March 18, 2015
Pre-Siberian warm up
What a great start! I’ve spent the first 5 days of my trip visiting my cousin Vicky in Moscow, a city I had been to a couple of times for business meetings but I barely knew, and it’s been absolutely amazing. Besides the more typical visits (the Bolsoi theatre, the Red Square, Kremlin, St. Basil’s cathedral, the Gum Galleries…), we attended an orthodox service, saw Peter the Great’s wooden lodge at Kolomenskoye, paid our respects to Boris Yeltsin, visited the Smolensk cathedral at the Novodevichy Monastery (and no, we had nothing to do with the fire), took dancing lessons from some friendly Russians, and Vicky taught me how to read Cyrillic!!!
Moscow (13-15 March):
Waking up at 3:30am to catch a 7:00am flight to Moscow with two 20kg+ suitcases plus a backpack sets the ideal conditions for the first f*ck up (or “Yousebada” as my friends like to call them) of the trip, but I regret to inform that all went very smooth.
After a “mere” 2h drive to the hotel and taking off the esquimo suit I had my first encounter with traditional Russian cuisine… a plateful of spaghetti carbonara!
Around 17:30 I met my cousin Vicky in the hotel lobby and we went for a stroll around the Red Square. It was beautiful.
We wrapped up the day with a nice long walk back to the hotel and dinner at an Armenian restaurant where we had some amazing meat skewers and very tasty mushroom dumplings.
The following morning (Saturday) we visited the Radisson чкраина (Ucrainia) hotel, one of the Seven Sisters, and bought tickets for an evening boat ride and dinner down the Moskva river. We then walked all the way back to the Red Square (3.6km) to visit the Kremlin. Ignorant me, I’d always assumed that the Kremlin was “only” a governmental building/palace…
A piece of advice, if you want to take a nice picture inside the Kremlin and think abouty stepping into one of the empty roads to frame it… don’t, you’ll be told off!
Feeling a bit hungry, and to be honest quite tired too, we went to the Gum Galleries to grab a bite. The Gum Galleries are a big shopping mall where one can find most European brands. It also where couples go to take their newly wed pictures and women of all ages pose sexily under a fake cherry tree… see for yourself!
In the afternoon we visited St. Basil and were lucky enough to witness a quartetto singing Russian orthodox music a capella. I still get goosebumps remembering it. After visiting St. Basil, which took us a good hour, we headed back to the hotel walking alongside the river, and visited some other relevant landmarks like the cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the monument to Peter I (the Great) who brought European culture to Russia, and Gorki Park.
In the evening Vicky and I went onboard the Montana for a 2h trip along river Moscva, and not only did we enjoy the views and had an amazing dinner, but learnt some cool dance moves from our local friends too. Keep an eye on the two guys, I bet you’ll see them on TV very soon!
To complete the Moscow experience on Sunday we visited Kolomenskoye (where Peter I was brought up and retired, and where Ekaterina II and Alexandre I established one of their palaces), the cemetery where Yeltsin, Khrushchev, Prokofiev and other famous people are buried, and the Novodevichy Monastery where the Smolensk cathedral is.
St. Petersburg on the day (16 March):
A good thing about starting your day at 6:00am is that the streets are empty and there are hardly any queues at the railway ticket office. A bad thing is that, assuming the ticket office is open, you may lose your patience as the 7:00am train gets closer to departure:
- 6:30am I arrive at the ticket office. Two counters open, two people ahead of me. Looks promising
- 6:40am One person still ahead of me and the lady at the counter leaves to chat with the others
- 6:45am She is back!
- 6:50am My turn finally
- Joseba: one ticket for the 7:00 to St. Petersburg and return today in the 19:50 (all this with the train numbers, departure and arrival times, station names, dates… in written as suggested by Vicky)
- Lady: returning today or tomorrow?
- Joseba: today at 19:50
- Lady: are you sure?
- Joseba: yes, for today 16 March
- Lady: you can’t go to St. Petersburg and return on the day, it doesn’t make sense
- Joseba: please give me tickets for those trains
- … (6:55)
- Lady: here, your ticket for the 7:00 to St. Petersburg. You’ll have to buy the return there, it doesn’t make sense to me. Now run!
Going to St. Petersburg was definitely worth it. The city is superb, people are (generally) very nice, and there’s culture all around. I didn’t have a chance to visit any museum (Hermitage included), but as Arnie would say “I’ll be back!”.
Siberia here I come! (17 March):
Intense final hours before flying to Irkutsk with still a few bits and pieces to take care of.
TO DO LIST
- Unpack and repack everything to try to reduce the pieces of luggage ✔️
- Learn how to pitch the tent (kind of important) ✔️
- Revisit how to operate the stove (kind of essential) ✔️
- Revisit how to operate the GPS (nice to have) ❌
- Write the blog (in progress)
And off we go!
PS. Miraculously I didn’t have to pay any baggage excess weight