June 2012

9 countries (2 new ones: Mongolia & Estonia)

Ulaanbaatar, London, Copenhagen, Tallin
Moscow, Helsinki, Zurich, Stockholm
Mallorca, St Petersburg

Purpose of the month:
1) Retrace the steps of Genghis Khan
2) Fine London dining
3) Cruise the Baltic, land of the midnight sun
4) Eat the best bircher muesli & rejuvenate @ modern Swiss spa
5) Total Mediterranean relaxation in Mallorca

June 1st already. The mark of a new month, and for the next three, would always mean summer vacation. A great feeling. But now it's meh, just another month. Feels like an endless summer vacation for the past 5 years, since I do what I want when I want.

Just like May, got a lot planned: 10 days in Mongolia. Jet through Moscow to Copenhagen to London for a week. Up to CPH to board a 1 week Seabourn luxury Scandinavian cruise. Then down to Zurich for a few nights in one of my favorite hotels, the Dolder grand. And then about 10 days in the Med to Mallorca for yummy Spanish food.

Up at 6 am again in Hong Kong, which is nice, always waking up early. Grab a taxi to the Four Seasons for breakfast and then head to airport. Easy flight to Mongolia, just 4 hours and very empty plane.

Cold and rainy on first day. Eww. Really good Chinese food dinner at hotel. Surprisingly good.

Traditional Mongolian diet is all meat, pasta, and hearty soup. Fruit doesn't grow here. Just small berries.
There's fish in lakes, but fish are sacred, and not to be eaten. Couldn't be more different than Hawaii.

They just got democracy in 1990. Cool to still see the remnants of soviet era, plus a mix of Chinese.

Got out of the capital city Ulaanbaatar quickly, and to a remote tourist ger camp (ger = mongolian yurt / tent).

The cold is quite a shock, especially in June. I'm used to flip flop beach weather for the last few years.

Stopped at the black market to buy a traditional del (mongolian robe). And some fake North Face jacket for extra warmth.

Archery practice with traditional bow made of wood and ibex horn. Shooting target of cow hide and cow stomachs.

Ride horses off across the fields, seeing small rivers, sheep, dogs, and a few fishermen, very sparse and vast landscape.

Fall asleep in ger to sound of rain splashing through the crack around the chimney. Wake up from nap just before dinner to a bright clear blue sky outside with perfect lighting. Sun sets behind hill of horses grazing. Around 8 pm but still light out for a few more hours. Crisp cool air means I need big layers and glad I got this fake North Face jacket from the black market earlier. Get fast to work of guarding horses. Wow, guard horse for 3 hours from 9 to midnight. Cold night, full moon, beautiful sitting up on the hillside around fire making tea, and noodle soup with dried beef as midnight snack. I guess the Mongolian equivalent of raiding the fridge for ice cream.

Happy to sleep and get back to ger but need to start the wood stove for warmth. Really cold. Like all three pairs of socks at once, cold. Finally warm up but then have to keep waking up to put on new logs. Its a delicate dance, to keep the fire going, which ends up either too cold, too hot, yet always too smokey.

Quite far north, so the sun sets around 9:30 pm and rises around 4 am.

The local horse master shows how to catch horses with a big stick & rope. Then tries to pick up the stick from the ground while galloping. Learn to tie different knots, learn about stretching leather rope, playing some games with ankle bones of sheep. Trek down to river and jump in to see how cold it is. Refreshing. And quite quick-flowing. Then see how Mongolian vodka is distilled with a huge vat of yogurt. Get to cook lunch, with the traditional beef dumplings, both steamed and fried. Been a year since I touched a stove. Get to grind wheat by hand and make flour. A long ride on the horses, crossing rivers, beautiful green hills and blue sky. Galloping and holding on for dear life.

Its nice to disconnect from the Internet. Want to do a month per year without internet. Have done roughly that last few years, with a month Africa safari, and a month sailing Atlantic.

Finished 3 days at this ger, and then pack up on the horses for 3 more days nomad-style, crossing the steppe.

OK, off to London for a week. Fly ULN - SVO - CPH - LHR, which is Ulaanbaatar - Moscow - Copenhagen - London.
Miat Mongolia airlines from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow is surprisingly nice. Biz class seats, great smiley service.

Check in to St Martins Lane, one of my favourite hotels in London. Comfortable, ultra-modern, and great location.

Just a bunch of eating, wandering around, and a bit of shopping.

Go back to a bunch of familiar places, plus a few new ones:

Amaya - a tremendous modern Indian michelin star restaurant. Somehow snagged a last minute table through a friends Quintessentially membership (a concierge service for fancy people). Would never get that though, its way overpriced.

Aqua - a nice rooftop bar / restaurant. Good drinks, nice atmosphere, but weird service.

Lantana - a sweet breakfast place. Never knew eggs could look so fancy. And incredible cappuccino, with those spiral patterns in the milk of course.

Annoying experience shopping for a suit. Really need to find a personal shopper to just pick out a bunch of stuff, show it to me, and then return what I don't like. Spent all day wandering around Selfridges, Harvey Nicks, which are overpriced, crowded, and have terrible service. Harrods service is dismal now. Finally ended up snagging a jacket and trousers for like £50 at H&M, which was clean, empty, and had nice service. And now when I don't need the suit anymore, I can just toss it.

Early pickup by a brand new Quintessentially Range Rover. Driver real professional, and had just done chauffeur & private security for Stevie Wonder over the Queen's Jubilee weekend.

Sneak into the BA lounge, and quick flight to Copenhagen.

Ridiculously expensive in Denmark. $70 for a quick taxi ride from airport, and $10 for a cappuccino.

Spent 2 weeks in CPH last year, so know it quite well, and good to be back. Quickly wander around the Strøget.

Board the Seabourn Sojourn ship, and set off to Tallin, Estonia.

Nice, relatively small ship with max 450 passengers.
Lots of old people, but not too many fat people which is good.
Old people are smart, fat people ain't.

Formal dining room is awkward. I want to be back on the beach in Indonesia with my feet in the sand, and a dirty t-shirt, eating lobster, not on this stuffy cruise ship eating foie gras caviar champagne whatever.

Russia is lovely, and finally made it to Moscow by bullet train. Get to take in all the sights, but still can't really connect with the culture here.

St Basil's cathedral looks like something out of candyland.

Catherine's palace, and amber room, very nice, with private tour.

Kremlin, Hermitage. I enjoy all the artwork for about 15 minutes, then get bored and start thinking about business ideas.

Chow down a ton of beluga caviar as the ship sails off to Finland, and dread having to put on the suit again. So make it a little less boring with a Russian military hat.

Go dog sledding in Helsinki, in the middle of summer. There's a huge warehouse thing with man-made snow. And inside, a dog-sledding track, ice bar, and ice hotel.

Thinking to go back in the winter and do the real thing for a week.

Fly down from Stockholm to Zürich, and stay in one of my favourite hotels, the Dolder Grand. Its an urban spa hotel, perched up on a hill overlooking the lake, and distant mountains.

They've got a 22-something page spa menu, with all sorts of ridiculous treatments, an a 10,000+ sq ft facility. Plus a Michelin star restaurant. Just straight baller, James Bond style hotel.

Zürich isn't normally cheap, but now that the Swiss Franc is doing well, its just crazy expensive.

After a few nights there, fly down to Mallorca (a Spanish island in the Mediterranean) to chill out by the beach for 10 days.

End up in Cala Sant Vicenç, a super quiet sea-side village tucked between two mountains. Beautiful azure water, and surprisingly sandy beaches. Food in Palma the main city is great. Hang out at Puro Beach club (similar to Nikki Beach club). Watch the final game between Spain/Italy, and see the streets in Palma erupt into chaos.

Was in Mallorca for a few days last year too on cross Atlantic sailing trip, so its good to be back.

Having a Thai curry monkfish for lunch in the super expensive town of Port Andratx, and see a nice yacht go by with a helicopter on the back. Gimme 3 years, and I'll be on there eating chilled grapes, peeled by a full-time grape peeler. Drive around the cliffs looking at multi-million dollar celebrity homes, with yachts chillen in the bays below.

Thats it for June. Then onwards in July going to a bunch of countries in southern Africa. I've been to all before except Mozambique, and quite looking forward to that.

Europe, Russia, etc