Summary of the trip: Overall

This is the overall awards for the trip as a whole – the winners are taken from the best of the previous winners. There is also a post on a few extra awards categories I have these are here.

Best site

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil it was great from so many angles, up close and far away. I think ultimately this has to be the overall best site winner.

Best museum

The Holocaust Museum, Washington DC, it tried so hard to just give the facts. I learnt a lot about the recent history of the Jews and that reflects heavily on the middle east today. Well worth a visit.

Honourable Mention

The Hermitage, St Petersburg, although I do think the impact from the Holocaust museum was stronger, this is definitely one of the best museums in the world, on a very short list with the Met (which should have got an honourable mention for the US awards) and the British Museum.

Best tour company

Oz Trails, Sydney for managing to organise and excellent and full one day tour of the Blue Mountains in Australia for a reasonable price as well.

Best city

St Petersburg, Russia, overall its beautiful and has lots and lots to do in every category.

Best non-Family accommodation

Te’ora, Easter Island, this award has been practically guaranteed since Easter Island, but Te’ora was amazing and I would definitely go back for the accommodation, unfortunately Easter Island is really the sort of place you only go once, I recommend it to all levels of traveller.

Best food for under US$25

The winner is Steak in Buenos Aires at a small restaurant at Defensa and Independencia which was above and beyond anything I’d had before, or since.

The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger

Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.

Burger Hut at Le Petit Village, Mooera for being absolutely delicious and a bargain for Tahiti.

Best nightlife

Chicago, USA, for its great nightlife in every category. I had a lot of fun there.

Best Activity

Acrobatics at the Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was breathtaking and kept my attention for the full 90 minutes of the performance, getting better and better to the climax.

Friendliest People

The Russians, the Russians always seemed to be friendly and went the extra mile to help pretty damn frequently, given their limited resources it was great to see.

Best Transportation Company

Japan Rail, Japan, any train company which can make you forget to photograph something as cool as the Shinkansen because it “just works” so well is incredible, every train has been virtually on time in the entire country and the transportation system here in Japan is nothing short of incredible. Japanese trains are how it should work everywhere.

Best bargain

The free temples in Japan for often being as good as some of those you have to pay to enter. I’m not obsessing about my Chinese clothes anymore anyway :p.

Biggest rip-off

Postada la bonita for accommodation worth a generous US$10/night costing US$100/night.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

The winner is Dan in Real Life for being the only romantic comedy I have ever seen that didn’t disappoint its genre by being a) funny and b) about real love.

Summary of the trip: Mainland Euroasia

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip and this is the award for the final third of the trip. As well as this I will follow this post with some overall awards which will include some additional awards as well. That post will follow this evening UK time.

Best site

The Great Wall, China, the Great wall was stunning, especially seeing it snaking off into the mountains – apparently 20% of the entire Chinese population worked on it at one point, meaning it probably wasn’t the great military success it was supposed to be.

Honourable Mention

Taj Mahal, Agra Although Agra and frankly the rest of northern India isn’t exactly the nicest part of the world to travel in, the Taj itself is absolutely stunning. Angkor Wat was pretty damn cool as well too.

Best museum

Hermitage, St Petersburg, although some of the artwork wasn’t amazing a large proportion of the artwork spread over 400 rooms was stunning, the rooms it was kept in were pretty good to look at as well.

Honourable Mention

Shaanxi Museum, Xian, this museum gave an excellent overview of Chinese history – excellent.

Best tour company

No Winner, all of the tours I have been on in this part of the trip have been significantly flawed though I have to admit I haven’t been on very many.

Best city

St Petersburg, Russia, St Petersburg is absolutely stunning to look at and it is great to see a European city that hasn’t been ruined by plate glass like Oxford has for example. The European style buildings that exist throughout the centre are stunning and the streets are wide enough as well.

Honourable Mentions

I thought that Singapore was going to win the best city award as there was enough to keep me busy for the 8 days while I was there, that was until I got to Beijing, which was frankly better as it has two world class sites within its city limits. It was then pipped to the prize itself by St Petersburg. This is undoubtedly the top 3 however.

Best non-Family accommodation

Etour hostel, Shanghai, I was going to give it to the Beijing Novotel but they offered a dodgy tour to the Great Wall so I’m not granting it to them, but Etour hostel was well located behind the JW Marriott on People’s Square. It also had a great lounge with good food and drink – and excellent staff and th

Best food for under US$25

Food court, apm, Beijing, after eating far too much Western food in China it was good to get some Chinese food for a change, and the apm food court in central Beijing was excellent.

Honourable mention

Singapore and Malaysia’s foodcourts for being consistently strong and cheap too.

The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger

Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.

Rice Burger @ MOS Burger, Singapore, this was gorgeous, disappointing I had to wait until Singapore before I could understand the menu enough to get to try a rice burger. The burger was delicious too – can we have a branch in Oxford please.

Best nightlife

St Petersburg, Russia, because clubs in half finished buildings are cool and the ballet was pretty solid as well.

Best Activity

The acrobatics, Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was absolutely awesome and kept me riveted to my seat for 90 minutes.

Friendliest People

The Russians the Russians always seemed to be friendly and went the extra mile to help pretty damn frequently, given their limited resources it was great to see.

Best Transportation Company

No Winner, nothing particularly stood out, but China rail, the metros in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and the buses in Xi’An were all pretty damn good.

Best bargain

“Russian” coat from Giordano, ¥299 for a coat that would probably be the better part of £100 in the UK was a great deal.

Biggest rip-off

The tour to the great wall for costing probably 3x as much as just doing it yourself on public transport with the Chinese and then taking us to a dodgy medicine centre on the way back.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

The winner is Milk, a great film on American gay rights – and given the “great” state of America at the moment, maybe it has wider importance to all the other issues in the country.

Saint Petersburg: part 2

I will also be having some awards for the last 1/3 of my trip as well as some overall awards – these will follow this post tomorrow.

The second day I was in Saint Petersburg I headed over to Peterhof by train, this train worked OK, but it did have the worlds dirtiest windows as it probably hadn’t had them cleaned since it was built or something! Anyhow after getting to Peterhof station I caught the bus to the castle itself and had a look around. It wasn’t busy at all when I was there (it was a Friday after all!) and the gardens and canal to the sea were snow covered – and so OK, but not amazing to look at. The fountains were also not working. What was incredible was the palace itself, which was absolutely gorgeous and sickeningly decadent with every room having more gold leaf and over the top decoration than the last – the house even has a full sized theatre!

Afterwards I tried to find some lunch onsite, but being Russia there didn’t seem to be any options so I made my way back to St Petersburg via a mothering bus conductor and an hour long wait for the train (as one train was cancelled) while my feet slowly froze. Then after getting back to St Petersburg I managed to quickly locate a McDonalds so I could blow my RDA of fat and sodium and protein by ordering a large McTasty, I got some ketchup with it, though unfortunately they decided I wanted two and I felt this was getting a little OTT. So I reduced the number to one as you had to pay for the ketchup. Clearly the Russians like getting the best possible value as the ketchup isn’t free. McDonalds isn’t the only one though. Pizza Hut also did it with the Garlic bread which you could practically order by the slice.

After this I then headed to St Isaac’s cathedral as I just had time to fit that in. St Issac’s cathedral is the main cathedral in St Petersburg and is absolutely massive and very beautiful – jaw-dropping at every opportunity. I also took in the great view from the rooftop of the surrounding city which was well worth seeing. After that I returned to the hostel to sleep. Fortunately the Russian smoker had left, unfortunately some French who wanted to stay up all night arrived. They weren’t that bad, but they did talk all night which given the paper walls in the hostel was pretty annoying.

The next day I was woken up bright and early by the French and so I got out and headed to the Hermitage, it wasn’t yet open so I went to a nearby branch of McDonalds to have some Blinis (traditional Russian breakfast) and use their free WiFi (the Russians seem to love the stuff) before the museum opened.

At 10:20 I then headed back to the museum. There was a queue and there also appeared to be lots of people standing around at the end of the queue with large gaps between them and the queue itself. So I “pushed” past them and joined the queue into the museum itself. Inside the museum I also picked up another photo taking ticket (£4 – though I’m sure you can get away without paying it if you aren’t too bothered about taking photos.) and the audio guide (£6). The audio guide was excellent however.

The museum itself was amazing and kept me entertained from 10:30am until 4:30pm, the building itself is also stunning in many places. Highlights included Rembrant, Monet, Picasso, a couple of Da Vinci’s and more. Obviously though as the museum was absolutely massive – having 400 rooms – not everything inside was amazing. The Hermitage also owns a few other buildings with art in them around town – including the General Staff building opposite the main museum which is housed in the Winter Palace. I didn’t have time to see this though.

After this I went to have an early pizza supper before briefly returning to my hostel to drop off my bag. At this point I only had 50 minutes before the ballet performance I’d booked to see at out the Mariinsky theatre. So I tried to catch a bus to the theatre. Unfortunately the first bus I saw with the right number didn’t seem to be going there and I couldn’t see one for a while so I ran down into the metro system and got a metro train for one stop. Unfortunately at that point I came up a different exit from before so I was a little lost until I asked at a stall where it was. So I then ran off through the streets to the ballet (as I didn’t trust the taxis) and arrived with about 1 minute to spare. After arriving I left my coat and got some opera glasses (crap – a waste of money unless your eyesight is really bad) and settled into my seat high above the action in a decently priced seat. Unfortunately I’d picked my seat too well – it was right in the centre but there was some theatre decoration straight in front of me, so I stood up before it started which amused the people behind me who *really* had to stand to see. Its a learnt lesson that generally you have to sit a little away from the centre if you’re sitting in bad seats in case there is some moulding right in the middle!

Then I sat down and the ballet started. The ballet itself was really good and was the first performance I’ve ever seen as well as being the first performance in the 9th international ballet festival at the theatre. There was a break in the middle and I got a cup of tea, surprisingly this was reasonably priced and I needed it as I hadn’t slept much. After this I saw the second half. As its ballet there is no spoken content but I could still understand a definite story – here is a link to the synopsis (I have to admit I didn’t pick up all of the plot though :p).

After this I returned to the hostel and on the way in I met up with some other people from the hostel and we went to my favourite restaurant again, followed by a pub for a “cheap beer” and followed by a Russian club inside a half finished building near the hostel – it was a really cool club inside however.

Saint Petersburg: part 1

On Wednesday evening I made my way into St Petersburg and then took the metro for the one stop journey to my hostel. The journey was fairly uneventful except that it was much slower than necessary due to the train spending large parts of the trip travelling very slowly – so in that respect it was like the Trans-Siberian which probably did it’s slowest average speed over the last 250km which it did on the last day.

My hostel was in an excellent location in a nice part of town. It was next door to a branch of Loius Vittion. One of those international brands that I see everywhere except Oxford!

I then went out to my second favourite restaurant – KFC for dinner before returning to the hostel to sleep. This was fine except I was joined in my room by a crazy Russian who seemed to think that even given the signs and my polite requests it was OK to smoke in the room. I suppose you just get used to the western attitude of smoking being banned practically everywhere. It’s even banned outside at Oxford train station which I think is just a little bit harsh.

Anyhow the next day I got up fairly early and headed off to try and do my washing as my hostel didn’t supply a key ingredient – washing powder. Though I shouldn’t complain too much as otherwise it was free. On the way back though I went inside the gothic and dark looking Kazan cathedral which was very graceful and beautiful inside. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos. One thing worth remembering about Othodox churches is although if you are a man you are supposed to uncover your head if you are a woman you’re supposed to cover yours – consistent I know!

So after seeing that I headed back to the hostel to dump the washing powder and breakfast stuff I also picked up before heading out to try and go to a blockade museum describing the 900 day seige of the city by the Germans in WW2 (it was known as Leningrad at the time.). Unfortunately according to the tourist information map it seemed to have closed but then I rounded the corner to see the epic Church of the saviour on the spilt blood. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite 11am when it opened so I contented myself with a look at the outside before heading down the street to the nearby Russian museum. This is a huge collection of Russian art from a more St Petersburg perspective and it was excellent – especially the early icons and the stuff from the St Petersburg academy of art. After seeing this I headed back to my hostel to hang up my wet clothes (as it was free there was no tumble dryer.). Then I headed to the Peter and Paul fortress on the other side of the river for the rest of the afternoon which was OK. I then headed to look at Palace square and the breathtaking Hermitage and General Staff buildings around it.