Category Archives: Russian Trip

A visit to Vladivostok Via the Trans-Siberian Railway

sunset-Vladivostok

Since learning about the Trans-Siberian Railway in my lower class at school, it has always been a fascination and dream to make this great leap of experience. The least I knew about it is that it is the world’s longest commuter route, and my destination is at Vladivostok, which is its eastern terminus.

Vladivostok railwayHaving been in transit for almost six nights, I was ready to explore this magnificent city and absorb all that it had on offer. After refreshing at the Comfort Inn hotel – they have superb facilities e.g. Wi-Fi, restaurant, sauna, laundry and a mini-market, I headed out to get myself something to eat.

Lesnaya Zaimka is one of the ancient restaurants in Vladivostok, full of Russian hospitality and welcoming atmosphere of hunting mansion. They offer mouthwatering European, Russian and Caucasian cuisines. I had the opportunity of tasting some of their specials of Manchurian deer and bear meat. Tasteful drinks from the restaurant’s bar list accompanied the meals.

My stay at Vladivostok was not long. Therefore, I had to capture a lot of adventure at a very short time. I am an adventurous and party animal, and I visited Aerotunnel Letim, which is a famous attraction situated in the isolated space of Sports Complex Fetisoy. It is an exhilarating activity worth trying.

Among the places that are a must-visit is the Military and History Museum of the Pacific Fleet. Not just visitors whose interest is in naval science visit, but who as well want to absorb more regarding the city. Acknowledge its incredible history and experience its unique atmosphere. I saw over forty thousand individual exhibitions, narrating the Pacific Fleet’s chronicles and operating medical devices used in the course of the Russo-Japanese war.

Vladivostok_streetI had to finish my day with a little bit of a jig, and I had a variety of magnificent places to visit. Located close to Vladivostok train station and the sea terminal as well, the nightclub Abordage is the exact place to relax because of the friendly and pleasant atmosphere. The interior design is typically marine style and has a rich cultural effect. Modern musical bands and stylish DJs entertain guests and a concise place to spend the rest of the night.

My concept of Vladivostok was contrary to my experience. The city has friendly and hospitable people who look positively into the future confidently and with hope, though the weather might be a bit chilly for most of the nights.

An icy wonderland, wearing a swimsuit in a Siberian winter

Ulan_Ude

I am so looking forward to my stay in Ulan Ude, I plan to stay for 6 days. I originally planned only an overnight stop but after talking with friends when I was in Tyumen I have decided to take a tour here, their description of the ice grotto’s as magical caught my attention and imagination.

I am so glad I am traveling independently, a little bit hard when booking my onward tickets as my Russian is not so good but I have found many people who are willing to help, even to writing down what I want in Cyrillic, the Russian language that looks like symbols! Traveling as I am, is allowing me to take diversions and longer stays if something interesting is happening and the other nice thing is it gives me chance to meet up with others doing the same thing.

Ulan Ude Center    I am staying at the Ulan Ude Travelers Hostel, that again has been recommended by friends and The Lonely Planet. I had the instructions how to get there written down in English and Russian but I had no problems once I got to Lenin’s head, a rather large monument with the unlikely honor of being the largest bronze head of Lenin in the world at 7.7m high its is certainly unmissable.

Ulan Ude has been a town of many names, starting life as a Cossack ostrog (fort), it was originally called Udinskoye which became Udinsk in 1775, and then in 1783 it was called Verkhneudinsk to differentiate it from another town on another River Uda, apparently there are two River Uda’s in Russia. This name remained until 1934 when during the communist years it became Ulan Ude (Red Uda), a reflection of the Communist ideology. Due to military installations Ulan Ude has been a closed town and was only opened in 1980.The hostel is a new adventure for me and I am finding it very interesting and informative and the facilities excellent. The beds clean and spacious,with internet and hot water, the travelers essentials!

Lake_Baikal  I have also joined with a group there to go on a three day tour to Lake Baikal, described as a ‘winter fairy tale’, the lake, in Bay Chivyrkuisky, also boasts ice grottos and hot springs, can’t quite believe I am packing my swimsuit, in Siberia, in winter! We will be staying with host families and that I am especially looking forward to, also having a meal of fresh fish caught by the ice fisherman sounds tasty.

Before all of that, tomorrow I am off to drive a husky sleigh in the morning and visit an open air museum in the afternoon. The Ethnographic Museum of the Peoples of Transbaikal is one of Russia’s largest. It reflects the diversity of the region and the Mongolian-Buddhist culture of the area, highlighting the fact I am moving ever nearer to the East and its influence can be seen in the architecture and people around me.

4 Days in Novosibirsk: The Beauty and Serenity of Russia

Novosibirsk night

I alighted at Vokzal Gravny railway station in Novosibirsk from Moscow 2 hours from the time of departure. The cold cut through my skin but thank goodness I had carried my heaviest jacket with me. It took me a full day to be used to the cold. I was fascinated to find most Russians in the Novosibirsk streets do not speak English. Luckily I met a young woman, Hanna, a resident there, who acted as my interpreter during the whole stay.

Russia’s third largest city stands out as one of the dated cities in the country. Through my entire trip, I came across ancient structures, some archival and abandoned at the outskirts of the city. However, the city boasts of breath-taking sceneries that neither of my earlier trips had presented. Just like back at my home city, I either caught a taxi or Metro to all my destinations.

Sceneries I visited

Novosibirsk State MuseumFirst off, I visited the Novosibirsk State Museum. Located at Ploshid Lenina facing the metro station, the building taught me the history of Novosibirsk at a glance. The House of Cabmen and Siberian Modern Art Center are within walking distance from the museum where I learned more about the culture and the lifestyle of the Novosibirsk residents. I then visited the Lenin Square at the city center and the Akademgorodok, both ancient buildings holding historical importance not only to the Novosibirsk residents but to Russians from all walks of life.

I always dreaded to visit the famous Novosibirsk Zoo. In my second day of the trip, I took a taxi, called my interpreter Hanna, and headed out to the zoo. The superfluity of animals and the serene environment left me yearning to visit Novosibirsk more often. The zoo is always awash with tourists, both domestic and international.

Novosibirsk State Academic Opera HouseActivities

The plethora of fun activities that I could carry out in Novosibirsk could not fit in my schedule. On my third day, in the evening, I visited the State Academic Opera House, located at the Lenin Square. The plays there are classic and known worldwide. There are a wide array of ice arenas around the city and I visited one of them to just view the skaters do their thing.

Shopping, Wining and Dining

Thanks to the high number of shopping malls, I carried some of the Novosibirsk goodies with me. I shopped at the Siberian and the Moscow Malls. I tasted Italian and Russian cuisines but was fascinated to come across the People’s Bar and Grill that served British/American delicacies. I slept at the Zokol Hotel located at the Shchetinkina St just a few minutes’ walk from Lenin St. Novosibirsk city has a number of free Wi-Fi spots and even the hotel I slept in offers free Wi-Fi. After the trip, I had learned more than I needed about the history and the culture of Russians. Though the city does not boast a high number of tourists, it is one of the best places I visited in Russia.

Dobro pozhalovat’ v Sibiri – Welcome to Siberia

Tyumen

As you can see I am trying to improve my Russian, it grows slowly but having a lot of fun trying out what I do know. I am currently taking a couple of days break from the train and finding my land legs again or should I say snow and ice legs. Seriously cold here, for me that is, locals tell me it’s not that bad, -15 is cold to my way of thinking.

I am here in the cold to visit a couple of teaching colleagues who are on an exchange visit to a local university here in Tyumen. The oldest Russian city in Siberian Asian and currently one of the wealthiest due to the discovery of oil and gas fields in the 1960’s. I was surprised to discover that this is a center for higher education with over 10 academies and 3 universities, education & students are counted as one of the city’s main economic resources.

Tyumen springWhilst first impression had me seeing Tyumen as a modern built city, with it high rises and business centers, further exploration, carefully by car I might add, saw some nice examples of historic buildings and architecture. I was told the that the nickname for the city was Capital of Villages as it was built on a collection of lumber houses, architecturally it appears very eclectic but interesting. Unfortunately a little too cold to do much sightseeing. I was determined to visit the old capital of Siberia whilst I was here, Tobolsk.

The Trans Siberian Railway line is south of Tobolsk and when built the city reverted to a provincial town but the 17th and 18th century architecture of when it was the regions capital is certainly worth seeing. The town is basically in three segments, an new area that replicates similar towns elsewhere, a rather dilapidated area near the river and the historical area. It is here you will find the Kremlin, a fortress of white walls and towers, churches and palatial residences.

Tobolsk kremlin  Visiting it in the snow was quite magical, you could imagine tales of princesses and heroes centering around it, well worth the effort to get here. Travelling to Tobolsk from Tyumen there were several options, car, bus or train or typically Russian shared car. Due to the snowfall and state of the road I decided the train was my better option. I took a very early train and after a journey of about 4 hrs I was there, spent the day and returned in the evening, a very long day but worth it. If I visited again I would stay overnight to see some of the sites I did not have time to see like the monastery of St John on the towns outskirts.

Arriving in Yekaterinburg on the Trans Siberian Railway

Ekaterinburg Riverside

After three days aboard my train I am now getting ‘my train legs’, oh yes just like sea legs prolonged train travel does interfere with your gait. I have adapted to the vibration and movement by slowing down, I tend to be a rather quick step sort of person and walking with my feet slightly further apart helps with the sway. Beginning to meet other passengers and share stories, why is it we tend to share the ‘what can go wrong’ stories first?

Although some of the advice I am receiving from seasoned travelers is helping formulate my itineraries for the cities and towns I will be visiting. Crossing from Europe into Asia was celebrated with a new friend and a glass of champagne, not quite sure of the exact crossing but who cares, the champagne was very nice and the scenery around the Urals magnificent. This Mountain range stretches north to south across western Russia and is the natural boundary between east and west.

Yekaterinburg old train  We arrived in Yekaterinburg early evening and already we are in a different time zone, we are now GMT+5, two hours ahead of Moscow. This journey will eventually take me across seven time zones. I want to travel as freely as possible as in the words of Lao-Tzu, “a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” I want to enjoy my journey not just be looking to my final destination.

Yekaterinburg is the fourth largest Russian city with the dubious honor of being where the Tsar Nicholas and his family were murdered in 1918. I organized an overnight stay in host accommodation and as the place sleeps 3 I invited the lady I met on the train to stay with me rather than in the hotel as she had planned. In return, as this was not her first visit she took me to a splendid restaurant the Stroganov-Grill, where I had my first taste of borsch and an excellent stroganov over mashed potatoes, my friend had blini and they are next on my ‘to try list’.

Yekaterinburg View   Tomorrow is serious sightseeing and to see if all the advice and research will help me manage to book my onward ticket. Plan of the day is find a ‘walking map’ these I am told are free and published by the tourist board, I have got instructions how to find the office and feel pretty confident I will manage that. Looking forward to visiting the Chinese bazaar and the mafia cemetery, I know, trashy, but still while I am here I want to satisfy my curiosity. I also intend to visit the Church on the Blood and the Qwerty monument and of course the Museum of Fine Arts. Da svidaniya

Fur Coats and Taxi’s, A Day in Moscow

Moscow City

Moscow, the hustle and bustle, car noise and traffic jams the same as most cities but every corner you turn there is something interesting, I guess that is why I travel. I am staying in one of the “seven sisters”, the Hotel Ukraina, also known as the Radisson Royal Hotel after the group took over management in 2009.The hotel along with seven other projects, the eight one was cancelled, were built at the height of Stalinist Russia. Using American skyscraper technology, seven large buildings were constructed between 1947 – 1953. The architectural style was a combination of Russian baroque and gothic, culminating in what was then the worlds tallest building with a very distinctive skyline; although to me it reminds me of the square building blocks I had as a child, you know the each layer is less than the one before. I choose the hotel not only for its history and facilities, which are excellent, but also for its art collection from Russian artists of the early 20th century.

One thing you quickly notice in any of the areas you visit is how smart the ladies are dressed, almost formal, nearly every age group is wearing makeup and heels. The amount of real fur is staggering and a little distressing but as my guide explained very, very necessary in the cold winters as nothing is as warm as real fur. I was lucky the weather has not been below freezing.

I had pre hired a guide, Alexandria, who has proved to be worth her weight in gold, one example, Muscovite’s don’t use taxis, these are left for the tourists but what they do is stand at the side of the road in the direction they are going and wait for an everyday you or me driver to stop. They then discuss route and price, if going your way and price is right you get in…don’t try this without a guide! If the price is not right you have to dramatically slam the door, shame I never got to do that, it looked like fun.

Yaroslavi stationTomorrow I start my journey on the Trans Siberian Railway (TSR), I had Alexandria take me to the station I leave from so I could orientate myself, but the lovely lady has offered to come with me the morning of my departure. Moscow has nine rail terminals connecting all of Russia to the capital, I am traveling from the Yaroslavsky Terminal, Moscow on Komsomolskaya Square, this is the western terminus of the TSR and where my journey will continue from, can’t wait after all the time spent planning and researching it is actually going to happen.