A Travellerspoint blog

Russia

St. Petersburg

An End and a Beginning

St. Petersburg.

Finally some happy people cruising the streets. After a somewhat disappointing host in Moscow, the spirits around the gang had been hit hard. Some frays in the rich tapestry that had been woven showed some signs of unravelling, which is inevitable when nine people are living and moving and snoring in close proximity to each other for 21 odd days.

But Moscow still had some incredible sights. Red Square, Kremlin, were obvious big ticket numbers and of course our old friend St. Basil's. I was a bit disappointed that Russia's patron saint of herbs, St. Dill, did not have an impressive edifice in his honour. However, his permeating fragrant flavour was celebrated liberally in daily life, so who is the real winner?

After hitting the pavement hard, it was a final overnight train to St. Petersburg. For mine, this is where it's at in Russia. Canals, Hermitage, Church of the Saviour on Blood, St. Isaacs. The vibe was a little more chilled as well, whilst still predominately expressionless mannequins devoid of emotion was the default Russian way, the locals would engage with you a bit more here. Some also appeared happy to be at work. Some brilliant primo bohemian joints were to be found as well. Perhaps it was the heads up from our local lass that helped. A little bit of the Brunswick/Fitzroy vibe was welcome at this stage. We had hit upon a good run of food as well. After Emma and I demolished some ribs and burgers with craft beer in Moscow, I was happy to eat at an equally sweet burger joint close to our digs. The local drops were a little less watered down as well.

A big night was had on our penultimate night as a Family unit. We hit upon a sports bar, after a final spot of herding cats, we managed to seat ourselves and the drinks began. 3.5L of beer for about AU$18 seemed like a reasonable deal. So too were cheap shots. A round of Absinthe was had. Food orders place, and for once everyone's meal was delivered under 3 hours. The method of food delivery appeared to be whenever the chef decided he/she wanted to cook it, not when it was ordered and certainly not all the meals on a single table at the same time. But that's just the way.

The Hermitage is nuts. The prevailing joke is it takes 3 years to see everything. that didn't stop us cracking it open in 1.5hrs though. Apparently there is a Rembrandt or some such other famous painting that is a major drawcard. Some of the team were a bit disappointed to find out that it had been replaced by 70,000 people taking photos of themselves in front of it. Which also seemed to be the correct response when seeing newlyweds having their photos taken, why would you take a photo of someone else's wedding. Emma and I tried to appear in as many of these photos as possible. Not the actual wedding photos. Emma also spotted some people filming the virtual tour inside Saviour of the Blood. Whilst all around them there was a surprisingly realistic actual physical representation of the actual Church, complete with all of the space-time continuum and having the distinct advantage of been reality. Whoever invented people should have tried to make them a little less idiotic.

Now I find myself kicking back at the airport awaiting my flight to Munich. The first change in my plans is underway. At one stage on the tour, Dan and Sarah suggested joining them in Krakow. So I am. Having watched 2 games of the RWC huddled around my laptop, scoring a pair of All Blacks shorty shorts, it seems us Kiwis better stick together. By a strange twist of fate, Sarah and Dan left the day earlier and Sarah dropped her necklace under her bed. Thanks to a quick message, I was able to find it and now can deliver it in person. Flight to Munich turns into a flight to Frankfurt, then onto Krakow. Should be cool. Then it's Amsterdam bound on the 29th, a catch up with Emma from the tour and then time to pay homage to the gods of Metal.

The rain has started to fall in St. Petersburg this morning. Luckily it has been a pretty good run, not too cold and clear sunny days. Looks like the Divine Canopy may be required once more. We only passed through a small patch of snow somewhere between Siberia and the Urals. Perhaps I will see it again?

Farewell Russia, I may miss your Birch trees eventually.

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Posted by kidd1200 22:16 Archived in Russia Comments (3)

Moscow

It's an early 4am arrival in Moscow. We just pulled up stumps in our Hostel. Current time approximately 5:30.

It would appear we just endured a mammoth stint of about 117hrs on the train. Currently this time is been vigoursly debated, as there were portions of time travel, multiple time zone changes........and as we have just survived what felt like a prison sentence, finally, a few strands of straw are about to break our collective camels back. However, the friendly staff have just thrown on a bit of movie. That old standby, pretty much a universally agreed upon absolute corker, The Shawshank Redemption. Good morning Tim Robbins.

Our local contact will be back at 10am. There was a lot of talk on board the old rattling bird cage of hitting the showers and freshening up. It would appear the motivation, along with most other emotions and feelings have dissipated during the long ride to freedom. Personally I am a shell of my former self. At one stage, I think I was awake for about 17hrs straight and had about 8hrs broken sleep in a 36hr period. I cannot be sure. Looking out the window at the almost constant passing of Birch trees, in various states of tree like behaviour, some straight, others less straight, the occasional yellow, red and green hued foliage, was like looking out of a window that revealed reality but with that strange twist of otherness. In short, it was a definite portal. Emma and I woke early one morning, hungover and essentially stream of consciousness thoughts spewed forth in a diarrhoetic diatribe for a few hours. We passed through the looking glass.

We passed through Siberia, snow drifts were gently falling to their final resting place as we barrelled along in our tin can. Birch trees made an appearance, not for the last time, in fact if I see another Birch, chances are I will don a flannel top and start chopping it done. Siberia gave way to the Uralls at some stage. Birch again. We had a series of long stops, which were greeted with a sense of well deserved freedom. The little things become a source of nourishment. To walk in a straight line that doesn't sway constantly is a divine experience. Every meal was stretched out in the longest possible way, to eat away those long minutes, preparation of them was a dramatic stage play. The art of making satchet coffee was perfected. All the time Birch trees looked on. Passive, immutable, constant.

Small towns scattered along the line were made of wood and assembled in a rickity manner not seen since Hansel and Gretel went a wondering. Abandoned factories and remmenants of industrie would arise on the horizon like extraterestial giants. Power plants. Watchtowers. The occasional Birch every 20cm. The sky was big. Glorious sunsets seemed to stretched over vast unbroken tracts of Birch. Mornings were frosty. But the day warmed quickly. It seemed Russian have a phobia to cool air. The train cabins were constantly deprived of fresh air, as the attendants and other berth occupants would close the windows whenever we opened them. They clearly preferred stuffy, smelly, stale strongly malodorous stagnant air. It was a veritable sauna on wheels.

Hence the Redemption is lifting our spirits. Popcorn has just been delivered.

Well I'm done. A shower beckons. So does Mr Dufresne. Moscow sights today. Probably an Irish Pub this evening to watch the All Blacks. At one stage I was donned in All Blacks gear, the train did weird things to us all. Next post I may get back to Mongolia, or Lake Baikal, but probably not.

Birch. Thy name is hell.

Posted by kidd1200 20:31 Archived in Russia Comments (6)

Moscow Bound

Alright, this entry will be out of sync because I need to get it out whilst the memories are still fresh.

We departed the idealic lakeside community of Litsyvenaka after talking an early morning swim in lake Baikal. Emma, Sarah, Dan, Karen and I headed down to the lake at 8am, outside temperature was a positively balmy 4 degrees, whilst the lake was a scolding 9 degrees. The team were in and out of the lake in about 2 minutes. That was the total time for all of us to de robe, brace ourselves, stumble in, exclaim various cries of pain, run out and scramble our clothes back on. A brisk walk back to the hostel, where a warm shower awaited us all.

Leaving for the trip back to Irkutsk, the obligatory stop at the supermarket was done to gather supplies for our 4 night train trip to Moscow. We were now well drilled in suitable supplies to gather. Shopping teams were formed, communal bulk items were reasonably distributed, 30 litres of water was collected, Emma and I made a prescient purchase of some party supplies. Our initial reasoning was it would be fun to have a party night and surprise the gang with the cheapest table wine we could secure. A 4$AUD bottle was purchased.

In Irkutsk, Roman our Honcho for this stop, attempted to hook up some of the members with SIM cards. This was a frustrating and ultimately vaguely successful endeavour. Not sure about the current status of this foray. A bit of retail therapy was had, H&M experienced a momentary surge in consumer confidence. Ran into Veronica and Jacob from the UK randomly. We first met them in Mongolia over a few bottles of Vodka in our Ger camp. We had ran into them periodically since. Emma shared a berth with them from Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk. We were well ready for this train ride.

Marshalled at the station, we had enough gear to attempt an unsupported trek from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to Guatemala. Somehow this gear was stashed into our berths, and sleeping arrangements settled. It was to be, Karen, Haley, Kapil and Raesh in one berth as they were all sharing food. Emma, Blair and I in another, our fellow cabin member was a serious individual who Blair determined was a Russian Colonel. He declined to shake Emma's hand, so we decided to play it straight and disturb him as little as possible. Dan and Sarah were in the final berth with a Russian couple, the wife turned out to be an English teacher, so all in all cabin life had started with not too much foreseeable pain.

The dinning cart was the destination after a quick bowl of noodles. This cart looked like a throwback to a 50's American dinner. Except with a nice Russian twist and some surly looking attendants. A few rounds were had, then we started a disjointed conversation with an ample women who was sitting next to us. Broken attempts at translation elucidated that she was possibly from Ukraine however this was later confirmed to be Belarus. She had lost some children, which unfortunately seemed an all to common situation in these parts, as both the owner and helper man at the guest house at Lake Baikal had lost children. We tried to avoid the subject of family. I tried to drop some Spanish on her, causing derision and laughter from Emma. I mean why the hell would a Ukrainian/ Belarussian know Spanish? Alcohol may have been affecting my judgement. Then we hit the jackpot. Someone discovered that it was her birthday.

Yep. What are the odds that we run into a birthday girl on board. Emma and I scrambled back to our cabin, dug out our party hats and whistles and headed back. Our friendly carriage attendant, who had been pushing souvenirs and candy on us like a crack dealer, intercepted us en route. Having learnt to keep these keepers of bathroom keys on side, we showed her our supplies. Some fun was had. A few selfies were taken. Emma had cracked some big laughs from this knee high boot wearing, hairspray hungry, domineering, magnificent Russian woman. She was well and truly on our side. We moved on.

To the dinning cart, where our birthday girl awaited. We burst in, hats on, party whistles singing. Reader, she was almost moved to tears. We distributed the hats and all sang happy birthday to her. Never has happiness being writ larger on a lonely women’s face than in that moment. The beam lit up her face like a giant neon Justin Beiber billboard in Times Square.

The only downside to this whole encounter was she was a bit handsy and playful. So whenever a guy walked past her she would whack his butt, I had the pleasure (?) of this myself. Emma was the recipient of some very enthusiastic hugs, at one stage was lost in her ample bosom and we had to send in some miners to rescue her from deep within the fissures.

So, it was a good start to the trip. I woke up this morning, and not wanting to disturb the Colonel, have been waiting to write this for a few hours. Now the day is under way, will tend to creating some fingerless gloves out of actual gloves, eat some breakfast.............who knows what will be the next adventure.

As the Spanish say,

Bonjour!

Posted by kidd1200 19:16 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

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