From Russia with Love

July 26, 2010 - Moscow, Russia

 I have been wanting to go to Russia since I was little. There was 
always something mysterious and exciting about the place. It was home 
to the stories of Tzars and their extravagence, Lenin, Marx and 
communism. It is the land of Siberia, harsh winters and vast landscapes.

So I decided quite early on in my trip planning that Russia was one of 
the places I wanted to see. To get to Russia is not difficult. To get 
into Russia is another story. First you must have a letter of 
accomodation from a tour company within Russia. Thankfully I had 
decided to go on a tour so this was taken care of. Then you must apply 
for a visa. This involved me sending my passport to Canberra, which 
only returned the week before I left. Now it must be noted that just 
becuase you have a visa, this does not guarrentee you entry into the 
country.

The border was bleak. We were ready to spend several hours there. In 
the end it turned out to be only 3 hours.

Welcome to Russia, the land of the frown. Have you ever thought what 
your neutral face is? Most likely it is just blank, niether a frown or 
a smile. The Russians have managed to perfect the art of the neutral 
frown. It's actually hard work for the normal person. Trust me I've 
tried. I just can't quite get my lips to curve down far enough.

So Russians frown. Russia also has the worst roads imaginable. Just 
imagine a road where the government has long ago decided that it's too 
hard and too expensive to fix, so they are content with the label. A 
place where pot holes exist within pot holes. Where you feel like you 
are on a blouncy castle just by being on a road. Then there are the 
drivers. Not quite as bad as the Egyptians (though their roads were 
better), chicken is the name of the game. And the target could be a 
semi trailer for all they care. The best thing to do is sleep, if you 
can with all the bouncing.

So my tour of Russia included St Petersburg, Novgorod, Moscow and 
Velikie Lykie. The buildings were interesting in St Petersburg. 
Especially the Cathedral of the Spilt Blood with it's multiple 
coloured onion domes. The hermitage was also incredible.  But it was 
just like Europe. Just every meal was covered in dill. The food was 
actually surprisingly good. Just really small portions. The vodka on 
the other hand was excellent. I have never drunk vodka straight and 
not had the burning throat sensation.

St Petersburg, the city on a river where the bridges open at 1:30am. 
Good point to note if your hotel is on the other side from the bars. 
Not so great when the bridge closest to your hotel opens 30minutes 
early. Spectacular sight, while you are going on a 1km run to the next 
closest bridge. Thankfully we made it across this one, just! Though we 
weren't home yet. There was still another 1km run to the next bridge. 
What to do in the middle of the night in st Petersburg? Go on a run! 
Well we made it back to the hotel, hot sweaty and exhausted. Best part 
of st Petersburg though.

Russian chocolate is as good as Russian roads. And don't try and tell 
me I didn't try the correct one. I tried that many that I think I've 
eaten more Russian chocolate than your average Russian. It tastes like 
nothing and leaves a film of nothing in your mouth. Some nice soviet 
looking packaging though.

Russia in a heat wave. Not so much fun. Over 200 Russians died the 
week I was there from swimming after drinking alcohol. Vodka vodka 
vodka. So Russia evidently is not equipped for heat. And it was hot. 
The hottest place in Europe at the time. 39 degrees hot. And no where 
has air con. No hotel, no shops, nothing. And it's not like at home 
when the sea breeze comes in. Nope it's just hot and humid. Lenin's 
tomb is air conditioned though, but we will come to that.

Moscow was my last chance at Russia redeeming itself. And it did in 
the last 24hrs. When in Russia one must do two things, go to the 
ballet and go to the circus. I was lucky enough to see swan lake and 
it was beautiful. Although I really wished the lead male stopped 
smiling. The costumes were amazing and even though we nearly passed 
out from heat exhaustion it was well worth it. The circus was 
different. I have never seen animals in a circus and probably never 
will again. Although they did amazing things I could not help but 
wonder if they were happy. There were seals, tigers, poodles, ferrets, 
foxes and rabbits. I much preferred the human acrobats.

The other part of moscow that I really loved and was looking forward 
to was the metro system. The stations are decorrated with chandeliers, 
marble, semi previous stones and mosaics. They are beautiful.

Lenin has been dead for nearly 86 years. And he's looking pretty good. 
I am lucky enough to have seen him as they are planning on burying him 
soon. It is quite surreal to see the body of a man who played such an 
important role in history. Though did he really want to be placed for 
all to see?

The last part of Moscow, which by far was my favorite was my visit to 
the kremlin armoury. This is where all the riches of the tsars are now 
kept. There were dresses, whose waists were half the size of mine, in 
which the wearer could only last 20 minutes before fainting. Then 
there were the carriages. Straight out of a fairytale. Ornately 
carved. Golden and each one more enchanting than the last. Suffice to 
say it made me want to go and play princesses.

So one would think that the journey out of Russia would be quicker 
than the one in. Wrong! How about you wait in a hot bus for two hours 
before we even let you start the border process. So it took four hours 
to leave the country and it's fantastic roads.

So Russia was really good. And I'm glad I went. But I don't think it 
is as different these days as the rest of eastern Europe. It is 
probably not the best place to go in a heat wave though!


3 Comments

Aunty Di:
August 31, 2010
Hi Renae We enjoy reading your adventures. Don,t think we will put Russia on our travel list. Dubai was hot enough for us.Glad everything is going ok. Luv Aunty Di & Uncle Lou xxxx
Merle Bertolucci:
August 31, 2010
Hi Renae, The temperature obviously made a huge difference to your experience. We didn't get a heatwave in June, especially good as I couldn't read which bottled water was still (and which was fizzy - which I can't stand.) What I really enjoyed seeing was the canals and the architecture, they reminded me very much of Venice. I didn't know it would be like that. We found Egypt very hot. Also, we didn't have trouble getting into and out of Russia. Maybe because we had Italian passports.?? Keep well Love Auntie Merle xx
Cathy Millar:
August 31, 2010
Great to hear you survived the heat and vodka Ren! You give a whole new meaning to running the bridges. Keep up the good work with the travel diary. Safe journeys The Millars
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