Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

June 2011 – 12 by 12   Leave a comment

Continuing the diary of our first year married.

Russia!!! The country I never thought in all my dreams I would ever visit. And there Kerry and I were. After a nerve wracking 2 hours at the boarder with Finland, were we in. Travelling along the main road into St Petersburg. Mmmmmm main road made of gravel with more holes in it than a culinder. What a beautiful city St Petersburg was tho. Amazing artitecture and beautiful people. From there the golden ring cities of Suzdel and Vladimir. Then the big one, Moscow. Just wow. Red Square, Lenin’s morsaleum, St Basils Catherdal, The Kremlin and a great welcome from Godzilla hostel. It was during this month that Kerry and I parted company with David and the Land Rover. We then hatched our plan to tranverse the Trans Siberian Railway. Well why not. How many people do you know who have done that iconic railway?

By Stefan Palmer

A selection of my favourite images from this blog are available to buy at stefanpalmer.photium.com

Stefan Palmer

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The Great Escape   1 comment

I hadn’t intended to write another Russia post, but I just had to put this one up. I remember our entrance to Russia…two hours of border tedium? With many bewildering looks at one another “So what do we do now?”, “Don’t we need another form?” and “Where do we go?” comments. Getting out of the country is even more bewildering.   The train stopped at the border station where we had to disembark with our entire luggage. Here we had our train tickets checked.  So far so good.  Mmmmmm then the tedium began.  We were then ushered upstairs to an empty waiting room, where we waited for six hours (all 6 of us).  I attempted to get some sense from the none Russian speaking officials after an hour, only to be rudely shooed away…WTF? came to mind at this point.  Later Kerry had a go at getting some sense out of the officials and did a little better than I.  She was told to wait until 15.30 (this was at 12.30).  At 15.30 I ventured down stairs to be met by a swirling mass of Chinese people with parcels, packages and luggage of every possible variety, tied together with tap, elastic bands, bungees, cling film and what looked like liquorice.   After fighting my way through the melee and collaring the Russian official she casually said we could come downstairs now…great we wait 6 hours, these guys just rock up and go straight through. What appeared to have happened was that customs and border control only work in the afternoons from 15.30.  If you turn up earlier heaven forbid you should actually be processed at the border….how ridiculous would that be!  On the plus side. Chinese border control was a breeze. They were so impressed/never seen a biometric passport before like Kerry’s.  It was funny to see it passed around the whole staff with many wide eyed expressions on their little faces.

A selection of my favourite images from this blog are available to buy at stefanpalmer.photium.com

Stefan Palmer

Posted 15/08/2011 by Stefan Palmer in Russia

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So long and thanks for all things Russian   Leave a comment

Russia is now behind us and China ahead.  It’s time to reflect.  I enjoyed my time there but certainly for the last couple of weeks I was ready to leave.  There is some breathtaking architecture to see, fascinating culture to experience and long history to explore. But, it beyond belief that given how much of the world that can speak English, as first or second language, hardly any of the museums had English translations.  It feels like the Russians haven’t twigged that tourism could make them a heck of a lot of Roubles. These were some major museums too like The History of Russia, St Basils Cathedral and the Cosmonaut museum.  I’ve got to mention the service industry, for example train stations, metros, buses, even bookshops.  The staff appeared very suspicious of us, unhelpful and rude.  Of particular note were women over 50.  This was quite a problem where the service industry was mainly made up of this age group.  It could be that this age group still consider us the ‘enemy’ from the Soviet days?  I don’t think they got that we just wanted to visit their beautiful country.  Often getting the simplest task accomplished was a challenge or battle.  Accept no for an answer and you’d had it.  Persistence was always necessary.  We have been looked after and treated with friendship by all the hostels we have stayed at.  Off the top of my head, Godzilla hostel in Moscow (during our epic visa enforced stay) offered top notch service, the help the ladies at Trans Sib in Irkutsk gave us organising a bus to Lake Baikal and the alternative accommodation the owner of the Yekaterinburg got us due to over booking. There were many more I could mention.

To conclude though.  Despite some of the negatives above, visit Russia. Some words of advice, book rail tickets before you get there unless you speak top draw Russian, have plenty of money (it is as expensive as UK) and sample the vodka!

A selection of my favourite images from this blog are available to buy at stefanpalmer.photium.com

Stefan Palmer

Posted 10/08/2011 by Stefan Palmer in Russia

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Trumpets are banned in bracing Vladivostok.   2 comments

What a pleasant surprise Vladivostok turned out to be.  Vladivostok became an essential stay to dry out from the rain and repack out gear once dry.

Initially we had rain….so much rain and so thick mist we couldn’t see the city!  Eventually the inclement weather cleared to reveal a city under development, but still full of beauty.  Vladivostok was sealed off from the world, by the Soviets, between 1958 and 1990 due to its steatigic naval base and it became a transit centre for prisoners waiting to be shipped to labour camps.  It’s been described as the San Fransico of Russia and judging by the hills I can see why.  They are even building what looks like their own version of the Golden Gate Bridge with another being built in the distance.  These are to ease traffic during the 24th Summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 2012.   What was disappointing was that the fanicular railway was closed down, despite Kerry and I hiking it to the very top to catch it.  Having said that the view from the top was stunning.   So the last city in Russia.  St Petersburg to Vladivostok in nine weeks. There really as been so much to see and so much to do.

For Kerry’s Vladivostock post click here

A selection of my favourite images from this blog are available to buy at stefanpalmer.photium.com

Stefan Palmer

Rain rain go away, come again when we have gone!

After an eventful 6 hour mini bus ride which included sharing our journey with a non English speaking Russian darts team, off road driving where I think I lost a few fillings, our first Russian sheep, cows and wild horses that the minibus driver seemed intent on running down if they didn’t get out of his way, we arrived on Olkhon Island, situated in Lake Baikal.

It is claimed that it rarely rains on Olkhon Island.  It did nothing but rain for half our 6 day stay.  When the sun was out, the difference was incredible.  Quickly the main road lost its Glastonbury look and almost resembled a road (all be it made of compact sand and mud). With all the wooden buildings it felt the most foriegn location we have visited on our entire trip so far.  On one occasion I watched cows being hounded down the mud/sand main street by wild dogs.  You don’t see that in Bingham.  We managed to relax on the beach with the beer bellied Russians (and that was just the women), watch a beautiful sunset and and spend a lovely warm afternoon walking around some of the stunning coastline.

Overall though we found Olhkon island a little dissappointing.   We wanted to get out and about walking and exploring but the weather just conspired against us.  While it was a welcome break from the confinement of the recent train journeys  Nakitas homestead (where we stayed for our trip) was past it’s best.  There was a lack of showers and toilets and the place was smelly.  The Homestead a real hippy commune vibe to it.  The cafe never got our order correct and the staff  at Nakitas were in general unhelpful.  It was a battle to get what you wanted.  The Lonely Planet raves about the place, I wouldn’t.  This may well have been due to the weather.

Anyway, I got some of the best photos of the trip here…………..

Here’s Kerrys post for the Lakes too

A selection of my favourite images from this blog are available to buy at stefanpalmer.photium.com

Stefan Palmer

O.M.G – The Next Generation

This is a joint post with Kerry from our dinner table.  Dinner tonight was an amazing Chinese meal in the hotel’s Chinese resturant.  It was an  interesting experience on two fronts.  Firstly the menu was probably proper Chinese, not what you would get at Young Singh in Bingham.  The Chinese rolls were huge and so were the calamari rings.  We just wanted to keep eating even when we thought we were going to burst. Secondly the restaurant was full of Chinese tourists.  Man they are loud and when they start drinking competions they get louder and louder and louder, but always with a smile on their faces….unlike the Russians.  I am currently watching them toasting one anther by downing wine glasses full of lager.  What was interesting was that the girls all disappeared and left the fellas to thier drunken debauchary.  Now then shall we try some saki?….

image   image

A selection of my favourite images from this blog are available to buy at stefanpalmer.photium.com

Stefan Palmer

O.M.G   Leave a comment

Last stop in Russia.  O MY GOD….after a delayed start to our train journey to Vladivostock (the train station in Khabarovsk was closed and the police barring the way wouldn’t tell me the reason why or the timescale to reopening) we finally arrived in the port city at the end of the Trans Sib Railway.  It was nice short overnight journey of a mere 12 hours.  We arrived to torrential rain with rivers of water flowing down the street.  Despite numerous maps and copious sign languages none of the taxi drivers understood where our accomadation was.  So we decided to walk it in the pouring rain.  We arrived at the grey run down Sovietesque looking Equator Hotel resembling drowned rats still 10 metres underwater!  Here the fun and games really started.
1. The receptionist didn’t speak English.
2. She took 20 minuetes to photocopy our passports, registration docs and immigaration cards.
3. She then spent a further 10 minutes clicking on her PC and talking about us on the phone (I know some Russian by now.)
4. Despite initially being told they had our  booking, I asked if there was a problem.”No all ok.” I was informed
5.  I was asked to pay for our booked accommadation for four nights.  5040 r for the whole stay. Yay I thought progress.
6.  We were them informed it was actually a twin room with shared bathroom and toilet. Not what we booked.  The adjoining room was occupied by a Russian mother and her young baby.  Er alarm bells started to ring!!!
7.  We asked to see the room and were also  offered an alternative on a higher floor to view. Mmmm
8. OMG.  The room we had booked was down a seedy wallpaper stained corridor and the room looked like a drugs den…Sharp exit.
9.  Viewed better alternative room.  On returning to reception we were informed this better room would cost 4300 r PER NIGHT!
10. We unpolitely requested our money back. Braved the torrential rain again and trawled the streets.

We finally finding a smart cheap modern hotel with a balcony view of the bay and Pacific Ocean for 1500 r less than the shitty hotel up the road.  We had read that accommodation in Vladivostock was difficult to come by and generally poor quality but our first choice hotel was just taking the p#*s  Here I now am, showered, in dry clothes, hair quiffed, coffee’d up, tummy full of pizza, free WiFi and watching MTV in the bar.  Funny how a day can turn out.

A selection of my favourite images from this blog are available to buy at stefanpalmer.photium.com

Stefan Palmer