November 24, 2014

Black Rain

“Black Rain” – Ridley Scott, Paramount Pictures (1989)

I’m almost there with the planning phase of the trip now. Time to get prepared for some travel!

I got my iPad out this week and loaded it up with films, and also selected the music for my iPhone (all the good stuff – a hand crafted selection of Pink Floyd, Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac). I have a 128GB iPad, so I can carry about 40 films with me, which I think is pretty impressive (until they make an even bigger one). I try to find connections to places I am visiting in the films I watch, plus of course a few on the road classics. It’s a mixed bag, but amongst lots of other stuff, my movie playlist for this adventure includes –

“Black Rain” – Ridley Scott’s stylised take on the the Japanese urban underworld.
“You Only Live Twice” – James Bond classic, with lots of scenes in Tokyo.
“Lost in Translation” – Sophia Coppola’s Tokyo alienation classic.
“The Spy Who Loved Me” – one of my favourites, especially when Thailand is on the itinerary.
“Spies Like Us”- the cold war in Central Asia, not very politically correct, but rather amusing.
“Planes, Trains & Automobiles” – perhaps the defining travel comedy movie of the last 30 years.
“A Very Polish Practice” – one off spin off of the BBC series, shot in Warsaw.
“Al Murray’s Road to Berlin” – a reminder of the landscape during WW2.

“Black Rain” was very influential to a much younger me back in 1989, and inspired my first trip to Japan. I used to have the video store cardboard cut out of Michael Douglas as a New York cop in my flat, and I wore a black raincoat and Rayban Aviators to work for a couple of years after it came out. I know this sounds very sad now, but it was the 80’s (just)! Anyway, I think it is still a great film today and I am mindful too that Ken Takakura passed away recently. He was something of a legendary actor in Japan, and specialised in the violent cop/Yakuza type genre..

My train tickets arrived from my friends at Real Russia this week. I seem to have got almost everything I wanted. The one specific request I had made was to try and get a compartment in the middle of the carriage on the big train (the Trans-Sib) as I feel the ride is more comfortable in the middle and you are further away from smokers, banging doors and toilets at either end. I ended up with berths 11/12, which I think is fine. My leg from Warsaw to Moscow has been issued from the wrong Warsaw station (Zachodnia), as I am actually going to leave from Centralina. PKP (the Polish national train company) responded to my email query within an hour, and said this is no problem. They seem to be a good company to me, their staff are mostly really keen to help.

I popped into Marks & Spencer last week to get some currencies for the trip. M&S have good rates and even better rates now if you pay with their credit card. This seems mad to me, as it is effectively a cash advance, something most credit cards would start charging you interest on immediately. There was a time when I used to enjoy asking for currencies that the high street bureau de change would not have in stock (“Excuse me, [smug mode] do you have any Mongolian Torag?”..). These days they seem to have the lot – so I had no problem with Zloty, Roubles, Wan, Yen, and Baht.

The world has been a turbulent place over the last few months, and the economic situation in Russia looks pretty bleak right now. One of the consequences of this is that the Rouble has dropped in value to Sterling by nearly 30% since I started planning this trip in August. The travel agencies are struggling with foreign currency payments and apparently Russians are not going on holiday much. It will be interesting to see how far my Rouble goes this trip. Being a tourist in Moscow and eating in the restaurant carriage on the Trans-Mong felt quite expensive last year – hopefully a bit better value this year.

On the subject of the Trans-Sib I found out today that my so called “with services” (meals included) ticket actually now only covers one meal. One meal for the whole trip, not per day! This is a recent change and I’m guessing a money saving idea from Russian Railways that won’t effect most domestic travellers who hop on and off, but will effect long distance foreigners like me on for the whole smash.. No drama – I usually budget $30 a day for two good meals and a few beers in the restaurant carriage. I will stock up in the local Moscow supermarket too, although food from the West is now banned, so I don’t know how different that is going to be..

Elsewhere, on the organisation front I made a breakthrough in Japan. My problem was two-fold. Firstly, I am there over a national holiday and a lot of tours are curtailed or totally cancelled. Secondly, I don’t really want to be on those sort of tours anyway, as I seek the hidden depths of Japan. ┬áThe “underbelly”! The answer has come from an online business called Viator. I think it is brilliant – it matches independent private guides to people like me and puts them together for a small margin. This means I now have a guide and a bespoke couple of days looking at both mainstream and hidden life in Tokyo.

I think that’s all for now. The clock seems to be ticking fast in these last few weeks before the big off..

One Comment on “Black Rain

December 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I'm envious of your trip (and like your music selections). I never watched movies, but I did listen to books on an ipod mini (I didn't have an ipad when I did the trip in 2011, only a small laptop). I look forward to hearing about your journey! Thanks for the link of my other blog (riding rails) to your trans-Siberian blog


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