travel back in time

Friday 12th November, Madrid, Spain
*scroll down for the latest journal entry. It's at the bottom, mate*
So. Has anyone clicked on the "Where was I one year ago today?" link lately? If you had, you would have seen that last year on November the 11th, it was my birthday. By strange coincidence, my birthday happened to fall on the same date this year, so that was yesterday! Thankfully, not everyone forgot. My Mum, determined for me to be 'early to bed, early to rise' phoned at 7:00am yesterday. Following suit, my brother Phil phoned at the same time this morning! My brother Andrew was far more considerate, choosing to pass on his best wishes by email, with this photo... the best birthday present I could have wished for!

what a crazy looking bunch!

What else did I get for my birthday? Well, Maria has shouted me a trip to the Canary Islands for later in the month, so I can do some canary hunting and work on my tan, and Mum sent me some money to put towards the 'warm clothes fund' for our upcoming assault on Russia. On the subject of Russia, there has been a change of plan as of late. Our original plan to travel through Belarus has been squashed by the fact that the greedy Belarus government charges almost $AUS100 each for a tourist visa, and that is in addition to the hefty fee (bribe!) that you have to pay some third-party company for arranging an 'invitation'. Screw that, we said. So after some research, it was discovered that the friendly countries of Latvia and Lithuania are pleased to welcome both Spanish and Australian visitors without the requirement of a visa, and without having to pay for 'visa support'. Our apologies to people in Belarus who had invited us, but we just can't possibly afford that kind of cash for a few days in your country. Now I have to contact couchsurfers in Latvia and Lithuania to see who can host us in those countries.

I've been receiving more and more invitations from readers in Russia, and countries along the way, and many have been reassuring me not to worry too much about the cold. One guy said it doesn't get as cold as it used to, thanks to global warming, and it may not be any colder than negative fifteen or twenty degrees. I'm not sure if that's Farenheit or Celcius- does it matter??

One of the people who has invited me is the well known guide Jack Sheremetoff who runs a homestay in Irkutsk, near the unbelievable Lake Baikal in Siberia. Jack is a Lonely Planet recommended guide who runs tours of the Lake Baikal area, and has kindly offered to let me stay at his home and show me around. If you're wondering why I use the word 'unbelievable' about a lake , this is what I wrote in my journal in April last year...

"Also yesterday I learnt something new! How cool. While doing some research for my trip, I stumbled across something extraordinary; something that Mr Davis must have forgotten to teach us in senior geography. If I was to tell you that there is a lake somewhere in the world that contains more water than ALL FIVE of the Great Lakes combined, what would you say? If I claimed that this one lake holds almost a fifth of the world's fresh water? That sounds absurd. How deep would you say such a lake would have to be? Probably over a mile deep, which it is. Apparently, the water of this lake is so clean, that swimmers have been known to suffer vertigo... you can see up to forty metres, or 120 feet down! I'll give you a hint- it covers more area than the country of Belgium, but it's NOT the world's 'biggest' lake.

Lake Baikal is it's name. Lake Baikal is also the world's oldest lake, the seven kilometre deep layer of sediment, indicating that the lake has been there for over 25 million years. During winter the water on the surface freezes more than a metre thick, making Lake Baikal the world's biggest skating rink, and incredibly forming a land route for vehicles. During the Russian Japanese war, a railway track was even laid across the frozen lake. Believe it...or not!"

*all my archived journal postings can be found by using the 'search journal' button on the left hand side of the journal page, and if you've never read my pre-trip journal from early 2003, with searchable subjects such as 'cockroach racing', 'mooning', and 'dangerous Australians', click here*

Although we will be staying with local people every night, this trip will still be an expense that I can't meet. So far, I have received a few challenges, but I'm hoping that more will follow. If you're not familiar with the 'challenge' concept, click here to see some of the challenges I've received so far. An interesting challenge came in by email last night, and although I'm unsure whether it's something I would consider, I thought I'd share it with you...

First you need to learn a few words in Russian. Properly, so people understand you. Firstly, you need to learn how to order a vodka shot. Actually, you don't have to learn anything for that forget it. Secondly, you have to learn russian for "I am Steve. I am a man. And I am here!"
So, I will nominate a bar in Moscow. It will be of average dodginess. Pretty full-on but not health threatening. You must go at a time when there is a minimum of 10 patrons.
You need to go in, slam your hand on the bar and say (loudly) "Wodka!"
Then, when the vodka comes, down it straight away, in one shot. Slam the glass on the bar, then turn to the people in the bar and say loudly, in russian, "I am Steve. I am a man. And I am here".
At least 10 people must hear you, clearly. The emphasis must be heavily on the final word, imagine you're braveheart about to attack.
The rest is up to you, I assume you'll want to meet some people, but you must spend a minimum of one further hour in the bar.
Photos and testimonials will be accepted as evidence, along with your account.

I think I'd better check first with my travel insurance company whether injuries sustained during a self-initiated pub brawl are covered by my policy!

And how about this? After relentless searching, Maria and I finally completed the Shiner beer challenge and the guy who issued the challenge doesn't want to pay up!! He says he doesn't beleive me. I submit to you, evidence of my successful completion of the search for Shiner beer...

Of course it's Shiner!.Of course it's Shiner!

While I work on the two latest page additions to the Not So Savage Files, I'll leave you with a few of my recent pics of Madrid. By the way, I'm STILL looking for someone to give me some HTML help setting up a slideshow. I'm no genius, but I get by with a little help from my friends. Can you help???