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October 13, 2014

Being Michael Palin

The “Easter Dream”, courtesy of Marine Traffic

In 1989 “Around the World in 80 Days” was a major success for the BBC and a new turn for Michael Palin’s slightly flagging career. This show was at least partly to blame for creating my latent desire to attempt off beat journeys, something that I had little time for until a couple of years ago. After all, not many people would be able to get away with telling the boss, their clients, and significant others that they were off for a journey where phone coverage was scare and without a return date! Today I’m lucky enough to have the time and nothing to get in the way of such adventure. So when my friends jibe me with the Palin or Alan Whicker tag, I always secretly smile, as to me it is high praise indeed.

Looking at Michael Palin’s route, I think perhaps Phileas Fogg would have been much better to head across Russia, rather than heading as far south as Bombay and Singapore before arriving in Japan. I plan to get to Tokyo overland in just 21 days. Incidentally, whilst researching for this post, I learned that the series was originally planned for Alan Whicker, who declined to take part. Fourth choice was Palin – I thought he was perfect. After all, I certainly could not have imagined Alan Whicker kipping on the deck of a dhow or swabbing the decks of a container ferry.

From a planning perspective, one of Michael Palin’s biggest problems was the scheduling of shipping, and I can relate to this, even on my much simpler journey. His problems were in Dubai and Singapore. Mine are perhaps less insurmountable and are in Vladivostok and Donghae.

The only ship that sails to Japan from Russia is called the “Eastern Dream”. It is scheduled to sail once a week from Vladivostok, heading south to Donghae in South Korea, then crossing over to Sakaiminato in Japan. It is supposed to sail each Wednesday, arriving in Japan on Friday. However, whenever my man in Moscow speaks to his contact in the port (a 10 hour time difference from GMT) the ship seems to have different and unpublished plans. Sometimes just sailing to Donghae, and other times stoping an extra day.. oh, and also leaving a day early. I hope other travellers are in the loop on this, as if you just believed what it says on their website you would possibly be stranded in Vladivostok for the winter.

I’m told that I have now been ticketed on the ship, (in third class!) so I’m hoping my information must be right. That means arriving in Vladivostok on a Monday, and having just a day until the weekly sailing. If this is all sounding too easy, the Rossiya train (002) only works Eastbound on “odd” calendar days of the week..

Part ferry part ice breaker in winter?

The “Eastern Dream” looks relatively modern and was built in Japan in the 1990’s. It is run by a Korean company called DBS. I’m hoping she is up to the task, as I can see that it has to endure a pretty tough environment in the winter. I have seen photographs of small icebergs in the port and three feet of snow on the deck. I’m also mindful that it has to sail around North Korea and there are frequent military interventions around the contested territorial waters. Needless to say I will carefully practice the abandon ship procedures, but in honesty I don’t think you would live for more than a minute or two in the Sea of Japan unless you had access to a really good lifeboat. These are probably reserved for first class passengers.

Bring snow shoes!

Both of the above photos are from a blog I found in Korean that sadly I cannot translate. You can see the pictures here though. Other traveller’s blogs are often such great preparation for a journey.

In other ship news I have once again booked a cabin on the MV “King Seaways” from Newcastle to Imjuden (Amsterdam). This is a good ferry – the trick is that its sister ship isn’t quite as nice, so again it needs booking on the right day of the week – especially if you want to benefit from the private Commodore Class area that keeps you separate from the rabble of students on a rather big booze cruise.

Everything else is coming together, and I just need to organise my Japanese adventures now. I’m still waiting for D Bahn to publish the winter rail timetable that starts on 13 December, so there could be some changes to my plan getting to Warsaw. My visas are now in the system (thanks once again to Real Russia) and I now have a pile of gear sat here in HQ ready to pack – I’m aiming to carry a bit less this year, but will still need both winter and summer gear as the temperature will range from -40c to +30c over the course of the trip.

I think thats all for now, other than to say, if you read this blog and are enjoying it, do please share it with others you know who might also find it of interest. More to follow next week I hope. I am trying to get into more of a pre-departure blog routine.

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