Russia
Novaya Gollandiya

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  • Day25

    Ghostriders in Russia

    June 27, 2019 in Russia ⋅ 🌧 15 °C

    This was always going to be a long and eventful day. And that is exactly how it turned out. It began when my alarm went off at 5.30 am in my hotel room in Helsinki. A quick look out the window showed that the blue skies that we had enjoyed for the past three and a half weeks had disappeared. They had been replaced with a long lying blanket of grey clouds. A steady drizzle of rain had already soaked the roads and footpaths.

    That was exactly the type of weather that I had feared could have followed us for our entire time in the Baltics. I must admit that I was almost glad to see it now as it would have seemed a bit unreal for us to have spent so long in the region without getting some of their "normal" weather.

    After breakfast I donned my waterproof jacket for the first time on this trip (I was wise packing it in my bag after all) and headed out for the final time. After a little aimless wandering, I found myself in the city museum. It had an incredible series of huge photographs of Helsinki that showed life in the city at various times since 1866. The detail was amazing, so much so that you could spend a lot of time at each image, just to look at what the people were doing.

    I finally worked my way to the top floor, where a complicated array of data projectors were showing some sort of movie. It was quite dark and I nearly had a heart attack when a voice came from below me. "Hello Dennis", it said. I know that technology is smart, but how could it know my name when I had come from the opposite side of the planet ?

    The mystery was solved when I discovered that it was Sue. She had made herself comfortable as part of the exhibit and was watching the movie. I asked her how she understood Finnish. Apparently she had already read the script and knew what it was all about.

    I continued to the market near the pier. Already several new ships had docked and disgorged their human cargoes. Quite a number of them (about 500 I reckon) were animatedly shoving themselves and taking selfies around the market stalls. I decided that Helsinki is a lovely city, but I was ready for something different.

    Our train for St Petersburg was due to leave at 4 pm. At the appointed pickup time of 3 pm our small group of 6 were all waiting with our luggage in the hotel foyer. When there was still no sign of a driver at 3.15 pm, I decided that it was time for us to walk. It was only a 10 minute walk and the rain had now stopped.

    We found the St Petersburg train and climbed on board. It was a shame that there was no room for our luggage - only a small overhead rack for hand luggage. Fortunately I found a small storage compartment at the end of the carriage and,after a little rearrangement (throwing everyone else's luggage out into the aisle) , I was able to find a nice secure spot for my bag.

    Right on schedule at 4 pm we were on our way towards Russia. The scenery consisted of trees - mile after mile of forests and very occasionally a house or two. This area really is remote and very lightly inhabited. All the time we knew we were getting closer and closer to Russia.

    It was what happened over the next 90 minutes that was the really interesting part. Firstly a large guy with absolutely no neck at all, wanted to see our passports and make sure that our Russian visas were in order. A short time later a group heavily armed and very serious Finnish immigration police wanted to examine my documents.

    They slowly worked their way through the carriage, until it was my turn. The serious faced official slowly turned over every page. He seemed concerned about something. I was certainly concerned. I was far too old to be sent to a Russian gulag, or even a Finnish one for that matter. He eventually told me that I must have entered Europe illegally,since I had no arrival stamp. This was my worst fear come true.

    Trying to remain calm, I explained to him that I had entered through Warsaw and that he had better have another look. He went back through the pages again and finally found the stamp he was looking for. Thus satisfied he added a new stamp to my passport and handed it back. He seemed a little disappointed that he had missed the chance to make his first arrest of the day.

    The border crossing itself was a little anticlimactic - just a sign, lots of barbed wire and CCTV cameras. We were now in Russia, little wonder that the weather seemed gloomier and the forests looked like they had more weeds than trees. The sides of the railway line were lined with miles of coiled barbed wire and numerous cameras. It was a delightful way to welcome foreign tourists to your country.

    The carriage was then filled with a succession of uniformed Russian officials. There were so many of them that they filled all the standing room in the aisle. Some were dressed like police, while others looked like army generals. It was an impressive show of force. Sweat started to drip from my chin as they worked their way towards me. I started to wonder whether I would be offloaded to the next train to Siberia. To my relief I was eventually awarded the coveted Russian entry stamp, but not before another long and detailed examination of my passport.

    Right on time we rolled into St Petersburg Central Station. Another adventure was about to begin. I wondered whether our driver would be waiting for us. Would we have a hotel to sleep in that night ? It was very reassuring to see a man holding a sign with my name on it outside the station. He even had it spelt correctly. I started to relax.

    We were ushered to a waiting large mini bus and were soon heading towards our hotel. I watched the progress on my GPS, but soon noticed that we were heading in the opposite direction to our allocated hotel. Maybe the driver was a KGB agent and we were being taken to Siberia after all?

    A few minutes later he stopped outside the very impressive Sokos Vasilievsky Hotel and indicated that this is where we would be staying. I was not so sure, but we unloaded our luggage and rolled into the fancy lobby. To my relief the guy at the desk spoke excellent English and was obviously expecting us.

    We were directed to our rooms and discovered them to be far in excess of our expectations. In fact the rooms were enormous, the beds magnificent, the air conditioning was functioning and the bathrooms alone were as big as some of our previous rooms. I even found that my window could be opened - something that many hotels no longer allow you to do. When I looked out my window I found that I looked straight down into a yard filled with broken toilet cisterns. I am not joking, but I am not complaining either. I am very happy with the hotel and my room.

    At 8.30 pm we met to have our first foray into the unfamiliar city. We immediately discovered a new challenge. It is impossible to read most signs, because the alphabet is so different. Since no one speaks English,ordering anything to eat is a complicated matter of pointing and grunting, but somehow we managed.

    The next couple of days will be interesting.
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  • Day26

    The Hermitage Museum

    June 28, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    When I was putting this trip together it seemed like a good idea to add an extension to Helsinki and St Petersburg. At the time I thought it would be a relatively simple matter, however it turned into being something of a nightmare. After starting arrangements with three different Australian Travel Agencies (all of who abandoned the task as being "too hard") I eventually found a travel agency based in Latvia who said they would make the arrangements for us. The problem was that it was difficult (ie nearly impossible) to get any information from them for months at a time. Often phone calls went unanswered and email were ignored. It was certainly a cause of stress.

    About two months prior to our departure the time came to make the full payment for this part of our trip. The stress levels escalated further. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had the fear that we were being fleeced.

    Fortunately it has turned out that none of my fears were warranted. The arrangements have gone almost exactly to plan. The hotel that we were given in Helsinki was great and the Sokos Vasilievsky in St Petersburg was easily the best hotel of our entire trip. It was a wonderful way to finish a memorable adventure.

    This afternoon was our chance to tour the famous Hermitage Museum, one of the three largest museums in the world. Its vast collection of priceless works of art and pieces of antiquity would take a lifetime to see. We only had three hours, so we didn't manage to see quite everything. What we did see was about ten cruise liners worth of passengers all trying to force themselves through the museum at the same time as us. In many places the throng of people actually made the experience quite unpleasant, but that is the price you must pay to view such famous artworks.

    Svetlana led us through the bewildering sequence of massive rooms at a breakneck pace. From time to time we stopped to examine a particular item in greater detail. The Hermitage contains two pieces by Leonardo da Vinci and these were obviously one of the major attractions for the thousands of visitors.

    In 1985 a crazed young man attacked Rembrandt's Danae painting. At the time it was regarded as the most beautiful and valuable piece of art in the entire collection. At first it was thought to be so badly damaged that it could never be repaired. After thirteen years of painstaking repair and restoration, it is now back on display. It is no longer claimed to be the entire work of Rembrandt as some parts had to be completely repainted. It is still a remarkable piece of art, but it is now securely protected by armoured glass.

    By 5 pm we were all absolutely exhausted. It had been a very long day and we were well and truly ready to return to our hotel for a little quietness and rest. In spite of the crush of people, we still considered ourselves fortunate to have had the opportunity to view some of the greatest artworks of all time.

    Tomorrow will be our last full day here, the following day we begin the long journey home.
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  • Day27

    Far from the Madding Crowds

    June 29, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    In case I have not made something clear enough in previous posts, I will say it just once more - I do not like being part of a crowd. I don't like being herded like cattle. I don't like queuing for ages, just to see something, solely because it is supposed to be a tourist highlight. I certainly don't like following some flag carrying tour guide. I have always found the real pleasure in travel comes from unexpected moments in much quieter places. Over the years I have enjoyed amazing, but entirely unplanned, conversations with complete strangers. Most commonly these have occured while walking in parks or while sitting on a bench somewhere.

    After the crowds we had encountered yesterday at the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Hermitage Museum, the last thing I needed today was another crush of people. I desparately wanted somewhere quiet - and I found one.

    On our initial drive from the station to our hotel we had passed the huge military museum. It had an interesting array of artillery and missiles displayed out the front and the place had looked quiet. It looked the sort of place that the tourist buses avoid, in other words, my sort of place.

    I guess I could have saved time by taking either the metro or a taxi, but I have always preferred to explore a city on foot. Even though I was still in a lot of discomfort (ie pain) with my stiff left knee, I hobbled off along the left bank of the Neva, past the two sphinxes (stolen from Egypt) , past the huge tall pirate ship (actually a fake tourist attraction) and onto the museum. I paid my 300 roubles entry fee (about $8) and started wandering the cavernous halls inside. I was almost the only one there, just what I had hoped for.

    The displays covered everything from the medieval ages up to modern times. Although it was interesting to see how military technology had developed, I could not help but think of what a complete and utter waste the whole nature of war really is. After the long walk from the hotel I was feeling in need of a coffee and when I saw the Cafe sign, I decided it was time for a break. Even though I have only been in Russia for three days, I am starting to recognise the Cyrillic characters already and can actually understand quite a few of the common signs.

    In the cafe I was thrilled to find that I was the only customer. I settled down with my latte and started to read more about the murders of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918. I have always been intrigued with the story of Anastasia and the various legends about her escape. The true story really is quite horrific and, no matter how you feel about the excesses of the imperial rulers, no one actually deserves what happened to them.

    After a couple of hours at the museum, I continued my walk to the sprawling Summer Gardens. In many ways they reminded me of the famous Tuileries in Paris. Lots of young couples were taking advantage of the glorious weather to carry out their courtship rituals in the park. Some things are the same the world over and the short summer is obviously the prime time for love.

    I discovered a lovely cafe in a tented marquis and ordered Chicken Kiev. It seemed appropriate to have a Ukrainian specialty while in Russia. It was delicious and modestly priced. Just near the gardens my attention was caught by the onion shaped spires on the impressive Church of the Spilt Blood. I started to walk closer, until I noticed the jam of tourist buses and hundreds of tourists all heading in the same direction. It was even worse than the Hermitage. No church was interesting enough to entice me to go through that again.

    I took a couple of photos from a distance and then headed in the opposite direction. It took some time to walk back to the hotel. When I checked my GPS it registered about 14 km, and that did not include all the walking I had done inside the military museum. It was a bit short of my normal 20 to 25 km, but considering that I was walking with a handicap, I thought it was not a bad effort.

    After a short nap I went out for the final walk of the day - in search of dinner. I found a famous Scottish restaurant, not too away. It was called Macdonalds.

    Tomorrow we begin the long journey home.
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  • Day10

    Murmanks - St. Petersburg

    March 4, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ -9 °C

    Kurzes Update nach langer Fahrt. Wir sind jetzt 1,5 Tage und 1400 km gefahren. Angekommen in St.Petersburg und gespannt auf die Stadt. Uns begleiten Jan und Dirk aus Hamburg. Liebe Grüße nach Deutschland 🇩🇪Read more

  • Day11

    St. Petersburg bei Nacht

    June 25, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Wir unterstützen "Menschen helfen Menschen" - Spenden Sie für die Aktion "Menschen helfen Menschen" der Aachener Zeitung im Rahmen der Baltic Sea Circle Ralley des "Team Afrin" - mehr infos unterhttp://www.teamafrin.de #teamafrin2019 #aachen #menschenhelfenmenschen #balticseacircle2019 #roadtrip #scandinavia #balticsea #travel #reise #charity #nature #superlativeadventureclub #fotografie #ralley #spendenaktion #midsummer #mittsommer #beautifulplacesRead more

  • Day11

    St. Petersburg Bei Nacht

    June 25, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Wir unterstützen "Menschen helfen Menschen" - Spenden Sie für die Aktion "Menschen helfen Menschen" der Aachener Zeitung im Rahmen der Baltic Sea Circle Ralley des "Team Afrin" - mehr infos unterhttp://www.teamafrin.de #teamafrin2019 #aachen #menschenhelfenmenschen #balticseacircle2019 #roadtrip #scandinavia #balticsea #travel #reise #charity #nature #superlativeadventureclub #fotografie #ralley #spendenaktion #midsummer #mittsommer #beautifulplacesRead more

  • Day11

    Jetzt gehen wir was trinken

    June 25, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Wir haben uns ein passendes Outfit besorgt und gehen jetzt mal was trinken.

  • Day11

    St. Petersburg bei Nacht...

    March 5, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ -7 °C

    Nach einem recht ausgiebigen Stadtspaziergang von um und bei 25km gab es noch was zu essen und dann haben wir den Tag entspannt ausklingen lassen....

You might also know this place by the following names:

Novaya Gollandiya, Новая Голландия

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