We’re on the bus from Matsue to Hiroshima rolling past green valleys between jagged hills that are utterly tree covered. It’s very green here in Shimane Prefecture; a multitude of different deciduous and evergreens carpet almost every hill. This verdant landscape is so much greener and more varied than anything we’ve yet encountered on our travels. It’s comparable in its own way to the green and pleasant hills of England and Wales, except that the forests are all in tact; there’s far, far less cultivation of the hills here. I look to my left, and through the window see a valley of evergreen trees; they’re well-spaced, perfectly manicured examples that almost look like they’ve been cultivated that way; except they haven’t been, they just grow that way. Alex points out the bamboo out to me; I hadn’t noticed them before because they are trees; I had always thought of bamboo as a bush, but these bamboo are trees, often taller than the surrounding firs and pines, oaks and cedar, their heads bowed over in welcoming deference to us as we pass.
At just 450km south of the Arctic Circle, Yakutsk (Яакутск - Дьокуускай in Yakut) is pretty far north, it’s buildings are on stilts to keep them out of the permafrost, and it’s the coldest, most populated city in the World. It’s also where lots of relatively fresh remains of mammoths and other large mammals have been found over the years; some part of them, a tusk perhaps, poking up out of the snow. We decided to go there and, in quite a minor degree, follow in the footsteps of the Mammoth Hunters.
We're slightly intimidated. We've arrived in Moscow at the main Beloruskaya train station and managed to catch the Metro. We're now at Кизвская (Kievskaya) metro station trying to work out where the light blue line is and there's lots of people bustling about, knowing where they're going, whilst two dunderheaded n00bs stand in the middle of the concourse looking a tad disorientated. We're hot and we've got luggage with us, and this doesn't make it any easier; and we can't work out which line's which and where the line we want is to.
Eventually we succeed and we make it to Смоленская (Smolenskaya); the metro station near to where we're staying. We come out and as I often find with coming out of metro statios, we're totally disorientated. Luckily a lady helps us and tells us a lot of information about distances and various trolley buses we can take, and Alex gets about half of this, and me absolutely none of it. I nod and smile and say thank you in Russain, we continue on our way, but eventually find where we're staying after about another 15-20 minutes of faffing an walking.
We left Brussels and got the train from Midi station to Cologne and then all the way on to Berlin yesterday. The train was swish and amazing - putting Blighty trains to shame - even the food in the buffet car was pretty good. It was a shock to find that all the staff were suddenly German and we had to brush off a bit of the lingo. Just before we reach Cologne we were informed in a lengthy diatribe (in four languages: French, Dutch, German and English) that the train was going to terminate before our destination due to some problem and we'd have to swap trains. When we got to the station we discovered that the waiting train was full of people who promptly disembarked to get on our train whilst we got on theirs; so we swapped trains with them and ended up in the same seats. Oh and a tip about getting on a train without a reservation but with a large wheelie case: don't get on first; wait for everyone else to get on and get their seats and get on last and find a free seat. I expect you already knew that!