Sunday, 22 December 2013

Moscow and the transiberian train


This is the gorgeous  faberge egg of the Transiberian train given by the tsarina to the last tsar of Russia, found in The Armoury at the Kremlin.

We spent seven pleasant hours on the express train between St Petersburg and Moscow. and for 50 pounds we even got a meal, maybe we should mention that to midlands railway ! Before arriving we planned our route on the metro to our hotel. And what an underground metro, more like an art museum with paintings, mosaics, statues and high renaissance  / classicle style roofs that would have looked grand in a mansion. In our tour book they even suggested a tour of the ring line just to view the 
decoration ( though after moving around with heavy bags in rush hour i would say it still 
feels like London underground and you would't want to tour that :-) the locals were
really helpful,  going out of their way to direct us.

.......After leaving the train we followed the crowd out of the station to Kosmosolskaya metro station for 200 metres. Then after asking the way couple of times we found
the brown circular line and went one stop. Then walked to the dark blue metro line. on
the way an older woman insisted on helping us find our way and handed us over to a friend.  but we made a good show of finding our own way and after 3 stops got off and said goodbye to the friend..........

. Our giant hotel  was 28 floors high, gamma delta at Izmailovsky hotel complex one of 3 massive complexes  made up of shops, hotels, pubs, night bars, you name it it was there. Very handy if you didn't want to go back out into the cold air.  A standard communist era room, we had to share an extra large double bed,  very Cosy... The restaurants in this complex seemed to be of oriental / Turkish theme very strange and a lot of dark skinned men wondered around, as well as a lot if single pretty females ! Yet the hotel had a professional business feel ! 

Day  one in Moscow we did the essential centre The Kremlin and the armoury within. We were a little churched out and only looked at one inside the Kremlin and were told off by an earnest young soldier for crossing to look at the river were there was no road pedestrian crossing. We left the Kremlin and went through the gardens and round past the tomb of the unknown soldier to red square. Xmas was in red square in the form of a fair and decorations. We visited St Basil's which was very impressive  and dominated red square What was surprising was we didn't feel as in awe or as impressed as we expected with red square as we thought we would be ! maybe without the tanks and marching soldiers and with the Christmas fair stuff,  gave us this unexpected feeling, still good though. 
We had a quartet of male singers on the first floor singing religious songs beautifully in st basils After St Basil's and merry go round rides and we walked through the famous mall ? and noticed the army and police had a strong presence in the whole area. 

All around Moscow you can see that there are many people mostly older ladies doing small jobs from sitting in toilets, working in cloakrooms, helping guide people around, in churches ect.. I'm not sure if they are payed jobs or not?  you feel that there is a drive to get everyone working at something however small. 

The next day was a lazy day we walked round Izmailovo lake. Said to be a most beautiful area of Moscow mmmmmm! Theres a Disneyesque themed castle /area with a few winter craft stalls which in summer would be heaving with tourists, now near the hotel, and a waste dump that the tour books might have overlooked :-)  we headed for the lake And felt much better,  played on a frozen play park and fed the sparrows, had some snow fights and visited the Tsars of Russia winter home and estate which had a moat around it ..most properly  to keep out undesirables..  A beer a wine two beer two wines and two vodkas later we went to bed. Up early next morning and breakfast for 1200 roubles again we made our way via the metro to our station and four nights on the Trans-Siberian. 

Moscow to irkurst leg one of the transiberian journey 
Day one of the real Trans-Siberian. we left Moscow 1503,  as with all the trains here they are very punctual. It might be something to do with the fact that they allow  between 10 to 40'mins to  get off the train rather than virgins(  frantic ) 1 minute,  :-/ As we discovered the trains keep Moscow time. We went through 5 time zones in total over five days. This can be a little disconcerting when the sun is at high noon but the moscow train clock says eight in the morning. Our five paid for meals meals consist of four lunches and  One breakfast.  Lunch consists of choice of soup followed by either rice with chicken or pork with noodles or fish with potato. The first day we did not need to eat after lunch, we had enough nibbles from the hotel and from a kiosk to last us for breakfast. The next day we tried the restaurant but were not enamoured by the quality or the price 2300 rouble (40 pounds) for four of us, After that i (Tracey)  (very bravely ) foraged on station platforms for dinner. How worrying is it to leave the train even though you know it going to be here for at least twenty ... quite a nervous moment.  

We met a group of 3 men from Krasnayansk whom we shared vodka with for a couple of hours on the third day. When they left, a russian Buriat family  going home talked to us while our children played with their 4 year old son, volodya. 
They were returning to Ulan Ude after a year in Krasnayansk. The children had a little problem with the days being 23hours long but after 4days they have acclimatised just, if you say getting to sleep by 11/12 pm is acclimatised.  At 11 pm it felt like 8/9 pm .....They and we are handled  the confinement on the train very well, the kids did some jumping around on the seats and made the top bunks into the toy room. 

It wasn't as bad As i Maybe thought it would be, it was comfortable, warm almost to warm, the train was very slow in area but theres no rush.
We had our own couchette so seats by day, we made our beds at night which were comfortable we were given sheets and towels. the food was basic Eastern European, sustaining but  Seb didn't like much of it,  the staff were nice and worked long hours, 2 people took shift duty for the whole five days.
 we did have the hot water urn, so tea, chocolate kept us going and you must buy extra milk as you are given very little.  We had great views from dirty windows :-) which is why we mostly took  video not photos.
Comparing  my journey with  the stories I have been reading about travellers who first took the transiberian in the early 1900 this was a luxury :-). (story time ) ..did you know at one point before the train tracks were finished around the get people across lake baikal in the winter they froze line tracks into the ice and drove the train over the frozen lake.. The first time they did it the ice cracked and the train sank ...after that they dismantled the engine to make it lighter and passengers walked across! 
There seemed plenty to fill our days especially as the sun doesn't even come up till 10 am so we slept till sunrise, there were stops every one to two hour it varied a lot,  even through the night. This made for a very noisy train especially when at each stop they needed to take a long metal spike and bang the bogies to get the ice of!@x    sometimes the train rocked sidewards so badly I think they were changing them as well. 
Surprising it didn't bother the kids who slept through it all, 
All in all an epic trip, well worth doing and not as hard on the body as expected, though coming of the train was interesting,  as we all got to some degree what i called sickness from spending so long on the moving train and then stopping :-/ 
So after five days on the train we had made it to Irkutsk in Siberia, 
That's all for now 
From Russia and Siberia with love xx 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

St Petersburg's wonders

Heres our latest blog on our trip to st  petersburg sorry its a little long  its not easy to condense this wonderful city  . We  left Vilnius in driving snow a Dr Zivago moment onthe 6th december
The train arrived about 10 minutes before departure. tickets and passport were checked by train attendants as usual before climbing on the train. Our couchette instead of six beds had only 4 this time so the bags went on one bed and the kids shared ( but we have realised that they are growing so fast they now needed a bed each, which makes storing our bags even more interesting from now on :-) The train left at 1949 according to the clock on the building opposite. On this trip we were going through the borders from Latvia into Russia. We only were given three entry forms for  four passports so with andy's  very minimal Russian and gestures the conductress offered to fill in our entry forms for us. This would be an eventful night, border crossings always are. Its easy to forget how anxious you can feel when they take your passport away while being confronted with a stern face of the border guards  (usually female nothing escapes them )  looking at you as if you have done wrong. Does it get easier with experience ..a little..  :-) we were woken at two am Checks took about 2 hrs to complete this included a lot of questions being asked, they were especially confused and needed dates  on when we were to return to uk ..We, confuse people!  :-) there was
checks around our cabin and lots of general noise..sleep was not an option.

I (Andy) woke up  around eight and enjoyed the scenery much the same as Poland andLithuania , flat, snowy landscape with mostly (in the country)  wooden houses each intheir own plot of land. In the city you generally find high rise buildings from manydifferent periods. You could see that there is on-going improvements of the buildingsthough in some  areas there's much to be done!

Tracey and kids woke much later we were just getting ready to eat our  breakfast of
bread cheese, and pastry and check out the latest town we had arrived in when the ladyguard  starts shouting at us, To our chargrin we forgot to forward our clocks we had lost an hour opps ..we were bundled off the train with lots of finger pointing and onto the platform at St Petersburg. Alisha had been asleep at that point,  lucky the rest us were dressed. so there we were standing amidst half packed bags and getting dressed in our coats hats etc, Alisha went to the hotel in her pjs plus outer clothes  :-) and to top it all the train became dormant just sitting there,  so much for the quickest train exit even before it leaves,
Not how i had espected to arrive in Russia :-)
   this is the bundled of the train before chaotic photo

          and here are the official getting off the train photos :-)

Russia ..we are in Russia wow !!! 

Country number 70 for Andy and my 65th, Alisha has 30 under her belt and seb is
on his 17th now .. not that we are counting of course :-)

After asking directions we walked  500 metres to the Metro , a slow hike with the kids. Then 3 metro stops for 12 roubles Nevsky prospect the main central street of St Petersburg... Phew our bags were heavy at the moment longest hike ever :-/ 

We spoilt ourselves with our hotel  and it was worth every penny, small and welcoming with big rooms, if a little noisy but then Nevsky prospect is one big noisy place. we dumped bags after a short break and we dived into St Petersburg.
We walked up Nevsky Prospect and visited the 3 story book shop in the beautiful singer building then saw the grand cathedral opposite with its semi circle imposing classical architecture. As if that wasn't enough we then walked around the outside of the The church of the resurrection of Christ, with its beautiful and dominant onion dome is i say the most stunning, the tiled splendor of the inside rivals even that of the architecture outside. Every corner has a surprise with the most beautiful building you can imagine
Stopping at last for tea we then made our way back to our hotel around 9pm we had been walking for about 7 hours around St Petersburg phew.

our view from hotel towards nevsky prospect main street

Next morning after a filling breakfast, we set of on what turned out to be another 7 hour walk. The best bit about staying on the central street of Nevsky prospect meant we could walk pretty much to all the main attractions, and did not need to take any metros.  we followed the famous canal to the field of mars (war memorial with eternal flame and the unassuming summer gardens which looked like a bare park ! and past Michaels Castle a  mix of dominant russian and  classical architecture and across  of the many bridges to the Peter and Paul Fortress  i (tracey) had tried to get some photos but we were walked in thick falling snow, wonderful to be in, the kids had a ball throwing snow balls and running around. I don't know where they got their energy from.

The fortress was mostly made up of some wonderful architectural building surrounded by a vast wall which sat on the edge of the Neva  river, now used for museum pieces and exhibitions,  we was able to walk around the outside of it and had some fantastic views of St Petersburg and the art museum 'The  Hermitage' where we planed to go next. The Peter and Paul  cathedral which had the burial crypts of the past tsars was impressive, Alisha especially felt for the last murdered tsar Nicholas 11  and his  5 children who were buried here  a good taste of history brought to life (or death ) ! .. 

I feel I am struggling to express in words what we are seeing we are running out of  superlatives after so much splendour :-) 

We then crossed a further 2 bridges with great views of ice floating down the river the temp was in the minus by now and snowing heavily. 
By this time we .. the kids had run out of energy and needed food .. and beer .. us.
so we made rush for the hermitage  hoping for a cafe. After a energy boost we set about looking at the arts such as the impressionists, french art, Russian art, you name we saw it. 

The building it's self is a work of art and was the home to the tsars, beautiful, wonderful and uplifting to the soul. 
the weather has been variable one moment bright blue sky's and the next white /grey sky' and the flurry of snow turning everthing white 
After  that we went to a traditional ( pivenice) bar and enjoyed grog and local beer 
Bottoms up 

All of my photos are on my facebook page if you fancy taking a look as i took so many :-) 
That all for now.. On the 10 th December we leave for Moscow  
from Russia with love xxx 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Our travels through Brussels, warsaw, cologne, and Greetings from Vilnius, Lithuania

Andy's quick blog .......Well here we are  in Poland for one day. We have done the Eurostar to Brussels, A very kind manager got us on to an earlier train than the 1505. The 1258 arrived in Brussels with two hours to spare instead of twenty minutes, I had a beer to celebrate leaving England. Alisha was a little nervous about going under the water. We has left at 9:30 is from Milton Keynes after a little faffing , cutting children's hair and showering everyone. Tracey's sister drove us to the station and bid a fond farewell.
After the Eurostar we caught the ICE train to Koln 18:25 to 20:15. We has tea in a restaurant below the platform, there are many different ones , it is a shopping centre. Then we caught the 22:28 'Jan Kiepura to Warsaw, an overnight sleeper. We has breakfast on the train @ 8 euros 50 a head!,
In Warsaw we confirmed that the train to Vilnius was still not running as seen on the website 'the man at seat Which has given us some great advice on all our train travels so far.
We have done a minimal exploration of Warsaw and have bought bus tickets to Vilnius. for 17 euros each at the tourist information bureau computers. The bus leaves at 06:05.tomorrow morning, Everything so far has been swish and efficient. Tonight we are in the Oki Doki backpackers in a 3 bed romm. Taxi to bus stand 04  tomorrow morning near the train station. The kids are doing well apart from taking about an hour to do 800 metres from the train station to the hostel. Hope you are all well.

Hello from Tracey   3 rd december
With a sad but exciting farewell to friends and family we headed off on our great train odyssey  on the Europe, The transiberian trains and  east Asian trains.  ...a journey from London to Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia ,and beyond

One day into our journey and I woke up in a moving train and felt a sense of deep calm, I felt like I 
was doing what I love and felt most comfortable with .. Travelling ..following my wanderlust :-) a 
deep contentment made me smile and breath deeply as I stared out of the window.  the kids were still
 asleep it was about 8 am,  we were travelling through Poland towards Warsaw. It was a bright clear 
day with a strong sun and frost on the ground just enough hint to remind me that the further north we go the colder it will get. 

With the time change we had got to bed about 11pm the night before, I found sleeping on the train very comfortable despite being hard beds  and the kids hadn't stirred, Andy said he didn't sleep so well but then he was up High on the third  bunk, lucky he's good at climbing lol..

This is a lot better than the people sleeping next door on pull out chairs.  So far on day one we had taken 4 trains in total ..not bad.   The kids seem to be handling the journey as relaxed and confident as ever, and showed little upset at such a long day,  

4th December 
We arrived in Warsaw around 11 am and made our way to the OKI DOKI hostel
It had lovely warm and very clean rooms with a bar on site. Every room was individual,  ours was called the st. topez room ...very fitting :-) after spending the day wondering around the central city we tasted some local cuisine of potatoe cakes with beer soaked beef stew, verdict..  very nice ...Andy says especially with polish beer.  Kids had polish fish finger

5 th december 

From Warsaw we had to take a bus to Vilnius because of rail works on the lines. Up at 5 am we were on the bus at six ..phew arriving in Vilnius at 3.50 pm
The kids were kept Amused with on bus tv and movies. Once in Vilnius we booked into 'the center stay hostel' which again was a warm and comfortable, 4  bed room, with a little kitchen, as evening drew in we wondered about and had diner at the cancan and enjoyed this time meat and potatoe dumplings, more  local cuisine, I'm found  the food very nice but stodgy... there go's my diet ;-) 
Its around 4 lt to the £ 1 so a meal cost about 6 pounds each not bad. 

6th December 
We woke up to snow :-) the kids made paper snow flakes which we taped to the windows and after a lazy morning ventured out to see the old town. The snow had been coming down steady through the night so within a few hours we were in a wintery wonderland of beautiful old building and iconic churches with bright christmas lights adding to the atmosphere. alisha and seb went ice skating and and we drunk hot mulled wine.
At 6 pm we collected our bags and set of to mc donalds ( as promised ) before boarding  our night sleeper train to St Petersburg. we are on our way :-)

our room in the hostel

our room in the hostel ....     make paper snow flakes              .alisha and seb kitted out for winter :-)

lunch  at le crepe :-)

ice skating in the park