Vladivostok

When the train pulled into Vladivostok in the early hours, crowds spilled onto the platform.  Gaggles of teenagers on a school trip, families with acres of luggage, older couples carefully passing down suitcases, and men with thin coats and small holdalls. But within minutes they were all gone.  We were alone on the icy platform, and the train pulled away passengerless, off to a siding somewhere.  We retreated inside the station building, and sat on plastic chairs in the small over-bright waiting room.  Our plan was to wait it out here until morning, but the harsh light and uncomfortable chairs, and my stomach-aching tiredness, … Continue reading Vladivostok

Irkutsk

Irkutsk really felt like the Siberia of my imagination, especially when the snow came, and the temperature dropped to -12. St Petersburg, Moscow, and even Krasnoyarsk felt something like places I’ve travelled in Europe, but in some senses Irkutsk reminded me more of travelling in South America.  It was the first place where we were hassled by taxi drivers, constantly for about 10 minutes while we stood waiting for a bus.  At a bus stop.  One of them even tried to convince us to take a taxi to Olkhon island, which is 5 hours away.  Seriously? When the bus came, the fare … Continue reading Irkutsk

Baikal

After being cooped up on the train for three days I was itching to get outdoors, and after being cooped up in cities for three weeks I was itching spend some time surrounded by fresh air and trees rather than exhaust fumes and Soviet apartment blocks.  So I had high expectations of Lake Baikal, which is nature to the extreme.  It’s full of superlatives: the deepest, oldest lake in the world, the largest by volume, and one of the clearest.  Three quarters of the species that live there are found nowhere else. We headed straight from the train to Listvyanka on the shore of … Continue reading Baikal

Krasnoyarsk

After 70 hours on the train we were very glad to arrive in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia’s third largest city.  We’d read that the city was vibrant, flush with new found oil wealth, but before long I began to wonder why we’d come.  Walking from the station we saw nondescript concrete, and the occasional old wooden house sitting slightly askew, paint peeling.  The old buildings hinted that these streets might once have been beautiful, but now the air was hard to breathe, and everything was grey with dust.  The only place that wealth manifested itself was in the stream of oversized cars that clogged the roads, … Continue reading Krasnoyarsk

Vyborg

Before heading down to Moscow we took a quick day trip North to Vyborg, a fairly small town 25 miles from the Finnish border. Like Tallinn, it felt quite scandi, but unlike Tallinn, also quite Russian.  It’s changed hands a few times in its history (first Sweden, then Russia, then Finland, then Russia, then Finland… you get the idea). While we were wandering around town checking out the sights we got stuck behind a wedding party, who were dutifully marching to each place of note to have their picture taken. This is a phenomenon we observed every Friday and Saturday in Russia (when … Continue reading Vyborg

St Petersburg – Part 2

After staying in Peterhof for three nights we still hadn’t managed to see much of the city, as we pretty much spent the first day sorting out our visa registration and eating, and the second day seeing the sights in Peterhof.  So we decided to stay one night in a hostel in the centre of town, which turned into two nights… and a side trip to Vyborg (which I’ll come back to). In the city we did some wandering around a central cemetery, which had some pleasingly soviet gravestones, ate some delicious vegetarianised Russian food, and watched the bridges over the river … Continue reading St Petersburg – Part 2

Sorry!

P.S. Sorry for not posting for so long, there’s no wifi on the Trans-Siberian. Shocker, I know! Due to us choosing to stay in a rural hostel at Lake Baikal (more on that when we catch up), combined with many trains and a two-day ferry, we haven’t had much internet for two weeks. Don’t worry, we’re now in Japan, where internet grows on trees (bamboo mostly). Continue reading Sorry!

St Petersburg – Part 1

After Europe we were a bit exhausted by changing country every few days, so we ended up staying in St Petersburg for 5 nights.  It was a good introduction to Russia — we had the chance to get used to reading Russian and so on, but in a city that feels quite European still.  This is something I’ve been thinking about as we make our way relatively sedately across the globe — when you move slowly you don’t get the extreme moments of culture shock that happen arriving somewhere strange and new by plane. For the first three nights we stayed with … Continue reading St Petersburg – Part 1