Tag Archives: Climate Emergency

Real Russia – the real support system for a trip OVERLAND from UK to the Antipodes! Part IV

Central contrail cuts the blue sky over the roof of a passing train
Contrail splits the sky over a passing train

Welcome to my flygskam overland journey! If you are just starting, here are the first bits: Part I, Part II and Part III

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have found Real Russia, or rather, to have the Man in Seat 61 tell me about them. After only a quick enquiry, Anastasia took charge of my visas while Christine became my ticket gurini, setting me up with a tracking page so I could see at a glance where I was up to. (If I could find the link.) Both were based in Russia, in the south, in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) so I wouldn’t be able to meet them this trip. But I am so grateful to them.

Anastasia gave me a good talking to about filling in the required visa forms (Belarus, Mongolia, Russia and China) ASAP. They’re all arranged via the Real Russia website. I spent two late nights in the school office, sweating over details like next of kin and employers, the dates of my parents’ deaths, my income and if I should be including my darling son’s passport number when he’s a grown man and nowhere near this expedition!

Also required in the forms were my accommodation. Aaaaargh! I quickly searched through Booking.com and found The Strawberry Duck Hostel (!) in Moscow and the Beijing 161 Wangfujing Courtyard Hotel – blearily looking at maps, negotiating dates and trying to understand different currencies. (As a result, both bookings contained errors which took a week or so to sort out later.) But I completed the forms, hit submit, and dragged myself out of the office and into my comfy little student room upstairs.

Phew. Made the deadline. The next step was a date with destiny (actually Bill) at Real Russia London to deliver my passport. I had to negotiate time off with my work which I was reluctant to do. I felt so grateful to Kings Education, Brighton, not only for giving me the opportunity to teach such a wide range of people, ages and cultures but also to live within the establishment. I had to work in reception once a fortnight or so but what a marvellous opportunity to save money for this epic journey!

I caught the train the afternoon before, walking up and down the main street of Brighton to find a photographer who could do the visa photos. Der. When I got to Victoria Station there was a machine. Just like the one in the Brighton Railway Station. But I sat up straight and finally achieved useful snaps.

(Stayed in the St Pauls YHA (you can hear the bells beautifully) and enjoyed Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingmar Bergman at the BFI.)

The next morning I woke with the bells and was glad I had extra time to travel the short distance from Tower Hill tube station to Real Russia so I could worry if I had the correct paper work, passports and photos, worry if the photos, suitable for American and Indian visas, would suffice for Russia and China and worry … worry … where the heck was the office?

The Tower of London and London Wall
The ancient city walls and the Tower of London

Real Russia is a little bit difficult to find.

Corner of the Minories
London is building everywhere

The address is 122 Minories, London.

Minories to the right. 122 Minories around the bend to the left!

The door is not on the Minories. It’s around the corner.

Real Russia's address is Minories
Real Russia is just around the bend
Real Russia sandwich board
I do not think this was outside the door the first time I came to visit. I thought I had better capture it when I could

I could not work out the twisty corridors, choosing (why?) to head downstairs to an abandoned stairwell that looked as if it had suffered a midnight flit or a sudden search with fallen lost things and pamphlet failure. Real Russia is just on the first floor, that’s all. If you’re clever and take the lift it’s easy.

The front door of Real Russia
The London Office of Real Russia is upstairs, behind a quiet, unassuming door.

Once inside, I met Bill Watkins, cheery Englishman with gold neck chain, who examined the electronic forms, corrected my mistakes and had to call in Irene, who knew he loved her, to explain why there was such a strange pop-up in my page.

Everything had to be done in the correct order. We had to go to Mongolia first and we had to expedite Russia, then apply to China and finally Belarus. I had left it way too long and I had let my finances get away from me. I would need to return to London once more to deliver my passport to Russia (for the biometrics). Bill looked as if he’d clipped many photos to size and attached more than a thousand forms to their passports. He admitted he could do them in his sleep. I surrendered my passport to him. (Duel citizens must carry the Chinese visa in their British passport.)

Bill was not there
Where in the world is Bill?
(That’s Lenin on his desk. Remember Arthur Ransome’s pal?)

We had a nice talk about identity theft. His sister is extremely paranoid about it. Bill, who works for a Russian travel agency, thinks that if anyone wants his identity, they’re welcome to it. To put up defences against any kind of theft is enormously difficult. Better not to have too much stuff, really. I told him I’d been really nervous four years ago when I had to copy and email my passport for the Spanish government via an insecure network. The NZ passport. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve copied them since then. Both passports, that is. That’s right. I’ve got two passports.

I am incredibly lucky in this world. Because I was born in London, I’m British. Because my mother was a New Zealander, I travel between Australia and NZ on an NZ passport. And, because my father was Australian, I am also eligible for an Australian passport as a citizen. Whilst in Europe (hah bloody hah Brexit) I’ve been able to freely move around with my British passport. However, I was employed by the Spanish Government as a NZ citizen, so they were able to utilise both passports.

Real Russia had everything under control.

Back on the road again, I found I could attend the matinee of Peter Gynt at the National Theatre, written by David Hare and Ibsen, an energetic romp through modern madness. My London outing was complete and I returned to Brighton refreshed and ready to prep for more classes.

And, after hours, fix up my mistakes. As it turned out, I’d mistaken the accommodation dates because I had no idea it took nineteen hours and twenty seven minutes to train from Warsaw to Moscow.

Clocks over Bill
Ulan Bator, London, Beijing and Moscow

You mean all that distance takes time?

That’s the best thing about overland travel. There’s a sense of time and distance that’s completely lost in a plane. Especially if you can’t see land from the window. You appear to be drifting in fluffy clouds – a sort of living heaven – where sun beams bless your face intermittently and flight attendants bring you assorted plastics smeared with some kind of indistinguishable food stuffs.

I do like flying – I’m quite good at it. But now I am a proponent of flygskam – a Swedish word meaning “flight shame” – favour eco-friendly transport such as trains over planes. 

I was through the worst of the planning. Real Russia was handling all the visa application processes. All I had to do was deliver the passports to the Visa Centres when required and get finger printed. The next trip to London would be to visit Russia.

Costs of visas as at August 2019   
£98.46 Mongolian Single Entry Mongolian Transit Visa application (Standard service consular processing)   
£134.03 Russian Tourist Visa application   
£101.18 for Fast Track Russian Tourist Visa application   
£89.56 Single Entry Belarusian Transit Visa application   
£193.80 Chinese Tourist Visa application   

I negotiated time off on a Monday thinking I could get back in time for my afternoon class but as it happened I did not have such a thing so I had time to play in London. I picked up my passport from Real Russia, walked past the Barbican Centre and the London Museum, to the Russian Visa Application Centre in Gee Street. The centre has a wonderful photographic wall of Moscow, whetting my appetite for my visit to the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral. I could see concerned people thumbing through papers, attending to payments, having to sit down again and wait for their number to be called, attend to another thing, then back to wait again while I, friend of Real Russia, leapt at once to my feet with my number, presented, signed, held four fingers on a yellow disco perspex place then the other fingers then two thumbs close together, dah, better. And biometrics over, back into the London sunshine again.

I went to visit Mary Quant at the V&A. I had such a delightful hour or so there, wandering past my youth frozen in glass cases, the stylised daisy logo, the tights, frocks and short hair …

Back in Brighton, back at school, searching for scissors or holepunch or some textbook or other, I opened a drawer in a classroom and came upon a DVD. There were no DVDs in Kings Education. Everything on the IWDs was online or on desktops. I’d never seen one before. But this DVD was Joanna Lumley’s TransSiberian Adventure.

You may or may not be able to view all three episodes online.

She began her trip in Hong Kong, where she used to live as a child. SO DID I, Joanna Lumley! Wow! Only I was there a bit later, from the ages of 8 to 10 years old. So on my return I was able to remember a bit and walked around our old neighbourhood with the mental map returning to mind.

Cicada in foreground overlooking buildings in HK
A cicada-eye view of the ever encroaching buildings of HK. My birthday treat in 2016 was a visit to our old home in Bowen Road, now a fitness trail. There used to be wildlife here, monkeys and birds. There are still insects.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but it could be said my entire journey started in April 2016, in Hong Kong, so there is another similarity. Ms Lumley, though, got on and off the train, met people and did adventurous things. I’m just going to sit on my bum and stare out the window for seven days. Also, she went the other way, ending in Moscow. I’m going to start from the UK (where I was born – another kind of beginning) and head out across the Channel to Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia and China.

One of the teachers said to me on a Friday afternoon, ‘Who will you talk to on the weekend?’ Well, I spoke to Abdullah and Ned and Simka and a Chinese lady who is staying in Brighton for four days with just a few words of English. I realised I’m going to China with NO Chinese. Quick! XieXie. And Russia with NO Russian. Spasibo. Learning starts at home.

I was getting excited. Had my undercut sharpened up at ‘Hello Sailor’s Barber Shop’. Suitable, I thought, for someone about to sail from China to New Zealand. The barber came from Frankston in Melbourne.

BUT

NEWS from the shipping company.

Alexandra and Oceane want me to chose ONE passport. They have to send it to the Captain who will then send it on with the list of passengers to all the ports.

Gulp.

By return email, I explained that, because the Chinese visa will be in the Great British passport, I have to exit China as a British citizen. But I must enter Australia and New Zealand on my NZ passport as that is how I exited Australia. Could they please help me?

Alexandra and Oceane say, ‘Pick one’.

More emails. I fight back with the NZ regulations:  https://www.immigration.govt.nz/knowledgebase/kb-question/kb-question-1170 pointing out the international waters don’t care about my passport. It’s only relevant when I enter and exit a territory.

Their reply:

“It’s the rules – we can’t do nothing. If you want to cancel the trip – please let me know.”

Part V coming soon!

Marcea at the Global Climate Strike in Totnes
Update from Marcea. She’s on the left, Friday 20th Sept 2019, supporting children striking for their future

UK to Antipodes OVERLAND Part III … via TOTNES!

Welcome to my planning reports. Please find Part I here and Part II here. We are now embarking on Part III.

Two bands of contrails across a blue sky
Contrails might only be the visible marks of a plane
but around that water vapour also fizzes the remains of burnt-up av-gas

In a somewhat nefarious manner I picked up the NHS application forms at a local doctor’s surgery where I had not made application before. The receptionist said (voice tinny through security speaker) it was against the rules at this outrageous time, seconds after closing, but she did reluctantly agree to slip the papers through the door. She opened it only a few centimetres to prevent my bursting in upon the doctors unannounced. It felt very clandestine. The next day I returned the forms, brazenly walking right up to the desk, the office now formally open. Signed, sealed, delivered. I have no idea why I couldn’t have been accepted in the closer surgeries. They didn’t like the cut of my jib, I suppose.

It would be a couple of weeks before I could get an appointment. I must reassure you, everything was honest and fully disclosed except I neglected to mention that pesky medical certificate for the shipping company. That would be between me and the doctor. When I got an appointment. If the forms were accepted. What could possibly go wrong?

On a journey half way across the world? Many, many things. Did I really want to do this? Could I take all the risks? By myself? Oh, I was nervous.

I needed a holiday, a little break. I would go to Totnes. Why Totnes? Because of Transition Towns!

The main street of Totnes
The High Street of Totnes might have been littered with horse manure four or five hundred years ago but historical buildings are still to be seen jetting over pedestrians
in this modern market town

I first heard about Transition Towns perhaps a dozen years ago, during a Symposium at our son’s school. I’m not sure how I first heard about the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium. It might have been organised by Be the Change Australia although I also attended one held by Engineers without Borders before I became more involved with the Action Circle Discussion Groups which helped our small community to learn about sustainability and deep green philosophies.

My family also joined our local Transition Town, watched films like The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, ordered our fresh organic veggie boxes straight from the co-op and enthusiastically supported our first CarrotMob!

I’ve just mentioned a lot of groups.

Paul Hawken calls the environmental movement the largest movement the world has never seen. There are millions of organisations, from Transition Towns to The Red Cross, WWF and Greenpeace to the Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum and 350.org, all working together to heal the wounds of the Earth. Paul Hawken calls these groups (Amnesty International, Sea Shepherd, the Wilderness Society) the white blood cells of the world.

Which groups do you belong to? You are part of the movement.

As well as Transition Towns, Totnes is the home of Schumacher College, Charles Babbage and … for the Australians in the audience, Wills (from Burke and … )

Totnes is famous for many things - for an Australian - Wills! From Bourke and ...
Right in the centre of town, famous Australian explorers,
Bourke and … (Did I say successful? No, I did not.)

You can read more about my theory of places of power here but I am sure Totnes must be such a place. There must be Ley Lines near. It’s first mentioned in history in 907 AD but apparently Brutus of Troy landed here to found Britain way back before there was writing. There is definitely a wonderful energy, particularly around the Dartington Estate during the summer music school.

On the approach to the estate
Wetland area of Dartington Estate – singing frogs, singing people …

I found a delightful Airbnb and wrote to the host, Marcea, to confirm dates and establish communication. After I explained my interest in Totnes, she was pleased to tell me of her own long-time involvement with Transition Town. I was particularly interested to hear she hopes to get a place in their co-housing project. Her children are grown and gone and, as mature-aged ladies, we established a rapport even through these early emails.

When I walked into her house, here is one of the first things I saw.

Extinction Rebellion Flag
A patch for Extinction Rebellion made by Marcea.
The symbol represents an hour glass hemmed in by limited time.
Marcea, my Airbnb host, a delightful climate activist
Marcea was one of the thousand arrested in the April Rebellion.
(Note her little home-made felted badge.)
Birds flying to freedom drawn by Marcea during her short incarceration
Marcea spent only a few hours in prison but it felt long and lonely to her.
This is her statement
with her drawing depicting a longing for freedom.

Marcea is currently awaiting trial with some trepidation. Although Extinction Rebellion does offer legal and emotional support, Marcea is not intending to make any grandstanding speeches. She’s a grandmother. She didn’t want to be dragged when she was arrested, in the middle of the night, at Waterloo Bridge. She has a sore shoulder. Even though the police are slowed considerably by having to use four officers to shift one climate protester, Marcea chose her more sedate walk to the police vehicle, not wishing to add to her already high stress by causing police too much trouble.

Extinction Rebellion provides a web of educated communicators and different levels of involvement. Marcea is no longer part of the arrestable group but will support those who have been imprisoned. She says the joy of seeing a friendly face and being handed a peanut butter sandwich on her release was one of the highlights of her life.

Extinction Rebellion faces accusers who believe the idea of white middle-class protesters putting themselves in the way of arrest is immoral. How can the Extinction Rebellion be a rebellion for all people? Read an excellent article about this here.

Only the wealthy will be able to weather the initial storms of climate change and after a few years even they may find basic supplies harder to access. Climate change is for all people.

This is not a drill is a collection of essays and think pieces about the future and humanity's place in it
‘This is not a drill’ is a very entertaining and informative book.
You can pick it up, read a short piece or hang on to read many opinions.
I really like the Social Contract at the end.

Extinction Rebellion is trying to broaden their reach and has already managed to get Great Britain to declare a Climate Emergency, one of the main objectives.

Extinction Rebellion’s website states the following aims:[12][13]
1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
3. Government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_Rebellion

This is why Marcea was willing to be arrested. She believes something must be done and … ‘if good people do nothing … ‘ At least the Extinction Rebellion protests with art and good humour. With no alcohol or drugs, violence is strictly prohibted. Yoga classes, singing and dancing are strongly encouraged. The blockades are for families, sharing food and discussions.

Police said they had been forced to divert officers from tackling crime and policing neighbourhoods to deal with April’s protests – which saw a pink boat block Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge fitted with greenery and skateboard ramps.
Activists called it “Garden Bridge”.
Mr Taylor said officers arrested more than 1,150 people during the protests and around 180 have been charged so far. He has previously said he wants the Met to push for every one of those arrested to be charged.
“We absolutely respect people’s fundamental right to protest, but we do not accept that extends to causing misery and mass disruption to everybody,” Mr Taylor said. “Absolutely I can assure Londoners we will do everything we can to avoid that situation again.”
But Mr Read said “any disruption that we cause is just a vanishingly-small fraction of the disruption to our entire civilisation and utter misery that ecological breakdown and climate breakdown are starting to bring.”

https://us-issues.com/2019/08/06/extinction-rebellion-you-cant-arrest-us-all/

And then there’s Greta Thunberg, the Joan of Arc of the environmental movement. She too travels lightly upon the Earth and I wish I had a fraction of her fortitude.

Okay, Greta. Okay, Marcea. I’ll try. I will continue with my plans to travel without flying.

Greta

And so, with renewed Totnes vigour, fired up from Greta’s successful Atlantic crossing, I returned to Brighton to find the NHS had accepted me! I could make an appointment with a doctor which I did, forthwith. He tested my blood pressure, made me jump up and down, listened to my chest and looked at my old teeth. Then he signed the necessary medical certificate! I was on my way!

Once I sent the paper work to my environmentally-minded shipping company, I could start booking the rest of the trip. I needed to clarify my dates backwards. Starting from Ningbo, China, where I would catch the CC Coral, I needed to book accommodation, because the dates of the ship are ‘around’, given the exigencies of tide and wind. Then a train from Beijing to Ningbo. Once I had my dates for the TransSiberian, Moscow to Beijing. I’d need visas.

I spent a few anxious hours trying to work out the Chinese and Russian visa procedures. I’m sure it’s only a matter of going step by step. I looked at the Man in Seat 61 again and then the Lonely Planet guide and finally decided I needed help.

I contacted the wonderful Real Russia and asked if they could advise me. When should I start organising my visas?

Last month.

AAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaargh!

Tune in to Part IV to discover how much visas for Belarus, Russia, Mongolia and China cost. Especially when you have to pay for the rush version.