A Travellerspoint blog

Lake Baikal

"This is amazing, but I thought there would have been snow" Not said by me!

sunny 22 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

With joy we departed the train and met our new honcho arthur. You will need to see a picture but arthur had an military dress style, with heavily accented english and a don't give a shit attitude, we consequently named him Magivyer. arthur got us onto a bright yellow bus to take us an hour journey from Irkutsk to Lake Baikal, the worlds deepest freshwater lake of which it also holds 20% of the worlds unfrozen surface freshwater. We had to stop for registration first, in which we handed over our passports and 250 rubbles and arthur disappeared off the bus for 15 minutes. Finally after this silly bit of corrupt buerocracy we were on our way through forest to the Lake. We arrived at our beautiful guesthouse that sat in a little valley looking down over the lake, it was gorgeous and peaceful and beautifully sunny so after chilling for half an hour or so and some people taking some terrible but much needed showers we had breakfast in the restaurant and then headed out for a walk guided by arthur. arthur isn't exactly clear with plans or directions, perhaps just a cultural and language lost in translation but it did become a very frustrating thing and we got our first taste of it just trying to organise when to go walking. The walk he took us on was pretty amazing though. We went down to a little pebble beach on the shore and then up through the colourful forest on a good 20 minute hike to a look out point. Bron and Manu bailed on the walk as soon as it got steep and it was absolutely their loss. The view from the top was stunning, you could see the 60km across the lake to the mountains on the other side, and all around was forest filled with greens, yellows, oranges and reds. Autumn in all its glory. It was a beautiful sunny still day and made sitting up the top amazing. This is definitely not the image of Siberia that I had. After all the obligatory photos we went to another lookout point just slightly further where there is an old rundown radio tower and Roel and arthur decided to slip through the fence and climb it to get up even higher. We came down eventually, I with sore knees and then frustratingly tried to work out what we were doing next. arthur wanted us to go on a ferry ride and have a picnic on the other side and so we did (although 4 people went back and did their own thing, much to arthur's confusion). We grabbed some meats, cheese and breads from the tiny mini-market and walked for a good 40 minutes to an hour along the water front to the ferry. At the ferry arthur found out there was no more ferries as it was too late in the day (he's only new at this honcho thing and I believe still hasn't worked out timings) so instead we sat on the pier in the sun and had our picnic which was actually really beautiful and we got to watch Steve jump into the cold lake for a swim. Crazy!
Back at the hostel we chilled out for a little while others went to dinner and then late that night Steve, Roel, Hannah and I had a banya with arthur. A banya takes many steps:
1. a cup of blackberry leaves tea in a mildly warm room
2. go into the next wash room to acclimatise
3. sit in the dry sauna
4. when it is too hot you go back into the wash room to get a bucket of cold water thrown on you to cool down and then jump right back into the sauna (if there is an outdoor pool people jump into that)
5. after a few goes of this you add water to the hot rocks and make the steam sauna
6. you lay down in the sauna and are slapped with birch branches and leaves, first on you back and then on your front.
7. you continue to sit in the sauna and repeat any or all of the above processes
8. go back into the first room and drink tea
9. repeat all if you want, or like us, have a shower and go to bed!
It was quite an experience that at first I was very apprenhensive about but was actually quite enjoyable and we wanted but weren't able to do the next night.

The next morning after a brilliant sleep and a breakfast of strange porridge, we went down to the local shop to buy some food for today's picnic. We took a boat trip for 1.5hr along the lake, with many people, myself included falling asleep in the sun on the journey. It was stunning with the hills along the lake covered in colourful trees. No tacky developments in site. We pulled in at a remote little beach and picnic spot and 5 of us and arthur set up a camp fire to cook rissoles for some burgers! (others couldn't be bothered and had bought premade stuff and the vegie's in the group had sandwiches) It was such a beautiful little spot and once again an overwhelming surreal feeling that i'm on a remote beach on lake Baikal in Siberia having a bbq. After our amazing lunch, Renee, Steve, Roel and arthur braved the cold water and rocky surface to go for a dip. It couldn't really be classified as a swim, but more just an immersion in the cold water.
We caught the boat back to listvyanka for another 30 minutes, spending the time chatting and looking out at the beautiful landscape. Back at the hostel, we chilled out on the balcony of our room, enjoying the silence and stunning landscape.
Roel, Steve, arthur and I then went on a hike back up to the radio tower so we could climb it and catch the sunset. It was really enjoyable and absolutely stunning seeing the view from the tower but logic kept me from going up too high on the rusted tower whereas the boys climbed up another 15 metres above me. Eventually we came down and walked back down through the forest to get dinner at the (only?) restaurant in town. We had dinner of uzebekistani meat pie and plov sitting out over the water, such a beautiful and calming thing. This place has been such a nice change from the chaos of the russian cities.

Lake Baikal, Siberia

Lake Baikal, Siberia


Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal

yoga overlooking Lake Baikal

yoga overlooking Lake Baikal

overlooking Lake Baikal

overlooking Lake Baikal

boat trip on lake Baikal

boat trip on lake Baikal

The boat moored on Lake Baikal

The boat moored on Lake Baikal

Steve, Roel and Artur climbing the radio tower

Steve, Roel and Artur climbing the radio tower

Steve, Roel and I on the radio tower

Steve, Roel and I on the radio tower

Posted by awowchuk 08:49 Archived in Russia Tagged lake baikal Comments (0)

The train to Irkutsk

4 nights, 5 days on a train across Russia

sunny 20 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

We stepped onto the train and realised it was no where near the standard of the St Pete's- Moscow train and this was to be our home for the next 4 nights and 5193km. Jeez. Everyone paired up very quickly and so it became that Steve and I were stuck with boring Amber and Bron who over the course of the 4 days barely left the cabin or let alone talked to each other. It was quite good in hindsight as we could go hang out in either Cherie, Hannah and Manu's cabin who were sharing with Russian's over the course of the journey or in Renee, Chris, Raul and Emma's cabin and when we wanted downtime we could go chill in our cabin.

There are many things about the train:
1. The 2 cabin attendant (babushka's) are absolute fat bitches who gave us many warnings for opening the windows, for making noise during the day, for hanging out in the cabin, for getting water on the floor, who locked the toilets just to annoy us etc etc
2. you need to be flexible and limber to spend all day climbing up and down from the top bunk
3. once your bag is under the bunk or up above over the door in storage, do not bother getting it out again
4. take your own toilet paper and block your nose when going to the bathroom, or just be like me with a terrible sense of smell.
5. be strategic with your toilet visits as the babushka's lock the bathrooms 10 minutes before a stop, during the stop and for 10 minutes after the stop
6. there are only 3 powerpoints in the train and they are painfully slow so make sure everything is charged before departure
7. you will never go hungry because at the stops babushka's and people hang around the carriage door to sell their goods of fruits, vegetables, drinks, stuffed toys etc and if there is no babushka's then their is normally a little shop to processed food or drinks from.
8. jumping 5hrs of timezones on a train is a mess, it totally screws you up
9. Irina the driinks/food trolley attendant is an absolute little flirt.
10. Fresh air is amazing

Day 1 basically consisted of us getting into our cabins and getting comfy then getting used to the belief that we were going to be spending the next 4 nights on here. The train stops many many times during our trip, and we got given schedules of where we were stopping and how for how long, some were only a minute others upto half an hour. We hung out in the corridors lots, we got off at the stops when there was time and saw and took pictures of all the crazy things people were selling, we napped, played dice, watched the forrested landscape go by, hassled and argued to get the windows open to get some fresh air into the cabin, Steve and I practiced our russian counting by counting bed numbers, got used to eating making sandwiches or noodles in our small little cabins and of course drank a little bit of vodka.
Night one after a dinner of noodles, Steve and I joined Chris and Raul in doing exercises. Raul has been religious in doing push-ups every night and now that we are on the train I was definitely keen to join in. Afterward we joined into Renee, Chris, Emma and Raul cabin to watch a movie in their cabin and we strategically picked a (terrible) movie full of Moscow scenery although it was all being blown up by aliens! We had to go into our cabin so we wouldn't make too much noise or the babushka would come out and yell at us.

Day 2 consisted of everything pretty much the same as day 1. I had breakfast of porridge (the train supplies hot water) and honey and then set about watching the scenery go by, hanging around in the cabins chatting, playing games, getting off at the stops to get some fresh air, eating sandwiches for lunch. In the afternoon though a young student girl got on in Cherie, Hannah and Manu's cabin while I was in there and I then spent the next 3 hours being taught russian. It was so fascinating and I was incredibly eager but it was mentally exhausting particularly by a girl who doesn't have fantastic hours but I did learn the basic prinicple of Russian. It is like french with I, you, he, she, they, it, we, you plural and then the verb ending is dictated by these. So once you learn the word you should be able to follow the rule. I tried to write down as much as I could, but we'll see how I go. I definitely want to attempt to learn more russian one day, even though it serves no purpose whatsoever. I had to leave after 3 hours as I couldn't take in anymore and it was time for noodles and instant mash dinner!
Once again we did our push up routine, increasing the number by one each day and also we added in some planks and crunches and sitting against the wall. We also got our 4th warning from the cabin babushka for making too much noise and putting the windows down again! Seriously you think we weren't paying passengers. It was also time again for another movie, this time Mission Impossible 4 as it starts in Moscow with the Kremlin blowing up!

Day 3 started very late as we had jumped timezones over night passing through the Ural mountains and offically leaving Europe behind. So when waking up at 9 it was actually 11 and coming upto lunchtime. This through a few of us out, including myself for the day. We had a much quieter day today, I spent most of the day writing these blogs and then playing cards with people and also getting off at the stations when possible to take pictures wheras Hannah slept for all but an hour of the daylight. We had half an hour at Omsk and so went and visited the statue of Lenin outside the station. The landscape also has started to change a bit along the journey, with less forest and many more open flat plains, often marshland too and then the cities where incredibly rough and industrial. Amber and Bron actually left the cabin for a while to try out the drinks cart which was nice as I finally got to spend a bit of time alone and then chatting with Steve. We had another stop somewhere in the early evening and I spent half an hour trying to get pictures of the locals on the station. In the evening after dinner of tuna sandwiches, we did our exercise routine and tonight we were much better at avoiding the wrath of the babushka's. Many situp and pushups later we played an extensive game of poker which was lots of fun, I won only as Steve and I were a team and he knew what he was doing!

On Day 4 I woke really early local time after only a few hours sleep, the beds are becoming more and more uncomfortable the longer you are forced on them. I got up and hung out in the corridor for a few hours charging things and stretching. I am really looking forward to do some physical exercise. After watching the view for a while and getting very cold, I went back to sleep and didn't get up again until lunch time and still I was on the second person up. The changing of timezones is really getting to everyone. The rest of the daylight was spent hanging out, taking pictures at the stops, eating, chatting with russians and others on the train and then drinking vodka to celebrate our last day on the train!

Day 5 and I woke up with a horrendous hangover and unfortunetely today we had to be up early as we were FINALLY getting off the train. After getting ourselves prepared most of us hung out in the corridor watching the last hour of train go by! It was a sad relief to finally pull into Irkutsk and get off the train!

All our gear and food waiting at Moscow station

All our gear and food waiting at Moscow station

Outside the train at one of the stops

Outside the train at one of the stops

The view from the train somewhere along the 5193km

The view from the train somewhere along the 5193km

People selling things on the train station

People selling things on the train station

Steve and I looking pretty feral in our cabin

Steve and I looking pretty feral in our cabin

Playing dice in the cabin

Playing dice in the cabin

the toilet lady at a train station

the toilet lady at a train station

view from the train

view from the train

irina the food trolley girl

irina the food trolley girl

one of the train passengers

one of the train passengers

Roel, Steve and Renee keeping themselves entertained at a train stop

Roel, Steve and Renee keeping themselves entertained at a train stop

Babushka selling on the station

Babushka selling on the station

one of our train babushkas

one of our train babushkas

Posted by awowchuk 19:42 Archived in Russia Tagged train Comments (0)

Moscow

more ceilings and churches in the Moskoba

sunny 20 °C

I had one of the best sleeps ever on the train to Moscow, I was woken up by the cabin attendant 10 minutes before arrival and I had to wake my little cabin up. We were absolutely out to the world, the train was the best sleeping drug ever.
We rushed haphazardly off the train and met Anastasia on the platform, she was a tiny smiley middle age russian woman who was to be our honcho in Moscow. She led us through the metro system to our hostel where we were able to have showers before she took us to a bistro restaurant for breakfast. It is so nice being able to have someone who can read and communicate for us! I loved anastasia as she kept saying I looked so Russian and had great pronouncation and I should definitely come back to study to Russian! She knew the way to keep me happy! haha.
After a much needed breakfast she took us via the metro system to a cemetery filled with graves of famous russians, including Boris Yeltsin and she able to explain who a lot of the people were which was interesting and then we visited the monestary next door. I snuck in as a Russian (only foriengers have to pay) and got to walk around the grounds and visit one of the cathedrals were depressingly a funeral was going on. Day 1 in Moscow seemed to have a death theme so far.
After we all gathered again we headed for a stroll to get a beautiful view of the monestry before going to a georgian restaurant for a late lunch. The speciality of the house was these cheese bread things, kind of like a cheese pizza or the one I had, like a cheese pita with an egg on top. Artery clogging deliciousness. We also had some georgian dumplings which were ok, but it was nice sitting down and getting to know each other more. Plus it was great chatting with Anastasia, she was just so smiley!
After lunch we caught the metro again to go check out Moscow from a viewpoint and once we got up there, running up through the bush instead of following the path we realised just how massive Moscow is. It went for ages, with skyscrapers, churches and other buildings dominating the skyline, with the massive Moscow 1980 Olympic Stadium front and centre. It was pretty impressive and while we were there, a man proposed to his girlfriend. After taking in the view we ran bush down along the ski jump to the river where we went on a river cruise for 1.5hr. It was absolutely lovely sitting in the sunshine, Steve and I had a beer, taking in the sits along the river - the Gorski park which runs along one side, Church of our Saviour and most anticipated, the Kremlin. It was a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was seeing the Moscow metro which is one of the most beautiful metro systems in the world. The Communists spent a lot of money on making it a well functioning and beautiful system and so instead of going directly back to the hostel, Emma, Steve, Hannah, Manu and I spent over 2 hours riding the metro all around to see the fabulous stations. Some with stain-glass, others with communist statues celebrating work and war, others with beautiful lighting arrangements on the ceiling but the best of all had the history of Russia depicting in mosaics along the barel vault ceiling surrounded by gilded frames. It was mesmerising. It was really late by the time Emma, Steve and I got back after getting some supermarket dinner but I'm so glad I got to see these stations, no idea when we would have done that otherwise.

Anastasia came and met us nice and early to take us on a tour again today (and once again Amber and Bron didn't join us). We walked through many important squares and visited a gorgeous and expensive food hall before arriving at Red Square. It is called Red Squre not because of the colour of the Kremlin wall but because Red also had a meaning in old russian of beautiful so actually it is the beautiful square. (rectangle!) Steve and I celebrated the moment of actually being in the Red Square by wearing our Russian hats and happily dancing like fools to the beatles 'Back in the USSR'. Anastasia thought we were silly but it was one of those moments when you just don't care! Red Square is huge and unfortunely for us was filled with scaffolding being dismantled from a concert. We walked around to the magnificant St Basil's cathedral with all it's coloured turrets and took more pictures before heading in. Thankfully I was able to sneak in on Raul's fake student card which saved me quite a bit. (Moscow and St Pete's are proving to be quite expensive). Inside was not what anyone expected, normally a cathedral is a cruciform plan with chapels around the outside. This was like 5 tiny little churches, with huge ceilings all grouped together in a highly colourful building. You kind of get lost in the arrangement with the downstairs entry level being more musuem rooms and then upstairs being the out of proportion churches. Each was dedicated to a different saint with the central church being the largest. I actually found the arrangement slightly disappointing and definitely preffered to see the church from the outside, and infinitely preferred the church of the spilled blood in St Pete's more. After we all had finished taking pictures and exploring we moved on to get lunch from inside the famous GUM shopping mall on Red Square. It is a stunning blond stone building with 3 huge atriums connected with bridges and many expensive designer shops. After our bistro lunch we headed over the Kremlin but actually going inside the Kremlin all you get to see is more cathedrals, not Russian political things and so I and a few others opted out. I absolutely have ABC (another bloody church) syndrome and so was quite happy to move on, and so anastasia took us to.... another church! We visited the massive Chuch of Christ our Saviour with its white facade and gold domes. It was another glorious day and thus we were all in shorts and so the boys couldn't actually come inside and Cherie and Renee had to put leggings over while I had to wrap a scarf around my shorts. Inside was massive, the absolute opposite of St Basil's and much more like a traditional church on a cruciform plan. We followed the path around and found that there was a special event going on, with an icon from the 12th century on display in the centre and so the only way out was to join the queue and be blessed, and after trying to find another way out, we did. It was such a beautiful space, I felt ok pretending to be religious so I could see it!
Afterwards walked over the river passing many bridal couples having their photos to a sculpture park on the other side where there was a collection of lovely scultpures and also old communist scultptures of Lenin, Stalin and other figures that had to be removed from their places but were not destroyed. It was a very strange place and while here Anastasia told us fascinating stories of life when the USSR collapsed and how hard it was for several years afterwards, being on food rations and having no work. You hear all about the politics and the leaders surrounding the collapse but not very much about what the ordinary people went through.
By now we were quite buggered and so made our way back to the hostel to rest, to meet up with everyone else and to get ready as tonight we were going to the Esperanze, the ballet inside the Kremlin. It was so nice to get all dressed up and go out. Steve Cherie and I headed out first as we wanted to see the Bolshoy theatre before meeting everyone (but not Amber and Bron) outside the Kremlin.
We headed into the absolutely massive theatre and made our way up to the balcony. Anastasia had managed to get us brilliant seats on the edge of the balcony for about $11. It was such a surreal moment. I'm actually seeing ballet inside the Kremlin in Moscow. It's moment's like these that make Sydney feel soooooo far away. I didn't really know anything of the story and it took quite a while to pick it up but it was really enjoyable. Pity almost all of us had a hard time shaking the inclination to fall asleep while watching it. The story as opposed to the disney version was very sad with basically everyone dying, but the ballet (and contemporary dance which was thrown in) was fantastic and really made me wish I could dance like that! Once it finished several hours later we went and had a look at Red Square and St Basil's cathedral by night, which was even more beautiful that by day and then a few of us headed around to get a drink to celebrate the end of a lovely night and a lovely time in Moscow and St Petersburg.

The next day was the big one we had been waiting for. Today we started the Trans-Siberian train to Irkutsk. This train would take 5 days, - 4 nights and 3 full days. Anastasia came to meet us at the hostel and once we were all ready took us via the metro to the train station where in tag teams we visited the supermarket to stock up on food (and vodka) for the train. Once that was done and we had more than we could carry it was time to say goodbye to smiley Anastasia and leave Europe.

Boris Yeltsin's grave

Boris Yeltsin's grave

Steve, Roel and I overlooking Moscow

Steve, Roel and I overlooking Moscow

River cruise in Moscow

River cruise in Moscow

Metro Stations Moscow

Metro Stations Moscow

Moscow metro stations

Moscow metro stations

Red Square

Red Square

Church of our Saviour

Church of our Saviour

In the Fallen statues park

In the Fallen statues park

Outside the bolshoi on our way to the ballet

Outside the bolshoi on our way to the ballet

Inside the Kremlin theatre

Inside the Kremlin theatre

St Basil's Cathedral at night

St Basil's Cathedral at night

Posted by awowchuk 05:01 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow Comments (0)

St Petersburg

Ceilings and fountains!

sunny 24 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

I was shattered before getting the bus to Russia, I had sleep but definitely not enough. I made my way, once again looking like a pack horse to the bus station and bordered the empty bus to St Petersburg. I was the only english speaking person on the bus and so thankfully the attendant explained everything that was going on to me as we travelled. I had a sleep on the back seat for the first few hours and then around lunch time we reached Navra which is the border town. It is a town that is 70% russian, and so most signs were in Russian. We first came to the estonian border control where our passports were collected on board (and I attempted to get both of my passports stamped to no avail) and then brought back on 20 minutes later with a stamp. Then we proceeded over the highly fenced bridge over a river, with a russian and estonian castle on either side, each with their flag flying high. We came up to the Russian border control on the other side and the bus was quickly inspected by a guard and our passports sighted then we all got off with all of our luggage and proceeded through immigration, then we waited for a little while as the bus was thoroughly inspected inside and underneath before boarding the bus again where they came and checked our stamps we had just recieved. The whole process took around an hour. Then the bus continued on towards St Petersburg. It was one of the worst roads I have ever been on. The ride was so bumpy and uncomfortable and at that time the attendant chose to serve food. I had to wait ages to actually be able to drink my cup-a-soup! We continued on for a few more hours past flat fields and forest and the most run down little houses and villages. 6 hours (plus an hour time difference) I arrived in St Petersburg.
St Petersburg has been the city I was most excited to visit, I couldn't wait to come to russia and infact I left Estonia one day early so I could have more time in St Petersburg and in hindsight that was a great decision. I love this city and want to move here to learn Russian!
I walked a few kilometres from the bus to my hostel and was very glad to finally put my bags down and know I wouldn't be moving for 6 days. Once I was settled in I went to head out and in the lobby met Nick and Sam, aussies from Manly! Small world. We all together headed out for the first time in St Petersburg and it was bucketing down, yay!
We went to Teremok, a chain fast food restaurant selling russian pancakes and some other weird things, and so the three of us got mightly confused by the menu and made fools of ourselves ordering stuff and then smashed some pancakes. After seconds and waiting for the down pour to pass we headed back to the hostel where we met Steve, another aussie and Piers, the most depressing and scrawny and thus hilarious English man who had come to Russia to meet a girl who met on facebook. After chatting in the common room for a while convincing ourselves we would go out, we finally did, in the pouring rain to a 24hr bistro where all the boys had kebabs and I tried some strange russian lasagne and potatoes (again) and i ended up paying for everyone and then making all my money plus some back. love russian business! We didn't end up goiing out but chatting for ages and then making a run for it back to the hostel in a break from the rain.
My first full day in St Petersburg and while having breakfast with Nick who had invited himselft along eagerly on my sightseeing we met Rory, a short ranga from Wolverhampton England who had been living in moscow as a student civil engineer on assignment in moscow for 2 months. It's just crazy the people you meet on the road. So the 3 of us set out for the Hermitage, which I believe is one of the biggest museum in the world! Once we reached the absolutely gorgeous palace which is the hermitage we watched Rory take pictures with girls dressed up with soldiers for money and then excitedly headed in. It's important to note our early enthusiasm. We had no queues and so quickly got tickets and then headed in. The map let alone the building we were standing in was ridiculously impressive, the collection inside this enormous palace is phenomenal. There is museum works, art pieces and then just the rooms themselves. In total we got through about half the musuem in 4 hours and we walked quickly through lots of this. You could spend day upon days exploring this place. Our first main area was the classical sculptures area which had beautiful sculptures of which many we felt the need to immitate and these were housed in some stunningly beautiful rooms. Such amazing ceilings! I'm getting paid out for the amount of ceiling pictures I have taken!
Many silly pictures later we headed up a gorgeous gilded staircase to the 2nd floor and I almost feel over in excitement. My drop absolutely dropped as we came upon a fantastic exhibition of Santiago Calatrava, one of Spain's and indeed the worlds best architects and bridge designers (and he's an engineer and artist too!). There were replicas of all his built works and then models of unbuilt or non-winning competition schemes and then on top of that many paintings, drawings and scultptures. Absolutely fantastic and thankfully the boys thought it was pretty sweet too so I was able to spend a lot of time exploring (sadly though I couldn't take any photos). After dragging myself from the calatrava exhibit we then headed into the collection of beautiful palace rooms. They are so over the top it is ridiculous and phenomenal all at the same time. Slowly though our enthusiasm was wanning, with Nick the first to start whinging about the rooms. Next we proceeded into the ancient cultures museum area seeing weapons, coffins, mummies etc and by now we had stopped immitating the exhibits and were getting exhausted that we decided not to see any more so we actually didn't even get to the third floor where there is a huge collection of artworks.
We were all starving and so headed out to find some food and after wandering around the streets for a little came across an amazing bistro restaurant on Nevisky prospect (the main street). In Russia, the buffet style is very common and you can get some amazing food and we found this in this little buffet, so after soup, salad and a main - the traditional russian meal we had energy again to go out and see one of Russia's most famous churches - the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood. It is an absolutely stunning church and I think could convert people just through it's beauty. The church and it's colourful turrets sits on a little canal, and then inside every single little bit of its walls are covered in colourful moisacs. I've never seen a church like it!
At night we were joined by Steve and Sam and we headed out to dinner at the same bistro Nick, Rory and I had lunch at. It was just as good the second time around. We hung out chatting for ages before heading out to find a club. We had to ask some russians for directions as the clubs are really spread out across St Petersburg but once we got in we stayed dancing to terrible russian dance/pop for hours! The women in St Petersburg are all immaculately dressed and stunning and the boys had quite a good time being around all these girls! The men on the other hand are all hideous!

The day after was a very slow day, not rising till late morning. Nick and Sam were heading back to Aus, and we also met Cherie, another aussie who was doing vodkatrain so we hung around to say hello and goodbye for a few more hours. Once the boys left Steve, Cherie and I headed out to get a very late lunch from a bistro (another soup, salad and main meal) and then do a little bit of unsuccessful H&M shopping before going on a walk back to the Spilled blood church so they could visit it and then along the riverfront to the Peter the great statue on the largest rock ever moved by humans without the aid of mechanical machinery and then St Isaac's cathedral before going to have dinner at Teremok again and then back to the hostel. I wanted to go out at night but was saving myself for when all the vodkatrain people turned up.

On monday I met two more vodkatrain people, Emma from Manchester and Manu from Munich and so the three of us headed out on a walk around St Petersburg, crossing the gorgeous river and walking along the riverfront to the Peter and Paul fortress. This fortress was where the city started from and inside is the Peter and Paul cathedral where many of the Tsar's were buried including Peter the great and also Nicholas the second the last tsar of Russia whose body, along with his families was buried here in 1998, decades after their murder. Although not the most beautiful church, it was still incredibly interesting as the church space was filled with coffins. We then visited the prison in the fortress and then walked up along the fortress walls with beautiful views back over the river of the Hermitage and other gorgeous buildings. We walked back over the river and through the gorgeous Summer Gardens, a former palace gardens to Nevisky prospect to get some lunch. Russian pancakes again! The pancakes are more like crepes instead of hotcakes and are filled with either savoury or sweet fillings. The also fold them in all different ways depending on the restaurant or the filling. We headed back to the hostel afterwards as it was finally time to meet all the vodkatrain crew.
I actually can't believe I was starting this epic journey, and so 11 of us met around in the common room of the hostel. There was as mentioned before, Steve a teacher from Perth, Cherie, a farmer from outback SA, Emma a managment consultant (whatever that means!) from Manchester, Manu a hostelworker from Munich, then also Raul a teacher from the Netherlands, Hannah a student from London, Renee and Chris a couple from Melbourne who had been living in the UK and were making a long overland journey all the way back home and then Amber and Bron, friends from Victoria who wanted absolutely nothing to do with the group and preferred to spend their time bored in each others company. We also met Victor who was our honcho for St Petersburg. (Honcho being the term for our tour guide in each city, but we get to dictate what we want to do and see). Because I had been in St Pete's for a few days already I was going to do my own thing and this seemed to confuse poor old Victor quite a lot! After checking in we (except bron and amhber) headed out to a restaurant that had to be up there for worst service ever. I was well and truely finished before others had even seen their food and then they included a tip in the price! We then headed to a bar around the corner where Victor left us but I was feeling so horrid, something I ate during the day was causing me no end of grief and so I (and consequently everyone else as they were tired) bailed. I had to go back and sleep it off. So my grand plans of not going out the previous night for tonight instead totally failed. bugger.

Our last full day and Steve, Cherie, Julia (who was from the vodkatrain group who had done it in the opposite direction and were finishing in St Pete's) and I headed out to Peterhof. This palace, which is best described as Versailles for Russia, was a must see for me. We made the hour journey on the metro, through beautiful metro stations and then on a public mini bus to the palace. It took us a while to work out the ticket situation as it was all in Russian but we entered into the most beautiful grounds and spent hours walking around half of the park taking pictures of gorgeous fountains, the baltic sea and beautiful woods. Words and pictures will never do it justice, but it was absolutely lovely. We then, with a bit of confusion made our way inside the palace where we had to buy another ticket. (this place was not cheap at all) and then put on some plastic bags over our shoes to protect the parquetry floors and then we headed into the palace. There was not suppossed to be any photography but i took sneaky hip photos... oh no my camera was on! Every room was lavish and full of splendour, with rich colours in the wall fabrics, furniture and ornaments, stunning wood floors and slendid paintings. Each room was entirely different colour schemes too. We unfortunely had to keep squeezing past russian tour groups and there wasn't any english information about what we were seeing but nonetheless it was beautiful and I'm glad I have seen it. Afterwards we visited the second half of the gardens, wandering through more woods, past more gorgeous fountains to a beautiful large square pool and a promenade along the baltic sea. It was really really beautiful. How many times can I say this and it still won't give any correleation to what it was like! We made perfect timing, making our way back into St Pete's just as the rain came.
At night Cherie, Steve and I cooked some dinner with food from the pathetic mini-market near our hostel. Seriously downtown St Petersburg does not know what a supermarket is. We headed out later with Cory and Matt who had been on the vodkatrain that finished and Stephen the german who was also in our hostel but I was exhausted and so headed home after a few hours, whereas the boys stayed out till the early hours (again).
My last day in St Pete's and I rejoiced in spending it by myself again. Everyone on the vodkatrain headed to the Hermitage whereas I visited the Russian Museum in the Marininsky palace. It is an art gallery with only russian artworks from the 17th century, through to post communist russia today. It was absolutely fascinating, particularly the section of Russian folkart and all of it was housed in a gorgeous palace and so once again most of my photos are of ceilings! After several hours being cultured I then headed back out to do some shopping. Steve Cherie and I had decided we needed silly russian hat souviners and as many photos of us with them so I got one of those and of course finally got another Matruska doll which I was very excited about. I spent a few hours walking through the shopping areas and also chilling in the Marinisky palace gardens with all the locals as it was an absolutely stunning day before heading back to the hostel. We had a midnight train out of St Pete's and so to kill time a couple of us went to an Italian restaurant as we craving pizza for dinner. We had paid for a transfer from the hostel to the train station and it ended up being a 5 minute (because we were stuck in crazy late night russian traffic) transfer. Would of been faster to walk it, but we got to the station and walking through to our train we were forced to listen to horrid russian songs blasting from speakers through the station. Our train was tight but incredibly comfy and cherie, steve, hannah and I had a cute little cabin were we stayed up chatting about politics and all sorts before going to sleep. Onwards to Moscow!

At the hermitage

At the hermitage

Ceiling in the hermitages

Ceiling in the hermitages

Stairwell inside the hermitage

Stairwell inside the hermitage

The Gold room

The Gold room

Rory, Nick and I outside the hermitage

Rory, Nick and I outside the hermitage

The church of the saviour of the spilled blood

The church of the saviour of the spilled blood

Inside the church of the spilled blood

Inside the church of the spilled blood

Peter the great statue on a big giant rock!

Peter the great statue on a big giant rock!

Peter and Paul fortress

Peter and Paul fortress

On top of peter and paul fortress with emma

On top of peter and paul fortress with emma

Peterhof

Peterhof

The cascade fountain at Peterhof

The cascade fountain at Peterhof

bags for our shoes with Steve, Julia and Cherie at Peterhof palace

bags for our shoes with Steve, Julia and Cherie at Peterhof palace

Russian Museum

Russian Museum

Hows the serenity. Peterhof gardens

Hows the serenity. Peterhof gardens

Neva river, St Petersburg

Neva river, St Petersburg

Posted by awowchuk 03:20 Archived in Russia Tagged petersburg st Comments (0)

Tallinn

Loving Estonia

all seasons in one day 18 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

I arrived in Tallinn aroud 5pm and made my way to the hostel. I had just checked in and moved my stuff to the dorm when Mike (from calgary) comes in and after the obligatory greetings says he was going shooting and I should come. So I did. 10 of us from the hostel made our way to a shooting range 10 minutes away to do a specialist shooting pckage shooting a range of guns. We got there and then as we started seeing guns and getting the safety explanations and then moving into the shooting room I was so getting so excited nervous. It was a timber panelled room with a table in the middle covered in different guns! Shit! We got eye protection and ear muffs and then started slowly with the glock. I liked this one as it had a laser pointer and thus I got all 10 shots on the target. I was surprised how steady I managed to hold my hand, some guys were shaking all over the place. Most of us were doing the same package where we would shoot 6 different guns, 61 bullets in total. One aussie guy, Dave paid double of everyone and got to shoot 10 different guns and some ridiculous number of ammo. So after we had all had our 10 on the glock he got to shoot with a glock in each hand and 30 bullets in each! He absolutely sprayed the wall. It was pretty cool to watch. We then shot the revolver on which I was definitely not as successful, not having the laser made such a difference. Then it was onto the M16. This scary looking gun I found quite difficult as you have to get your face down so low to the gun to be able to see the tiny holographic laser, but I did manage another perfect round on this one! Next was the most fun- the AK47. Your adrenlin goes crazy as you are pumping 30 bullets into the wall. I cannot begin to describe how loud these guns and other guns are. Most of us were holding our ear muffs to get a tighter grip during the rounds. The next was the shot gun which is feels absolutely crazy to pump the gun and then set off this massive bang. You get quite a bit of shock through it too. Lastly was a desert eagle, one of the largest calibre guns made. We had one shot each on this and we had to make sure you have a good strong grip because it has a lot of recoil. I missed the target. (only 2 people made it) It was an absolutely mental experience. It was lots of fun to try them but god i'm glad Australia has tight gun control. After everyone had finished their packages we got to do lots of staged photos with the guns which was fun.
I felt absolutely wasted after getting back to the hostel, the exhaustion of travelling followed by the adrenlin of gun shooting caused me to crash. But I was starving and having forgot to sign up for dinner in the hostel I had to head out and get some dinner. So with 3 guys from the hostel we headed to one of the most popular places in Tallinn (and frankly the only place I ate at in Tallinn). It was a medieval kitchen in the town square called 3 dragons and all it served was elk soup, elk pies, elk jerkey and beer (and a few other flavour pies too). It was absolutely delicious. I could drink bowls and bowls of the soup. It actually felt medieval with big wooden tables, lit only by candlelight, served in rough earthware bowls and cups by women in medieval costume (who I believe were drunk). Such a cool place. We headed back to the hostel and joined in on the cheap drinks and drinking games in the hostel common room. Tallinn Backpackers is a really social fun place to stay. We headed out on the pub crawl a bit later but I only stayed out for a bit as all conversations were going in one ear and out the other as all I could think about was sleeping.
I headed on an organised day trip to Lahemaa National Park the next day. 4 of us from the hostel first headed to an ancient Estonian cemetery or at least what is left of it as the communists built a major freeway over it. Then we headed to the Jagula Juga, estonian largest (volume) waterfall. Estonia is basically made up of Limestone and thus with the water running over it at this waterfall the water appears to be the colour of beer, and hence we called it Beer falls. After this we headed into the swamps of the national park. We firstly walked through the beautiful lush forest of pines and Christmas trees to a boardwalk where we followed it over the swamp lands. The swamp is quite deceptive as in parts it looks like you could walk on it but apparently it is like quick sand and you will just sink and get stuck. We walked along this boardwalks to a look out pavillion where we could see the whole landscape around us. It was stunningly beautiful but also really cold up there. We then continued on to a swamp you can go swimming in but as it was freezing there was no way in hell that would happen but I did dangle my feet in the water. It was beautiful there as the sun started to come out and glisten on the swamp. We then backtracked back to the van and were driven to a local tavern out in the middle of nowhere. It was previously a wooden horse stable and now was a fantastic estonian tavern which served delicious food. I've eaten so many potatoes on my trip so far I would be quite happy to never see a potato again but the potato here were amazing! Served perfectly with my pork cultet. yum. Richard our guide then drove us to a little coastal town with gorgeous houses and cottages. This little village is so small it doesn't have a shop and we happened to be there on shop day when a shop-bus comes to town and all the locals do there shopping. So cool. We were such tourists taking photos of the bus. Then we walked along a short path to the coast where there was massive bolders in the water and just offshore an island that in low tide you can walk to. It was so beautiful, there was not a piece of development in site, just nature. We walked through a field of wheat (or some crop) on the waters edge to the other side which was far windier and still just as beautiful. All of us couldn't stop smiling as the sun was shinning and we were seeing this little slice of heaven. After walking barefoot on the sand we boarded the bus again and fell asleep on the drive back to Tallinn.
I had dinner in the hostel and spent the evening playing fuse ball and other games with everyone before heading out on a pub crawl through the town which was a lot of fun!
On my last day in Tallinn I went on the free walking tour which was guided by this fantastic exuburant girl who told us lots of stories about the history and the people and the city itself. It seems everyone has had a piece of estonia and half the time the estonians have let them as they are a peaceful passive aggressive people who just surrender to avoid conflict. In fact this year they have celebrated their longest period of independance in their entire history - 21 years. Well done estonia. It was a great tour but the weather was absolutely horrible, with rain and wind and so I left it early to go warm up back at the hostel. After I while I headed out with another aussie, and 2 german guys to Patarei Prison. It was about a 10 minute walk out of the old town, sitting on the coastline and is the most eery and one of the strangest places I have been to in my travels so far. It is not so much a museum but a giant abandoned prison complex that feels like one day everyone just trashed it and walked out. We wandered around the many levels, seeing cells, library, bathrooms, operating theatre, execution room and then the exercise pens. At times we needed flash-lights to see into some the rooms and would find a pile of rubbish or strange objects or just smash up tiles on the floor, in others the stench of urine and mould was horrendous. All of us struggled to comprehend the scale and strangeness of this place. This would have been one horrible place to be locked up in and the scary thing is it only closed 7 years ago.
After a while, we were all quite satisfied we had got a good understanding of the place and even if there was more to see we didn't need to see it. So instead the germans and I headed to the 3 dragons to have some elk soup and pies and to warm up after being in the horribly cold prison. I then went on a wander through the shopping area and some really cool modern architecture just outside the old town where I finally managed to buy a new jacket so hopefully no more freezing in inappropriate clothes.
I had dinner again in the hostel and had a few beers with everyone, playing some more fuzeball and drinking games before heading out on the pub crawl. It may be september now but the bars were still lots of fun. I didn't last very long as I knew I had a very early start to get my bus to St Petersburg. It is finally time to go to Russia!

The gun group

The gun group

m16

m16

with a shotgun

with a shotgun

jugula juga

jugula juga

lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park

swamp in lahemaa national park

swamp in lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park

lahemaa national park on the coast

lahemaa national park on the coast

overlooking tallinn

overlooking tallinn

poterai prison

poterai prison

poterai prison

poterai prison

tallinn main square

tallinn main square

Posted by awowchuk 10:44 Archived in Estonia Tagged tallinn Comments (0)

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