Well the crazy train from China to Russia has finished and I'm very close to coming home....Scared, excited, dreading it and can't wait all at the same time! I've had an amazing time in Russia; have eaten fabulous food, drank unhealthy amounts of Vodka, met some nice (And not so nice) locals on the trains and made some VERY good friends along the way.
The last update was from Mongolia so I'll give you the highlights of the last 2 weeks...
IRKUTSK: This was our first stop in Russia and our introduction to Siberia, we stayed a night with a local family where Olga, the lady of the house (And an AMAZING cook) proclaimed herself to be my Russian mother within 10 minutes! She was fabulous and I'm still missing her pancakes! Just outside Irkutsk was a town called Litsvana where we spent the day at the magnificent Lake Baikal. It holds a third of the world's fresh water and is the deepest lake. It was quite overwhelming really as it looks like you're on the sea! Very hard to grasp that it's actually a lake. We spent the afternoon on a boat trip and then ate freshly smoked Omul fish, only found in Lake Baikal with flat bread and beer in the sunshine. A PERFECT day! Next stop was...
EKATERINBURG: The train journey here was LONG, and we had a wee mishap along the way....As I said in my last blog there is a mixed bag on this trip and amongst us were 3 seventy somethings, Jack, Nell and Phyllis, what I didn't mention was that Phyllis is a nun, and according to Nell does not listen to instructions! Anyway, we'd all been drinking copius amounts of vodka that afternoon and were disgusted when the providentsia (Scary train attendents) locked the toilets on the train (Which they do before they reach a stop). When we arrived somewhere in Siberia we all raced off the train to find the loo and buy more booze. Now, we'd all been warned what would happen if we were late back to the train…it would leave without us and we'd be royally screwed! So all the drunks made it back in time, but poor Phyllis was still in the loo…Jack raced in to get her but it was too late and they missed the train! Luckily, Diana (A not so scary train attendant who'd been selling us cheap beer) was with them and they somehow made it to Ekaterinburg a few hours after us. They had a rough time though, lots of dodgy Russians trying to blackmail them and get their money. We had dodgy Russians trying to get money off us too but we politely declined, and spent a while hiding from the young, drunk (And may I say quite handsome) sleazy Russians in the cabin next door! Thankfully it all ended well and we went for a celebratory dinner on their return. Anyway, Ekaterinburg was the site of the Romanov massacre. The Romanov family (Headed by Nikolas II) were the last Tsar family of Russia and were massacred by members of the Red Army (Communists).The whole family including 4 children were shot and their bodies hidden for over a year. Lenin denied it had occurred at all, telling Danish press that the rumours of he Romanov's downfall were "Capitalist lies"! Anyway, they were eventually discovered and given a proper burial in the mid 1900s. The site of the massacre house is now a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church called the Church of Blood...NICE. After a lovely few days here wandering around we headed to....
MOSCOW: WOWWOWWOW. I loved it here. We had a LOOOOOOOOONG journey to get there but it was hilarious and well worth it. One of the craziest things about this train trip is that all the trains run on Moscow time which is different from more Eastern parts of Russia, so as we travelled further East we kept adding hours to our watches! At midnight on the second night it was as bright as midday! Completely bizarre but it allowed us to drink more so we were happy! We spent time in the Kremlin in Moscow (Kind of like a government village) which is a walled area containing government buildings and many beautiful Russian Orthodox churches, built in the 15th century. It was very impressive but St Basil's Cathedral was the highlight for me. The Red Square itself was magnificent, and we spent more than a few hours pottering, taking pictures and laughing at the stupid poses some of the tourists were pulling! I also went to see the Church of Christ the Saviour which was spectacular. Stalin destroyed it in his time and turned into a swimming pool (I kid you not) but it was rebuilt and was amazing. The icons on the walls and painting on the ceiling was beautiful. Moscow was our penultimate stop in Russia and we left (With regret, we'd all had a fab time) for our shortest journey yet to….
ST. PETERSBURGH: Which is where I am now. St Petersburgh used to be the capital for a short while and the prices of EVERYTHING certainly reflect that! However, it's a gorgeous, clean city filled with hundreds of canals and LOADS of cool restaurants and bars. We've taken a boat trip through the canals and also visited the Hermitage Museum, which, for me, was all too much. It's said that if you take 5 minutes with each exhibit it will take you 8 years to see everything! It was mainly art and sculpture (Not my thing really) so I spent a few hours oohing and aahing and then made a swift exit! The trip finished today and lots of the group have left for flights home. More sad goodbyes and promises to meet up in London (The worst bit of travelling! You meet so many cool people but not for long enough!) and I shifted into an orphanage of a hostel for a few more nights.
I head to Finland on Wednesday and then crazy ferry/train/tube/bus back to the homestead. I can't believe a year has gone so quickly and I'll be home in less than 2 weeks!! EEEEKK!! Anyway, having another farewell dinner tonight with the remaining members of the group so I must dash.
Hope you're all well,
"From Russia, With Love"