| Pros: excellent sightseeing, delicious food, great city, alot to see and do
Wednesday, Apr 14, 2004 19:38
well, here i am again.
had a really great time in tallinn, would definitely recommend a trip there. on my sceond day there, i went to few museums, showing artefacts from the area, from viking times! i didnt really do much my last day there, just soaking up the atmosphere. its so relaxing and the people are really friendly there too.
and then i took an overnight bus to st petersburg. took about 8 hours and of course there was a border stop, about 4am, which took about an hour. am slightly concerned that i was meant to fill in a customs form, but noone asked me to do it, and i only found out about it later, so hopefully it wont cause problems when i come to leave the country!!
needless to say, i got very little sleep in the journey. the seats were so close together that when the person in front reclined (which was all of about 2 inches) the seat would hit my knees. so whenever the person behind moved, i felt that too! so i arrived in st petersburg at about 7 in the morning. i managed to successfully navigate the subway, complete with rucksack during rush hour, without having to speak any russian, but thank goodness i put in the time learning the alphabet - its really paid off - i would have been lost many times over if i couldnt recognise any of it!
despite the lack of sleep, i joined a group taking a walking tour of the city. the guide was really good, very knowledgeable, and he spoke excellent english - something of a rarity in this country! he took us to less touristy places, and told us their history. we saw many churches which have been, or in some cases still are, used as warehouses - very grand! we passes the building in the basement of which, rasputin was murdered. and he took us to a local 'fast food' place - where we had great blinis (pancakes) which were very good, and only about 50p each! it was a chain, so of course i ended up eating at different branches!
i walked the length of nevsky prospect, the main street in st petersburg. i saw the church of the spilled blood, and took loads of photos of it. there was a market nearby selling matryushka dolls, so i got a russian leaders set of 10. tacky? not at all!!!
i also visited the hermitage museum, and made a fair attempt to see all the exhibits in the collection! by the end of it, i was suffering from severe overload, but it was interesting nonetheless. the river neva runs by the outside of the winter palace, and there was large chunks of ice flowing along! the very next day i saw people sunbathing and SWIMMING in the river!! hardy folk who live here!! just so you know, it was about 10c!
i went to the peter and paul fortress, which is where the now canonised romanovs were buried, in 1998. i have photos of all these sites, but havent yet worked out how to download them to this site, so youll have to wait till i return, i think, before seeing them.
so, st petersburg was ok, but after tallinn, it just seemed a big city, with little atmosphere. nice builings, but no character. so i took an overnight train, travelling platscartny class, to moscow. what an experience!! there are 54 bunk beds, in the carriage, in groups of 6. two and two facing each other, and the other two along the side, if that makes sense. basically, the bottom ones would be used during the day as seats, and at night you bring down the top bunks. there is NO room on the top bunk, so changing under a sheet is something of a challenge. theres no privacy, but of course, its very cheap - the journey took about 8 hours, and cost maybe 6pounds. its supposed to be very sociable and i guess if you are to be with the same folk, at such close proximity, for a few days as you cross the country, you would end up chatting, but this was just an overnight train - it arrived in moscow about 6am. guess thats the price you pay for such a cheap ticket!!!
so, im still in moscow. its a really great city. i MUCH prefer it to st petersburg. my first day, i mainly just hung out in red square. i followed the map to get there, and suddenly st basils cathedral was right there. it was a definite 'oh my god' moment. its SO cool. and red square is not a bad place to hang out. i walked round the grounds - was too late to see lenin that day, so decided not to go into the kremlin then, either. i met up with a couple of friends id made in st petersburg - they were about to set off on a train to irkutsk - a journey which would last from sunday night to thursday morning!!! i waved them off - it wont be long till im setting off on a similar journey!
ive been out to novodevichy convent and also been round the cemetery which is where dignataries not quite grand enough to be buried at the kremlin are laid to rest. gorbachevs wife, who died in 1999, is there, along with several former presidents. the gravestones are all very grand, and one headstone even has a tank sitting on top! its quite a bizarre sight in a cemetery!
i went to the bolshoi theatre, to watch a 'gala concert' which unknown to me was some kind of awards ceremony for ballet stars. fortunately the prize giving part was interspursed with short ballet and opera pieces, so that was quite entertaining. and philistine that i am, i even recognised a few tunes - o sole mio, the valkyries one (dont know its name) and - as even football fans would know - nessun dorma.
yesterday was really interesting. in the morning, i went to see lenin, resting in his mausoleum. its a strange experience. theres no wearing hats, no talking, no stopping as you pass him by, and ABSOLUTELY no taking photos. there are several strict guards in the room with him, making sure these rules are observed. and the whole thing takes maybe 30 seconds and then you are on your way out. and you are permitted to walk past the graves of those buried at the kremlin wall, inculding stalin (who was previously inside the mausoleum), brezhnev and gargarin.
i then went to see the inside of st basils cathedral - which is just like some fairytale castle, with lots of little brightly coloured rooms connected by narrow staircases and corridors!! it wasnt what i expected at all.
after that, we went for a look round the churches inside the kremlin. of course, they are all really grand - lots of gold and inside are artefacts which somehow survived when religion was banned. but definitely the highlight of the day was seeing lenin. (is that weird?!)
this morning, i managed to buy my train ticket away from moscow. talk about challenging! i thought i was being smart. i had all the information - date, destination, class of travel etc written out, in cyrillic, as per the suggestion in my guidebook. i even went to the station the train leaves from....made no difference. i got met with numerous blank stares, one woman closed the ticket window until id gone, a couple of others shouted at me (probably along the lines of: go away and dont come back till you speak the language!) finally i worked out i should go to a different train station, and there someone was kind enough to write down train times and prices. so at least i had that.
but i still didnt have a ticket. i went along to the 'kassa', only to be met with more shouts. finally i realised i was meant to buy it from the tourist window. kind of makes sense really! but where to find it? basically, i just went to every kassa. until someone pointed me in the right direction. and eventually i did succeed. had to laugh when i was paying, as it wasnt actually the price id previously been quoted. the woman pointed to a sign, in russian of course, explaining why id have to pay more.
it was all really quite stressful. but i am, determined to persevere. lets face it, surely next time cant be as difficult!
well, i doubt theres many still reading, by this point, so i think ill finish now. it should be dark outside, and hopefully not snowing, as it was yesterday, so im going to go back to red square, where hopefully ill see st basils lit up.
and tomorrow, im offski!!
who knows where ill update this next time!!