A Travellerspoint blog

Episode 4: Irkutsk to Krasnoyarsk

overcast 20 °C
View Ulaanbaatar to Seattle on IvaS's travel map.

Episode 4: Irkutsk to Krasnoyarsk 30 August 2012

Minor panic; Nirvana; Stolby Nature Reserve

Success. My first Russian train and I managed to get on with only minor panic. Caught the No. 1 tram from near the Baikhal Hostel to the Irkutsk train station in pouring rain. The train station is divided into a number of separate buildings, so I popped into one that looked like the booking hall and showed my ticket to the nice lady in the booth. Buggers if either one of us could understand a word we were saying. 'Da', a nod of the head, sit down and watch the board is what I thought she said. Which I did gratefully as my pack was a bit heavy...but not realizing at that moment that I had to convert my e-ticket to a boarding pass. This became my minor panic. Something niggled in the back of my head about having to do this conversion so I went on a scout. I went to a ticket booth, asked in my best Czech-ish Russian about e-tickets and the lady, totally expressionless, said nothing and just placed a sign on the window that said "go to main door, turn right, go to No. 1". Seems I was in No.3 building. Off I go and luckily there were a couple of people at the e-machine that assisted newbies like me on how to get my boarding pass. Easy peasy once you know how.

Train 007 Wagon 11 Seat 5 first class, 18 hours 29 minutes and 1088 kilometers from Irkusk got me to a grey Krasnoyarsk. No other passenger was in my cabin during this leg of my journey. The cabin was certainly nicer than the UB-Irkutsk train....wood panelling, brass trim, off- white leather uphostery, thicker pillows, little table cloth, ubiquitous tea glass and piped music (little was I to know that piped music was going to be the bane of my life during a lot of my travels in Russia and Eastern Europe). I'm still sorting out train etiquitte: am I supposed to leave my door open? When am I allowed to close it? Can I turn off the piped music? Can I put my stocking feet on the opposite bed? When is it proper to make up my bed and crash?

First class cabin on train from Irkutsk

First class cabin on train from Irkutsk

After a night of rocking and rolling (but no drafty window), I woke up to the train moving away from the sunrise and crossing a timeline. I stepped off the train in Krasnoyarsk which found me facing Natalia holding up a placard with my name on it. I had been a bit extravagent and through the hostel I was staying in, had arranged for a taxi pick-up from the train station to the hostel, which, although cost more than public transport, was worth the hassle of finding the hostel. And what a good move that was. The street and the building would have been easy enough to find, but the entrance to the hostel would have left me baffled. You had to go the back of the building (as usual) and find the correct entrance...which would have been a challenge as there were no signs. And then there was The Code to get into the door which I did not have.

The hostel, SibTourGuide Hostel, turned out to be well placed in the center of town..tidy, clean and very unbusy. I even scored a room to myself. Settled into my bunk with Ikea linen and went outside to wander around the streets and found myself in nirvana. The reasons...a Cinnabon store about 20 m down the street and a pastry shop with rather tasty raspberry turnovers across the street.

Krasnoyarsk, a city of one million people sitting on the shores of the Yenisey River, another 'one of the oldest cities in Siberia' (established in about 1628 by a bunch of miltary types) is really nothing special - an assortment of solid, grey, square, functional Russian buildings with a scattering of old wooden houses, some of the historical ones (such as the Surikov Museum Estate) being well preserved and quite ornate. The Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum was a bit of an oddity being an ancient Egyption style building, replent with pillars. I didn't really get a feel of any sort of history in this city although a passing comment about Krasnoyarsk-26 picqued my interest. Seems this was a model city set up in 1950 about 80 km to the north of Krasnoyarsk for the the scientific elite who were into producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. A town still exists there but I gather it is closed to foreigners and no more plutonium is produced.

A trek to the top of Paraskeva hill on which the Pyatnitas chapel sits gave a good view of the city and Sayan Mountains, and the opportunity to check out three brides dressed in their white barbie doll dresses and a red stretch Hummer. It seems that September is an auspicious month for weddings.

Some of the highlights of Krasnoyarsk:

L1030940.jpgL1030922.jpgL1030905.jpgL1030916.jpg270_L1030910.jpgL1030927.jpg

L1030938.jpgL1030930.jpg

The main reasons for stopping in Krasnoyarsk were to visit Stolby Nature Reserve and as a jumping board to go up north to Yeniseysk.

Although I prefer the challenge of finding and travelling to places myself, I had to be pragmatic and so I ended up booking a one day tour to Stolby National Nature Reserve as finding directions in English on how to get there using public transport was near impossible....and then, as I later discovered, I would not have known where to go within the reserve anyway as signage was generally wanting. Anatoliy, the owner of the hostel, was my guide who drove me there, told me the history of the place, provided a picnic lunch and took me on the rock circuit. And was cute to boot in his special tick prevention suit. Ticks are rampart in the taiga forests in Siberia in summer and if you are bitten and unlucky, you can get tick encephalitis which is a real nasty given that it is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. There is no cure, so yu have to take preventative measures instead such as a wearing tick resistant outfit and/or getting the tick vaccine. Tick season starts in about April and is pretty well over in September, so I did not have to take any special precautions although I did check myself when I got back to town.

Stolby National Nature Reserve was first established in 1925 as an initiative of the citizens of Krasnoyarsk to preserve the taiga forests and the rock pillars to the east of the city. The word 'stolby' means 'pillar' in Russian and that is exactly what you find there: numerous granite pillars of varying size and shape jutting through the taiga forest. Seems there were and are a lot of die hard rock climbers in the Krasnoyarsk area. The reserve is famous for free rock climbing (as in no rope and no spotter) and I was told it even has its own social cult known as Stolbism. Over the decades, the stolby-ites built huts in the forest where they stayed while climbing and telling tales to one another and some are still there today. These huts were important during WWII as places to hide in from whomever needed to be hidden from. Unfortunately, most of the time the hidee was found, although it intrigued me how given the very dense vegetation in the area. Svoboda????

We hiked to and scampered over the main rock structures which have names such as Grandfather, Grandmother, Elephant, and Feathers, ranging between 60-100 m in height, many having pitons and small flags permanently embedded in them. We ate lunch of bread, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes and dry cookies overlooking the reserve and the autumn colours of the forest, and later watched a rock climbing competiton where the climbers had to scamper about 150 m up a rock face of while being timed. All the competitors used ropes and the only mishap was when someone could not climb over an overhang. Anatoliy and I walked a total of about 18 km up innumerable wood stairs and well trod trails. On the way down we stopped at a small cafe and I endulged in blini (pancakes) with strawberry jam. Yummy.

Some scenic shots from Stolby National Nature Reserve:

L1030965.jpg270_L1030977.jpg90_L1030992.jpgL1030988.jpgL1030950.jpg

Next stop: Side trip to Yeniseysk

Posted by IvaS 15:47 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Episode 3: A side trip to Lake Baikal

rain 19 °C

Episode 3: A side trip to Lake Baikal 26 August 2012

Lots of rain; outdoors museum; hike to the lake; a lovely boat trip

It is pissing down with rain. And not just a 'let's clean the dust off the leaves' shower, but a serious ground and bone soaking it's not going to let up rain. In this rain, I found a cheap Chinese umbrella in the Chinese market on which I immediately cut my thumb on the sharp spoke and stood in the wrong place adjacent to the market waiting for the bus to Listvyanka while trying to stem the flow of blood. After seeing dozens of buses come and go to everywhere but Listvyanka...and watching the people on-load and offload in the nano seconds they are given by the driver...I sensed that I was in in the wrong spot getting unnecessarily drenched. Eventually, with the help of my wet map, speaking my Czech version of Russian, wandering around and arm waving, I discovered the spot where the mini vans for Listvyanka park. So easy once you know where to go. They don't leave on any time table...they leave when the van is crammed full.

I had the van drop me off at the Taltsky Museum of Architecture and Ethnography which is located about 50 km to the east of Irkutsk. This outdoor museum consists of a number of different styles of renovated wooden Siberian style houses scattered amongst the birch trees adjacent to the Angara River. Some of the houses were open in which they displayed traditional Russia furnishings. Although it was grey and broody due to the rain, it was quite interesting seeing the various styles including a couple of churches, some old farms, and middle-class merchants houses. There was even a ger as the Buriat people can be found in this area. A stop at the cafe for some hot, rather tasty borst soup and slab of buttered bread got me going for the trip to Listvyanka.

L1030715.jpgL1030717.jpgL1030721.jpgL1030720.jpg

Transport to Listvyanka consisted of my standing on the side of the road looking wet and forlorn. A van with an empty seat stopped not too long after I arrived on the road, I paid my fare while the driver balanced his cell phone, the steering wheel and giving me change. Twenty minutes later I was dropped off at the post office in the village of Listvyanka.

I stayed at the Baikaler Eco-Hostel, sister hostel to the Baikaler Hostel in Irkutsk. It was about 1200 m up the hill from the post office away from the hustle and bustle of Listvyanka. Listvyanka seems to be the best known as the spot to see Lake Baikal because it is so close to Irkutsk. The town itself is a strip of village bordering the mouth of the Angara River where it enters Lake Baikal and then runs up four valleys inland. So unless you stay on the one road the goes through town, you have to walk uphill....which is generally ok unless you have been trudging all day and all you want to do is put up your feet.

Highlights of Listvyanka included the Baikal Museum (with impish, swimming nerpa seals in a tank), Retro Park, Dendrologichekii Park, a walk to the top of the local ski field (awesome view of the lake and Port Baikal), and a yummy meal of smoked omul, boiled potato and pickles. I got a bit energetic and jaunted to Nikola, the next village over as I had seen a three mast boat by the river on the drive over. What a total waste of time. The village was non-descript and the vessel turned out to be totally bogus: the 'boat' belonged to a rather dodgy looking resort and wasn't even in the water. Maybe they use it as a restaurant in the summer. Maybe it was a brilliant idea that turned into a dud. Don't know.

Listvyanka

Listvyanka

Lake Baikhal from top of Listvyanka ski hill

Lake Baikhal from top of Listvyanka ski hill

The next day I started my hike to Bolshiye Koty, a very, very small, village about 20 km to the northeast of Listvyanka. The only way you can get to or from this village is by foot along a section of the Great Baikal Trail or by boat. So, my plan was to walk one way and take the daily boat back to Irkutsk. Best laid plans.....

The day started out perfect....sunshine, warm, a breeze wafting through the birch trees. After a slog up one of Listvyanka's house lined valley streets, I got to the start of the Great Baikal Trail - as indicated by the one, and only, sign. Commencement of construction of the Great Baikal Trail started in 2003 and is being built entirely by volunteers in conjunction with locals and the local national park system. So far, about 500 m of trail has been constructed, but the plan is to build a trail that will totally circumnavigate the lake. I discovered that the signposting along the trail left a lot to be desired but luckily the trail is well maintained and quite easy to follow. I was also given the instructions that if the trail splits, always go up...which I did and it worked.

I walked through predominately birch trees with a scattering of pine trees at the beginning of the walk. After going through forest for about two hours, I eventually descended down a valley to the shore of a rather spectacular Lake Baikal. There was a bit of a late summer algal bloom in the water but that did not detract from the clarity of the water and the sheer fresh, sweet air. Along the way, there were a number of picnic and camping spots overlooking the lake which allowed some very nice navel gazing stops and a wee nap at lunchtime. The rest of the trek followed the shoreline, with the occasional sign warning me that the trail was dangerous and I just had to take the upper trail. It took me about 6 1/2 hours to get to Boshiye Koty, including my lunchtime nap. And by the time I got there, the day had changed from a bird chirping, bee buzzing day to pissing down rain.

L1030752.jpgL1030754.jpgL1030742.jpgL1030759.jpg

Jack Sheremetoff, the owner of the Baikal hostels, had booked me into the Lesnaya 7 Hostel. Given how small Bolshiye Koty was, it did not take me long to find the hostel. I was a bit cold and hungry once I got there, but a hot shower made all well again. I already knew that restaurants were non-existent in the village so it was my bread roll, cup-of-soup, cookies and tea for dinner.

So I am told, when I arrived, that the daily boat to Irkutsk is no longer in operation...with no warning given to the locals that this was to happen. Alex, the owner of the hostel, told me that maybe there will be a boat the next day. I really was hoping this would happen as even though I Iike to walk, I was not keen to walk back the same way I came.

The population of Boshiye Koty is only about 50-100 residents now, although in its heyday of gold mining, glass and soap factories, over one thousand people lived there. This is also the location of the Lake Baikal Biological Station where they have been conducting ecological monitoring of the lake since the 1920s. At night there is no sound...not even the wayward doddle do of a rooster or low of a cow. The sky did clear during the night and the stars were not short of awesome and spectacular. A wander around the next day gave me a village of only wooden Siberian style houses with nice neat little vegetable and flower gardens, and horses wandering freely. And the roads are more like tracks than roads. I only saw one sputtering car. There is a museum there, but as it was a Monday, it was closed.

L1030770.jpgL1030807.jpgL1030804.jpg

On my way back to the hostel after my wanderings, I noticed a boat docked at the jetty. The crew had set up a BBQ on the shore and they were smoking fish. Not long afterwards, four people with backpacks and suitcases boarded.

- Ah ha....the maybe boat to Irkutsk me thinks.

I tried asking (in my best Czech-ish Russian) if the boat was indeed going to Irkutsk. Communication of sentences longer than one word was near hopeless, but I managed to understand that I could go on the boat but I had a nano-second in which to get my stuff. So, not really knowing where I would end up but taking the risk because I did not want to walk and the boat seemed to be heading in the right direction, I hightailed it back to the hostel, threw my stuff into my backpack and got to the boat just as it was blowing its whistle to leave.

And what a blissful boat ride it turned out to be. It was only going to Listvyanka, but who was I to complain? We were given freshly caught and smoked Lake Baikal fish (species unknown), rye bread and beer while sitting on the back deck. Sunny, warm, a wispish breeze and flat calm water while watching the birch lined shore of the lake pass by. A wonderful way to get back to Listvyanka where I then hopped in a passenger van and returned to Irkutsk.

Next stop: Krasnoyarsk.

Posted by IvaS 12:02 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Episode 2: Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk

The start of the train trip through Russia

rain 19 °C

Episode 2: Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk 24 August 2012

Lessons learned; Mrs Maya; Bathroom Rules; first glimpses

First lesson learned about travelling by overnight train.....never pack your jammies and toothbrush at the bottom of your pack.

Now is truly the beginning of my trip. Left UB at 1310 this afternoon. Train No. 5 Wagon 5 Seat 14 First class. Distance 1113 km taking 24 hours and 35 minutes.

Ulaanbaatar train station

Ulaanbaatar train station

It was a rather frantic beginning as I returned from my two week trek in the Altai Mountain region of northwest Mongolia just yesterday so I only had 24 hours to make sure I had everything I needed. So much hinged on people getting things done while I was away....cancellation of my Mongolian work visa, obtaining my Russian visa, getting my train tickets. Luckily all went well and without a hitch...and the tourism company was much more efficient and friendlier once the elusive Tatiana was in the office.

The train going to Russia is no different to the one going to Beijing...a bit of rattle and roll and a fine draft coming through the window that can't be shut. I am travelling with Mrs Maya Tsunderen, a lady of indeterminate age but seems to be in her late 40's to early 50's....and who is forever hot. And very fidgity. We are definately not overly compatable cabin mates as she not only likes the window wide open, she also likes the cabin door wide open therefore not affording any sort of privacy. However, she did share her fat saturated sausage with me and her cucumber...but after cutting off the ends of the cucumber which she cut into halves and then proceded to smear the cut cucumber over her face. I made sure my knife was not used during this exercise. She loses me tomorrow about lunchtime when I get off the train at Irkutsk and she continues to Moscow. I hope her new cabin mate fares better.

The provodnitsa (the lady in each wagon who is responsible for checking your ticket, allocating linens, making sure you don't burn yourself on the ever boiling samovar, taking and eventually returning your ticket and can be either really nice and helpful or dour and snarfy) decided that Mrs Maya and I must be ok as she asked to store a bag full of shoes in our cabin which got stashed in an opening above the door. I'm sure they are heading for some market in Russia for a wee bit of extra cash. Some unknown person also asked to store two rather large bags in our cabin, but that was firmly declined. No knowing what was in those bags and they would have taken up a good deal of space...but again a good chance the goods are heading to a Russian market.

It looks like I got my visas right...my Russian visa is good as of 24 August and my Mongolian visa is good until 25 August. This was probably more luck than good planning. I think we cross the border at about 10 pm on the 24th. One of the tricks for travelling by train when you are having to deal with visas is figuring out at what time the train actually crosses the border so that your leaving and entering at the right date and not ending up in detention.

Second lesson learned travelling through Russia: train schedules, tickets and clocks in the train stations and on the trains show Moscow time. Occasionally there may be a clock in the train station that shows local time but this is rare and a joy if you find one. As you travel east (or west for that matter) you have to take into account the time difference. So after a 27 hour train ride it takes a wee while to sort out the local time and then figure out what time your next train is based on Moscow time. A mind teaser at times.

Otherwise, sheets, pillow, towel and blanket are provided as is the tea glass present on all Russian trains, so all is comfortable.

90_IMG_0169.jpg90_IMG_0166.jpg

Shame about the draft.

Third lesson learned while travelling on an overnight train. Find the dining car before you get on the train. The numbers inside the wagon do not necessarily correspond with the numbers on the outside..and it's a long walk if you forgot to count wagons and all the doors are shut impeding identification of your little abode.

The train crossed the Mongolia-Russia border over a 4 hour period. Mongolian immigration was in Selenge where we arrived about 11 pm. Hung round for ages then moved over a neutral zone of sorts to Russian immigration arriving about midnight. Sat for over 2 hours. It's not so much the sitting as not really being able to sleep with people in official looking uniforms schleeping up and down the corridor and poking in their heads (wearing rather natty peaked hats and a few medals) asking questions, and not being able to go to the bathroom.

Bathroon rules according to The Sign:

"Toilet is out of operation when the train is at the passenger unloading and loading stations of the largest urban areas. This stopping time can vary from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. Bathroom is closed 30 minutes before arriving and stays closed until 30 minutes after departure."

They need to modify this sign to say that at the border you have to hold it for nearly 4 hours despite not being anywhere near an urban area (and what exactly contitutes an 'urban area' being very open to interpretation). Long wait. And yes, the toilet opens directly to the train tracks.

Totally underestimated Mrs Maya's age. She was born in 1939 making her 73. Just goes to show how Asian women can be of an indeterminate age. This discovered when I had to fill out her Russia immigration card (which was only in English and Russian) as pointedly directed by the provodnitsa.

The first stop I was conscious of after crossing the border in the middle of the night was Ulan Ude but it was still dark so I could see virtually nothing. Once we left Ulan Ude, I wandered to the dining car (very, very last car) and had an gourmet continental breakfast of sliced white bread, apricot jam, butter and black tea. At least I was given my food with a smile even though I was an hour before official opening time. The smoking and vodka drinking Mongolians got me out fast.

We are travelling through some very pretty countryside...hilly and wooded, dotted with villages with the houses made mainly of wood in the traditional Siberian style. The birch trees are already starting to turn into their fall orange colors. Still about three hours to Irkutsk.

Finally got my first glimse of Lake Baikhal.... first impression.......big and not an iota of a ripple on the water. The train hugs the southern coastline of the lake for a fair ways crossing some nice, clear streams surrounded by birch forest. Parts of the lake are foggy, other parts clear blue sky, emphasizing the size. A few villages or individual houses are scattered along the shore. Interestingly, I saw very few people outside making the various villages we passed by dead as door nobs.

AC9FDD012219AC6817BCF25506D0DD76.jpg

Mrs Maya, meanwhile, finally woke up and seems very happy to lounge around in her braless t-shirt, gold lame' sleeping pants and slippers. She also continues to fidget incessantly, has rubbed the remaining bit of cucumber on her face, has opened the impossible to close window so she can stick her face out the window and is praying like a good Buddhist should. I, meanwhile, am freezing my little buns off.

We just stopped at a small township called Sliodyanka. This seems to be the first trading post along the train route (although I can't discount Ulan Ude)....a number of the Mongolians popped out onto the train station to sell their wares. I am guessing that they bought the goods in China and are selling them along the route to Moscow...a means of making money and getting rubles. Contraband includes jeans, handbags and t-shirts. As the stop was only 2 minutes, it was a period of frenzied activity....no trying on...just hold the piece of clothing up, make sure the waist expands and the transaction is made. This explains all the huge packages taken on the train...including my wagon mistriss' bag of boots, which disappeared during this stop.

Train shopping

Train shopping

I arrived in a rather grey Irkutsk, bit was rather impressed with the yellow and turquise train station. Irkutsk turned out to be a pleasant surprise. For whatever reason, I was expecting a run down, dusty version of Ulaanbaatar and found a tidy, clean and quite modern central part of the city. This is, of course, ignoring the congested, noisy, incessent honking traffic. I stayed at the Baikaler Hostel which was located right smack in the center of town behind the Lenin Cafe. A wee bit crowded and the Spanish couple who whispered to each other incessently raised the annoyance level a little bit, but all was tolerable and managable.

L1030893.jpg
L1030886.jpgL1030888.jpgL1030827.jpgL1030855.jpg

After a day of tramping around ingesting the sights, I decided to take my dinner at a the Bacabu Restaurant. Why? It was a glorious early evening and this was the only restaurant that I couod see that had an outdoor veranda. I thought it would be a lovely place to dine, overlooking a rather small patch of flowers and the traffic jammed main street. A 15 page, A3 menu was given to me to peruse.

Waitress: Silence. Just stood there looking down at me as we had already established that I did not speak Russian aside from hello, thank-you and please, and her English was even more limited.

Me: 'I will have the turkey salad' (pointing to the relevant picture).
'Don't have'.
'Ok.....then I will have the spagetti bolonaise'.
'Don't have'.
'Right...then I will have the meat dumplings.'
'Don't have.'
Sigh. 'Do you have the chicken soup'.

The waitress scribbles something down and walks away. Now this is a menu of 15 pages with at least four dishes on each page and I managed to strike out far too many times before I finally found something the restaurant could conjure up. At least I got what I ordered...in Mongolia, it is not unusual to order something and end up getting something totally different, the restaurant giving you what happens to be available and with a shrug. But still, it was very nice sitting outdoors inhaling the car fumes.

There is a lovely district to the east of the main part of town, along and near Ul Timiryazeva, that has a lot of wooden Siberian houses...unfortunately many are in disrepair but are still inhabited. Although unpainted, weathered and broken, some of the houses still have good examples of the intricate woodwork and shutters that adorned these houses. Interdispersed with the wooden houses are some fine example of tradiational brick buildings found in many parts of Russia.

L1030863.jpgL1030878.jpgL1030831.jpgL1030871.jpgL1030829.jpgL1030876.jpgL1030859.jpgL1030857.jpg

Nearby, they are also creating an area with new and renovated traditional Siberian houses that are now cafes, restaurants and shops. It's still under construction, but the woodwork lace and tin lacework on the top of the downpipes are lovely to look at.

L1030844.jpgL1030849.jpg

To the north of this area is the Chinese market that sells all goods cheap and Chinese, and the food market selling all and sundry, my favourites being the fresh raspberries and smoked salmon.

Next stop: A side trip to Lake Baikal.

Posted by IvaS 16:31 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Episode 1: The Beginning

Getting stuff done

sunny
View Ulaanbaatar to Seattle on IvaS's travel map.

Rain in UB, Russian visa bureaucracy, a potential change in plans

There had been an incredible amount of rain in UB the last few days. In fact, this is the wettest summer of the seven summers I have been here. We had two continuous days of rain which meant mass puddles everywhere. This is also the first year that I have seen goloshes being sold and people actually wearing them. Not that these help tremedously. UB drivers, who are manical even when calm, have not or cannot comprehend the relationship between puddles and pedestrians nor the relationship between puddles, potholes and speed. As a consequence people walking rapidly become mud splotched and cars fall into volcanic potholes creating gridlocks galore with each driver honking at the one in front....and yet no one will give way nor can they move anyway.

IMG_UB_Rain.jpg

Today was also my third attempt at getting my Russian visa for my train trip. I have never come across a tourism company that is so unfriendly, surly and unhelpful. Admittedly, there is also a language issue. My Mongolian is basic at best and the two ladies had even more rudimentary English. The first two visits centered on finding out the process of getting a Russia visa and booking train tickets. So...third visit on Monday and I find out that I need a biography in Russian for my visa application as I will be travelling on my Australian passport. An important tidbit of information. I email an elusive Tatiana and ask for the format of the biography. I get no response, so I make one up and the translation gets done. I trundle down on Tuesday, show my Russian biography to Natalia behind the desk and I am told I need to provide both and English and Russian versions. Damn. I move on and show her the filled in application.

Natalia the Hun: 'This will not do'

Me: 'Why? I downloaded it from the Russian Embassy website in Australia.'

'It is not proper application form. This is the one you need.'

'These two forms are exactly the same. Why do I need to fill out this second one?'

'Embassy cannot scan.'

Well.....of course.

Today (Wednesday) I trundle down with newly filled out form (being exactly the same as the one I downloaded), biography in English and Russian, picture, alien card and passport. No Natalia the Hun today. Today is The Surly One.

The Surly One: 'This is not the correct form for biography. This is form, she says, pulling out a piece of paper sheathed in plastic.

Me: 'And I was not told this yesterday because....'. This sarcasm being totally lost on The Surly One because the conversation is in rather stilted, grammatically wrong Mongolian (on my side anyway) interjected with English words (again on my side).

'This is the form. It needs the translator's signature and chop.'

'May I please get a photocopy?'

'Cannot. Also, you give me biography in Mongolian, not Russian.'

This is the point I discover that for whatever reason, the translator tranlated my original biography into Mongolian, not Russian. I had not checked properly...I just noticed all the cyrillic...but on closer inspection, I found I could read it...which I should not have been able to do had it been in Russian.

So I hand write the letter format (as compared to my CV format) which contains the same information as in the application form and my CV format. This gets typed up thanks to Teresa and sent off to the Russian translator.

But will I still get my visa? I have not heard from Tatiana on my final train itinerary. I also discover today that I have one too many days in Russia as as I calculated from the time I arrived in Irkutsk (25 August) rather than when I cross the border (24 August). And the tour agency person, with her vast amount of experience, could not have picked this up a wee bit earlier?

So the question is what to do. I am fast running out of time as I need to pack up the apartment and get organised for my 12 day trek into the Altai Mountains. I need to get my application in tomorrow at the latest and I still don't know my train itinerary. I am beginning to think of flying to Kiev and exploring Ukraine and Romania instead. Tomorrow will tell.

Posted by IvaS 11:21 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Episode 12: Moscow to Kiev

A relatively short overnight train trip

sunny 21 °C

Moscow to Kiev - 21 September 2012

She Who Barks; crossing the border; fishy stuff; a summary of wonderful sights; Trypillian culture and a new best friend

Boy did I get Ms Snarfy Pants as a provodnitsa (the carriage attendent) on the Moscow to Kiev train. She Who Barks. The first was when she barked my seat number at me. The second was when she came in and barked for my ticket. She then proceeded to stand about three angstroms away from me and barked a question of which I did not understand one word.
'Bark.'
'I'm sorry, I do not understand Russian" said in my best mis-pronounced Russo-Czech.
'Bark'
'Say what'?
'Bark" with even less tolerance and patience.
All I could do was stare as I had run out of guesses about what she was asking.
Finally...'Passport' was barked out in exasperation.
It was then an 'ahh, Australia' from her which she then proceeded to write down.
So was that her question the entire time? What is my nationality? I will never know. However, she did have her last say under her breath as she left the carriage...probably something like 'stupid ignorant foreigners.....they shouldn't be let onto the trains let alone into the country as they make my job too hard.' Even my carriage mate dismissed her with a wave of his hand and a shake of his head.

The train station for the Kiev train is on the opposite side of Mosow from where the Trans-Siberian train stops. But with the metro, it's easy to get to but upon arrival, a wee challenge to find the correct entrance for tickets and the waiting area as it's such a big complex but again has some interesting frescos and grandious chandaliers.

90_IMG_0822.jpgIMG_0825.jpg

Overnight train Moscow to Kiev (Train 003, wagon 06, seat 9). Distance 850.6 km taking 10 hours 45 minutes. A two person, 1st class compartment with all the modern amenities....plug and tv. My carriage mate was a gentleman who watched some shooting, grenades blowing program on tv until after midnight and then proceeded to diligently snore. The bench had a slight lean to it, so I found myself scrunched against the back side with my knees hanging in a gap between the bed and wall. But all still reasonable.

My compartment mate and I both got the bark from Ms Snarfy Pants when we got woken at 0430, first for Russian immigration (who seemed to look at my passport for an awful long time) and then Ukraine immigration (quick stamp, no form to fill out).

The first train stop I was able to see in Ukraine was at a small town called Konotop. The train station was quite run down and dilapidated and as you travel you could see that the countryside seemed quite poor.

It's pouring down rain with flashes of lightening but by the time I reached Kiev, it's only cloudy. I stayed at the Central Kiev City Hostel....the only good thing about it was the location - central and easy to get to from the metro and train station. Otherwise, I found it cramped and dark..and this was after the 41 Mary Kaye cosmetic ladies left. And were the cosmetic ladies sheer entertainment. They were all from Belarus for some one day conference. They all came piling in at about 1030 pm cackling away. All was quiet until all hell broke loose at about three in the morning and it was like a fox in the hen house. What a ruckus with ladies shouting at each other and the hostel owner using every expletive in the dictionary, threatening to call the police and expel them immediately into the street. The reason for the ruckus????..one lady was accusing another of stealing her perfume. At 3 in the morning?? Hello. Sanity returned when they left in the morning.

I had no preconceptions about Kiev except that it, and the country of Ukraine, have a rather long, but tormented history. But there was so much to see and what wonderful sights! I first strolled down Khreshchatyk Street (the main street in downtown) and felt almost weighed down by the gothic (?) neoclassical (?) buildings lining the street. Great place for Batman and Robin. Some of the buildings use some rather impressive sizes of stone as their foundation.

270_L1040926.jpgIMG_0931.jpgL1040808.jpg

They had closed down Khreshchtyk Street and erected a stage on which there was a dance competition going on. Groups of what appeared to be students got on stage and performed their routines - most of the groups had anywhere between 100-150 students, so there were a lot of kids bouncing around....some evidently not totally knowing the moves. But words and pictures did manage to get formed. Quite enjoyable...there was no common theme for the dances, the music was nice and loud and everyone seemed to be having a good time. 'Students' in Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny costumes were roaming around scamming people for money if you took a picture with them.

The next day I did the Route 1 walk in my Kiev Guidebook Best Excursions....'Along the streets of the Old Rus' city.'

In a word, stunning. This route included the Golden Gate (erected round about 1037 by Prince Yaraslavl the Wise; St Sophia's Cathedral and square (the oldest square and cathedral in Kiev and both constructed in the 1030's by Yaraslavl the Wise); St Michael's Monastery of the Golden Domes; Andriyivs'ky Descent (great cobblestone lane hosting an outdoor market selling lots and lots of paintings - some passable, some really bad - and heaps of artsy craftsy type of stuff); St Andrews Church (the baby on the block, built in the mid 1700s). Yes...lots of churches, lots of onion domes.....each church having fantastic frescoes and icons inside.

L1040916.jpgL1040867.jpgL1040888.jpgL1040884.jpgL1040785.jpg270_L1040765.jpg90_IMG_0843.jpgL1040856.jpg

The next day I debated about taking a cruise down the Dnipro River. However, I read a blurb about a small village called Trypillia, about 20 km outside Kiev, touted to be the 'Cradle of European Civilization'. Whoever came up with that slogan had a wonderful sense of humor and imagination. There are two archeological museums in Trypillia..the first did not provide any sense of inspiration. As it was closed, I could not ascertain if the inside was as bad as the outside.

L1040846.jpg

So... I took a stroll along the shore of the Dnipro River and came across a small kiosk that sold smoked fish. I bought one half pondering what sort of nasties the meat of the fish contained as there was a power station right next to the river spewing lots of rubbish into the air and who knows what sort of effluent into the river. But despite those thoughts, the fish was quickly eaten as it was rather tasty. The riverside walk was pretty mundane as they had cemented the shore from the path down to the river allowing no greenery to exist..but at least this gave a comfortable platform for the fishermen. I did wonder if the same fish were used in the fish spa.

IMG_0867.jpg270_L1040831.jpg

Next I walked to the top of a nearby hill and got a better idea of the lay of the land and figured out exactly where the main part of the village was. A wander into the village led me to the second archeological museum, which was small, totally in Russian, but showed that extensive archeological finds, the earliest being in the 1st Millenium, had been found all along the Dnipro River. I don't think the museum gets a lot of visitors as I managed to give a sleeping dog a massive fright and the ladies a surprise when I showed up. However, the dog settled and became my best friend (the pastry I gave him helped) and the ladies turned on the lights in the three exhibition rooms. I did notice that the ladies closed and locked the door when I left.

There is a reasonable view of the river from the museum site...at one time a fort had been sitting either there or the next hill over. The village itself was quite non-descript. The majority of the houses were rectangular houses made of cream coloured brick, each house and yard being enclosed within a fence. But the lanes were tree lined and pleasant. My new best friend, the black dog I frightened, accompanied me throughout the village.

IMG_0900.jpg

Then it was easy to go out into the main road and flag down one of the many mini buses that travel between the villages and Kiev.

My final day in Kiev was doing Route 2 walk from my Best Excursions Guidebook (Pechers'k) with the highlight being the Kiev-Pechers'k Lavra. This is the oldest monastery during what is known as the Rurikid dynasty which made Kiev (then referred to as Kyiv Rus') the capital city. This is all happening in the 11th century. What is most interesting about this monastery is that it was first laid down as a cave monastery...a labyrinth of caves and connecting corridors were made underground where the monks went to pray, live and later, store their dead. You can go through this cave system and view the saints who are interned in glass coffins. It is very dark, musty and very dank. Each coffin is set into an alcove in the wall and has a candle burning over the coffin ( which, unless you bought a small candle, are the only sources of light in this cave system) and a painting of the saint. The remains of the saints are covered with embroidered cloths, but you can sometimes see a hand or the top of the head. What stuck me was how small and short the coffins where....all I can guess is that the bones are all there but not necessarily attached to each other as when the monk was alive. There was not one foot sticking up. But it was clear that these saints are revered by the people who pray to the saint, and kiss the coffin and picture.

L1040877.jpgIMG_0837.jpgL1040865.jpgL1040836.jpg

Lots of other pit stops were made during my few days in Kiev... one of the bestest??? The little kiosks where they serve the creamest, chocolatiest soft serve ice cream on planet earth. They serve the ice cream in thin wafer cones, fill the cone to the very bottom and sell it by weight. There is a hut on nearly every corner and along Khreshchtyk Street there is one about every 20 metres. Absolutely yummy. And now, I leave you with some additional images as I have to catch the overnight train to Lviv tonight.
IMG_0838.jpgL1040807.jpg90_IMG_0857.jpgL1040787.jpgL1040832.jpgL1040751.jpgL1040911.jpg

And no Lenin statues to be seen anywhere.

Next stop: Lviv

Posted by IvaS 13:23 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 22) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 »