A Travellerspoint blog

An End to Russia

Escaping back to the free world!

semi-overcast 0 °C

So no more Lidmila! We have paid her handsomely in US currency and given her an aussie icon present (she cried) and she gifted us with a frig magnet (we cried) and that was it! Now we are on our own!! Having discovered that we needed to take three trains all around the city just to go 2 km dowm=n a straight line??!! We opted instead to take the bus- straight down Nevsky Prospekt to the Hermitage. And. Mind Boggling! Truly amazing place. If you stood and looked at each exhibit for 1 min it would take 8 years to see everything. We had a bit less than that so we split up and took off - everything from the great masters - Rembrandt's, Picasso's, Matisse from every era in every country all housed in what was a huge and fabulous palace. Some rooms were so fabulous they were better then the exhibits. It went on and on and it was so easy to get lost!! But we spent our day there and feel that it was a fitting finish to the USSR.
Our pre booked taxi turned up and we drove to the airport through grey muddy depressing looking rows and rows and rows of apartments. The airport is like a beaten up countrified old airport - very communist still. X-rayed on the way in through the front doors and then after a meal of "Nearty pancakes" and Rabbit Pasta" we went through the first passport control, then to the bag check in where we were told we were not allowed to take lipsticks on the plane (they didn't seem to care about Mel's bottle of water) and then we went through serious passport control and finally we got x-rayed and searched again. Finally left to sit in a strange room for an hour before our plane came
Getting off in stockholm and walking through the clean polished shiny airport - where everything looks like it came from ikea - it brought back quite suddenly how different russia was from the west. Clean, new toilets, (Manda is thrilled as we can now flush the toilet paper down the toilet!) everything modern, everything shiny, glass everywhere - it was great.
A bus trip into town and we are at the funkiest hotel! Lifts are all glass and have an instrument on the roof and the type of music playing is the same - eg Saxophone - jazz, guitar - rock. The place has vanilla pumping through the air vents, a burger is $30 (welcome to scandinavia) the bathroom doors and walls are all glass (amanda and I know far more about each other now than we needed to!)
We had the best breakfast ever - feel we have peaked today! We then walked through the heart of stockholm to an island where we found the VASA museum. A ship from the 1600's raised almost completely intact (98%) and a really great museum complete with dead bodies (or their skeletons) artefacts and weapons from the ship and a truly impressive ship itself.
We then found another graveyard (perhaps this blog should be the Chandelier, Palace and Graveyard tour) one can tell a lot about a country by their graveyards. This was cold stark, neat and plain. A bit like Stockholm.
We then ramped up the level of excitement and hit the ABBA museum. All I will say is that they made a huge number of records, won a huge number of Gold Records, Made some incredibly tacky (and home made looking out fits and..... we still know the words......
We caught a tram home - sadly the conductor couldn't sell us a ticket as he had run out of paper to print his tickets!
We will see if we can find dinner that wont bankrupt us and then tomorrow we will walk around the old medieval town and possibly pop into another palace!
Tomorrow night we go overnight in the sleeper train to the white world of mid Sweden and the Ice Hotel............
Until then Cheers

Posted by Louise Pryor 09:22 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

A little More Russia

Should we rename as the Chandelier tour?

sunny 4 °C

There are certain icons that are top of the list to see in St P and I believe we have successfully covered them. Cathedral of the Spilled Blood, Isaac, Kazan to name just some of the incredible ones we have seen - The Spilled Blood is huge and is entirely covered inside in Mosaic art ( I was a bit slow and thought they were paintings - thats how good they are!) Everywhere you look there is the glitter of a gold dome or cross and the streets are littered with huge buildings. Everything here is just massive!
We popped off to the Ballet at the Mariinsky theatre and both the venue and the production were fabulous although I did find some amusement in the costuming. ( La Bayadere is about an Indian princess and her Rajah so it was a little disconcerting to see what looked like red indians - complete with tom toms! Luckily no teepees ha ha.)
Melanie is now pretty fluent in Russian and can read her way around the city - I can recognise Blini, Vodka and restaurant - so i have the basics organised!
We have walked the major squares and parks, marvelled at the frozen Neva river and agreed that we are not tempted to buy local clothing - its a bit cheap chinese meets 1979 - although not cheap!. It seems actually quite expensive to live here - we have done a supermarket shop as well as a locals shopping centre and there are not many bargains to be had. Sad the Olympics are over as we were enjoying that - always good to be in the winning country.
A highlight of yesterday would have to be the vodka museum - Mel enjoyed the black bread, lard and fish snack that accompanied the three shots of tasting vodka - manda and I kept our lips firmly buttoned - although we did taste the vodka.
It has been handy having Lidmila to drive us around as you see a lot when you cruise about on your way to the next Cathedral - we stumbled into an orthodox service going on in one and it was really interesting - a gloomy candlelit atmosphere with chanting male priests, a wonderful choir and again a lot of older russians milling around bowing and crossing themselves - all were standing as there are no pews and they carry on while the tourists check out the surrounds!
We walked down Nevsky Prospekt and went to dinner in a restaurant which promised traditional Russian food (and delivered) What we didn't bargain on was the sudden habit of the waitresses to pop out onto the floor and do a quick Russian folk dance! Dead bears and a moose on the walls and a lot of cheering locals as we won yet another gold medal!
The sun came out today which we gather is quite rare - spring is usually grey according to Lidmila with lots of rain - we have been lucky with a bit of snow, a lot of grey but only a sprinkle of rain.
We do the Hermitage tomorrow which we are all looking forward to and then off to Stockholm tomorrow night. Just as we are getting our Russian straight we have to learn Swedish!
Russia is a great place to visit - magnificent monuments and palaces and cathedrals and museums, amazing streetscapes and surpisingly easy to get around. Not much of Red russia left - the western influence has well and truly crept in. But russian history is alive and well as at every corner there is a monument to the revolution - the only question to ask is which one?

Posted by Louise Pryor 02:51 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

St Petersburg Day One

Too much to write down!

semi-overcast -2 °C

This is a fascinating place. The cars are all covered in a thick coat of grey dust, the palaces are the most glittering of Europe (and we have seen a few) and the streets are so wide its hard to believe they were made so long ago. We arrived via Berlin Air and walzed through passport control with no problems, it was actually harder to get out of Germany than get into Russia. The Novotel is great - mostly because it has tea making facilities in the rooms Yay!
Breakfast once again a fabulous array of the usual plus meats, fish, and various other delights.
We met Lidmila our guide and set off through the traffic to Pushkin, an outer suburb where we find Tsarsky Seloe - the Tsar's summer palaces. The traffic is thick, the road rules are apparently non existent and there are no lane markings! And every corner has a statue of lenin or some pther revolutionary heroe and every square seems to be called Victory Square! We make it through unscathed and find ourselves in the huge park surrounding the palace of Catherine the Great (wife of Peter the first) and it is truly amazing. Due to the damage it suffered through the war they have spent the last 40 years restoring it and it is superb - I have never seen so much gold leaf in my life!! The grounds are huge and dotted with spare palaces, follies and lakes. We had a nice stroll through the snow (very Dr Zhivago) and saw the first squirrel of the year.
Lunch was had in a place called the Smile cafe - was like a children's play house and we had Blinis with honey and creme fraiche, soups and Mel had a purple salad.
After a lot of miming of death, dying and other dead body type stuff we managed to get through to Lidmila that we wanted to go to a graveyard. She took us to the holy woman (insert russian name) church which was surrounded by a huge cemetery, we went into another church there which was full of the locals lighting candles kissing paintings and walls and donating food to the poor (read priest) It was a bit like a whole lot of very short old russian women doing stations of the cross. Mel made friends with some elderly women who gave her a holy relic and a set of instructions for good places - in russian. Both these churches and the graves around the outside were fascinating/ We had a drive around the island off St Petersburg - it looks a bit like Paris and the seine - has an English places side and a university side and then we went to the supermarket - just for fun ( and a bit of milk) Again a great way to see what the locals are up to. Basically it was like a huge costco with about half given over to alcohol of all kinds and a bit to clothes and a bit to food. Plenty of caviar and other ruskie delights - and cheap!
We came back home for a quick Olympics fix and then manda won the I had Borscht first prize! A bottle of Italian pino Grigio to help it down and now we are all in bed - ready for another big day!

Posted by Louise Pryor 11:21 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

Ich Liebe Berlin

overcast 9 °C

Now you might be thinking that this is an all beer and skittles trip but we do have our serious moments - so on Tuesday we decided to travel out to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, it was cold, it was bleak and it was pretty much as you would imagine it to be but worth the effort to go. After we had walked around for hours I did mention to the girls that I could go a meat pie and sauce right about now - but all Manda offered me was a gummi bear. We bussed and trained back into Berlin and decided to make Manda's day by taking her to Potsdammer platz which has some amazing architecture. As a reward for doing this she steered us into the Corroboree restaurant, past the fake harbour bridge and the didgeridoos and upstairs to the surfboard table where (you guessed it) I got my Pie and sauce for lunch and it was delicious! Mel tossed up whether to go the Gold Coast salad but in the end settled for a Toowoomba Chilli Burger!
A short train trip home and we dined on a few delicacies that Manda went out and got us a Galleries la Fayette!
We all slept well and today it was museum Island Day. A wonderful first round was the Berlin Cathedral which was the best 4 euros we have spent and included going right up to the outside walk around the dome on top. Seems like between the war damage and a few different Kaisers they have had a couple of goes at building this. It is an interesting city as there are constant reminders of the 2nd world war with pics everywhere and also lots of bullet/bomb damage to these older buildings and yet it is very modern lively city.
The Pergamon Museum is a collection of antiquities from the ancient world, from 2500 BC to quite recent - only 900 years ago! We spent several hours there as they have a huge number of artefacts, then Manda and I declared it quits and went shopping. Mel went on for more and eventually did her own bit of shopping and found an Organ concert in the Catholic church.
We found the Alexa mall at Alexanderplatz and left some of our euros there! Dinner is at home in our Apartment watching the olympics and now the Soccer - Mel will light up a fag so Manda feels at home watching Bayern munich! So we are eating some french pates and cheese, drinking NZ Sauv Blanc (they have those screw top lids) and some yummy breads. Tomorrow its off to Russia!
What did we love about germany? Berlin feels like Paris only friendly, safe, easy to get around, interesting things to see, good food (not all dumplings schnitzels and pork knuckle! We loved our apartment - bang smack in the perfect spot, we loved the weather (our luck continues to hold) we loved how un-crowded it is, we loved the skyline.
Basically we have really enjoyed our German week - has been a blast and now we are off to Russia we are expecting great things (and probably a lot more photos of old stuff)
Stay tuned!

Posted by Louise Pryor 10:54 Archived in Germany Comments (2)

Berlin Bites

Moving through Deutscheland

sunny 10 °C

A first class train trip from Munich to Berlin was a steal at 35 euros and a very pleasant way to travel. (was also a good way to recover from the trauma of being forced to go to my first professional soccer match! Only bad thing about soccer in Germany is that they are allowed to smoke inside and they smoke and drunkenly ash all over you!! We did love the chants and the Bayern Munich songs and it did pass the time because the game is as we all know - dead boring) We left Munich in the rain and arrived to clear skies in berlin. A short taxi trip to embassy land and we were met by Andre in out apartment for the next 4 days - very nice, great spot very happy jan. Happy to be out of bavaria and the stodge food specialities which seemed impossible to avoid -we wandered around looking for somewhere to have dinner and found ourselves in the Lowenbrau - seriously! Nothing is open in Germany on a sunday except place which specialise in stodgy bavarian meals.
Everyone is very happy here because we are winning the olympics! It is the only thing we have on TV that we can follow so lucky it is still on.
Beautiful blue sky day so we did a Sandersons free walking tour of Berlin (funnily enough with a guide from Sydney!) We have done checkpoint charlie, brandenburg gate, the Konzert hall and place, various war places, stood on top of Hitlers Bunker and finished with lunch in Galleries LaFayette (thank god for french food!!)
Have walked 500 miles today and finished with a little shop in HM - everyone made a purchase so everyone happy. Trying to summon up energy to go find dinner - ready for big day tomorrow....stay tuned

Posted by Louise Pryor 10:13 Archived in Germany Comments (2)

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