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Moscow Shinanagens

The final days of Russia, before we Moscow!


Setting off from our hostel at 12:30am we walked to the the train station. The walk in all honesty was a little disconcerting, the usual hustle and bustle of the noisy St. Petersburg streets was replaced by a eirey quiet. It was a Sunday night, or rather a Monday morning, which may well have added to the lack of people about at that time. However, using the wheels on our backpacks to drag them along, particularly over areas that were cobbled, reverberated off the surrounding buildings. The very few people that were out were either drunk, or appeared to have an alternate motive. However, I may just have been worrying unnecessarily. 

The station wasn't far and once there we looked for the board to see our train time and platform. With everything in Russian cyrillic, it's more of a matter of matching the symbols of our ticket to those corresponding on the departures. Once we had located the platform we set off passed the Russian guards, or maybe police or even army, they all look very similar, back out into the night to find our train. The air lingering over the platforms had a smell like a coal burning train chugging out it's smoke, and I wouldn't rule that out, but once we arrived out our correct platform there hundreds of people waiting outside the train chain smoking cigarettes which potentially could have been leading to the smell. Although this is a country were you can still smoke inside, it was pleasing to know that people were obviously forbidden to smoke on the train, and a mist of cigarette smoke hung over the platform. Finding the platform has been ok, but locating our carriage and beds in the train was a little more confusing as we only a computer print off for conformation for the three of us. We arrived at our carriage 20 mins early only to be told, what we roughly translated as, 'you need to have actual tickets' a bit of a panic started, as we had no idea where to get them from. Smith said 'the train wont leave without us!' which I think I might have worried him by sternly informing him 'it definitely will leave without us!'

The panic was resolved, ironically receiving sound advice for the location of the ticket office from a man that had just demanded money off us, as well as an old lady with no teeth and later while left guarding the bags he walked passed me feeling the walls up and hugging a vending machine, only in Russia!

We had to run for the train in the end, but we made it. I'm not sure what I expected the train to be like, but I wasn't horrified by what I saw so that was a relief! To each section of the areas which you could sleep, there was 6 beds, it was better not to think to much about who had slept there before, and apart from the stale smell of cigarettes chipping away at your sinuses I fell asleep quite quickly, only waking a few times before arriving in Moscow. 

Moscow is technically our last stop in Europe before the Asian leg of the tour, the weather forecast is, and has been poor, but it's a nice hostel, one if the best rated in Russia. 

The first day of sight seeing we headed down to Moscow's Red Square, which has many of the cities most iconic/ famous buildings located on it, particularly St. Basils Cathedral with its onion domes. The weather was wet and didn't aide the photography, we also appear to be in Moscow while something major is going on. However, in true Russian style nobody seems to have a clue what's going on! The whole if the Red Square while we have been here has slowly being filled up with high scaffolding towers and large areas are cordoned off with no real explanation form anyone we have asked.

(We went in one of the most expensive shopping centers I have encountered, if you have some loose change you could even buy a Porsche)

The people that we have met at the hostel feel like what I had expected from this trip, lots of nationalities getting on and mixing with one common goal, as well as a similar direction. In the evening we were informed that different groups of people where heading out for drinks, after a short wait in the common room people's plans started to be shared and in the end a group of 10 of us were arranging a night out together after very little prior exchange. We headed out in our group that sounded like the opening to an elaborate joke! 3 English (us), 2 Scots, a Kiwi, an American, a half Argentinian/Russian, a Parisian and a Parisian Italian. We went to a bar which the two girls from Paris had been to a previous night, which due to it being a Tuesday. Evening wasn't as busy as they had experienced before, but we decided to make the party. After a peruse of the menu we were quickly told that when in Russia, do as the Russians do and drink vodka, and although I'm not a huge fan, I wasn't going to experience Russia without trying their famous tipple. That said I didn't expect us to consume 3 bottles between us, amongst other shots and some champagne which, we were regularly informed by the French girls was an appalling example. The bar soon went from quiet to raucous in a matter of moments and we preceded to reinforce international relations over a common goal. 

The night took it's toll, many souls were left deflated and lifeless the following day, unfortunately Kailey took the brunt, and spend the day in bed poorly, as well a one of the French girls. Me and Smith eventually took a wonder out with Karl the American, who had acquired a posh umbrella from the previous night and headed for the Red Square. We managed a look round the fantastic St. Basils Cathedral, which is a maze of small thickly walled corridors and little rooms with religious icons and carvings. It was a welcome change from some of the churches and cathedrals we have visited previously which tend to share a generic theme of high ceilings throughout, and built in a manor that makes the building shaped like a cross, this is obviously not possible due to the shape of the building, and it's gigot patterned onion domes. There was also a Russian male choir singing, and their voices hauntingly followed you around the Cathedrals narrow undulating passageways. 

The following day we had planned to see the Kremlin, however, in typical Russian style, it was closed off due to what appeared to be some military activity, which we were restricted from seeing by heavily armed guards. There was no explanation on the ticket offices, although there may well have been, but it wasn't apparent as it's all in cyrillic. This was a particular disappointment as we did not have another opportunity to view the Kremlin before we leave! We did however go in Lenin's Mausoleum, where we had to leave all bags and any items we could take photos with at a cloakroom and be quickly ushered around a fairly modern looking stepped pyramid building which contains the embalmed body of Lenin. It was a bizarre place and was heavily guarded by the military. There was little to say about it apart from how strange it felt that his body had become a tourist attraction, and that we seem compelled as humans to be obsessed with the subject of death and morbid things, Lenin himself has said that he wished for no fuss to be made after his death and wish to be buried with his mother in a modest grave.

(Lenin's Mausoleum)

Its strange to think that we have been on the road for a month now and our European leg of the trip is over, but I'm very much looking forward to visiting Asia and in particular our next stop China!

Posted by Christian25 06:18 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow_travel_russia_travelling Comments (0)

St. Petersburg

The totally unique St. Petersburg


St. Petersburg is the biggest city we have visited so far on our trip, luckily though our unique hostel, in is run down shell of an apartment is located centrally, enough so that it has allowed us the opportunity to walk to the places of interest in the city. Thus also allowing us to avoid another run in with the fantastic and ornate yet petrifying subway system. Or even a ride on the trolly buses which are completely new to me and I think the rest of the group too (for those who are not aware, it's a regular bus, but run by electric, via wires suspended above the road much like a tram).

The main museums, palaces and churches of St. Petersburg are located within walking distance of each other, and from our hostel it's about a 30 to 40 min walk to this area. On our first day the focus of our attentions was the world famous Hermitage Museum. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, and contains over 3 million artefacts, of which, only a third are on display at one time. The museum is one of the more expensive tourist attractions in St. Petersburg, but by a stroke of luck we had chose to visit on the first Thursday of the month which happens to be a free entry day. The hermitage is made up of 6 buildings, one of which is the Winter Palace, which is the former residence of Russian emperors. The building itself is massive and has an impressively large square in front of it which only accentuates it's grandeur. The artists work which are contained in the building is that of the most famous in the world. To name a few is almost an injustice to those I can't!



Many of the artist exhibited I have looked at in depth during my studies of art at different levels of my schooling, but a special exhibition being held at the hermitage was of one of my favourite artists Antony Gormley. He is a British artist who is most famous in the U.K. arguably for his 'Angel of the North' which is located Gateshead, England. I was excited that someone I have studied at such depth, who is still alive and working today had a special exhibition of his work on in the most famous art gallery in the world. Especially as the work contained in the Hermitage is generally, if not solely that of artists that have long since died. It's a mark of how prestigious his work now is on a world stage that he should be granted a room to himself for a temporary instalment. His work focuses around his own body and the casts he takes of it, which he uses to create his statues primarily out if iron. This group of statues, were being paralleled to famous marble statues from all over ancient European civilisations. When viewed close up the works were just blocks of iron jumbled together, but viewed from a distance they offered a different angle at looking at the human form, almost a pixellated view of a person, it was very impressive.


The following day we went and visited the fort of St Peter and Paul, which was built by Peter the Great, due to the main tourist season being over, areas where being repaired, but it was interesting to look around and to also get up close to the cathedral in the grounds, The Peter and Paul Cathedral. This is quite a landmark across St. Petersburg due to it very tall golden spire.


(Russia can be a bit bizarre at times!)

Another point of interest in St. Petersburg is The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (also known as the Church of the Resurrection). It is is built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in his memory, by his son Alexander III. the work started in 1883, but it wasn't completed until 1907. The building has several individual onion domes, some brightly coloured and some golden. The onion domes are quite a common sight on Russian architecture, but these were particularly impressive!


We also took a look around the museum of the defence and siege of Leningrad. It's not a huge museum and is relatively tucked away. Unfortunately the vast majority of the exhibits are in Russian, with very little explanation in English, but there was enough information offered to get an idea of the efforts that the people of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) went to during the second world war. Hitler wanted to capture Leningrad due to it's location on the Baltic sea to help with the Nazi navel fleet. The city was under siege for 900 days, during which it revived constant bombardment. The museum also focused on the people who were living in the city, particularly artists who documented the events in paintings and drawings, which offers a universal picture of the horrors the experienced. One if hitlers tactics was to starve the city of resources and supplies. Many civilians died due to malnutrition and the harsh winters experienced in this area of the world. It was a truly fascinating place, and a period of history which I naively new little about!

The next leg of our journey will be taking us to Moscow, we will be travelling there via a sleeper train. I have heard many horror stories about sleeper trains from all over the world, I'm just hoping it's not too shabby and we can actually get some rest!

Posted by Christian25 08:52 Archived in Russia Tagged st.petersburg_russia_travel Comments (0)

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