Mike’s Travels

Mike’s European Adventure Part 5

Bicycle parking in Helsinki

Bicycle parking in Helsinki

We were warned that Finland was a much more expensive country than Russia and it proved to be so in our short stay.  As we were entering the EU we would be using euros for the rest of our trip.  The service fee at the currency exchange office was high so it was lucky we had used up most of our roubles before we left St Petersburg.  Fortunately, we had booked a hotel directly across the road from Helsinki’s chief railway station so we were spared the cost of one taxi fare. Read more …

Part 4: Moscow and St Petersburg

an-example-of-a-monolithic-statue-in-one-of-stalin-s-palaceMoscow is an impressive modern city that appears quite prosperous.  The cars on the street are modern and the people are well dressed, well groomed even if they seem to conform to the myth that Russians never smile.  (The full story is that Russians don’t smile much at strangers.). Moscow and St Petersburg have grown quickly since the end of Soviet times mainly because wages in these two cities are much higher than the rest of Russia, particularly Siberia.

People quite openly talk about the difficult period that followed the break up of the USSR.  As one of our guides explained, during the corrupt period of the 1990s the people in power “sold the country to themselves.”  Another guide told us that during one difficult week her family “did not have a grain to eat” in the house despite holding down full time jobs.  Vladimir Putin seems to get re-elected because he has brought stability; the Russians we met did not want to return to the chaos of the 1990s.

As in the rest of Russia we saw no evidence of renewable energy or recycling. Read more …

Part 3: Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg, Kazan

p1030355We reached Irkutsk after spending three nights on the Trans Siberian Railway.  Irkutsk was the first large settlement we had seen in 5,000 kms of travel.  All we had seen out our cabin window were forests of birch trees, conifers, grasslands and swamps.  Irkutsk has an unfriendly climate.  It’s record minimum is just short of -50C.    The average minimum in January is -21.8C rising to an average maximum of -12.8C.  The corresponding figures for July are plus 13.0 and 24.8C.  Irkutsk is a service city of 600,000 people and also is a drop off point for tourists travelling to Lake Baikal, world’s largest fresh water lake.  Read more …

Part 2: Trans Siberian Railway

Rails, forest and rivers viewed from our compartment window

Rails, forest and rivers viewed from our compartment window

The Trans Siberian Railway, spanning the 9288 kms between Moscow and Vladivostok is one of the wonders of the industrialised world.  It was constructed between 1891 and 1917 by one group of oligarchs (Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II) and electrified under the authoritarian rule of Lenin and Stalin.  The task of surveying, clearing forests, earthworks, building bridges and laying tracks across such a vast expanse with an unfriendly climate and few people was huge. Read more …

Insights into Russia, Finland and Estonia

IMG_0050Mike Reddy is a founding member of Woden Valley Community Council and is currently it’s Deputy Chair. In 2014 and 2015, whilst on self-funded overseas travel, Mike kept a travel diary published on the WVCC website highlighting observations on public transport, renewable energy, housing, and other issues of interest to the Council, those that attend our meetings and access its website.  This year, Mike and his wife Christine are travelling in Russia, Finland and Estonia.

Part One: Canberra to Vladivostok: 24/8

Our flight to Vladivostok via Seoul left from Sydney early on Thursday morning so on Wednesday night we stayed in an airport hotel.  I travelled up on the bus, again amazed that a bus can travel 300 kms quicker than a train, further testament to the lack of spending on heavy rail infrastructure in Australia.  We have observed enormous expenditure on fast trains in Italy in the last two years. Chris came up later on the plane.  As is necessary for all travellers using the privately owned Sydney Airport she had to pay to travel from the Domestic terminal to the international terminal despite remaining in the airport precinct.  This is a cost we have never faced overseas.  It does not encourage inbound tourism. Read more …

Europe ’15 – Salina to Naples

Squalid NaplesSalina is the second largest of the Aeolian Islands with an area of 27 square kilometres. It is dominated by volcanic hills with very little flat land near the coast. Although Salina would seem to be an ideal site for solar and wind energy it is probably constrained by its World Heritage listing. Currently, like other islands in the group, it has a small diesel power station operated by Enel, an Italian renewable energy corporation. The exploitation of geothermal energy may provide a means of introducing renewable energy without detracting from the beauty of the islands.

Although Salina only has a population of 4000, the island’s council operates a very reliable bus service (15 seaters) that meets the hydrofoils that arrive at both of its ports and connects the main population centres.

Read more …

Europe ’15 – Palermo to Salina

Palermo has 1.2 million people making it Sicily’s largest city and around as large as Zurich and Perth.  It is a massive port strategically located between Europe and Africa.  The infrastructure on the wharves is modern and imposing.

  We were heading for Trapani, around 150 kms to the west and were hoping to catch a bus.  The local train takes an indirect route and is a bit of a milk run. It is much slower than the bus that uses a direct autostrade.  We ended up doing a deal with a taxi driver, arrived early and a hundred Euros poorer. On our journey with the taxi whizzing down the autostrade at 150 kph at times, we noticed frequent use of solar panels on farm buildings and warehouses, with the occasional wind farm evident. There is no wind generation on the UNESCO listed Erice, which stands as a sentinel above Trapani. Read more …

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