Archive for ‘Russia’  

China, Russia : 145 Hours

Friday, 6th June 2008

145 Long hours on a single train journey accross the biggest country in the world with no shower, one enormous carriage attendant, multiple cabin companions and unlimited boiling water… heaven.

We boarded train number 20 in Moscow at 23:55 on the 30th of May to start our adventure travelling across the whole of Russia to China. To give you a sense of scale, we actually crossed the Chinese border 2 days ago but only arrived in Beijing this morning.

Due to all the horror stories we’ve heard, we were prepared for the worst and had plenty of provisions to keep us going for the 6 days on the train. We bought loads of noodles, soups, some canned fruit & sweetcorn and chocolates & biscuits. We also had enough coffee, tea, sugar and powdered milk to keep us going for days. But despite of all the nasty things we’ve heard, we were pleasantly surprised..

It was a fairly new train with snug, yet clean compartments and we even had our own TV (albeit with one or two Russian-dubbed movies a day). Our second class tickets meant we had to share a 4-bed compartment (we had the 2 top bunks) and started the journey with 2 Russians. None of the others went all the way to Beijing, so during the course of the trip we had a total of 5 different room mates – all Russian and all very nice, friendly and quiet (which translates into no snorning) – even though most of them couldn’t speak any English.

However the last girl that got on at Ulan Ude had a, shall we say, slight flatulance problem while sleeping :). The first night we were amused at the sound of repeated “gun fire” from below which would have made most men (of a certain inclanation) very proud.

It is amazing how the hours and days just went by and melted together. We spent the average day sleeping late, reading, eating, sleeping again, drinking, sleeping some more and then repeated the cycle. Jan even finished his first book of this trip!

We expected to have a few meals in the train restaurant, but after checking it out on our first night (their menu had pictures of animals, including a Springbuck! so we knew we couldn’t trust it) we decided that it was way overpriced. In the end we managed to go the entire trip fueled only by our own provisions, augmented with 2 loafs of bread we bought from private sellers on the platforms. It worked out perfectly.

The 5th day was the toughest by far and encompassed the most insane border crossing we have ever experienced! Arriving at the Russian border post at 08:30 we were chased off the train in order to change the wheels (Russian train tracks are more than 1.5 m apart but Chinese tracks a few inches less) which took about 3 hours. We had to hang around the platform because there was nothing to do in the little town, expect a very small corner shop. Once this operation was finished, we had to get back on the train and then the passport control and cabin searches started. This took another 3 hours.

At our delight we started moving again just before 15:00 only to stop again at the Chinese border post 15 minutes later. This was much more intense, with 3 officials per cabin – searching and unpacking every piece of luggage. We had our Chinese Lonely Planet hidden in Marizanne’s bag and despite it being searched twice they never found it. The Chinese government is not too happy with some of the comments about China/Tibet and will happily confiscate the books if found. The passport controls were also over the top with individual freckles and moles being analysed and compared with the passport photograph.. all very tideous! 7 hours after arriving on the Chinese side, we took our leave and were on our way again. We spent 13 hours covering a total of 10 km!

At this point it was just us and our farting friend who we finaly lost at Shenyang, leaving us with a glorious 9 hours (out of the 145) to spend on our own.

The train steamed into Beijing Railway Station at 05:30 this morning and we went straight to the closest hostel we could find (directly opposite the train station). It was too early to check in at this stage, so we spent an hour having our first helping of dumplings and Beijing noodles for breakfast.

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

China, Russia : Trans-Siberia

Friday, 30th May 2008

It’s 22:15 and we’re about to leave the hostel for the train station. Our train departs at 23:55 and we’ll be off-line until we hit Beijing on the 6th of June.

Parents: Please don’t worry, we have lots of food and water for the journey. If you don’t hear from us in two weeks, send a search party..

Signing off..


Russia : Moscow Act 2

Thursday, 29th May 2008

Our plans for an early/peaceful night sleep never materialised the first night.. the drunk American and British students in the hostel made sure of that.

As we didn’t get a lot of sleep, we slept fairly late yesterday and only left the hostel early afternoon. We went on our own walking tour through the city, visiting a handful of sights and a few reputable Metro stations. The most impressive sight of the day was the Church of Christ the Saviour with its white marble walls and huge golden domes. Moscow is famous for some of the most beautiful underground stations in the world, so we went on a little trip to see a few of them. The stations are enormous and a few are quite impressive (and others not so much).

Before we knew it, it was very late in the afternoon and we started to make our way back to the hostel. We cooked dinner and met 2 Swedish guys at the hostel and had a nice chat. At about 23:30 Jan went out to take some night photos of the Red Square and only came back at about 01:00.

Again we went to bed with expectations of a good night’s sleep, but no luck.. This time the entertainment started at midnight in the living room and got worse and worse from there. Unfortunately the hostel does not enforce any curfew for noise which is very strange indeed. This carried on until about 05:30am, despite numerous attempts to shut them up.. We shared the dorm (10 beds) with a couple that is getting married in 2 days, 3 British students and a Russian mother and daughter. Between them they provided endless entertainment in the form of snoring, constantly going in and out of the room and slamming the door, and 2 couples doing the funky chicken right there in the room!  Needless to say we got no sleep at all and packed our stuff there and then.

The Napoleon Hostel has actually won the Top Rated award in Moscow in 2007. It must have been voted for by party goers only, because the place is a mess with clothes, dirty towels and dishes everywhere! A word of advise: stay away from the Napoleon Hostel in Moscow!

We moved to another hostel down the road (Comrade Hostel) and it feels like paradise. We are taking it easy today and will try to find a supermarket later to stock up on provisions for the long train journey ahead.

Asta, Christoph & David, who we met at the Comrade Hostel

Russia : Mighty Moscow

Tuesday, 27th May 2008

After a surprisingly comfortable overnight train from St Pete’s we arrived in Moscow at 9:30 this morning. We were in a 4 bed compartment, with a potential snorer, but to our delight he never delivered!

We got a flyer of the Napoleon hostel in St Pete’s and walked straight there from the station. We managed to secure only one night as they are fully booked for the weekend, but they offered us matresses on the floor in the dorm room for tomorrow night – not so nice.. There is still a posibility of cancellations, so fingers crossed!

Honourable mention: They’ve got a great shower here! It’s the small things in life..

After a little morning-siesta and a lenghty internet session (free at the hostel) we went on a mission to find alternatives for tomorrow night onwards. We covered quite a few kilometers and saw a handful of hostels (and sights), but had no luck as most are booked, or super dodgy.

On the way back we did some grocery shopping after which we walked through the hugely impressive Red Square just before sunset and got some really nice shots.

We’ve just cooked dinner and are planning on having an early night (which lately means anything before 1am).

We have 3 more full days in this huge capital (10 million people) before we leave so we have plenty more time to see the sights. Moscow is very impressive and has made an excellent first impression.

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Russia : St Petersburg day 2

Monday, 26th May 2008

We had to check out of the hostel at 11:00 this morning but could leave our luggage there until we leave tonight.

Most of the day was spent walking around the parts of town we did not see yesterday – ie the Peter and Paul Fortress & Cathedral and the Alexander Nevsky Monastery & gardens.

We came back to the hostel and prepared some dinner, afterwhich we had a quick internet session (please note that due to technical difficulties we cannot update our current location and maps at the moment).

Our overnight train to Moscow leaves at 01:05, so we will probably make our way to the station soon.

Russia : St Petersburg

Sunday, 25th May 2008

After just over 1 month we have finally left Eastern Europe behind. It was an amazing experience and we will never forget it. The only regret is that we didn’t have more time to spend in each country, but we are thankful that we could get a small taste of so much of it. The people are great, the cities beautiful and the countryside awesome!

Stats: We are recording all our trips so far and after 60 days of travelling through 23 countries we have taken a total of 8 ferries, 23 busses and 50 trains with a combined travel time of 13 days 4 hours and 17 minutes – including 10 time zones changes!

The train from Helsinki arrived in St Petersburg at 22:30 last night and we headed straight to the cheapest hostel in the Lonely Planet. We had to take the Metro train 3 stops further and were amazed at how deep underground the stations are. The escalator is probably 200m long!

According the Lonely Planet map, it should have been a short walk from the Metro station, but after walking for about 3km (up and down the street) we found the address on a totally different place and needless to say, there was no hostel. We just love the Lonely Planet at times like these! We then walked to our second option, another 1.5km further. At that stage it was already 00:30 and we were so happy to just find an existing hostel. We were so fedup and decided to take a private double room – at much more than a dorm room – but we really needed after the day we had!

This morning we got up just in time to grab some breakfast at the hostel (served by a very serious little old Russian man) and then headed straight for the train ticket office to buy the Trans-Siberian train tickets. The girl at the hostel very kindly helped us and wrote a note explaining where we want to go on which dates. The note turned out to be our saving grace, because no-one spoke any English. We still managed to buy our tickets from St Petersburg to Moscow, then from Moscow to Beijing in under 1 hour which is definately some kind of record!

Since the start the whole Trans-Siberian trip was a bit of a black hole and even though we had a lot of information, we’ve never been sure whether we would actually be able to get the tickets we wanted. Now that we finally have them it is a big weight off our shoulders. Due to huge price increase whenever you add a stop to the route, we decided to take a direct train all the way from Moscow to Beijing and not stop in Mongolia (even though we already have visas). The tickets are booked leaving Moscow at 23:05 on the 30th of May and will arrive in Beijing at 05:30 on the 06th of June.

With our tickets in our pocket and feeling very relieved, we finally started our sightseeing for the day. It was a beautiful blue sky but still pretty cold – maximum temperature was about 15 degrees. The Church of Spilling Blood was our first stop and definately the highlight of the day. We walked through markets where we bought a little souvenir and then proceed to the Palace Square with the Winter Palace and the Hermitage. To our disappointment the Hermitage was already closed for the day and is also closed tommorrow. We walked a little further west and passed the Admirality, Bronze Horseman and St Isaac’s Church before making our way back to the hostel.

We can see why they refer to “White Nights” during this time of the year (mid May to June), because it is now 23:05 and it is still very light outside. It doesn’t get complety dark at this time and it feels very weird having to go to bed very late at night with it still being so light.

We had a great first day in St Petersburg and still have all day tommorrow to explore further, before our overnight train (departing at 01:20) to Moscow.

From Russia with love..

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.