A Travellerspoint blog

Moscow to St Petersburg Sep 24

Fast Train

overcast 11 °C
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Moscow to St Petersburg Sep 24

Quiet morning before joining the "Peregrine Falcon"-  the SAPSAN (fast train) at the Leningrad train station for our 5.5 hour run to St Petersburg. The trip was relaxing max speed about 236 km / hr 3 course lunch (railway quality but good service and very clean) train was  German made not Russian.

Passed many small villages with typical run down dachas with unkempt yards rusty tin and junk everywhere. Sorry but the image of Dr Zhivago is not there. Moved Into what I think is called boreal forests with mixed birch and conifers. plenty of swamps and lakes - just great for mosquitoes in summer. Towns with apartments so houses are a luxury even away from the cities.

 Arrived in St Petersburg and lost half the crew at the railway station. New bus driver Dimitri and guide Tatiana. Now at the hotel Astoria in what can only be described as magnificent city and we have only seen 10 minutes worth. A mix of Florence and Venice with old buildings mostly 19th Century and rivers which cross the city like canals.   

Off for a Russian dinner of borsch and stroganoff. We are handling the 5 star treatment very well. Porters for baggage and  beautiful rooms with all facilities and great service and those who matter to make it work all speak excellent English.

The overnight news of Putin's plans and the reaction on the streets (according to the TV) made us reflect upon another Sergaism "Speaking uncomfortable truths is not a good career move in Russia"

Russia, like Australia, appears to be riding out the world economic crisis with a decline in productivity rather than full recession but that may all change as the election approaches. 

Posted by suengarry 21:36 Archived in Russia Tagged trains Comments (0)

Moscow Sep 23

Red Square and the Kremlin

rain 18 °C

Moscow Sept 23

Really big day with a further tour of the city including a run past Gorky Park and on up to a popular look-out over the city vista and the Olympic Stadium including the two ski jumps which now look as though the skier would finish stuck up a tree. Sergei's comment "No one really cares anymore as Russia has got about one world class athlete". 
This part of the city almost as popular for wedding parties as Red Square. The look-out about 200 m above Moscow and 800 m above sea level is also the location of the Moscow University (one of the seven sisters -  extravagent buildings built in 1947 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the founding of Moscow. There were to have been eight built but the last, it was felt would have dominated the Kremlin, so that one was donated to Warsaw in Poland). The university building is very impressive home to some 40000 students. We can only imagine the party crowds up here in summer. 

Back to Red Square for Sergei to give us a talking/walking tour " in the rain".  A lot of young people lining up outside what looked like a fan park set up for a Champions League match. Amazing feeling standing in the middle of where those parades of missiles, tanks, soldiers etc all filed past the heads of the politburo. Strange also that on the opposite side to Lenin's mausoleum is the GOM shopping centre where Muscovites used to line up for hours just to get some bread. It's now a typical Western shopping centre with all the brand name stores attempting to sell their overpriced stock to the very few people who 'believe' they need to buy such indicators of affluence. We can only assume they survive predominantly on the tourist dollar. Unemployment in Moscow is around 1% (14% for the outside areas) according to Sergai. But there seemed to be a bit of an imbalance between  the cost of apartments and average wages. 

Outside Red Square was the COM shopping centre. Three stories underground with again the typical shops found in most malls worldwide. Much busier in these stores.  Security obviously still a major concern with all stores having security guards at the entrances and in one pharmacy we visited there were as many as five security and about ten floor staff in a store of no more than 100 square meters. Sue found one young lady with very good English to be most helpful. 

After lunch we entered the Kremlin. Security surprisingly low key. While the Kremlin still contains the working offices of the president and all his cronies it is also a museum. Big excitement every now and then when one of the heavies left in a cavalcade of black limos and 4 wheel drive security vehicles. 

 At this stage the tour becoming a bit "not another bloody monastery full of religious icons" but when one considers that these peoples built a new monastery every time they were successful at war and given tumultuous European history it is not surprising to find a set of towering gold leaf covered cupolas around nearly every corner. Monasteries and palaces - they obviously didn't have time for anything else in the 100 days of summer. 
There were originally 8 monasteries inside the walls of the Kremlin. Think there are probably now four remaining.  All have fantastic names like the Church of the Ascension of the Robe of the Virgin Mary. 

The Armoury Museum inside the Kremlin has an amazing collection of materials from the days of the Tsars with original dress items, wagons, cutlery and china etc etc. Unlike the name might suggest, it did not contain a lot of items of war. Some suits of armour and ceremonial swords, pistols and rifles could hardly compete with the multitude of gold and silver, pearls and emeralds on the ladies dresses and the religious regalia of the patriachs. The amazing thing is that the Bolsheviks preserved these symbols of repression. There is a fortune in gold, silver and jewels locked up in this museum alone. 

Sergei our guide made one of his classic Russian sayings about the fact that the 2 most useless things in Russia were inside the Kremlin - the big Kaiser canon that never fired a shot because the creator was terrified it would blow up and a brass bell of 70 tons that was too big to swing. If it had been able to ring it would have been heard 50 miles away.

Another interesting statue was to Peter the Great it is a ship and sculpture of his head. Russians call it Peter Columbus as it is believed the sculptor offered it to the USA to recognize Christopher Columbus and when they refused he just changed the head.

Had a very Russian moment when the bus was trying to get us home last night from the cruise at 11.30pm - all the streets were blocked but the police allowed us to walk the last kilometer right into the area that was being checked for a bomb (we only found this out today). On the way down the fairly dark street we passed a soldier with an automatic rifle lurking in the shadows. 

Posted by suengarry 08:27 Archived in Russia Tagged buildings Comments (0)

Moscow

September 22, 2011

overcast 20 °C

First impressions of Moscow were of a drab, well worn city with remnants of its glorious past. People build holiday homes near marshy swamps and the airport because they live in apartments some of which look like they have never had any maintenance Stalin built apartment blocks (3 - 4 floors only but with bigger rooms with higher ceilings); Kruschev built taller apartment blocks (13 - 14 floors) but tiny rooms with lower ceilings. Met the other tour members and had a Hilton dinner all fresh produce. Tired but not jet lagged - think it is the noise reduction headphones we used on the plane.Today we joined the other 15 million Muscovites (or certainly a fair proportion of them) as we completed a quick city tour by coach in the morning with our Russian guide Sergei, driver Nicolai and Tour guide, Timothy. Quick visit to the tomb of Lenin in Red Square (to which we will be returning for a more leisurely visit tomorrow) and then off out of Moscow (1 hour in the traffic) to Sergiev Posad, the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church and the resting place of St Sergei's relics along with a number of other holy remains. We now know why the Russians die young - either from the stress of driving to work or from riding the metro. Took 2 hours to go about 45kms and then caught trains to see the historic opulent rail system built by the communists before WWII. Trains were frequent, long but wouldn't even make it to a NSW tip. Built a bit like the Russian trucks you see in old movies. Noise, high speed and thousands pouring onto and out of every carriage. Very little eye contact and no conversation - but then really not that different to rush hour in Sydney these days. We are exhausted but off for a dinner cruise on the Moscow River. Again experienced the joy of Russian motorists taking about 1 hour to go less than 10 km across the centre. Car loans have very low interest rate, fuel about $1.00 per litre and people at this stage appear to be "happy" to sit in these symbols of affluence for up to six hours a day getting to and from work. There are trains, trams, trolley buses and taxis but at the moment the car rules.
Last nights dinner cruise was interesting and somewhat enjoyable. The Raddisson boats were magnificent but the service was a bit howsyafather!! Language barrier still a bit of a problem for service staff outside the big hotels. There is still a bit of "I'll get to you when it suits me" about the attitude.

Posted by suengarry 21:20 Archived in Russia Tagged in russia refectory Comments (1)

Dubai Version 1

Stopover

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Arrived on time after long but straightforward flight on an A380. As comfortable as one can be for 13 + hours in the air in cattle class. Considerably more comfortable than previous long hauls with Qantas and Malaysian. A little more leg space and seats laid back without encroaching too much on those behind. Good service nice food. Metal knives and forks!! Very nice entertainment unit with heaps of movies and other things to while away the hours. None of us really got much sleep but otherwise still on top of our game. Dubai airport massive.
Four hour stopover before we hop on a 777 for the run to Moscow. Quite pleasant inside the terminal - outside temps in low thirties.

Posted by suengarry 20:24 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged airports Comments (0)

Packing

Getting serious now

sunny 22 °C

The time for our departure is rapidly approaching. Today we got into some serious packing. Still struggling with just how cold it might get. Looks like we will be leaving Sydney after a few days in the high 20s, into Dubai for a few hours of 30+ and then into Russia somewhere in the high teens. Taking lots of layers and wind cheater as the final outer layer when required.

Posted by suengarry 02:51 Archived in Australia Tagged preparations Comments (1)

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