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I will take you to Iran for free. Who’s down?
I have a once in a lifetime offer for you. I will take you straight to Tehran, Iran, and leave you there alone. Sounds good? Let’s go! BOOM! You are now standing in the 26C heat. Blink your eyes a bit – the sun is bright and it’s a bit windy. Are you okay? Good. Enjoy! Sweat is running down your back, your head is cooking under a dark scarf covering your hair. You are wearing dark trousers and a long-sleeved tunic. Closed toe shoes. “I wish I had shorts,” you think for the last time in your life (okay, in your time in Iran). You convince yourself that the scarf is protecting you against the sun. It actually is. [Wanna come back? Already? Try to handle it a bit more, it’s gonna be awesome. Promise.] You are attentive as always while in a new place. Touch your pocket – yep, your phone is there. And your passport and wallet are in the bag – checked! You look around – and see everything but yet nothing as it’s your first time here. High buildings, old and new, street sellers, juice bars. “Taxi, taxi!” someone yells to you. “Oh no, I need to tie my stripes,” you try to trick them. “This is something every country has in common,” you think while squatting. “Crazy taxi drivers.” You allow yourself a little sigh. Hey, but what’s there? Oh, just a metro station, hundreds of people are going underground like moles into lairs. You sweep a bit sweat from your forehead, and notice a green park over the street. Some locals are having a picnic, drinking tea and making BBQ. They wave to you and you wave back and think how come they already noticed you. It’s actually pretty sweet. The sun is merciless, a pure nightmare for the ones having a way too light skin. Maybe it’s cooler in the subway? Doesn’t matter – if your brain is a cabbage your legs can surprisingly work automatically. Can the lady in the ticket-office speak English? She can. You now search for a metro map on your phone your friend sent you yesterday. Wait a sec, no need to – see, there’s already a man in a suit rushing up to you, asking if you need any help. “No, thanks,” you reply gratefully and notice how cool bald he is. You continue making your way through the crowd. Burkas, scarfs, hundreds of eyes staring at you. “Welcome to Iran,” many of them say and walk away waiting for no answer. All those sights. All the good wishes. You feel a bit hesitant. Where am I exactly? [How do you feel? Shall we continue? Good!] The train comes and the crowd pushes you into the wagon. Men are offering all the seats to women. You are now sitting on a hard plastic bench – sweaty sticky hands holding your bag on your lap – watching people. You make a room for an old lady to fit next to you with five or six huge bags. You stare at her with the same interest like the others are watching you. You smile. She smiles. You both laugh. You decide to get off in the next station. Back to the street. High minarets in a walking distance. “Haa, exactly the place I was looking for,” you pat yourself as you were thinking about visiting a mosque before. You consciously ignore the fact that it was by accident. “Now I just need to see how the system works here,” you think in front of the holy place, and decide to observe the others first; on the very moment someone touches your hand. A women, covered with burka asks you if you want to enter the mosque. Oh. You smile and say “yes” and have a quick analysis in your head on a topic “Can I trust her?”. You investigate the spark in her eyes. Body language. Wrinkles on face. Voice tone. Just as hundreds of times before you can make a decision in half of a second. Everything works. This stranger can be trusted. The woman takes you with and makes clear that you give your bag away. “Wait?!” a bell starts to ring in your head. “But it’s a mosque…,” you quickly calm yourself down and give your bag through a window into a small stall. And get a bed sheet as an exchange. What? No, it’s a chador. You observe it with a real interest having no idea what to do with it. A woman with burka helps you to cover yourself. And now? You are ready to enter the mosque! Which you do, your heart full of trust towards the woman, your mind ready to learn and discover about the new beautiful culture. You enter the complex. First thing you notice is a man cuddling the other one with a green fluffy duster. “Now I’m curious,” you start laughing, seeking for an answer… [To be continued…] Madle ...
Things ONLY real travelers understand
Are you listening to foreign news and feel like yawning after every two seconds? “But I’m not a cool person in the eyes of society if I’m not updated,” you scold yourself. And keep listening. Found a new travel blog? “Jesus, again someone is chattering how cool is to be in Australia or Kazakhstan. I do not care.” Let’s be honest – most of us are not too interested in Iran or Norway or other countries in the world. Why should we? We scroll the news and have the same emotion while reading “TERRIBLE: 100 people died due to earthquake in Nepal” and “HOW CUTE: A Toddler Is Making a Cake”. Okay, the last one still makes you say “aww” (you better confess), but then it’s gone. WHY don’t we care? Floods. Earthquakes. Genocides. Protests. Beautiful buildings. Food. Sunsets. Hotels. Meh. Yes, you make a click on those headlines and pictures, but does it really click in your head? I’m honest – most of my life I didn’t give a shit about travel blogs or magazines, foreign news. But then something happened. It’s called emotional connection. Let me give you an example. You read a headline “Two tourists were killed in Tajikistan”. Do you react somehow? Don’t think so. Let’s try again. “Two foreign cyclists were killed in Tajikistan”. What about the feelings now? If you are a cyclist by yourself you probably click better. “Two [enter you nationality] cyclists were killed in Tajikistan”. You got the point. Of course, no need to be so dramatic. Let’s switch to poetics. Why is it like this – when someone is talking about Iran or Iranians, about Nepal or Nepali, I immediately start to listen? Simply because… … their warm wind has touched my cheeks and messed my hair. Their crazy cold rain has made me completely wet and their hot sun has burnt my hair even more blonde. Their eyes have met mine and their laugh has made me laugh. Their words have melted my heart, their tears have brought tears into my eyes. Our glasses have clinked and we have walked in the same rhythm. I met those people, I got a look inside, we were together in the happiness, we shared our sad moments. I saw their nature, breathed their air. It’s easy to empathize. I could upload beautiful photos. One photo says more than thousand words, right? Good. Beautiful. “I wish I was there,” you start thinking. But if you haven’t been there nor plan to go you have no emotional connection. You don’t have to. The more I travel the more I feel. I have never been to Mozambique and therefore Mozambique is not in my heart. Yet. Wait, are you living there? Then it gets closer. It’s closer because I have the connection through you. Our hearts are like unfinished globes, getting more detailed and bigger after each trip. Some time ago I didn’t have Iran on mine, now it’s just right there – next to Azerbaijan. Yep, my heart got bigger in the size of Iran. But hey, why should I care about this post? I don’t even know the author, I have other stuff to think about. See, “Donald Trump got a new pair of underpants”. Isn’t it great? Madle ...
This is how I finally reached Iran
„You can call day after tomorrow if you really want,“ the lady shrugged her shoulders. So did I and collected my visa in two days.” Catch up with the previous post HERE. So my Great Plan looked like this: I will go [from Kyrgyzstan] to Uzbekistan. I will apply for Turkmen visa. I will go to Turkmenistan and prove that I have the permission to go to Iran. I will go to Iran. My Real Life looked like: I went from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan. Checked! I applied for Turkmen visa. Checked! I didn’t get Turkmen visa [read the most tearful story HERE]. My Uzbek visa expired and I had to escape to Kazakhstan. I flew from Kazakhstan to Iran. Do you know this game – Who Is Going To Sit Next To You On Board? Is he talkative, is she anxious, is he nervous, is she a child – you never know! This time I got pretty lucky as my neighbour turned out to be an Iranian Famous Pianist. So let’s make it clear. Our flight looked like this: me sitting and watching videos from his phone [about his concerts]. He sitting and pointing to his piano in the video and saying “piano”. Or “water” [don’t ask]. These two words he knew in English were more than enough to also have great conversations about history and politics. And hey, it was twice as much as I knew Persian so, bravo. The flight was cool and fast. We landed in Tehran and I must admit I was a bit anxious. I felt that whatever is going to happen in Iran, it’s gonna be extra memorable. Every woman around me put on their scarfs or hijabs, and I did the same. I had no idea how much hair I need to cover, what happens when my scarf falls down etc. The Famous Pianist looked at me, put his thumbs up and we left the plane. Two hours later. I have already met my Couchsurfing host. We are at the big market because I’m in need of something more covering than just long-sleeved blouse and jeans. Who doesn’t know then 90% of the time I hate shopping. Luckily my host seemed to enjoy it a lot more, so he was running from one seller to another, negotiated about the prices, checked the materials and colors, and I was just exhausted [but grateful] walking after him. Luckily there were also some raw almond sellers and other cool people to give my attention [and money] to. Did you know that Tehran is big? And I mean, BIG. After our shopping tour, a walk to one mosque and lunch break in the local cafe we took a metro, 2 buses and a taxi and just 3 hours later reached my host’s family house [well okay, it was out of the city they said but I couldn’t really make a difference]. So what was my first impression about Iran? Good. Really good. Still, at the same time I had a feeling like I switched from bicycle to monocycle and had to learn how to ride again. So many new rules, norms and traditions. But do you know what I currently have but didn’t have back then? [To be continued…] Madle ...
How my “Great Trip to Iran” started. Honestly.
„So you were in Central Asia? Well I guess it’s safer than in… in.. in Iran.“ „I just came from Iran actually.“ „Oh.. eee.“ [changes the topic] [A random conversation with almost a random person] Thanks for caring! I’ve got many messages concerning about my trip to Iran – didn’t I like that country AT ALL that I only published one article about it?! [You can find it HERE and I strongly recommend to read it to get the concept for further posts]. What can I say? I’m gonna UPDATE YOU SOON! No one, NO ONE should miss a detailed information how amazing is Iran! [… how cheesy…]. Of course, there were moments not as good as melted cheese, but the good news are – I’m gonna write about those as well. Let’s have an honest start! The first post [okay you smarty pie, second] about Iran is going to be about „What to do to make Iranians let you into their country“. So if you can’t sit still at all you better start organizing your visa because I promise – you can sit on your chair longer than you might expect! [all worth it though]. First you need a magical code. I got mine from HERE. Once you have it feel free to celebrate a bit as the next step can be a bit more difficult [especially if you are applying to it in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan]. Got your code? Time to discover the life in embassy! Already exhausted? I can’t believe it… but okay, okay, there’s also an easier route. If you decide to go to Iran via airport you can get your visa on-arrival [make sure you still register for your e-visa a couple of days before]. Doing so – I have to warn you – you’ll miss the fun part of running between embassies and banks [so, it’s on your own risk!]. Let’s time-travel a bit and see how it was working some months ago in Kyrgyzstan [there’s a high chance you’ll do the same one day, isn’t there?!]. I got an e-mail with the magical code. Woke up next morning at 7 am, ran into the underground, had my papers printed out [let’s not talk about the quality..]. Walked some kilometres to the embassy where one lady told me I also need the proof of my travel insurance. Walked back home. Printed out 3 pages of text in Estonian [where there were also written that the insurance was already expired]. Walked back to embassy again. The lady had her lunch break and was late half an hour. Instead of her I found a Kyrgyz guy in front of the door, waiting for his visa. „Are you going to Iran? [no, to Nicaragua, why else I need Iranian embassy?]. Tehran is a boring city, I have my business meeting; but don’t go out of the hotel,“ he adviced me. „I’m not planning to stay in the hotels,“ I replied and saw the embassy-lady coming back walking as she had the whole time of the world in her hands. She opened the door and sent me straight to the bank of Pakistan. I had to pay 50 dollars, got a small piece of paper and knocked the embassy’s door [again] 15 minutes later. „Oh, so you’re back,“ the woman said, „call after 5 days to check if your visa is ready.“ „Five?!“ I didn’t want to believe her, „I heard it should be ready in three“. „You can call day after tomorrow if you really want,“ the lady shrugged her shoulders. So did I and collected my visa in two days. [To be continued…] Madlen ...
TRIP REPORT: Egle wandering around with Wandersell
“If you cannot decide which chocolate to buy for your hiking trip, buy them both – you might get lost and need them both.” [Egle 2018] Golden words! 😀 Before Central Asia I had met Egle maybe three times in my life. On one beautiful day I got a message from her that she is planning to come and do some hiking. Good idea, girl – I don’t mind a company, especially when at the end the one and only problem we had was that we wanted to eat different chocolate. 😀 But let her speak by herself! Madle...
TEST YOURSELF: Which _STAN country you belong in?
You have always dreamed about travelling to Central Asia? You are looking at the map and can’t decide which one to go to first? Where would you feel the best, oh where would your heart be filled with love and peace… 😀 I made it easier for you! Take the test and see where do you belong! Test yourself: HERE! Madlen <3...
The most dangerous thoughts we all have
„It’s beautiful there. I’ve never been so stunned in front of the old buildings than in those cities,“ I said excitedly, “and the hospitality among locals is something incredible.” „So it’s safe to travel there?“ asked my new friend, young Kyrgyz girl. „All of my friends told me it’s not a place to go.“ „Which place?“ I was confused, even though there must have been only one answer. „Uzbekistan, of course,“ she said. The next couple of minutes my new friend explained me that Uzbekistan is full of conflicts, protests and war. Her friends told so, and they know better. My argument – that I just traveled through almost the whole country alone and didn’t see anything dangerous – didn’t convince her. No, it must be dangerous. What exactly, still remains as a mystery to me, because even her friends have never been there. Of course not, why should they risk… [Uzbekistan is one of the safest countries I have ever been to. Read more HERE.] How many stereotypes are there in our heads? How many thought patterns? And where are all of them coming from, how do they take root, transform into some general, strong truth inside of us. We never think about their origin. It has just always been like that. „It’s dangerous there.“ „I’m not good enough for the new job, I’m not even gonna apply.“ „Traveling is for the rich people, I will never earn that much money.“ „Even my great grandmother was bad at mathematics, so am I, it’s all about genes.“ „I have to drink milk and eat meat. If not my bones will be weak.“ „Real science is THE science, you cannot take humanitarians seriously.“ „Whether you were born as a singer, or you can never learn to be one.“ „Girls are playing with dolls, boys with cars.“ „Some of us are born to be actors, some not. It’s about personality.“ „I would never be able to do that.“ „He is older than me, he must be smarter.“ „I am older than he, so I am smarter.“ How many thoughts like these are crossing our minds every day, and we don’t even notice it? Are they even our own thoughts? Maybe they are put into our minds by someone else? But we are so sure that these are ours, produced by our own smart brains. Still, at the end of the day we are the ones who are living by those thoughts without fully understanding who is actually guiding us. Are these thoughts just excuses not to start something new, not to work hard? Is it just laziness to see beyond, to think, to analyze and to stand in front of yourself? It’s easier to put our thoughts like books into the boxes, checking only the headlines and not to control whether the content matches with what is written on the box. When you hear yourself stating something as a common knowledge, stop and think about where this information actually originates from. Is it really your own thought or it comes from somewhere outside? When you meet someone for the first time, stop and realize that you really know nothing about them. You see race, gender, age, clothes. Forget it all. You know nothing. Those biased assumptions that pop into your head because of the way your brain likes categories, are limiting your life, and other people’s lives. With all the assumptions, stereotypes and categories we limit our own lives. We create borders, leave ourselves out of opportunities to dig deeper, to find new windows. We make our own world smaller without noticing the opportunities which could change our lives. Or other’s. Sometimes we need to learn. So we could unlearn and relearn. Madlen ❤...
How to travel in Kazakhstan
If you enjoy trekking, horseback riding and camping, steppe and mountains, horses and camels, wild nature and the smell of nomadic life-style then Kazakhstan is most certainly for you. Here you can find old traditions, Central Asian mystique, Soviet-era trappings as well as modern cities. Travelling in Kazakhstan is generally safe, also for solo women travelers (of course, you need to follow some general safety rules like everywhere in the world). Location: The world’s largest landlocked country. Located in Central Asia, Kazakhstan shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and also adjoins a large part of the Caspian Sea. Population: around 18 million Capital: Astana Language: Kazakh. You can also hear a lot of Russian – if you can speak it, it’s not a problem to travel there, younger generation can generally speak at least basics of English as well. Of course, you can always use body language, and don’t forget – smile gets you further! People: Super friendly, helpful and curious. It’s not rare to get invited to local home/yurt for a tea or lunch. Currency/prices: Currency used in Kazakhstan is tenge (KZT). 1 € = 400 tenge (June’18). Compared to Estonia the cost of living in Kazakhstan is rather cheaper: transportation is very cheap, groceries a little cheaper (alcohol, tobacco and sweets much cheaper), accommodation is also a little cheaper (hostels). The prices are a bit higher than in the neighboring country Kyrgyzstan. SIM-card: To get a local number is fairly cheap depending on the service provider. It is possible to buy a SIM-card almost everywhere, from the stores or from the sellers on the streets. Visa: Check your country here: https://caravanistan.com/visa/kazakhstan For Estonians Kazakhstan is visa free for 30 days. Then, plan A, you have to buy a visa or, plan B, cross the border of one neighboring country, for example, it is easiest to go to Kyrgyzstan (60 days visa-free). Crossing the border is easy and if you wish you can just return and get your another 30 days visa-free in Kazakhstan! Food: Traditionally Kazakh people eat a lot of meat, including horse meat. In bigger cities cafes and restaurants offer traditional food as well as sushi and pizza. In bigger grocery stores you can find almost everything you need. It is possible to get fresh vegetables at the markets (bazaars) all year around. Transportation Plane: The main airports are in Astana and Almaty, but also in the smaller cities. Marshrutka/bus: Marshrutka aka minibus is one of the most common and also the cheapest means of transportation in Kazakhstan. Prices vary depending on the distance, for example, driving form Almaty to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) will cost you 1500 tenge. Keep in mind that marshrutkas will not start their journey before all seats are taken! This is the case with shared taxis as well and might mean waiting a couple of hours. Buses are common inside the cities like Almaty or Astana. In Almaty, the ticket is 150 tenge (if you have a special card, it’s 80 KZT). Very useful webpage and an app is 2GIS (www.2gis.ee), which works in the cities like Almaty and Astana, but also in Shymkent. 2GIS works perfectly offline as well and after entering your destination you can check the exact buses you need to take to get there. Includes info about bars and places where to eat. Shared taxi: Between bigger cities you can also take a shared taxi, which is more expensive than a marshrutka, but more comfortable and faster. Train: The most convenient and popular transportation in Kazakhstan. As often you need to pass very long distances you can also sleep in the train. Prices vary depending on the distance, seat and train (new or old, fast or slow, platzkart or coupe). FE: Shymkent -> Taraz (4-5 h, new train, coupe) = 1500 tenge. Aktau -> Shymkent (42 h, old, sleeping, platzkart) = 5200 tenge. Accommodation: What ever you are looking for you can find: fancy hotels, laid back hostels, comfortable homestays, camping is allowed almost everywhere, Couchsurfing is active. Mostly you are able to find a place in a hostel for 5-10€. Nature: Kazakhstan is full of steppe, but you can also find high mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and hiking paths. They mine mineral extractions, gas and petroleum. Kazakhstan has also uranium, chromium, lead and zinc reserves. Manganese, copper, coal, iron and gold can also be find. Climate: Continental with warm summers and cold winters. Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world (after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia). The best time for visiting is spring or autumn. Winter offers good opportunities for skiing, in the summertime you can escape to the mountains to enjoy cooler weather and wonderful nature. Madlen ❤ ...
I guess I’m bewitched. Kazakhstan!?
I’m falling and falling and falling… in love with Central Asia. I feel like I’m bewitched. It’s a bit funny as before coming here I knew nothing about this part of the planet. I jumped into the deep water and had to learn how to swim. I was anxious but excited as it just felt exactly the right place to go. It’s time to share some photos from Kazakhstan. I absolutely adore moments from everyday life. Kazakhstan somehow found a way into my heart and it’s impossible to get it out of me. I don’t remember meeting a real witch who would have conjured me [even though I know exactly where she lives!], but I feel like someone still did some magic with me. It’s hard to see on the photo, but behind the swamp there is a yurt. And in the yurt there is a witch living – far from any civilization she decoys people from all over the world. See, even a girl from Costa Rica found herself there! [hey, Angelica!] You can see far in the steppe but you’ll soon find yourself… staring into… yourself. Maybe it’s dangerous to look into the camel’s eye as well? Or maybe it was this magic fog which made me feel like enchanted? Is there something magical in this food? Can one lake even be so toxic green without someone waving a magic wand? Or maybe this horse knows all the answers to all the questions? Well, actually there’s always only one answer. Who else can charm me like that than people with whom to share all the magical moments! Happiness only real when shared. Madle ❤...
Worst day ever?
Today was the worst day ever And don’t try to convince me that There’s something good in every day Every situation teaches you something Everything is good for something It’s a lie. Because, when you take a closer look, This world is a pretty selfish, evil place. Even if Some goodness does shine through once in a while Satisfaction and happiness don’t last. And it’s not true that It’s all in the mind and heart Because True happiness can be attained Only if one’s surroundings are good It’s not true that good exists I’m sure you can agree that The reality Creates My attitude It’s all beyond my control And you’ll never in a million years hear me say Today was a very good day *Now read from bottom to top. Every single sentence, every single word has a lot of power. You can hurt but you can also bring happiness just by using words. How do you feel when someone compliments you? Writes a letter full of good words? Says something bad, talks behind your back? Criticises without any reason? Words cost nothing, but they can make someone’s day. Use them wisely. Madlena ❤ ...
About Travel Stress and How to Get Over It
My cover photo on Facebook is from the mountains of Austria. Me, a picnic table and a lot of clouds between the mountains. Classic. I love that photo but guess what? When I showed it to my local friend he just nodded. Barely. No reaction like „ahhhhh, SO BEAUTIFUL“ as I expected. Far from that. How many of us have a cover photo or a profile photo from a foreign country? Something which is new, exotic and interesting? Other’s nature, sights and even people are interesting for us, but normal for the locals. It’s their everyday life, rather humdrum, ordinary, just like always. When I was walking in the ancient cities in Iran I had to sigh at almost every corner. HOW BEAUTIFUL can everything be?? How lucky are the people who can actually live in the middle of the great architecture and ancient streets. I visited marvellous mausoleums. Every each of them was famous, all in the must-go list. But guess what? At one point I couldn’t see the beauty anymore. I couldn’t see the details, it was just another mausoleum. Another mosque. Another waterfall, another mountain valley. At one certain point we are looking for something bigger to feel excited again. Architecture which stunned me before transformed into boring asphalt road. I needed something bigger, something more exciting. „You need to visit this, this and this place,“ said my friend and wrote me a list not to miss any important sight in his city. All I wanted was just to sit at home and watch a movie. I didn’t see what I had but what I didn’t have anymore. The beauty hides itself in details. I think what helps to heal yourself from the syndrome called “Another-Something” is kind of slow travelling. At least for a while. Feel no pressure to go out to explore if you feel more like staying inside and watching a movie. Take a day, a week or even a month to settle down somewhere. Discover the magic of just being. The sights are not running away from you. Madlena...
Trip Report: A solo woman rocks in Mexico
I haven’t met Liina even once in my life. Well, sure we might have seen each other by accident on the street or in the supermarket (Estonia is small, guys) but you know… It’s not the same as to sit down together, have a big cup of coffee and share our travel stories. That is why I decided to make an e-mail connection between Kazakhstan (where I am now) and Mexico (where she is now) to get answers for a really inspirational Trip Report. Liina also introduces herself like this: “I am Liina and one of my biggest passions is travelling. I have visited 70 countries during my 27 years of life, the longest stays were in Spain, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Sicily. Why do I travel? I think that travelling is my addiction (in a good way). Every time I’m back to Estonia I start to think where to go next. I’m used to travel alone – in some strange way it’s just really nice.” Madlents ❤ ...
How to travel in Iran
Many people are scared to travel to Iran. I’m here to tell you – don’t be! It’s a country which takes your breath away with absolutely beautiful landscape, super interesting history and the world’s most hospitable people. Iran makes you see the world from different angle and even if western media makes you feel insecure, keep in mind that generally you should be just safe and sound. Location: A country in the Middle East. Iran is bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. To the north it is opened to the Caspian Sea, to the south there is Persian Gulf. Population: around 81 million Capital: Tehran Language: Persian. Younger generation can generally speak some English as well. Of course, you can always use body language, and don’t forget – smile gets you further! People: Very, very hospitable, super friendly, helpful and curious.) Religion: islam (official) Currency/prices: Currency used in Iran is the rial (IRR). 1 € = 50 000 rial (April’18). PS. Due to inflation the rate can change pretty dramatically. Also, make sure you have enough cash, it’s almost impossible for foreigners to withdraw money in Iran! Actually there’s like a double system in Iran when it comes to money. It takes a bit time to get used to it but basically the prices can be said in rials or in tomans. For tomans just remove one 0 from the rials. For example, 10 000 rials = 1000 tomans. To go shopping or eating first make sure if the price is written in tomans or rials to avoid inconvenient situations afterwards. SIM-card: To get a local number can be a bit difficult but of course not impossible. I suggest you to use some locals to help you – they can use their passports for that as foreign passport might not be accepted by the electronic systems. Visa: To go to Iran most of the nations need to have a visa. If you arrive by plane you can get a visa on-arrival. Tourist visa is issued for a maximum of 30 days (can be extended). The visa is not date-specific which is a huge plus – you can enter the country within 3 months. Clothing: There are some rules for clothing in Iran you need to follow if you don’t want to have troubles with police. Woman: Cover your hair. Also make sure you are wearing long-sleeves and at least tunic-long blouse. Cover your shoulders. Clothing is not so strict as it comes to tourists but DO NOT experiment too much! PS. Cover your hair already when you step out of the plane. Yes, generally you need to wear fully-covering clothes also while swimming, except some private beaches in the south 😉 If you enter a mosque you need to cover yourself with chador – something which looks a bit like a bed sheet. You’ll get it there for free to use. Do you need to wear hijab indoors? If it comes to public places, then YES, if you are at home, then usually no. Man: You can’t wear shorts. Food: Traditionally Iranian people eat a lot of meat, the most popular dishes are kebab and stews with rice. In bigger cities cafes and restaurants offer traditional food as well as sushi and pizza. Well, be ready that pizza can differ a bit from which you’d imagine to be a pizza, but it’s still delicious 😀 In bigger grocery stores you can find almost everything you need, it is possible to get fresh vegetables at the markets (bazaars) all year around. As a snacks you’ll eat a lot of nuts and drink a lot of tea. Be ready to wait long while at the cafes and restaurants, especially when it comes to coffee. A mystery I never solved 😀 Transportation Plane: You can enter Iran by plane via Tehran and smaller cities. Domestic flights are also really affordable, between islands in the south and capital in the north for example. Shared taxi: Between bigger cities (and also to the border crossings) you can also take a shared taxi, which is more expensive than a bus, but generally faster. Bus: The most common way to get around. It’s cheap and comfortable, they also offer some drink and light snack in the buses. You can choose between VIP and ‘normal’ buses, the price difference is small so I’d recommend VIP ones. The seats are super comfy to sleep when it comes to longer ride. Trains: You can take a train between some cities but the buses go much more often. Accommodation: What ever you are looking for you can find: really fancy hotels, laid back hostels, camping is allowed almost everywhere. CouchSurfing is active. Mostly you are able to find a place in a hostel for 10-15 dollars. Nature and economy: Iran has everything when it comes to nature: from sea to desert and mountains. The climate is diverse. One of the highest temperatures was measured in Iran last year – almost 54 degrees (Celsius). In the mountains it can get really cold as the highest peak is around 5600 metres. A country of oil and gas. The best time for travelling is from April to June. Madlena ❤...
TEST YOURSELF: How much Madle is there in you?
Would you find yourself alone in the middle of the forest? -#whomadeaphotoWho wouldn’t want to know how much Madle is there in everyone? Well, I know the whole world was just waiting for this test and HERE IT COMES! Make a quiz and find out, you need this information… 😀 LET’S MAKE A TEST: HERE! Madlents ❤...
How many times did you ALMOST do something?
“We are collecting money for the children who…,” a young Kazakh girl stopped me. I gave her only one quick sight, then pretended that I don’t understand her and stepped on the zebra. “I want to eat, I want to get home, I want to find a shelter from the sun,” were my only thoughts while I was trying to open an ice-cream wrapping with my teeth. I failed and that made me angry. I hadn’t eaten anything on that day and it was already four o’clock in the afternoon. Thank god that the traffic lights just changed to green. I escaped to the other side of the road. I haven’t felt so bad as I felt that night for a long time. I realized (again) how easy it would be to change people’s lives while doing just small simple things. And how easily we decide to not do that. How our own “important” wishes become priority, such as finding a shadow or eating ice-cream while we could just take some seconds for listening. “I don’t mind supporting them with some coins but it’s too much trouble for now to find my wallet at the bottom of my bag. Besides, the lights just turned to green, I should really go,” I was thinking on that moment. What the hell, Madle? Almost helping someone is exactly the same as not helping at all. Exactly. How often do we decide not to help others or ourselves? How many times did you ALMOST say a compliment? How many trips did you ALMOST take? How many times you were holding a phone and ALMOST called to someone? How many times did you ALMOST offer your hand? ALMOST said your opinion out loud? ALMOST quit your job but actually are still ticking there? ALMOST applied for a good university but then decided you are not good enough for that? Signed up for an event but in reality never appeared? = you just wasted your time and energy to think about it but implemented exactly 0%. How would your life look like if all those “I almost…” would have been “I did”? Imagine you wake up every day with 18 400 euros in your bank account. You can do whatever you want to but at the end of the night it’s all gone whether you spent it or not. And then the next day you get another 18 400 euros. What would you do with it? Everyday 18 400 seconds are deposited into your life account. We would never waste it if it was money, so why do we waste it if it comes to time? If you waste your time you will never get it back. [Jay Shetty] You can’t collect time but you can spend it. If you ALMOST spend it… well that just means you are wasting it. You can always earn more money, but you can’t earn time. Three days later I was walking on the street with my friend. We were chatting and rushing to grab something to eat before running for a bus. There was a young Kazakh boy standing with a little box. “We are collecting money for the children who…,” he stopped us, “are fighting for their lives in the hospital.” I gave him only one, but long sight and turned my three days ago ‘almost done’ into ‘done’. I haven’t felt so good as at that moment for a long time. But how many ‘almost-s’ are out there which never get a second chance? … Read also *how to change your life in one second* HERE And *the most difficult exam we all need to take* HERE Madle ❤ ...
Trip Report: from Europe to China by bicycle
My first memory of Josh is a bit bittersweet. It was back in Kyrgyzstan and I had totally lost my voice due to cold weather. So there I was – sadly drinking tea at the hostel’s kitchen when one guy with a big beard stepped in, gave his hand and said that he is Josh. I replied with the same, well except that I’m not Josh and that actually I couldn’t speak at all with my sick throat. But the hard part was when he suddenly said something pretty obvious and I really, really wanted to make a super sarcastic joke but I COULDN’T. Can you imagine how I suffered? 😀 Hard, hard moment… Now, to be honest Josh inspired me a lot with his story and personality. If one day you see me cycling around the world instead of just backpacking – it’s his fault. Here it comes – TRIP REPORT number two! Read also the first one – about a pilot who hitchhiked onto the planes – HERE. kj Madle ❤...
How to travel in Uzbekistan
If you are interested in culture and history, don’t think too long – Uzbekistan is definitely a country for you! It’s full of amazing architecture, old streets and cool vibe as many cities were part of the ancient Silk Road. In addition you can enjoy delicious kitchen, meet super friendly locals, explore stunning nature and last but not least – it’s really affordable. Of course, there’s no need to be worried about safety – as a tourist, you’ll be safe and sound! Location: Landlocked in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the north and west, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, Afganistan to the southeast and Turkmenistan to the south. Population: around 33 million Capital: Tashkent Language: Uzbek. If you can speak Russian it’s not a problem to travel there, younger generation can generally speak pretty good English as well. Farsi/Persian is spoken to the west side of Uzbekistan. Of course, you can always use body language, and don’t forget – smile gets you further! People: Super friendly, helpful and curious. Religion: islam (90%) Currency/prices: Currency used in Kyrgyzstan is the som (UZS). 1 € = 10 000 som (March’18). That means you actually need an extra bag to carry your packages of money, no kidding! It’s almost impossible to find ATMs, so make sure to take enough cash with you! Compared to Estonia the cost of living in Uzbekistan is rather cheaper: transportation is cheap, groceries a lot cheaper (alcohol, tobacco and sweets, nuts much cheaper). Eating outside is really cheap, if you visit local places you could easily eat with 50 euro cents to one euro. Accommodation: cheapest hostel is 10 dollars. Museums/ancient places: as a tourist you pay much more than locals, the average price for a ticket seemed to be between 20 000 – 24 000 soms. SIM-card: To get a local number is fairly cheap depending on the service provider. It is possible to buy a SIM-card almost everywhere, from the stores or from the sellers on the streets. Visa: To go to Uzbekistan many nations need to have a visa and some nations also a LOI (Letter of Invitation), which you can get through travel agencies. Since February 2018 the whole process was simplified and now most of the countries in Europe do not need LOI anymore. Tourist visa is issued for a maximum of 30 days. The visa is date-specific, meaning that entry and exit dates are set on the visa. You can enter after the visa entry date and leave before the exit date. More information: https://caravanistan.com/visa/uzbekistan/ Restrictions: PS. You need to know some rules in order to enter the country and have a pleasant stay there. First, border crossing. They might check all the medicines you are carrying with you. Check out the prohibited stuff HERE. Don’t bring any literature about history, religion nor politics. Make sure you don’t have any photos or movies with pornographic content. I heard about people who had to show all their files in their computers and phones to the controls at the border. Oh, and if you happen to be a man – long beard can be a problem! You can be lucky though, and because of the new president, processes inside Uzbekistan are getting easier and easier! While entering the country you will be asked how much cash you have – be aware that while leaving the country you can’t have more than that! [About me – they didn’t check anything listed above, so I passed the control within two minutes!] According to the law, it’s not allowed to stay with your friends or use CouchSurfing. As a tourist you need to go to the hostel or hotel EVERY night and get a registration slip while checking out. Night train ticket counts as well. They might check it on the border when you leave the country – and if you are missing some slips, well, be ready to pay a fine or get deported from the country. To make everything more complicated – the very first 72 hours in the country you can stay wherever you want, without having a registration! And to make things even MORE complicated – according to some sources you actually need to register only one night out of three, if you change the region inside the country. I tried – it worked and didn’t work at the same time! If you don’t have the previous night’s registration, some hostels refuse to check you in because they say you already broke the law. Some of them say it’s okay. Pretty confusing, huh? Food: Traditionally Uzbek people eat a lot of meat, the most popular dishes are plov and kebab. In bigger cities cafes and restaurants offer traditional food as well as sushi and pizza. In bigger grocery stores you can find almost everything you need, it is possible to get fresh vegetables at the markets (bazaars) all year around. Transportation Plane: You can enter Uzbekistan by plane via Tashkent and smaller cities. Train: The most comfortable way to get around, also cheap. Tashkent->Samarkand = 58 000 soms (the cheapest ticket). Shared taxi: Between bigger cities (and also to the border crossings) you can also take a shared taxi, which is more expensive than a train, but generally faster. For 5-hour ride you should pay maximum 100 000 soms (per seat). Accommodation: What ever you are looking for you can find: really fancy hotels, laid back hostels, camping is allowed almost everywhere. CouchSurfing is active, but illegal. Mostly you are able to find a place in a hostel for 10-15 dollars. Nature and economy: Uzbekistan is a landlocked country and has rather dry climate. Agricultural industry (mostly cotton) is common around rivers and oasis, but is also the main contributor to the pollution and devastation of both air and water in the country. The Aral Sea used to be the fourth-largest inland sea on Earth but due to the overuse of the water it has shrunk to less than 50% of its former area. Uzbekistan mines gold and gas. Uzbekistan has an extreme continental climate, it’s warmer in the south and colder in the north. Temperatures can go down to -35°C or reach +45°C. The best time for travelling is from April to June and from September to October. Some more pictures: Madlents ❤...
How to change your life in one second
I was cycling down the road and it was all empty – on the left hand I noticed a beautiful meadow, on the right – an iridescent river. It was an ordinary Thursday, just some days before I left Estonia. In my dreams I was already somewhere far away – catching a train in Kazakhstan, sleeping in the yurt, joking around with my new friends, climbing the top of a mountain, taking another traditional pancake with chocol… TSAHH! – I was back to the reality. I got off the bike, all shaking and eyes filled with tears. I saw a huge truck speeding to the horizon. The truck in which there must have been a driver sitting and not giving a f*** that there were only couple of centimetres between us. Maybe he was also lost in his dreams… That certain second could have totally change both of our lives. Actually it did – it was a ruthless reminder how fragile is life. It could have happen so easily that I wouldn’t have all of this I have now. I wouldn’t be alive, easy as that. And the truth is that the only moment I really do have is the one I’m having right now, writing all of this here. And the same for you – this exact moment while you are reading it. Now. Because after half an hour you might not be able to do it. As an unexpected second can turn your life upside down, you by yourself could use it for your own sake. You can change your life in a way you feel better, more safe, more happy. You can take a decision to: Quit your job if it is not serving you anymore. Yes – if it’s not serving you, not the other way around. Get into relationship or get out of it – if it feels better for your soul. Start with a new hobby, business, sign up as a volunteer, go travelling. Whatever makes you happy. It takes only one second. One second to change your own thoughts, to make a decision. There’s something which I didn’t truly understand before I started travelling. I knew it, but I didn’t feel it deep enough. “Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit?” – Pat Conroy The ones who have been on the road rarely take time for granted. Also the ones who have smelled the death. Have felt strong feelings. They are the ones who value time so hard that you can feel how passionate they are about… life. What makes me so happy just right now? Happy as I feel like crying? I woke up in the morning. Another beautiful day full of learning, options, beautiful souls! I went jogging after half a year break and I feel like every cell in my body is cheering! I’m eating the best apple in the world. I feel warm as I’m wearing my summer dress for the first time in this year. My heart is filled with people who are making me happy just because they are there. Neighbour’s rooster in the backyard finally stopped crowing, what a holy silence, haha! Only after we have lost something we get to know its real value. Sometimes it’s your beloved one, sometimes your health, sometimes freedom. Sometimes it’s life. What makes you happy right now? Love, Madle ❤ ...
Honestly about my emotions on the train
Yesterday I wrote a blog post while sitting on the train for 42 hours. I posted it but then decided to delete it as I felt like… I complained there too much. 😀 Yeah, backpacking is not always great like chocolate mountains and caramel rivers. Even though at the moment I really do feel like in the heaven – I just got back from the local bazaar in Kazakhstan, got ripped off less than I expected (well, can’t be too sure of course :D), it’s nice and warm outside, I’m sitting in the shadow of grapevine and eating strawberries, three kittens are playing around my feet and I’m thinking that… that life is crazy beautiful! Still, I want to be honest and show you that despite my crazy good life at the moment it’s not always like that. Also, I just wanted to let you know that some hours ago I became a proud, but certainly not the best owner for the 5th phone charger during my journey so far. Because, well… just read what happened. 😀 „Marleeeena!“ – someone shouts my name wrongly all over the restaurant wagon and I’m just so tired. 😀 I have been sitting in this train for the last 35 hours. Yes, Kazakhstan is crazy BIG! And I still have seven to go… from Aktau, the port city at Caspian sea to Shymkent in the south… There’s not much to see from the window – just some flat land, steppe, a few camels time after time. Okay, these animals really make my heart beat a bit faster – it’s pretty much the first time for me to see camels in the wild nature. But yeah, not every second of backpacker’s life is as exciting as seeing a camel. No. At the moment it’s just bloody hot and the air is not moving at all. I feel a bit quilty. I should order something more to drink as I’ve been sitting here with my instant coffee… for three hours already…, occupying the whole table with my laptop and other stuff. But I don’t care too much – yesterday they ripped me off asking around 5 euros for three fried eggs and a package of apple juice. At that moment, I remember, I was just too sick of sleeping to think properly. Well yeah, that’s the main activity to kill the time on the train… So I felt a bit used by the staff at the restaurant wagon who saw me only as a walking wallet – I was really considering to avoid this place forever :D. But it’s pretty much the only wagon for me where I could sit normally as my bunk is too uncomfortable for that, but it’s fine for sleeping. And last but not least – there are no power outlets in my wagon and even here I had to wait around half an hour to charge my phone. What a luxury! The train is stopping again in a small station among the other hundreds of stations. That literally means I stop thinking for a while as the hot air is now just standing still and here’s nothing to breathe. „People are still nice“ – I start thinking when the wind blows again. When I woke up in the morning and went to brush my teeth into the small kitchen corner (as there wasn’t any water in the toilet for some reason) I got offered some tea and cookies by a local granny. To be honest – I felt a bit sick because of all the cookies I had already eaten, so I just agreed to drink a tea with her. I sure was a bit worried when she poured some milk into it – can it really be good after standing a while in the hot wagon? Stomach problems… that would be the last thing to wish for here! The granny speaks only Russian. It’s fine, I need to practice it anyway but just right now I’m too tired of the heat. Time after time I put my head out of the window to make it clear again. A lady sleeping on the first floor of my bunk says kindly that I don’t need to climb up every time as there’s not enough room for sitting in my bed – I can just hang out on hers. We are just chatting but she is not patient enough when it comes to my bad Russian. I feel better with not talking anyway and go back to the restaurant wagon. I think the restaurant wagon is cursed especially for me! 😀 After charging my phone one local old man just takes my charger saying he will give it back to me after we reach Shymkent. Of course, I never see it again… At least, the weather is fine! With love, Half Dead Brain Madle PS. Now I feel pretty okay 😀 ...
How I broke the law in Uzbekistan? 👮
Firstly, what do you know about Uzbekistan? To be honest, I didn’t know much before I actually went there. So, let’s start with some basic information: Population: 33 million Capital: Tashkent – a big city which is surprisingly modern. If I didn’t know I would say it was somewhere in Europe. Most of the buildings are pretty new, also because of the earthquake which destroyed a lot in 1966. Currency: Uzbek som. 1 eur is around 10 000 som. That means you actually need an extra bag to carry your packages of money, no kidding! It’s almost impossible to find ATMs, so make sure to take enough cash with you! Religion: Islam (90%) Now, let’s talk about the rules. And about the new president of Uzbekistan who actually made me to become the very first Estonian entering the country without Letter of Invitation (LOI)! To go to Uzbekistan many nations need to have a visa and some nations also a LOI, which you can get through travel agencies. Since February 2018 the whole process was simplified and now most of the countries in Europe do not need LOI anymore, how cool is that?? Now, how to survive the border crossing to Uzbekistan and then the whole time you are going to spend in the country? You need to know the laws! If I’m completely honest, I still don’t know… Which lead me to the point where I actually broke a law a bit. First, border crossing. They might check all the medicines you are carrying with you. Check out the prohibited stuff HERE. Don’t bring any literature about history, religion nor politics. Make sure you don’t have any photos or movies with pornographic content. I heard about people who had to show all their files in their computers and phones to the controls at the border. Oh, and if you happen to be a man – long beard can be no and no! You can be lucky though, and because of the new president, processes inside Uzbekistan are getting easier and easier! While entering the country you will be asked how much cash do you have – be aware that while leaving the country you can’t have more than that! About me – they didn’t check anything listed above, so I passed the control within two minutes! It’s time to start with the most exciting part of the story! According to the law (oh, how politically correct :D), it’s not allowed to stay with your friends or use CouchSurfing. As a tourist you need to go to the hostel or hotel EVERY night and get a registration slip while checking out. Night train ticket counts as well. They might check it on the border when you leave the country – and if you are missing some slips, well, be ready to pay a fine or get deported from the country. To make everything more complicated – the very first 72 hours in the country you can stay wherever you want, without having a registration! And to make things even MORE complicated – according to some sources you actually need to register only one night out of three, if you change the region inside the country. I tried – it worked and didn’t work at the same time! If you don’t have the previous night’s registration, some hostels refuse to check you in because they say you already broke the law. Some of them say it’s okay. Pretty confusing, huh? Finally, I was standing at the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, ready to leave the country. My legs were slightly shaking and heart beating because, well… I was a bit rebellious and didn’t have all the slips with me. I tried to be as self-confident as possible and not to think about the worst possible scenario. I gave my passport to the officer. Clack! she hit a stamp into my passport and simply wished me a great day… BUT! These experiences made my trip more memorable and of course, in the future I’m gonna tell you why Uzbekistan is one of my FAVOURITE countries! Madlena ...
Trip Report: Kalev Tarma – the guy who “hitchhiked” on airplanes
While travelling I meet a lot of people who inspire me by their various achievements, their experiences and adventures, but also by their attitude and values. These ones I call Inspirational People. They keep me going, they broaden my mind, they motivate and encourage me by simply being themselves and following their dreams. Their stories are different, some of them are travelers like me, some of them are locals – but everyone has their own great story to tell! I have had this honor to gather some of the stories into the Trip Reports. Time after time starting now on I’m going post reports about people who change the world – just by being brave enough to do what they want to do. Yearn to get inspired as well? Let me introduce you the very first one: Kalev Tarma, pilot @AirBaltic. Madlena <3...
How I almost started crying at the embassy
I don’t even know where to start… Why I didn’t have time, chance or motivation to keep you updated for a while? Well, meanwhile in Uzbekistan – I broke the law. Okay, I didn’t want to talk about that now (yesyes, I have to keep up the excitement, gonna tell you in the next posts :D). The main reason for no new blog posts was simple – the new President of Uzbekistan said there must be a good and fast internet all over the country by the next year. But in the meanwhile… Quick overview: Around a month ago I managed to get Uzbek visa into my passport in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (as well as Iranian one) (I’ll make another blog post about the process – how exciting can it be? Trust me!). So, having all my visas I wanted to, I found myself sitting between two old Kyrgyz men, driving 12 hours to Osh. A city in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, from where you can also enter Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is definitely a country which – during this trip – has charmed me the most, but also had many challenges waiting for me. First surprises were of course the laws! Ancient towns of the Silk Road. Secondly, friendly, friendly people! Also, I had a chance to go for a date… which wasn’t mine but arranged for my friend by his parents! Did they get married afterwards? Let’s see – in the next posts 😀 But back to the headline. This tearful embassy was embassy of Turkmenistan. I had a plan to go to Uzbekistan, apply for a Turkmen visa in Tashkent (capital of Uzbekistan) and go overland to Iran. Turkmen visa is really hard to get – it’s basically impossible to get 30-days tourist visa, and almost impossible to get 5-days transit visa. Optimist as I am, I still gave it a try! Days full of planning, waiting, phone calls, promising news from Turkmenistan… Finally I got rejected on the very last minute, just one day before I had to leave Uzbekistan because my visa expired. So I had to leave the country. But where? Obviously not to Turkmenistan 😀 I’m gonna write more detailed post about the whole process, but here comes my last conversation with the officers at the embassy: Madle (after hours of waiting in the queue, gives her passport to the officer who already knows her): Any news? Officer: Let’s see. [opens the computer, looking for a decision from the bosses in Turkmenistan, making a super sad face]. I’m very, very sorry. [puts his hand on his heart]. I really am sorry but I can’t do anything, it’s not my decision. [looks like he is about to cry]. Madle: Oh, okay. No worries. [after drop in tension holding back the tears and thinking WHAT should I do next :D]. I just don’t know where to go now 😀 I was lucky to meet two other backpackers in front of the embassy who also got rejected, so we grieved together and made some super sarcastic jokes – I’m not gonna write them here, I might want to apply again one day 😀 Now I’m already in Kazakhstan and gonna fly to Iran soon! And I need to mention – I absolutely LOVE Uzbekistan (without any sarcasm :D). Until the next posts! Hugs Madle ❤ ...
🤔13 most frequently-asked questions I face on the road🤔
One day I’m going to order myself a T-shirt. A T-shirt where all the answers to the most common questions are printed on the back so I could tell to every curious person I meet: „thank you for your interest, please consult with my back. If you can’t find the answer to your question turn back to my face :D“. Don’t get me wrong – the best part of travelling are people, and all the conversations and little talks. Still, there are already some questions which I get slightly tired of. So, here you go [in case we meet one day and you want to impress me with the same questions :D]: 1) Where are you from? I’m from Estonia. [- No, not from Australia.] 2) What’s your name? Madlena. MADLENA. [actually I’m lying all the time, my real name is still Madle but for some reasons it’s easier for foreigners to pronounce Madlena] [so yeah, already my second answer is a lie :D] 3) How long have you been travelling? Four months. [Yes, this time so far mainly in Central Asia] 4) When are you going back to Estonia? [I really hope it’s not meant like „why are you still in our country, go back to your homeland“ :D] I don’t know. I’d like to travel as long as I feel like it. 5) What do your parents think about your travels? Hmm, I believe they are happy as long as I’m happy. [At least I hope so :)] 6) How do you fund your travels? I saved a bit before. I’m going to work if I really start to run out of money 😀 [you can always offer me a job, something I could do online obviously:)] 7) Do you like Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan/…/? Yes. [and I haven’t even lied to be polite 😀 I have really enjoyed all the countries so far] [yes, I’m already in Uzbekistan] [*border crossing from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan* *Border guard: „Do you like Uzbekistan?“ Madle: „Thanks, the first 3 minutes here have been pretty nice“ :D] 8) Where do you want to go? [this is mainly asked by taxi drivers. The population of them is super high here] I don’t need a taxi, thanks. [*In Uzbekistan, right after the passport control* *I’ve been to Uzbekistan already 5 minutes* *big sign: TOILET* Taxi driver: „Where do you want to go?“ Madle: „To the toilet“. 😀 *First time seeing the taxi driver laughing so hard* 9) Why don’t you speak Russian fluently? I’m too young 😀 [In Central Asia everyone seems to think that when you are from ex Soviet Union country you must know Russian. I don’t but I’m pretty proud that I can already survive around 10 minutes pretending I’m fluent. After that my Russian vocabulary is pretty much finished but usually people can’t believe it, so they just keep talking and I need to pretend [I don’t need to, but oh well :D] really hard I can understand them. Sometimes even hours and hours, help! :D] 10) Do you have a husband/children? No, because I still want to travel as free as possible. [or: „Yes, in Estonia. – depends who is asking :D] 11) How is life in Estonia? Umm, good? [I am always struggling with this one. I really don’t know how I should answer :D] 12) How old are you? 24 13) Why do you travel? Why don’t you travel? 😀 Madlena ❤...
How to travel in Kyrgyzstan
If you enjoy trekking, horseriding and camping, then Kyrgyzstan is most certainly for you. Here you can find nomadic traditions, central Asian mystique, Soviet-era trappings and a few spectacular prehistoric and Silk Road sites. Travelling in Kyrgyzstan is generally safe, also for solo women travellers (of course, you need to follow some general safety rules like everywhere in the world). Location: Landlocked in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, China to the east and southeast, Uzbekistan to the west and Tajikistan to the southwest. Population: around 6 million Capital: Bishkek Language: Kyrgyz, Russian. In the capital you hear mostly Russian, in the villages Kyrgyz language. If you can speak Russian it’s not a problem to travel here, younger generation can generally speak at least basic English as well. Of course, you can always use body language, and don’t forget – smile gets you further! People: Super friendly, helpful and curious. It’s not rare to get invited to local home/yurt for a tea or lunch. Currency/prices: Currency used in Kyrgyzstan is the som (KGS). 1 € = 84 som (Febr ’18). Compared to Estonia the cost of living in Kyrgyzstan is rather cheaper: transportation is very cheap, groceries a little cheaper (alcohol, tobacco and sweets much cheaper), accommodation is also a little cheaper, even though rental prices are quite similar. SIM-card: To get a local number is fairly cheap depending on the service provider. I paid around 120 som including internet for a week, but depends which offer you choose and it is possible to recharge your SIM-card in special payment automats at the mall or even at local village shops where the cashier will call the service provider and the SIM-card is recharged. It is possible to buy a SIM-card almost everywhere, from the stores or from the sellers on the streets. Visa: Check your country here: https://caravanistan.com/visa/kyrgyzstan. For Estonians Kyrgyzstan is visa free for 60 days. Then, plan A, you have to buy a visa or, plan B, cross the border of one neighbouring country, for example, it is easiest to go to Kazakhstan (30 days visa-free). Kazakhstan is only 30 minute bus ride away from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Crossing the border is easy and if you wish you can just return and get your another 60 days visa-free in Kyrgyzstan! Food: Traditionally Kyrgyz people eat a lot of meat, including horse meat. In bigger cities cafes and restaurants offer traditional food as well as sushi and pizza. In bigger grocery stores you can find almost everything you need, except whipped cream (Check the story: here). A daily must have (in the local families) is a lot of white bread called “nan” with jam. It is possible to get fresh vegetables at the markets (bazaars) all year around. Transportation Plane: The main airports are Bishkek, Karakol or Osh Airports. Marshrutka: Marshrutka aka minibus is the most common and also the cheapest means of transportation in Kyrgyzstan. Prices vary depending on the distance, for example, driving form Bishkek to Karakol will cost you 400 som (approx 5€). Keep in mind that marshrutkas will not start their journey before all seats are taken! This is the case with shared taxis as well and might mean waiting a couple of hours. Marshrutkas are also public transportation in Bishkek, ticket is 10 som (after 9pm 12 som), trolley bus ticket is 8 som. You have to pay for the ticket when entering marshrutka and directly to the driver, when taking the trolley bus you have to pay when you get off and you won’t get any tickets in return. Even though there are special bus stops in the city, then more often you just need to ask the driver to stop. Also when you want to catch the bus you should wave the driver that he would pick you up. Very useful webpage and a app is 2GIS (www.2gis.ee), which works fe in Bishkek and also in Kazakhstan cities Almaty and Astana. 2GIS works perfectly offline as well and after entering your destination you can check the exact buses you need to take to get there. Includes info about bars and places where to eat. Shared taxi: Between bigger cities you can also take a shared taxi, which is more expensive than a marshrutka, but more comfortable and faster. Accommodation: What ever you are looking for you can find: fancy hotels, laid back hostels, comfortable homestays, camping is allowed almost everywhere (not in national parks), Couchsurfing is active. Mostly you are able to find a place in a hostel for 4-6€. Nature: Kyrgyszstan is covered with mountains: 90% of the country is mountanious, 85% are higher than 1000 m and 40% higher than 3000 m from the sea level. There are countless small mountain lakes, many rivers and glaciers, numerous hiking trails to discover. Highest peak is Jengish Chokusu: 7439 m. They mine uranium and gold. Climate: Four seasons. Spring generally lasts from March to May, summer from May to September, autumn from September to December and winter from December to Februrary (and repeat :D). Kyrgyz weather is mainly described as continental climate, which means that summers are hot and winters cold. Due to big differences in height from the seal level weather can be quite contrasting in different parts of the country. The temperatures in lower regions can go up to 40 degrees (Celsius) in the summer and during winter some regions experience degrees under -30. Make sure to have different layers of clothes! On average, there are 245 sunny days per year in Kyrgyszstan! ...
How I tried to celebrate Estonian holiday and totally failed
Every time when some foreigners ask me „hey, what kind of holidays do you – one million people – celebrate there in Estonia?“ I tell them about Shrove Tuesday. A holiday when almost every Estonian is sledging down the slopes (shame on you if you don’t!) and eating special buns with whipped cream called ’vastlakukkel’. „Ooooh…. You’re so… cool nation!“ say the foreigners and they feel jealous and promise to come to Estonia next year. I don’t mention that usually we don’t have snow on that time 😀 At first I was the one who went to the supermarket to buy all the ingredients. How hard can it be? Heh. Well, to start with then Tom doesn’t eat much wheat. So I decided to make cupcakes with rice flour and put whipped cream on top of it. Close enough? So, I found myself at the supermarket. Where is the rice flour? No rice flour? Okay, maybe I can make it with corn flour.. My friend who came with me (that time he didn’t know that shopping with me is pure suffering :D) notices some blue packages in the baby section. Vitaminized rice flour for the babies! Hallelujah, that’s for us. Then, after 5 minutes of playing hide-and-seek with baking powder we just try to manifest it and here you go – it’s behind the dry yeast. No cupcake pans. Maybe I could do some origami with baking paper? But no baking paper. Let it be – whipped cream is waiting!!! …only in my dreams… Back to home. The situation is more than ideal: we have exactly 0 ingredients to make the real buns with whipped cream. Oh, and of course we don’t know how to use our gas oven. Luckily there are some YouTube videos for extra dumbs (works for me!). I decide to make a carrot cake. Now it’s Alice’s turn. „Pleaaasse, please find some whipped cream for me,“ I beg her when she leaves home to go to another market. After a while she comes back, without cream but with 5 metres of baking paper. Now we have 5 metres of baking paper, 0 buns, and one carrot cake. Not bad. Another friend of mine comforts me that he has heard that there must be at least one market which sells whipped cream in Bishkek! If you’re lucky.. Of course he is not exactly sure where is this magical shop located. Drought of whipped cream I say! At least we got our ’vastlakukkel’ (Kyrgyz style). Or a last piece of it:...
5 signs that the road is already your home
1. People on the street stop you to ask directions. That moment really feels like a party in your head: „Really?? Finally I don’t look like a tourist anymore? Put the music louder, hey, cheers everyone!“ [and the party in your head goes on until you go to the local market.. and you pay twice as much as locals. You can never trick old grandmas at the bazaar!] [Oh and of course… I can’t give the right directions either because most of the time I’m not sure what they were actually asking. So I’m just like „hmm… let me think *turning my head to every direction*… yes, sorry but I’m not 100% sure“. Then they thank you and you feel good because you were almost able to help them! Almost! 2. You hear so many great stories from every backpacker you meet that the next time when someone says „I’m on my way from England to South Korea with my bike“, „I tried to cross Usbek border on a donkey“, „I’m collecting money to buy a camel“ you’re not even surprised anymore. If someone comes with a story like „hey, I work nine-to-five job at an office“ I would be like „cool, really, I mean, seriously!“. 😀 [People who work at the office – don’t feel offended, it can be really great – been there done that! ☺] 3. Your home is where your backpack is. It can be a hostel, it can be a tent, it can be a place found via CouchSurfing, Phrase „I’ll go home“ sounds natural every time even though you might have different home every day. You feel like a snail, always travelling with your house! 4. You know how to get from A to B without checking the map (although, I got lost today to be honest :D). Let’s say, you know the neighbourhood more or less. Almost always… You also know about the prices of local buses, taxis, you know all the useful apps to use, you have your own favourite shop. PS. I remember one time when a taxi-driver tried to hustle me by asking a higher price. Taxi driver: It’s 300 soms [around 3,6 euros]. Me: No, it’s 200. Taxi driver: No, 300…. [thinks intensly]…. But I’ll play music as well. 😀 5. You keep bumping into people you have already met somewhere or at least heard stories about. The world is small and Central Asia is even smaller (obviously :D). It’s not rare that you’re sitting in the cafe or even just walking on the street and someone comes to you like „ahaa, you’re the Estonian girl?“. Or you just meet someone and feel like: Madle (currently in Bishkek/Kyrgyzstan) <3 ...
How to cross Kazakh border [as a cat]
How to cross the border [as a cat] between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Detailed videos, ultimate guide!! Roles: [Passport controller: Lady in Red] [You: The Cat] Part one: when the passport controller first spots you Passport controller [just walking, then sees something interesting]: Ohhh, ooooo, ooo… Foreigner! Ahaha, COOL! Heeey there, foreigner!! Part two: the first impression of you Passport controller: Let me look you closer… Ooooo, you really are a foreigner!!! SO cool! Tourist!!! AHAHAAHA! Part three: everyone should know that you’re there Passport controller: Heyyy, everyone! Look what I found, a foreigner!!! /………………../ Nooo, she is mine, give her baaaack! Part four: checking your passport Passport controller: Okay, let me see your passport… Hehe, cool! Estonia… Hehe! Part five: let’s get the boring part done Passport controller: Okay, let’s get it done… So put stamps here… Yeaaah… Noo! Slowly-slowly please, then she can stay longer!! Part six: baggage control Passport controller: Okay… I’m gonna check her luggage!!!! Okay, I didn’t find anything… But let me check one more time, so she can stay longer!!!! Part seven: double check Passport controller: Uuuukey, so, here we go… I’m not sure what I’m looking for but I’m pretending that I found something!!!! So she can stay looongeeer. Part eight: FOREIGNER, still so COOL! Passport controller: Ohhh, I LOVE this foreigner sooooo much!!! I never let her go!!! Part nine: the end Passport controller: AHAHAHAA, what a nice day!!! Okay, bye! 🙂 Madle ...
“Okay now, teach!”
I stepped into a classroom with a local English teacher. „Okay now, teach!“ she said. I was really confused. It was the first day as a volunteer for me – I was just supposed to observe the classes. I didn’t even know their level of English. I didn’t prepare anything. There were around 20 students curiously watching me at the classroom. That was the point I really realized I was the first exotic volunteer for them, here in the mountain village called Kyzart. „Okay then,“ I thought. I took the duster and started to clean the blackboard as slowly as I could to save time for thinking. I panicly tried to remember some games and exercises we could play. What did I do in my English lessons back in the primary school? Finally I had a deep breath in and turned to the class. „Hello, my name is Madlena, what’s your name?“, I asked the first student sitting just in front of me. He said something which I didn’t actually understand, but I’m already used to the fact that local names can be hard to pronounce. Then everyone told their age and their level of English was clear to me. We started to revise the numbers. We learned colours. Fruits and vegetables. Characteristics. I noticed that the teacher was sitting, making notes and learning like other students. After the lesson it was time for selfies. The children wanted to make a group photo. Then selfie together with a bunch of friends. Then me with each of the children separately. I gave three more lessons on that day, and in every next lesson there were at least half of the class from the previous lesson staying as an addition. I’m not sure if the maths or geography teachers missed some children from their lessons because of that. I have never seen so motivated students (umm, maybe because I have never been a teacher in the school before). I gave English lessons in two schools for the two whole weeks at the village of Kyzart. How the director of one school made me sit in his cabinet, how many chairs (yes, chairs) do you need to make one cup of tea at the lunch break, and how one high-school student with flip-flops gave me a cookie on the cold crisp street – stay tuned for the next post! Madlena ❤ ...
Life lessons are for the weak?
It was two days before my departure from Tartu, Estonia when my new backpack finally arrived. Holding a tightly taped and waaaay too small package to contain a proper backpack in my hands, I had an urgent feeling to teach myself a lecture [again]. “Madle, you know… [no, you don’t know]. It’s not a good idea to leave your stuff on the last minute. Things might not work out. And you might not have time to do everything.” Of course they had sent me a wrong backpack. The package was hardly in the size of laptop bag, weighing around one kilogram. I prepared myself mentally to face a children’s backpack covered with puppies and kittens, and unpacked it. But no. It was really my new, super-light 44-litre backpack. “Hehe, Madle, you actually can leave your stuff on the last minute,” told someone inside me and the life-lesson I was supposed to learn was swiped away. Oh, what a mistake. Because already on the next day… On my last day in Estonia… I woke up like every other normal day. I only had to do few things: Pack my bag. (“Buuut, you can also do it in the next morning, before your bus is going to leave,” said this voice inside me again). So no packing but: Buy a new jumper, some food and go for your new camera. Meet your friends (the most important) and go to sleep on normal time. That was it. Easy. Everything went well, at least the first hour of the day. Then I went to hug my dear former colleagues. Well, they sent me straight to the police office. And as a bonus I was told that my phone number is about to close because the contract between the operator and my previous workplace is about to end. So at first I had to renew my ID-card at the police office which was about to close in two hours. Luckily I have some friends with super-powers to be my chauffeurs and mentors and partners in crime. ♡ But back to the backpack. 44-litres without kittens’ pictures on it means that you really need to think through what to take with and what to leave behind. When already on the road you can easily find yourself hiking in the mountains or playing with the monkeys in the jungle, working on the potato field or enjoying a play in theatre. “Probably you should order for another 44-litre backpack, you still have one more day for that!!” would say the voice inside me, but I’m already ignoring it. I packed only my favorite and most practical stuff into my new bag. And now, to finally reach the topic I actually was supposed to write about (“Where do you need to go with clean shoes?”) – it’s inevitable to wash your [almost only, because of the lack of the space] shoes after exploring dusty streets, cycling between the fields and accidentally stepping into the mud puddle. It’s inevitable because you want to go to theatre. How was my theatre experience? Is it actually cool to go to theatre here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan? Can you find some more shades behind this grey facade? Wandersell on his way to the next post... ↓↓ ❤ Madle...
How I wanted to learn herbs in the mountains and what really happened
Herbs, good herbs. Location: Kyrgyzstan „Who would like to go and explore herbs with me tomorrow?” an old Tajik asks, who actually even shouldn’t be that old. „To the mountains? ME!” I yelled out way too exited, but being quick and loud I manage to save a seat for myself in the car. „Herbs… about time I learned something useful,” being proud of my upcoming lesson and thinking to myself how I will later share all this new wisdom with everyone in the guest house. Next day. We take our seats in the car. Me, the driver, Tajik old man and one local mom with her three children. Tajik: „You know my uncle is a famous healer in Tajikistan! Once he even cured a Russian Oligarch from cancer.” Me: „Hmm? So we are collecting the herbs for him? What does he need?” Tajik: „I will show you – I have spent several months with him in the mountains!” In the mountains. Tajik [picks up a purple plant with a long stem]: „Hmmm, I think this is it!” Me [imagining giggling clients if this plant should turn out to be poisonous]: „Are you sure?” Tajik [twirls the flower in his hands, smells it, doubts, picks few more of them]: „Yes, I am totally sure!” We start gathering the plants until we end up with armful of desired purple flowers. Tajik: „Hey, maybe you could make a picture of these and send it to your mom to ask what kind of plant is this?” Me: „Eeee… I think she is sleeping at the moment… due to the time difference? And eeee… In Estonia I think we do not have this kind of plants.” Tajik: „Hmm, yes. Okay… well either way I am totally sure that this is the right one we need!” I walk further away to pick bigger plants from steeper area and I find a similar plant, but with much more intense smell. Me: „Hey, can we also pick these? Is this useful for something?” Tajik: „Whoaaa, that was what we were searching for!! YES, the previous ones are also good, but this is EVEN BETTER!” Now we are picking a new armful of new and BETTER plants. Yet again I wander off a little where I could pick finer specimens. I find another similar one, but much smaller bush of plants, which smells like herbs usually should smell like. Me: „What is this?” Tajik: „Let me see… THIS IS IT!” Me: „Ahaa… so we need to gather these?” Tajik: „Yes, this is VERY GOOD! This is exactly what my uncle needs!!!” Two hours later. The car is packed with good, better and VERY GOOD herbs. Tajik: „You know, the last time I went to the mountains with my uncle I was 12!” Madle: „Yes, you don’t have to be the brightest to catch that.” [I actually didn’t say it :D] Tajik [answers the phone]: „Hello? /…/ Oh, god!” It turned out that he has to go to the capital instantly. It was a marvellous day. If somebody dreams about exploring herbs in Kyrgyz mountains, I can freely help you with that! The end. Madlen ❤ ...
The most difficult exam we all need to take
The most difficult exam we all need to take “Life is the most difficult exam. Most people fail because they try to copy each other not realizing that everyone has a different question paper.” (Jay Shetty) My friend showed me his hand. “Can you see? Here,” he pointed on the scar on his left hand, “I tried to kill myself one year ago.” I did not expect that. I did not. I looked into his eyes knowing that he had had some problems with his family, but was it really so serious? Suddenly he opened up. “My mom is pressuring me every day to get married. It’s enough of your dream to go and study abroad, she says to me. There are plenty of single girls around – she wants me to choose and have babies as soon as possible,” he explained painfully. “And it goes like that… Every. Single. Day.” (Central Asia) Something broke inside me. Not only in that moment but every time when someone tells me about the pressure which is not in harmony with their own heart and dreams. Want to become an actor? – Oh, you better choose law, it’s more safe and not such a joke. Wanna live more eco-friendly? – Why… the other ones are still consuming and polluting, you can’t make any difference there. Parents don’t want you to change the field? Friends can’t understand why you chose to be vegetarian? When I was starting travelling and writing my blog, I heard it too often: “Why do you think there are people interested in your travel blog? Look around – how many people do the same?” Oh really? I look around but all I can see are totally unique people. But how many of us give up on our dreams only because of the pressure? Millions. Billions. Seems like we all should follow this great asphalt road and: Finish school and then university Find a prestigious job and earn decent money Find a partner and get married Work, work and work to get a big house and beautiful car But life is not a road made of bitumen. I know people who have never attended university but are successful in their own business. I know people who were successful in their own business but decided to become hippies. I know people who graduated at 20, but found a job when they were 25. I know people who found a job straight out of university, but hate what they do. I know people who took a gap year after high-school and found their purpose. I know people with disabilities but they are living their lives without any complaints. I know people who have children, but are single. I know people who are married, but had to wait ten years to have children. I know people in relationships but who love someone else. I know people who love each other but aren’t together. Every each of us has their own clock and everything happens exactly when it has to happen. Sometimes you may look at your friends and think they are ahead of you, some of them may seem to be behind. But they have their own time and their own clock, so do you. Getting your degree at the age of 40 is still an achievement. Not to get married but live happily is still beautiful. Making a family at the age of 35 is still possible. Falling in love when 75 is not so rare. This imperfect world is just so perfect just because of the imperfection. I want to conclude this post with the thought I also started my journey with. I try to keep it in my mind all the time in order not to forget to follow my own heart: If you can choose only one book from the library where there is a book of every person stored, would it be “[your name] aka The Life Lived From the Heart”? And if you choose that book would you hold your breath while reading it because it’s so capturing? Chapter after chapter you’d hope that the principal character takes all the steps to fulfill his dreams even if it includes sleeping in the ditch, singing some goofy songs or spending Christmas alone. And you wouldn’t close the book before you finish it, smile and say “Hell, that was a beautiful life”. Would you choose your own book? 💚💚💚 Madlena *Inspiration for this post: Jay Shetty ...
Have you ever had this feeling – 1000 duties are waiting for you to take an action, but you are just like… „I’m hungry, I need to eat something or I’m gonna starve to death“, „I have to watch this video NOW… and another video as well, otherwise why I’m even paying for the wifi“, „I have a really good joke and I need to text it to my friend NOW because she is obviously suffering without knowing it”. And then it hits you that those 1000 duties don’t disappear (surprise) even though you are master of finding excuses. It’s already 2am and I’m just unable to decide which story I should tell you first. So I just decided to upload some photos from Uzbekistan, that’s at least a beginning after long time no write! And Uzbekistan really is a special country for me – even now when I’m just looking at this small selection of photos I feel a bit like crying, it’s just such a beautiful architecture. And well, there are some memories behind them as well… Okay, first photos, stories are coming when the time is pm instead of am… PS. I just arrived to Baku, Azerbaijan. So, among those 1000 duties are also stories from Iran where I recently spent a whole month without proper internet. Time to sleep! Madlena...
Five months of love
Oh how I wish I could post a lot of photos about Uzbekistan and tell you the whole story about how I broke the rules there! But… I should be grateful that I even have a little bit of internet here. Slooow sloow, but at least something! 😀 So, thank you, Ethel, for helping me to upload even this text! But! More text, less pictures – this is what they call „not so attractive post“, hehe. FIVE MONTHS. How the time flies! On 31st of October in 2017 (really, it was last year?) I had to run to catch my bus to the airport… Little did I know what was waiting for me… Everything was more or less clear only until Kyrgyzstan. Estonia -> Spain -> Portugal -> Turkey -> Kyrgyzstan -> Kazakhstan -> Kyrgyzstan again -> Uzbekistan -> Iran (now) -> ? The very first things which come to my mind when I think back about my trip in those countries: Estonia: My last day when everything went so wrong 😀 Out of a sudden I was really in a hurry but also found out (well, it wasn’t a surprise) that people around me are simply amazing. Read more from HERE. Spain: I haven’t written anything about that time yet, but in Spain I had a really great week full of cool people and inspiring tasks (Erasmus+ project). We lived in a stunning mountain village called Senderiz and every night we killed almost all villagers in a Mafia game (it was just a game, okay :D). Also, I remember how we somehow got lost in the forest with Marta (hi, Marta) and Toms (hi, Toms!) nearby the village. Really random memory, don’t know why it is so bright 😀 Portugal: I spent around 3 days in Porto, they have a really great old town and refreshing ocean. One Mexican stole my cute Wandersell doll, but I got it back 😀 Turkey: I really NEED to write about my time in Istanbul, it was a really weird one (in a good way :D). We took a ferry to the university with my friend, fed seagulls on the way and then listened to a lecture about the collapse of Soviet Union. Together with another friend (hi Awesome!) we explored the islands full of cats and horses and I remember we walked a lot and made the strangest jokes. Ever. 😀 Kyrgyzstan: In Kyrgyzstan I spent almost 3 months in total, but the brightest memories are from the mountain village (HERE), and of course the New Year’s celebrations (HERE). I loved the horse-back riding trip to the Song Kol lake and sleeping in the yurt (HERE) and of course all the people, special ’Hi’ to Abdullah (Hi, Abdullah! :D). Kazakhstan: I wouldn’t be a human being if I don’t remember how COLD can weather be 😀 (read more from HERE). Also, all the hiking we did together with Josh (hi, Josh!), especially when we could sledge down the mountian like kilometers. I still need to edit a video about this, I guarantee, it’s a lot of fun! 😀 Uzbekistan: Well, all the trouble with the rules and registrations… And PEOPLE (hi Sardor and Art Hostel and Dima and my Uzbek grandma!). And of course, all the cities and the architecture there, how BEAUTIFUL! Iran: Well, I’ve been here less than a week but it’s a crazy country, I tell you (in a good way obviously!!). Gonna write about it right after I catch up with Uzbekistan! So here it is, five months of love towards the world, road and all the PEOPLE. I feel 110% happy, even though everything is not like a bunch of unicorns in the middle of flower field. Oh no. But you know what? One of my biggest motivation is you! Yes, YOU! Thank you, thanks to all my amazing readers – you are more than cool – you are out of this world! All the feedback, every good wish means really A LOT to me! Keep texting and writing me, I LOVE you all! <3 Madlena <3...
❆When the temperature drops to -43℃❆
There is like -15…-30 ℃ in Estonia? Hehe, in Kyrgyzstan the spring is almost here! The sun and birds singing, snow melting and when going outside you don’t even have to wear gloves anymore. That you wouldn’t feel that terrorized I will tell you a story how was it like few weeks ago in Kazakhstan, when in Almaty the temperature dropped to -43℃. So minus 15℃ or 30℃ you might be experiencing there, I call it SUMMER! 😀 You can’t imagine how weird it is to go outside now. Before it took me like 10 minutes to get all my clothes on – 2 pairs of pants (microfiber leggings and jeans), 3 pairs of socks (regular ones, thermal socks and woolen socks), a top, a T-shirt, a long-sleeved sports shirt, a sweater, a fleece jacket, a coat (so practically 75% of the clothes I have with me :D), a buff, a scarf, a hat and 2 pairs of gloves. And it was still cold! I had to be moving at all times to keep some warm, my eyelashes were frosted, I couldn’t feel my fingers nor toes and at some point thought I had already lost them. At that time I was living in a hostel as a WorkAway volunteer. Every time someone came back home, I asked (already knowing the answer): “Is it very cold outside?”. Mostly the reply I got was indistinctive growling from someone looking like a big pile of clothes. Then you had to, you know, shake your shoulders, say “prrr” and be sincerely happy to be in a warm room. Everyone seemed chilling around until the moment we had to decide who should go to the store to bring some stuff for the dinner. All of a sudden everyone got VERY busy with something, like reading a book or watching videos and pretending that they can’t hear you through the headphones :D. The front door of the hostel was completely frosty from the inside. On the second day of this extreme cold weather the pipes froze and burst, so we had no warm water for a day. The one and only warm room in the house was common living room/open kitchen area, where everyone tried to find shelter from the cold. When someone started to complain too much over the weather, the owner of the hostel used to check his phone and say “hush, guys, there’s -50 in the capital, you have no right to complain :D” and “I guess it will be warmer tomorrow” (sneaky lie :D). On the positive side – the weather was constantly sunny. It was a really nice view out of the window. 😀 Stay cool! It’s going to be warmer and warmer from now on! Madle...
One utterly romantic Friday evening
One utterly romantic Friday evening… I went to see the ballet “Romeo and Juliet”. I could end the story here and leave you an impression that it was an extremely fancy and romantic piece (you are already feeling jealous right? :D) but okay, I will tell you the truth. I was baking a cake in the (Bishkek) kitchen, when my flatmate Alice entered the room coughing and saying that her cold is killing her (softly, lol). She said she has a ticket… but she is not able to go anywhere tonight. I checked the time, no wonder it was just 30 minutes until the ballet, but I do not like letting things go to waste. So I abandoned the pots and spoons, got dressed (it was easy, I only have one dress anyway :D) and told them to eat the cake (yes, I managed to get a piece when I returned… or rather some crumbs :D). Then I ran out to the main street in the hope of finding a taxi, lucky me – there was one waiting just in front of the house. The price I was given felt like I am going to get a lift with The Golden Carriage, at least I was able to bargain a bit. Of course after arriving to the Opera the driver was SO interested in hearing my life story, while trying to find the change as slowly as possible 😀 Apologizing in English that suddenly I REALLY can’t speak ANY Russian at all got me off the hook and I entered the Opera five minutes before the curtains went up (okay, the whole thing was also late for 20 minutes :D). Very nice! Antique chairs, private boxes, columns. I quickly found my seat and as the start was delayed I just spent my time observing others (haha, I can imagine that one day I will be one of those “know-it-all” old ladies, because everyone else’s business is just SO interesting :D). Especially attention worthy between all the glammed up locals were travellers similar to me who looked like they just have come for another hike. People were gathering and lights were getting dimmer. Red curtains opened and it seemed that during the whole first dance act people had trouble to acknowledge that the show had started… I guess loud music and dancers on the stage were not enough to put all the pieces together 😀 Lady next to me was scrolling through the pictures of her grandchildren while her friends tried to act interested: “aww”, “woah”, “uuh”, “such a fatty cutiepie”… Girl behind me answeing her phone: “Sorry, I can’t talk at the moment, but how was the dinner last night?”. I was just puzzled, but after the romance was turned on a bit on the stage it captured also the attention of proud grandmothers and chatty girls. Ballet piece itself was still the classical love story, but with the Kyrgyz touch. I mainly remember 3 things: You know that romantic scene where Juliet is standing on the balcony and Romeo is expressing his everlasting love towards her? Well, in the middle of the stage there was a decoration of a white statue of a Greek goddess. Now, during the change of the scene, it was forgotten behind the stage. So, music was playing quietly and Romeo was still expressing his love for Juliet… until some worker tried to set up the white Greek goddess again, hoping not to be seen, but oh well :D. At some point the whole audience was breathing in one rythym to show support, not for Romeo, but for the worker who had managed to get the Greek goddess almost to stand. It was like we were able to hear the prayers of the worker on the stage on his crusade. Finally he removed his hands from the statue, started backing off the stage slowly, seemingly happy that he managed to reach his goal, THEN of course the whole thing fell down and audience just bursted out laughing. I can’t really blame them, it really was amusing. These sincere emotions on the faces of the ballerinas… Ahh, I was just melting. And how they high-fived when a great dance was completed! All this environment the young ballerinas were able to create, was just heart-warming. And by the way, they were not dancing in these classical tight ballerina outfits, but they were wearing dresses and vintage trousers – I don’t have a clue how it was possible to dance in those! During one scene change everything went dark, for 5 minutes… and we just waited, waited and waited, completely in the dark. I really do recommend to visit a ballet or a play in Bishkek if you happen to be around. Experiences and emotions matter and it is not so easy to find this kind of personal feeling somewhere else. Madlena ❤...
Horseback riding trip to Song Kol lake
One of the greatest trek one can ever experience in Kyrgyzstan: Mira gave me her warm coat. That’s probably the most important thing to mention [oh, how I miss the summer back then! -10 degrees (Celsius) compared to today’s -30 sounds like „hey, who wants to go to the beach with me?“]. The horses were already waiting and off we went! SIX hours, all the way through the village of Kyzart, up to the hills, up to the mountains, towards the lake called Song Kol! The second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan is located at an altitude of 3016 meters, but as you need to cross the valley the maximum height you conquer is 3400 meters. Oh and yes… Is it windy out there? – Yes. Is it cold? – Yes. Is there so beautiful that you actually don’t mind that you can’t feel your toes anymore? – Yes! We were surrounded by total whiteness when we finally reached the yurt on the shore. Luckily the stove was small but fair – we made a fire and I put my legs into the stove (may sound a bit extreme…). After some minutes I felt like a human being again. Like a really, really happy human being. To get water for the tea we had to make a hole to the ice and carry the water with pails. It was a good exercise and one can only imagine that we felt pretty hungry after that. We decided to visit our neighbours – there was a small fisherman’s yurt standing not far away from our home. „Come, come in,“ I heard a really friendly voice before I spotted 5-6 men sitting on the floor in the candlelight. We drank a shot of local drink made out of grains and had a loaf of bread. Then we bought some fish and finished our day with a perfect dinner back to our yurt. The next day greeted us with a really bright sun and hoarfrost – perfect day to feel yourself like a movie star! We galloped on the snowy lake, met the fishermen, played chess in the yurt, ate the fish and hold a breath for one crazy Canadian traveller who decided to go for a swim [well, the ice hole was big enough for just dipping in, but man, I got goosebumps… and I didn’t even touch the water]. You may now ask how is to sleep in the yurt? I can only tell that I felt like the sleepiest Kyrgyz baby. Horseback riding in the winter – just go for it! Madlena ❤ ...
How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Kyrgyzstan
Better late than never, right? Here comes a short story about my Christmas Eve in Kyzart and a bit longer story about my New Year’s Eve in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. During Christmas I was still living with a local Muslim family in the mountain village called Kyzart. December 24th turned out to be sunny, the temperature was around -5 degrees [Celsius] and the so called Christmas feeling inside me was unbelievable high [0% to be exact]. According to my family’s beliefs they don’t celebrate Christmas, so we all had a nice normal day. I woke up, received some cute messages from my friends and family, had a nice long walk in the mountains and went to sleep. Oh, I also had a not-so-everyday-conversation with my host mum. Madle: You know, today is one of the biggest holidays in Estonia. Look, my family sent me a photo of our Christmas tree! Mira: I see… They must miss you. [keep washing dishes] 😀 I spent my New Year’s Eve in the city called Karakol [altitude: 1770 meters], which is the fourth biggest city in Kyrgyzstan, located just 150 km from Chinese border. During the daytime I decided to go to a cafe to have a coffee and use Internet. I took the first sip of my drink when one local guy turned to me: „Hey, you must be Madlena from Estonia, am I right?“. I felt a bit shocked as I didn’t expect that I’m already famous in the city. It turned out that he somehow recognized me because of the CouchSurfing webpage. I quickly realized he was The Living Wikipedia of Karakol – besides the knowledge of the history of the city and other facts I got to know that New Year’s fireworks starts at 10 pm [but no, it’s not gonna last 2 hours]. I soon went back to my hostel with this precious information and as we were waiting for the evening together with some travelers from England, we prepared some mulled wine. Some minutes before 10 pm we rushed out from our hostel [I’m always late when it comes to fireworks – luckily it was Kyrgyz time] and walked to the main square. It was a bit crisp and while waiting for the show we made a lot of photos together with curious locals and a beautiful Christmas tree. Some minutes after 10 we enjoyed a bit clumsy fireworks which actually suited very well with the cool vibe surrounding us. Time passed fast and suddenly we found ourselves standing almost alone on the vast square. All the locals were gone to their homes to celebrate the holiday with their families! We then decided that well, we can go to the cafe and eat some potato salad [so Estonian, oh yeah!] until New Year takes over. We surprisingly managed to be back on the main square even some minutes before midnight but…. – we still continued to be those weird hopeful tourists, hanging around with a few little kids shooting their rockets meant under 12 years old. After a while we decided to go to a pub to say „Cheers!“ to 2018. We did some walk here and there and after consulting with the locals [„Are there any pubs opened nearby?“ – „Eeee….Hmmm…Ummm…Yes, maybe…This way?“] we understood that all the places were closed. So instead we bought a bottle of wine and watched a movie at the hostel. I’m not joking when I say that it was one of the greatest New Year celebrations I have ever had! Madlena ❤ ...
10 signs you’re a local celebrity
1) You’re giving an English lesson at the local school. Students are reading something when suddenly the local teacher walks in and asks you „Do you want to live with me?“. It turns out that she thinks you must be sad to live with a family who mostly cannot speak English. It doesn’t matter that for mutual understanding you need to speak Russian with the teacher as well. 2) You walk in the mountains when a man looking like a bank robber stops his horse and says „Davai, go and have a ride!“. After 200 meters he runs to you to take his horse back because his clever sheep used the moment to run away. 3) Everyone seems to know you but you don’t know anyone. If the group of the people you’re talking with in Russian suddenly changes to Kyrgyz you can be sure they are discussing about potential husband candidates to marry you. 4) While walking on the street there’s a constant choir following you: „Hello-what’s-your-name?“. If you at one point think that you’re alone and there are no children around, you hear a desperate knocking, someone is trying to open the window and when it finally happens you hear the most happy „HELLO!“ in your life. 5) When the children limit themselves with only saying „Hello“ then the adults… „Where are you from, what are you doing, where do you live, with whom do you live, do you have children, why don’t you have children, how old are you, do you like Kyrgyzstan, why do you like Kyrgyzstan, do you like horses, how cold is it in Estonia, do you come back in the summer, come to visit me“. 6) There’s a tap in the middle of the village which looks like a small hill of ice during the winter. A little 3-year old boy falls down, hits his head but doesn’t start crying (I would have). He just stares at you. It seems like he had found a golden fish from his bottle of water. 7) The local Muslim family you’re living with and who [according to their beliefs] don’t eat pork buys you really-who-knows-from-which-magical-place a ham made out of pork. It doesn’t matter that they know you usually don’t eat meat at all. You are from Europe and Europeans love meat, right? 8) Your neighbours come to visit you with local beer and nuts to ask if they can bring their children over to practice their English. 9) The community plans to make you play Santa Claus on New Year’s Eve [„You go door by door and give candies to the children!“]. [I was actually really sad that I couldn’t make it and had to leave before]. 10) You gave your last English lesson at the local school and the older students ask for your Instagram. You write it on the board and the little students write it into their notebooks [„hmm, it must be a next task…“]. After some days you discover that some of them had made their own accounts just to follow you. PS. FOLLOW US: https://www.instagram.com/wanderselltravels/...
Serious talk at the school director’s cabinet
“Take more bread or you’ll be angry at school,” said my host. My face must have expressed total confusion because after some awkward seconds Mira corrected herself. “Oh no, I mixed it up a gain – I meant hungry!” she started to laugh. It was the first morning of my “real” school day. “Real” because yesterday I was at school only to be introduced to other teachers. Now it was time to observe the lessons. What happened with “I’m-just-going-to-observe” I wrote about it in previous post, check it out HERE. Not to be angry at school I ate a bit of bread, and as I still had some time until my lessons, I decided to take a walk in the mountains. That plan was meant to be failed. I only walked about 400 meters when a rather fancy car stopped next to me. The driver put his head out of the window and said I better get into his car [not in the rude way but in the way you can’t really dispute]. It turned out he was the director of the school. So, as my argument [that I still have a lot of time until my lessons] wasn’t really an argument for him I hopped into the car and we went to the school, and into his cabinet. I had to sit in front of his huge table and our following conversation looked something like this [in Russian]: Director: You are from Estonia, right? Madle: Yes, I’m from Estonia. Director: For how long are you going to stay at our school? Madle: I think around 2 or 3 weeks. Director: Only? Two months would be better. By the way, do you have a husband and children? Children are a must have. Madle: Eee, no I don’t. How many children do you have? Director: Three. I’ll make sure you’ll find a husband from this village, and you need one cow also. You need to learn how to milk it. Madle: [thinking naively that it was a joke] Only one cow? Director: If you milk it good enough you can get more. [laughs] [directly] And your Russian is really bad. Madle: [was just really proud that she had already had a minutes long conversation in Russian which is not her strong suit] Eee, okay. Well then.. Hm. Thanks? [Someone knocks the door and one strange teacher enters] [they start to talk in Kyrgyz which I obviously can’t understand] [15 minutes pass by] [I’m really bored] [the schoolbell rings] Director: I need to go now and give a lesson. You stay here. Madle: [how good I ate this bread in the morning so I’m not angry, just a bit impatient] Why??? I want to go for a walk. Pleeeaaasseee. Director: [is in a hurry already] To walk? Okay, yes, you can go…. And after come back here to warm yourself up again! I went for a walk, came back and gave my lessons. At the lunch break the local English teacher came to the empty classroom having a kettle in one hand and a bag with pies in the other. “Now, eat!” she told me and gave me a plate with a pie. She then started to make a tea but the power outlet was too high for a short kettle wire. I can call the next scenario as “How-to-make-a-pyramid-with-the-chairs-to-boil-water”. It all worked out well and I soon started to eat my fabulous lunch. After my lessons – the sun was already about to set – I was slowly walking back home [hoping to see zero directors to take me into their car] when one girl stopped me. I can’t remember her name but the flip-flops she was wearing in this -10 degrees cold were blue. Still, the locals really use every opportunity to practice their English, so some degrees here or there is really nothing. At the end of our short conversation she found a cookie from her pocket, gave it to me, smiled and off she ran. Madlena ❤ ...
To the theater with Wandersell!
So, it’s time for theatre. There are two “theatres” in Bishkek. The Opera House and the Philharmonic hall. Both host several plays, but of course not every day. In order to find out what is in their repertoire you can check www.ticket.kg [might not work] or actually go to the “theatres” [might not be opened]. Still, going all the way to the opera or philharmonic buildings is a good idea because outside there are big posters with all the information you need to know about the plays. In front of this grey building (Philharmonic Hall) I decided that I want to attend the ballet called “Carmen Suite”. Ballet is a good option when you don’t understand the local language – you still have a strong chance understanding the language of dance. The poster was full of [probably] famous names, maybe someone has heard about Igor Kolb [Russian Mariinsky Theater]. I knew nothing, so I just simply decided that those fancy names are worth to see. They opened the Philharmonic Hall just a little bit before the play started so most of the people had to wait outside in their elegant outfits. Some of them tried to make the most of their time and sell their extra tickets to the blonde tourists. Usually [yes, yes, but not this time] in Bishkek you don’t need to buy the ticket in advance because there are always plenty of free seats. This time – probably because of charming Igor Kolb – the hall was almost full. I was lucky to buy my ticket in the last minute so I got a discount [only Kolb knows why] and had to pay 1000 soms instead of 1700. For that I got a pretty good seat in the 6th row. Usually the prices start from 450 soms. If you go inside to the Philharmonic Hall – voila – it’s everything else than sad and gray. Red carpet and chandeliers and young ballerinas greeting the guests – fancy! The promotion text for the play stated that “The Kyrgyz viewer will be able to attend the ballet performance “Carmen Suite” on November 26 and fully appreciate all its beauty and magnificence of the production.” In order to add to the magnificence and raise the excitement even more the play was 15 minutes late. On the other hand the break between two acts was only 10 minutes long and it ended with a typical school bell ring. In the second act there were also young Kyrgyz ballerinas, whose proud moms sent them big flower bouquets onto the stage after the performance. The ballet “Carmen” performed by Russian ballet dancers is something superb and the Philharmonic Hall was worth to see. The vibe there is unique, I promise! <3 Madlena...
Why Kyrgyztan, Madlena?
This question is a really popular guy, everyone loves it. Luckily it’s also easy to answer. Kyrgyzstan just felt like a right place to be. And another answer – I have to confess that I was too lazy to apply for a visa to Mongolia. So I decided, huh, it’s all the same. Central Asia. Which is a big lie. Like to say that Estonia is like Italy. Which might not be a problem for Estonians, but for Italians since we love to add pineapple to… Yeah, let it be. Through Spanish lovely mountain village, Porto and Istanbul and here I am. It’s snowing in my lovely Bishkek. By walking on the famous road between Estonia and Kyrgyzstan it would take just 901 hours. But keep in mind a different time zone not to miss the breakfast here. The first professional photo I took on my way from the airport to the city, around 5am. When the plane was about to land I was sure there’s no electricity in Bishkek as it was totally dark. It was snowing like in a fairytale and soon the princess had to fight with all the taxi-drivers until the prince (sent by the hostel) picked her up to his chariot. “Are you travelling alone? Really?” – No, I have my little buddy Wandersell, who often have more adventures than I do. He saved my camera and computer from the wet death when my water bottle started to leak in my bag. Brave little guy absorbed all the liquid. Also, he got stolen by Mexican backpacker in Porto but hey, he made his way back! Made in Turkey. Estonians can stay in Kyrgyzstan without visa up to 60 days (I think it’s the same to all Schengen countries). So that means I still have 6 weeks, after that I have to cross the border to Kazakhstan which is just 30 minutes drive from Bishkek, or apply for the visa. National language is Kyrgyz, official is Russian – in the city you can mostly hear Russian. Kyrgyz population is almost 6 times bigger than Estonian (1.3 million x6). As it comes to money: 1 euro = around 83 som (KGS). With 83 soms you can take marshutka 8 times in Bishkek, buy one kilogram of grapes or eight bunches of dill. Stay tuned for: Where do I need to go with clean shoes? PS. I work as a volunteer in Bishkek, gonna talk about that soon. ❤ Madlena ...
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