Saturday, 27 April 2013

Our Transiberian adventure Part 4: Irkusk and Lake Baikal

After spending 4 nights on a train we were very keen to get our feet on solid ground for longer than 20 minutes.Irkutsk, at first glance looked like a complete dump. Luckily we drove out to Lake Baikal which was absolutely stunning. The lake was nearly completely frozen and there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground.

We spent the day walking around, having a snowball fight and getting a chair lift up the top of a mountain. In the evening we had a sauna and were whipped with birch trees by our honcho, Dimitri (yes really!!)

The following day we mainly pottered about whilst the others went ice diving/ dog sledding. It was a very relaxing place and the scenery was just stunning. Our final adventure was to charter a hovercraft and go on an adventure on the lake!!

On our last day we headed back to Irkusk and wandered about. The highlight was a yuri gagarin statue, which just seemed to be there randomly- he's not from Irkusk!!

By the end I think everyone in the group was ready to leave Russia and were excited about Mongolia!!!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Our Transiberian adventure Part 3: a verrry long train journey

The Transiberian took 5 days and 4 nights. In part an endurance test and in part a great adventure.We said goodbye to Moscow with a couple of bottles of beer and settled down to many games of cards, lots of kindle time and some instant noodles. It was great to see the countryside change and  see how some people really do live in the middle of nowhere!!

Having no access to the news for 4 days we were making many jokes that someone famous would have died/a massive change somewhere. It turns out that we were in the middle of Siberia when Thatcher finally kicked the (iron) bucket-very surreal.

At points it felt really warm that so much so we were wearing flip flops- in Siberia as we got off to try and get water/noodles/random Russian snacks.

This was the most disgusting add water meal ever!!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Our Transiberian adventure part 2: Moscow

After an overnight train to Moscow we arrived feeling ready to go... We went for breakfast and realised quite why Moscow is known as the most expensive city in the world!!!

Our guide was called Tatiana and was currently on her gap year. She took us round some of the lesser known sights and things she felt that we ought to see. This included a supermarket that was built ridiculously splendidly and various statues of Russians (they like Pushkin alot- he was the first Russian to write in Russian, not French)



In the afternoon we headed to a big market where we picked up a russian doll of all the leaders of Russia since the last Tsar. After a bit of bargaining we got it for a fairly good price!!As it was so cold Tatiana suggested us going to the Bread museum (yup I know) for a "gingerbread masterclass." This turned out to be a class for children which involved shaping the gingerbread and putting some icing on. We made the best of it and I made a gingerbread Matrushka doll and Adam made Lenin which the ladies loved...




We headed to Gorky park to finish the day where we saw a witches house and I pretended to be a Kosmonaut....



The next day we headed to the Kremlin. It was pretty impressive and contained several churches. Unfortunately our camera died at this point so we didn't get many photos. We plan to get some from our fellow traveller Monique!!



After this we went to Red square and to St Basil's cathedral, which was absolutely stunning. I know it sounds silly but you really felt like you were in Russia with that as the backdrop!!!
374509_10200506766485597_2050614280_n.jpgUnfortunately we didn't get to see Lenin as the whole mausoleum was covered up. The rumour in Moscow is that there are 2 Lenins so at least 1 has to be waxwork. In our opinion it sounds like if there are 2 then both are!!!

Next stop, Irkutz

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Our Transiberian adventure Part 1: St Petersburg

We arrived in St Petersburg around 5pm. After getting through big queues to get our visas stamped we muddled through the dodgy taxi drivers (rip off merchants) to get the bus. Luckily there was a really nice guy on the bus who pointed us the way to the metro station after the bus stopped, so we made our way to the hostel!

Our first day in St Petersburg was spent wandering up the long road, Nevsky Prospect. It's filled with different boutiques, cafes and shops and about 5km from end to end. Our personal favourites were the Singer cafe and a very posh food hall.


The Singer cafe and book shop were situated in the old headquarters of the Singer sewing machine company. It made lovely coffee and had great views across the street to Kasan Cathedral opposite.

Our other favoured shop was the old and beautiful department store. Inside were beautiful food and decorations. We later learnt that it was recently renovated to mirror its appearance in its 1920's heyday.



On our second day we headed over to the Peter and Paul Fortress. This was the original part of St Petersburg and is pretty impressive. In the Cathedral we saw the tombs of all the Tsars since Peter the Great including those of the last Tsar and his family (and 3 servants) killed by the Bolsheviks.



The following day we visited the Winter Palace which was absolutely beautiful. It was crazy to see that the actual building was stunning and we took little notice of the many famous works that were on its walls. I was very excited to see the clock that the Bolsheviks stopped when they took over the palace in the 1917 revolution. Unfortunately we couldn't take a picture!!!


Having heard that the metro system in St Petersburg is pretty spectacular we decided to check it out. In the 50's the Communists built very impressive subway stations as they were meant to celebrate the worker. It beats the London underground by a mile!!




We were then due to finally start our "Vodkatrain" tour and were keen to meet our group and guide. Our group consisted of a total of 5 people: another couple, Rachael & Anna and a solo traveller, Monique. The 3 girls were all from Australia (Adam cracked the usual HMP Australia jokes within about 5 minutes) Our guide was a girl caled Diana, who was a fashion design student. As we'd been in St Petersburg a few days we were quite happy to plod along with the others and get to know them. It was also interesting to learn as much about the city as possible from Diana.

Our highlight in those few days was probably being introduced to the concept of a time cafe. For 2 roubles a minute you could drink as much coffee and eat as many biscuits as your heart desired. Diana took us to a really quirky one which separated into places in a town.

We also visited the Church of Spilled Blood (built on the site of where TsarAlexander II was killed ) but didn't get to go in as it was closed :( It was pretty stunning but were told it was a smaller version of St Basil's in Moscow.

On our last day we took a trip outside the city to the Summer Palace, where the Tsar would spend the summer, funnily enough. It was beautiful and I imagine amazing when a bit warmer. We were reminded of the Palace of Versailles in France.


We found that Russian people were generally quite abrupt and could seem rude, however once you got to know them (as we did Diana) they were kind people. Our other favourite Russian was staying in our hostel. He had many opinions on our trip. When told we planned to go scuba diving in Thailand he said if we got into trouble our instructor would abandon us, he then stated matter of factly (use your best Russian accent here Ben): "if you go scuba diving, you will die." He also had very strong opinions about our visit to Papua New Guinea. His thoughts can be summed up as "Papua New Guinea,verrry dangerous. Bring a gun or you will die." Our other non death related conversation resolved around food. He made us eat really weird raw fish (which were rank) and we gave him really nice ham. He was talking about horse meat and said "when I eat horse I am lucky" Adam laughed and he said "this is no joke." Bit awkward!!

Next stop Moscow (with an overnight train in between!!)