From Russia With Love

Posted: February 6, 2013 by geeza11 in Uncategorized

Good evening once again,

This time I’m writing from our smallish hostel located just off the main street in Moscow, however time is always ticking and my keyboard not forever tapping so I’ll have to give you a quick rundown on the beautiful town of St Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург) and then later on find somewhere to begin for Moscow. Only a week now until we start the Ice Run proper as well, rather chilling! But for now I’ll put some words together for you depicting our brief time in The Palmyra of the North (let’s hope the name refers to the Ancient City).

With so much luggage – 1 x 17kg bag each, 1 x 20kg duffel, 2 x back packs, and 2 x helmets (with some read dye they could easily look like a bagged head) – catching any form of transport is always slightly rushed and stressful, quite similar to our first experience in St Petersburg, Russian(ed) and somewhat stressful. We jumped off the train, walked the wrong way off the platform, before making the walk of shame back past a number of Russian soldiers to the sound of their jolly laughter. Once outside the inner tourist really blossomed. Having already heard about the large number of black cabs in Russia (unregistered taxis) and the convention of bargaining down the price before hand, we proceeded to completely forget and load all our bags into one, then asked the price upon arrival and were told that it would cost 2300 rubles or 74AUD. Sometimes you learn the hard way in life. But with that out of the way and all our stuff safely in our room we decided to get out onto the streets. It was a good chance for Patrick to practice the Russian he had learnt previously and it was very helpful in ordering our food and navigating our way through the streets. At first Cyrillic can seem daunting however, it is rather simple and all the words are phonetic so no silly silent bs, ts, or ps.

The rest of the first day here saw us climb to the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral (big domey church thing) however our bad luck for the day continued as after ascending to the top of the dome, enjoying the amazing view over the town and descending the 270 steps to the bottom Patrick realized that he couldn’t find his second wallet containing a large sum of euros and fresh rubles. We tried going back up the exit, but were shouted at in Russian by some guards so presumed that it might be best to leave. Patrick then bought another ticket and climbed the whole cathedral again but to no avail. Some investigative work looking through photos revealed that his bag had in fact been open and our races up the steps may not have been the best idea. We then did our usual aimless but very insightful wandering and absorbed as much as we could, from the Cyrillic to the Russian culture and intricate architecture on the buildings. It is certainly a country very proud of its language and heritage and we found that it wasn’t that they couldn’t speak English they just assumed you would have learnt Russian, an attitude very different to the Finnish and most other European countries. The rest of the day was fairly relaxed and after waking up at 3:15am were fairly tired and decided (after going to a pub) to go to bed to get some rest for the next few days of relaxation oppan Russian style.

The Hermitage was one of the big things on our list as it apparently houses more artwork than the Louvre even with over 20 million pieces in storage. Inside is a labyrinth of corridors and rooms all ornately decorated in gold and artwork. At first with no map we managed to get completely lost and I swear we saw the same vase/sled at least 5 times, although a very nice sled at that. The attendants were also giving us some odd looks. Crazy tourists. Finally after at least an hour we found a map and got less lost. There were some incredible paintings there by Matisse, Cézanne, van Gogh and Picasso along with the amazing Tsar era items intricately carved out of wood/bone/gold etc. One thing that stood out was a clock about the size of a small shed, completely out of gold. On the hour, the three animals inside, peacock, owl and mouse would come to life moving their head/wings. Nowadays not such a big deal, but the lifelike movement is achieved through just some wind up springs and was designed in the 18th Century. Clearly no expense spared on the construction! I’m sure the peasants would have completely understood, Kings can’t rule properly without their gold toilet seat! Unfortunately Patrick had come down with a nasty cold so we decided it was best to head back and have a restful afternoon/early night so he could have a quick recovery and get straight back into it the next day.

And we certainly did. Patrick had recovered well and we soon found ourselves admiring the incredible mosaics inside the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood, the place where Tsar Alexander III was exploded (great church pun: How do churches make holy water? They boil the hell out of it). Not just shot or stabbed or hung or quartered or whatever they did in those days but actually exploded. Hmm messy. We then ventured into the awesome souvenir market and bargained our way through lots of different soviet era memorabilia and millions of babushka dolls. I managed to pick up some awesome space badges and Patrick a camera, flask and some other interesting items. The Russian Museum was next on our list and exposed an important era in Soviet Art. After getting back to the hostel, we decided it was time to come out of our six bed dorm and actually converse seeing as we hadn’t been out much due to illness and it was well worth it! The kitchen had been taken over by a number of ISIC students from all parts of the world. They made a dish from each of their countries. We made some overcooked pasta with what we thought was tomato sauce but turned out to be 99% capsicum 1% tomato. What had us gagging they seemed to be enjoying with smiles…sort of. Clearly Australia was well represented. We can be thanked later. But then the Brazilians showed us some of their funk and then did a quick samba lesson! Awesome fun. Most of them had come to visit and use the kitchen but once they had all left we went out to a bar with these guys from Turkmenistan and Brazil, turned out to be a very interesting night after all!

Our final day in St Petersburg we visited the sea fortress and pretty much froze. Once again wind chill was a big factor which may be sort of worrying considering it was -3C and we’ll be riding in -20C. Let’s hope we can acclimatise…

Well we have actually made it through Moscow and are currently in Yekaterinburg and will be staying here two nights before moving off to Irbit.

Only four days until we leave now, so we’re both getting pretty excited and a touch nervous at what lies ahead. I’ll leave it at that and hope to finish off writing up our time in Moscow shortly.

Hope you’re all keeping warm, and during our trip we’ll be able to update our blog via voice and text so should be interesting.

From Russia with love,

– Guy and Patrick

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