Handbook by Bryn Thomas, Trailblazer Publications – this book has valuable information such as the train timetable and
stops plus a kilometer by kilometer basis for things to look for. Then Lonely Planet guides are also very good and give location
background information as well as many tip for travel, lodging, eating, and sightseeing]
13 August 2006 – Back to Russia
traveling in a train compartment
with a young just married Spanish (Spain)
couple [Carmen and David] and a Russian PhD [Catrinna]in economics and law – an international group now having to “live”
together for the next two days. And friends we became with no problem.
… Why do people in the World want to kill each other?
David is an advertising graphics artist and Carmen is
a corporate media person while Catrinna lectures as an assistant professor at a university. The newly married couple is on
their honeymoon and has been to China and will continue in Russia and maybe Finland
before going home after 3 weeks. Catrinna was on holiday visiting her Russian gentleman friend who is working as a construction
engineer in Ulaan Baatar – as we left the platform tears streamed form her eyes, clearly a love affair. But they will
get together again but parting is sad and being apart is difficult when in love.
… Why can’t such international gathers take
place more often?
We exchanged calling cards and I hope to visit the Spanish
couple when in Spain and perhaps they will visit me in Oregon. Who knows? For sure, real travelers over the World do communicate, collaborate,
and exchange ideas and feelings of being together. Unfortunately, this very common phenomenon does not have fast effective
results that stop conflict and strife. There seem to be the few who are in power
that just don’t “get it”.
… Perhaps one day our new Global Family can live
The late afternoon shadows of Ulaan Baatar were beginning
to take hold as I waited for my train to Russia. Others were waiting also slumped in the waiting room seats while still others used
the restaurant, or just stood on the platform. As a real traveler I had prepared for my trip with the purchase of some fruit,
bread, and cheese (one could exist on this diet for a long time). Our Mongolian guide was with me, having given me a lift
from the hotel so we chatted about the tour and some of its issues.
I felt very comfortable in Mongolia for they are an up and coming nation. You can see the city and country
growth everywhere. I wondered what it will be like in 20 years; more anymore tourists arrive each day. Many food stuffs come from all over the World – Mongolia
will never be the same. However, this time I was satisfied with my two week view
of things and was ready to move on. Of course, if I could have stayed a week at Lake
Havsol it might be different. In fact, after meeting with Ed, a former
professor of U of Hawaii, who was doing University to University project and expressed an interest in English speaking opportunities,
such as Toastmasters. Naturally, I offered to come over and put together a Toastmasters Club for expenses only; we shall see.
(Opportunities are everywhere!)
I went to the toilet where I needed to pay my 100 Turuk
(.10 US) which I think is fine to control and clean the facilities –
might the US try this and really have
public toilets. Of course, Americans paranoia with such very normal bodily functions, the lack of public toilets, is why American’s
call “them” ‘bathrooms’ – why should be surprised when Europeans or Asians look at us funny
when we ask for a bathroom to pee. Of course, using the toilet on the train is
no problem except they are locked when in a station or stopped and when going through the boarder crossing this could take
several hours without getting off the train, ugh. Maybe one day these trains
will have self contained toilets. It is interesting that many toilet facilities are only one room with stalls used by men
and women. Even when it is only a men’s toilet it is not uncommon to have a matron come in to keep it clean while one
stands at the urinal. Of course, in the train compartment the men and women sharing it discretely get undressed and into bed
without any issues. I doubt if Americans could handle these very natural situations.
I was assigned a compartment with a couple and a family
with a small child. Unfortunately, the husband was assigned to another berth in the next compartment, so I offered and moved
to the husband’s berth but this gave me another opportunity. The train care is very nice with clean toilets.
We were given clean packaged sheets, pillow, blanket,
and something to eat. We all slept well as the train lulled us with its clack and roll. The train would rumble through the
night stopping periodically to let another train pass or at a small station.
14 August 2006 – Back to Russia
Early this morning we were put on a siding waiting for
a train to pick up. This allowed us to visit the local station to use the toilet facilities. Finally an engine pulled us to
the next stop where we endured customs and immigration of Mongolia and
Russia over the next several hours stopping
on each side of the boarder.
Now back in Ulaan Ude my Spanish friends got off to visit
the city. I stood on the platform having a good chat with an Australian group ( I had not heard so much English in over a
month) and in particular I chatted with a German, Klause, who had immigrated to Australia near Cannes. So now it was back
on the train for an overnight to Irkutsk, My next destination.
Our train compartment was quite nice with four berths
and a good feeling of security; the door can be locked too. Before bed I had
a snack I brought with me and a cup of tea (bring your own mug and tea) using hot water from the samovar at the end of the
coach. I sipped my tea and watched the sunset over the plains as little farms passed by.
Now, in Russia, the houses are
wooden and the Gers have disappeared.
15 August 2006 – In Irkutsk
Just before we pulled into the station the railroad care
matron made sure we were all up and ready to get off. This person does a great job and when I was to get off at Ulaan Ude
earlier she made sure I was ready – they keep track and provide good service. This makes it easy for a foreigner to
travel here. This was the end of the line for this train so hordes of people alighted and poured through the station. I just went along with the crowd looking for my guide contact and sure enough the
MIR local manager and guide found me easily – I guess an American traveler wearing a big black with backpack does stand
out a bit. We were off to the hotel to drop off my gear then head out for a bit of a city tour. After seeing several sites
and the big river that flows from Lake Baikal
we visited the yacht basin and I had a chance to visit with a fellow who builds sailboats. So, maybe I will come back next
year for their Lake Baikal
sail race in September – I was invited. I wonder of the YBYC would like to make this a project, it would be great fun.
I am sorry I had not made prior arrangements to go out sailing on the Lake.
Now back at the hotel I crashed since I had been traveling
on the train for two nights then a day of sightseeing. I do not recommend this itinerary always allow time in between travel
activities for some down time to just catch up. Remember, you are probably retired and on vacation and doing a marathon travel
– sightseeing venue is not productive or valuable – besides, it can cause one to become sick. I had dinner of chicken and some ice cream with “chocolate” over vanilla, well, at least it
was sprinkled chocolate bits but sauce may not be available. I just rolled with it and sipped my espresso to finish the meal.
I feel Russia is behind in its attention
to tourists and offers less. Mongolia
is really moving ahead with their tourist industry providing as clean a place as possible amenities in the hotels like toothbrushes,
combs, etc. Russia has only a minimum
set of these items. Also, Russians seem not to be very interested in the tourist
and often look dower while Mongolians respond quickly to a traveler’s requests.
The general smile on the faces of the local populace seems to indicate their internal mood and satisfaction with life,
in which case Russians are not real happy people. The Japanese also do not smile but I think that is because they are just
too serious about their work.
This evening I took a walk in the park across the street
from the hotel. The evening was perfect with long rays of warm sun but a cool breeze. I wandered down the central path to
the fountain in the center where numerous folks had gathered to just enjoy the evening. Young couples were obviously enjoying
each other while a larger group laughed and took photos of each other. The fountain spouted from the top high in the air with
several stream coming out of its arms into the fountain pool below. There were kids running here and their and an ice cream
stall on one edge of the walkway. For sure, a great city center scene. Now it is time for bed since I am up early to catch
a train up Lake Baikal.
16 August 2006 – Lake Baikal
I was up early, 06:00 to head for the train to Lake Baikal with my
guide. This is a special all day touring train with many local Russians. We grabbed a quick breakfast bite to eat and headed
for the train. Since there are no guidelines for moving people to and from the trains it was quite a scene with hordes of
people going down the steps and coming up from the tunnel leading to the different platforms.
Once on the train we had a good seat with a table in front of us. Down
the mountain valley we went to one end of the Lake where we stopped for a short while at
a village. Then our train reversed course and headed along the old railway line build at the turn of the 20th century
right along the water’s edge. Needless to say there were many short tunnels and a number of bridges. This RR line was
quite a feat for its time. Periodically we stopped to get out and walk about. The
Lake is very beautiful, clean, and fresh. At one stop, I just could not help it, so I stripped
down to my under shorts and took a swim – cool and refreshing … well, I just had to do it. Fortunately, it was a nice day and the water was calm. I understand from my guide that the Lake
can really kick up waves, after all it is the largest freshwater lake in the World and the fetch is many kilometers.
We were served a nice lunch of salad and fish course with
tea (chi in Russian). A couple of ladies sitting across from us shared some home grown tomatoes and cucumbers with us. Many of the old tunnels and bridges are not used and have been replaced by new ones
or, in the case of tunnels, rerouted around them. The train was slow so we had
a good chance to see all of the scenery. The one blemish was an old paper mill across the lake that, apparently, really pollutes
the waters and air.
About an hour before we finished out train ride the TV
monitors, which had been showing images of Lake Baikal, came on with some sing along music and words. Needless to say the whole train
burst into Russian song as very happy campers.
At every train stop and in the RR car platform area many
rush to have what seems to be a national pastime of smoking, it is everywhere and cannot be escaped.
We arrived at the village near Port Baikal where I was
staying. As I got off the train I realized, once again, just how far the train steps were from the ground (about 1 meter)
– they often had small ladders for the passengers to get on and off. This is not a train for the disabled. In fact,
most places have high thresholds in the doorways that one must step over or on to get through. I have not tripped just yet
but I have come close.
WE hiked to my lodgings in Port Baikal which were nice
and new log building but the nice new bathroom required me to step down two steps into it; fortunately, my middle of the night
visit I remembered the two steps – this could be a disaster. For dinner I had a nice Lake Baikal fish, great homemade rye bread,
vegetables, and tea.
17 August 2006 – Port Baikal
My guide met me and we walked back to the RR station which
was a nice renovated building. The port was an old one with old rotting storage sheds at the waters edge and large rusting
cranes that were, I suppose, this wharf was used for greater commerce at one time. We
climbed the nearest hill of 300M+ and had quite a view of the Port and river flowing from the lake. In the middle of the large
river is a rock with a number of stories attached to it – like making your wife swim to it to prove here fidelity to
her husband; if she makes it to the rock then she is guilty, if she drowns then she was true … huh?
We caught the next ferry, an old car ferry, along with
a large tourist group (we got a free ride) to the other side of the outlet, Listvyanka. After dropping off my packs at my
hostel (the one with two alternatives for a toilet – a broken one or the outhouse – is this first class I paid
for? Ah, well, I remind myself it is the “experience” I seek – even at a price). On the other hand, I am
sitting here now making my notes and looking out onto the beautiful Lake
Baikal. This is quite a
Russian tourist place with many good B&Bs – As I walked about the town I could see many new homes build to take
guests. Many of the homes were as nice as any in the US
scattered among the old wooden homes which have been there for ages with their colorful shutters, double pane windows, and
rotting logs. Gardens accompany almost every house for both flowers and vegetables. The roads need some repair but are passable.
I found it interesting that about every two block there was community water well complete with bucket and crank. Down along the wharf are cafes and large boats for hire and in the evening I could see the boats coming
and going in the golden glow of the evening. A number of the visitors were down
at the rocky shore just basking in the sun or even swimming in the crystal clear water.
I understand that the water is so pure that it is bottled sourced from a significant depth.
We had lunch at the water’s edge [I had a nice pork
chop and rice] then had a quick tour of a nice yacht. It became obvious that the safety features of this yacht that took on
passengers daily for an excursion did not have any PFD, only a couple of life raft pods. The US Cost Guard would, clearly,
not approve. Ah, well – Russia
is rebuilding after its demise in the early 1990’s. After some drownings I suspect the rules will change. Russia seems to be just getting their infrastructure in order. In fact, while the toilet is usually good one must realize that you should bring your
own toilet paper and be prepared to use the hole in the floor type toilet. Maintenance
does not seem to be a high priority in Russia. I have notices on a couple of specific occasions that Russian men are not necessarily
gentleman and do not treat women with equal respect – perhaps a left over from long time traditions and cultural life.
We walked to an old Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas,
a patron of sailors. Wow, as you walk in you can see painting and photo icons covering the walls with candles burning here
and there left by people seeking some antecedence with spiritual aspects of life. In a previous church in Irtutsk I noticed
a Priest walk in as I stood there; he did not dare look me in the eye. I wonder what the Russian Orthodox Church teaches about
relationship with “others”. My guide and I discussed this and she
mentioned that the formal Russian Church
is loosing favor with young folks and like America
not filling priesthood positions. The teachings, of course, reflect conservative
views on such things as abortions but which, in reality, are performed all the time here since the “poor” cannot
afford more children and (apparently) cannot afford prevention– my guide’s mother is a gynecologist. Alas, a world dilemma – over population of the World is not needed but the large churches do not
seem to care – why?
We visited the limnological museum about the Lake which was small but done quite well showing the how and whys of the lake along with comparisons
to other large fresh water bodies in the world. It seems this is a geological active area and there have been several large
earthquakes in the past couple of centuries but none recently. Now it was time
for a quick rest before dinner.
My guide took me to the home of a local resident who caters
to foreigners for a delightful dinner of Baikal fish with potatoes. On the side were her home grown tomatoes and red bell
peppers plus good brown bread. This jolly woman tends a most beautiful garden with many flowers and vegetables. Almost too
full now, she brought out crapes with homemade jam and tea – how could one resist not having … just one more.
I could not handle the great cookies she had made so she packaged some up for me. We
spent a good hour sharing photos and looking at an Oregon
brochure agreeing, “da”, on most everything. Well, her English was limited and my Russian almost non-existent.
I did understand, however, she has a daughter in Houston, TX,
who is a doctor and a daughter in London – each with
kids. Yet, I saw all the family photos. Now back to my hostel for some sleep
after an active day.
18 August 2006 – Listvyanka
Alas, more crapes and tea for breakfast then up to my
room to make my notes then off to see an art gallery. This evening, late, I head to Irkutsk
to catch a 02:00 train to Yoaroslavl before going on to Moscow. Hence, I had the day to just walk around, visit a local art gallery then just watch
the locals along the shore. I stopped for an espresso coffee and just sat watching
the harbor boats come and go. The sun was bright but some clouds were on the
horizon. As evening came on there was a beautiful red glow and glistening from
the clouds that made the evening just perfect and I wished I had booked a week with a friend.
As the sun set I did notice a chill came into the air requiring me to put on a heavier shirt.
My ride to Irkutsk
to catch my early morning train arrived and off we went into the night. It was
late so going through the city was easy and gave me a different view of the small metropolis.
We stopped at an ATM where extracted a few more Rubles for the rest of the trip then on to an all night super market.
is necessary for living and the typical method on the train is to purchase a few things such as fruit, yogurt, cheese, bread,
water, and a candy bar. This is a traveler’s feast and since there is always hot water on Russian trains tea is easily
made. Many folks bring Raman or Cup-O-Noodles food. I found out that there is a restaurant car on the train but it is only 8 cars forward – I may try
it for dinner tomorrow. These RR restaurants have a great and large menu; however,
only a few items are available which makes it interesting in ordering. Not many menus in Russia have an English translation so you must go through some gyrations clucking
like a chicken to get what you want. Then when it comes, don’t be surprised how it is fixed or what comes with it –
just eat it and be happy. I have not found a bad plate of food yet.
there are times when your body rejects something you ate or drank and the next few hours can not be pleasant. When I was traveling
in the Orient many years ago I just learned to live with it and timing is everything, especially when flying. So it was in the middle of our Mongolia
trip this time. Imodium did the trick for a while but the “wog” returned so I used some antibiotics. This really
did the trick and everything was fine. However, to show how little things can affect your travel I now had the opposite problem
and had a hard time trying to excrete. In my shopping before the train ride I got the food I needed but forgot to find some
prunes to help the situation, ah, well – live with it. So, for the next
day I just exerted my energy until I had success. When at home this might not be a big thing but when traveling such a small
success to relieve some pain is cause for great personal celebration. I can remember
such instances during my big world trip when I became regular again, wow – what a feeling. So, we move on – it
is just part of Life. On the other hand, when on Russian trains, the RR car matron
locks the toilets before each station stop and does not open them until well afterwards, so if you had to use the toilet,
you just have to wait. Hence, when the need arises – just go before the door is locked!
You can well imagine having a toilet problem and finding it locked, even in the middle of the night. I guess it would be good for these trains to install self contained toilet units instead of spreading “stuff”
all along the tracks.
19 August 2006 – On the train to Yaroslavl
It was now almost 2 AM and I was tired so I found my carriage
and bunk and promptly went to sleep. I was lucky this time since I had only one mate in the cabin. I did find that as we traveled
north that the evenings get cooler and the heat in the train car was not turned on – who knows why. So I bundled up
in my clothes and pullover jacket with sox, found an extra blanket, and then curled up for some sleep.
My cabin mate is a Russian gentleman who spoke no English
so our conversation was limited. He was older and very meticulous about his procedure for eating, making his coffee (dried
coffee, canned milk, and 4 cubes of sugar. He left no crumbs anywhere and slurped his Ramen noodles noisy but neatly.
20 August 2006 – On the train to Yaroslavl
The country side we are passing through is lush a green
and quite flat like our mid-West plains. There were villages from time to time and periodically a major railway station. It
appears that most of the station building have been build new or renovated to accommodate the train traffic. Sometimes there was a bit of a wait at a major station which gave us a chance to get out and stretch our
legs, and – of course – buy from vendors. At the smaller stations
the vendors lined up along the platform selling their food of apples, hard boiled eggs, candy bars, and maybe a half a cooked
Today I spent typng in some more travel notes to post
whenI get to the next Internet access point. This trip I have not been so lucky
as to meet other foeigners, in fact, most of the passengers seem to be Russian. The friendly man in the next compartment spoke
two words of English and offered me a beer. Well, I am not drinking but in return
fo the offer I shared my Oregon tourist book with he and his wife – this really goves over well.
Some of the time I have spend reading a book given to
me by my Father. I tried to read it years ago but I could not get far for I would choke up. Now I am really enjoying it –
it is The Royal Road To Romance by Richard Halliburton and reflects much of what I have experienced in my travels. The other book I read in Mongolia
was Ghingis Kahn by Wharburton which painted a great picture of the Chinngis Kahn Empire through it demise after several hundred
years; this is an amazing story. Now that I am in Russia I can relate to
the Mongolia Hordes that took control of Moscow a few hundred
years ago. This is nothing short of amazing. Of course, Russia itself has turned over many times for many reasons as this group or another
took power. I cannot help but think that the people of this area have really been cheated of consistency and stability of
the last millennium = I wonder what influence that has had on the character of the people?
Towards evening I decided to make my way to the dinning
car some 8 cars towards the engine. Well, off I went, computer backpack on –
to minimize temptation – and into the next car. I was not quite prepared
for what I saw. First I had to pass through the two smoking platforms at the
end of each car and negotiate the two large metal places covering the train car hitch. I could actually look down and see
the wheels go round and ground pass by at 70 MPH plus the noise. Well, I hung on and managed to kick the stuck door in the
next car open so I could pass. Well, upon entering the car I realized what a mass of humanity can be like, not since my third
class train ride in Malaysia had I seen
such. The care was like my second class set of compartments but without doors
and with an extra set of bunks/seats along the windows. Some people rested while
others played cards across the asile. Another woman was playing her guitar for a child an a young man lay close to his lady
friend, almost in the asile. Others were eating and drinking; many dressed in undershirts or shorts. The smell of sweat was
most pungent but these folks were traveling third class sleeper. The coach trains had open wooden seating – ugh. So
on through 3 more cars like this one plus one nicer second class compartment car until I reached the restaurant car. There were only two men having somethings to eas as most passengers brought their
own food. While not terribly expensive, I am sure it was more that Russians wanted
to pay. At one end of the care were a man and woman clearly celebrating something for all of a sudden I heard a pop of a champagne
bottle. Well, now I was in trouble since I forgot my Russian dictionary and the
menu was only in Russian (maybe one day the Russians will realize that Americans and Europeans would appreciate an English
translation and pay for the food – well the tourist industry is just starting in Russia and the Russians do not seem
to care much about customer satisfaction; maybe they do not realize that customer satisfaction generates money). So, with
the help of one other gentleman I managed to communicate I wanted a piece of chicken, potatoes, and some tomatoes plus a Sprite.
And so it happened and I had a good dinner. Now I was on my way back to my coach and compartment. One can only imagine that the narrow aisles of the train that passage was sometimes problematic but everyone
seems to understand and each moves accordingly to make way.
Satisfied now with food in my belly, I settled down for
the night and soon fell asleep to the train’s movement.
21 August 2006 – On the train to Yaroslavl
I could see a glint of morning light out of the corner
of my eye but just rested with the swaying motion and clack of the train as it sped along at about 70 MPH. Finally, I decided to get in motion, use the toilet and wash my face. For breakfast I had the usual bread
and cheese, some yogurt from the woman who came by with a food cart, and (of course) some tea. Well, my stomach was full enough
now so to make my bed and enjoy the coming of the morning.
We had passed in the night from the large flat plains
into hilly country. With pine and birch forests to either side of the train this morning was particularly beautiful with the
short streams of morning sun shinning thorugh the trees. Ground fog wafted in
among them. Then I could make out a small village and rive below and we followed
the water’s path for a while – certainly a serene setting. If the
train has stopped I might have been tempted to hop off and just wander the village in the early morning. From the train I could see an old woman laden with two buckets and leather yoke in between slowly and decisively
making each step purposely towards the house. I suppose that was the morning
water from the well. There was no reason to rush out here where time has little meaning.
On we travel, hour after hour of villages and plains. It is amazing to
see disintegrating factories of all sizes in many of these towns and cities left over from the Russian “crash”
of 1992 – yes, their world just fell apart, now they are rebuilding.
Time for some meal planning; I really don’t want
to trudge 8 rail cars forward to the dining car. So, I have an apple, one bite
of cheese and bread, a few slices of fresher bread taken from last night’s
dining car meal plus a couple packets of jam. What luck, here comes the lady with the food cart – I buy myself a hardboiled
egg and a Cup-O-Soup – that ought to do, I guess. At least I will not starve. What I can say is that with the frugal
eating of vegetables and fish I have now pulled my belt in notches and I feel just fine.
We have stopped at a small station and I can see the thunderheads
in the distance plus I do hear the roar of thunder. Sure enough, it is now just pouring rain.
At the next stop we have about 20 minutes so I get out to look over the vendors since I may find something else to
eat. Distracting me is the beautiful blue sky with many white puffy clouds in
a brilliant display of light and dark. Back to business now – I see a vendor with a small plate of chicken and potatoes
and it is warm – well, it is past lunch time and this will do just fine. It is wrapped in plastic wrap and sure looks
good, so I buy it for a couple of dollars, 50 Rubles. Yes, I may die of food poisoning but I really don’t think so. There is ice cream too and other “stuff” for the train passengers. Back
on to the train and have my feast of chicken and luck will have it I have some tea left over.
Well, I can have the soup this evening topped off with dessert of jam on bread plus hot tea. What else can a traveler
ask for in food? Planning ahead I know I will get off the train early so I can have a proper breakfast at my hotel. Then a
good early dinner should do me just fine – two meals a day are more than enough.
I am sure I can find an espresso place somewhere for a “fix”.
As I type this up I can see endlessly across a very large
plain that looks almost untouched. From time to time a wooden house appears alone
or as a small village. I wonder what keeps them alive, clearly it is day to day chores and gardening and farming and cattle
raising and who knows what. Interesting the leaning against many of these seemingly
old wooden shacks is a satellite dish to pick up TV stations – just like in the Gobi against the Ger. The only difference is that the Ger also has a solar
panel to drive the electronics. But, of course, the dark wooden homes have bright
blue and white shutters. Many of the wooden homes are log cabin architecture. Alas,
in the middle of the village we are now stopped at is the dome of the Russian
Orthadox Church resplendent
in blue tile with a characteristic dome in the center on top wearing a cross on top. There are more modern buildings in the
larger villages made of cement right next to the rusting factory. I think there is a great market for scrap iron here. Of course, each home has a large stack of wood beside it for the winter cold. Sometimes I cannot see much beyond the railroad tracks since Russia has planted a row of trees along the rail line to hide it and deaden the
sound, I suspect. Then periodically, space opens up and I can see fields. Since this is late August I can see some of the trees beginning to turn colors.
My watch now reads Moscow
time since that is the time I will use to get off the train at Yaroslavl
but I suspect the current time zone is pluys tow hours. Well, who cares – I just get up with the sun and, at this latitude,
go to be just before sunset.
22 August 2006 – Arrival in Yaroslavl
It was early, about 06:30 when I arrived in Yaroslavl – one of the oldest cities in Russia,
started about 10xx on the Volga River. I met my guide for the day, Olga – who is a school teacher of English, and so
we walked around the city viewing the old fortress – monastery then on along the river walk. This is a beautiful way
to see the city. We headed to a special museum of clocks, music boxes, irons for clothes, a large collection of 78 records,
and porcelain figurine collection. John, the collector, was there to chat with. Then it was on to an art gallery where we
got a very detailed discussion of many Russian painters from the past 4 centuries – ok, that is enough of art for me.
Just looking at the old buildings is interesting in itself and knowing how they were used – one was Communist quarters
that is now apartments and an old stately building used for celebrity parties is now a military hospital. Then, of course
there are the MANY! Churches all over the place with the dozens of icons.
We then took pause for a strawberry shake and I a sandwich.
My guide knows a girl friend who is single so she hooked me up with a blind date for tonight; who knows.
Elana and I walked and talked then went to a restaurant for a bite
to eat. I had a nice salad with strips of beef and she had a pizza – yep,
just like home. I finished up with a chocolate Sunday, my first since I left USA.
We talked about our families. Her husband died of a heart attack at age 43 and her father is a Greek Catholic Priest
from Belarus. She tells the story of how, during the Communist era, the KGB came to her house many times looking for
religious books and icons – such a threat Americans do not know; however, George Bush presents a large threat to the
American people with his dictatorial approach. Elena is 43 and has two children
– a 16 year old boy and a 23 year old daughter attending university. Elena
teaches grade school level English and would like to have a husband and would many Russian women, I think. Needless to say she works 12 hours per day to make ends meet and the with the Russian retirement plan on
the extinction list people of her age have little to look forward to. On the other hand, it appears to me that Russia is and has made great progress to stabilize their country
and bring it into the modern world with freedom reforms. For sure, in the supermarkets I can see a great wealth of packaged
foods, just like at home. There seem also to be many new cars on the road.
August 2006 – On To Moscow & My Homestay
I was up early and took a cab to the RR station where I purchased
some breakfast and found out which train, which train car, and what seat my ticket was for.
I was on the local express train in very nice comfortable seats with a table between two sets. We sped through the countryside of birch trees and villages making only two stops along the 4 hour trip.
In Moscow I was met by a MIR agent that took me to my home
The home stay is an apartment in a building that was commissioned
to be build by Stalin for scientists. Sure enough, my hosts are Joseph, his wife Marina, brother in law, and two dogs. Joseph
and I have had good conversation since he speaks good
English. He is a Medical
Geologist – he studies the geological effects on people such as ions moved into drinking water by earthquakes that cause
human medical issues. He has done a lot of studies in this area and given papers on the topic at conferences in Bangkok and Istanbul. Who knows what the Earth dredges up to cause kidney problems or cancer – we really do not know. He
mentioned studies done in Norway on dying
reindeer where scientists found a high level of Molybdenum in their bodies – who knows?
Joseph talked about how his parents were both geological scientists.
His grandfather was also a scientist who was on the other side from Stalin and was imprisoned then shot for his position,
ugh. I suppose the USA has done such things
but not on a large scale – do we really know? We do know the USA was involved in the murder of some dictators in South and Central
America and probably in a number of other places too – scary to think about.
One odd item that several Russians have mentioned was the difficulty
in obtaining visas to visit the USA –
why? We have let in thousands of Vietnamese, Mexicans (legal and illegal), Middle Easterners/ terrorists, and countless others.
Why should be so afraid of Russians now? Apparently, a Russian must be invited to come to the USA for some reason. At the US Consulate the reasons are not given for refusal
of a visa. I was under the impression the USA
was a “free” and open society – well, that just is not true! Little
do the Americans really know how the rest of the World looks at us.
Today is a good rest day for tomorrow and the next two days I shall
be in and around Moscow. This is not bad since it has been
raining cats and dogs since I arrived. I must hope that the next two days are bright.
August 2006 – In Moscow … Walking the City
guide picked me up for a full day of touring the city. She is Illma, a former English school teacher turned tour guide. Her
experience and knowledge was to pay off greatly. We did not have a private car
since the public transportation was to be used. I am so glad we did since it gave me a good chance to see how the people used
their system. In taking the Moscow Metro I was awe struck with the wonderful art of statues, frescos, and much more at each
station – see my photos when I get them posted. These subterranean trains were very efficient and apparently moves the
largest number of people per day for a city underground system in the World.
It is well organized in a spoke fashion with a ring track around the city – neat. [why can’t America do as well? We have the resources and technology too].
As we walked my guide pointed out the many statues, buildings, and
the like of key interest. We saw the gate where Napoleon stopped his siege. This place certainly has had its problems with
attacks, especially from Germany in WWII
with great loss of life. There is now a large monument to WWII to commutate and
not let us forget the worst of times and mentality of rulers expanding their territory. Of course, Russia
has its own dark side with Afghanistan
and now Chetzina (sp?). We then ambled to Red Square where there were only a couple thousand
tourists. To my surprise it is a small place, really, where military made their presence known. Of course, at one side is
Lenin’s tomb (that some folks want to bury), and the viewing stand for dignitaries. There is even an American buried
there who saw some promise in the revolution. On one side of Red
Square was a very large “state” owned department store which looks like a modern mall but in old style
architecture. During Stalin’s time the local churches were removed to give
more space for parades. This Stalin fellow as really something and there are no statues anywhere in Russia now. We visited a church that
was rebuild very recently whre Stalin was going to build a very large government building with his statue on the top –
what and ego. We did walk by the university and through its gardens to an overlook
of the city at large..
Now, after a full day of walking, I was glad to return to my home
stay and a good bite to eat. Of course, it was interesting to chat with my host Joseph and this evening a treat to meet his
son, daughter in law, and granddaughter - I gave her an Oregon Coast lighthouse pin.
August 2006 – Inside The Kremlin & Night Train
Again my guide picked me up in the morning for a special focused tour
inside the Kremilin walls. The inside was opened up by Nikita K. and now has a fantastic museum in it – royal coaches,
dress of the times, and many other items too many to mention. There is the courtyard
of churches of no less than 4 and probably more. We went into one were we could see on the walls iconic paintings of the several
stories in the Russian Orthodox Church, since many of the people were not literate and
pictures were important to their understanding … sort of like TV is today.
We had a good lunch and headed for “home” none too soon
since it had started to rain. I was picked up at 22:00 for my midnight train
to St. Petersburg. Upon
arrival I was amazed at the swarms of people all waiting for a train at that late hour. Well, St. Petersburg is a popular run. I found my
train which was a new one with very nice accommodations. My compartment had water and food for each of the four occupants.
The bed pulled from the wall and after unhooking the strap on the blanket I put the clean sheet on it and climbed in for a
comfortable sleep and ride to St. Petersburg. Incidentally, each compartment had a little red light to tell when someone was using one of the two toilets
at the end of the car. These toilets were very nice and very clean, unlike the ones on the Trans Siberian RR. The next morning we were up early to snack on the food and have a cup of tea before we ended out journey.
August 2006 – In Saint Petersburg
The train was very nice and I seemed to sleep quite well but it was
early to rise as we pulled into St. Petersburg station. My guide and driver met me and we were off to my hotel since my arranged home stay
did not work out; unfortunately, the travel company substituted an equivalently
priced hotel, contrary to what my travel agent told me to only stay in four star hotels in Russia. I had requested two star hotels
but I was told that they do not exist in Russia
– baloney! They do! But, of course, my travel company did not upgrade me as would any normal business – arrrggg. We dropped off my luggage and were off touring the city. Needless to say after an
all night train ride beginning at 1 AM, I was not really on top of things. [Note to travelers – make sure your travels
include at least a half day to yourself after such train rides lets you become sick and cannot enjoy the local – put
this item into your tour contract! Exhaustion is not a good state to be in when you are on vacation and especially if your
travels are done over and extended time frame].
So onward with my guide and drive [ while expensive I have found in
my mature age that this type of travel sure makes it easy with high value of understanding of what you are seeing, especially
if your time is limited. Of course, limited time is relative – I have been traveling Russia for almost a month and I have to still move along to see even the key spots.]
My guide spoke English very well and he really knew many aspects of the Russian and St.
Petersburg culture, history, people, and the like. We,
of course, visited several churches, monuments, and special buildings. The greatest missing element was visiting people. Well,
I had a couple of great opportunities to do just that in the afternoon and the next evening.
For sure St. Petersburg
is an old city by some standards. It was Peter the Great in the 16th century that really put this city on the map.
The short story was that he traveled abroad and studied many skills that the brought back to Russia and put into practice. Unfortunately,
his kids and grand kids took advantage of their power and just played and build lavish places to live.
After getting an orientation to the city I was on my own in the afternoon
and walked the 2+ km to the large museum of many Russian and European are, furniture, and even some Egyptian items. I spent
over two hours going through this old Czar winter palace looking but not comprehending the vast amount of, probably, most fantastic art – too bad I am not really into “art” stuff but
I can appreciate it. I certainly like the furniture pieces with such delicate and precise handiwork. Of course, after the
long train ride and morning tour I was beginning to fade. I did enjoy walking
the main city boulevard with its many people watch.– all fascinating to watch. Here, as in many places in Russia you find young women and mother and daughter walking
arm and arm or hand in hand – an affectionate society. Of course, the best part was my stop in a coffee shop where I
had a good cup of coffee and pastry. Now revived I could continue my slow walk along the street, over the cannels where special
tourist boats buzzed up and down, some with colored balloons tied to the stern. I
did not see much poverty and beggars since I am told that there seems to be plenty of work here in the city. You can see renovations
going on just everywhere. Restaurants and casinos are just everywhere. Yes, Russia
has really changed into a more modern stance in the past 15 years.
I asked about Gorbachov (sp?) and was told that he did indeed start
the change from the Communist era but he did not do it well and it was Yelstin who really directed the Russian transition.
Now with Putin great changes are being made with a focus on weeding out the graft and corruption that had enveloped the country
at the time of the economic crash. The KGB has been transformed into something more like the US FBI and is investigating the
many subordinate public administrators in the cities and in the countryside for “errors in judgment and lack of focus
on managing the society” The largest sector to take a hit was the retired
where the Russian money now went nowhere and all their benefits of free public transportation, health, etc. just disappeared.
The factories just shut down because their methods were antiquated and they could no produce items of value. I remember
talking with a women in Yaroslav who said that literally overnight their money
was worth almost nothing and work was non-existent.
Today I see a very active people who are dressed very well and with
good food just everywhere. The hotels are as expensive as those in the US,
too much, but – unfortunately – there are not many second tier hotels at better prices yet. These will come as in the case of where I am staying at the moment.
I had dinner at the jazz night club below the hotel and just crashed
for the night
August 2006 – In Saint Petersburg
The hotel is the second floor of an apartment building renovated for
a small 1-2 star hotel. Unfortunately, no one told me about the anti- mosquito device in the room and I was eaten all night
long by mosquitoes so I did not get much sleep. The guide pointed out that St. Petersburg
is constructed on a marsh and has a number of cannels plus some rain that breeds these little devils. This situation did not make me happy since we had a full day of touring ahead. Warning to the traveler – make sure you get good rest stops lest you become sick and cannot enjoy
your visit. Fortunately, today is a great day with lots of sunshine so if I just take it easy as we walk about things should
be ok. Definitely, travelers must have stamina and must practice before their
Today we headed outside of town to the Baltic coast where Peter the
Great and subsequent rulers had build summer palaces and gardens. Catherine the Great had a neat “little” place
build by her “boyfriend” Peter – nothing short of fantastic. This place could house all of Stanford University in grand style. I gather
that a recent World economic summit meeting was held here – I am sure George Bush could easily relate to such opulence
of an oligarch. I will have t post my photos for you to see the real place. However, this palace was rebuild after the Germans
in WWII burnt it upon leaving; fortunately, all movable pieces had been taken away for safe keeping. The restoration is fantastic
and does reflect the original palace and how the Russian rulers lived giving parties each evening, etc. Naturally, the peasants after some time revolted, i.e. the 1917 revolution and execution of the Czar and
his family – they did not want any heirs. Of course, this led to the Communist
era that we all know.
I discussed with the guide why such leaders squandered their resources
on themselves and not on creating a better more advanced society for their people. I guess I should have studied history more
and the social and psychological aspects of such rulers. The recent book on Ginghis
Kahn does shed some light on possible thought processes for such rulers … for these were not leaders. As I talk with people here there is some hesitation about the future for Russia given the “revolutionary” turnovers of the past. On the other
hand, I can see some good possibilities in two or three generations of a real thought process change. I guess we shall have
to wait and see.
As we drove to and from the summer palaces we could see the many Communist
apartments that were quickly put up for the people. The Russian government has given the apartment property to the inhabitants
but retains the control and maintenance of the buildings as well as a very high percentage of Russian land. The central government
owned everything and now must divest itself of these holding of individuals are to prosper with them. The greatest concern
seems to be not letting in “mafia” type control. Time will tell.
Then I met Veronica. It
was at a small non-descript jazz nightclub many blocks from central Saint Petersburg
on a side street. You could hardly tell it was there except for the small sign out in front on the residential street. It
was a true cellar place for you had to go down a flight of stairs then push the heavy door into the smoke filled place. There was a crowd, some at the small bar up front, others in the back room, and the
serious jazz patrons gathered about small round tables in the front part. The waitress dashed here and there filling orders
but had to squeeze between the chairs for there was little room to get around. I
sat at a small table at the side with the jazz band not far away. In the corner of the room was a TV monitor showing pictures
of old American jazz films. The band was playing soft and smooth jazz like Georgia
On My Mind. The drummer was in the back of the group with a bass vile, trumpet, and classical guitarist in front. There was
not much room in this place with a low ceiling so everyone was part of the family.
I was having dinner and there was an extra chair at my table; apparently,
I had displaced a young lady when I was seated. She had gone over to the edge of the room to another table. However, when
a new group of customers came in she needed to move again and I motioned for her to join me since I do not like to eat alone. This young lady was very good looking with long hair pinned back behind her ears and
a twinkle in her eye. She wore a nice skirt showing her nice bodily shape. He blouse was a darkish red and low cut in the
front where her young feminine attributes were firm and well appointed, close together they fit her very well and were nicely
pointed. But it was her delightful face with wonderful smile that really captured my interest.
I spoke to her excusing myself for not being able to speak Russian; then in perfect English she responded – this
made our meeting very enjoyable.
She excused herself and to my delight got up to sing with the jazz
band – yes, one of my favorites, Ipanima was the song. Her voice was soft and golden and she went through the words
slowly to the soft jazz beat in the background. Gosh she could sing beautifully. Now,
on to another song and a third and pronouncing each word of song with a motion of her wonderful hand and body. When she finished the whole family in the room gave her great applause for truly she pleased the now very
She returned to sit with me as I ate my dinner and we began to chat.
She was born in a small village north of Saint Petersburg
and completed university in linguistics with a specialty in English. By day she worked as an interpreter but clearly her heat
was in jazz song vocalization. She like all the old American jazz bands and vocalists and named them one by one. She did not sing it, but she like Gershwin’s music such as Porgy and Bess – oh, how I wished
she would sing from that musical.
She told me she has a four year old daughter who she speaks and reads
English to daily – what a great way to bring up a child. Her singing teacher
now lives in Seattle so she knew where Oregon was but had
never traveled outside Russia. I could
easily imagine being with such a wonderful woman. Alas, she was probably, maybe 30 years old, but why should that matter.
Ah, well, she is married and has a good life here in St. Petersburg. I had finished my meal and need to be off so I traded calling cards with her plus
I have her a new US dollar as good luck for her daughter and also recognized her for her wonderful song. For this I received a nice kiss on the cheek and I left the establishment for the cool of the evening and
August 2006 – On to Kiev
I sit now waiting for my driver to take me to the airport where I
fly to Kiev. So, I might as well catch my journal up to date. There are many things I will have to fill in later into these notes to really paint
a more complete picture of my travel but that will have to wait. There is a young German PhD student from the UK
her who also needs a ride so maybe we can give her a lift too. Next leg.
My flight was easy and a driver met me at the Kiev airport for a nice ride to my, finally, first class hotel. And so this is Kiev – nice wide streets
with easy traffic. I met with my guide and made plans for the following day’s journey about the city. Now off to a hot
shower and good night’s sleep.
29 August 2006 – In to Kiev
Kiev is in the Ukraine which has been independent from
Russia for 15 years. Now I am off for a full day’s walking tour to see the key sights of Kiev. I was impressed with the city, especially, over Russia for it seemed better organized and not quite so
backward. I had breakfast with a Russian physicist who was selling telecommunications
laser equipment. He related to me that the Ukraine was getting a great deal from Russia on oil and gas, well below current
market value, since they had a long term contract; but, of course, the Ukraine would like to keep the contract. I had also
heard from a Russian that the Ukraine is not doing well. It seems that the Russians would like to keep the Ukraine within
their control. Naturally, the Ukraine folks want to distance themselves from Russia and move ahead to more independence. Unfortunately,
the Ukraine at this time does not have the industry and business establishments to provide good jobs so many are leaving the
country. Later I was to meet a medical doctor who told me that while things are
moving ahead they are slow and the medical equipment is mostly second hand – there is socialized medicine but not all
patients can be cared for in the best way.
Kiev has seven hills with churches everywhere; we did
stop to see several of them and in one monastery there were some neat catacombs with 16th century glass encased
mummified church priests. Just walking the streets of Kiev was interesting seeing the different architectures which dates
mainly back to the 17th century with a could of special old gates to the former walled city dating back to the
There is a large river that flows through the city and
to the Black Sea where Odessa lies. The Crimea peninsula is supposed to be a good place to go and it has sailing – well,
on my next trip …
29 August 2006 – In to Kiev and Onward
The hotel where I stayed, the Lybid Hotel, is a good one
and would be a great place for a conference. The food and service are good. I
had another good breakfast of hardboiled egg, bread, cheese, and yogurt with coffee and I was off for a morning of last minute
touring. Since it is not late August there is rain but not enough to hamper a bit of walking around. At noon a driver took me to the airport for my flight to Warsaw, Poland.
One special museum I will not forget is the one about
the Chernobyl nuclear “accident”. Actually, they now seem to feel that someone requested an experiment to be performed
shutting off the water to the turbines and lo and behold the reactor took only a few minutes to melt down and control rods
could not be put in … then came the explosion of steam. So why were they not using liquid sodium and why was there no
back up catastrophic safeguards? The results were 500 time worse than the bomb
we dropped on Japan. The radioactive cloud traveled over Europe and even to Canada and the US. Today the radiation levels
in Kiev are normal but many families will have recurring radiation problem in subsequent generations. While this accident
was bad it really tells what the consequences could be if we had a very serious “reactor accident” that went into
the atmosphere or a nuclear war. I doubt of the fanatics in Iran or Israel think beyond the end of their noses and are so
focused on destruction of each other that consequences to the entire Middle East, let along all of mankind, are not even in
the mind. It is very clear to me that the WAR mentality (listen up George Bush)
must be turned toward a positive Global Society. However, given the “leaders” focus on power, ego, and greed I
doubt if they can process such thought.
I met a very nice young woman doctor headed there for
a conference. She explained to me about him Ukraine medical situation. She had visited California and knew about Oregon too.
Fortunately, in Warsaw her friend gave me a lift to a hotel – not a cheap one but since it was getting dark and raining
me decided to just settle in to see Warsaw and plan my European adventure. My
dinner was a great sweet and sour turnkey with rice plate plus some apple pie. I
found that I have had to take in 4 notches on my belt and with my small back and boots I weigh 95 kilos so I can afford a
little weight. Needless to say, I am not starving. Off to bed.