A Travellerspoint blog

Russia

Jukebox in Siberia

Irkutsk to St Petersburg

rain 11 °C
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Time for a real Russian update - we have been very slack on the blog updates due to laziness, hangovers, tiredness and train travel. Is the excuse good enough? Anyway, onto the story. . . . .

The Trans Siberian Odessy is over. No more train travel for us and we are happy and sad about that. We caught our last train into St Petersburg yesterday. So far our travels in Russia (although short) have revealed a number of things that are alive and well:

- the 80's (love the mullets, keep up the good work team!)
- bad music, may be linked to previous point (heard I Should Be So Lucky on the train the other night - Stephen Winkley requested it)
- huge women
- blokes called Sergei
- unfriendly beauracracy

And we love it!! The accents rock. One point I forgot to mention in our last email is our new found fascination for organised crime - we have watched way too many movies. After our Mission Impossible effort to register our visas we have been very suspicious of. . .well, everything. This was fuelled and encouraged by our Aussie buddy Ben who was also loving it. It got to the point that on returning from dinner with hostel buddies in Irkutsk the three of us lingered in the car park to check out a supicious looking mound - completely convinced it was a body. Too funny, we swore never to speak of the incident again. It wasn't a body by the way.

So our travels through average Siberian cities turned into a finely tuned routine:

- arrive looking like we have gone a few rounds with Kostya Tzyu (spelling??)
- catch a random trolley bus
- get off at a random stop
- check in - sleep
- try and find vegetables to eat
- go to bed
- get up
- look for vegetables (pizza is a vegetable right?)
- catch the train

When we arrived in Novosibirsk we checked into basement hotel with themed rooms. Should have read the warning signs, clearly it was a brothel but we were very happy in our refurbished Egyptian themed room. The spa was pretty fabulous too but of course we couldn't afford it!! We headed into town very hungry and discovered what was soon to be our best friend - Grill Master. Bad Russian fast food chain with really crappy food. We ate very little and then headed off to find sustenance of a liquid variety - this was the beginning of the end! As is the way in the middle of Siberia our location of choice was an Irish Bar with the optional extra of a basement karaoke joint called the Hammer and Sickle. Perfect! The next thing I know I am singing an Elvis song (Bec, you would have been proud!) with my new Russian best friend. It was a slow deterioration but a complete one - we didn't stagger back to the brothel until 1 or 2 am. No disgraceful night is complete without the corresponding hangover - we both had rippers. Travelling reached new lows that morning. We went into a supermarket and bought some bread and coke to save ourselves whilst on our way to Grill Master! We staggered down the street in the pouring icy rain (without rain coats) with cokes and food in hand. It was a pitiful sight. I am surprised that people didn't give us money!!

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Main Square - Novosibirsk

Next stop was Yekateringberg - not much to say about this town except that we stayed in a dreadful hotel without showers and shared our floor with the Russian Basketball Team. Really tall dudes . . . that is the best I can do right now!!

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Church of the Blood - Yekateringberg

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May Day Rally - Yekateringberg

Needless to say we were absolutely stoked to be on the train to Moscow!! We shared our compartment with two Russian fellas who both had moustaches. . .cool. They turned out to be very nice and they shared their fabulous food and vodka with us, bless them. One of them was wearing a leather vest (big fan!) and when he got changed into his tracksuit pants and t-shirt on went the leather vest over the top. We have photos!!!!! Anyway, they were so lovely and they even gave us a large snow globe of Moscow which plays music. We love snow globes . . .

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Sasha and Alex on the way to Moscow

Moscow was fantastic, amazing, striking, beautiful, big. We stayed in a pretty good hostel that came with its own kitten!! We met some very cool people there and had a few great nights just sitting around chatting. One of the best things we did while we were there was a tour of the metro stations. They are amazing but we felt like big train watching nerds. However, for $1 AUD each, it is the cheapest fun to be had in Moscow. The stations were like Museums and double as air raid shelters - handy to know. We have put some photos on the blog so you don't think we are absolutely crazy - it really was great.

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Scenes of Metro in Moscow

Of course we went to Red Square, the Kremlin and so forth. All were really fantastic, just wandering around the city was great.

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St Basils

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Adam in Red square

Our second last day in Moscow we tried to get tickets to the Ice Hockey World Champs - too expensive so we went and sulked and watched it in a bar. We met some very cool Russians who started buying us drinks - I think we all know what happened after that. One of them was the Deputy Editor of a big Russian newspaper (The Kommersant) and seemed to have a bit of money to throw around. We ended up going back to his place for more drinks (as if we needed it) and continued the party. Shortly after we got there he pulled out a big black case and with some reverence showed us the contents. A 25 year old, 25th year anniversay, signature Fender electric guitar.

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Yes, we all played it... yes it was very cool.

The night ended with Adam and I eating chips and Mars Bars in a gutter somewhere in Moscow. Awesome . . . .

The next day, we had to catch the train to St Petersburg. After the initial panic of having lost our tickets (not permanently - we found them) we also realised that we had lost our Trans Siberian Lonely Planet in the festivities of the night before. We still had passports, cameras etc - lucky. Anyway, we finally arrived in St P. It is really beautiful and we are staying in a cool hostel. More to follow on our adventures here - we have another week to go!

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The Bronze Horseman

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Adam on The Neva - St Petersburg

Thank you for the emails, they are great. Will send some more emails over the next few days!

Love Meaghan and Adam (The Trans Siberian Veterans - TSVs)

PS - We didn't find a Juke Box - does karaoke count?

Posted by adamandmeg 03:04 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

Women in Uniform

UB to Irkutsk. . .two nights on a train

sunny 4 °C
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Sdrasvuyte Comrades (bloody hell this language is tough!),

Again, it feels like so many things have happened since we emailed last. Our last couple of days in Mongolia were great. We returned from our Gobi trip so excited and on a big high with another seven days to kill. We finally managed to go to Dave's Place which is a popular watering hole for expats, locals and travellers. We caught up with Tim (Stephen's cousin) and had a disgracefully huge night. Dave played host a bit too well and there were plenty of free beers and people to chat to. If you find yourself in the capital, get down to Dave's Place - it is easy to find, introduce yourself to Dave and have a great night in. Thanks Dave, thanks Tim. We met a lot of English teachers which reignited our job hunt a little. . are we too lazy to find jobs? Maybe. . . .

Anyway, we finished at Dave's at about 2am (hostel curfew was 12. . oops). I was not wearing a watch so could not be held responsible under any circumstances. To get back we had to climb a fence and then wake up some poor guy to let us in. Very shameful . . but not as bad as the hangovers!! We were meant to head to Terelj National Park that day but we had to postpone. Anyway, when we finally did get to Terelj it was worth the effort. It is pretty touristy because of its proximity to Ulaan Baatar but very beautiful. We camped (yep, bloody freezing, complete madness, got snowed on, loved it) and went horseriding on very angry Mongolian horses. Great fun and beautiful scenery. Tips for young players - don't camp on frozen ground. It is bad for tent pegs and it is quite chilly.

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Terelj Campsite

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Visitors at Terelj

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Horse Riding

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Cold morning

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Megs at Terelj

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Our feet

We returned to UB spent one more night mentally preparing ourselves for two nights on the train and a ridiculously long border crossing. It all turned out well - the train was not full and we had a cabin to ourselves. Of course this turned into the foreigners party cabin but that was ok. We did get told to stop drinking vodka by one of the scary officials, luckily by that stage we had already polished off the bottle so it was of no consequence.

The border crossing was an epic though. We arrived at the border at about 4 in the morning. Nothing happened. . .at all. . .for six hours. . .we just stayed in bed. At about 10am we did 3 minutes of standard paperwork and left. Then we chugged along for 40 minutes . . .and then stopped for another 5 hours. This is where thousands of women in uniform (scary women in uniform!!) searched all of the train for smuggled goods. Difficult to find though, because those smuggling just redistribute their stores so they don't pay any duty or taxes. Just before the check they were madly rushing around stashing vodka, sandals, fresh produce and everything else you can imagine in other cabins, in the rubbish bin, in the toilets, everywhere. It was hilarious. Adam smuggled some sandals, the evil international man of smuggling mystery. After the search we could get off the train (which was mysteriously only two carriages - we still don't know where the other carriages went!). Our train was joined to two carriages of a prison train - cool. . .we were thinking it might pan out like ConAir or the more popular title "Con Train". Nothing happened.

We arrived in Irkutsk two days later very excited to be in Russia - it was so very different to Mongolia the minute we crossed the border which was great. We felt like we were in Mission Impossible or a James Bond movie . . this is why:

We met our host, Jack, at the train station. He said 'I am Jack, velcome to Siberia. Ve catch the tram'. Then he ignored us on the tram and we thought cool, we are under cover. When we arrived at the poorly signposted pink door of the hostel he said 'You must find Olga. She is at the Angara Hotel. You must see her in the morning. I don't know vat she does. You must pay 200 roubles. Good luck.'

We found Olga, paid her 200 roubles. . .and got our visas registered. Then our message self destructed.

Ok, there are some editorial embellishments in there but that is pretty much how it went. How cool is Russia??

We spent one night in Irkutsk and then headed out to Lake Baikal for two days. It is a beautiful part of the world and it was very exciting to see all of that ice!! As Australians we spent most of our time just looking at the ice, then looking a bit more. After a couple of false starts with the local tourist information agency, we found a winner. We stayed in a really cool little cabin owned by Vasili, who was a cool old Russian bloke who spoke no English. We did some walking and relaxing and took heaps of photos of you guessed it . . .the ice!

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Vasili's Place

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Lake Baikal

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Approaching Storm at Listvyanka - Lake Baikal

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Sunshine - same day

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Crow on frozen Lake Baikal

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Sunset Lake Baikal

We returned to Irkutsk a little tired and maybe a bit hungover (only a little bit) and were thinking that a good sleep would be ideal. But we got talking to a fabulous Aussie fella called Ben who suggested we head out for something to eat. . . .and drink. Next thing we know we are drinking with a couple of locals Vadim and Sergei (Sergei was the dark silent mafia type) and had polished off three quick beers before we knew it. Cured the hangovers that's for sure. Strange place these markets. . .the first time we went there a drunk old bloke stood next to me and after a few suggestive glances and a pat or two on the arm, emptied out his pockets of some serious (but not enough!!) cash hoping to rent or purchase. We moved on pretty quickly.

So ends our Irkutsk adventure. We are heading to Krasnoyarsk, home of Russia's satellite fleet (Adam is a nerd), and a place that Ben informed us is the arse end of the world. Excellent, the time should fly!!!

Posted by adamandmeg 21:07 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

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