So, we had a plan, it was a simple plan, get a train to St. Petersburg. We wanted to make things a bit harder on ourselves by stopping along the way, and making sure we were back at work three weeks later. Oh yeah, and buy a flat the month before we were due to leave.
Obviously, a plan like this needs organisation. Really, really good organisation – did I mention the flat buying? This year I finally crossed the line from which there is no going back and became the owner of two Filofaxes, so I gave into the inevitable and bought a third. After much deliberation online I was almost certain I wanted a Pocket Domino. But a little niggle in the back of my head persuaded me to go and look at it in person before I made a purchase.
So after work, I hotfooted it to the New Conduit Street shop, where that niggle was justified, the Domino wasn’t quite right. The Pocket Urban, however, was perfect. It is almost like it was designed for a trip like this, with its hardy and practical styling. This is a Filofax that will put up with being bashed around in the bottom of a rucksac or consulted in a thunderstorm or whipped out in a hurry to find directions to the station. I particularly like the gusseted outside pocket and the full width interior pocket – very handy to stuff the random things you accumulate on a journey.
Since my downfall was pretty much inevitable at this point, when I was in the shop I also bought the Travel Journal Pack. I normally run a mile from any system that tries to impose itself on me, but flicking through the display pack, I realised there was enough flexibility I could use it how I wanted. And there were pre-printed sheets so you could play Squares. I was sold. I also bought a hole punch because it was payday.
(My sister thinks I have a problem. I suspect some of my work colleagues feel the same way but are too polite to say anything. Me, I know I spend less on Filofaxes than they do on shoes, I don’t think I’m the one with the problem.)
So, back to the plan, it went something like this: London – Berlin – Gdansk – Kaliningrad – Vilnius – Riga – Tallinn – St Petersburg – London. (If you don’t know where some of those places are, why don’t you look them up? Are you thinking it would be handy if you could get a Europe map for the Filofax? Yeah, me too). We knew the plan would be fairly flexible, we were a bit vague about trains after Gdansk, but neither of us had realised quite how few trains run through the Baltic countries any more. That’s what you get for using a 10 year old guidebook and a brand new Filofax.
We did end up in St. Petersburg, but we had to forgo Tallinn to get there. We went on 10 trains and 2 coaches. We saw Gdansk in the freezing rain and St Petersburg in a heatwave.
We saw a full blown Russian military parade on the 9th May. We went to the best museum in the world. We had dill with more meals than you’d think would be possible. I fell in love with Malbork Castle in Poland, and I wanted to eat up every inch of The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg. We learnt about events from 1939 to 1989 from almost every side. We had amazing hot chocolate in Vilnius and listened to a brilliant blues band in Riga. We went to a bit of Russia most people aren’t even aware of. We learnt that if you are an aspiring nation it’s probably best not to invite the Teutonic knights in to help sort out a little pagan problem.
In short it was fabulous.
And through it all, the Filofax held its own.
I divided the travel pack into 6 sections, and added some of the standard pages that come with a new Filofax. I had emergency information right at the front, then the first section was the travel itinerary and planning, with the to-do lists and packing lists. The second section was travel information, where I added a map of Europe I printed off before I left, along with some city plans, a list of handy web pages, phone numbers and the international information section from the 2010 diary. The next section was my journal – thank you whoever it was on Philofaxy who suggested to put it in the middle of the organiser so that it’s easier to write on both sides– you are a genius. Then the fourth section was for money and budget. The very last section was blank paper and the travel games.
This leaves the fifth section, which I’ve done out of order, because there is a glaring omission in the travel pack. It’s so big and obvious I noticed it as almost as soon as I got it home from the shop – there is nowhere to write down addresses for postcards. Filofax, the daddy of paper organisers, overlooked the one form of paper-based communication that people still use. So I had to use the standard addresses inserts.
So how did I use it? – I used the packing list and remembered to bring a torch, I kept a travel diary, I made notes, I tried to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, I drew stick figure pictures to try and communicate with Russian ticket agents, I wrote postcards, I stuffed receipts in its pockets, I kept my passport and tickets in it when we were travelling, we played squares. It was perfect.
Once again, thank you to Helen for sharing her adventures. Hope your flat purchase went as smoothly as your European Adventure.....