride through the countryside, and the experience was highly reminiscent of rolling through Sri Lanka. Sure, the scenery was different, and it was a little bit colder, but the third world is the third world. From the ancient carriage, to the disabled beggars, to the idiots singing crap songs in the hope of making some money, to the hawkers selling fruit and packets of chips and purses and romance novels, jumping on an inter-city train in Russia is definitely a step back in time.

But enough about trains – I know you’re eagerly awaiting my views on that sexy monastery! Well, it’s really nice. It’s very easy to reach from the station, being a leisirely 10 minute walk, and the buildings are incredibly impressive and in superb condition. The huge fortified walls and iron gates are a throwback to a more violent time when orcs and goblins roamed the frozen tundra of Russia, eating any Catholics they could find. I’m not making that up, I read it on Wikipedia.

The jewel of Russia’s so-called Golden Ring of ancient towns, Sergiev Posad and the temple it’s built around were founded in the 1340s. Over the next few hundred years, the site was extended and snazzed up, with much of the expansion commissioned by Ivan the Terrible. He can’t be too bad a bloke if he built something like this. If you’re interested in the fascinating history of this incredible place, I’m sure you can find it elsewhere. Now, back to the dick jokes.

Russians of the religious persuasion travel thousands of kilometres to visit this holy place, and I saw plenty of them praying and crossing themselves and carrying on. They take the place seriously, and not even the hundreds of Chinese tourists could break the enchanting mood. There were also heaps of funny little dudes with odd beards, odder hats, and flowing black dresses. They swanned around like they owned the place, chanting and waving their hands around.

I was thirsty and in need of a beer, so I walked down some stairs towards what I assumed was a bar, but when I got down there I heard some very unusual praying coming from a dark corner. I crept in closer, hoping to see a religious miracle in progress, but was instead treated to what can only be described as the immaculate erection. One of the monks was wanking his dick off in the corner, and even when he saw me he just gave me a wave and kept going. I guess that’s why they call it a seminary!

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It’s Hip to be Red Square

I might spend my days sleeping until 3pm and watching old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons in my undies, but my girlfriend is a valuable member of society and has a big-person job to go to, so today I was left to explore Moscow on my own. Not wanting to be a typical tourist, I headed for the one place that certainly wouldn’t be crawling with Chinese dudes clutching selfie sticks; the Kremlin.

See what I did there? I made a joke, so at least give me a pitty laugh. The Kremlin is packed with more Chinamen than a small penis competition Jackie Chan book signing, but despite that it’s still an incredible site to behold. Red Square is massive, and the cathedral thingy at the end (I don’t know what it’s called, look up a proper travel blog if you’re interested) is absolutely beautiful. The majority of Moscow might consist of Soviet-era apartment blocks, but the historic centre is glorious.

Hey, and unlike the Chinese, I didn’t stand around taking a billion selfies.

Before coming to Moscow, I definitely thought it would be a drab and dishevelled place to visit, with a homeless person in every gutter and the threat of a head-kicking around every corner, but it’s far nicer than that. It’s similar to places like Riga and Warsaw, of course (it’s basically within walking distance) and is a modern city that’s safe and easy to navigate. It’s also now almost completely free of the bubonic plague.

After sauntering away from the Red Square and into the nearby neighbourhood of Balchug, I found an incredibly strange park full of the wackiest statues this side of a malaria-fuelled fever dream. The most interesting statue in Bolotnaya Square Park is titled Children – Victims of Adult Voices and features an evil robot, a frogman, a big fat dude on a barrel, a drug-dispensing doctor, a dancing pig, a sexed-up granny, and several other intensely strange creatures. I think most artworks are as worthwhile as the sticky stuff in a teenager’s sock, but this one really spoke to me and was totally awesome. Three thumbs up.

By that point I was feeling tired and in desperate need of a drink, so I was stoked to see a train not far away, and gleefully climbed aboard. Alright, it seemed a bit old-fashioned, and the fact it had a slippery dip jutting out the front raised alarm bells, but I assumed the communists do things a bit differently and settled in for the ride back to the suburbs. Sadly, it turned out to be a kiddie ride, and I was soon chased out of the park by a group of angry locals who must’ve assumed I was a sex pest or something.

I was swaggering back past the kremlin on my way to the real train station when a long, shiny limousine pulled up next to me and bunch of burly blokes in black suits climbed out. I thought they might be the Men in Black and had a look around for that Willie Smith fella, and while I was doing that a wiry bloke with piercing blue eyes got out, looking me up and down. The dudes in the black suits reached for their guns as I approached the wiry fella, but he told them to relax.

“G’day brother, I’m from Australia, how are ya?” I asked, sticking out my hand.
“I am doing very well,” the main man said in a thick Russian accent, before shaking my hand with a grip that could crush a doorknob. “My name is Vladimir.”
“Oh, you’re Vladimir Kozlov, the former WWE wrestler!”
“No.”
“Dominican baseball legend Vladimir Guerrero?”
“No.”
“Long-dead concert pianist Vladimir Horowitz?”
“No.”
Everybody Loves Raymond star Vlad Garrett?”
“No, no, no!”
“Yeah, figures,” I replied, walking off into the icy evening. “I never meet anyone famous!”

BEER OF THE DAY: 387 OSOBAYA VARKA

Legend has it that this creamy lager is named after the number consumed by the average Russian every week. I only had one, but amongst the sea of other brews, it was the best, and perfect for colder climates. Like the perfect woman, it’s comforting, not too thick, and goes down easily. It’s a bit like dipping a Caramello Koala in your beer and theen drinking it, only it’s not as disgusting as that would be.

Train of the Sri Lankan Dead

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I was looking forward to travelling across Sri Lanka by train as much as I’m looking forward to the new Ghostbusters remake with all those fat chicks in it. After three lengthy rides in overcrowded and uncomfortable buses, I thought the nine-and-a-half journey from Batticaloa to Combo would be as much fun as having afternoon tea with a registered sex offender, but it was actually quite pleasant. I suppose afternoon tea with a sex offender could be alright, too, as long as he was a good conversationalist and promised not to bugger any dogs until he got home.

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It’s way too early for this shit

The train left Batti at 6:10am, which is a time I didn’t even know existed, and was mostly empty. I had two large, reasonably comfortable seats to myself, and a big window to open up and look out of, so I could wave to happy little Sri Lankans as I went.  We rolled past a world waking up, with farmers starting their day’s work, shops opening, and dogs being chased by hungry people looking for breakfast. Palm trees, rivers, wetlands and villages all slid past.

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Maybe someone farted?

At every stop, little blokes would climb onto the train and start singing as they did their best to sell food to the passengers. Some of it looked edible, some of it didn’t, but I passed on it all because Sri Lankan trains don’t have toilets and I didn’t like the thought of hanging my blurter out the window for the next five hours. It’s certainly a colourful and interesting journey that’s far more enjoyable than catching the bus.

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Sunrise over a nightmare

I was reading a book when I felt my hair being pulled, and turned around to see a strange creature staring back at me. It had a frog-like face and was making unusual choking noises, its tongue flicking in and out as if it wanted to lick me. I swiped out with my book but the beastie ducked and spat something acidic at me. I dodged it, and the spit hit the seat in front of me, melting it. I squealed and the creature crawled under the seat and scuttled away like a bug, never to be seen again. I went back to reading my book and enjoying the view out the window.

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“We are going to eat you!”

But then, everything went wrong when a FLESH-EATING ZOMBIE shambled into the carriage! With eyes rolling back in his skull and a foul odour emanating from his emaciated body, the ghoul lurched from seat to seat, violently biting and eating the occupants, sending blood spurting through the carriage while people screamed and ran away. The corpse shambled up to me and leant in to tear out my throat, but I wasn’t having any of that, so I told him to sit down and shut up, because he was fucking around and wasting everyone’s time. The monster had no choice but to wander off and take a seat and stop being a dickhead.

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“I love you, I want to eat your brains!”

With all the blood and gore and headless bodies lying around, I was glad when we finally pulled into Colombo at around 3:30pm. It was a long but memorable journey, and brought me one step closer to the end of a journey that’s taken me through 15 countries across two continents. While I could definitely keep going and see more of the world, it will be good to relax at home for a few weeks before heading off again – this time to Bali for a fortnight’s paragliding, before checking out Japan. That’s just going to be an appetiser, because I’ve got a feeling the trip after that’s going to be a big one…

Cheers, motherfuckers!

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Dam!

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When I was a young bloke growing up on the Central Coast of New South Wales, I was spoilt for choice when it came to awesome places to explore. Me and my mates spent every weekend checking out caves and climbing trees, following creeks and scrambling up mountains. At some point women and booze got in the way, but for a few years there every Saturday and Sunday were full of wonder.

Me and my mates would throw whatever we could into our backpacks and just walk out into the scrub, with no mobile phones or any of that crap. It seems amazing that my mother was fine with with the 15-year-old version of me swaggering out into the bush, but almost lays an egg if the 32-year-old version goes away and doesn’t get in contact with her every 24 hours.

We only camped at Narara’s Old Railway Dams once, but it’s an experience that has always stood out when I look back upon my teenage years. Brett, Charlie and me hiked into abandoned dams and pitched our tents by the water, spending the afternoon jumping into the dam’s sparkling water and spending a great night under the stars. In the morning, we woke up with drug addicts throwing rocks at us from the hills above.

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I copped one in the head, but it didn’t knock me down. The others were hit, too, as we frantically packed up our tents while dodging the missiles. When we had all our stuff in our bags, we disappeared into the bushes while the druggos hurled insults and projectiles. They thought we were gone. They were wrong.

We circled around them, our fashionable-at-the-time (no they weren’t) camo clothes making sure were weren’t seen. After half an hour we were behind where they were sitting, smoking bongs and wanking each other off (that might be an exaggeration, but it’s my story). And that’s when the counter-attack begun.

We hurls rocks at them from the bushes, cleaning the bastards up as they desperately tried to grab their bongs and get out of there. I’m as good at throwing rocks as Rosie O’Donnell is at giving men stiffies, but I sconed one dickhead between the eyes, knocking him backwards. Yes, the olden days were good, back when an enjoyable afternoon included maiming drug abusers.

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Today, I went back there for the first time in nearly two decades. Like me, the dams have changed. I picked up my brother Bubblin’ Beno and we headed out to revisit history. The original dam was built way back in 1901 to supply water to Gosford Railway Station, with a second dam constructed in 1925 to provide additional storage. After the train line was electrified in 1960, the dams didn’t have a lot of use, except as waterholes for hot and sweaty Gosfordians who were too poor to afford backyard pools.

When I visited as a kid, the dams were easy to find, but they’ve since fallen into disrepair. There’s a track off Reeves Rd, Somersby, that leads to them – just follow the pink ribbons that some kind soul has tied to the trees on the way, and try not to fall down any cliffs. Me and Ben struggled along the overgrown track for 10 minutes or so, before stumbling upon the upper dam. There are still signs of life – rope swings and ladders nailed to trees – but it’s obvious that not many people go there anymore.

After stopping to admire the impressive concrete dam wall (shit, I just read that sentence back to myself and I can’t believe I wrote it – I am getting old) we headed downstream to find the lower dam. Again, the track was as overgrown as a feminist’s armpits, but we managed to reach our destination. The lower dam was always the best for swimming back in the day, so it was sad to see that half of it was choking with some sort of reeds (no, not Lou) and the other side was basically cut off due to the impenetrable bush (no, not George W.). Still, I managed to strip off and have a dip in murky water that 50% mud, 40% tadpoles, and 10% H2O.

With Ben chomping at the bit for a Dagwood Dog and a good, long sit in his spa, we headed back to the car, leaving the abandoned railway dams to the insects and the frogs. Bloody hell, it’s a much nicer place to be when you don’t have scabby junkies trying to take your head off!