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  • Traveling in slow motion
    After two nights on the russian train we arrived in Moscow safe and sound.
    We have visited the most interesting places in this wonderful city.
    Tomorrow we will take the onward train to Irkutsk (Siberia). The temperature will drop down to minus 10°C.....ggggrrrr

  • Moscow Central Mosque.

    I was trying to buy some jeans and turned around a corner to see a massive golden dome atop a turquoise mosque, not something I expected in Moscow. It shouldn't be too surprising, apparently 6 of the 15 republics within the USSR had a Muslim majority and Moscow's a major destination for (economic) migrants from the former Soviet Union. I'm not sure what the rules are but in my head it seems similar to migrants from the former British Empire migrating to the UK/London.

    This migration, and I imagine movement during the Soviet Period and before, makes Moscow pretty multi-ethnic. Russia as a whole actually consists of numerous republics and has quite a number of (native) minority groups living within it, it isn't all Slavic, which doesn't match up with the image of Russia (or Moscow) that I knew about before visiting last summer.

    There are 4 permitted mosques in the city, this is the largest of them. This mosque holds 10,000 worshippers, however Moscow still lacks capacity for it's 1 million residents who are Muslim and 1.5 million of it's migrant workers who are also Muslim. Moscow has a total population of approx. 14 million, London has about 8.

    I've asked a couple of people (girls, 2 Russian, 1 British) if they'd been and they either didn't realise you/they could visit a mosque or have never considered going. Not sure if this would be different if I asked guys the same question. As far as I'm aware mosques, like churches, are open to visitors, you'd just have to use the correct entrance...? And maybe don't go on a Friday as there might be a lot of people praying.
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  • After getting lost in the back and beyond of Russia yesterday we decided to play it safe and actually look up how to get to train station in order for us to travel the 715km on the Sapsan Train to Moscow. It was another early start, having to be out of the hotel at 5.30am to catch the first metro of the morning ensuring we had enough spare time if something happened to go wrong before our train left the terminal at 7.05am. I'm starting to think that I was way too eager when I booked all of these early morning trains to ensure our time was maximised everywhere. The only thing that is maximised right now is my tiredness (I know, boohoo to me 😢).

    We found the train station and the train with relative ease and jumped on board eager to see our next Russian City. We had booked two window seats on a four seater table berth and sat down to shortly be greeted by a hungover Russian guy named Kiril who was 5 months older than Jamie, was an Event Planner from Moscow who had been in St Petersburg for an event, and, had had a hard night the night before and offered his leftover beer as if to prove his point. Now you might think that Kiril knew amazing English however, you'd be wrong. We quickly determined that he couldn't speak much English nor us Russian and the conversation took place via hand gestures and google translate. Jamie and Kiril hit it off and they giggling like little school girls writing each other love notes on their phones while I watched on from the opposite side of the table like a third wheel on a date. Things got a bit more intense when, after watching my episode of Grey's Anatomy, I looked up and Kiril was now fast asleep on Jamie's shoulder to which he remained for the remainder of the trip. Cue dramatic heartbreak.

    We arrived at the Train Station and Kiril made a quick getaway, not saying goodbye to his new friend. Jamie, saddened and feeling used, had to resort to hold Teemu until he regained his composure. Teemu just gave this blank stare like he didn't care but Jamie was too busy wiping away the tears to notice. Once composed, we made our way to the Metro Station and after the ease of navigating the metro stations in St Petersburg we thought we had this business down. We proceeded to stand in line for a ticket machine until we got to the front and realised it was only for recharging a pre-existing card, we then thought "no worries, it must be these other machines" and again stood in another line until we realised the different looking machine was actually just a newer version of the same one we stood at previously. We then decided to actually go to a ticket kiosk, and when we finally got to the front - the lady couldn't understand us. Flummoxed and still reeling from his earlier heartbreak, Jamie proved a common male notion wrong and asked the information people for help. Fortunately, they spoke English and wrote down our requirements on a piece of paper to hand to the ladies at the ticket kiosk.

    After the better part of an hour mucking around trying to work out how to get our metro tickets, we were on our way and walked to the ticket barriers to find that they are actually tap and go, and we could have used a credit card..... I don't think words can do justice for the looks that came over our faces so I will let you use your imagination. The prices are fairly reasonable for a metro ride at 30 rubles a trip regardless of where you end up in town. I know Russia is big and ginormous, but Auckland could learn a thing or two about affordable and efficient public transport from this place.

    On our brief metro trip, it was now Teemu's turn to make a Russian Friend and was accousted by a lovely Russian lady in her 50's, pointing and cooing over Teemu which he later told me translated to "you are so super adorable". The men in my life are obviously a hit with the Russians.

    When we finally got to our metro station, we had a brief walk through our hotel neighbourhood which can only be described as the Shoreditch (for those familar with London) or Kingsland/Ponsonby (for those familiar with Auckland) of Moscow with random Russian girls posing all artsy like for other girls with big fancy cameras everywhere. I felt like I had just walked into a Vogue fashion shoot looking all casual in my quicksilver hoodie, no make up and heavy bags under my eyes.

    After dropping our bags we made a beeline for lunch at a place called Pinch which had the most amazing lemon drop cocktail (gin, lemoncello and prosecco) I've ever had for a casual 7 pounds or so.. it was so good I forgot to get a photo. I'll probably go back so I'm not worried. The food was delicious albeit small so obviously dessert was a must. Fortunately, Jamie "knew" a place and had already identified the location of a cake cafe aptly named "I love cake" near our hotel. Upon arrival at the cafe there was a big glass window fill of cakes to choose from, the selection was too tough but in the end we went for a coconut raspberry angel cake. The filling was a condensed milk icing which was super sickly sweet and dense and didn't really do it for me but Jamie was a big fan.

    After the heart attack inducing dessert, we went for a walk around the local neighbourhood and came across a photographic exhibition documenting industrial scenes from power plants to welding complete with beautiful flowers and hedge sculptures. I'll give the Russians this, they certainly are eclectic.

    In desperate need of fruit to feel healthy again, we found the local supermarket and spent most of the time perusing the vodka section (it's healthy, it's made of potatoes). We ended up buying some actual fruit but more importantly picked up some red Georgian wine from the Kakheti region and some Spanish rose (it's healthy, it's made with fruit). The Georgian wine was absolutely delicious and for €5 pounds we will probably pick up some more for our trans-siberian train journey in a few days time.

    Our days events ended with a dinner at a local Shawarma restaurant (very Russian I know) which had the most delicious moutabal and shawarmas we had ever tasted and a wander through the illustrious neighbourhood lit up by fairy lights adjacent to our hotel.

    Current distance between us and Auckland: 16,100km
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  • Day two in Moscow began with a stroll from the hotel, via a rather circuitous route, to the centre of Moscow.

    On the way we wandered through the wide, green , and seemingly forested central reservations of various avenues, until we hit the Moskva River. As we walked through though these central reservations, we passed through innumerable art installations, celebrating the life, times, and culture of Moscow. Sometimes, it was the natural beauty of wooden arches, woven with wisteria, geraniums, and roses. Sometimes it was billboards of photographs, illustrating the industry of the area. Sometimes it was trampolines and jungle gyms for children to get active, and make use of the green space within the city.

    As we walked through all these things put on by the government for its citiziens, we viewed it with some wonder. Having lived in New Zealand, and lived in London, it is inconcievable, that such things would be provided by a government for its citizens. The resources made available, and free of charge, put to shame those made available for free in many other parts of the world.

    Having made it through our conversation on the political analysis of government provision of cultural activities to the citizenry, we made it to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, one of the many chruches/cathedrals, dotting the Moskow landscape. Truth be told, the vast number of incredibly grand religious buildings that we have come across in our travels so far, have almost got us to the point of Christian cultural saturation. We just aren't able to appreciate the beauty and significance to the degree that we should.

    After the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, we wandered along the river, passed the Kremlin, to Red Square. Unfortunately, there was no spectacular Soviet-era military parade to be seen, or even something ever-so-slightly more cultural. That being said, Red Square was thronging with people, watching the changing of the guard, viewing Lenin's mausoleum, and over course, St Basil's Cathedral.

    Also encountered on our self-directed walking tour of Moscow: the Bolshoi Theatre, the headquarters of the former KGB, and the Moscow Opereta. The late afternoon, and early evening were spent nibbling some tasty Russian treats, and indulging in some more Georgian wine. We then headed out for dinner at a restaruant local to our hotel, before Courtney got too hangry, and hulked out. Dinner was delicious; Courtney did hulk out, but recovered; and we enjoyed a further Sunday evening stroll.

    Nothing exciting to report today. The photos provide the strongest narrative.
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  • Day 2 in Russia and OMG I love this place.

    After a brief introduction to the Russian Way of life yesterday, today was a day to get fully immersed.

    The first item of business was a visit to the hotel gym, and man do the Russians know how to work out. I was in awe of the new machines I have never seen especially machines made especially to test your flexibility. I can now confirm that one leg is more flexible than the other and I can now not feel the other leg.

    After a quick shower and breakfast complete with a bellini (alright 3 bellinis), it was time to hit the streets. Our first stop was Saint Issacs Cathedral. For 400 rubles (5 pounds) you could climb the dome to get an unobstructured view of central St Petersburg and enter the Cathedral itself. The climb was approximately 190 steps which isn't anything like the climb of the Duomo in Florence in 40+ degree heat but the view was pretty spectacular nonetheless.
    We then entered the Cathedral and it was probably one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen (and the 4th largest in the world - the 1st being St Peters in Vatican City).The entire cathedral was adorned with marble, granite and gold and comprised a variety of colours (see photos). I was trying to take in all the beauty when Jamie ran over to me to inform me that 200,000 slaves died making the cathedral but then corrected himself saying that actually its ok he was wrong, they died building the whole city - totally makes it better.

    After I decided that I was never leaving this building, Jamie bribed me with more Mojitos and 5 seconds later I found myself outside walking towards our next stop Church of the Savoir on Spilled Blood or in lamens terms another church. I made a few observations on our walk as follows:
    1. There are weird people that sit in boxes everywhere across this city - at the bottom of the escalators in the metro stations (apparently to stop the mile long escalator if someone falls down the stairs), in parks and on certain streets. They all make me feel extremely uncomfortable.
    2. The emergency sirens on the police cars sound like a child is behind the wheel turning on and off the siren or a really horrible DJ mash up.
    3. Like the UK and most European cities, the traffic lights have a warm up orange light to indicate the light is about to turn green, but they also have a countdown timer here showing how long the light will remain green for - very cool.
    4. There are Army, Navy and Air Force personal everywhere in what can only be described "very Russian" uniforms.

    On arrival at the Church I was in awe of the "onions" on top of the buillding and upon entering the church the beautiful mosaics that adorned the entire interior. The Church was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881.The church was built between 1883 and 1907 and the construction was funded by the imperial family (estimated at 4.5 million rubles!).

    After a mulled wine in the nearby park, it was time to walk to the other side of the river to Peter-Pavels Fortress. This park is, for the most part, free, but had little side attractions including the surrounding wall which had to be paid for. After a brief walk around, we sat on a wall alongside the Neva River and shared an Irish Creme Magnum that was boozy as hell. I swung my legs carefreely over the edge and enjoyed the view not realising in the process I had also managed to cover the majority of my pant leg in bird poo. Jamie just laughed at me and then suggested it could be chocolate, but was almost certain it was bird poo.

    After a quick clean up job with a few tissues, we made our way along the waterfront back to our hotel ready for a spa/sauna afternoon. Our hotel happens to have an insanely good spa complex complete with about 5 different types of saunas including the fabled Russian Log Room which apparently sits at about 90 degrees and a Snow Room where you are subjected to -15 degrees. Donned with our sexy white hotel bathrobes, we made our way down to the spa to try them all of them and the snow room was surprisingly quite enjoyable after sitting in a furnace.
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  • Day three in Russia today, and we marked the occasion by heading to Peterhof Palace, a wee bit outside of St Petersberg. As we set off from the hotel, the skies were blue, and the breeze rather fresh, but nothing that a few years of living in London hadn't prepared us for.

    To get to Peterhof Palace, we settled on a hydrofoil as the transportation option of choice. It set off from close to our hotel (ten mins walk away), and took us to the foot of the palace gardens, right by the water. Because of the fresh breeze, sailings were running a bit behind, and it was also made clear that there might not be a return sailing if the weather worsened much more. Being hardened travellers, wise in the ways of the world, and possessing the knowledge from research we had done months ago, we thought "Meh - we'll be fine" (can you see where this is going?) and so we bought our one-way ticket to the palace, and boarded the hydrofoil. FYI - the company was so concerned that they wouldn't be able to honour return tickets, that they weren't selling them.

    The ride out to the palace was pretty comfortable, despite what had been decribed as bad weather. The swell was ~5-6 ft, but thanks to the wonder of the hydrofoil largely sitting out of the water, it was only the odd wave that actually connected with the hull. As we sailed, we watched ominous rain clouds float across the horizon, and head towards us, though it wouldn't be until later than they came to anything at the palace.

    Having arrived at the palace we walked our way up the worlds longest water feature (record unconfirmed by Guiness), from the dock, to the palace. As you'll be able to tell from the photos, the recurring theme of this particular palace was gold. There was so much gold around, that you'd think when they built it, they various Italian architects involved reached back in time, grabbed Midas, and forced him to wander the estate, touching everything he could, like a small child.

    You'll notice that there are no photos from inside the palace. That's because you aren't allowed to take any inside. However, given the inconspicious wealth displayed by the exterior of the palace and it grounds, I am sure that you'll be able to image what the inside was like. Midas hadn't just wandered the grounds, they let him in to the palace itself too, and what wasn't gold, was mahogony, ebony, silver, or silk.

    There are times when you are forced to wonder, what the purpose of such a palace is. It is all very well being able to wander around one that was built hundreds of years ago, but what would possess someone to build such a place, and is anyone in the world building something similar now? I hope not, but I fear, yes.

    And after a couple of hours of wandering inside the palace itself, and being castigated by numerous Nurse Ratchet-type ladies for various unknown infractions, as well as wandering through the grounds, it was time to head back to St Petersberg itself. We made our way back to the dock to get our return ticket, but the booth for our hydrofoil company was closed. Moving to another booth, we were informed that there were no more return sailings, and that we would have to find some other way of getting home. This was somewhat strange, given that there were still a few Hydrofoils leaving for St Petersberg, and there were still some people getting on them, but for every ten people trying to get on the return hydrofoil, only one would be able to make it on. Not sure what tickets they had, but they must have been pretty special, maybe Midas was back and they were also made of gold. Or, I suppose, they were returning to a different part of St Petersberg.

    Anyway, at that point, we decided that we had better make a move, and make sure we got back to the hotel at a reasonable hour. Both of us remembered that there was a nearby train station, so using what little available info had been cached on Google maps, we headed towards the railway tracks. As we walked in the general direction of the railway tracks, the area became less and less touristy, and more and more coucil estate-y. But we are hardend travellers, and we had done our research a few months ago, so we puched forward, until we got to the railway track.

    And then we got to the railway, and there was no station. So we had to choose, do we go left or right? We went right, and started walking. Unfortunately, the railway promptly dissappeared into the forest, within about ten minutes of walking along side it. We found ourselves in a bit of a quandry. How to get home now?

    So after circumnavigate=ing a rather large Soviet era estate, and losing close to an hour of our livea, we ended up back where we started, at the palace. By this point, we had experienced our first set back (however minor), of the trip back. We were away from the touristy area, had no access to data via phone, and no idea what bus we needed to catch.

    After talking some time to collect our thoughts, we employed some good old fashioned observation. We waited by the bus stop across from the palace, and tried to work out which of the buses passing through, would get us close to St Petersberg, as they all looked like suburban buses. After a bit of time, and the observation of some Japanese tourists that had joined us at the stop making a move for a particular bus, we quickly assessed the available information, and jumped on the same bus. It had Japanese people on it (likely tourists), it had Metro in the destination (albeit in cyrillic lettering), and it was heading in the general direction of St Petersberg. Based on that information we got on. And based on that information, we made it to the St Petersberg Metro system, and managed to get ourselves back to the hotel.

    If we had got the hydrofoil back to St Petersberg, we would have been back at the hotel within 40 mins of leaving the palace. In the end, it took us just over three hours. It was an adventure, and some nerves were a bit frayed, but we made it, and had a laugh at the fact this was not the last time this would happen on the way home. We had a drink at the hotel, to celebrate our triumphant return to room 468, after such as long arduous journey, and that was really our day.

    The story of the day - don't freak out, be cool man.
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  • Our third day in Moscow started with a quick self tour and photogrpahic journey on some of the most beautiful metro stations in the city on our way to pick up our tickets for our Trans-siberian railway adventure. The photos you see below were quite tricky to obtain as it had be in between each train coming into in the station (which is every 2 minutes) to ensure the photos were not overrun with Russian communters who would probably punch my lights out for taking photos of their angry unsmiling faces. This resulted in me waiting at the side of a passageway until the majority of the platform cleared and then me running out to the middle to quickly grab a photo before the next train arrived and before angry security guards came and told me off. I'm starting to realise there is an angry theme here.

    After picking up our tickets with surprising ease, we made our way to the mighty Kremlin (my nickname - Kremy). We thought that the entire Kremlin was accessible based on the map we were given and decided to tackle it logically by transversing it in a clockwise fashion. We noticed that no other tourists were actually in and around this part of the Kremlin but thought that they were stupid not tackling it like we were planning to because we are so awesome. It didn't take long for the sound of shrill whistles to cut through the silence and we looked up to see Russian police officers gesturing wildly for us to return to the other side of the road. I learnt my let iesson pretty quickly, only cross roads at the Kremlin when there are actual crossings and where other tourists around. A given building might look like it's open to tourists, but that doesn't mean it is.

    After our run in with the law, we proceeded to be good little tourists and looked around the cathedrals, which were heavily popular with Chinese tour groups, and then made our way to the Diamond Fund where the Russian crown jewels and other expensive jewelleries are held, including the biggest gold and platinum nuggets in the world. I had my eyes on the diamond encrusted crown but Jamie said he couldn't afford it yet which means one day there is hope.

    We made our way out of the Kremlin and towards the exit where we encountered a changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown warrior. As Jamie pointed out, these soldiers better have good physiotherapists to correct the unnatural things they do with their legs. Spectacular to watch, disastrous for avoiding arthritis

    It was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for our big train adventure which required a trip to the supermarket to pick up some food and more importantly a trip to the liquor store to pick up some vodka, the average price for a bottle being around 300 rubles (less than 5 pounds). I chose an apple infused Russian vodka (I think) for us to share and make friends with on the train.

    The night ended with a trip back to the Lemon Pie cocktail place and then back for more shawarmas because they were so bloody good (and relatively cheap).

    Tomorrow we hit the Trans-siberian railway, our first leg comprising of 4 nights and 5000km to Irtkusk in Siberia, so it's time for our last good sleep before we get rolled around a train cabin.
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  • After a night of terrible sleep, I awoke from what little sleep I did get, to Jamie checking that I was still alive and functioning.

    3 cups of coffee later, I felt ready to face Day 2 on the train. I started digging around my bag to find my Kindle and came across my resistance band and brightened up at the thought that I will still be able to achieve something bordering on exercise. Our Dutch cabin mates giggled at the sight of me attempting to design an exercise routine on my small bed, I decided I was going to make a travel app which specialised in exercising in small spaces. I even managed to do some squats and side lunges in the connection between our carriage and the restaurant car and some press-ups on the floor of our cabin. This trip might not be so bad after all.

    After a makeshift breakfast of a porridge sachet in a thermos mug with hot water, a protein bar and an apple - it was time for an unscheduled nap, I woke an hour later to find nothing had changed - I was still on a train, still passing landscape dotted with millions of trees, and still counting down the hours until I could have my first shower. Only 60 hours or so to go now... woooo.

    Some interesting observations about the train so far
    1. You only have access to hot water and cold water., therefore if you want to bring your own food and you want it to be hot, it should be in the form of 2 minute noodles or soup in a mug.
    2. There is a restaurant car and to our surprise the food isn't that bad and is relatively cheap at about 5 pounds or so for a meal or 6 pounds for a "Business lunch" where you get a choice of juice (apple or orange), a small salad, a vege soup, a cutlet of chicken topped with cheese and a side of boiled macaroni. The other interesting observation is all soup seems to come with a dollop of mayonaise in the middle. It kinda curdles but doesn't taste all that bad. Wine and beer are also available, and you are able to get a bottle of cheap Russian bubbles for 400 rubles or about 5 pounds.
    3. There is toilet paper on the train, but it runs out quickly, so it is important to have your own stash if it hasn't been replinished. It will be replenished, just not necessarily, quickly.
    4. The carriages are heated, which is great when it is starting to get to 0 degrees outside, but when they make it as hot as a tropical island on the inside, it becomes just as uncomfortable as it being freezing cold.
    5. The scenery so far, as I mentioned above, has been trees, trees, trees, which are beautiful, with their autumn hue, and small towns dotted in between.
    6. There is food and beer available on some platforms when the train stops longer than 2 minutes for you to get off to peruse, and dozens of ladies shoving baskets of apples in your face for purchase. Food includes whole cooked chickens, the biggest ice creams I have ever seen in my life, the forementioned apples, random Russian bread things, and a plentiful supply of 2 minute noodles.

    After exercise time, it was time to play cards and drink the Apple vodka with Frenchie, Dutchies and Polie before the Dutchies left us, and the train, to explore Perm our next major stop of the day. The morning conversation consisted of the Dutchies rubbing it in that they were going to shower today, but when we came to the outskirts of Perm and saw the "industrialised" look of the city, the conversation quickly changed to everyone hassling them for choosing such a wonderful tropical place to stay in. Shortly after, they disembarked the train for their amazing destination while we soaked up the only fresh air we were going to get for another 6 or so hours. We said our goodbyes with promises to find each other on Facebook.

    The next few hours until dinner time passed in a blur, keeping ourselves occupied by playing cards and reading on the Kindle before it was time for dinner in the restaurant car. Upon entering the restaurant car we saw our Polish friend Lukas sitting with our Russian Stewardess Sofia. Knowing full well that a train romance was blossoming, we gave them some privacy by sitting a few berths away. Awwww young love.

    When we got off at the next stop, Lukas found me in the shop and put his recent education of the Russian language to good use, bragging to me about how good he now was. I laughed and said it looked like him and Sofia were hitting it off, and he said that she was going to come and spend some time with him once we got to Irkutsk. She lives in a place called Chita, which is on the Siberian-Mongolian Border and about 1000km away from Irtkusk so will have to make a return trip after the train reaches her destination and she finishes work for the week. He is now contemplating extending his time in Irtkusk to be able to spend time with her. More Awws.

    After the lack of sleep the night before, I thought tonight would be a breeze and I would fall asleep in no time. At Midnight, I gave up any notion of sleep and proceeded to read another book on my Kindle counting my lucky stars that I loaded it with 5 books before we boarded the train.
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  • Fortunately after two days of not sleeping and a couple of pills I was able to finally sleep through the night and awoke this morning feeling a little bit more human with beautiful Siberian sunshine streaming through our cabin window. With less than 24 hours to go before our overnight stop in Irkutsk I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and dream of the fresh air and food I will be shortly consuming.

    After a couple of coffees, we strode in the restaurant carriage for an omelet after 3 days of watered down porridge and protein bars had started to take its toll. Whilst awaiting for our omelets to arrive, we bumped into Lukas who looked like he had had another rough night induced by alcohol. It just so happened that he had a rough night induced by losing his passport between a space in the train whilst trying to pull his Go-Pro out of his pocket. His passport is now somewhere on a train track between Novosibirsk and Bolotnaya. Supposedly the police are on the hunt for it but if it is not found, his Trans-Siberian adventure is over as he will unlikely be able to obtain the necessary visas from within the Siberian wilderness. We felt so sorry for him and tried to work out ways in which we could help but whilst in Russia there is only so much anyone can do.

    Our next big stop of 42 minutes happened in a town called Krasnoyarsk. We had 42 minutes to explore the town but being to scared to venture too far from the train in case it decided to abandon us in the middle of Russia, our exploration involved an in depth look at the train station, it's statue and all its wares. After a quick tour we settled on the first cafe we came across and purchases some cheese bread thing resembling a crossiant in texture but flat, a meringue filled with creme and some fruit. Health plus. After doing some quick lunges and squats on the platform it was back on the train to consume our purchases. Lukas managed to get hold of the Polish embassy in Irkutsk who advised him his passport is unlikely to be found and if not, he will have to return to Moscow before he can fly back to Manchester where he currently works. Normally smiley, Lukas certainly has lost his way.

    The afternoon passed by in a blur talking international politics, geological settings of our given countries and wine in the restaurant car whilst drinking Russian champagne (Yes ok French people it's not really champange) whilst passing beautiful snow covered Siberian landscapes. The temperature is now around 0 degrees and feeling very fresh. Lukas joined us after an afternoon kip and drowned his sorrows in beer and playing more rounds of 500. At Beer #5, we received a visit from the "train boss" who confirmed that the police had found Lukas' passport and it will be on the next train to Irkutsk. Cue celebratory beers and vodka. Happy Lukas was back and it was time to make up for lost happy time.

    After some food to ward off the probable hangover, I went back to our little cabin to prepare for bed. It wasn't long until the train stopped and we picked up another Russian passenger who was allocated into the spare space in our cabin. Due to the incredible stench that followed him into the train, I quickly made my way back to the restaurant car to inform my cabin mates that we had a serious case of bad BO in our room and he isn't the one who hasn't showered for 3 days! I went back to make up our beds and found smelly Russ on Jamie's bed taking over our entire area with his horrible odour, stomach and baggage. I asked him to move to his bunk as we were going to bed, although with his little understanding of English and my little understanding of Russian, I resorted to charades and hand gestures. He exited the room to allow me to make up the beds and I left to go and get a drunken Jamie from the restaurant car to put him to bed. On our return, the odour was putrid and smelly Russ was back on Jamie's now made bed stuffing his face with potato crisps and sculling coke. If there is one thing that Jamie hates, its anyone eating on his bed especially someone he doesn't know. At this point, after 2 nights of barely any sleep and no shower, I had enough (no one messes with my Jamie) - I asked him to move again and he refused and started getting incredibly agitated. I told him if he wanted to eat , he should eat on his bed or go to the restaurant car, to which his response was net net net net net net net net (no, no, no, no, no, no). He got up and Jamie lay his upper body on the bed with his legs off to one side (being pretty drunk). Smelly Russ then attempted to sit on the end of Jamie's bed to continue consuming his chips. I told him to move, that Jamie needed to go to sleep and he needed to go onto his bunk. I grabbed Jamie's legs and put them on the bed to make a point and said that he needed to go to sleep as he was drunk. He made a beeline for my bed and I had to resort to a wagging finger in his face saying NET NET NET and pointed to his bunk.

    He huffed and puffed out of the room and was heard complaining to the Russian cabin manager, who paid him zero attention as she had had absolutely no problems up to this point. He disappeared to the restaurant car to consume his heart attack and I managed to calm myself down but was now petrified of sleeping in the same room as this man. He returned as I was reading my book and Jamie was out for the count while our other cabin mate was drinking vodka in another room. He proceeded to get undressed right in front of me and took off his top to reveal his large stomach and unbuttoned his trousers, the stench coming from his pores increased and I realised sleep was not going to come easy again tonight.

    As if this man couldn't get any ruder, he left the sound of his phone on and proceeded to watch movies on his laptop without headphones. At about midnight he took a call on his phone while the rest of the cabin was fast asleep. After an amazing three days of getting to know some brilliant people it was a shame to end this part of the leg like this, but it makes you appreciate the wonderful people you do get to meet more and certainly adds to the stories we get to tell!
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  • It was an early start this morning, as we headed to Helsinki's central train station, to get the 0620 train to St Petersberg. And just like that, two hours after leaving Helsinki, we we had left the EU, and arrived in Russia. Our first stop in Russia, was Wyborg, where we picked up a small army of Russian customs, immigration, and police, for the hour or so train in to St Petersberg.

    The Russia staff that boarded did their best to maintain the stereotype of the archetypal Russian government representative. They were curt, they were officious, and apart from demanding Courtney looked at them, they processed us with no issue. Other people on the train though were not so lucky.

    After passing through the gaze of Sauron's eye, that is Russian border control, we arrived in St Petersberg. The train station used for travel to and from Finland, can best be described as older, and underdeveloped, but this is understandable to some extent, given that it is not the main train station for the city.

    It was then time for a trek, via the St Petersberg Metro system, to our hotel. After a lot of time faffing around to get cash out of an ATM, and train tickets out of a machine, it was time to make our way down into the subway. Having sampled the wares of many cities around the world now, when it comes to underground public transportation, we can safely say that the St Petersberg Metro, is spacious, well lit, and very well decorated. A very stark contrast to the Tube in London, and certainly a win for communism over capitalism. We are realiably informed that the Moscow Metro systems is even nicer, but we can safely say that St Petersberg is many orders of magnitude better than the Tube. Teemu got a little bit frightened when we got on the escalator to the street exit and realised we were about 300m underground (maybe a slight exaggeration).

    After dumping our bags at the hotel, it was then time for a walk through the streets. On the way we wandered passed, just a few of the magnificent buildings in the city. Every corner you turn down at in the central city, seems to reveal yet another beautiful and magnificent building. The photos attached show but a few of the things that we saw, like the green-ish WInter Palace, which now houses the State Hermitage Museum, which we viewed from Palace Square. It turns out though that Wednesday is like Sunday in Russia though, with a number of key attractions shut down for the day.

    We also made a stop at the Yusupov Palace. Why is the famous I hear you ask? Well - this the palace where Rasputin was poisoned, then shot, then escaped from, then was recaptured, and shot again, and then hauled away from to be dumped into the flowing waters around St Petersberg. Incidentally, Rasputin was dumped into the water just along from our hotel. So much history within walking distance, and this all happened before the Bolshevik Revolution, which added quite a few more stories to the streets of St Petersberg. The interior photos attached are from the Yusupov Palace.

    We also had a good look at many, many cathedrals. St Petersberg, it would appear, is a very religious city. There are wonderful cathedrals everywhere, and they are used by the general populace, even during the middle of the day on a typical Wednesday. Many people would just pop in to say hello to their god, which felt quite weird to the atheist heathens just as ourselves. The big blue photo of the church, and its onion-shaped domes is the Nicholas-Epiphany Naval Cathedral.

    At the end of the day, we headed out to a local bar, where a band was setting up for a evening gig. Their style could be described as rock, in the same vein as Joe Cocker, or perhaps Bruce Springsteen, but Russian. We only really got to see the sound-check, and first few warm-up songs, before heading on to get some dinner. The mojitos, were very good though. Courtney enjoyed them so much, she had a couple. Price check: 400 rubles for one Mojito which roughly equates to £5 or about $9NZD.

    And with the consumption of dinner, the day was over. Both being tired, after an early start, it was time to repair to bed.

    Distance travelled from Helsinki: 390km
    Total distance travelled so far: 1,750km
    Distance to Auckland, NZ: 16,411km
    Phone update: Courtney's phone has arrived in the UK!
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