24.9.2016 Moscow

We had set the alarm to get up in time for 10am museum opening, how times change,  we used to be up at 6 am every morning now struggle with 9 am. As it was Saturday and we had a long morning ahead of us we treated ourselves to breakfast, Russian style, meaning that a chicken and cheese burger toast was a panini and my cheesecake and berries was yoghurt and berries which included banana, thankfully as bananas are no longer on the avoid list for me this didn’t result in a meltdown.

Another trip on the metro and we got to the museum at opening time only to find there was already quite a queue. We joined the back and saw the same queue action as yesterday, in people popping out the queue and places being saved. We then saw the large notice in English that explained the queueing procedure in the for entry to the museum on first come first serve basis they let 20 people in per half hour!  The queue was enormous yesterday so people must have been waiting for at least 2 or 3 hours for this modern art, we were baffled as to why you wouldn’t just order tickets online (albeit slightly annoyed that we hadn’t seen the sign yesterday and so could have also booked online and been one of the smug people walking past with tickets and walking straight in).  We were in the third lot of 20 so only had to wait for 1 hr 15 mins before being let in (which was enough for our patience). Once inside and paid up we followed the crowd to the exhibition which was some old paintings of ships and nautical stuff which was quite frankly crap, and not modern in the slightest,  we did start to worry that we had spent all that time waiting for some crap paintings however then realised that the modern stuff was on 4th floor and and there was absolutely no one in these areas, no one. Brilliant! We spent the next 2.5 hours learning about modern soviet and Russian art which was great. 

Lunchtime was nearly over so we sprinted back to the metro and went back to the restaurant we went went to on the first day which we had been dreaming of their piles of mashed potatoes for 3 days now. We entered the canteen area and went for a wander round to see what food was on offer and there hardly anything left out, and mashed potatoes were nowhere to be seen, as it was 3 pm and we were starving we made the best of the situation,  ordered a random selection of food,  I even got a glass of the roughest vino known to man and we chowed down our food, it was pretty good.  We love the creamy desserts they do here with the sweet fruit sauces.

We then had one final museum to see, the Gulag Museum,  but could we find it? It had moved, and was now a Gucci  and Burberry shop. Due to Guy’s persistence we did eventually find the place and it was well worth it. We spent 2 hours in there learning about Stalin’s gulags, how forced labour built everything from canals, electricity stations, brewery’s and much more and also saw moving clips of people telling their story of how they came to be in a gulag, it was very well set out and most of it had been translated into English which helped us no end.

We then had a long discussion about whether we should spend our last night in Moscow in the hostel doing washing or whether we should just forget that and go for a beer, I say long discussion,  I mean a quick glance at each others, wrinkle of the nose at the idea of washing and we were in a pub watching the last minute of the CSK Moscow game, thrilling. We left that pub as they were setting up Beer Ping Pong and wandered around Moscow looking at the Russians at play and all the fancy lighting everywhere, it did look beautiful.

23.9.2016 Moscow 

Today I had a banana and didnt spit it out in disgust, it was okay but as we need to eat peelable fruit here I decided to man up and just get on with eating them. Banoffee pie next!

I needed to send my postcards to my nieces and nephew so had manged to decipher what building was the post office (it looked like a police emblem ) and went to get some stamps . On entering the building there were about 6 booths for service yet only 1 was in business, a so far very similar to England.  I stood in line behind 4 other people and started to wait. A minute or two later someone else came in and asked me something in Russian, I stared back and did the international sign for haven’t got a clue by shrugging my shoulders and looking at the woman next to me, who then confirmed that I was the last person in the queue, which by English standards wouldn’t need asking as I was the last person in the queue. This then preceeded to happen each time a new person came through the door. However some people went to sit down or went out for a coffee and and came back so it became apparent to me then why the question needed to be asked. After about 20 minutes there were about 10 people behind me (or sitting down, or popped out for coffee) and a young lass came in,  saw the queue and went straight to the front and had a right barney at the post office clerk. I mean right barney,  everyone just stared. The clerk gave as good as she got! The angry lass left. Meanwhile the queue hadn’t moved on. Eventually one person had been served and we were moving up the queue,  however as this had taken the best part of 25 mins and the woman in front of me had a passport in her hand, which always means a long wait in England, I gave up and took my business to another post office later on which was more efficient but less of an insight into the Russian queuing system.

So we were off the the museum of modern art today, having been told that Russians were not into modern art we were very surprised to see a massive queue when we got there, and on joining this massive queue even more surprised when it didn’t move for 10 mins and so we decided to leave it and get up early tomorrow and come back as it was obviously a popular place. 

Next to the museum is a park filled with loads of old soviet sculptures which was quite eerie.

And a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud with Led Zeppelin painted all over it.

Below is a gigantic model of a boat which the Russians has planed to give the Americans but they refused it, probably as it is too flippin big! The figure on the front was Columbus but when it was not given to the Americans they changed the figure to Peter the Great and plonked it here.

We are on day 2 of all day rain and it was starting to pelt it down so we skipped a leisurely walk in the park and took shelter in the museum of cosmonauts which had very little English translation as usual so we opted for an audio guide, which required Guy to hand in his passport as a deposit! The audio guide gave you more information and it was interesting to see the mock ups and space suit’s, they had Micheal Collins space spacesuit from the moon landing but it was all a Cyrillic blur otherwise.

Still we had seen a few more metro stations so that was a bonus.

We were starving, it was 2pm, so went back into town for lunch at Guardian  (Moscow Times) recommended place which was crap! Sorrel soup didn’t taste of sorrel, pickle soup which didn’t seem to have an pickles and goulash which had some grim bits of meat in it. Guy’s ‘main’ of dumplings was 9 tiny dumplings and nothing else. 

Disheartened we went home and needed to look for somewhere nice for tea and found a lovely Georgian restaurant just down the road (and it sold Georgian red wine, bonus!). Food was lovely and the wine even better. 

Needing to walk off the food we went and saw the autumn festival in the city centre, stalls selling jams, pickles and preserves and oddly raw duck and chickens! We also saw the Bolshoi ballet building being lit up and having a very, very long Samsung Galaxy S7 advert projected onto it, how things have changed!

21.9.16 Moscow

After a late night our body clocks were reset to 7am by our Chinese neighbours having a chatty breakfast at 7 and leaving the hostel at 8am promptly. Still, as we were awake we blogged and did some admin. 

After fruit breakkie we wandered off into Moscow city centre which, thankfully, is smaller than St P. Our hostel is opposite the Police Academy and this morning there were loads of young, fresh faced police graduates everywhere. It wasn’t like in the films though, not one of them was laughing or joking.   

Off to the State Museum which looked fascinating and full of interesting artifacts from throughout Russian history and we were looking forward to learning more (Guy) or trying to recall A level history lessons (Al) however our Russian language skills let us down dreadfully. So we wandered through like a couple of disinterested teenagers. The museum went thorough the same formula of other museums we have seen,  that is stones, bones, metal tools, metal weapons, chain mail, cannons. The exhibits stopped at 1917. Nuff said.

Architecture of the rooms was lush, see below. 

As the queue for Lenin had gone down we thought we would have a look at him, preserved, and so we trouped though the security checks (the usual metal detectors which go off every time and everyone ignores that fact) and in a long line of tourists we filed past a load of past leaders busts and important Russian personnel (all in Cyrillic which we haven’t mastered yet but we know we went past Yuri Gagarin and didn’t realise it, damm!) 

So, Lenin is fully preserved, like Madame Tussards but apparently real, small chap but the reverence around it all is quite amazing! Even the Chinese tourists we saw were told to SHHHH by the police in charge and they did!

Lenin Tomb enclosure

Some photos of Moscow Metro

Stomachs rumbling we needed a Soviet canteen for lunch so went to the poshest place around for chicken with white bread topping for Guy (and he liked it!!!) and chicken Kiev with some local cabbage dish for me, although neither if us chose usual accompaniments to our meals so we get really weird looks from the staff and others. 

Photo of canteen 

Kremlin was next stop on our tour. So we got tickets and went to go in, as usual there we’re signs about checking in bags so Guy went to see if it was necessay, the Russian official at the classroom said ‘no’,  so Guy took his bag through the security check only for the woman to notice his pen knife and say’ knife?’ to which the only answer was’ yes’ and so Guy was back to the Russian official at the classroom to check in his bag. 
Half an hour later we finally entered the Kremlin.

It is big with lots of cathedrals which were decorated in quite an over the top manner. Must admit to being a little under whelemed as well as being slightly frustrated at being whistled at by officials whenever you stood out of line or stepped over the boundaries, just to take photos of the buildings. 

We left the Kremlin by the stipulated exit which was exactly opposite where Guy had left his bag (and dangerous pen knife)  so 20 min walk later we had bag back and we needed a sit down. 

On looking for a canteen which we wanted to go to (from an article in the guardian obviously!) We stumbled upon an alleyway with the aforementioned canteen and also 3 craft ale bars. It was 4.30pm on a Wednesday and it was fairly packed!!! Full of kids (being checked for ID) older people (some might have been older than Guy), men and women, people in groups but quite a few on their own, a much broader group than you get at home but most importantly NO BEARDS! Beard culture hasn’t reached Moscow yet. There was lots of rock music and I has the best beer yet at 160 rubles IDBR Black Jack Stout.

A few more beers sampled and we made our way back to our tee total hostel slightly worse for wear only to bump into 3 lasses who we had met in St P so had a sober conversation with them and also picked up our Police voucher (proof of where we are staying, necessary for all tourists) .

17.9.2016 Saint P

So, yesterday I was rocking the shabby chic wear your husband’s trousers look, as all my clothes were being washed to get rid of the bed bug that kept biting me. So putting on clean, fresh clothes that fitted was a joy. It is the little things in life which make you happy. 

We decided to walk to Dostoyevsky’s house today, it wasn’t far (by St P standards) and it was ace. Although not the actual house as it was rebuilt and refurbished according to photos gathered it was pretty atmospheric and you got to see his hat! Guy was in his element.

On the same street was a food market so of course we had to have a look around. The fish counter was huge along with pickled herring and loads of smoked fish which looked delicious but impractical to carry around with us all day. St P also had loads of coffee vans selling all types of coffee out the back of a van, as you see in the UK but what they also have here are smoked fish vans, oh yeah, smoked fish out the back of a van, why not?

After that we went to the church round the corner. Rules on entry are that lasses have to cover their heads and wear no lipstick, guys have to take off their bowler hats. It was full of gold, lots of gold, and icons, lots of icons, as you would expect from a Russian church. 

By now it was lunch time and we hit the Soviet canteen, school style with food being kept warm (tepid) over water baths. I had potatoes, veg (well boiled) and fish,  Guy did better with his rice (saffron, Uncle Ben style) veg (well boiled) and chicken with cheese and tomato topping, with cup of green and earl grey tea for 530 roubles (about a fiver) and no stomach issues have been encountered – result!

Then off to State Museum of Russia, full of Russian art, folk art, and modern art. It was so much better than the Hermitage…..which you are not supposed to say but it had more interesting exhibits and showed Russian art through the ages. The modern Soviet realism was at the end so we were weary by then but still found it facinating. (BTW I now know it was Soviet realism on talking to a fellow hosteller who knows about these things).

Time for cake and tea, so we went to Ivans cafe and had cake and tea. Although we felt a little hard done by as the two couples either side of us were having a meal with what seemed like about 100ml of vodka to have shots of through the meal.

On the way home we passed a fancy looking wine bar and couldn’t resist a cheeky glass of Georgian wine. It was the only local wine in the menu, the rest were all well known brands back home that you would find in the mid range section of a supermarket, only much more expensive!

Having a taste for Georgian wine we went to our nearest bottle shop and after quite a lot of deliberation chose a Georgian red to drink at the hostel, whilst catching up with the blog and the latest Dostoyevsky book. 

As it was Saturday night we thought it would be rude not to go out and experience St P nightlife, so we wandered up the street looking for a bar that was supposed to do live music,  o.k. it was also an English bar, however we couldn’t find it so ended up in a Russian cocktail bar, playing English indie music, drinking red wine which came with its own canapes, Spanish wine had chicken liver pate tart case and South African pinotage accompanied by prunes! Dinner sorted we paid up, got a chocolate with the bill, and got back into our bed, 7ft in the sky, with no casualties! 

14.9.2016 Tallinn Day Trippers 

So, an insight into Team Roberts is that I rarely get to be in charge of the cash, so after some discussion we agreed that I could be in charge today so I put our final few euro coins and 15 euros in notes into my pocket. We decided to take a walk to the top of the cruise ship and check out the view. Off we trotted, up to the 8th deck and we pretty knackered when we got there, I took a breather and looked around to see the 15 euros disappear into the water, churned up in the back of the ferry.  OOPS!  Guy’s face was a picture of disbelief turning to anger turning to ‘Why the hell did I let her be in charge of the cash’ face which was a new face I had never seen before! Every day brings different experiences when you are travelling!

We are still speaking after seeing the funny side of this, and had a day in Tallin to get through yet and disembarked from our cruise as proper daytrippers, and set off walking into the Old Town which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a beautiful walled medieval city with cobbled narrow streets majestic sturdy churches and colourful wonky buildings.  We were hungry as breakfast had been fruit so were on the lookout for an Estonian breakfast, which we found in a beautiful café,  I had a cabbage pastry and Guy had herrings and egg on Rye bread. Unfortunately the cafe seemed to be a tourist attraction in its own right so just as Guy was navigating through the tables with breakfast about 50 tourists descended into the cafe engulfing everyone! 

We then wandered the streets of Tallin and without much climbing found ourselves at the high viewpoint over the city, which was part of the medieval walls, very high and terrifying for us as we both suffer from vertigo. When a youth sat on the walls and swung his legs over to perilously sit and potentially fall thousands of feet to his death (in my head) I had to walk away as I felt so sick! 

Nausea passed and it was soon lunchtime so we eventually stumbled across an Estonian restaurant and had a warm honey beer (nice!), crispy pigs ears (scratchings) 2 fish soup, followed by wild boar stew, and Estonian roast pork,  all very hearty fare and we were stuffed after that! So a few more miles walked around the town and we were back in our first cafe for cake and tea, how civilised?

We then made our way back on board for sunset wine, cheese and reindeer for tea, view was stunning across the Baltic. 

As we seemed to have travelled through another time zone the football wasn’t on when we were expecting it to so we decided to do the cruise thing and get great seats for the cabaret. I think I can safely confirm that it is not for me, far too many scantily clad lasses and not enough male eye candy, still as red wine was flowing we stayed until the end.

Jim – door

11.09.16 Copenhagen to Stockholm 

So, the pleasures of dorm life were brought home to us about 3am when our fellow traveller returned from a night out, blazing a torch around the room, for what seemed like half an hour, farted loudly, giggled and went to sleep. 2 hours later our fellow Belgium travellers got up for their flight home and we were then up at 6am for our train to Sweden. To say we were grumpy and tired is probably not required but I will anyway. 

We walked the 100 yards down the street to the train station observing the litter that was everywhere! Saturday nights here are obviously great!

We were so early at the station that we entered the platform before the international barriers had been moved into place.

Train left on time at 7.16 with about 6 people on board which probably says something about the Danish and not being fond of getting up after a Saturday night out.

I dozed like a nodding dog on the train, by the time were were a few hours in I was also becoming slightly itchy which I put down to being tired and sensitive.  The train quickly filled up on leaving Malmo and we had luckily been allocated seats in the quiet zone so were able sleep and read when we liked. I also heard my first’tut’ when someone’s phone went off. 

The views through the train window were stunning, pine forests, lakes, the odd mountain, more pine trees and more lakes with a few wooden houses dotted throughout – exactly what you would expect from a Swedish holiday brochure. 

Arrived in Stockholm on a Sunday afternoon with blue skies above. Walked 20 mins, mainly uphill, with increasingly heavy backpacks to get to the hostel. We are wishing it was winter so we could wear more clothes and have less to carry. On check in, we were shown to our room which was spacious and had an ensuite. OMG! We were over the moon! Who cares there was no window, ensuite and space more than made up for that.

As it was only 2.30 we made our way into town to a local food stall we had seen on the Hairy Bikers show that sold herrings, in all kinds of ways. 

We walked through the main shopping street with all the usual names- H&M, Starbucks, Joe and the Juice (Skandi chain which is fab), Zara, burger king etc etc. We got to the end and over to the next island which was crammed with Sunday strollers out for a slow walk. Unfortuntely we weren’t, we were hungry and tired and needed a herring fix NOW! Without elbowing too many locals out of the way we made it over the next bridge and to the food stall nystekt stromming. There was a small queue but he was still selling herring so we waited patiently and got a plate of herring, mash, and three accompaniments (for £7.50) and it was delicious! My accompaniments were the best, the mustard sauce was sweet and goes so well with the oily fish. It was healthy and delicious, what more can you want?

Less grumpy we ventured further into Stockholm and weren’t that impressed but I think we had been spoilt by Copenhagen. All the bars were either English, Irish or American it seemed really difficult to see what a Swedish bar was like so after a wander and a pint (Swedish beer- nice, nothing too special) we headed back to the supermarket over the road for Supermarket Tea. This time it consisted of pickled herrings, smoked salmon, rocket, kartoffelsalat (creamy), smashed avocado and gluten free crispbreads. It was delicious. 

We had also looked for a cheeky glass of white wine to accompany this fine dinner but to no avail. On googling Booze in Sweden we found out that hard liquor (as anything over about 3% is known in Sweden) is licenced by the Government and only sold in shops open til 7pm or closed on Sundays, healthy lifestyle it is then. 

By this time I was becoming increasingly itchy and disgruntled. On checking my face, arms and legs small bites were appearing, in small clusters, reminiscent of bed bugs, the memories of Asia came flooding back. Paying £35 for a bunk bed and getting bed bugs was a little disheartening. 

Trains to Hamburg

Just a day of travelling on trains today. See photo evidence below (yes,  it does look like I was gazing adoringly at my husband!)

Obviously as we are experienced international train travellers (!) we have already done some of this route previously in January so knew the station layouts although Brussels certainly had massively increased security since we were last there in January,  unsurprisingly.  The feeling of unease was not helped by a bottle of water falling from the top of the escalators and landing on the table I was sat at!!
Food was salads for lunch,  no photos as quite boring but welcome for us. Afternoon train snack was Germany smoked ham, cheese and Rye bread, seemed odd having no wine with it but we are not ready for that yet!

All trains were on time but in the 27 degree heat were disappointingly not air conditioned!

 We arrived at Hamburg  Haupfbahnhof and promptly got the wrong tube to our hostel. It was only one stop we needed to go FFS!  Eventually arrived at our hostel although took some finding as it is right next door to a doner kebab shop which distracted us. We popped out for supermarket tea which is pictured below – 2 varieties of tinned herring, of which the tomato and mango was definitely the best, mini cucumbers, salt n pepper crisps! Really lush

Slept well according to fit bit but only walked a measly 8099 steps! As most of these involved carrying 12kg rucksack I think I did enough today!

Leaving Kenilworth 

So we did it!  Posted keys through the door and left with very large backpacks. See below for photographic evidence!

London was subdued because it was hot, sweaty and humid and we were shattered after all the leaving shinanigans so we walked 11.74 miles (according to FitBit) around London stopping off just 2 halves of cider each which is a record!

Early night was welcome relief although watching Location, location, location seemed pointless!