28 Feb 2013

Irkutsk: & the Decembrists

After 17 hours in a 3rd class cabin (which translates as 54 bunks, 2 toilets and a host of aromas), we were relieved to arrive at 9.30am in Irkutsk.  Having barely stepped onto the platform, we were confronted with the crooked toothed miner throwing his arms in the air and bellowing “Welcome to Russia!” before he laughed and staggered back onto the train.

Day No.
Day
Date
Country
City
Transport
Kms travelled
KM Running total
Hours travelled
Night accommodation
15
Wed
27/02/2013
Russia
Irkutsk
-
0
8793
0
Irkutsk Hostel
16
Thur
28/02/2013
Russia
Irkutsk
-
0
8793
0
Irkutsk Hostel

We decided to walk the 4km from the train station to our hostel, pausing on the bridge over the Angara River to watch the mist rising like smoke from the water.  The river flows at such a pace that it rarely freezes, but the temperature difference between the air and water creates a billowing dry ice effect.  At -20˚C, the air crackled in our nostrils, but this is almost spring for Irkutsk!


26 Feb 2013

Krasnoyarsk: & Stolby National Park


It was quite sad saying goodbye to Mr. Fredricksen (a.k.a Paul) after spending so long talking to him on the train.  He was met by two of his sons on the station, and they all very kindly insisted on showing us the way to our hostel, *SibTourGuide Hostel*, owned by Anatoliy. 


Day No.
Day
Date
Country
City
Trans-port
Kms travelled
kms total
Hours travelled
Night accommodation
12
Sun
24/02/2013
Russia
Krasnoyarsk
-
0
7706
0
SibTourGuide Hostel
13
Mon
25/02/2013
Russia
Krasnoyarsk
-
0
7706
0
SibTourGuide Hostel
14
Tue
26/02/2013
Russia
Travel
Train – 3rd Class
1087
7706
17
Train

We were both pretty exhausted after the train, so we spent the afternoon resting, planning the next day and then making a trip to the Krasnoyarsk Museum of History & Culture.  The Museum building itself I some of the ugliest we have ever seen – a hulking mass of brown concrete and angular design, made all the more unsightly by the beautiful backdrop of the Yenisey River.  But once inside, it offers an impressive collection of abstract art and photography, and a hard hitting exhibition of War, including a photo of every Russian soldier from Krasnoyarsk who has been killed in conflict since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.  Also interesting is the permanent Lenin exhibition, featuring lots of memorabilia and personal effects.  Unfortunately, no English translation though! 

  

As part of our hostel deal, we received meal vouchers for 400 roubles a day to use at the local English School Café, so we went there for dinner.  A pretty ordinary menu but good value with the vouchers and an entertaining people watching experience – the stereotypical man with a guitar getting some fellow students singing along to popular English classics – Check, please!

 

One of the highlights of the area is the Stolby National Park, famous for its Ski Resort, dense forest and rock formations.  Anatoliy offers guided tours there for $60 for half a day, but trying to stick to our £100 a day budget, we decided to go it alone.  Taking no. 37 bus the next day from the train station, we knew we were on the right route when a fully kitted out snowboarder got on board.  Prompted by the conductor (after an initial hand gesture conversation about where we were going) we got off a kilometre early but enjoyed the walk to the ski resort and the chairlifts that took us up to the hiking area.  Sunny and not to cold we spent the afternoon hiking to Takmak Rock, and along a trail through the woods.  Back in town, the piped music that is played in most city centres we have visited, is all the more noticeable after the tranquillity of the National Park.  As is the city grey snow which lines the streets. 



   


  

  

We board the train for the 17 hour journey to Irkutsk - we are back in 3rd class (Platzkart) this time, but fortunate again with our immediate dorm mates.  We have also learnt by now that, rather confusingly, the time stated on the train ticket is not local time, but Moscow time, so we at least avoid the confusion about that which has dogged us previously!

  

  

In the next section of the dorm, some miners from Chita are on a mission to get legless!  They soon latch on to our English voices and one of them introduces himself with “Chelsea, Abramovich!!” and then gestures that Josi is beautiful but that John has crooked teeth like him!  He then tried to buy Josi chocolate & vodka not understanding whether she is a sister or wife of John, but soon gets the picture and shouts “Welcome to Russia!”


We also meet a guy who claims to have just been released from Vladivostok prison - apparently you only get sent there for multiple homicide – usually involving a foreign national – comforting.  He wants to swap his shirt for John’s watch.  John says “no” and he turns his attention to Josi, he was obviously intimidated by John’s teeth.  The evening ends up with drinks with a nice bunch of English and Australians who are travelling on the “Vodka Train” from Moscow to Beijing.  They are generally young enough to make us feel old, although there is a 35 year old lawyer among them who is disillusioned with her career.   John empathised and was reminded that he is still happy to be out.

    

Refreshments on the station platform

J&J



24 Feb 2013

Josi’s Top Tips: Surviving Trans-Siberian train journey

When embarking on a journey by train there are a few things that you need to ensure are readily accessible as your rucksack is usually stowed away for the majority of the journey.  

I have captured the things that I think are most important to have to hand below: (this is based on our journeys of between 6 – 37 hours)

  1. Essentials: Money, passport, ticket!
  2. Camera
  3. Flip flops
  4. Toiletries including toilet paper, toothbrush & toothpaste
  5. Tea bags
  6. Hand sanitizer
  7. Book, diary & pen
  8. Head-torch
  9. Sleeping bag liner
  10. Food & drink: Bottled water, fruit, salad, chicken, bread, chocolate – our food staples! Small snacks to share with others as a good ice breaker!
Bonus: Patience & a sense of humour!


  

23 Feb 2013

Yekaterinburg: & the Romanov Memorial

We had been forewarned by internet reviews that our hostel - *Allis Hall Hostel* - would be difficult to find, but that was an understatement.  Tucked around the back of a row of shops and office blocks, its metal door had nothing to distinguish it from all the others.  After randomly pushing doorbells to no avail, we finally found one door slightly ajar.  Communal stairwells in Russia tend to have a bucket serving as an ashtray on every few landings, and this one was no exception.  The result is a lingering smell of cigarette smoke.  But once inside the hostel we had a very warm welcome, and the room was large and bright.  So after a quick rest and wash, we set about seeing the sights.


Day No.
Day
Date
Countries travelled
Country
City
City
Trans-port
kms travelled
kms total
Hours travelled
Night accommodation
9
Thur
21/02/2013
0
Russia
1
Yekaterinburg
-
0
5424
0
Allis Hall Hostel
10
Fri
22/02/2013
0
Russia
0
Travel
-
0
5424
0
Train
11
Sat
23/02/2013
0
Russia
0
Travel
Train - 2nd class
2282
7706
37
Train

First stop was the Pokrovsky House Museum, Pokrovsky was a wealthy Yekaterinburg business man who set up a lot of industry including providing jobs in a new local copper mine in the 1700’s and he also did a lot of charity work to the benefit of many locals.  It was interesting but not as informative as we had hoped.  So then on to the Regional History Museum, which looked brand new and heavily invested in, giving us high hoped for our 200 rouble tickets (expensive by Russian standards).  As Yekaterinburg is most famous for being the setting of the execution of Russia’s last Tsar Nicolas II and his family in 1918, we were expecting that to be a key feature.  The museum itself was rather disappointing, being an uninspiring celebration of Yekaterinburg’s industrial achievements, past and present.  It seemed to be more of a marketing exercise for local investment than anything else.  There is certainly evidence of a lot of construction activity going on across the city. 

But later that afternoon we visited the excellent Romanov Memorial Museum and Church of the Blood dedicated to Tsar Nicolas II and his family who were all canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2003.  Being the only visitors there, we were given a private guided tour in English, learning a lot about the build-up to the revolution, and the final months of the Tsar.  With the feel of being a shrine to Nicolas II as much as a museum, it’s a rather biased take on his life and views, but an excellent insight none the less.  One of the highlights was being invited to sit at the Tsars Grand Piano, which had been perfectly restored.  

  

   

  

Walking the city, this was also the first time that we saw some really nice examples of the traditional Wooden Architecture and detailed lattice work that typified 18 Century architecture.  We also enjoyed the Ice Sculptures and watching people taking shortcuts across the river of the city - only a small measure of what was to come on Lake Baikal!

  

  

    

The next day we went to the Military Museum, which houses a great tour-de-force of Russian military might.  Yet again, we had the place to ourselves until a Russian General arrived and introduced himself (complete with Vodka breath!), followed by a group of fresh faced army cadets who, in their oversized trench coats, looked harmless enough, and like toy soldiers.  

 

On route to the train station we had dinner at another excellent Ukrainian restaurant called *Xytopok* - dumplings, borscht and meat & tongue sausage – a traditional selection.

Then on to the train for another 37 hour stint to Krasnoyarsk.  This time splashing out on a 2nd Class (4 berth) carriage.  

  

  

Fortunately we were sharing with a very nice English speaking Russian Geophysicist (Paul) who had been visiting his mother for the weekend and was also on his way home to Krasnoyarsk.  He shows us photos of his “datcha” (Russian summer house), complete with Banya (Russian Steam Room/Sauna).  Due to his love of animated cinema (showing us a funny Russian short animated clip) and uncanny resemblance, we nickname him Mr. Fredricksen from “Up” (a film which he says he also loves).  Unfortunately the carriage attendant is as surly as ever, throwing our bedding at us, but even she mellows as the miles roll by…

  

  

J&J