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  • Day5

    A night out in Moscow. I can't imagine a night more weird or fantastic.

    Me and two of the girls from Brisbane stopped by this bar 'Let's Rock' to catch some live music. I am really keen to hear more Russian music, watch more Russian films, to start immersing myself in Russian pop culture. Unfortunately the old man band sang old American rock music but this in its own way added to the nostalgic Russian feeling (note I found Rasputin - STILL alive and now playing the drums).

    We are still Jet-lagged so rocked up to the Lets Rock bar at around 7pm - a bit too early for big drinking and loud music. They had a huge drinks menu, with cocktails around $8. I found a 'shot' of absynthe, rum and two other liquors so ordered that. When is Moscow, hey? I was planning on doing the shot as my friends were finishing their beers so we'd all be on the same level, but when the 'shot' came, the waitress lit the Martini glass of alcoholic cocktail on fire, sprinkled some salt on it and handed me a straw. She picked up two shot glasses of coke and lemon juice and said to me 'ready?'.

    The best thing about travelling is just jumping in. In to a culture, in to out-of-your-comfort-zone situations, and going with the flow, even if you have no idea what that entails. I had no idea what I was about to happen, or the consequences, but i was sure as hell ready for it.

    'I'm ready!'
    She poared the shots into the flaming Martini glass and yelled at me 'Go! Go! Go!'. I plunged the straw into the blue flames and sucked the licorice liquid down. A firy green fairy.

    We then listened to the music and ordered a shisha. I've smoked shisha in Japan and Aus, and it always comes in different flavours. I wrote in google translator 'can we have apple or watermelon flavour'? The man in the white turtle neck organising out hookah shook his head with a laugh. He did an 'ok' symbol with his fingers and shook his head, and I figured that they don't do flavours in Russia.

    The shisha arrived in Moscow time (a bit late but it arrived), and was just water tobacco. It felt stronger than what I'm used to (I don't smoke), so that coupled with the jet lag and alcohol made me a bit light headed. Me and Zoe chatted about Russia and listened to the music. By around 10pm we left the bar.

    On the walk home I passed, in quick succession, a horse, and a man in a bunny suit holding a tiny pigwidgeon owl. I took a photo of the horse, to prove it wasn't the alcohol seeing these animals in the middle of the street. I found this so hilarious - what a wild city!

    I was so exited and overwhelmed with the weird and wonderful Moscow, that I drunk called my dad in Melbourne at 6am his time (sorry dad), and walked back to the hostel.
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  • Day6

    I've been awake for over 30 hours, so today has been a big long blur where I met the most interesting, softly passionate people from more countries than I ever have before. It's been over stimulating on a tired brain, but I'm revved up to see what this will be like when I'm not exhausted.

    Today was the first day of the World Federation of Youth and Students festival, where my accepted application to participate in the regional program has seen me flown off to St Petersburg as an interim to Sochi. Our flight was at 6am, but for some ungodly reason we had to arrive at the airport at 2am. It is interesting to see how bureaucracy runs in different countries. The Japanese bureaucratic systems blew my mind, and it took me 3 months of cultural shock to get used to living there. From what I can see so far, in Russia there are many (perhaps pointless?) steps you have to go through before you get anywhere, and things may happen very slowly, but it will always get done. There are about 170 of us in St Petersburg, and though there are much better ways I think this could be run, it is effective if lacking in efficiency, but we do get everything done. Nothing is missed.

    It is astounding how many people from so many different countries I have met in the past 24 (?) hours. I've had discussions with Davis from Uganda on the state of his continent and country, and his struggle to bring the ideas from these conferences into action in his country. I'm amazed at how little I know about Africa and its countries. He told me about its corruption, but that there are small signs that things are changing. The young people are getting motivated. The African deligation are so very accomplished - many of them are already diplomats. Davis has visited Perth for a conference, and Moses from Kenya has done work in Canberra. It's embarrassing that I'm speaking in English to a beautifully kind man from Uganda about Tony Abbott and the mining industry in WA, when I know barely anything about Uganda. Privilege is a brain numbing, shameful thing. I wish I could speak several languages like these wonderful people, but at least I can say I have travelled which gains so much life experience, and I hope I learn how to properly listen and ask intelligent questions.

    Australians are so passive and disinterested. We have such issue with intelligence. Today I spoke over dinner with my room mate - a girl Ana from Costa Rica who is also an anthropologist. We discussed the ways in which you could better give welfare to indigenous people. Over appetisers I chatted with a German and an Englishman, comparing our healthcare systems. I hung out with a group of Indian and Pakistani boys, and they joked about the tensions between their countries, and then we all joked about colonialism as we waited outside the hermitage. It's so refreshing to have conversation - fun and inspiring conversation about things other than sport and shitty reality TV.

    What's interesting also is that I feel I get along best with, or maybe 'get' the culture of particularly British, South East Asian and some Indian participants better than some other cultures of people, purely off the cultural expectations. This is also true in general for chatting to women over men. Culture is so interesting, and although it is easy to spark a conversation with anybody, and respect and a happy heart gets you many friends, some people you just mesh with straight away, purely off the expectations on how to act. I do thank Australia for this - many different cultures make up the tapestry of our country, and we have a relatively equal, comparatively feminist society which allows us to blend in relatively freely. We must cherish this, not try to destroy it.

    This is going to be a really eye-opening, amazing experience. But right now my eyes burn and I have forgotten what sleep feels like. Time for some shut-eye.
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  • Day6

    What is Moscow like? The worries and warnings were not warrented at all. This is a glorious city. I'm now quite fascinated with how these negative stereotypes came about. The second world war and the American cold war propaganda is still such a strong influence over at least Australia's impressions of this country.

    The buildings are really beautiful, and so pristine. There are so many different architecture styles, so many different colours, no peeling paint, and perfect mosaics on some of the fancy hotels. There are quite a few covered for renovations, but the covering is often printed with the picture of the building, so the street scapes are still beautiful. I wonder if Moscow is always like this, or if it's all spruced up for this WFYS conference and for FIFA next year.

    The people are serious, until you approach them in most cases. Even the military guards and police who patrol the streets are quite friendly if you need to ask for directions. The younger generation are darling, often with good English. If you ask something stupid though, they will probably laugh at you - today I went to the tekrakov gallery and left my ticket in my bag which I'd cloaked. The old woman shook her head at me and laughed and threw her hands around when I ran back to get it - this is usually in good humour though.

    The restaurants are also very glorious. So neat and fancy. Although I don't know what Moscow was like 30 years ago in the soviet era, the stereotype is that everything is that brutal architecture and not beautiful. Everything is practical rather than beautiful. This is the opposite I feel. Since the city is for everyone - every proletariat worker - the whole city is beautiful, and has the aim of accommodating everyone. Moscow's circular city map and large open spaces are a testament to this.

    The train stations built by Stalin are the most beautiful I've ever seen, and they are not grand in the way the hermitage is grand - as a gawdy show of wealth and disregard for those 'lower' than you, but they represent a beauty open for everyone, in a very public space, with beautiful brass statues of us, the workers. Not queens or gods, but poets and labourers.

    Moscow is easily one of my favourite cities in Europe. The pride the locals have in their city, shown in the way they keep it so immaculate and their willingness to show you around; the mesh of architecture from classic, to baroque (so much baroque in Russia!) and the soviet buildings make it a literal museum of its vibrant history. Don't be scared of Moscow. Don't believe the American cold war rhetoric. Come to russia and see this glorious country and its capital for yourself. And after you've done some sightseeing, wash it all down with a bowl of hot borscht.
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  • Day18

    Today started off with a fantastic local guide who took us on a great walking tour around Yekaterinburg. She took us to see the old wooden houses, the historic squares and houses, various important monuments etc., and specifically to the Church of Spilled Blood. This is the site where the Romanov family was murdered nearly 100 years ago.

    The church was a main sight for me and it was beautiful. It was under renovations, so we weren’t able to see the recreation of the basement where the slaughter happened, but it still was a beautiful sight. I have to give our guide credit, she knew the history for both sides of the stories, and gave an unbiased story. She told us what she believed, and how her family was connected to the story, but she never forced her views on us, and really left it open for our interpretation.

    [I do recommend reading up on the Romanov family, and the tragic events that happened. The guide, Valentina, really poked at my curiousness and I am now reading a book on the deaths of the family, and the controversy around the bodies.]

    The other thing Yekaterinburg is known for is its military installments. There are tons. This used to be a military city locked off to outsiders, so it has a lot of history and museums attached to it. We did got by a few places and it was pretty damn impressive.

    After our tour finished, and we had a fantastic lunch (Alex nails it with the food!), the girls and I went to a local craft store, then headed down the pedestrian corridor. There wasn’t much to see but we ended up at the local hockey arena, then a flea market, and walked through a beautiful park. We found a random Beatles monument and a Michael Jackson one too, lol.

    We got back to the hotel, were able to get some groceries and then called it a night. I did have dinner at the hotel which was ridiculously overpriced and expensive for what I got.
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  • Day286

    The location: A cabin in the woods. The date: 30th September 2017. The incident: Getting manhandled by a sixty-year-old alcoholic Russian woman. I was told that’s just what she does. She did apologise the next day.


    Yet again on this trip an expected few day stop over turned into an almost week long adventure. Also yet again, and very unlike last time I was here, there was alcohol involved.

    My host in the city was Nina, 34, and her cat – Kottik, 9 (human years). Nina lived in the north of the city and worked as a guide in a cave-cum-museum West of Krasnoyarsk. As a result of this, tiredness and perhaps my general laziness I spent very little time in the centre of the city so can’t really report on what’s there, apart from the Yenisei River which cut’s right through the middle of it.

    Nina’s an India enthusiast, having visited three times already for periods of between two weeks and two-months. We spent quite a while chatting about our respective experiences there. She’s also divorced, which is seemingly quite common in Russia, especially because a lot of people get married at a very (by modern British standards) early age – early twenties or earlier. Also, important for the above incident, Nina loves being outside, hence working as a guide for a cave-museum.

    Every Saturday she and her colleagues head up to the little wooden hut out in the woods and run excursions for anyone interested enough to make the trip out. That weekend there were quite a few interested peoples, mainly small family groups or some other conglomerate of adults and younglings. One day during that week was the annual Всемирный день туризма (World Tourism Day) and as Russians love to mark each and every celebration day, and as these guys only met on weekend, that Saturday evening would be their chance to celebrate. Present were a couple of other guides, the organisation managers, the administrator, café worker and some hangers on such as myself.

    [This is as far as I got the first time I tried to write this then totally lost inspiration. I also don’t feel like finishing it properly as it’d possibly mean changing it all cause I don’t like most of what’s above so instead here’s some notes for future me to work with should he ever want to.]

    - Krasnoyarsk is surrounded by mountains and rocky things the most notable of which is Stolby national park – a series of rocky outcrops and climbable things that spawned a subculture known as ‘Stolbyism’ – supposedly a mix of trad-climbing/free-soloing (i.e. climbing without ropes) mixed with an escape into the wild mentality that. There’s a statue in the Stolby National Park to the first Stolbyists that tries to sum it up (and from which I’m making up this description), it depicts an acoustic guitar, rope, plimpsoles (for climbing in) and some sort of scarf, all carved into a lump of Stolby rock. Behind it is a wall of nameplates dedicated to Stolbyists that have died in the park. My host told me that old-school Stolbyists can, despite, or perhaps because of, this free-spirited mindset, be total arseholes.

    - The above mentioned cave museum was pretty cool. Apparently the area used to be a sea and as a result there’s possibly thousands, definitely hundreds, of caves in the area. Some of which are huge – I think ‘the area’ in question though might be quite large, this is Russia after all.

    - We, me and Nina, arrived on a bus with a school group – apparently kids here have school 6 days a week.

    - The other staff were generally all young(ish), some worked multiple outdoors pursuits gigs.

    - All except for Tatiana Alexandrova, the 60 year old pensioner who worked onsite at weekends to supplement her otherwise very small monthly pension allowance. I did write down how much she made a result of her work history, additional state supplement and this additional work but I lost all that info when I broke my phone later that evening.

    - Tatiana liked drinking, ‘admitting’/’saying’ (not sure what word to use there) she was, or that people thought she was, an alcoholic. Either way. Part way through the afternoon she and I had the first of several cups of beer. Not long after one of the other guys bought out a bottle of clear liquid that I pretty quickly guessed wasn’t water. It was Samagon – Russian homebrew. Drinks were drunk. More drinks were drunk. A few hours later I found myself sat on a bench being used as a human model for Tatiana to demonstrate the pretty intense (back) massage she apparently had been given a few days before after seeing a sign saying ‘free massage’ in the street, or something like that. I can’t quite remember. My host later said she had warned me, which is partly true. Not long after Tatiana went to sleep leaving the rest of us to continue socialising. The next day, after waking up to find my iphone dead as a dead thing and being told it’d taken a long drop off a makeshift wooden bunk, Tatiana apologised, remembering that she tends to do things like that after drinking, and life continued as normal.

    - Tatiana had some pretty traditional attitudes towards gender roles including that women need men around to stop them getting … I forget precisely what word she used. Men also need women around to stop them getting … Again. I forget what word was used.

    - Both Nina and her mate, who I think was in her early 20s, were divorced. We chatted about it. Seemingly (early) relationships in Russia are as transient as they are in the UK. One large difference being though that people in Russia often get married very early on and then have to get divorced when it ends rather than ‘just’ changing your relationship status/profile picture on Facebook. [I can’t remember who I’ve mentioned this about before but it certainly wasn’t a rare occurrence to hear that one of the people I was staying with/was being driven had an ex-wife or kids with a former partner.]

    - At Nina’s the potential, wanna-be, suitor of her friend, who was over at the time, came round evening. We chatted about music and films, etc. He asked, in slight exasperation, why so many of the British musicians he liked; Queen, Elton John, I’ve forgotten who else; had to be gay. And whilst drinking in the woods man with the Samagon asked which version of a song was more gay; the calm version being sung by a woman in a slow, soothing manner or the more aggressive version done by a metal band. I’ve entirely forgotten the context for this and what the songs were but he preferred the slow version, and definitely thought it was less gay.

    - It was starting to get cold and so was definitely time to get out of Siberia.
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  • Day3

    After soundly sleeping 6 hours Mim and I were up and moving around at 4.00am - sunrise. We had breakfast early and were hitting the pavement to try and see some of the sights before our transfer to the boat cruise at 2.30pm. We walked about 10km over a 5 hour period. Our aim was to see St Isaac's Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood. We were too early to go into St Isaac's with its enormous marble colonnades supporting the gilded dome. The roundabout near the Cathedral has Nicholas I riding his horse. We walked over canals and past lots of buildings all the same height, around five storeys high. Some buildings were ornate others had the basic sandstone facade. There are lots of flowers planted in planter boxes outside cafes and around the lamp posts along the streets. The streets are very clean with very few rubbish bins in the street and no rubbish lying about. We walked to the Cathedral of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood through the crisscrossing streets, over canals past many cathedrals, arts theatres and museums. Inside the Cathedral is a memorial for the place Alexander II was mortally wounded, his son erected the church in his memory. The Cathedral's walls are covered in mosaics of religious scenes.

    We came across the Eliseyev Emporium, a beautiful shop filled with delicacies. Mim and I spotted some plump dates with ginger and macadamia nut. We couldn't resist and paid the 553 Rubles for 4 dates. We ate them before even leaving the shop then worked out we had paid $12.00 for 4 dates. Obviously we need to work out our conversion rates.
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  • Day2

    Arrived at St Petersburg airport after being in transit for around 24 hours. The Travel Marvel group of 23 were greeted at the airport and transported to Crowne Plaza, downtown St Petersburg. It was raining when we arrived and 19 degrees Celsius, not much different to Brisbane. Flying into the airport was like flying into a smaller country town, lush and green and flat countryside, you wouldn't know it was Russia.

    St Petersburg is named after the Saints Peter and Paul not after the ruler Peter the Great. The city has a population of around 5 million and the city has changed its name three times. St Petersburg, or Peter for the locals, Leningrad (1921 until 1991), then they voted to change it back to St Petersburg. There is rivalry between Moscovites and people of St Petersburg, you are only allowed to use the familiar term 'Peter' for the city if you are a local.

    After arriving at the hotel Mim and I went for a walk. The Crowne Plaza is opposite the Moskovsky train station and a new 5 storey shopping complex Galeria. We had dinner in the Marketplace in the Galeria, where you choose your food and pay at the end. We both had a delicious stir fry and a Himalayan tea and bought two fig peaches (peaches in the shape of figs - flattened out). Our new favourite drink is the tea made with slices of fresh ginger, a large handful of fresh mint, a couple of wedges of lime, a drizzle of honey and a clove. Delicious. We smuggled the ingredients from our glasses back to the hotel for more drinks later.

    The sun doesn't set until 11.00pm and rises at 4.00am. We went to bed at 9.00pm and thought we were going to have to use our eye masks as there seemed to just be a light blind on the window. We eventually realised there was a blackout blind at the back of the see through blind. So Mim climbed up to try and pull it down. We didn't know how we were going to get it up in the morning, but thought we would leave it to the cleaners. So as you do you get into bed and then try and find all the light switches to turn off. You guessed it the blind starts to go up, one of the switches was for the blind. We killed ourselves laughing.
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  • Day4

    Moscow, an ever-growing giant of steel and concrete, pulsating home and workplace for millions of inhabitants. Buildings, roads, bridges, cars and everything else are so big one doesn't notice anymore. Sports cars and heavy SUVs race far above the speed limit across 8-lanes roads in the middle of the city, close to homeless people sleeping on park benches. Hords of tourists push themselves over the red square, struggling to get a clean shot of the Kremlin or neighboring Basilica. Construction sites, cranes and workers are omnipresent. Still, massive soviet-era buildings dominate the horizon. The longest time Maxi and I had to wait for a metro? 2 minutes. Moscow, you crazy ... .Read more

  • Day9

    From Irkutsk train station we somehow find our way through the cirrilic labyrinth to the central bus station. There we take a 6-hours bus to Khuzir on the island Olchon which is situated at lake Baikal, the largest and deepest fresh water lake on earth. People say the water is clean enough to drink it straight away. The village itself is a fascinating mix of an 80 years old fishermen settlement and a rapidly expanding tourism sector since the last 5 years. Streets are not paved but newly build holiday apartments frame the dusty streets. Old Soviet UAZ trucks share the road with brand new SUVs. No tap water, but a fully equipped supermarket. Cows and quads. We find accommodation in a wooden shack in someone's backyard. Let's see what this island is all about.Read more

You might also know this place by the following names:

Russian Federation, Russland, Russia, Rusland, Rɔhyea, ራሺያ, روسيا, ৰুচ, Rusiya, Расійская Федэрацыя, Русия, Irisi, রাশিয়া, ཨུ་རུ་སུ་, Rusia, Rusija, Rússia, Rusko, Rwsia, Russia nutome, Ρωσία, Rusujo, Venemaa, Errusia, روسیه, Riisii, Venäjä, Russie, Ruslân, Cónaidhm na Rúise, રશિયન ફેડરેશન, Rasha, חבר המדינות הרוסיות, रूस, Oroszországi Föderáció, Ռուսաստան, ꊉꇆꌦ, Rússland, ロシア, რუსეთი, Urusi, Ресей, Ruslandi, រូស្ស៊ី, ರಶಿಯಾ, 러시아, ڕووسیا, Russi, Lasa, Risí, ລັດເຊຍ, Rusijos Federacija, Risi, Krievija, Rosia, Русија, റഷ്യ, Орос, रशिया, Russja, ရုရှ, Rashiya, Ven'a, ରୁଷିଆ, Rosja, Uburusiya, Federația Rusă, Россия, Ruošša, Rusïi, රුසියාව, Ruush, Rusi, Ryssland, ரஷ்யா, రష్య, รัสเซีย, Lūsia, Rusya, Російська Федерація, روسی, Nga, Orílẹ́ède Rọṣia, 俄罗斯, i-Russia

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