A Travellerspoint blog

Mmmm Godzilla's pasta

semi-overcast -5 °C
View The Trans-Mongolian Express on LewisNolan's travel map.

So today was the proper touristy day, if that's even a word? Kremlin, Foreign market, Peace and just a general walk round. We walked yet another different way to the centre of the city so this confused us all which wouldn't help later that night. The Kremlin was awkward to get into but worth it. The actual word Kremlin refers to the domes on top of orthodox churches its just everybody refers to the political sight in Moscow as THE Kremlin, as our honcho liked to point out. It was impressive, you cross a bridge to enter as its kind of like a fortress. We did the extra bit into the armoury which I liked, several different rooms with a range of items in them from different periods of Russian history, we also got some pictures as everyone was doing it but one by one as we walked round we got told off by staff. Richard was first but the guy said 'no flash' so Richard did as he was told then the guy got quite frustrated so we moved on from that room rather quickly. The most impressive pieces were the chariots and transportation pieces they had. They were ridiculously decorated and it great condition.
After this we had plenty of free time to walk round the grounds you were allowed in but it was a bit samey on the outside, the buildings were all of a similar design which was good and we enjoyed looking round but there was about 15 buildings just different sizes. To break it up you could go inside some buildings and look at tombs and restored books which explained a lot about the history and the faith of the place. We got a lot of pictures and also saw what we guessed to be was the Russian changing of the guard like at old Buck house?
From there we had arranged to meet at good old Tepemok the pancake place yum. I dabbled with a mince meat one, wasn't to bad but I did wash the taste down with a nice honey one sweeeeeeet as! Masha met us later on and from there we walked down the main shopping street of Moscow taking in the Russian fashions and what they liked which turned out to be Starbucks and other mass capitalist brands. We also saw a great invention maybe soon coming to a mc donalds near you? A walk through station built into the side, genius the inventor of that should get a medal in my opinion. We passed by the peace wall which is something I'd never heard of but it seemed to be a graffiti covered wall carrying political messages and peace signs, some Russians did try and tell us about it but Masha didn't seem keen on talking to them, wonder why? From the end of the street we got the metro to the foreign market or I think that's what it was called. By the time we got there it was closed pretty much what was open was the only official vodka museum in the world and for a couple of pound you got the tour and a free shot. This wasn't a rip off this lady knew her stuff and they had hundreds of antique bottles and lots of history dotted around the place. Then it came to the free shot, she said she would give us a special infused and flavoured vodka and began telling us its vintage and place of make then dropped the old line about it being nut flavoured...
Luckily I hadn't shot it just yet so she had it and I got a nice Blueberry flavoured one, we all liked our little tipple before home. As Masha took us home we quizzed her on where would be good for a 'quiet' drink and maybe a little shindig but she couldn't really name anywhere so we went home disappointed. We did meet some travelers in our hostel when we got back though that had just done the same trip as us but in reverse, they told us of their experiences and made us even more enthusiastic to get on the road/tracks. As well as the returning travelers there were two Australians called Dean and Kurt who were on a different itinerary to us but were to start their trip the same day as we left for Irkutsk so it seemed we'd be joined by more people which sounded good, new blood and all that!
For tea it turned out the girls who had stayed in the night before had some ingredients left over so we became quite the efficient kitchen staff and made a massive portion of the tasty Godzilla's pasta, it was that spiral pasta forgive my lack of pasta knowledge, mixed vegetables and a tomato and basil sauce which went down a treat with everyone. Even though it wasn't home food it was despite us all being English. We decided we would go out and see if we could find anywhere for a drink and just a general night out as the hostel wasn't really party central, the living space was in the middle of the building and was 'closed' after a certain time. We got sorted and set off only to find one place that said we needed i.d. as a proof of age and they'd only except passports. Then when we said we'd return they suddenly decided it was over 21s so that ballsed up some of the group. Moving on we did find a cool music bar that was busy but meant we couldn't get a seat in view so we had to watch the performance on television, they were fair pants too. Drinks were a tad pricey as well and they had some of the most ignorant staff ever, especially for a capital and pretty much European city.
We got back to the hostel a little under whelmed but at least we can say we'd been out in Moscow.
Up the next morning and it was the train to Irkutsk. We were all ready and waiting for the mini bus, packed and all present and correct but we were joined like we thought we were going to be but not by the people we thought would be? It was Johnny from New Zealand and Hazel from Essex. They were doing the trip known as the ruski huski with the two ozzy's but they were no where to be seen. The mini bus took is time but did arrive strangely enough just as the Australians did, looking a little worse for wear. Turns out they'd been out with their honcho the previous evening shall we say for a few drinks, leaving Johnny and Hazel in the hostel, and this resulted in much intoxication, a fair few trips round the Moscow suburbs and quite a nasty head wound for Kurt after he slipped down the metro stairs. They smelt faintly of booze and had had only a couple of hours sleep if that but they were the best bus company I'd ever had, funny and slurly are the key factors why. We did make to the train though on time as well, we had to dash to the supermarket though as we hadn't had time and they did take Kurt to a nurse in the station who then wanted to call the police so I think our group left a lasting imprint on Moscow and its people.
The trains were not as impressive as our transport from St Petersburg as that was a regular shuttle service so these were a little more worn in. Our rooms were the same set up if slightly smaller and my cabin was Richard, Diane, Rosie and I. We packed our stuff away as best as possible and began acclimatizing to our new moving home. We were the middle cabin between the Ruski Huskis of Kurt, Dean, Johnny and Hazel and the rest of the girls from our group. The carriage had two toilets/washrooms that were old school but still more impressive than national rail, naht! We also had a sumuvar, not correct spelling, which is like a massive kettle much better than auntie Lucille's boiler thing, We could use this for tea, coffee and noodles which we regularly but some of the girls came prepared, unlike me, with hot chocolate and cup-a-soups. We soon noticed once we got underway that the trains were very hot, maybe to offset the outside temperature but it was mad so we got the pins out for the lads and it was shorts or leggings all round (I opted for shorts).
The day went well and soon blended into the next as we didn't have many stops the first day. The following morning we all woke up in our own time as there wasn't really much to see. Some people ventured to the buffet car which very close to ours and that was the main highlight other then staring out the window and seeing, snow, field, town and yes another train blast past us. We did eventually strap on a pair and get out at a station where we had like a twenty minute wait. Some of the group got kitted out in their winter gear again but I'm from up north so just went for it. It was fair nippy, rumours were it was minus fifteen or twenty but didn't feel like it. We were greeted by many food sellers and the odd souvenir tout but other than it was take pictures and make ice cubes for the wodka we'd brought aboard.
That night we had a little cabin party, the attendants two Russian ladies weren't too happy about the noise but were mostly British and on holiday nothing was going to stop us. We somehow got all twelve of us into a four person cabin, not ours thankfully, and drank and chatted away. Got some music going with the speakers we'd brought and it was a great way to get through the trip. Also since we were going to be traveling through different timezones as we trained it across the country there was no 'curfew' to be had so we went to bed when we wanted to and, depending on your cabin, could.

Posted by LewisNolan 19:38 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Catching the midnight train to Moscow, near Georgia.

overcast -8 °C
View The Trans-Mongolian Express on LewisNolan's travel map.

After our big night on the Russian town we thought a more appropriate wake up time was in order so at about 11 we met Wowa again, he looked rather sprightly even though his boss had phoned him at 8 am, gutted. Today was our final day before traveling to Moscow so we had to check out and then store our bags before having a stroll around the sights we'd neglected. We visited the Kazan cathedral, which was quite busy with people praying and giving devotions it was a welcome break from the busy main road outside and interesting to see a different denomination of Catholicism as I think this was a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. From here we walked to the Cathedral of the split blood which was definitely Orthodox with its domes and colours, this was the place where Alexander the second was assassinated hence the name and his son Alexander the third built this memorial but also undid all his fathers previous work the bad'un. Walking around again we just relaxed, we'd seen everything really and St Petersburg was a brilliant city and an excellent start to my trip.
Relaxing for the rest of the afternoon we went the orange house again, had a bite to eat and just chatted. We met Wowa around ten to pick up our bags and get a mini bus to the train station. The stations in Russian are very grand. Big, marble buildings looking very official, nothing like Burnley Manchester road. Some how I was nominated to have everything explained to me and be 'in charge' when it came to boarding the train and after that Wowa said his goodbyes and left. When our train was announced we rushed in a sense thinking the train would go without us but turns out the do things different abroad, the announcement was for our trains arrival so we had to stand in the cold for 30 minutes since we couldn't be bothered going back in. But the train was good, St Petersburg and Moscow have regular shuttle services since they are major, modern city's so the train was fairly new, clean and comfortable. Helen, Catherine, Rosie and Diane shared one cabin, me and Richard teamed up again and then Lizzy and Jo were paired. We had two Russian gentlemen with us but one went then returned for his bags and moved whilst the other ragged off and went to sleep. Turns out Jo and Lizzy had the travelers from hell, two older ladies with about 10 bags barged their way in and made themselves quite comfortable much to the girls horror but at least we were on. We had all made it and no one was arrested, yet.
The train left on time at midnight and arrived around 8am so we were greeted by Masha our new honcho. She was friendly and full of life we were the opposite after not getting much sleep on the train but we weren't horrible she was chatty and took us to our bus and then told us all about Moscow on the way to Godzilla's our new hostel. Masha was a good change from Wowa, a different opinion on the things, more enthusiastic and mad plus she was a girl and they can apparently multi-task??? Arriving at Godzilla's we found the entrance to be surrounded by the death tape which is always a good sign plus Moscow had just had one of the biggest freezes in history so every step was treacherous to say the least. As Jo and Diane found by slipping within about 10 minutes of being in the hostel, Jo nearly broke her back as she was wearing her rucksack at the time where as Diane just went flat on her arse in front of the group but the owner assured us the steps weren't slippy, wrong! The hostel wasn't too far from the centre of the city so we walked in and noticed how different this place was to St Petersburg. This, being the capital, was a lot busier and felt much bigger. We gotten a feel for our last stop but this a whole new kettle of fish. We passed the government building where Lenin made his infamous speech and stood below the balcony where he made it from as well as the home of the Moscow state circus but they aren't really the same, depending on your views on communism?
Next to the famous red square, which wasn't so much red as just a big open space with the Kremlin on one side, St Basel's at the end, a shopping mall on the other side and an ice skating rink in the middle for some reason it just wasn't the red square we'd imagined? It should have been grander really. The one thing that was grand in a way was Lenin's mausoleum. One of the weirdest things I think I will ever witness. Its a black building behind many lines of security so you pay in, store your bag, get security checked and are then told that you musn't stop at any point you have to keep moving. Naturally we didn't listen and waited for everyone to get in and see it as a group. It was like a little maze of passageways through the building then you enter the middle and there he is, Lenin, in a glass case dressed in a suit looking like a wax work but its actually him. For some reason though two people who shall rename nameless stopped smack bang in the middle and in front of me. So as I saw a guard moving in for the kill a gentle nudge and reminder did the trick but as I tried to explain to them what was wrong he shushed me and pointed at the dead guy in a box so this sporned the catchphrase, 'shhh Lenin' which lasted a good few days.
From Lenin to St Basel's which is a lot smaller than I thought but that didn't mean I didn't like it, it was kept in good condition but hadn't been refurbished and spoiled which was a good thing. You were allowed in pretty much every room, even the not so secret stairs, only problem was it was freezing! Even cooler than outside as you had no sunlight.
After that it was gentle stroll home as we had all pretty much been on the go all day so Masha made sure we got home safely and offered to take us somewhere for dinner. Jo, Richard and I were interested but the rest were a bit too tired and since our new hostel had a communal kitchen they fancied having a go at being Jamie Oliver for the night. So we rested for a few hours and settled in to our new hostel. Godzilla's was more of a hostel than our last place, more in the way I imagined anyway. We were all in a 10 person dorm room but they had twins, doubles and four people dorms but it worked quite well being in one room we could hang out together. It had three joint showers and toilets, laundry facilities, a living space and free internet but the manager was a bit of a goober.
Masha met us three at 7 and took us for sushi, I was a sushi virgin at this point. For some reason sushi is extremely popular in Moscow if a tad expensive but I liked it, didn't matter too much about the price as the night was good. Masha answered any questions we had and she could ask us anything so we both got something. We also taught each other a few swear words but the rest of the chat was very mature honest. Coming back to the hostel was odd, our first time in a big dorm room you felt very conscious of the amount of noise you made and didn't want to be the one to wake everyone up but once in bed you were fine, I actually slept better here than in the previous place.

Posted by LewisNolan 09:09 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (4)

Fun at Fidel's

all seasons in one day -12 °C
View The Trans-Mongolian Express on LewisNolan's travel map.

This morning we met Wowa at St Peters column in the grounds of the Hermitage, guaranteed we were half an hour late but this was down to the maestro situation. If you ever go traveling its Visa all the way as no where but no where will take dirty maestro so we had to try about four cash machines before a willing one would give Rosie and Jo cash, otherwise your stuck exchanging money which you will get short changed by.
I had no idea what the Hermitage was, never heard of it but I enjoyed it. It's Russia premier art museum. It is part of The Winter Palace where former Tsar's used to live and it is still kept in extremely good condition. You could spend days looking round and examining pieces but we only spent a few hours and that was enough to appreciate it all especially the most elaborate clock I've ever seen. It was a peacock in a large glass case with full plumage and environment and on the hour it moved and spread its feathers, slightly more fancy than a cuckoo I thought? So with the weather staying calm even if it was cold we could see more of the city after lunch. We had lunch in a well known Russian fast food chain where the main product is pancakes, with all sorts of fillings sweet and savory, and on the way we saw our first random, wrong, picture opportunity. Walking towards two men we were offered a photo with a monkey in a baby grow!! That's right actual monkeys in knitted baby grows in the middle of winter in St Petersburg, funny to luck at but still cruel as hell.
From lunch we walked over the river which was frozen almost completely, supposedly by a few feet in some places as we found out when we walked on it. Not right into the middle as that would've been dangerous but our honcho led the way and most of us had a go. We walked out about 30 metres was very odd and even stranger watching a man creating sculptures on the river, piling up chunks of ice and snow calling it art he should have been in the Hermitage with that kind of forward thinking. Back on dry land we followed the river to St Peter and Paul's fortress a former defence against the Finnish and political prison. It was good to see but we didn't stay long, was getting a bit nippy. But we did get pictures with this small headed, voodoo esk statue of Peter the Great. Leaving the fortress we were going to get the metro back, girls choice, but me and Richard wanted to see the Mosque as it is apparently the most northern Islamic mosque in the world? So the girls and Wowa went one way and we went for an adventure. The mosque and its school were shut to visitors unfortunately so we got some good pictures. Was a brightly coloured building compared to the surrounding ones. We then made the decision to walk it back, not sure exactly how far we walked but must have been at least 5 miles and the weather wasn't the best pretty much the same as my first day.
Another thing like the first couple of days was the snow clearing teams dotted about the streets removing all the snow. This is also when we found out what the hazard tape was for. It's basically to mark the areas where you just might be killed by falling debris like massive icicles or when the teams were clearing roof's they just taped off an area and started hoofing snow off it, dodgy as hell. So ducking and diving we made it back safely.
Since it was our last night in St Petersburg we thought going out for drinks would be appropriate. After a bite to eat Wowa took us to Fidel's this little bar not too far from our hostel. Filled just after we arrived and as we did our first shot of Vodka a band started. But this was no Coldplay or bay city rollers they were dressed in military uniform and had a random mixture of instruments and even though we didn't know the songs we enjoyed it and the locals enjoyed that we enjoyed it, I think? After the band was Russia's very own fat boy slim but no word of a lie the guy was blind, like dark glasses, feeling round for things, Stevie Wonder blind. And he brought out all the tunes, from five to steps he had it all and we made new friends too some young Russians, some older they were all friendly and danced like maniacs so for a few pictures check out gingerwins.com that's Richards website. So vodka and dancing till 2:30 not bad, Wowa even stayed out and waited there till 5 for the first metro legend. All together a great night from belly dancing to Lizzy trying to make drunken snow angels on the way home fun had by all.

Posted by LewisNolan 08:38 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Quick, to The Colonnade

overcast -14 °C
View The Trans-Mongolian Express on LewisNolan's travel map.

So up ok we tried the apricot stone again since it was convenient and by convenient I meant we didn't have to venture in to the cold for too long since nearly every ledge or balcony had big arsed icicles hanging from them but more about them later. I was a bit more adventurous this time trying what we thought was a fritatta kind of thing but turned out to be a kind of porridge, watery and resembling rice pudding but was good and of course I got my complimentary toast. Jo had got a tourist map from a travel book so using that and our keen sense for adventure we set off in the direction of the main sights as in St Issac's and the Hermitage. Weather had improved today, still bitterly cold but we could see what we were doing and everyone else for that matter so within a few minutes we were doing the touristy thing and stood out like sore thumbs. Richard also pointed out the fact that you didn't see many ginger Russians so he was like our foreign beacon if you will. There was a lot of snow around, more than I've ever seen before, the roads were clean but that's because they'd just stuck the snow anywhere there was a gap. There were also what we guessed were council workers shifting the snow but it was a never ending battle, there was truck after truck going by. We also noticed this red and white hazard tape tied round posts and buildings, we avoided it as you would with any hazard but didn't know what they were for but all would be revealed. It took about twenty minutes to get to St Issac's and it was worth it, a large open square with a statue then the building behind that. We were all a bit wary about taking pictures after being told horror stories about Russian police and being put in prison but after seeing a load of Russian tourists do it we did. This is also the spot where we had our first proper encounter with Russian traffic and its lack of rules which our Honcho would hopefully enlighten us to. We didn't fancy going inside the Cathedral and since the Colonnade at the top was cheaper we opted for that as our first kind of group activity. We took a lot of stairs and since they were spiraled a few of us got a tad disorientated but we made it. The views were brilliant, St Petersburg isn't a massive city as in coverage but neither is it a tall city. Most buildings won't extend over 6 or 7 floors so you can see everything and that's good for an old city. After there we walked to the Hermitage and Admiralty but didn't want to enter as we knew it'd be a feature on our trip so we walked to the frozen river and canals they were good, especially seeing dogs walking on them. Taking a different route back we think we entered St Petersburgs more plush area, fancy bars and shops gave it away. We did find an 'English' cloakroom which me and Helen investigated. Opening the door to find a set of stairs down, a dodgy looking bloke and a clothes rack didn't exactly add up lets just say it was no spoons so we opted for the Xay3 coffee shop or Me'n'u as we came to call it after Catherine's misunderstanding with the old Russian alphabet. This was good but people weren't too keen on the cottage cheese pancakes I had but they did like the real hot chocolate which was what we needed after the cold.
So finding our way back easy enough we saw a young, blonde girl with vodka-train papers floating around in reception. We immediately thought this to be our Honcho but it was not to be although I think she would've done a spiffing job. This was Lizzy from Dullwich who'd just arrived. We then had our welcome meeting where we met Rosie and Diane from Frome and finally our Honcho, Wowa a student studying in St Petersburg. We did the formalities of paperwork then went out for some traditional Russian food. The restaurant turned out to be where we'd walked just three hours previous, in a nice part of the city near the Kazan Cathedral. I liked this place, they were all in old style clothes and it was decorated like an old house. Food was good, I had dumplings 'pelmeny' I think. Russians don't really do portions just to let you know. We have the veg and sauce and side food but nope Russians you get what you order but it did taste good. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their food so Wowa made sure we knew how to get home and he left. We got to know the new members and had a really good first night together the meal was a good ice breaker. We had some pyjama chat then slept. We had all moved rooms as well so I was now sharing with Richard which worked out alright since it was 6-2 in favour of the girls. But this was it, our group of 8 about to set off on the Vodkatrain. After all the preparation and people asking what will I do if this or that happens it didn't matter I was here and I was definitely with friends.
Although we did manage to tick off one of our floor neighbours at about one in the morning, whoopsy! He was a big lad too but I handled it, and Lizzy hid!!

Posted by LewisNolan 10:27 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (4)

My first day

snow -18 °C
View The Trans-Mongolian Express on LewisNolan's travel map.

So my first proper, official night traveling was over and it didn't really mean much. I struggled to get off to sleep but I think it was a subconscious thing more than anything, also it could've been the little travel clock I brought with me? Thought it'd be a good buy only cost 2 pound but I didn't realise two pound had bought me the most annoying sound in all of Russia!! So with the the battery removed I got off to sleep. Room was ok, not too cold and the bed was comfortable other than the aforementioned square pillows. Woke up and heard a lot commotion outside which was just other guests getting up and I was surprised that most of the people within the hostel were Russian nationals, wasn't what I expected. So I got my funky travel cleaning gear out only to find that I didn't need my cool, blue towel as they were provided. So I did the 25 metre walk to the shower, that's right just one male and one female for one floor and sorted myself out. The toilets and and bathroom area were clean and everything worked although they didn't half pong, not of the usual what you expect smell but just a weird kind of dry smell? Hoping that it wasn't me after my shower I got dressed then waited for Catherine and Helen to meet me at nine. I thought I'd done quite well, up and dressed in time all on my own this traveling lark was easy. Sitting in the corridor waiting for the girls I could look at these crazy posters depicting what to do in a disaster, it's a wonder I didn't have nightmares. It got to 10 past 9 and Catherine stuck here head round the door, they'd slept in gutted but I wasn't bothered not really in any rush.
So when we were all ready we went to the apricot stone, not St Petersburgs most happening joint but it was the cafe attached to our hostel. Nice and bright, food was an ok price so we ordered. Although I did make a little bit of a boo-boo. I just pointed at toast, with ham, cheese, butter and jam as the other dishes all looked egg influenced and I'm not a fan. The waitress was a little perplexed by my order but took it anyway. Turns out you get toast with any order so the girls got egg with a side of toast and I just got double toast but at least it didn't have nuts in it. We got to know one another over toast then ventured out but doubt we could've picked worse weather, it was pretty much a white out? I've never been in an actual one but that's how I imagined it. Could only see bout 15 metres in front so we wrapped up and went for a trek. Found a few supermarkets and banks so that was useful but we only lasted about an hour and didn't go that far. It was worth it though, got some good first pics of buried cars. When we got back to the hostel we asked for a map if possible so the receptionist just ripped it out of their book, this meant anyone else turning up was stuck. But this map had everything we wanted on it, it was one they'd marked out, so we warmed up then went to the business centre which was basically a shopping mall. This place had shops, restaurants and an internet cafe so we had some 'authentic, home cooked' Italian pizza then went on t'internet. When we got back to the hostel we just wanted to sleep so we went for a snooze only for a new person to turn up an hour or so later. This was Jo from Newcastle who first met me in my pj's half asleep, classy. She was in the same room as Catherine and Helen for the moment so we decided we'd have a bit of a rest then get some dinner. I was just getting back to sleep only to be woken by one of the most memorable laughs I've ever heard and this was Richard from Southampton. He'd been sat in his room most of the afternoon and we'd not known which was a bit pants but he was up for food so him, Jo and me went the stone. It was very smokey though, so that inevitably made us talk about the smoking ban. These two were just as friendly and nice as the others so I was getting a good feeling about this trip. We perused the supermarket only to be told 'naht wodka' as apparently you can't buy booze over the counter between 11pm and 6am? I don't know how they confused Evian and chocolate cakes with wodka but they did. We chatted a bit more about ourselves getting to know one another, especially Jo finding it hilarious that Richard was allergic to horses and the two of them thought I'd eaten someones left over lunch in Heathrow! Which I didn't by the way then we went bed, Russia was looking good.

Posted by LewisNolan 10:10 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 7) Page [1] 2 »