Our canal boat is now full of maps and guidebooks - we are beginning to wonder how they are going to fit into the backpacks. Maybe we'll have to leave out some hairdryers and at least half of the medical kit - at least until we get past Russia!

I am very impressed with the 'Gizi Map' range - I have one of North West China and another of Kazakhstan. They are very detailed, and usefully have most of the place names written in at least 3 languages - this will be vital for asking directions and booking travel. We also have Geocentres maps of the Czech Republic and of Ukraine and Central Russia - these are old favourites, if not always the most accurate. For the rest of China we have Nelles maps, which are accurate but lack the Chinese characters.

The guide books we have chosen are as follows.
Czech Republic. Rough Guide. Probably the best of a bad bunch, and the most up to date.
Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia. Lonely Planet. I am not a fan of LP Guides since trying to travel around South East Asia with their flagship publication in 2001. But throughout the former Soviet Union there is little choice, at least there won't be a continuous stream of spoilt brats with a Lonely Planet guides stuck in front of their faces. We'll probably still be avoiding the hotel recommendations though - on principal if nothing else.
China. Two books - Rough Guide and Let's Go. The latter may be a surprising choice for two middle aged English Backpackers, but when it comes down to on the ground practical information Let's Go are very difficult to beat. As an example, on our last trip in Nicaragua we got off a bus in a remote town in the centre of the country. Our Footprints guide had plenty of advice on where to go to eat, sleep and visit, but only the Let's Go guide had the foresight to say that the radio mast in one corner of the square was to the north - and to head towards it if you wanted to find the cheap hotels. When you are travelling in countries with a non-latin alphabet this sort of orientation info is invaluable, and as far as I know this is the only series of guidebooks that offers this sort of advice.
A total of six books and 7 maps.

All the visa's have now arrived - we have been given 60 days in China in spite of certain information that 30 days was the maximum. No need to show an onward ticket either - which has deferred the argument over whether or not we fly out of Hong Kong in the middle of the night for £90.00 (Anne) or at midday for £200.00 (Rod) until at least October. At least by then we should have some idea about how much money we have left.

No problems at the Chinese Consulate in Manchester - very quick and efficient with hardly any queues. Is China the only country in the world with a consulate in Rusholme? I think it must be. Then again there is a Kazakh Consulate in Aberdeen for some reason - maybe that would have been a bit quieter - but a bit further to get to.

Plans are are all running smoothly, the money has all arrived in the correct bank accounts (via a very complicated transaction), the Eurostar tickets are bought and we are just about ready to roll.

The canal boat is being moved during the next 6 days or so we will be of no fixed abode for a while.