Tag Archives: instagram

Chasing Aurora in Murmansk Nights

How we got to Russia was primarily from what wanted to see the northern light. And Murmansk just happened to be the most reasonable place for us. To me I needed to get out of the US for visa requirement. It could be anywhere but Russia was more convenient for the other Thai friends since no visa required for Thai to enter the country.

We got three nights to try our luck on sighting aurora. It wasn’t the best timing, unfortunately. However, as the nights was evolving, something else got me realised aurora hunt was more than it was meant to be. That happened on the daytime ramping up to the night as well.

Night 1: Arrival and Get Going
On the road for aurora hunt

The Thai friends arrived on the night before I did. They had a chance to explore the city on the day. Whereas, I spent most of the day at Sheremetyevo Airport, connecting flight to Murmansk.

I finally joined them in the afternoon just to learn that aurora hunt would start tonight and we’d be on the road from 10pm. So, there wasn’t much time for me to wind down from travelling across the Atlantic.

Before the night ride, we decided to get dinner from a supermarket near by. My eyes, of course, were on the local beer and we picked some local IPA. At the checkout, a security took them away. We were perplexed but didn’t make any noise. It must have been the legal time limit to buy alcohol out.  And our guide confirmed it. So, my first night in Russia was sober.

I met our guide, Angelika, for the first time, when they picked us up. She would take care of us until our last night.

The weather was snowy and cloudy. We drove to three distant sites but there was no luck. Still, the night landscapes of the city and roads around were foreign and captivating to me.

Suddenly, Angelika told the driver to stop the van and pointed us to something faint behind the snowy clouds. To be honest, I was skeptical. It was easy to mistake city lights reflecting the clouds with aurora. I realised the luck wasn’t just on Kp-index but also on the weather on the location as well. And in this weather, you’d need local expertise to spot it.

That faint aurora was just a tease. It lit us some hope for the two nights to come.

We got back to the hotel. I was tired and needed to rest.

Night 2: Staying in at Aurora Village
Aurora Village

After an epic day trip to Teriberka, we weren’t driven around like the first night and stayed at Aurora Village.

Before that day trip, we needed to stock some food for the night and for the morning. Now, that we knew, we lingered in the supermarket until 11am to be able to buy some alcohol. So, we got a bottle of vodka and some beer to supply the night.

We, five of us, stayed together in the same cabin. Half of it was made of transparent plastic into a dome so that the sky was visible.

Later, another group of guests arrived. Apparently, they were all Thais.

The forecast would be a window of clear night from 10pm to midnight. Actually, while we were waiting for a drive to get to the cabin, the clouds were dispatched and the sun appeared for the first time in the day. That sounded very promising.

Unfortunately, after midnight, the sky still wasn’t clear. We drank all the booze we bought. I was the last one standing and the only thing to drink was complimentary sparkling wine. It was terribly too sweet but kept me going, watching wood fire burning away. I needed time on my own to recharge my introvert battery.

Until around 3am, the sky cleared up and the stars were visible from the cabin. I went outside with a little hope, of not something happened at least, to enjoy the stars without city lights.

Then, I noticed a pale white strip across the sky. That, I haven’t seen before. I’d be just happy if it was the Milky Way but it wasn’t a strip of clusters of stars. To make sure what it was, I walked to the staff cabin to ask someone. There, he was plowing snow on a walkway (do they sleep at all, by the way?) but we couldn’t see the strip there because of the cabin light.

At the guest cabin area, without fluorescent light interference, he saw that pale white strip. There, he showed me his mobile screen, translating his Russian, “It’s aurora.” At once, I got back to the cabin to wake the others up. He also knocked on the rest of the guests.

It appeared for about ten more minutes. A friend of mind saw it turned green at one end of the horizon. By that time, I was a tad drunk and overwhelmed by how the night was unfolded. I didn’t bother myself to get the DSLR or even tried to take any photo with the phone.

What we saw wasn’t like in typical aurora photos. It wasn’t as spectacular as one would normally expect. Nonetheless, to me, it fulfilled the mission, technically. All and all, I could say I’d seen the northern light. Beyond that, it was a good deed to get others to see it.

Night 3: More about Drinking
Murmansk at night

We checked out of Aurora Village and still had one last night for the hunt. We were back to a night ride again but with less enthusiasm. And there was another person joining us in the van. He was Thai.

It wasn’t as gruesomely snowing as the firs night but still too cloudy. The chance of seeing aurora was very slim. So, the night was shifted into something else.

Angelika offered us a shot of vodka. Then, a coach arrived on the scene. It was a bigger tour group. They equipped with snacks, wine, and vodka.

Since then, the night wasn’t about just aurora hunt anymore.

They kept getting me more vodka. I had fair amount of drinks and interesting conversations with the other group.

Eventually, we had to get back but I still need more drinks. After they dropped us off at the apartment building we stayed. I determined to keep going and explore the city at night. That was after 1am when I decided to go out by myself.

It took me about 20 minutes to a bar. No one was on the streets. It was very quiet and I didn’t feel there would be any harm.

I was able to get two more beers before the bar was closed. And I was the last customer there.

However, it was more difficult on the way back. The buildings looked similar and I got to a wrong one on the other side of the street. It was almost 4am when I finally found my way back to the right apartment.

Those were the three nights in Murmansk. Each night we I stayed in a different place with different experience. Even though aurora we saw wasn’t as what we expected, I got the feeling that we got more than what we expected of it in those nights.

The next morning we would get to Moscow for another three nights, another interesting adventure.

Getting around and Getting Drunk in London

In my little London adventure, there are two things that come to my thoughts: the experience of excellent public transportation and, to my surprise, pubs and beers that turn to be a big let down.

In the Tube
Getting to Waterloo

First of all, as a first-time visitor I commute in London without any confusion. These days, my main tool for travelling is Google Maps. With its accurate information, I can get around without having to ask anyone for directions. Moreover, the clear signs on the ground reflect exactly in the app. I have had this problem in Detroit where I couldn’t find the bus stop, which appeared in the Maps.

However, when you plan the trip with the app and start to get into the Tube system, it could be difficult to change the route because there is no mobile signal down there and will have to find out from that complex Underground map. My friend and I have to do that while in the pub crawl session.

I just can’t help comparing it with other cities I’ve lived. Sydney improved when I visited last year. DC is adequate but Metro network is not widespread. Bangkok train systems are reliable but they are not totally integrated with each other or with other systems—i.e., bus and ferry services.

More evidently, getting from/to the airport shows how to move people painlessly. Even though Sydney, DC, and Bangkok are not bad, Heathrow Express is the best. Many cities frustrated me in terms of getting out of the airport. To name a few: I queued up for a taxi for hours in Kuala Lumpur, I got confused with Uber pick-up point in Detroit, I was rudely dropped off a wrong destination in Chiang Mai because Songthaew driver misheard me.

I’ve got prior perception of the city’s public transport system from a couple of works I was involved. London was one of the success case stories in a report about urban transport in Malaysia. And we once interviewed CTO and Director of Customer Experience, Transport for London on how they could assist other cities with their experiences. To finally experience it first hands with this background is great.

On the other side, my expectation with pubs and beer is high but it just lets me down. Two nights out of three in the city, I get last call bell before midnight. I’m not sure if this is a norm but I don’t remember the last time I had to rush out of a pub.

Mushrooms at the World's End
A urinal at World’s End, Camden

And a quest for good local ale also fails. London Pale Ale I have in Oxford is fine. But others than that don’t jump at me at all. The tap selections are quite the same along the pubs I’ve been too. Unlike DC or Sydney, where they’ve got different beers in different pubs. My regular, Songbyrd, always changes beers on their taps.

Late Night Underground
Getting back to Notting Hill, tipsy…

To end this note, I’ve got one of the most embarrassing moments in my life in the last night in London. I can’t hold it to the hotel and have to release it on pathway by a park. Just a few second later, a police car pulls over behind me. The cops get out of the car and ask me questions. This could be the first time ever I got caught red handed with no excuses. I know I could be in a trouble with it but they let me go anyway. Oops! Lesson learned.

Some Snippets of London

Tip of the Eye
April 2017 is the first time in years that I don’t get a chance to celebrate Songkran. However, it is also the first time I get to visit London. It’s only for a few days and I can just only see the city as some snippets.

Because of my work visa condition, I need to get out of the country after 90 days of arrival. That could be anywhere. And the timing coincides with a friend’s wedding in the UK.

I go straight to Oxford for the wedding, which is held in the afternoon on the day I arrive. The ceremony goes beautifully and I get meet wonderful people from both bride and groom sides. After the wedding party and dancing, the drinking continues until 4am. Thus, the morning after is a pain to get back on the train to London.

Saying the Sign

This counts as Day 1 in London. I need to recover from the hangover in the hotel room in Notting Hill. By the time I can manage myself up and function again, it is pretty much late. At least, I take the Tube to Waterloo, walk across the Thames to Tarfalgar Square, Chinatown, and Soho, then take the underground back to Notting Hill to explore what Netflix’s geo copyright has to offer in the UK.

The next day, I meet a friend from Cambridge whom we met in my Bangkok local pub. We visit Saatchi Gallery for an hour. Then we start a pub crawl from Camden to Soho. My mission is to find some local good craft ale. But after a few pubs, I give up since nothing has come to my taste. So, I just enjoy the company for the evening.

The morning after is not too bad because of the low ABV we drank last night. This is quite new for me, frankly, and I’m told by the friend that low ABV is actually designed for the pub crawl session. It’s the last full day in the city. Something I have to tick off my list are Tate Modern and some gay bars then end up with a Pad Thai for late night supper. I’ve got to try that in London.

The Original Pealed Art

Pad Thai at Tuk Tuk, London

This is pretty much it, the short time in London. But there are more in my head about it. So, that will be the next post about what I see about the city from these snippets.

Those Three Weeks in Sydney

Arriving Sydney

To be honest, when I left the Australia in 2010, I had never had a plan to set my foot in the country again. But there I was, taking a trip in Sydney for three weeks last year. Something inside me made a quest to go back to where I spent my life for almost ten years—my second home.

My then departure was quite a bitter change from an uncertainty in Sydney to another life chapter back in Bangkok. But then again, I decided to take another big turn taking a job in Washington DC. Living in the States triggered me to explore myself what I was made of. In another word, it was a homesick, not just for Bangkok but also Sydney.

A five-month break from work in Bangkok gave a window for me to visit Sydney. How I spent those three weeks: Continue reading Those Three Weeks in Sydney

More Aussie Beers Please

Coopers Pale Ale
Coopers Pale Ale at Bank Hotel

Over the years, I have developed a fondness of craft beer. It could not be possible to resist exploring Australian brew when I got down there.

My drink list wasn’t as long as food craving mission. The very first beer I got had to be Coopers pale ale at the Bank Hotel, one of my favourite spots to watch the world flowing by. Coopers and James Squire were the two established breweries I was longing for. There were also  my new-found favourite local craft beer, especially Young Henrys from Newtown. Shame that I didn’t get a chance to visit their bar.

That was simply because my the pub time was in the regular one, Kelly’s on King. And another one that I went more often this trip was the Townie, where I stopped for variety of Young Henrys and to write travel journals.

It was good to see that Kelly’s, the Townie, and Warren View Hotel still had as the same vibe as when I left the city. Most of others in the local has changed. The Duke and Newtown Hotel became so hipster. The Sando was renamed to Newtown Social Club even tough it got the same spirit.

Closer to Sydney’s CBD, Lansdowne Hotel is gone. The Clare Hotel turned posh. However, Stonewall Hotel on Oxford Street were still the same gay bar. And fortunately, Brighton Up Bar were as a dive bar as I hoped it would be.

Brighton Up Bar
Brighton Up Bar on Oxford Street

Although the pub wasn’t my usual spot because of the location but it always have a special place in my heart. It was where I started transitioning works. One day in winter 2007, I randomly sat down there to write a script for Anywhere Chairs while sipping beer. Since then, I found pubs have been my preferred choice of writing environment.