Sunday, February 28, 2010

the ultimate transsiberian-russiandiscobalkanbeatboxgypsypunkplaylist

As you may or may not know I will embark on an overland journey from Amsterdam to Shanghai on April 1st. A good trip needs a good soundtrack, so before boarding the train I am doing some research for an appropriate playlist. So here's the deal: You suggest a song and if you convince me to add it to the ultimate transsiberian-russiandiscobalkanbeatboxgypsypunkplaylist you will receive a postcard from some dodgy town in Siberia. Only prerequisite: (A) I have the song in my collection or (B) I can purchase it on iTunes or (C) you provide me with an mp3 version of the song.

The following tracks qualified so far:

Gogol Bordello - Start wearing purple

Named after Russian writer Nikolai Gogol this band must be on every playlist closely related to a country of the former eastern block. enough said.

Boney M - Rasputin

Yes. Boney M.

Dschingis Khan - Moskau

I was twisted whether to chose this one or that one since I am actually doing the transmongolian (see below for the golden rule #1 of mix tapes). I remember dressing up in such clothes and studying the dance with kids from the neighborhood. ridiculous. but hey, I was 11. In the end Moskau made it.

Billy Bragg - The Internationale

A classic. Billy Bragg had to do it one day. And it works.

Shantel - Disko Partizani

Party, party, Partizani!

Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Russian Army Choir - Kalinka

The haircuts alone are a reason to qualify for this playlist!

Kaizer's Orchestra - KGB

Norwegian Kaizers Orchestra, one of the best bands to be witnessed life!

The Beatles - Back in the USSR

The fab four going east.

Lords of the new church - Russian Roulette

who needs chatroulette anyway?

Red Elvises - Cosmonaut Petrov

Russendisko, Vladimir Kaminer style.

WWW - Leningrad

Another Russendisko classic.

Apparatschik - Katja

Russian Volxmusik made in Berlin.

Katzenjammer - A Bar in Amsterdam

A trip needs to start somewhere and mine starts in Amsterdam. I just need to find the right bar.

Ed Harcourt - Shanghai

Not the official Ed Harcourt video apparently, but a slideshow put together by someone featuring his (Shanghai?) nephew. hillarious. Anyway, it's the final destination and hence on the playlist.

Disclaimer: A part of the countries that will be crossed on the way to Shanghai are not famous for the respect they pay to democracy. Some are rather infamous for their lack of it. In the same way this playlist is not a democratic one either. It's a personal one and the dictator has the right to refuse proposals such as this one here for example. And don't you even dare to suggest that one either! Also obey the golden rule #1 of mixtapes: No two songs of one artist! Ever! Deadline for suggestions: March 28, 2010.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Belarus Transit Visa, bitteschön!

Why would you want to go to Belarus? Because it's on the way to Moscow? Because Harvey Lee Oswald used to live there? To see great architecture soviet style? The KGB headquarters? If the plan is to do Amsterdam - Shanghai overland via Moscow there is no way around Belarus unless you intend to do a major detour. The embassy of Belarus to the Netherlands offers a transit visa that lets you stay for 48 hours in the country for a bargain of € 20. Find more information on the website of the Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Important for a transit visa to be issued is that your passport sports a visa of the country of your next destination (Russia in my case) or if no visa is required for that country a proof of your itinerary (tickets etc.). The visa was issued within a weeks time, faster service was available if you pay for it. Very friendly service and the best part with places that have fewer tourists coming their way than say Mallorca or Rimini is that service is very personal: When I came to pick up my passport the friendly bloke from the embassy - without asking what my name was and what I was here for - took the passport and handed it to me with a nice "bitteschön!". Needless to say I was the only customer in the embassy. You can find more useful information about the Belarus visa application process on Everbrite's Belarus pages.

There's an аппаратчик for that! Part I - keeping in touch

Oh, iPhone, how did we manage to travel without you back in the days...?

Stay in touch and communication аппаратчикs:

Flickr: Take pics, upload pics, share the sights. Let them get jealous. Or worried.


facebook:The facebook app, essential to keep up with the gossip from home. How could you survive without being in the know that Natasha is single now, Vladimir became a fan of "Vodka Putin" and - most important - what is happening on all those farms and in all these mafias out there? Never leave home without!!! (iTuneslink)

twitter: 140 characters.
A sign of life from the road or a shout out to the rest of the world. It probably won't become a trending topic, but at least it keeps you up to date with the headlines and keep your own journal of the road in a condensed fashion... (iTuneslink)

foodspotting: Food. Omnomnom. A major part of travelling. Remember that Blini in St.Petersburg? Or rather want to forget the Plov in Ashgabat? Food recommendations for the road and warnings for fellow travellers. Foodspotting is about dishes not restaurants. The application lets you picture, tag and place the food you had and upload it to the site. The site lets you search food by location. Sweet. Or Savoury. (iTuneslink)

skype: Get connected on WiFi and call other skype users for free of landlines (and in some countries mobiles as well) on the cheap. Need I say more?Many hostels and cafés offer free WiFi to their customers. The calling costs and rates can be found here.
You can charge your account online and have it topped up automatically once the remaining balance falls under a certain limit. You can also buy flat rate packages that allow you to call a certain country, continent or worldwide for a monthly subscription fee. The iPhone app allows you to access the numbers directly from the contacts list of your iPhone, so no awkward typing needed. Also, there's the possibility to set up a caller ID for free and to set it to e.g. your mobile number, so your friends and family can see who's calling and don't ignore the call because this weird number from Mongolia is showing up again. (iTuneslink)

audioboo: What I missed from previous trips was to take typical sounds home. Like the constant washing up of aluminium dishes at the Golden Temple in Amritsar where the pilgrims are fed 24 hours a day with free daal and rice. Or the shouting at Iranian Bus terminals. 
Or the haggling about a goat on Kashgar's livestock market. Or the debating of the buddhist monks in the courtyard of Sera monastery. Or the entrepreneur human telephonekiosks standing with a mobile phone chained to themselves on the streets of La Paz constantly calling "Llamada, llamada, llamada..." (which I first mistook for "Your mother, your mother, your mother..." and left me wondering why mum should be calling me here when she isn't even aware of my whereabouts). audioboo does just that (without telling your mum where you are hiding). Record a sound, name it and tag it and then upload it. audioboo also places a marker on a map where the recording was done. (iTuneslink)

Note: some of the аппаратчикs require an internet connection which may cost you an arm and a leg when abroad and roaming in a GPRS/3G network. Avoid costs by using the WiFi connection of your iPhone (where available) instead. You can disable data roaming in the settings of your iPhone.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A visa, from Russia with love...

Less than 2 months to go... time to start the Visa run!
The Napoleon Hostel I booked in Moscow offered visa support. It was in my inbox in less than 24 hours. The actual provider of the visa support is GetRussian. The process is pretty straight forward, visa support sets you back 24,90 for a service within 24 hours (€29.90 for immediate service) and you are not obliged to book any accomodation in any place you plan to visit and that's what we all want, right? Armed with this and the rest of the supporting documents (a certificate stating that you have a valid health insurance that covers Russia, booking confirmation of the Hotel you are staying - not sure if this was really needed, I had a booking for a hostel in Moscow, not in any other places and that's fine) I went to the Russian embassy in The Hague. They also offer a form that you can fill in online and then print your visa application. Print it, attach a pretty picture of yourself and don't forget to sign it. At the embassy - provided your documents are in order - you pay ( 35 for service in a week, 70 for express service) and take your receipt which is needed to pick up your passport in a weeks time. Make sure you have other travel documents if you plan to catch a flight in that week, some people tend to forget that... ahem. And a week later, voilà:

P.S.: To locate the closest Russian embassy have a look here or at Everbrite's excellent site.