A Travellerspoint blog

Ulaanwhatnow?

Welcome to Mongolia!

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We arrived in Mongolia far too early on a crisp August morning - condensing breath and all - after a bit of an impromptu train vodka party the night before with some Americans who helped us finally finish the awful vodka Josh had bought and carried around since St. Petersburg. Here's two things I immediately noticed:
Firstly, almost everyone we saw had this weird expression on their faces, showing a lot of teeth, the corners of their mouths turned up. It took me a while to realise people were actually smiling. Goodbye, Russia!
And secondly, we'd definitely arrived in Asia now. Technically, Lake Baikal is in Asia, but everything about Russia still feels distinctly European to me, while everything about Mongolia is Asian.

Ulaanbaatar is a sprawling, dusty place, and probably one of those cities that will look entirely different in 20 years time. There's building activity literally at every corner - and also sandy holes where there was sidewalk two days before. (Some of the buildings being raised are unforgivably ugly - I mean, really, is that necessary nowadays? Have we learned nothing? Some of them, though, I rather liked. Like the one that is apparently supposed to symbolise a pregnant woman's belly. Weird, but kinda neat.) In between those construction sites, though, the occasional Ger tent can be glimpsed, which is probably a feature unique to Ulaanbaatar. There is a lot more English around than in Russia, some of it information, but a lot just American-themed bars and restaurants - they seem to be pretty into that. They are definitely into Karaoke.

Our honcho this time was a lovely young woman named Zoloo, who spent a lot of time with us as she came with us to the Ger camp outside the city. We had a day to start exploring the city, and then another after coming back into the city, and a few sights stood out:

The Gandan monastery complex, unfinished as everything seems to be in Ulaanbaatar, the biggest temple currently being built and looking a lot like the construction site for a mall or office building. The older parts, however, somehow escape the widespread destruction by the Communists. This was, as far as I remember, my first time visiting a Buddhist monastery, since this was also my first visit to an Asian country. About 150 monks live in this monastery, some of whom we could watch perform the ceremonial chanting. There are also a whole lot of pigeons on the square, because to the people there, feeding the pigeons is a kind of ritual to ensure they themselves will always be fed. Miraculously, we survived crossing the square un-shat-on. The main building of the monastery houses a huge gilded Buddha statue, though the best thing we saw was outside:  A huge pair of feet (bronze? brass? gold?), just sitting there with no body attached. Only when Zoloo explained and we saw the info posters behind it did we understand: Basically, they were planning to build a truly huge statue to be the centrepiece of the monastery complex, except the money ran out before they could finish anything but the feet. The thing, which they probably still plan to finish, will tower over the Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio and even the Statue of Liberty in NYC ... if it ever gets finished. As it is, the disembodied pair of feet is absolutely hilarious.

The main square in Ulaanbaatar is just as big and square as you'd expect from a main square, flanked on one side by the government building and a huge statue of Dschinggis Khan (whose name is not Genghis Khan, as all English-speaking people like to call him, for whatever reason). Dschinggis Khan is to Ulaanbaatar (and Mongolia) what Napoleon is to Paris: Ever-present, totally glorified, except even more so than Napoleon because aside from his grandson Kublai Khan, who finally conquered China and founded the Yuan dynasty, he's the only famous Mongolian there is. (My personal favourite, though? Princess Khutulun.) Around the corner from the square is the National History Museum, a big part of which is dedicated to Dschinggis. Even if the map of Europe and Asia they had hung up got less geographically correct the farther west you looked, it nonetheless served to illustrate just how huge the Mongolian empire used to be. 

(Of course, that quote from Iron Man is what actually came to my mind: "The bow and arrow once was the pinnacle of weapons technology. It allowed the great Genghis Khan to rule from the Pacific to the Ukraine, an empire twice the size of Alexander the Great and four times the size of the Roman Empire." What. Those movies are very educational.)

We got a proper look at the whole city from a viewpoint we only just reached before sunset, which is actually a monument to the Soviet soldiers who helped Mongolia - and it looks oh-so-very-Soviet too. The view is quite amazing, and at this point there's not too many huge buildings, but I'm willing to bet that'll change in the coming years. The whole city is sort of embedded in the same kind of landscape you see in the countryside, mostly rolling, sometimes rocky hills.

However, most of our time in Ulaanbaatar was probably spent in restaurants, bars, and shopping. The Transsiberian Handbook already describes Ulaanbaatar's nightlife as "surprisingly wild," though due to absurdly early morning departures, we didn't get to sample all of it. We did sample a lot of beers (I like the Grand Khan, especially in shandy form, though the Dschinggis beer was also consumed) and cocktails as well as Mongolian vodka, which ... more on that subject in the next post. ;) 
Most of the truly Mongolian food we had in the Ger camp, but we got pretty lucky with restaurants in the city: Chinese for lunch, which was alright; Pizza for dinner, which I'd call barely average due to too much cheese and not enough tomato sauce or pepperoni, but which the rest of the group liked better. Then a Mongolian BBQ place, probably one of the most touristy restaurants in the city and kind of pricy, but we arrived after 9pm, so the crowds vanished pretty quickly and we ended up the only ones left, plus the food was pretty great (a kind of DIY buffet of ingredients you gave to the cooks to barbecue). The best one, though, was a vegan place we all yearned for after coming back from the Ger camp and more mutton than any of us ever wanted to eat in one lifetime. Luna Blanca served vegetarian Mongolian dumplings the others actually enjoyed for a change, while I had mushroom-tomato pasta, absolutely delicious, though some Parmesan cheese would have made it even better. ;)

Ulaanbaatar: Definitely good fun, and far less of a shithole than expected. (No offence intended, shithole is a term I use lovingly most of the time - Nottingham, where I lived for almost a year, is definitely a bit of a shithole.) Not really a place I had on my list of cities to visit, but I can definitely recommend it for everyone who's in the area. However, the real highlight of our time in Mongolia was the countryside - more on that in the next post.

Posted by feeverte 08:48 Archived in Mongolia Tagged people trains transsib mongolia Comments (0)

The Fifth Ocean

Chilling at Lake Baikal

overcast 20 °C
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Our 86-hour train odyssey ended at Lake Baikal, the world's deepest and oldest lake, which will one day, due to moving tectonic plates, may become the world's fifth ocean, splitting the Asian continent in half.

The lake itself is absolutely beautiful - definitely huge, though we had the misfortune of catching a few very hazy days, with no clear views of the horizon or the opposite shore. However, there is no denying that the haze, which turned into a sort of mist during our boat ride, gave the lake a sort of eerie, mysterious quality. Quite fitting, since I've been unable to banish these few lines of a wikipedia article I found in my research out of my head: "With the Red Army in hot pursuit, the White Army had to escape southward to China across the frozen Lake Baikal in sub-zero temperatures. About 30,000 White Army soldiers, their families and all their possessions as well as the Tsar's gold, made their way across the lake to Transbaikalia. [...] As the Arctic winds blew unobstructed across the lake, many in the army and their families froze to death. Their bodies remained frozen on the lake in a kind of tableau throughout the winter of 1919–20. With the advent of spring, the frozen corpses and all their possessions disappeared in 5,000 feet of water."
Yeah. Dead Marshes, anyone?

The water is incredibly clear and inviting, though only one of us actually jumped in. Josh was very proud of himself and managed to stay in for a whopping one and a half minutes before he started to lose feeling in his feet and felt like his organs were shutting down. (It was probably about 10•C in the water.) I stuck my feet in, which was amazing for about three seconds before it got painful.

Listvyanka, the village we stayed in, was alright, though certainly nothing special, and absolutely every corner smelled of smoke, from the Omul fish that were being smoked. (We had one. It was alright. I can't really get excited about fish.) We stayed at the Britz Chalet, about ten minutes away from the shore in one of the little valleys, which was really enjoyable, built on several levels on the hill, nicely kept with lots of flowers. The included breakfast was amazing on the first day - my first omelette in weeks - but a bit disappointing on the second. Our room had a balcony out to the valley, and something about the wooden building and the chilly, humid morning air reminded me a lot of my relatives' farm in the Eastern Tyrolean alps.

Our Vodkatrain honcho, Dmitry, was definitely a step down from our Moscow one. On the one hand, he did take his job seriously and probably did his best, and the hikes he led us on were more than worthwhile. On the other hand, he often seemed either bored/seriously lacking enthusiasm or annoyed with us, and a bit patronising, and he had a serious lack of communication skills, because even though we kept asking, we never really knew what was going on. (If you answer, "Where are we going right now?" with "Left," you have no place in tourism). The worst was probably when, for several hours, he made me think I was about to be taken to a stable for a hack I'd requested, and only told me the time, 6:30pm, about an hour beforehand. That is not how you deal with tourists, and given that he studied hospitality, he really needs to work on his communication, including the ever-present Russian commanding tone peppered with a few pleases here and there.

In any case, we hiked up to a view point on the first day - taking the world's slowest chair lift for the last bit - and up a few rocky trails along the cliffs on the edge of the lake the next day, which was actually a lot of fun. My hack that afternoon into the national park next to the lake was also beautiful, and I was so happy to be back on a horse for the first time in two years!

(Of course, on the way to the stable, we did not only walk by a burned-down house, he also happened upon an old tank. As you do. Turn a corner in Listvyanka, random Soviet tanks happen.)

It was on our two-hour boat ride that we got a taste of the SIberian chill, but I warmed up easily after with a cup of delicious mulled wine. (Must be the first time I had mulled wine in August.) In general, I think visiting Lake Baikal is better in the winter than in the summer, at least if you - like me - can deal with sub-zero temperatures. There seems to be a lot more to do when the lake is frozen - dog-sledding, ice skating, riding across the turquoise ice like in this amazing photo spread, skiing in the (to Austrians) pathetic little resort, ending your day in the banya... That actually sounds very tempting to me.

Our last afternoon we spent in Irkutsk, about which, to be honest, I don't have much to say. Only a few thing stand out - the admittedly amazing food market, the beautiful Angara riverfront, the huge, incredibly ugly Soviet administration building built on the site of a huge, demolished church. According to the Transsiberian Handbook, people in this part of Russia were supposed to be "rather more friendly and relaxed than those in European Russia". I can't really confirm this. With the exception of one waitress at a Listvyanka café (close to the new Hotel with the yellowish windows, two umbrellas out front) where we had dinner, no-one bothered to smile at us. It's a pity. The Russian rudeness and absolute refusal to crack a smile get old really fast. 

(We actually got two contrary explanations for this, from two different Russians: Theory number one says that ever since the fall of communism in 1991, things have been much worse than before for the Russian people, so they have nothing to smile about. Theory number two says that the actually  is the communist time, which wasn't easy and bred hard people, and the Russian propensity for ruthless queue-jumping stems from a time when jumping the queue was the only way to ensure you got your food rations. Whatever the reason, it's not an attractive quality.)

It's really quite amazing how negatively the Russian people influenced our experience in their country. Vladimir Putin really is the face of the country - with a few notable exceptions, as already mentioned in my previous posts). Basically, none of us were particularly sad to be moving on to Mongolia. Except, weirdly, the border police who checked our passports three times and handled the customs investigation were probably the smiley-est Russians we'd seen in those two weeks.

Posted by feeverte 03:24 Archived in Russia Tagged landscapes lakes trains tours russia transsib Comments (0)

Transsibbing to Asia

Four and a half days on a train.

semi-overcast 24 °C
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A lot of people I told about my trip groaned at the thought of four and a half days on a train through Siberia. "Why would you do that?" they'd ask, "It'll be boring and disgusting." Well, after our first week in Russia, the truth was that we were all looking forward to four days of relaxation, just chilling, getting enough sleep, reading a bit - in short, resting.

Taking the train from Moscow to Irkutsk was a really good experience, once you get used to the notion of no showers or proper food for the next four days. I still can't quite believe we did it. I was actually quite well pepared as far as the food went. We went to Billa opposite Yaroslavsky station - definitely the biggest superamrket I've been to yet in Russia, but maybe not quite a big as we would have needed, because they lacked some essential products.

Here's my grocery list for the Transsib, if you don't want to die of instand noodle (beef/chicken/asia flavour) overdose, as nearly happened to some of my companions:

Instant soup - tomato (add some quick-cooking pasta and you have pasta with tomato sauce!)
Instant soup - pumpkin
Instant soup - Fritatten
(= broth)
Small salami-type sausages that don't need the fridge
Ham chips (= dried ham)
Instant mashed potatoes (basic for when you can't stand the artificial beef flavour)
Fake Parmesan cheese, freeze-dried (is sold everywhere in Austria and no perishable - Parmesan makes everything better, be it cheesy mash or pasta)
- all of which I bought in Austria, and was very glad I did, because they didn't have it in the supermarket here.

Nutella (will get me through anything)
Cranberries
Baby food (intant semolina - unfortunately didn't get the right kind, but it was okay with Nutella and cranberries)
Quick-cooking pasta (I found small fusili that are al dente in 2-4 minutes, worked perfectly - for sauce either tomato soup powder, pesto (doesn't need to be refridgerated), or cheese)
Tea
Long-life milk (for your tea, or otherwise)

Grapes
Apples
Cheese
Bread
- perishable, but fine for a day or more, and you can get more on the platforms

Really, I had no trouble always finding something to eat without gagging at the thought of it, or resorting to dining car food (apparently tasty enough, but definitely pricey). The samovar (kettle) water is almost boiling, but unless you want to use that and let it cool off, be sure to take enough drinking water as well.

I also recommend baby wipes for staying clean, followed by a quick wash using a face towel and some drinking water. The toilets are pretty dire, but not actually scary, and if you have a stop longer than 20 minutes, you can use the toilets in the station, which were really clean. Even on the train, though, there was always enough toilet paper! Keep an eye on the train time table, as the bathrooms are supposed to be locked 30 minutes before and after every stop, and that can give your bladder a good workout, unless your provodnitsa takes pity on you.

Definitely bring comfy clothes and flip flips - this is your chance to just not give a damn what you're wearing. We spent our days on the train mostly sleeping, reading, playing cards and talking, and to be honest, I never felt bored, or like I needed something else. Even though using the outlets in the hallways - between three and six - was no problem at all, I never really had to charge anything. I was very glad to have my Kindle. I finished two books - quite thick ones - one of which I wouldn't have thought of bringing had it not been on my Kindle. (It was The Vampire Armand, of the trashy Vampire Chronicles that I really loved when I was about 16 years old - a large part of it deals with 15th century Russia, the Orthodox religion, the golden Icons, and even Genghis Khan, which I suddenly remembered looking at all those Orthodox churches, and I suddenly really wanted to read it again.) I actually haven't had this much time to read all summer, so I really enjoyed it.

Sleeping on the train is incredibly relaxing - we didn't have to pay for our sheets, contrary to what I'd read - except for the temperature issue. It was really quite warm when we left Moscow, but that got better quickly. Still, obviously the windows needed to be opened quite a lot if you're sharing a Kupe compartment with three other people. For that reason, I can't recommend the upper left bed, because that's the one that gets all the wind (depending on the driving direction, of course!), and especially in the evening it can get the whole bed quite clammy and cold. Other than that, the movement of the train is soothing rathet than annoying. (And luckily, no-one in our compartment snored!)

If you go through Novosibirsk and have a longer stop (ours was almost an hour), there's tons of free wifi in the station if you want to catch up on twitter or something.

Some stations have underground (or overground, i.e. a bridge) access from the platforms to the station, in some you just have to cross the rails. This can be dangerous, though, in case a long train comes between you and your train, and the trains here are seriously long. It might well take you ten minutes to get around that to your train, so make sure you keep that in mind if you don't want to miss your train. Also, despite the fact that nothing ever happened to us, it's probably a good idea never to leave the train without your passport and ticket, and other important documents.

All the train timetables are on Moscow time, even though by the time you reach Irkutsk you're five hours ahead. It's easiest to just stay on Moscow time for the first couple of days, before starting to pay closer attention to the local time in order to avoid Transsib jetlag - our train arrived in in Irkutsk at 4.30am Moscow time, which was actually 9.30am Irkutsk time.

Looking out of the window is only occasionally interesting, most of the landscape stays the same, as is to be expected in Siberia: birch trees, grass, some hills maybe, some civilisation. We completely missed the Europe-Asian border, but then, we weren't really looking. It did feel weird stopping in Perm, which is the place one of the Pussy Riot girls was imprisoned in a hard labour camp, though apparently she was moved just before we passed by.

tl;dr: After a week in the cities - especially a whirlwind two days in Moscow - four and a half days on a train was exactly what we needed.

Posted by feeverte 20:29 Archived in Russia Tagged russia transsib Comments (0)

Down to Gorky Park

Russian Glitz and Glamour

sunny 30 °C
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Our second day in Moscow was going to be focussed on the Kreml, that much we knew. Our honcho then suggested a few things we could do, and we were quite happy to let her take the lead in the morning. 

She took us first to Novodevichy Convent, a fortress-like structure that had actually been integrated into the defensive system of the city. It was the sort of rich-girl convent that wealthy families would send their daughters to if they had a little pre-contraceptives "accident", as well as a good place for the rulers to get rid of wealthy women if they wanted to claim their land, or in the case of Peter the Great, his half-sister Sofia when she lead a rebellion against him. As Verity put it, I wouldn't mind being locked up here. It's a very beautiful convent, but especially when viewed from the little lake outside. 

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After that we hopped on the metro for one stop to get to a view point in front of the Moscow University building, which was on the other side of the river up a little hill. We decided against taking the ski lift up - as it turns out, there is a skijump right next to it - and instead walked up to enjoy the view of the city, as well as some more brides. (Brides have been stalking us since St. Petersburg. It's been suggested that they might not all actually be getting married, but just taking advantage of the good weather to take some wedding pictures. Just up there, in less than an hour, we came across five brides, and only one of them had a dress I'd call pretty.) We also got some lunch up there, which a friend had recommended to me: Jacket potato, the Russian fast food of choice.

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The Moscow University building is actually one of a few from, apparently, the fifties that remind me a lot of the Empire State building in New York. Can you see it?

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Afternoon was Kremlin time. Renata and I had decided to go to the Armoury in addition to the basic Kremlin programme, and this is where my ISIC student ID really came in handy. I paid 100 roubles instead of 350 for the Kremlin admission, and 200 instead of 700 for the Armoury. That's nearly a thousand roubles less! I was really enjoying that, because apparently, in China they only accept Chinese student IDs for discounts.

The Kremlin itself was nice enough - quite an impressive fortress, which you could still see, but the churches inside didn't impress me much. The Cathedral of the Assumption was far too crowded, the other three were okay, but photography was forbidden everywhere inside, and I'd definitely reached my orthodox church limit for the month. (There's only so many golden icons and painted walls you can look at before they all start to blend. And you can't help but think how much money went into this religion, how powerful the church once was and - in Russia - probably still is. The Church of Our Saviour of the Spilled Blood in St Petersburg is definitely my favourite out of those we've seen, both inside and out.) 

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While we'd been exploring the Kremlin, Anastasia had been kind enough to get out tickets for the Armoury, which are only sold 45 minutes before the specific time slot. Here's the thing: I've been to  Habsburg Treasury in Vienna, and I thought that was quite impressive. All those crowns, garments, and trinkets - my favourite of which was the huge emerald, hollowed out to make a box with a lid. But this was something else. The audio guide is quite good and included in the price, and I'm just one of those people who like to look at treasure, I guess. Both Renata and I were seriously impressed with the collection. Bibles in golden, diamond-encrusted covers and sparkling icon frames (again with the opulent religious stuff), fur-trimmed crowns and Fabergé eggs (one of them contained a little model of the Transsib), huge  and carriages, and then, finally, the dresses. I love historical dresses, and these are incredible, especially the wedding dress of Catherine II. We didn't make it to the Diamond Fund, but that must be amazing as well. (Photography is forbidden in there, and even though I sneakily snapped some shots with my iphone, they're not really good enough to bother sharing here. However, this flickr stream gives you an idea, if you're interested.)

That evening found us back in the pedestrian street behind the Bolshoi theatre, eating sausages from the barbecue and drinking beer and wine out of plastic cups, enjoying the nice evening with our Bavarian friends, who'd caught up to us. Out of everything we did that night, the rooftop terrace of Chips was the nicest, even if they responded to drink orders rather randomly.

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On our final day in Moscow, I got up early after a couple of hours of sleep, still feeling sort of drunk, because I was determined to check out Lenin's Mausoleum before getting on the train. Navigating the metro alone wasn't a problem, even if Moscow is far less tourist-friendly than St Petersburg (because Latin letters are a rarity). I discreetly jumped about half the queue when I got there - and felt sort of guilty about it - but no-one complained, and I was inside the gate by half past ten. Bringing actual luggage is not a problem as you can just leave it in the luggage storage (actually located in the building of the State History museum, but on the side of the Mausoleum!). I ended up paying 170 roubles for a 60L backpack and a hand bag, but otherwise, the Mausoleum is free. 

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Inside, of course, it's not extremely spectacular, and takes less than 15 minutes. First you get a new perspective on the Red Square, from the other side of the closed-off area. Behind the Mausoleum, along the Kremlin wall, are quite a few less important graves lined up, but among those, Stalin obviously drew the biggest crowd. Until his legacy was reassessed by Khrushchev, he had a place of honour on display beside Lenin, now he's outside, with people like Yuri Gagarin. 

(Russians seem to be in a weird place in their own history. They don't like to talk about Stalin, though what they do say is definitely not very positive. In St Petersburg's Museum of Political History, he is mentioned, but not in detail. Lenin is still the Russian's national hero, and no-one seems to miss he Tsars overmuch. Our guide Irina joked that Russia was not a democracy, but a Putinocracy; and how "weird" it is to them that Americans didn't know the result of their 2012 election a few days before it happened. (Followed by, Oh, look, there's some policemen behind me - let's talk about something else before I'm arrested!) The way she put it was that Russia certainly isn't perfect, but she's optimistic for the future.)

In any case, the Mausoleum is very dramatic, made of dark stone inside, strategically lit so that only the guards who show you the way are properly visible. Lenin's body is underground, in a glass casket, also very dramatically lit with a strangely orange light. It's easy to see why some people think he's made of wax, but my Transsiberian Handbook, at least, says that he's actually the real thing, and that the secret to his good looks is bathing in a tub of chemicals every 18 months. He really does look very good for a guy who's been dead almost 100 years, neatly trimmed beard and everything. If you have the time, definitely go see him, it's a very macabre experience. Also, it's free.

As soon as I as out of the Mausoleum, I was off to the train station, and my last memory of Moscow will always be that young Russian dude at the metro station, who grinned at me and wordlessly picked up my bag to carry it down a long flight of stairs for me. Maybe not really representative of the Russian people in general, but at least now I know that there is such a thing as a Russian gentleman. Thank you, unknown Russian dude!

Posted by feeverte 16:21 Archived in Russia Tagged russia transsib Comments (0)

I Follow the Moskva

Moscow in a Whirlwind

sunny 29 °C
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Arriving in Moscow at 9am, some of us were really longing for a shower, while Josh and I decided to forego personal hygiene and be real backpackers for a day in order to just go straight into the city from our hostel.

Here's the thing: I'm pro-walking tours. A lot of people can't stand them because they'd rather explore a new city on their own. I think they both have their merit. I like walking tours, especially free ones.
I've done free walking tours in more European cities than I can count (probably around ten, though) and now one in Moscow. We only had two days here (plus a few hours on Saturday, but those went mostly towards checking out and train shopping) and a walking tour just makes it easier to get a sense of orientation in a new city. Plus, reading info in a guide book is great, but I don't absorb it as well as when someone actually tells me directly in front of a sight. And if I don't like the tour, I can always leave, or choose not to leave a tip. (This has never happened to me.)
The http://www.moscowfreetour.com-tour in Moscow was well worth the 2.5 hours and 250 roubles I decided to give them. Our tour guide, Irina, was enthusiastic, funny, very sweet and really knew her stuff, plus she greeted me in German, which is a nice touch. She cracked a few Putin jokes, told us little anecdotes about all the sights we visited, and was an all-around great guide. Even when her microphone gave up towards the end of the tour, we had no trouble understanding her. Also, she didn't aggressively push for tips, which is always a risk with these tours, just mentioned casually in the beginning that tips are great but it's up to us. Overall, the tour left me with a feel for this city, and a sense that I know more or less where everything is, as far as the city centre goes.

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Aside from a few sights, the tour focussed on the Red Square, a large part of it was closed because they were erecting some structures - a stage? maybe some stands? - for a military music festival in September. One of the highlights there was definitely the GUM department store, an impressive 1893 building, which reopened after the death of Stalin in 1953. I had trouble understanding why people in the Soviet Union would queue for up to three hours to get in until I actually entered the building, probably the most beautiful shopping centre I've seen, with an enormous glass ceiling. It's celebrating it's 120th opening, and 60th reopening anniversary this year - "So, happy birthday, ja?" as Irina put it - and even though it's your run-of-the-mill luxury department store, it's definitely worth seeing.

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However, Irina isn't the only one getting a shout-out here. Our Moscow honcho, Anastasia, thankfully turned out to be much better than the St Petersburg one. She could answer basically all our questions immediately and ended up spending all day with us (keeping the rest of the group company while we were on our tour). She gave us an impromptu tour of the most beautiful metro stops in Moscow when we asked, after we'd checked out St. Basil's Cathedral on the Red Square. The layout of it is actually quite weird, because it consists of numerous small rooms/chapels inside - there isn't one big open space like in most churches. Again, it was quite nice and cheap to get into - for me, as a student - but not the highlight of our trip.

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Anastasia also helped us get tickets for the ballet. I have a feeling that going to a Tchaikovsky ballet in Moscow is like going to one of those Mozart and/or Strauß concerts that are being held for tourists in random palais in Vienna. Still, the others wanted to go, and I can't even remember the last time I went to a ballet. (I may have done so once or twice when I was a kid?) We saw the Nutcracker, which was pretty nice, very happy and colourful, and we had a good view on some extremely shapely male arses. I swear, ballet dancers male and female are nothing but bone and muscles. 

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Finally, I can really recommend the TripAdvisor City Guides app, which is great for offline maps and listings for large cities. It's no google maps, but you can find a lot of tourist-relevant places (hostels, sights, resturants), save them as favourites, and then see your own position on the map even without data turned on. This is basically what got us home quickly after a few beers in the pedestrian street behind the Bolshoi.

Posted by feeverte 14:15 Archived in Russia Tagged russia transsib Comments (0)

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