John Byrne talks about his travelling all around the world. He focuses on his amazing trip on the Trans-Siberian train from St. Petersburg in Russia to Beijing in China. He encourages other service users to get out there in the world and take a look.
How many holidays have you gone on?
I’ve lost count, I tend to remember the big ones.
Do you travel by yourself or do you go with other people?
I go mostly on my own, like if I go around Europe I’d tend to go on my own.
Where is the most exotic place you’ve visited?
Well, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria and that, I was in Albania and all them places.
Do you ever go on holidays with people?
I went a few times down the country (in Ireland) with assistance, to give a dig out, give them a hand. And sometimes I go on holiday with my brother.
How do you find travelling on your own? Is it dangerous? Is it lonely?
No, not really, you get used to it. Well, maybe a bit, back in the ’90’s, when I started going to
these strange countries but when you get to know them first-hand you get a feel for where you are going.
If you get to a far-away country like Kazakhstan how do you book a room and how do you understand people?
It’s very hard when you get into places like Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan because English isn’t spoken very much. They might ask you do you speak Russian but I don’t speak Russian. Russian is like a second language in all those countries around there. But you get by. I know someone in Kazakhstan and I went to visit them.
How often do you like to get away?
A few times a year if I can but it depends on funds. I don’t drink or smoke, you know, I like to save my money for travel.
Your passport must have a lot of stamps in it!
It does, and visas too. After you pass Romania and those countries you need a visa for Russia, Mongolia, China and the like. I have a lady called Hannah in Dublin who helps me get visas. She works in Visa First in Stephen’s Green, Dublin.
Have you been through any border crossings?
I crossed a few. From Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan. It was ok. Sometimes there are armed guards. The problem is that Kyrgyzstan is so poor and Kazakhstan’s one of the richest places out that way so a lot of people want to go there.
People reading this might imagine these places to be very dangerous.
Anywhere at all can be dangerous. Sure, Dublin City at night time can be dangerous.
You went on a big trip recently?
Yes, in 2013. Myself and my brother we flew from Dublin to Helsinki, Finland. We stayed there 2 nights and had a gander around the city.
Then we took a high speed train to St. Petersburg, where we met up with a group of tourists and checked out the canals and lakes by boat. It was the Summertime, so it was bright till about 11 o’clock. This year when they put the hour back (for daylight savings time) they decided not to change it anymore.
After 2 days in St. Petersburg we took the train to a place called Vladimir, and then on to Suzdal, and from there to Moscow. We stayed there for 2 nights and visited the Kremlin and the undergrounds. Then we took the Eastbound train to Irkutsk, which lasted about 3 days. When we got there, we went to a small local village and the man who organised the trip, his name was Eugene, showed us local life, local cooking. There was rock-climbing but my brother and I decided not to chance it so we went for nice walks in the forests.
The local people were so nice so we decided to go into the local community hall where there were discos. The kids were in there, there were no adults, the kids were very good, they played their music and all. Next we travelled back in to Irkutsk, which is beside a big lake that is so big you think you are looking at the sea!
Next, we took a train to Mongolia, to a city called Ulaan Bataar, the capital city. A nice place was the Buddhist temple in the city. Years ago, all the people in Mongolia used to live in tents called ‘yurts’ so we went to a camp to see people living like this.
It was a really beautiful place with lovely scenery and more home-cooking again! We went back to Ulaan Bataar and were fed up eating strange food. Luckily enough a few weeks beforehand a KFC had opened up in the city! So we said we would go to KFC for a change.
Next up was a train to Beijing which took over a day. The views were amazing and we passed through the desert. At the Chinese border the train stopped and we had our passports checked. Next thing we know the wheels had to be changed on the train because the tracks or the wheels are different. So, off we went and we arrived into Beijing into one of the busiest stations you could ever see! After we got to our hotel we went for a look around. I said to my brother, “there’s a McDonald’s! I’m goin’ there.” Because I’m a little fussy with what I eat. I’m afraid I might get sick. I have that on my mind. But I tell you what I lived on…..Chinese noodles. They were nice and I bought my own tea and that.
The group we were with were nice. We went to see the Great Wall of China which was amazing and as we were walking down we met 2 people from County Kildare. Even though you are so far away you will always meet someone from Ireland. My brother and I went by ourselves to see Tiananmen Square because we like to see as much as possible.
Next we flew to Abu Dhabi and then home.
Do you have any plans for the future?
Yes, this year I’m just going to stay local. I’m going to Georgia in a few weeks’ time. Then just going to do an Inter-Rail in September. I’m going to Romania for a week at the end of July.
I’m going over by bus and coming home by flight. The bus goes from Belfast and travels all the way by land to Romania.
I hope to go to Australia by myself again next year. I’d like to travel from Melbourne to Darwin and see Ayers Rock. I’ll look at prices in the next few weeks. I can pay the flights off a little bit each week.
Next year I also want to travel starting off in Rosslare to Fishguard, Fishguard to London, London to Brussels, Brussels through Austria, Hungary and Romania, spend 2 days in Romania, from there go into Moldova, Ukraine and into Russia. I’d like to travel by myself, not with a group – on to Irkutsk, then Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia, then down to Beijing. Then I want to extend my trip down to Vietnam and into Cambodia and into Thailand. From Thailand I want to go down into Malaysia and then into Singapore. Then I want to take a flight to India for a few days to see what it’s like. Then on to Abu Dhabi and then Dublin.
That’s my plan for 2016, Please God.
Would you encourage other service-users to travel?
Well, I would but not everyone has the same spirit as me. It’s not for everybody.
Do you think your travels have changed you?
Well, you see different countries and the way they look at life, their lifestyles. Some of the healthiest people you could meet.