A Travellerspoint blog

Moscow!

sunny 34 °C

Mother Russia. What can I say? It was brilliant. Not at all what I expected. Before my trip I had an image of a bleak and defeated place, industrialised and grey. But what I found (especially in Moscow and St Petersburg) is beauty, eccentricities and an awesome party vibe (Although the stigma of unsmiling and tourist hating population lives up to all previous expectations, but that is all part of the fun). So strap yourself in and prepare for ride through Moscow!

Ok so we arrived in Moscow for Irkutsk after the longest train journey of my life. Looking back at the previous blog I don’t think I liked it that much, but how I remember it, it was AWESOME. Though I still remember how dirty you feel, and that feeling is not cool. But anyway that first shower in Moscow was, I can truly say, one of the best showers I have ever had. But anyway enough about my personal hygiene and onto Moscow.

On the very first day, our guide was late. Bloody Ivan. So we did the Red Square and St Basils Cathedral on our own, which was fine, you really don’t need a guide for that. The Red Square was ok, though not red enough for my liking, though later I found out that in Russian Red means beautiful so I guess the Russians can be forgiven because it is indeed a thing of beauty. But the most amazing part of the Red Square is at the end of the Square is St Basils Cathedral. It has two things going for it; It has the awesome Russian domes, and it is more colourful than Mardi Gras. I couldn’t believe the intensity of the colours of the roof. It was incredible. Photos do not do it justice.

Red in the Red Square

Red in the Red Square


St Basils Cathedral from the front

St Basils Cathedral from the front


St Basils Cathedral from the back

St Basils Cathedral from the back

Anyway when Ivan decided that he should get up and do his job we went to Lenin’s tomb, where you can see the corpse of Lenin. It was such a military mission to get though though. There are Russian guards everywhere shushing you and pushing you through. But when we got to Lenin, lets just say, I have seen a couple of corpses in my time (you know anatomy at uni and at wakes, nothing freaky, I swear), and this did not look like any corpse that I had ever seen. It was all waxy and looked like if you touched it you could mould with it. But, that is how the Russians say that they preserved his body. I suppose the method works then.

Oh and talking about Russian guards, we saw the changing of the guard for the forgotten soldier. Can I just say that it is bloody impressive how high those guys were getting their legs. Oh and they did this cool thing when the new guard came to relieve the old guard. The new guard would walk up to the old guard and simultaneously they would bang their guns on the ground and tilt their head at each other. It was hectic. It doesn’t sound impressive, but if you saw it you would agree. I know you would. The other cool thing that they did was when the guards were marching back to their base there was a someone in their way taking pictures of them. And like 2 steps before they got to this idiot they simultaneously slammed their guns on the ground to say, “get the fuck out of the way”, it was one of the best things I have ever witnessed. I think the guy shat himself.
Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Anyway that night I went to the ballet. Rookie mistake. I mean I think that ballerina’s can do some awesome stuff, but seriously this show had pointless dancing for the point of pointlessly dancing. It was Sleeping Beauty, and I have never heard the story of Sleeping Beauty told with Little Red Riding Hood and the fox or with a cat chasing a mouse. And they defiantly didn’t do three dances each, just to get the applause. I am all for ballet but just be pretentious and dance for the sake of it. The theatre was hot, and we were packing in like sardines. Come on guys and girls, your boyfriends can scream bravo at you at home, you don’t need them to do it in front of a couple of hundreds of people.

The second day in Moscow we went on the Metro. Can I just say it is worth going to Moscow just to see their public transport system. It is SO impressive. Ivan says that it was part of the socialist ideology, that everyone should be able to get access to beauty. And mate is it beautiful. And they have so much history behind a lot of the stations. Like Ivan showed us the thick metal doors that would close and act as a shelter in the event of a nuclear bomb exploding ( I would like to know where Sydneys nuclear bomb protection is, hmmmm). And he showed us the stations that were used as hospitals in wars. It is just incredible the history behind every single station. The Russians really have gone through a lot.

Rubbing a statues nose in the metro for good luck

Rubbing a statues nose in the metro for good luck

We also went to the treasury. It is amazing the amount of priceless stuff that that place holds. Ivan was telling us that like 20-30 years ago people couldn’t afford to buy bread or meat so they had to line up for hours or even days to get a little bit to eat. It is just amazing to think though that if Russia even sold like one of the gold plated carriages it would be able to finance feeding the population of Moscow for a couple of weeks. But no they had to hold onto them. Everything was defiantly done for the people.
Golden domes

Golden domes

Ohh the last thing that happened in Moscow was that I fucked my knee, quite impressively. See the Russians are really into putting planks across their roadworks. I unfortunately had a plank related injury. The person infront of me stepped on the very edge of the plank, which sent it straight up in the air, while I had my leg up about to step on. Needlessly to say I face planted, with half of me on the plank and the other half submerged in filthy Russian construction water. I have been told though that as falls go, I did it very gracefully. Which I guess is a plus! I was freaking out there for a while being way to cautious because it fell in the water. But it was fine apart from the fact that I couldn’t walk properly for like 3 days, and it hurt sooo much to walk.

Sot that was my Moscow experience... I was gonna put St Petersber in this one but it may be a touch to long...

Posted by maree25 07:46 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

4 days strainght on a train= NOT COOL

38 °C

Ok so it is currently the 13th of August and this will be my third night on the train. Surprise, surprise, I am getting restless. It is a LONG way from Irkutsk to Moscow.

Because I am the lone traveller in my group I got stuck with the sharing my cabin with Russians. What can I say? It has been interesting. The Russians are not really a friendly people and you are constantly met with death stares. Though after a while, if you withstand their glowering long enough, they invite you to their table with them. Which at first I was like, “are you trying to lure me down and strike while I am in range?” But no I think that they just take time to warm up to westerners. But they cannot understand why I am in their country and don’t speak Ruski. Though I am getting better, thank you English to Russian dictionary.

Can I say though that I think I can play a wide array of card games now, and that I am getting fairly good. Hours and hours sitting on a train means hours and hours of card games. The most interesting card game that I played was with this group of Russians who were about my age. They could not speak English and I could not speak Ruski. It made it VERY difficult to learn how to play. I learnt through trial and error alone. And I still don’t get the finer details of how it is played but, I manage to get through. It makes for a very interesting and perhaps long game. But it was great fun. It is just funny that they keep telling (or screaming, as is the Russian way) me the rules in Russian, exactly the same way and not understanding why I wasn’t getting it.

The fashion in Russia is fantastic. They absolutely love to rock the active wear. What would be accepted in Australia as mens underwear is perfectly acceptable to wear as mens shorts in Russia. Seriously this one guy’s package hung lower than the shorts went down his leg. What made the outfit even more special was that it was bright yellow and black and he was wearing a matching jacket. Wish I got a photo of this guy. He would not have looked out of place in Oxford St. I don't want to say anything though, this guy was kinda big.

So yeh three days on the train just consists of lots of time staring out the window (oh look more trees!), playing cards (fuck lost again), and admiring the Russians (mainly consisting of the guy admiring the Russian women). Good news is that tomorrow I will be off this train and in Moscow! More importantly I will be able to have a shower and wash my hair!!! No more washing with a flannel and a basin! Should be good can’t wait!

Posted by maree25 08:06 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Siberia!

sunny 30 °C

The train trip from Ulaanbataar to Russia = the most boring day of my life. Let me just day, Russia you are painful. It took us 10 hours, 10 army men with guns, 8 sniffer dogs, and an unbelievable amount of border control officers just ot do the 4km from Mongolia to Russia (including the waiting times on either side of the border.)

Six in the morning we got to the Mongolian/ Russian border. At which point they closed the toilets on the train (because the toilet opens straight out onto the tracks, and no one wants to clean mounds of shit off the tracks) and gave us half an hour to get off and go. A lot of people I’m travelling with didn’t get up, so were faced to wait till midday for their morning piss. Needless to say a lot of people really needed to go and there may have been some attempted bottle action. Just saying.

There’s not really that much more to say about that day but that we were bored, we go drunk (on cheap vodka of course, and this beer that came in a 2L plastic bottle called Cokon. Legendary stuff that was…), 9 of us crowded into a 4 berth cabin and started to sing a 90’s classic which for the life of me I cannot remember right now. We got plenty of death stares from both Mongolians and Russians alike that day
The initial train trip into Russia or Siberia is absolutely spectacular. Everything is green, and all the houses painted in bright colours. The villages are very old school, with all the building made of logs, and the rooves having two slopes, to deal with all the snow. Kosta, our Siberian Honcho tells us that this is the traditional Siberian look and it is awesome to look at.

Going past the fields I truly thought they were unkempt because the grass was long and flowers (or what we would call weeds) were growing everywhere. But my Russian friend that I met on the train asked me, “how beautiful are all the wild flowers?” And here I was thinking they were weeds. I was all like, “My bad”.

Supposed Siberian Wild Flowers (My bad on the colours, I was playing with the camera)

Supposed Siberian Wild Flowers (My bad on the colours, I was playing with the camera)


The first Russian and only Siberian city we stopped in was Irkutsk. Apparelty it is the second largest city in Siberia. We didn’t stay there long though because we were whisked away to Lake Baikal. It is the deepest lake in the world. It is not 40 miles deep like some English guy was trying to tell us but 1.4 km deep. Stupid English guy thinks he knows everything. Lonely Planet tells me that it formed from the separation of two tectonic plates and will eventually become the world’s next ocean separating Asia and Europe. There is a fun fact for you.

Listuganka

Listuganka

A little town called Listuganka. It is a real pretty town right on the edge of the lake. I have no proof of this though as I was a dickhead and forgot my camera when we climbed the mountain overlooking the town. Dickhead.

The lake was a balmy 10 degrees Celsius and Kosta had organised a “katamaran” for us, which we thought meant a day of sailing on the beautiful lake. WRONG. What rocked up was three inflatable sausages connected by a piece of wood, with holes cut out so we had a place for our feet. We got wet. We got cold. We got charger top dollar for the privilege. Lovely. On the up side it is believed if you wade in the lake it is supposed to make you look a year younger, while a swim constitutes 10 years. I think I earned a good 10 years. (On a side note Kosta tells us that the locals love it. Apparently in the winter they get towed behind a boat on a slab of ice. A bit too keen for my liking).
The first part of our trip, calm, smooth and great laying in the sun!

The first part of our trip, calm, smooth and great laying in the sun!

The next brilliant idea of Kosta’s was to go quad biking. Only four of us went. I was the only one that had ever ridden before. Needless to say they all acted like a bunch of city slickers, going straight through the puddles, completely oblivious to the line they should take, and oversteering all the time. Though to be fair the tour group just said “This is an accelerator, this is the brake, stay one behind the other.” They didn’t even give us helmets. It turned out to be a great hour, and what made it better was the delight in the boy’s face when it was done. We hadn’t gone very fast or very far, but there were some massive ruts , and massive puddles. They were so please with themselves. Just funny.
Lookin' awesome after my quad bike ride!

Lookin' awesome after my quad bike ride!


So basically what I am trying to say is that Lake Baikal was all in all fair decent. I would love to do some more adventuring around the massive lake. Apparently volunteers are making a walking path to circumnavigate it. Could be on the cards at some point me thinks.

Posted by maree25 07:18 Archived in Russia Tagged siberia katamarans Comments (0)

Ulaanbataar and going to a Ger Camp

semi-overcast 24 °C

Just a recap. Mongolia is amazing! In the past couple of day I went to a Ger camp, and did some of the more touristy things around Ulaanbaatar- the Capital of Mongolia. This post will be about the delights of Mongolia.

Sükhbaatar Square, Mongolias symbol of Independance

Sükhbaatar Square, Mongolias symbol of Independance

Firstly, on our first night in Mongolia, it was Will’s birthday (one of the guys in our group). So we went out Mongolian style. We ended up going to both Irish pubs in Ulaanbaatar, which you know is not that adventurous, but where we ended the night is I think one of the funniest experiences of my life. We ended the night in a Mongolian strip club. Yep that is right I have been to a Mongolian strip club. It was called the Marco Polo, and it was the weirdest place I have ever been into. No stages, no privacy, just a dance floor. Needless to say all the girls in the group stayed pretty close to the bar. But hey how many people can say that they have been to a Mongolian strip club?

Buddhist Temple

Buddhist Temple

We started the second day at a Mongolian Buddhist Temple. It was pretty amazing. There was a 26m high Buddha, and we saw all these monks preform some sort of a ceremony, which was pretty spectacular. In the temple there were all these things to spin, which we were told was meant to give you energy, so if you spin heaps of them clockwise you will get lots of good energy, so I seriously spent like 40 minutes spinning these things. Until these Japanese tourists went around the spinning things anticlockwise. Both the monk and the general Mongolian public got particularly upset, because of all the bad energy that Japanese tourists produced. So apparently the Monks spent the rest of the day resetting the energy to try and get all the good energy back.

The spinning things

The spinning things

After the temple we headed out to the Ger camp. On the way we passed all these little Ger communities. We stopped at one where there was this kid standing next to an eagle. Basically this kid told us that it was a hunting eagle and his father gets the bird to hunt foxes, rabbits, and other small mammals for them. Apparently, the eagle that they had wasn’t a big one, but the big ones hunt wolves. Impressive. Anyway after telling us all of this, his next question was, “who wants to hold it?” Unfortunatly I didn’t take up the opportunity, though now I kind of regret it. All the boys took it up though and they said it was amazing. Damn.
The hunting eagle and its handlers

The hunting eagle and its handlers

But we went on our way to the Ger camp, which let’s face it was pretty much as touristy as it comes, but was still pretty cool. The Gers themselves were pretty impressive, and really well engineered. Like they have a window in the roof so the time can be told by looking at a shadow. Pretty cleaver.
Looking into our Ger

Looking into our Ger

The first thing we did there was go horse riding. They are the stockiest horses, you have ever seen, I am talking really short and really solid. But they can go when they are pushed. The horses liked to ride in a bunch and Because I was riding with people who have never gotten on the back of a horse before it was kind of annoying because they couldn’t control their horses they were doing what they liked. God damn city folk.

But on the ride we went to a traditional Naardum Festival. Traditionally the festival is a showcase of horsemanship, archery and wrestling, and are held all over Mongolia, with the winners progressing into high and high rounds. On the day we attended they had the horse racing. Basically kids aged 5-12 compete in a 15km race, based on the age of their horse. It was amazing to see these little kids galloping flat out over the Mongolian steps, yelling, and flogging the shit out of their horses, all to win this race. It was spectacular to see. We were meant to see wrestling as well but it rained so it got called off. Pretty disappointing.

Naardum Festival (this picture doen't show it but all the boys really are around 6

Naardum Festival (this picture doen't show it but all the boys really are around 6

Mongolians also would like the world to know it is spelt and pronounced Channgis Khaan, not Ghangis Khann. Apparently French historians got it wrong. Which wasn’t his real name but a name that was given to him after he united all of the nomadic tribes under the one banner. So he is pretty much a hero in Mongolia, with massive statues of him everywhere.

The Great Chaangis

The Great Chaangis


Oh and Mongolian food. What can I say? It was interesting… The best traditional food I had was this noodle dish, with fresh noodles and vegetables but the fried dumplings were also pretty good. On the not so good list was the mutton, any type of curd, fermented mares milk, and a traditional drink of cows milk and green tea. Though it was an interesting experience trying all these! To try most of these dishes we went to a family Ger. This old lady made all the dishes especially for us. It was truly amazing how she lives, but man Mongolian bowels are pretty hardy.
A Mongolian nomad

A Mongolian nomad


Me the nomad, amusing us by letting us get a photo with her

Me the nomad, amusing us by letting us get a photo with her

Lessons Learnt:
1. While it is cool to say that you have been to a Mongolian strip club, going to a Mongolian Strip club is not that cool
2. Whatever you do, do not do ANYTHING anticlockwise in a Buddhist temple.
3. If there is an eagle on the side of the road, don’t be a wus, even if it can hunt wolves.

Posted by maree25 18:29 Archived in Mongolia Tagged mongolia ger Comments (0)

Out of Beijing, through rural China and into Ulaanbaatar

all seasons in one day 28 °C

So much to day about the last couple of days. Firstly we had our very first leg on the train. It is pretty cool and more than I expected. The compartment was four berth, but I was lucky in that I shared with only one other. She was a French girl, also named Maire. She was pretty alright bit she made friends with some other French people on the train so she wasn’t around much, so I had the compartment to myself. The compartment itself reminded me of the Hogwarts Express. But there was no lady walking around selling food. Bummer.

The scenery that could be seen going out through China was amazing. It was all green and lush, with lots and lots of corn fields. Occasionally was could pass these waterways with massive cliffs, which were visually spectacular. About 5 hours in I took a nanna nap for not even an hour and the scenery had completely changed in desert. I couldn’t believe that the landscape could change that quickly. The desert was an awesome thing to look at as well.
Rural China

Rural China


I meet this Japanese fellow on the train as well. He was going to volunteer in Mongolia. His name was Yuta. He was pretty awesome and we spent many an hour that trip leaning out of the train windows together. It was an awesome feeling leaning out of the train, looking ahead of us with the wind blowing in my face (this was particularly awesome because we weren’t in an air conditioned cabin… and it was hot!). The landscape was so completely different to anything that I had experience that I could literally sit there for hours and just stare at it.

Hanging out of the train in Mongolia

Hanging out of the train in Mongolia

My first few glimpses of Mongolian life

My first few glimpses of Mongolian life



The border crossings were interesting as well. When we stopped on the Chinese side of the border all these Chinese people literally came running onto the train demanding our passports and acting all intimidating. We then got off the train and had to wait 3 hours on the platform while the carriages got changes around. It was an insane process, though everyone reverted back to primary school children playing games and singing songs. There was this one little Mongolian boy who was like 6and he entertained us by catching the bugs. To tire him out his mother challenged him to some running races. Which ended up being a running race between him and everyone in our group, and everyone else on the platform. Everyone let him win, except for one person in our group (note: cross country runner, and clearly does not like to lose), she did this she said to “teach him a lesson”. Competitive much?

Anyway the border crossing is long and tedious, because you have to wait for 3 hours on the Chinese side and another hour on the Mongolian side. And on the actual border there are guys with guns everywhere walking up and down the outside of the train. Scary stuff. The Chinese guards even checked all of our luggage to see if we were smuggling people.

But Mongolia is AWESOME. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever expect it to be so spectacular. Ulaanbaatar is so westernised. It is awesome to walk into a supermarket and read what they the products are. But what is cool about it is that it still maintains a lot of traditional Mongolian ideology. All in all it is a pretty cool place… I would come back!

The Suburbs of Ulaanbaatar

The Suburbs of Ulaanbaatar

Posted by maree25 04:01 Archived in Mongolia Tagged train ger ulaanbaatar Comments (0)

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