Hard choices – Not this time for Nukus

Last year I read an article telling the incredible story of the Savitsky Collection at what is now the Nukus Museum of Art.

In short, Igor Savitsky was a wealthy Muscovite Russian who over a period of years amassed a stunning collection of Russian avant-garde art during the 1950s, in particular buying and collecting works by (and from) dissident artists who had been banned by Stalin, and taking them to Nukus, in what is now Uzbekistan, far from the watching authorities in Moscow and even Tashkent.

It is exactly the sort of place I would love to visit for all sorts of reasons.

I was given 3 lovely mugs from a National Gallery of Scotland exhibition of Russian avant-garde art for my 21st birthday. It is a fantastic story, and it seems like it was just the sort of place we should visit, if we are close. And why wouldn’t we do it as part of the adventure?

But here’s the thing. When Igor Savitsky took all that art far away from prying eyes, he did an extremely good job…

It turns out it is really difficult to get to Nukus and it really is a long way from anywhere else we are planning to visit. We want to stick by our no-flights-except-home rule, and this means trains.

There are 2 trains a week from Tashkent, and they take between 18 and 22 hours, depending on the route, which is fair enough when you realise that Nukus is over 1100km from Tashkent (about the same as Paris to Vienna). The days they go are not particularly convenient, and there is no child-bribing water-park, or even anything else at all, worth going to see in the surrounding area.

We could go, but it would mean missing out on some of the great Silk Road cities – Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand – as our arrival into and departure from Tashkent are fixed. That’s a lot to sacrifice for a few hours in the company of an amazing art collection and many more hours on long trains.

So it was with regret that we ejected (nuked?) Nukus from our itinerary last night.

This is not an exhibit from the Savitsky Collection.

You can check out some of the paintings here.

Maybe we will have to plan another trip there next year…

Ben

What’s happening with your house?

This is normally about question 4 (after “Seriously?” “Why?” and “What about school?” (more on that one later)).

Simple answer: we have very lovely friends (plus children, plus dogs) who are going to live in it for us. It’s (hopefully) a win-win: they need somewhere to live for six months (they’re moving away after that) and we get someone to look after the house and pay the council tax and feed the chickens and fight off any burglars, spiders or other nasties and generally keep the insurance company happy.

Getting rid of this shipping container was supposed to have happened by Christmas 2018.

It was one of those cases where the universe really does provide; we had previously thought that someone else was going to live in it and when that fell through, a mere four months ago, we were at a loss. But a casual chat during a children’s swimming lesson became “Well, we could”, became “Shall we?”, became us meeting up last night to sign an agreement… so its official. They get to live in our house and we have to, really, go somewhere else.

But of course signing (and drafting) the paperwork is the easy bit. The tricky bit has been looking round our house and realising how much needs to be done before we can reasonably expect someone else to live in it: the back door that doesn’t open, the doorbell that doesn’t work, the broken bed (not as exciting as it sounds), the wobbly bannister, the dishwasher that requires to be sworn at in exactly the right way before it will deign to work, and even then only one time in every three, and grudgingly at that. We’ve been living with these things for years but can we really expect someone else to?

Happy New Home Goldie

But we’re getting there. And rather enjoying living in a house where nothing needs fixing. We’ve emptied cupboards too (“Oh, that’s where that was!”), rehomed the fish and provided an 8 page list of where the trip switches are and who is our preferred plumber..

The chickens will be looked after (although Marilyn (she was blond, busty and had an attitude to match) has sadly not lived to see us go – RIP Marilyn), as will the garden. We have a separate cottage in our garden (built for my parents but available for holiday lets while they’re not in it) so that needs to be planned for too.

Yesterday I made 26 jars of jam from the fruit in the freezer. Today, banana cake.

The freezer is being emptied (fish fingers and ice cream for supper tonight), and anything really precious and breakable squirrelled away. The deep litter filing system is being worked through (and mostly re-filed in the recycling).

The to do list continues… We leave four weeks tomorrow.

 

Harriet

 

New name

Newsflash! (Warning, it’s pretty exciting so you may want to be sitting down).

We have a new Instagram name and are now @tweedtotokyo to match our shiny new Twitter account and this blog. If you’re not already following us we’d love it if you did.

As a separate thing I’ve been mulling over the whys of blogging/instagramming (is that really a verb?)/ twittering this trip. Why bother? Who are we doing it for? Come back for my musings soon….

Harriet

How to keep your family healthy on a round the world trip

How do you keep your family healthy on a round the world trip? For six months? When four of them are children?

I don’t know. I haven’t done it yet. And given I’m currently sitting in my front room nursing a filthy cold while one of my children is in bed having refused lunch or supper I may not be the correct person to ask.

But I’m trying. Lucy and I went on a mother-daughter shopping trip today. You know the sort of thing: matching swingy hair and handbags, cutesy selfies in the changing rooms, credit cards maxxed out.

Erm, no. We spent £77 in Boots and Superdrug and came back with this:

Actually looking at it, it doesn’t look very good for £77 but we did buy Lucy a hairbrush too.

Which we (by which I mean I) have turned into this:

I’ve not quite packed it down to the size of a match box, but nearly – top tip – take it out of the packaging. And don’t forget to recycle.

Because, while when you think about travelling for a long time, everyone worries about the big scary illnesses (more on them later), it’s actually more likely that we will get colds, bugs or scrapes and we need to be prepared for those too.

So, for anyone who cares, here’s what’s in our six-month-supply, overland, Europe and Asia, family health travel pack:

Painkillers: Ibuprofen (kids and adults), paracetamol (ditto), ibuprofen gel, cold spray (because I’m a big believer in the placebo effect). Antihistamines (for bites, stings and allergies): loratadine and cetirizine, plus a tube of anthisan-type cream and one of those clicky things that apparently makes bites stop itching so much. I wanted to get some Waspeze but they only sell it in the Borders in Summer. I did get a bottle of DEET based bug repellent too. For dodgy tummies: rehydration salts (and proper medicines – more below). For coughs and colds: glycerin throat pastilles (they don’t do much but they taste nice – see placebo effect). General first aid and health care: aloe vera (good for burns), bandage, sling, safety pins, sterile wipes, plasters, blister plasters, hand sanitiser, lip balm, antiseptic cream, mouth ulcer stuff (iglu, because it works and my children don’t like bonjela – weirdos), micropore tape, E45 (my cure for everything). All, because we’re on a budget, non-branded apart from the iglu and the Calpol fastmelts because no-one makes a non-branded version and it’s worth the extra money not to have non-branded Calpol leaking all over the inside of my rucksack).

Plus the following actual medicines:

(Backstory: I went to the doctor – if you’re reading this hello doctor (and doctor’s family) and if you’re not you jolly well should be – and had a full and frank discussion about what we actually needed. The conclusion was that actually the things that will hit us are likely to be random infections (stomachs, UTIs, ears etc) and travellers’ diarrhoea (and no I didn’t spell that right first time). )

So we have two bottles of (top tip) un-made-up amoxycillin (the horrible banana-flavoured one) and a course of doxycycline as well as a load of prochlorperazine tablets to stop us being sick if one of those bugs gets us (official advice – take those before you start on the doxycycline and see if you get better of your own accord first.) We’ve also got a tube of fucidin H cream (antibiotic and steroid) in case of nasty skin things.

So hopefully if the usual bugs, scrapes and viruses attack we can deal with them, at least for long enough to get ourselves to a doctor. Because they do have them in other countries, it turns out…

And as for the nasties once again we are grateful to the NHS. We’ve been advised on necessary vaccines (and indeed given almost all of them) by our practice nurse, using the NHS travel vaccines site, which for us meant boosters of all the stuff we’ve had already, plus Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Tick-Borne Encephalitis, Typhoid and for very-brave-Magnus-only the BCG (all the rest of us have had it already – it was given at birth in West London where all the girls were born). And the good old NHS paid for lots of those too (a good thing – £800 on Rabies vaccines may not be the most fun thing I have to pay for on this trip – although I’d take it over the alternative (“nice doggie”)).

So it’s all, minus the packaging (but including the packet leaflets), packed in our kit. And no one is allowed to get ill. Not least because having got it all in there once it’ll never all go back in if I get it out again.

Is it enough? Only time will tell. But if you think we’re missing something essential let us know – we have 37 days to top it up in a language we speak…

Harriet

Getting Very Real Now

Over the last six weeks or so, we have taken huge steps towards making what was a pipe dream into a reality. Among other things, our first 100 days or so are almost entirely booked, we have tickets for various exhibitions and concerts, and we have shiny Chinese visas in our passports.

I am very excited.

In the words of Primal Scream, just what is it that I want to do? We want to be free to do what we want to so, we’re going to have a good time, and we’re going to have a party.

I also know that my expectations about the trip, the children on the trip, and me on the trip, are wildly optimistic. I will not get fit in 10 minutes. There will be times we will be lost, tired, bored, resentful, angry, disappointed and bicker with each other. We will miss opportunities. We will waste time and money. I will not become a perfect parent who never screams “STOP SHOUTING AT YOUR SISTER!”… Well, not immediately anyway.

We have also been writing lots of lists including kit, things to sort before we go, places to visit when we are on the road, and a long list of “things which are free and cheap, for the days when our weekly budget is gone by Tuesday morning.” Any hints and tips gratefully received.

Lots of the things on the to do lists are now ticked, which is exciting, but we do seem to add to them almost as quickly. We’re using various shared apps, in particular Cozi and Workflowy, though probably not getting the most out of either. We have a big paper file too with all sort of sections, now bursting at the seems.

Our goal is to do at least one thing every day for the trip, though often this ends up being more than one thing. My task for the day is to ring the Mongolian embassy in Paris (obvs),and Harriet has also rung our home insurance people already. We also got the children to download Cozi, GoogleTranslate and What3words, which will help with our Security Protocol, which is a grown up way of saying “what to do if our children get lost while trying not to look like that Picasso painting”.

Weeping Woman 1937

We’ve come a long way from the pipe dream. There’s a long way to go yet.

Ben

The route

This took months of planning. And we still need to do China. Blue in the car, red on the train

The route is, broadly, planned. We are leaving in just under three months and I know exactly where we are going to be sleeping for pretty much all of the first hundred days of that. Which is good: worry No. 4829 is turning up in a strange town with four tired children and not being able to find anywhere to stay. So at least I’ve put that one off for three months. Assuming AirBnB doesn’t let us down…

But how did we get here? How do you narrow down the whole world (after all you can go both ways round to get to Tokyo) to one route?

We’ve been talking about this a long time, and the route has evolved over time. Mostly due to geopolitics. That’s never previously been a major factor in my holiday planning before but it was this time. In 2012 there was no ISIS and going through Iran was a real (if possibly risky) possibility. In 2014 we thought we might arrive in Russia from Ukraine (not so easy any more). In 2016 Trump became president and we decided we didn’t fancy going that way round any more. And I haven’t even got on to Brexit*.

So by the time we sat at a table at a party (January 2018, great party) and agreed we needed to do some actual planning we had concluded we needed to go East and we needed to stay broadly North. (There was a brief flirtation with the idea of learning to sail and buying a boat but that lasted about five minutes before a sense of self-preservation kicked in).

And then logistics became and issue. How were we actually going to do this? Car gives us flexibility (and the ability to take more stuff with us) but neither of us fancied driving across Siberia (are we nearly there yet?). Train is expensive and means you’re tied to cities/towns that have a station. Bus is an option but not for everything. Please. Planes are out. No planes til we come back. Campervan is handy but again there’s the Siberia issue, and we’d have to buy one.

So the conclusion in the end was the slightly odd circuitous route above. We will take the car round Europe, ending up, oddly, near Lyon where we can meet Ben’s parents. They will fill the car full of wine and tins of duck (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it) and drive it home and we will do the rest on the train. Or bus. Or boat.

Which then made it up to us. Where did we actually want to go? Lucy was desperate to visit Mongolia. So the Trans-Mongolian route it was. Someone mentioned a chocolate factory: Brussels and Belgium. Apparently Cologne Carnival is awesome. There’s an amazing salt mine near Krakow. You can do a Europeean Safari in the North of Poland. We’ve got friends in Copenhagen, Vienna, Moscow, Oslo, Kyoto and the middle of Poland; check, check, check (sorry friends!). Someone invited me to stay with him in Uzbekistan twenty years ago; right, that’s in.

And so a route is formed:

  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Cologne
  • Berlin
  • Oder Delta
  • Krakow
  • Budapest
  • Vienna
  • Lake Bled
  • Italy (details TBC)
  • Lyon
  • Paris
  • Hamburg
  • Copenhagen

We’ll let you know how we get on….

  • Oslo
  • Helsinki
  • St Petersburg
  • Moscow
  • Tashkent
  • Samarkand, Bukhara, Nukus
  • Almaty
  • Bishkek
  • Irkutsk
  • Ulan Bator and Mongolia
  • China
  • Osaka
  • Tokyo and Japan
  • London and home.

*At present there is visa free entry to Mongolia for citizens of the EU. I’m prepared to bet that if/when we actually leave, with or without a deal, negotiating visa entry requirements to Mongolia isn’t going to be top of anyone’s priority list. We’re just going to have to hope the Mongolian Border guards aren’t big followers of UK and European politics. Or that we don’t leave.

Where it all began

What makes a family of six decide to give up their jobs, schools and friends for six months, tidy their house sufficiently that someone else can live in it (not looking forward to that bit) and go overland (no planes at all until after we’ve climbed Mount Fuji) to Japan?

The answer is a flight of fancy, a fifteen minute chat, and a desire not to back down once we’ve said we’re going to do something.

It’s Ben’s fault really.  When he was a child he and his family drove across Europe to what was then Yugoslavia and back.  I’m going to get him to write about that experience separately, but it was clearly a huge thing for him and it’s still an experience he talks about.

Add to that the fact that we met “too late”. Not really, obviously, but I was always a bit jealous of those people who met someone in their early twenties and then went off travelling with them, or took overseas jobs, or generally did exciting stuff before getting down to the (equally exciting, honest, sort of) business of paying mortgages and having kids.

Add to that the fact that we moved out of London in 2010, just when people were starting to get excited about the Olympics.   By the time 2012 came around, all our friends who lived anywhere near London, and lots who didn’t, were in a fever of excitement.  We, on the other hand, had been very jaded and cynical and can’t-be-bothered-about-the-Olympics-ish and never bothered applying for any tickets, or even accepted any when friends who had got tickets offered them to us.

And, as eny fule kno, we were totally wrong. The London Olympics were amazing and inspiring (leaving aside any debate or discussion of their legacy) and we really wished we had been there.

But we weren’t.  We were in France, having a lovely holiday, but, over a glass of wine and a sunset, a discussion of how we wished we were at the Olympics, turned into a chat about Ben’s family trip, turned into “I wish we could go on an adventure” turned into

“Well, why don’t we?”.

A quick google told us that the 2020 Olympics (2016 seemed a bit soon) would be in either Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo and an overland trip, destination then unknown (but with fingers very much crossed for Tokyo), became a target.

And to make sure we did it, we came back and told everyone who would stand still long enough (including our employers) our plans.  No backing out now…

Harriet