To Saint Petersburg

As I mentioned, we braved the unknown (to us) world of the Moscow Metro to make our way to the Leninskaya railway station for our train trip to Saint Petersburg.

The Metro is very deep underground (100m +), with some very elaborate marble and granite stations, and crowds of pushing people.  Unlike the very civilised queues in London and most other places. it seems to be a case of ‘everyone for themselves’ in Moscow.  Queue-jumping is a way of life here; just remember to look very glum-faced while doing it.

As in many places in Russia, we were obliged to pass through a metal detector and have our baggage X-rayed before accessing the train.  Nearly everyone sets off the metal detector as they pass through it, but no-one is ever stopped for any further check.  The baggage X-ray is very perfunctory – no need to take out computers or show liquids in a separate bag.  I never felt any more secure after these checks – and maybe even less so.

Inside the 'Sapsan' high speed train, en route to Saint Petersburg.

Inside the ‘Sapsan’ high speed train, en route to Saint Petersburg.

The ‘high speed’ train was about the same standard as Queensland’s Tilt-Train, and nothing to write home about.  Much of the countryside was as flat and ordinary as the thousands of kilometres of it that we had already seen in Siberia.  But we arrived in Saint Petersburg on time, and quickly found our luxurious Ibis hotel, just a few hundred metres from the station.

More from Saint Petersburg in the next post.

Moscow

Garry and I finally arrived in Moscow late on Saturday afternoon, after our long Trans Siberian journey.  Moscow is the largest city in Europe, with 12 million people in the city and a total of 17 million in the region.

We walked on Sunday to Red Square.  Red, not because of its colour but because the word for ‘beautiful’ sounds like the word for the colour.  The square (a rectangle, really) is bordered by the Kremlin and the tomb of Lenin on the west side, St Basil’s Cathedral at the south end, the History Museum at the north end, and the former GUM department store on the other long eastern side.  GUM is now a very up-market shopping mall.

Inside GUM

Inside GUM

A scene inside the old Soviet GUM.  Then, plenty of buyers, not much to buy.  Now, plenty for sale, not many buyers wealthy enough to buy there.

A scene inside the old Soviet GUM. Then, plenty of buyers, not much to buy. Now, plenty for sale, not many buyers wealthy enough to buy there.

I’ve posted a panorama shot of part of Red Square, which I took today, as a new header for this blog.  It also shows the Lenin Mausoleum, which I had always thought to be a much higher building.  We didn’t bother with making a visit to see Mr Lenin in his icy glass box.  There are enough statues of him around the country without going to see the ‘real’ thing also.

Part of the Kremlin, Red Square, by night.

Part of the Kremlin and History Museum, Red Square, by night.

St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, by night.

St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, by night.

The GUM Department Store, Red Square, by night.

The GUM Department Store, Red Square, by early night.

The day was cold and windy, and the large open spaces provided no shelter.  We walked a little further to see the Bolshoi Theatre building, but then returned to seek refuge in the warmth and comfort of our hotel.

The Bolshoi Theatre (and carpark), Moscow.

The Bolshoi Theatre (and carpark), Moscow.

Our hotel is in the Arbat district.  Arbat Street is a long, historic, pedestrianised street, lined with tourist oriented businesses.  Closer to the Kremlin, Arbat Street is not pedestrianised, but caters instead to the local speed-hog set, without seeming to attract the attention of the local Police.

Arbat Street pedestrian mall.

Arbat Street pedestrian mall.

Since Sunday, we have continued our walks around Moscow, culminating in a mega-walk on Tuesday.  We think we covered maybe 20km, from the White House building (the former Russian Parliament building, which featured in the 1990s tank attack by the military, against the political changes that were taking place then in Russian society), and back to Red Square by a long and diverse route.  Thankfully, Moscow is a very flat city, and unlike in other Russian cities we visited, the footpaths are in a generally good state of repair and cleanliness.

The Moscow White House.

The Moscow White House, former home of the Russian Duma (Parliament).

Moscow has a series of concentric ring roads, several of which we crossed today.  Usually, pedestrians are forced through underpasses, but one road we crossed at-grade had 9 lanes of traffic travelling in each direction.  Thankfully the traffic lights gave sufficient time to cross.

Apart from the volume of the traffic, and the speeds that drivers achieve as they race to the next red light, the most obvious aspect of the traffic in Moscow is the composition of the car population.  I have never seen so many Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi vehicles.  All near new, and not the cheaper, small engine models – I mean E and S Class Mercs, BMW 7 series, Audi A8s – and also their expensive SUV and Coupe models.  There are also Lexus, Jaguars, Range Rovers, Cadillacs, Bentleys, Porsches, Maserati, Rolls Royces and Maybachs aplenty.  And Toyota Land Cruisers too.  Clearly this is a city where if people have money, they appear to be very keen to flaunt it.

Park the car wherever you want - preferably on the footpath or in the middle of the street.  No parking charges, no time limits.

Park the car wherever you want – preferably on the footpath or in the middle of the street. No parking charges, no time limits.

Wednesday will be our final day in Moscow, and at 1.30pm we are due to depart on the ‘high-speed’ Sapsan train to St Petersburg.  We may brave the Metro system (underground railway) to get from the hotel to the railway station.  There is a Metro station 50m from the hotel, and it appears we will need to change subway trains only once to get to the big train station (Leninskaya, named after you know who).

I think we were both surprised by Moscow, after some of the ‘cities’ we had visited before arriving there.  It is big, but it’s clean, well maintained, with substantial buildings and facilities.  There are modern buildings, and historic buildings, there are fancy boutiques and luxury shops, there are beautiful parks and open spaces, the food is vastly plentiful and of very high quality.  It’s a sophisticated city.  But the one thing that we still find perplexing is the attitudes of so many of the people – grim, dour, unfriendly and unhelpful – just as they have been across all of Russia.  There have been maybe a few exceptions, but not many.

A few days have passed since I wrote all of the above, and we are now in St Petersburg, but that is another story for another post.  We did take the Metro to get to the Moscow train station, and the ‘high-speed’ train turned out to be only moderately fast.  We were entertained en route by a woman a few rows behind us who talked non-stop and loudly on her mobile phone for the entire journey.  And I mean non-stop.  It was a relief to leave the train.

The internet is very slow at our hotel in St Petersburg, so I will add photos to the this post at a later date.

More in the next post, from St Petersburg.  St Petersburg is certainly the jewel in the Russian tourist landscape, and we are very much enjoying our visit here.

 

A new header photo.

I was never very happy with the old header for my blog.  It was a nice composition and the snow made it look pretty, but it was a poor quality image that I had ‘borrowed’ from the Internet.    Today, I’ve updated the header to a panorama of St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin, photographed today by me.  If I can get a sunny day image later on, I’ll update it again. 

To Moscow

It was with a twinge of sadness that we boarded the Rossiya train in Yekaterinburg yesterday evening, for our last Trans Siberian ride to Moscow.  No, I tell a lie!

We can’t wait to get there, and the sooner we are off the train, the better.  I think this latest journey has been noisier, rougher-riding and less enjoyable than any of the previous legs.  Maybe it’s just the anticipation of finally arriving in Moscow late this afternoon (Saturday), but we will be very happy to leave the long distance train travel behind us.  This is a vast country, probably best experienced from a window seat at 39,000 feet, in a jumbo jet.

The Rossiya first class carriage at Yekaterinburg.

The Rossiya first class carriage at Yekaterinburg.

Preparing to board for the final time at Yekaterinburg.  The lady in the cap is our Provodnitza (carriage attendant).

Preparing to board for the final time at Yekaterinburg. The lady in the red cap is our Provodnitza (carriage attendant).

The display in the carriage corridor indicates the outside temperature is 17 degrees, which suggests that finally spring may have arrived.  The sky is certainly blue, with not a cloud in sight.  I think we will appreciate some warmer weather in Moscow, especially not having to wear our warm parkas every time we step out.  (Later posts will prove this to be incorrect!)

A typical little village, just like hundreds of other little villages.

A typical little village, just like hundreds of other little villages.

We are approaching the city of Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorky), which is 442 km from Moscow.  It is located on the Volga River and is Russia’s fourth largest city, with a population of 1.3 million..  I took some not very good pictures of the combined road and rail bridge across the Volga River through the very dirty window of the train.

Crossing the Volga, beside the road/rail bridge.

Crossing the Volga, beside the road/rail bridge.

The surrounding countryside has not changed very much, although there are shoots of green starting to show beside the railway tracks.  There is still plenty of snow on the ground in places that are sheltered from the sunshine.

At every level crossing, vehicles face boom gates, and there are raised tank traps for drivers who want to try and zig-zag their way across.

At every level crossing, vehicles face boom gates, and there are raised tank traps for drivers who want to try and zig-zag their way across.

We are now actually in the Moscow time zone, which will eliminate the confusion that always existed when the train was running on Moscow time and we were many hours away from that in real local time.  Now we are just 6 hours behind eastern Australian time.

Our final lunch on board - Chicken Noodle soup and Chicken Steak with Rice.

Our final lunch on board – Chicken Noodle soup and Chicken Steak with Rice.

The train arrived at the station in Moscow absolutely on time, after about 150 hours of travel from Vladivostok.  Queensland Rail take note!  We found a taxi driver willing to bring us to our hotel, and negotiated a fair price for the journey.  There was no additional charge for the death-defying feats of squeezing in, barging through, accelerating madly and taking of short cuts that we also experienced.  We arrived at the hotel in one piece, but the driver declined Garry’s 1000 Rouble note, calling it a fake.  (We spent the same note in a supermarket later in the day.)

The Mercure Arbat hotel is an oasis of peace and calm from which we will venture forth to discover Moscow.  But that is for another day, and another blog post.

 

 

Yekaterinburg

We arrived in Yekaterinburg, our last stop before we reach Moscow, late on Wednesday afternoon.  The weather was fine but cool.  There was plenty of daylight remaining, so we decided to walk the couple of kilometres to the Novotel, on Engels St.  (The Russians have changed some city names, and removed many of the statues of their former communist leaders, but street names continue to carry their names.)

We found our Novotel hotel, and saw some of the city during the walk.  And we were pleasantly surprised.  Yekaterinburg appears to have more of the attributes of a European city – decent footpaths, street trees, parks and open spaces, long avenue vistas, and a mix of new high rise buildings and older, more gracious reminders of the past.  There are trams, and trolley buses, and diesel buses, and the now common array of modern luxury cars and SUVs.  Given the chance, the traffic moves at a very fast pace.

We walked across and along the River Iset, which forms a large decorative (currently frozen) lake in the city centre, then we had coffee at a well-known Scottish restaurant.

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Comrade V I Lenin still stands watch opposite the City Hall

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City Hall

Yekaterinburg’s main claim to fame these days (apart from it being the home town of the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin) is that it is the city where the Romanovs, the Russian royal family, were shot by the Bolsheviks in 1918.  Since the fall of communism in the 1990s, the former royals have been ‘rehabilitated’, along with the revival of the Orthodox religion.  We visited the Cathedral on the Blood, built on the site of the house where the Romanovs died.  Their remains have been interred in Saint Petersburg, but this Cathedral is a memorial to the family, who have also achieved the equivalent of sainthood in the Orthodox religion.

The Cathedral is large and impressive, with its golden domes visible from many places in the city.  As seems to be usual in Orthodox churches, the public can gain access to only a small part of the building, with much of the space being behind closed doors.  Photography was not forbidden, so I managed a couple of pictures which show the richness of the decoration and ornamentation.  There was also a constant stream of people coming in to light candles, kiss the icon images, cross themselves and genuflect repeatedly.  Not just the old, but young people too.

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Exterior view of the Cathedral on the Blood

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Interior view inside the Cathedral

There was also a series of gift shops selling all manner of cheap and very expensive souvenir junk.  We were not tempted.

We continued our walking in the afternoon discovering more of the city, as the photos below show.

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My deciphering of the Russian written characters is continuing to improve, but I doubt I will become proficient at it.  I asked in one shop yesterday if anyone there spoke English.  Rather than the usual ‘Nyet’ response, this time the girl said ‘No’.  Welcome to modern Russia!!

 

 

To Yekaterinburg

Wednesday 17 April.  We left Novosibirsk late last night on the Rossiya train bound for Yekaterinburg.  We will be on the train for only about 20 hours this time, and a large chunk of that period was spent sleeping overnight.  We are getting more used to the noises and gyrations of the train as it rockets along at a sedate 80km/hr or so.  The railway line is a freight line primarily, and passenger trains need to fit in with the slower speeds that freight trains maintain.  It’s all about energy efficiency, and reducing track wear and tear, which dictate such slow speeds for freight trains.

Before leaving, we waiting in the very large and very elegant 1890s Novosibirsk Railway Station.  I guess the ‘hammer and sickle’ vent grilles were later additions.  I was disappointed that the chandeliers did not fully light up, but they were still impressive.

The Novosibirsk Railway Station main Waiting Room.

The Novosibirsk Railway Station main Waiting Room.

The day has turned cloudy, and it looks to be quite cold outside.  Of course, in the carriage it is toasty warm – short pants weather.

It's cold out there!

It’s cold out there!

The towns and villages we pass by seem to be somewhat more prosperous, but it’s all about degrees of poverty.  It’s probably the distribution of wealth that is the problem.  In the cities, there is no shortage of large, modern, expensive European and American sedans and SUVs, often parked in places that show an obvious disregard for others – like on footpaths, on intersections and across pedestrian crossings.

On this train trip, we have met our third ‘Provodnitsa’ or Female Carriage Attendant.  We don’t know her name, but she is by far the most friendly and helpful of the three.  She is large and jolly, and she speaks a little English (rather than the one Russian word we have come to know quite well – nyet!).

It has started snowing outside, so maybe this signals a return to colder weather for us.  We have been exceptionally lucky so far, with the weather being mainly fine and sunny, especially when we have been staying in and walking around the cities along the way.

When we boarded last night, I detected that the boarding couple in the next compartment spoke English, and after a few more words were exchanged, I discovered they were Australian.  The only English speaking foreigners we have met anywhere on the trip, and they are Australians!  I have a bet with Garry that they will be from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. We shall see.  (I lost – they are from south west Western Australia.)

For lunch today, we have both ordered Grilled Chicken Breast Fillet, and the obligatory Chicken Noodle Soup.  The lady who took the order indicated it would arrive at 2.00pm.  That’s 2 hours and 15 minutes away.  As Homer Simpson would say ‘But I’m hungry now!’  I may have to raid some of our stash of snack items.

Luckily, lunch as ordered, came at 1.00pm, and I was saved.  We then prepared ourselves for arrival at Yekaterinburg soon after 5.00pm.

A final image from Novosibirsk - probably about the dirtiest car I could find there!  One of very many.

A final image from Novosibirsk – probably about the dirtiest car I could find there! One of very many.

Novosibirsk

Maybe it’s the change of season time, but Novosibirsk is dry, dusty, dirty, muddy in places and looking very run down.  Not as run down and poor as Vladivostok, but not much better.  I’ve never seen so much dust, from gritting the roads when they were snow covered, and now stirred up by the traffic.

Our hotel is OK, but it is let down by surly and indifferent staff.  We have decided that basically, the Russians don’t like foreigners.

Notwithstanding, I came here to see and experience new things, and to enjoy myself, and that is what I’m doing.  I hope that the following photos may give you a glimpse into Novosibirsk.

Comrade Lenin watches over the city.

Comrade Lenin watches over the city.

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