A Travellerspoint blog

September 2012

Episode 11: Yaroslavl to Moscow

A Short Train Ride

sunny 19 °C

17 September 2012

The 'wow' factor; crossing the street; getting a haircut and other observations; the metro adventure; finding a gem

The train between Yaraslavl and Moscow is essentially one of the long distance trains shortened to a commuter train (Train 67, Wagon 11 seat 42, 4 hours)...which means they sqeeze in the people. Third class wagons are used and instead of six people per compartment, they squeeze in eight. Overall, not bad, but you do compete for foot space sometimes and there are sellers galore walking up and down the corridor of the train plying their wares.


First thing I did upon arrival to Moscow was to wander down to Red Square. It definately elicited a 'wow' from me. St Basil's Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, the Kremlin walls, state history museum, GUM department store ....all made it look like a bit of a fairy land.

L1040705.jpgGUM department store Red Square

GUM department store Red Square

L1040469.jpgL1040528.jpgCathedral of the Christ the Saviour

Cathedral of the Christ the Saviour

Cathedral of St Basil

Cathedral of St Basil




The next three days were spent walking hither and thither....

My highlights:

The Kremlin: you buy tickets at a certain time for a certain session. No walking in the street..must stay on the sidewalk or you get a whistle blown at you and directed where to go by a man in uniform, twirling a baton. Black cars still drive in and out. I very much liked the Kremlin with its multitde of churches, but actually enjoyed the kremlin in Tobolsk more...probably because there was a total lack of tour groups (with sign or umbrella thrust into the air) and total freedom to wander around.

Red Square: they were setting up for a rather large concert, so unfortunately you could not visit Lenin's mausaleum. I wonder what Lenin wold make of the changes let alone a rock concert being held virtually on top of him.

State Museum of Gulag: there was an exhibition by Steve King called 'The Commisar has Vanished'. Mr King has been collecting photos of various key Russian figures and events from the 1920's and 1930's and showed how these photos had been doctored so that they fit the political image of the day. For example, if Lenin or Stalin were at one time standing by someone who turned out to be an enemy of the state and had been shot or exhiled, history was changed by prudent 1920's photoshopping and the offender eliminated from the photo. The exhibition showed the original photos and the doctored ones that went out into the public arena or were published in books. Fascinating... not only the changes, but that Mr King was able to find the originals.

Piroski kiosks: through trial and errer, I finally figured out some of the fillings...the raspberry and apples ones being my favorite. I once thought I had asked for a fruit piroski ( because that is what I thought the word said) and got spiced cabbage instead. Still very good but most certainly did not satisfy my sweet tooth.

Haircut: After much searching, I finally found a shop that cut hair. It only cost me R165 (equivilent to the wallet breaking US3.50). In fairness, I did ask for it short as this was one of the few Russian words I knew, resulting in the back of the head cowlick defying gravity and sticking straight up. The front sweep and goblin sideburns added to the new look.

Mailing packages: I have not bought much as I refuse to add additional weight to my backpack.....but I have bought a few things and decided to mail them home. Leo, from the Safari Hostel, very kindly wrote down in Russian what I wanted to give to the mail clerk. Off I trundle with my goods placed hither thither in an Ikea bag. My turn, finally, after standing in line forever. I show my handy note to the lady (with the rather distinguished mustache) sitting behind the glass window.

'I don't speak English' said the lady in Russian.

Gee, I would have never guessed. Now...lets work on this one together and I'm sure we will succeed.

'May I buy two postage bags'?, I ask, pointing to the bags on display, using my best Czech-Russian.... my thought being I would wrap the items I had in the bubble wrap I scored from a shop and place them in the postal bags and hand them back to the mustached one.

Blank stare followed by exasperated sigh. Arm waving for me to give her my Ikea bag with my goodies as the line behind me is getting longer and people are tapping their feet like I am the slow one. Gives me two pieces of paper to fill out with the address, promptly disappears and reappears moments later with two packages, both wrapped in brown butcher paper, tied with string and not an iota of tape. Plasters on the address and demands payment. Needless to say, none of my bubblewrap was used, but the Ikea bag containing my goodies is winging its way to Seattle.

Just a note here....in general, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity, friendliness and helpfulness of the Russian people. if I did meet a snarffy one, then it seemed to be a person who workd in a mundane, mindless job....train ticket seller, checkout lady at the supermarket, postoffice person, ticket seller at the museums and churches.

Crossing the streets: On wider streets, 78 seconds are allocated to cars to get through the intersection. People get 35 seconds to cross the street. One narrower streets cars get 65 seconds and people get 16. How did they come up with these numbers?

Cappacinos: A cappa at Starbucks cost R230. A cappa at Costa Coffee cost R178. A packet of McCoffee from the supermarket cost R20.

The Metro: I finally felt totally museum-d, history-d, onion domed, architecture-d, photo-d and cultured out so I decided to find the state uiversity botanical gardens which was my first experience in the metro where I had to change lines.

The metro consists of a multitude of stations scattered all over the city. Each station can have up to 4 lines, each line has two platforms - for trams going one way down the line and for trams going the other way down the line..the trick being finding the right direction - and numerous stops...all written in cyrillic. And they consist of a seething mass of humanity who will run you down if you even so much as pause for a millisecond. The only way I can read cyrillic is to spell each letter out..which means I have to stand very still, give my utmost concentration to each letter in the word and move my lips. This results in a lot of stares but also a degree of sympathy and help.

One lesson learned almost immediately...stairs take you to different lines, escalators take you to the outside world. I was a wee bit of a mole for awhile as I sorted this all out. Finally got to what I thought was my destination and bugger if I could find the gardens. It was getting late so gave up and tackled the metro again to get back to the hostel.

The Moscow metro is fantstic for the artwork and design of many of the station..mosaics, marble, paintings...some of which I came across during my metro adventures.

IMG_0819.jpgMosaic in Moscow metro

Mosaic in Moscow metro

Not giving up on visiting a garden, I decided to go to the State Museum of Kolomenskoye, a portion which is listed as a UNESCO heritage area. However, Leo suggested that I first go to a staion calles Tsaritsyno.

'It is a very nice residential area with interesting architecture.' So why not, I tell myself.

The metro trip to Tsaritsyno was very easy as I did not have to change lines. I got off at the metro station, pop out into the street and my first reaction was..why was this place rcommended? All I could see was one stall after another selling mobile phones. Hundreds of mobile phones. So I take a right turn and hit a dead end. I turn left and hit a street. I turn left just because. Nothing except awful cinderblock apartment buildings and a few more stalls with mobile phones (Do they actually sell them? Do they compete with each other on price? Where do they get the phones from?). I start crossing over a bridge and I see lots of trees in the distance and walk over to investigate. That was when I discovered an absolute gem...the State Museum of Tsaritsyno.


Interesting history...the palace was commissioned by Catherine the Great (as she did in those days) and construction was started in the mid 1700's. The empress died (as they did) and the palace was never finished and sat as ruins for nearly 300 years. The government rennovated the buildings in 2005 and made it into a museum. But the best part was the lake and park.....and fountain with the water dancing to the tunes of Kenny G, Frank Sinatra and the Phantom of the Opera. Very nice reprive from the traffic and noise of Moscow streets, and just the sort of place I would like to have in my backyard...as long as the gardeners who raked up all the leaves came along with it!

L1040612.jpg270_L1040633.jpgState Museum Reserve of Tsaritsyno

State Museum Reserve of Tsaritsyno

Posted by IvaS 11:22 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Episode 9: A side trip to Tobolsk

A bus ride to Tobolsk

semi-overcast 14 °C

12 September 2012

Miles to town; helpful cabin mates; train classes; playing tourist around the Kremlin; new discovery at the train station

Tobolsk train station has to be the saddest, most unimaginative and out of the way train station in all of Russia. Gray, utilitarian, totally lacking in character compared to so many other train stations I have been to here in Russia....and particularly so on a grey, overcast day. Granted, the number 4 bus does stop immediately in front of the station and drops you off right next to the Kremlin, which is about 10 km from the train station. The bus trip took nearly 45 minutes this morning as the bus driver was going about minus 2 km per hour.


I decided to take the side trip to Tobolsk because it is one of the oldest cities in Russia, was once Siberia's capital and I had read abut the Kremln in several books on Siberia. So curiosity got the better of me. This side trip consisted of only one day in Tobolsk (more than enough time) but a 10 hour overnight trip from Yekaterinburg going up (Train 358 Wagon 12 Seat 33 2nd class) and a 10 hour trip coming back (Train 389 Wagon 1 Seat 27 platskartny class). No luxury of first class on this train.

Second class consists of four people shaeing a compartment. Got my sheets from the provodnista and promptly got into the wrong berth (my excuse being that it was 1245 in the morning). Was set straight by the proper occupant who helped me make my bed and covered me with the blanket after I had crawled in under my sheet. Not speaking Russian gets you all sorts of help. The tic-tak tic-tac of the train was very smooth compared to other trains so sleeping was not an effort.

Coming back I travelled 3rd class (platskartny) in which 6 people share a compartment. When everyone is sleeping, it is fine. However, in the morning, those in the upper berths do not wait for those in the lower berths to get up before they take up occupancy on the lower berth bench. So I woke up to one gentleman sitting by my feet and another two on the lower beth opposite me, totally ignoring the guy still sleeping. They all very kindly decided they needed to smoke a cigarette as I extracted myself from the sheets and blanket. Also interesting in this class were the traders plying their wares....bags, jewelry boxes, flashlights, radios and tasers. The lady selling mobile phones quite happily squeezed herself onto our bench, smashing me into the corner, to show off her range of models.

The highlight of Tobolsk is the Kremlin which was the original site of the fort, sitting on the hill overlooking the original town and river, waiting for the invading hordes. It is now a monastary with bits dating back to the 1600s.


After a wander around the Kremlin, I ventured down the hill to old Tobolsk which sits on the river plain and consists of wooden Siberian type houses with the lovely downpipes and lots of churches, all topped with onion domes: both the houses and churches came in various states of repair, rennovation or decreptitude. This part of town is a world away from the 'upper' town which has a lot of the awful, indistinguishable, cinder block rectangular boxes.


I also wandered to the River Irtysh which is very much like other Siberian rivers...wide, flat as far as the eye can see, a degree of boat activity and not much else. However, it's hard not to think of all the history this and all the other major Russian rivers have seen and heard.


I made a new discovery at the train station - you can rent a bed at the train station by the hour. As I needed to check out of the hostel by lunchtime and the train was leaving late, I decided to try this out. Worked out really well...I shared the room with two elderly Russian ladies who gave me sterophonic snoring at maxiumum volume. Another observation...internet cafes and postcards are as scarce as hens teeth in the cities I have visited to date. However, you can get all sorts of tacky, China made souvenirs...cups, plates, bells, fridge magnets, spoons, ashtrays..which are all best left in the back of drawers, or not bought at all.

Next stop: Yaraslavl

Posted by IvaS 09:46 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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