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Russia

Russia

Curious what backpackers do in Russia? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Day15

    Today's visit to Lake Baikal has been one of the highlights of the trip so far. An early start and one hour on the bus from Irkutsk, following the River Angara, brought me to this wonderful place. Lake Baikal is the world's deepest lake, and contains 20% of the world’s freshwater supplies If all the rest of the world’s drinking water ran out tomorrow, Lake Baikal could supply the entire population of the planet for the next 40 years! Known as the Blue Eye of Siberia, it can apparently be seen from space.

    The main town, Listvyanka, is a bit touristy as you might expect. I joined in some of the tourist fun and enjoyed a show at the Nerpinarium by Lake Baikal’s famous freshwater seals. Not exactly Sea World, but the kids, and this adult, enjoyed their performance. I had a lovely walk in the sunshine along the front, and found a nice restaurant where I dined on fresh Omul, a fish only found in Lake Baikal, baked with cheese and potatoes - lovely (and I’m no’ a fish haun). A highlight however was going on a short boat trip to experience part of the lake. Again the weather hot and sunny, and it was a pleasure to feel some breeze about you and admire the beautiful scenery.

    Back safely in Irkutsk, no thanks to the marshrutka driver, who insisted I sat in the front of his packed minibus, while he drank coffee, smoked, ate his lunch, used his mobile phone, played loud Russian ballads which he sang along with, while driving at breakneck speed. When he stopped to pick up more passengers, an old woman got in the front beside me and I signalled to him that I couldn't find the seat belt - he dismissed me with a wave indicating I didn't need it - and I noticed he wasn't wearing one either!

    Once back in the city I had a walk round the extensive market. Although it was late afternoon it was still thriving with a huge selection of fish, fruit and veg, meat and bakery items. I decided to stock up on goods to get ready for tomorrow’s marathon train journey - 3.5 days to Vladivostok! As I probably won't have wifi on the train you may not hear from me for a while. What's that you say - thank goodness?
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  • Day13

    For those of you imagining the Trans Siberian as being pulled across the frozen wastes of Siberia by a puffing steam locomotive - think again. The whole line has been electrified by Russian Railways (RZD). Gone too are the days of the marble bathtub, ingeniously designed not to overflow as the train rounded a corner. Tanks full of fish in the dining room are sadly no longer a feature of the cuisine in the restaurant car. However the Trans Siberian still has a mystique and attraction of its own, and so far I am loving it.

    For someone more accustomed to 10 minute trips on the Cathcart Circle, journeys of 24 hours plus are a different matter for me altogether. This leg of the journey takes 48 hours. I am sharing a compartment this time with a young military guy, who fortunately speaks some English. When I said I thought soldiers travelled in the multi occupancy 54 berth carriages, as opposed to our comparatively luxurious 4 berth kupe (2nd class) compartment, he laughed and proudly declared that he was an officer. He kindly offered to share his food, but I headed for the restaurant car for breakfast. Again it was largely deserted but, in wee Jean’s style, I asked for a table for one!

    As ever, most things I pointed to were ‘aff the menu’ and I ended up with some kind of cold fish with olives, eggs with small slices of ham, a bread roll and black tea - all in all not too bad. I was disappointed however not to have experienced the ‘pickled pike with stuffed cabbage’, or the ‘rabbit living with onions and potatoes served with greenery’. Ah well, another time.

    As if it wasn't confusing enough, Russian trains run to Moscow time, and even local station clocks show this. This is regardless of the fact that this huge country spans 7 time zones. When I was due to catch this train at 03.54 in the middle of the night, my ticket said it departed at 01.54 - panic! But ours not to reason why..

    The weather is sunny and hot today. The countryside whizzes by - mainly forests, lush fields, mighty rivers or woods of birch trees (that reminds me of being beaten in the banya - ouch!). Occasionally, small isolated train platforms sit in the middle of nowhere (reminiscent of Fiddler on the Roof - ‘Far From The Home I Love’, Liz!).

    Our carriage is fairly quiet. I decided to explore the train to get some exercise. The next carriage had a party of Germans heading to Siberia. They had put up a huge poster/map of ‘Russland ’ with pictures of wildlife such as bears and wolves they might spot en route. Sadly the only wildlife we've seen so far have been the local neds, hanging about some of the stations as we zip through!

    As I was taking my stroll through the length of the train, I saw some SV or 1st class compartments - not much different from mine, but for 2 people instead of 4, and a lot more expensive. At the other extreme, the platzcart, or 3rd class, is an open carriage with 54 berths, mainly occupied by students and soldiers - the smell of sweaty socks and drying laundry were overpowering, so I quickly retreated to the safety and comfort of my kupe compartment.

    Along the whole length of the Trans Siberian Railway there are markers on the track on black and white poles every kilometre, telling you how far you have travelled from Moscow. They are hard to spot as the train whizzes by, but I'm told if you look closely out of the window on the south (left hand) side of the train you can glimpse them. I have to say I got some peculiar stares from folk passing down the corridor as I pressed my face flat against the window pane, squinting, and looking quite demented.

    We are in Western Siberia now, and there seem to be more ponds and rivers rather than just forests. The train stops occasionally and Madame Provodnitsa lets you know if you are allowed off. I don't stray too far, for fear of the train leaving without me. On the platform various women sell their wares - bakery items, soft drinks, fur jackets and smoked fish. I had been warned not to buy anything hot to eat, as it has often been cooked in the station toilets. I opted for a a soft bun with a sausage through it (not unlike a Gregg’s sausage roll). It tasted not too bad, and the sweet old lady came chasing down the platform after me insisting she give me my change - I had only given her the equivalent of 50p!

    The Provodnitsa keeps busy, hoovering the corridor and compartments, and telling folk off: ‘whit have a tellt you - get yer feet aff that seat!’. She also sells snacks (anything that can be re hydrated with boiling water from the samovar), and comes round selling ice cream, souvenirs and what looks like bingo tickets. However I certainly wouldn't like to give her a false call! She also keeps the toilets spic and span. There are always plenty of towels and loo roll (I haven't had to use those huge supplies you provided me with yet, Campbell). There is apparently one shower somewhere, but some folk just attach a piece of hose to the tap in the bathroom and give themselves a hose down. The water all runs away down a hole in the floor on to the track - just like a kind of wet room on wheels. I think I'll just stick tae a Paisley wash!

    According to my phone, the time has changed again! I don't know whether I'm coming or going. Apologies for the lengthy blog today, folks - I can't get off for more than 15 minutes every few hours, and there is a lot of time to fill
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  • Day14

    I survived the 48 hour train trip from Ykaterinburg and arrived in Irkutsk promptly at 7.18am. Took an extremely old rackety tram No. 1 to my hotel just outside the city centre (20p ride). Although I was very early, I breakfasted in the hotel by which time my room was ready. It is a lovely comfortable hotel with free wifi. I asked to get some laundry done, and it was back in my room washed and ironed by the time I came back later in the day. It definitely helps to travel light.

    Irkutsk is a popular stopping-off point on the Trans Siberian due to its proximity to Lake Baikal. It is a big, spread out city and I did a lot of walking. To be honest I found it a bit soulless and not as attractive as Ykaterinburg. A unique feature of the central area however is that there remains a significant number of wooden houses from the 19th century with beautiful carvings on the eaves and windows, and some beautiful churches (apparently the most beautiful, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan was demolished to make way for the ugly bulk of the Soviet HQ).

    Although I am now in central Siberia you would never know it - it was 33 degrees today - and after me packing my fur hat, great coat and winter boots!

    To get some respite from the heat, I visited the city Art Gallery (not memorable), and a museum of wooden houses dedicated to the story of the Decembrists, a group of nobles involved in the unsuccessful coup against the Tsar in 1825, and who were sent into exile in Siberia to do hard labour. Interesting story and exhibits.

    For dinner, I went to a nostalgia themed Russian restaurant, and enjoyed some delicious local food - great after two days of British Rail type catering. Well, off to bed early - Lake Baikal awaits tomorrow...
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  • Day8

    Well, it was a dreich day in Moscow this morning (Thursday). You know, sometimes this place reminds me of Glasgow - heavy showers, grey skies, road works everywhere and waiting on public transport that doesn't turn up! I waited 45 minutes on a tram with a supposedly 4 minute service. A queue of elderly Muscovites gave the driver what for, shaking their brollies at her, but Big Bertha the tram driver was having none of it. Two young lads ducked under the tram's turnstile in the melee, and laughed as they thought had skipped their fare. But Big Bertha had clocked them, and shouted to the effect, 'come oan you pair, get aff ma tram!' Just looking round the tram, I had to conclude that the Muscovites really are a dour lot - not much of the craic here!

    One poor old soul had either forgotten her ticket, or didn't have one, and explained she was only going one stop. But Big Bertha was having none of it, and slammed on the brakes - she was going nowhere. Eventually a kindly fellow passenger let the old dear use his pass, and we were off.

    The traffic in Moscow is constantly heavy, with many roads gridlocked. Vehicles constantly block junctions and, at their peril, some strayed into our tram track, until BB scared them off with the constant shrill ringing of her bell. At one point our tram came to a complete standstill in the traffic for a good 20 minutes, and folk were desperate to get off and walk. 'Yer gaun nowhere' decreed Big Bertha, 'this is a limited stop - ye cannae get aff afore the Bolshoi!' (I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the gist).

    (I've just realised I'm starting to sound like Kris with a K and his tales of the No. 9 bus to Paisley. Sorry, K, but this was a number 3 tram, so sufficient artistic differences!).

    In the late morning, I decided to pay a visit to one of Moscow's many art galleries. I chose the New Tretyakov Gallery housing the best of 20th Century Soviet art. Behind this, the Museum Park is the final resting place for many Soviet statues torn from their pedestals after the Soviet Union's collapse.

    While I enjoyed the gallery, getting there was a bit of a nightmare, even with Google Maps. Due to even more road works, it was hard to work out which of the various underpasses took me where I wanted to go. Three times I must have passed the same odd-looking woman with bizarre black painted eyebrows and crooked lipstick, trying to sell me a dancing, threadbare rabbit smoking a cigar (the rabbit that is). 'No, thank you, madam, I know I have passed your way several times but I already have one at home.'

    Then back to the hotel to collect my bags and head off to Kazansky station. Moscow has nine main line stations, all huge and in grand palatial-like buildings. I hoped I had found the right one. Yes! I checked into my berth on the 16.38 train. It was clean and comfortable and I was pleased I was only sharing my 4 berth cabin with one old, non English-speaking Russian man. Our compartment had comfy seats, and our berths above were made up with fresh linen and towels. We had a table, a safe, slippers and toothbrush / toothpaste, power points and even a TV. Shortly after our prompt departure, our Stewardess brought us our complementary meal - an airline type affair, consisting of a hot pork dish with rice, a roll, crackers and jam, and a bottle of water. She returned with tea in a glass in a fabulous silver Russian tea holder as we departed the metropolis and headed East. With only 5531 miles to Vladivostok, the first real part of my Trans Siberian Railway adventure had finally begun!
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  • Day11

    Ykaterinburg is an attractive city - Russia's 4th largest, with Boris Yeltsin, the first Russian President, hailing from here. Beautiful day again today, so I took a trip up the Vysotsky Tower - named after one of Russia's most famous singer-songwriters (what do you mean you haven't heard of him!). Great views from the 52nd floor. Visited the famous Church on the Blood, built on the site of the house where the Romanov's were shot (before being taken to the woods outside the city and dumped in a mineshaft which I had seen yesterday). Amazing church, and busy on a Sunday with a children's choir singing outside and free food (literally loaves and fishes by the looks of it) being handed out to soldiers and families who apparently travel great distances to come here.

    As I was running low on socks and pants I found the very place - M&S Ykaterinburg branch - only double the price. The city is proud to have been chosen by FIFA To be a host city for the 2018 World Cup.

    After dinner, a return to the Opera House to see Romeo and Juliet - the ballet. Another stunning production. It was sold out so I had to pay top price of £15 for my seat tonight. Now a wait until the ungodly hour of 3.45 am to catch the next leg of the Trans Siberian - with 2 full days on the train! Wish me luck!
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  • Day5

    A quick trip on the efficient S-Bahn (suburban railway) to Berlin's Ostbahnhof Station for the next keg if my journey - the 22 hour trip on the Berlin to Moscow sleeper train. I was pleasantly surprised at the sleek modern (Spanish built) train and the immaculate stewards positioned to welcome us at each carriage. Our steward was Viktor Gorbachev (no relation) who spoke little English but was very helpful. I was in a 4 berth cabin - 4 daytime seats which converted into 4 comfortable sleeping berths, with sheet, duvet and pillow. I had 4 travelling companions - two men from Germany, and a father and his toddler daughter who shared a berth - literally four men and a little lady! The wee girl was very sweet and didn't cry or make a noise all night. She was delighted when I gave her a little compact mirror with a Scottish design and kept showing it to me. Well, it was either that or a miniature of Grouse!

    As my travelling companions tucked into their black bread sandwiches a smoked sausage picnics, I ventured to the dining car - a bright modern compartment with good views of the surrounding scenery - aren't these German / Polish / Belarusian/ Russian trees beautiful! I met an Australian couple - Rob and Merril - from Lennox! New South Wales. They were hoteliers who owned their own hotel / pubs and were great fun - we hit it off and spend several hours chatting. The menu looked interesting until we were advised most things were 'aff', so dinner was Borsch (beetroot soup), black bread and a chicken Caesar salad, washed down with a German beer (no Tennents here, Dad!).

    We traveled though Germany and slipped into Poland, taking on more passengers in Warsaw. I was in the lower bunk and dozed off to sleep, only to be woken by Viktor at 3.30am telling us we were approaching the border with Belarus. This involved us all getting up, completing an immigration card, and looking out our papers as Custom and Border Control officials inspected us. After about an hour, the train rolled over a bridge a few hundred metres into Belarus, where we had to go though the same procedure with the Belarusian authorities. So after about 2 hours we were allowed to go on our way and my fellow Russian companions, who only spoke to me in German, instructed me 'mehr schlaf' (more sleep). I dutifully returned to my bunk and slept for 4 hours. Father and daughter got off in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, which gave us much more space in view of the amount of luggage they had.I joined my Aussie friends for breakfast - the menu hadn't increased, but a pale-looking ham and cheese omelette and coffee sufficed. In spite of our delays at the border, the train rolled into Moscow's Belorussky Station dead on time. One of my German travelling companions asked if I had a 'Frau' in Moscow. Sadly I said I didn't, but he proudly exclaimed he did. She met him at the station and I thought initially she was his daughter or granddaughter, but the passionate embrace indicated otherwise. She was a lovely young women with good English, who insisted on driving me to my hotel. This saved me the ordeal of negotiating the Moscow Metro with my luggage and I was extremely grateful.

    The small hotel Sadovnicheskaya was beautifully decorated and the young man on reception recommended a good Russian restaurant nearby. I had a hearty meal of Solyanka soup, black bread, beef stroganoff, mashed potatoes and cabbage - delicious - and washed down with a small jug of ice cold vodka. Well, when in Rome...
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  • Day6

    What a huge city Moscow is - so many grand buildings, columns, turrets and golden onion domes. I managed to get a Russian SIM card and the young girl in the mobile phone shop kindly put it in for me (so to speak!). I then braved the famous Moscow underground - much deeper than ours at home, but very grand stations. I had a lovely walk around the centre - did you spot Max at the Bolshoi? The weather was not so good today and when heavy rain came on I decided to try out one of Moscow's top recommendations- a Russian banya or bath house. The Sanduny banya is the oldest and most luxurious in the city (check their website www.sanduny.ru). What an experience - the rooms were so hot you had to wear a felt hat - and the ice cold plunge pools must have had water piped from Siberia. To finish off I went for the traditional beating with birch leaves. I was allowed to keep my hat and birch leaves as a souvenir!

    With the rain now off, I had a lovely walk round Red Square - such fabulous buildings. Did you spot Max at St Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin? I call him Karl Max here. My walk continued along the Moscow River to the colossal statue of Peter the Great - breathtaking, finishing up at Gorky Park. Knackered and ready for bed!
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  • Day10

    After a 25 hour train journey from Moscow I finally arrived at Yekaterinburg where I would spend 2 days. The journey had been very comfortable, especially as my travelling companion got off at 4am, leaving me the compartment to myself for most of the trip. The dining room was deserted at breakfast and lunch, most Russians preferring to bring on their own food (and drink!). Each carriage is run by a ‘Providnitsa’ - who maintains order, keeps the place tidy and the samovar topped up, so there is plenty of hot water for tea / coffee and pot noodles. I had heard some frightening tales about these women, and was expecting Big Bertha’s cousin Ursula from the Urals, but was pleasantly surprised when a young student doing this job on her summer holidays appeared.

    Yekaterinburg is in the Urals, and is probably best known as the place where Tsar Nicholas ll and his family were murdered in 1918. The pleasant girl in the tourist office arranged with her colleague Maxim to give me a private tour of the area, and we visited the monument marking the border between Europe and Asia, some ancient Ice Age stones in the forest, where I saw a wedding with a very gloomy bride (do they ever smile?), and a place called Ganina Yama where the Romanov bodies had been taken and disposed of in an old mine shaft, to be discovered only in 1991. A lovely monastery has been built around the spot in a beautiful, peaceful woodland setting. It was a tranquil and poignant place to visit.

    In the evening I went to the bijou Ykaterinburg Opera House and saw a performance of Carmen. I arrived a minute before curtain up and got a great seat in the stalls of this lovely theatre for 100 rubles (about £1.35!). It was a great production, complete with a Soviet tank and Russian tram, but sadly no sign of Bertha! Well, you can't have everything…
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  • Day5

    What a lovely day I have had in Berlin. The sun was shining all day and it was a hot 28 degrees C. I got up early at 7am and after a quick breakfast in the hotel I set off on a morning walking tour. Being early on a a Sunday morning it was really quiet and within a short time I had crossed the River Spree and arrived at the Reichstag - another building where mum, dad, Campbell and I climbed to the top of the Norman Foster designed glass dome. Then to the symbol of Berlin - the Brandenburg Gate - can you spot a tiny Max in the photo?

    A walk though the haunting Memorial to the Murdered Jews was thought provoking as was the nearby Memorial to the persecuted LGBT community. The Tiergarden park was beautiful in the morning sunshine. Then a walk along the famous Unter Der Linden street to Berlin Cathedral and I watched the river boats plying around Museum Island. A good spot for a selfie I thought, until my camera fell over the wall of the bridge to the riverbank below! In spite of the crash, it still seems to be working, although it's a little dented. Thank goodness I didn't bring my good Canon.

    It was so hot I decided to hop on a City Tour bus which gave a great overview of Berlin - the Victory Column, Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Platz, Kurfürstendamm, Kaiser William Memorial Church, and a remaining segment of the Berlin Wall. I arrived back just as a huge cycle event was taking place - literally thousands of bikes brought all the main roads to a standstill in some kind of Green statement - wonderful to see.

    In the afternoon I decided to go to a matinee show of the Disney musical - The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although it was in German I was able to follow (most of) the story. It really was a great show with some super performances and moving scenes. It got a standing ovation at the end and I wonder why it has never been to the West End or Broadway.
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  • Day7

    Well the Kremlin seems to be as hard to get into as it ever was! However I eventually managed to work it out and, after an unusual early breakfast involving pickled herring and tiramisu (don't ask!) I got off to an early start to beat the queues for Moscow's biggest attraction. And boy was it worth it! It was a thrill to walk through one of the huge intimidating gates and explore this famous complex. No less than four Cathedrals are contained within this ancient citadel. The sun shone, and the golden onions domes gleamed beautifully. The highlight however was getting a ticket for the Armoury before they sold out. An incredible treasure trove of Tsars' jewellery, regalia, weapons, costumes and state coaches - breathtaking!

    After all this, I pushed the boat out and treated myself to a lovely late lunch at the fabulous Cafe Pushkin. Fish soup served with pasties stuffed with more fish, and a glass of vodka, followed by suckling pig served with barley - tasty! A bus tour saw the weather change from glorious sunshine into a torrential downpour and a thunderstorm. The lady from Siberia sitting next to me shared her blanket and umbrella and we had a laugh together, although neither of us understood a word of what each other was saying. She seemed delighted when I gave her a small Scottish thistle pin badge in return.

    The evening was spent walking along Arbat Street - the new revitalised trendy area of Moscow full of bars and restaurants. Then back on the underground - still confusing as its hard to make out the Russian names, and lines sharing the same station all have different names! No more vodka for me tonight!
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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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