Lois Andrews

Pharmacist on a career break - hoping to scratch my itchy feet
Living in: Torquay, United Kingdom
  • Day21

    Privet Ulan-Ude!

    April 21, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 55 °F

    My last stop in Russia has probably been one of the best. Let's catch you up withy my stay in Ulan-Ude.

    Train 5 - Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude

    As this train journey was only seven hours and was during the day I decided to choose a seat instead of a bed. My carriage was only about a third full so was a very quiet journey. I read most of the way, although stopping to take in the amazing view of the lake which we travelled alongside for about an hour. I still can't quite get over its size. I arrived in Ulan-Ude at about 10pm and walked the short distance to my hostel. I was quite hungry when i got there and the girl working at the hostel told me there was a shop nearby that would be open. On the way there though i noticed a Subway out of the corner of my eye. I caved. I chose the easy option. Don't judge me...

    Day 1 - Ivolginsky Datsan

    I decided to take the local bus out of the city to the village of Ivolgiansky to visit the datsan (Buddhist monestary) which is the oldest Buddhist monestary in Russia. The journey was very straightforward and I arrived after 40 minutes. As it is a Buddhist temple there are a few rules which should be followed when inside the complex. When you enter the complex (which is a series of temples and buildings within a walled area) you have to walk around the tiled path in a clockwise direction, in a proud manner (being in thought or prayer), and you must spin the Mantra scrolls that you pass them, which is supposed to symbolise the mantras being read and the enegry being released. Only after have you completed this circuit can you enter the temples themself. After the first circuit I walked around again and then went into each other temples as I walked by. As you enter you must take off your hat as a sign of respect, and when inside you must also walk around the room in a clockwise direction. Each temple I went in was empty apart from a single monk who i assume is there to look after the buildings between prayers. The buildings themselves are very colourful, and insde are decorated with a number of coloured silk scarfs and flags. There is an area in the middle of each one with small seats and cussions where the monks pray. And as they are meant for prayer it is forbidden to take pictures inside. It was very peacful walking around the monestary, and as it is off season for tourists, and it was actually snowing that day the place was nearly empty. Just a few monks walking around and locals who are visiting to pray. As i was trying to enter the main central monestary a monk came over to see if I needed help. He explained that the temple was closed as the monk was probably eating. He then said that he had some free time and would i like him to show me around. He explained that each temple was build for a different lama. And the one that i was trying to enter was actually for the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama who was 166 years old and was inside meditating and has been like that for 95 years. More on that later. He gave me a small tour of the complex where he showed me a few temples, the university where the apprentice monks train, and was even kind enough to show me his house on the site. As we were walking around he explained that he studied in India in an english school and that is why he can speak the language but he has forgotten alot, so when he sees tourists here and has some free time he likes to talk to them to practice. As we were about to part ways, as the main temple was about to open again, he asked if I had facebook. So now folks I am facebook friends with a very cool Buddhist Monk. I didn't expect that when i woke up this morning! I then whent to visit the 166 year old Lama. And as no photos were alowed inside the temple I am afraid you will have to visit Ulan-Ude to see him for yourself. Words will not suffice.

    Day 2 - Ulan-Ude

    I decided to get the local bus to Datsan Rinpoche Bagsha, the temple within the city, which also provided a panoramic view of the city. When i got on the bus it was standing room only and I positioned myself in the aisle next to an older man. I glanced at him and he took that as an ivitation to start talking to me. I told him i didn't speak any Russian (in Russian), but he carried on talking to me. He had a book with him, which i later learned was of foreign literature, and he was trying to show me pages from England, in Russian. I kept smiling and nodding along and then he closed the book and handed to me and said "present". I said "are you sure?" and he kept nodding. I thanked him and took the book and then sat down in a newly empty seat. He then turned around to me and nodded and said "hmm... Beatles!...John Lennon... Paul McCartney...". I then interjected "Da... Ringo Star." He smiled excitedly and then turned away. I then heard people laughing and turned around and saw two local girls who said "he's crazy". After a few minutes he got up for his stop and said "Goodbye my friend" as he left. Well that was definitely the most interaction I've had with a local who wasn't working in a hostel. Once at the temple I followed the same rules as the previous day and walked around the complex in a clockwise direction, but this time i took a few pictures as I walked as it seemed to be a more relaxed place. As I was walking around I saw the two girls from the bus ahead of me talking. As I approached them one turned around and said "Hello, where are yoou from?", I said "England", they said "Oh, England! How exciting! Maybe we can help you?", I said "oh yes please!" Cue me spending the next hour with them walking around the temple, talking about travelling and what they do (both 22 years old, studying helicopter engineering). One of the girls, Kristine, spoke English quite well and the other one, Masha, could understand quite a bit but only felt confident to speak a few words. After walking around for about an hour, talking and taking pictures, we came to the end of the temple walk. The girls then asked what my plans were for the rest of the day. I said I had none. They then said they had another friend who had a car and we could go to the Ethnological museum just outside the city. Of course I jumped at the chance. We got the bus back to the city centre and then walked down the main pedestrian street to where their friend picked us up. Sasha spoke no English at all so spoke with Masha in the front while me and Kristine sat in the back seat. During the drive I could work out that Masha was telling Sasha about the man on the bus. It was then that Kristine told me that the man was actually telling me the he didn't like England or English people and that the Queen was a bad person. And he seemed so friendly! Oh well... My new friends were very sweet and insisted on buying my ticket for the museum, with Sasha saying "present". The ethnological museum is a big open are museum where there are loads of actual houses from different areas of Russia from the last hundred or so years. The houses have actually been moved from other parts of Russia and rebuilt in the museum. It was really interesting walking around and seeing how people used to live in the past, and comparing the sizes of houses to what we are used to now. We walked aroung the museum for about an hour, during which my new friends asked if I wanted to go to Lake Baikal, two hours drive there and back. I thanked them but explained that I had already been and I think too far for me today. After the museum we drove back to the city and they dropped me at my hostel, not before exchanging Instagram details though!

    So what I have learnt is that in Ulan-Ude, if you look like a tourist you will attract such kind and helpful people, as they are so surprised that you have travelled to their small city far away from Moscow. I don't think i have to tell you that it has been my favourite city in Russia to date.

    So there you have the last of my stories from Russia.

    Before I leave you again here are a few things i have learnt about Russia:
    1. All trains run on Moscow time (which is mighty confusing when the country spans 11 time zones!)
    2. The trains run bang on time.
    3. There is no drainage system in the roads (which means lots of surface water during spring).
    4. Unfortunately (for some western travellers at least) you cannot flush toilet paper, there are seperate bins for that...
    5. Russians have two passports, a domestic and an international passport. Very handy I think.
    6. Unlike other places I have been, you will find many locals living in hostels as they work in other cities for short periods.
    7. There is a statue of Lenin in every city in Russia (and in Ulan-Ude it is just his head, but it is huge!)
    8. Russians like weird statues.
    9. It is not impossible to be Vegan here, but it definitely gets harder the further east you go.
    10. Russia is a MASSIVE country, and one that is definitely worth exploring!

    So that concludes my Russian journey. Next stop Mongolia!

    Dosvidaniya!!
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  • Day17

    Privet Irkutsk!

    April 17, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 54 °F

    So its been a little while since my last update as I have been having a whirlwind of a time around Lake Baikal. Let's get you caught up!

    Train 4: Novosibirsk to Irkutsk (aka never again!)

    Well it appears that I am cursed with my travelling companions on the rains on this trip as they seem to be getting progressively worse! From creepy-staring-man to overexcited schoolgirls to the peak of worst bunk mates.... the snorer! Now I'm not just talking your average annoying snorer. I am talking about the Mother of all Snorers! This man, who managed to sleep for a wonderful 28 out of the possible 32 hour journey (oh yes my friends, I had the pleasure of his company for the WHOLE JOURNEY!), sounded like a pig with a deviated septum. And it wasn't just one constant sound, it had levels - a heavy breath, a low murmur, a grunt here and there, to full on snort snoring! And the worst part was that NO ONE ELSE WAS BOTHERED!! SERIOUSLY??!! Needless to say I did not get much sleep on that journey (sadly I couldn't shove my headphones far enough into my eardrums!). Thankfully, all things must come to an end, and we finally arrived in Irkutsk and as it was late and I was in no mood to figure out public transport I broke my rule and took a taxi to my hostel, checked in and went straight to bed! Brush it off Lois, there are no snorers here... (not DEFCON 5 snorers anyway).

    Day 1 - Listvyanka

    I decided on my first day in Irkutsk to take a bus straight to Lake Baikal as that was the main reason for my stay. I took a local minibus to a little village called Listvyanka, an hour away from Irkutsk where the Angara River flows into Lake Baikal. And boy was I not disappointed! It really is the biggest lake in the world. You can just about see the otherside, and as the lake is surrounded by mountains, most of which are snow covered, it makes for a pretty spectacular sight. Oh and did I mention that the lake was completely frozen! Even more breathtaking a sight. I walked along the the pebbled beach for a while, taking numerous pictures. I even braved walking on the lake itself, after seeing a few other daring people do the same (although fearing that the ice would give way at any minute). After walking around for a bit I decided to treat myself to a ride in one of the many small hovercrafts on the lake. For abour £6 I got a 20 minute trip around a small section (did i mention the lake is the same size as Belgium, or so I've been told) to where the lake meets the river, which by the way never freezes. At the river we had a few mniutes stop where we could take pictures. I asked the driver to take a picture of me, which he kindly does, but he insists i walk to the edge of the ice and that I do a jumping picture, saying its perfectly safe (yeah sure driver man, easy for you to say!) Well of course I did and the pictures were worth it! After my daring ice walk on the lake I headed back to Irkustk to plan the next day's activities.

    Day 2 - Irkutsk

    I was pleased to find out that Irkutsk also has a tourist walking route painted on the road. So "follow the green brick road" I did. This line wasn't so clear as the one in Yekaterinburg, but it still took me all over the city. I walked along the river, saw yet more churches and happened across what looked to be some sort of cadet graduation ceremony near their eternal flame monument. I also, although surprisingly not park of the "official" tourist route, discovered that Irkutsk is the home to Mini Big Ben (because why not?!). And with it yet more seemingly random statues (*as a side note i have since found out that random baby-in-cabbage-statue is because when children ask their parents where babies come from in Russia they are told that they are picked from a cabbage patch - so cute!*). To break up my green line route I had lunch in a sushi restaurant (seaweed salad = lush). After refueling I completed my route which ended near a statue of a traveller (aka lost man with backpack and camera), very fitting. Tomorrow would be an early start so it was back to the hostel for a shower and an early night.

    Day 3 - Olkhon Island (Lake Baikal)

    I decided that as I was so close (realtively speaking in Russian terms) to Olkhon Island I couldn't leave Irkutsk without visiting it. So I took the 4 hour bus journey to the crossing point to the island where me and my fellow passengers were told to get in the hovercraft to cross the lake and then join our next bus on the other side. While waiting our turn for the hovercraft I made friends with a very well dressed Korean couple (who spoke very little English) and a Mexican student who was on a semester abroad studying in Moscow (which also meant he spoke Russian - lucky me!). Then it was our turn for the hovercraft. The journey was very quick and passengers were a mixture of locals and tourists. As we were leaving the hovercraft the driver stopped the Korean couple and me and said that we had to pay 350R (about £5 for the trip). I had already paid for my ticket (900R) and showed him and he got angry and said, in broken english, that it was only for the bus and we had to pay him too. I started to get annoyed as I realised that he had only stopped us and not the locals, or my new Mexican friend (who could speak Russian). Even though it isn't a lot of money in the scheme of things it is so infuriating when you know you are being ripped off. I then called the Mexican guy over (Julian) and asked him to explain that we had already paid. He said the guy was adamant. But Julian didn't have to pay! Then i just felt myself losing it at the guy, yelled "this is bullshit!" and gave him the money and stormed off (I know, I turned into that person...). And the poor Korean couple were so confused and just happily paid him anyway. I then had to sit on the next bus trying to calm my rage, which wasn't helped by the fact that Julian sat next to me and then started having a coversation, in Russian, to a local lady who was clearly asking about me. Ugh. Brush it off Lois! Anyway, after another 30 minutes we arrived in Khuzhir, the only town on the island. I had heard that you feel like you are at the end of the worl there, and they weren't lying. It was like being in an old Amercian western movie but with practically no people. The town was nearly deserted. The bus dropped each person at their guesthouse, and as Julian hadn't booked any accomodation as he wanted to camp instead (well actually just sleep outside in a sleeping bag, madness!) he got off the bus with me. Thank goodness he did as my guesthouse appeared just to be a random seeminly deserted house. After walking around for a few minutes saying "hello" a little old lady appeared looking confused. Cue my translater Julian having a coverstaion with her in which we find that yes this is the right place, but the owner isn't here but she will call her to come over straight away. We then wait outside, after 20 minutes though Julian decideds he's going to go explore and we part ways decided to meet up later for dinner. After another 5 minutes the owner appears. She speaks no English. We gesture with each other that I stay one night and then she gives me the tour. The guest accomodation is a number of small buildings, some of which are still in construction, on a fairly big site at the back of the main house. My room is in a building with three other rooms off a small, cold entrance room. She points shows me the room (very basic but fine for one night), plugs in a heater (definitely needed) and then says "toilet?". I say yes and she leads me outside, past another few buildings and then points at a little shack. Thank god I had read reviews and was (slightly) prepared. Said shack contained a whole in the ground. Yes I am serious. And this isn't an I'm a celebrity long drop situation. Oh no, you can very clearly see whats going on down there. Thank god its only for one night! After I, eh hem, used the facilities, I then followed the lady past yet more small buildings to the opposite end of the site to where the shower was located, which luckily was an actual modern shower in a bathroom. I guess they just didn't feel the need to pop a toilet in there too. Oh I should also mention that during this tour a cow casually walked through the gate into the complex, past us and out the other side. The owner lady did not acknowledge this, cearly a regular occurance. She then took me back to the room, pointed to information on the wall about the wifi password (yes people she had wifi but no toilet!) and some tours, asked again "one night", i said yes, she shrugged and then walked off. Clearly unhappy I couldn't take one of her island tours. And that was the last I saw of her. As it was 3pm by this time, and the bus back to Irkustk was at 1pm the next day, I didn't want to waste any time and headed straight out. First stop the supermarket (the only shop on the island). And who should I bump into there but my Mexican friend Julian. We both stocked up on food and then decided to walk to the Shaman rock on the east of the island near the village. The rock is a sacred area for the indiginous people of the island and surrounding area and is surrounded by totem poles covered in different coloured scarfs. As we were taking pictures we look over and just off to the side of us is the Korean couple. We beckoned them over. When they reached us they gave me and Julian each a small card which had a picture of them on with both of their names and all their social media details on it and the word "hello" written in about eight different languages. Oh and it was seethrough. So cool! This is apparently common in Korea. We then decided to walk along the neighbouring beach for a bit, as I had found on a map that there was a "Baikal Viewing Swing" on the other end. Well, after about an hours walk, in the sand, making very basic conversation with each other (lots of hand gestures and smiling), we finally reach the tourist attraction. Which was literally a small log tied to a tree branch. How did this make it onto the map?! Well of course we took some pictures. We had walked all that way. Then we had a mini photo shoot as the Korean couple (Yuri and Jungyu, by the way) had a tripod with them. Cue funny faces and trying to time the perfect jumping picture (my idea of course). After our photoshoot we walked back to the village and tried to find somewhere for dinner. Literally the only place was open was a deserted pub/cafe where the only food they had was a pork steak, a chicken breash, a plate of mashed potato and some plain macaroni. No prize for guessing what I ate. We ate our feast and then decided to call it a night and said our goodbyes, me and the Koreans heading to our 5 star hotels and Julian heading to the wilderness (mental).

    Day 4 - leaving the island

    As I was leaving my guest house (which was actually fine to sleep in) that morning I find Julian waiting near the gate, looking a bit worst for wear. He told me that he decided to walk to Shaman rock where we met the Koreans but as he was walking to it he saw a light in the distance which started moving. It then shone on him and turned off. After a guy walked straight past him, without even looking in his direction. Freaked out he then decided to walk back to where we found the swing and sleep next to a fallen tree. He tried to light a fire but it didn't last long so he then tried to sleep, which he did. He then said that he woke up at about 5am because something was poking at him. After a few seconds said thing then bit him (luckily not piercing through his sleeping bad). He then got up and found that it was a fox and tried to chase it away. After that he decided to head back to the village and wait for a cafe to open. Needless to say I dont't think he will be wild camping again any time soon. As it was still early we couldn't find any thing open so we sat outisde our trustee pub until it opened (over an hour later). As we were both tired and cold and not overly enthusiastic about the island we decided to just wait there until the bus went to the main island. On the bus back we met an Australian guy and an Italian guy. The Italian I discovered was staying in my guesthouse, though we never saw each other. The Australian had made the wize decision to stay at the most well known (but expensive, relatively speaking) guesthouse where he met a few other travellers and had a much better experience. I guess you do get what you pay for. On the hover ride back I decided that if I don't speak and just walk off at the otherside, ignoring the boat man (who was the same one as yesterday) then he wouldn't make me pay. And i was right! I asked a few other travellers on the other side and it seemed everyone had got scammed at least one way, so I felt a little less annoyed about it. When we got back to Irkutsk me and my three new friends decided to meet up for dinner at a Chinese restaurant later that night (I have yet to eat in a local restaurant...) It was really nice being able to share travel stories and find out where everyone was going next. A nice way to end my stay in Irkutsk.

    So there you have my four days on and around the largest freshwater lake in the world.

    Apologies for the delay, and the long post.

    Next stop Ulan-Ude

    Dosvidaniya!
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  • Day12

    Privet Novosibirsk

    April 12, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 45 °F

    Hello!

    Now that you are caught up on my day in Tomsk, lets go back a day to my train journey from Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk and the city itself (I hope you are following along).

    Train 3: Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk

    Well the train itself was the same as the previous two. However this time I was lucky enough to be joined by a school trip of 15 ten year old girls and about five teachers. Needless to say they weren't the quietest travel companions. On top of that I noticed when I left the train that the couple who were sharing my section helped themselves to my pack of dates that I had on the table between us (they left my phone but took my dates!). Who'd have thought the first thing I lose/gets stolen is food! Aside from that nothing else of note happened on my journey.

    Day 1

    I only had two half days in Novosibirsk so I couldn't waste any time when I got to the hostel. I decided to walk down to the river to see the monument to the fist bridge over the river across the Ob river (this was the turning point for travel in Russia and linked the east of the country to the west - and with it the famous Trans Siberian Railway was formed). Unfortunately as I was walking it started raining so i had to seek refuge in a cafe (one with no wifi! - kindle reading it is!). After my brief pit stop I carried on. The monument was quite cool as it was a small section of the bridge next to the actual bridge that is used today. Aside from the monument there wasn't much else down by the river, apart from a very sad looking amusement park (clearly not peak season). Back in the city centre I saw some benches covered in crocheted blankets (not sure why) and the Opera house. By now i had walked quite far so decided to find the only place in the city that serves vegan food (according to the happy cow anyway). This little gem turned out to be a kiosk in the middle of a park, surrounded by other kiosks that were all closed. From it i got the biggest falafel wrap ever, for the tiny price of £2! I decided to call it a day there and head back to the hostel as my train to Tomsk left quite early the next day.

    Day 2

    After my whirlwind tour of Tomsk, by the time i got back to my hostel in Novosibirsk i was pretty tired (even though it was only 11:30am. I decided to have a quick power nap and then head out again. At 3pm I left the hostel and went in search of Novosibirsk's own random statue - a man saluting a traffic light (seriously). Well i was not disappointed. It was indeed a man saluting a traffic light. After seeing this gem my plan was to head to the north of the city to see a park and another couple of statues. But as this route took my past my vegan kiosk, by the time I got there i was so hungry and tired that I decided to admit defeat, get a wrap, find a supermarket to stock up for the train and call it a day. Unlike the previous cities I have visited in Russia, Novosibirsk doesn't have a huge amount for tourists to see. As a city to live in I can imagine it is nice, but for a tourist it doesn't have the best atmosphere, in my opinion. Which you can tell just by looking at the top things to do on tripadvisor. Sometimes you just don't click with a city and that's ok. I would rather get some rest and prepare for my next mammoth train journey (32 hours guys!) than walk aimlessly round the city just for the sake of it.

    So there you have my brief, and slightly disjointed time in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia!

    Next stop, Irkustk!

    Until next time,
    Dosvidaniya!
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  • Day10

    Privet Tomsk

    April 10, 2018 in Russia ⋅ 🌫 32 °F

    Hello again! Since my last entry i have actually seen two new cities/towns. I visited Novosibirsk for a day, then Tomsk, then back to Novosibirsk again. So for the ease of the blog entry (and the fact that I want two pins in my map) I've separated them and will catch you up with Tomsk first.

    Tomsk is only four hours from Novosibirsk, and is a city (or large town, I am not really sure) that is famous for its wooden architecture. The train journey was slightly different than the other trains that I have taken in Russia as it was a seated carriage instead of bunks. I slept part of the way as the train left Novosibirsk at 6:30am, but when I woke up i was greeted with fresh snowy scenery. I then started to worry that I wouldn't be warm enough as i had only taken an overnight bag with me and the clothes I was wearing (my hostel in Novosibirsk kindly let me leave my main bag there for the night as I would be returning the next day). When I arrived in Tomsk I was greeted with yet more snowfall, though I was pleased to realise that it wasn't any colder than anywhere else I have visited so far. The walk to the hostel, although fairly direct, was probably one of the most difficult. As we know, when snow is walked on and melts it is turned to slush. But in Russia, land of the potholes, this makes walking quite treacherous. Though thankfully my trusted Hotter (aka "granny") shoes my feet stayed bone dry and nice and warm. I arrived at my hostel at around 12, quickly dropped of my bag and headed out for some sightseeing (I only had today!). I had marked a few places on my maps.me app and learned that i could make little routes for myself with it. Here is what I saw; a white mosque, a statue of a pregnant lady, a statue of a baby coming out of a cabbage (seriously...), a statue of a horse with five legs, another mosque, many wooden houses, a yellow church on top of a hill (after I almost got chased by a dog, scary stuff - well he sniffed my leg after I didn't notice him following me so I screamed and he started barking...), a statue of a family of three bears, a statue of a tiny frog on a stone, a hose with dragons on the roof, a red and orange house and a blue and white house. So as well as being the place to see unique wooden architecture, Tomsk also appears to be the town/city of random statues. Seeing these statues and buildings took me all over the city, and when I got back to my hostel i checked my step counter and i had walked 12 miles! Seriously who is this person i have become?? Couch potato to Forrest Gump's walking cousin ("I just felt like waaalkingggg!"). So there you have my whistle stop tour of Tomsk. A nice city (minus the slush and scary dogs).

    Next stop Novosibirsk.

    Dosvidaniya!
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  • Day8

    Privet Ekaterinburg

    April 8, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 41 °F

    Since my last entry I have taken my second overnight train and spent two days in Yekaterinburg near the Ural mountain range. Lets get you caught up.

    Train 2: Kazan to Yekaterinburg

    Kazan is not actually on the so called "Trans Siberian Railway" but was a more interesting stop than i would have had on the first part of the official route. As a result my second train, since not directly servicing Moscow was noticeably less clean than my first Russian train. It was still the usual platzcart layout, but with older rolled mattresses on the beds and a toilet that you definitely do not want to sit on (it is times like these that I curse the female anatomy!). What also made my second train journey less enjoyable was the two very loud Russian guys who were sharing my section. Due to the fact that I obviously can't speak Russian, and the train conductors can't speak English, it is very obvious to anyone in earshot that I am a foreigner. And unfortunately this then led to Loud Russian Guy Number 1 staring at me for most of our waking hours on the train. And when i say staring I mean staring me dead in the eye! Anyway, aside from the unwanted attention and unwanted odor of the train, the journey itself wasn't too bad, and as usual we arrived on schedule.

    Day 1

    The train arrived at around noon, and by the time I got to my hostel, checked in and found my room, the 14 hour train journey had caught up to me. I decided to have a quick power nap before i ventured out. Unfortunately my body had other plans and I woke up at 5pm! As i only had this half day and the next full day in the city I couldn't waste the rest of the day and had to pull myself together and see a little bit of the city. I decided to walk to a colourful building I had seen a picture of in the north of the city, away from most of the tourist sights and then find somewhere for dinner. Well after walking for 20 minutes to where I thought the building was, and being surrounded by lots of less than attractive soviet buildings I admitted defeat and turned around now on the search for food. Thanks to the Happy Cow app i found my vegan heaven in the city, a little cafe in the middle of a sports and exercise only shopping mall (such a thing does exist). While I tucked into my falafel burger I had a look on the couchsurfing app as I was informed that in addition to finding people with spare rooms in the city, you can also find people who just want to "hang out". I had a look to see who was online and saw there was a girl nearby called Kristine. I thought "when in Rome!" and started chatting to her. It turned out she was actually from Novosibirsk (my next stop) and was in the city for work and wanted to sight see. We decided to meet the next day at 1pm at the Visoscky Tower, where there is a viewing deck. With my plans for the next day now more interesting than just me and my iPod, I decided to call it a day and head back to the hostel.

    Day 2

    Although I wasn't going to meet Kristine until the afternoon I didn't want to waste the morning and so decided to head out at 10am. I walked to a park I had passed on my way from the train station. There was a frozen pond with a gazebo and bridge in the centre, and the park was covered in snow, all the elements of some good pictures. Next to the park was a pretty blue church and right opposite that was the Church on Blood. This is one of the cities most famous buildings, although it was only built less than 20 years ago. It is actually built on the site of Ipatiev House which was where Nicholas II (the last Tsar of Russia) and his family where exiled to and later shot by Bosheviks during the Russian Civil war in 1918. The entire family was canonized as martyrs in 2000. As i walked around the church I noticed a large red line painted on the pavement. I decided to follow it as it seemed to be headed in the direction I wanted to go. As I followed the line it was clear that this was the tourist route of the city. It took my to the literary quarter of the city, and then to the riverside. The last stop on the red line before it crossed over the river was none other than my colourful building! It is actually an administrative building but is very ornately designed. A quick check of my watch let me know i had just enough time to get some food, at my trusted vegan cafe (the only vegan place in the city!) before I met Kristine.

    I got to the Visocksy Tower ten minutes early and waited near the entrance. a few minutes past 1pm I spotted a girl who looked like Kristines picture, and feeling a bit like a Tinder date, tentatively waved at her hoping it was Kristine. Thankfully it was! (otherwise I would've looked like some random waving girl). After making pleasantries we decided to follow the trusted "Red Line" through the city. It took us to all the major tourist sites, including a monument of the Beatles and of a QWERTY keyboard (which legend says if you type out your dream it will come true, obviously we had to give it a go!). As we walked around the city we talked non stop. She told me about life in Russia and also about Armenia where she is originally from. One of the nicest things about meeting new people from different cultures is not only leanring about the differences we have but also the many similarities. Kristine had a ticket to the Museum of Yeltsin, Russia's first president (after the USSR collapsed) so we decided to visit. I didn't know anything about him before the museum, and although most of the information was in Russian (though Kristine translated) I learned a lot about what it was like in Russia during the collapse of the soviet union. After the museum we were both pretty hungry and so stopped at a nearby Japanese restaurant for dinner where we chatted some more.We then decided to go to the viewing deck on the Visocksy tower, where we met. We were lucky enough to get to the top around sunset, which made for some good pictures of the city (and a few selfies). It was now quite late and we were both feeling pretty tired so decided to end our "hang out" there. We now both a contact should I want to visit Armenia or Kristine visit the UK. What travel is all about.

    And so there you have my one and a half days in Yekaterinburg, probably my favouritte city in Russia so far.

    Next stop: Novosibirsk.

    Until next time
    Dosvidaniya!
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  • Day5

    Privet Kazani

    April 5, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 43 °F

    The last few days have been busy! From an 11 hour train journey to walking 14.6 miles in one day (yes you read that right). Let's get caught up.

    Overnight train (Moscow - Kazan)

    Well overnight trains in foreign countries seem to be a bit like riding a bike for me. I haven't been on one in almost four years but as soon as I stepped on board it all felt very familiar. Let's rewind a little first. I bought all of my train tickets online before I left the U.K. In the past I have bought tickets at the station but with the language barrier and strict schedule I have to keep to with regards to my visa I thought it would be easier to prebook this time, especially since I discovered that the Russian Railways website is now in English and does not appear to charge a commission fee (unlike some tourist websites). Anyway, even though I had bought them from the official website and followed the instructions to print my tickets at home (much like in the U.K. really) I was a little nervous before I got on the train, hoping that I hadn't somehow booked a wrong train or needed to exchange my printed boarding pass for an official ticket at the station. I needn't have worried though as the train conductor checked my ticket, kindly pointed to my seat number and then the train, and let me board. The trains in Eastern Europe all seem to be very similar. I decided to travel third class throughout my time in Russia as this seemed to be the cheapest and safest option. Third class carriages are all open plan with subsections of two bunk beds coming off an isle with an additional bunk bed on the opposite side running along the length of the train. I didn't take a picture of the set up so you can google "platzcart" to get a better idea. This might not be everyone's cup of tea for a 11 hour train journey but I have found that I would rather be in an open plan carriage than in second class when its a room with four bunks, which means you could potentially be confined to a room with some undesirable people. Anyway, onto the train journey itself. The train was about half full, and in my little section of six beds there was only me and one other older Russian gentleman. He tried to start a conversation but I had to tell him using my google translate app (seriously the best travel app, along with Maps.Me that's been invented) that I couldn't speak Russian (I have since learnt hour to actually say this phrase as I need it practically every hour) and that I was sorry. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say "oh well". Russian trains are very sociable experiences so I am actually sorry to that man for being allocated the seat/bed next to me as he then had no one to talk to for the next few hours. We did actually help each other out with getting accustomed to the train, with bedding and blankets etc., hand gestures and pointing is a universal language! As it was an overnight train I slept most of the way, waking up only two hours before we were due to arrive to see miles and miles of snowy fields and forests, just what you picture when you imagine Russian countryside. I even spied some people ice fishing as we got closer to Kazan. The train arrived bang on schedule (not like back home!) and I then made the short journey on foot to my hostel.

    Day 1 in Kazan (a.k.a the day I walked 32,000 steps)

    When I got to the hostel I found a map of the city and had a look at what there was to do. I asked the guy working how to get to the Temple of All Religions (one of the main reasons I chose to stop at Kazan) and he looked at me apologetically and said that it was quite far out of the city and that you could maybe get a bus there but he wasn't sure. He also said that it wasn't finished and the guy who built it has since died so its just falling apart. I was too tired after my journey to contemplate public transport to a building that may not even look like the picture I had seen. So what now? I looked at the map of the city and saw that there were a few self guided walking tours marked out on the map that covered much of the city. So I got myself together, picked the closest rout on the map and off I went. I got slightly lost on the first route as I missed a turning, after which point I realised I needed to use my Maps.Me app as well as the tour map as it wasn't the most accurate. The first route took me to a suburb of the city up on a hill. The only thing of note was Lenin's House museum, which I decided against visiting. The first route only took about 40 minutes, so I decided to start the next one. The second route took me around some of the university buildings in the city and through some really peaceful parks. Speaking of universities. Kazan is definitely a student city. You could be walking around any university city at home. All the students are so fashionable here I felt like I was walking through multiple Instagram fashion posts. Funnily enough at one point I did actually stumble across a very hipster looking photoshoot involving a girl walking across a road pretending to be on the phone. Back to route 2. This route took me to the north of the city to the river bank, where I once again saw people ice fishing! This route also nicely ran into Route 3 and so I decided to push on. It was so nice just walking around. It is very peaceful here, none of the hustle and bustle and masses of people and traffic of Moscow. I walked along the riverbank to the edge of Kazan's Kremlin and looped back to the city. I was now quite hungry and tired so stopped at a vegan street food bar that I had found on the happycow.net and had a falafel burger and fruit smoothie. Definitely got my five a day there! As there were five walking routes in the city, and I had already done three, I decided to soldier on and do the final two. The penultimate route took me back to the kremlin, which is actually a UNESCO world heritage site, where you can walk around inside for free (unlike in Moscow). The main sites in here are the Annunciation Cathedral and Kul Sharif Mosque, which highlight the fact that Kazan is the most diverse cities in Russia. The final walking route took my to the south of city centre to the old Tatar district of the city. Kazan is actually the capital of the Tatarstan region or Russia. This small area of the city is made up of very colourfully painted wooden buildings along a pedestrian street with two mosques, one at either end, and was probably one of my favourite places in the city. By this point I have walked 14 miles (how I do not know) so decided to stop for an early dinner at a conveniently located vegan café (it's almost like I planned that!). The café was occupied and run by yet more students and had a really nice atmosphere, and delicious food. After my dinner I headed back to the hostel for a much needed shower and an early night (after catching up with this weeks episode of Marcella).

    Day 2

    Today I decided to make the trip out to see the unfinished temple. After all I had come all this way to see it! After speaking to the girl working at the hostel she said I could get bus number 2 from the central square and it would take me right there. I located the bus, got on and showed the stern looking ticket lady the name of the temple on my phone, she nodded and I paid her 25 rubles (about 30p) and got comfortable. I tracked my journey on my phone and after 20 minutes arrived at the temple which was conveniently located at the side of the road next to the bus stop. Well it was definitely colourful, but also definitely unfinished. Imagine the Sagarda Familai in Barcelona, but if it was coloured in using the paint function of al old PC. I walked around the outside of the building for 20 minutes taking pictures from every possible angle (I had to get my 30p worth!). I even managed to ask a lady who was walking around with her daughter to take a picture of me too. After exhausting all my photo options I walked back to the bus stop, waited for about 3 minutes and got on the trusted number 2 bus back to the city. As I got on I spied stern ticket lady (I had literally caught the same bus the whole way!) and was greeted by a smile this time, as if to say "oh hello random foreign girl, you made it ok". Back in the city centre I decided to visit a little mock Tatar village that the girl at the hostel had recommended. Unfortunately it wasn't much to look at, like a really naff looking version of any Christmas market back home, except instead of stalls its little buildings filled with restaurants. After that I walked across to the street to the Ekiyat Puppet Theatre, one of the oldest in Russia, and took some pictures outside (unfortunately I had just missed todays performance). I then headed back to the city and went to the Museum of Happy Childhood, a kitsch museum filled with all Soviet era toys, games and clothing. Quite an eclectic mix of objects. I even spied a sega mega drive and the Apple 2 PC. To finish off my day I went back to my trusted vegan street café and had a delicious Tofu salad wrap and a green smoothie. Then it was back to the hostel to pack up and get ready to head to the station again, for my second overnight train.

    So there you have my 48hours in the lovely Kazan. Next stop Yekaterinburg!
    Until next time
    Dosvidaniya!
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  • Day3

    Privet Moskve

    April 3, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 37 °F

    Privet!

    Well I have had almost 48 hours in Moscow, let's get you caught up with what I've gotten up to.

    Day 1
    I had an early start today as I had to find the Real Russian offices, located in the north of the city, to pick up my train tickets from Ulan-Ude (Russia) to Ulanbator (Mongolia). I initially thought I could walk there but after consulting my trusty Maps.Me app I realised the metro would be the more sensible option. This time my metro journey involved a change of line. I found the first line (purple) easily and travelled the two stops to change onto the orange line. The metro stopped and I got off and saw that the orange line was leaving on the opposite platform, result! I got on the train felt very happy with myself. That was until it pulled into the next station and I realised I was travelling in the wrong direction! I quickly got off and thought I could just cross the platform and travel back the other way on the same line, like on the tube in London. Well Moscow hasn't quite followed the same logic. To find the same line travelling the other way you have to go upstairs, over the platform you were on and down to the other side. It makes much more sense... So after working out that little quirk I found the right train going in the right direction and was on my way again. After exiting the subway I followed the directions I'd been given and found the Real Russia offices, on the third floor of a nondescript building, in a random residential looking suburb, and picked up my tickets. Now I could actually start some sightseeing.
    I got the metro back to the centre of the city to Kitay-Gorod square where I had been informed that the Moscow Free Walking Tour would meet. On my return journey I noticed another quirk of the metro here. Unlike in London there are no station names on the walls when the train comes to each stop. The only way you know which station you are at is from the overhead announcement which is in Russian and English (though only from last year). So if you didn't understand Russian or English, you may well get lost down there... I later learned on the tour that the station names are on the floor... of course!
    The Moscow Free Walking Tour was fantastic, an absolute must if you come to the city. Most capital cities have these tours and they are a brilliant way of getting your bearings in the city from a local. Our guide, Elena, was so enthusiastic and rally engaged us for the whole 2.5 hour tour. We learnt a brief history of the city and Russia in general, saw the main sites - St Basil's cathedral (which is actually called "The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat"... I can't imagine why they would shorten that...), the Kremlin and Red Square. On the tour I met a lovely Mexican girl and chatted with her most of the way between each stop. This is one of the best things about these tours. There are always fellow solo travellers to meet and become friends with.
    After the tour I had a quick lunch and then went to see the Kremlin. The only way I can describe it would be to imagine if a smaller version of Buckingham Palace plus 10 downing street plus a few churches and other admin buildings were clumped together and then surrounded by a wall. It is basically a self contained hamlet within a city, with streets and official cars driving around. I walked around for about 20 minutes, took some pictures and then left, as there wasn't really a huge amount to see.
    The final stop of the day was the Museum of Societ Arcade Games (as seen on Travel Man with Richard Ayoade and Greg Davies). You pay about £6 to go inside and get given some old Russian coins to use on the machines and a map of each game and how to play. Most of the games were very confusing or didn't appear to work properly. But there were a couple that I managed to work out. As far as random kitsch museums go this one was quite good and I would recommend it, especially as its nice and warm inside!

    Day 2
    My second day in the city started with a visit to Lenin's Mausoleum, which for the small cost of queueing outside in the cold for 20 minutes (longer if you don't get there 20 minutes before it opens I the morning) you can see the perfectly preserved ACTUAL BODY OF LENIN! Seriously. Think a creepier version of Madame Tussauds with the irrational fear that he's going to suddenly open his eyes and go "boo!" (or the Russian equivalent. Let's just say I'm glad you are only allowed about a minute inside, walking around him in single file.
    After that jaunty start to the day I then made my way across the river to Gorky Park (Moscow's version of Hyde Park) where there is an open air statue museum just before it, with statues of Gandhi and Einstein among others. It was refreshing walking around the quiet park away from the hustle of the city centre.
    There are only so many pictures you can take of random statues though, so after a while I headed back to the centre for some lunch and managed to stumble across a vegetarian café and filled up with a soy meat wrap and a quinoa salad and had some much needed wifi time to get my bearings. By chance I had stopped nearby a shopping mall that had a viewing deck on the roof and so headed there to see Moscow from above. By this point I am starting to get quite tired (20,000 steps a day after a home average of 1,500 will do that to you!) and so decided to call it a day and head back to the hostel to recoup before my first overnight train to Kazan. And that is where I am writing this from.

    So there you have it folks. Moscow in a 48 hour nutshell.
    Apologies for the long post... I seem to have word vomit.

    Until next time.
    Dosvidaniya!
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  • Day1

    Privet from Moscow!

    April 1, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 36 °F

    This is not an April Fools!

    This first day of a trip is usually the longest and most tiring. And boy was it a long one today!

    It started with my alarm going off at 3am, quickly getting dressed and then checking my bag for the millionth time (even though I know all I really need is my passport, visas and money, as believe it or not there are shops outside Europe!). Then it was into the car I went with Mum and Dad very kindly driving me to Gatwick airport. Four hours later and I’m at the airport and it’s time to say the difficult farewell. All I can say is thank god for modern technology! (FaceTime will make the distance not seem so bad - I hope!)
    In order to get to Moscow I had to fly via Riga, with a 3 hour stopover. Both flights were very smooth and the only worry I had was that my bag was definitely not within the 8kg weight limit! And that was even with me doing a Joey (Friends) and wearing practically all my clothes! With the help of some crossed fingers me and my bag boarded both planes in tact. No €60 fine for me! Phew!
    Moscow airport was a breeze. Got through passport control quickly and found the airport train to the city. 40 minutes later I’m in central Moscow. I then managed to figure out the underground, and with the help of my hostels directions with accompanying pictures I found my home for the night!
    And that’s where I am now! Tucked up in my cozy 12 person dorm ready to hit the hay. Tomorrow the fun can really begin!

    Until next time
    Dasvidania!
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