Moscow to Vladimir to Suzdal 25.9.16

Up early to shower and pack but a short walk past a briefing of many Moscow policemen and two metro stops meant we were at the train station with an hour to spare before we headed to Vladimir. Into the station through the omnipresent scanners and bag x-ray machines unloading and loading up again and we walked to where the signs indicated our train would go from to find ourselves in no mans land with no further info. Back into the station through the omnipresent scanners and bag x-ray machines unloading and loading up again and we walked to the food area and sat down.

Oh how we enjoyed the next 40 mins. 

Travelling gives you time. A warped sense of time where differing surroundings and unusual routine stretches time much further than the normal daily routine of work life. The next 40 minutes seemed to take hours. Time allows for people watching which in foreign lands is curiously fascinating.

Drunk middle aged men ate lasagne and drank pints of lager. Drunk youths ate KFC and drank tins of lager. We sat down and realised two men were asleep at tables near us.  Drunk men with pizzas shouted at them. They didn’t stir. Table cleaners prodded them. They didn’t stir. Many people ate ice cream. Some people with robust teeth ate ice cream and drank coffee. It was 8.30am on a Sunday. Better than TV.

We dragged ourselves away from the entertainment and a kind guard pointed us to our train. We joined the queue to show our passports to board (tickets are only checked onboard) and dived into the bunfight to put our bags somewhere. We were sat opposite an engaging American couple who were really well travelled. They described it as adventure travel and had been to a lot of countries. An old Russian lady with gold teeth won the “wrong seat despite a numbered ticket” competition and was replaced by a laconic looking Russian man who promptly fell asleep. Our conversation with the American couple had attracted the attention of another American lady sat a few seats down (were we in the foreigners coach?) and she came over to chat. She stood behind the sleeping Russian man and began shouting in American. After a while he awoke looking flustered, opened his bag and pulled a huge, nearly empty bottle of beer from it, drained it, replaced it in his bag, looked at me and rolled his eyes like a 70’s comedian before going back to sleep. 

At Vladimir 80% of the train got off and I thought it must be very popular until I realised most people were just using the 5 min stop to smoke. Smoking is big here. A few vapers but mostly old school smokes.

Our loud American lady friend was also off to Suzdal so I carried her bag to the bus station for her as she seemed to be struggling. Our increasing knowledge of Cyrillic helped us buy a ticket to Suzdal and before you can say “huge menacing flock of pigeons in bus station” we were on our way.

Suzdal is old, quiet, sleepy and quaint and after a 19 day city break through Europe a welcome contrast. We were dropped off in the centre and used GPS on my smartphone to get to our guesthouse. AMAZING! When we travelled in 98 we had to rely on lonely planet maps which we came not to rely on.

No one was in at the guesthouse so we sat outside and wrote up the blog/ diaries. Another guest arrived and kindly phoned the owner to tell him we were here. Russians are still, so far, disproving the grumpy image. Owner arrived and showed us into our huge clean room with TV and sofa and coffee table, we were delighted after backpackers and a ferry cabin. No WiFi though.

We wandered into town over the meandering river, nosing into spaced out single storey intricately carved wooden houses but thwarted by ever present net curtains. Sunday is day-tripper day and the market square was full of stalls selling fridge magnets, slippers, pots and wooden maces! There were horses and carts to ride on and a lot of mead sellers and unusually we were ignored by the touts.

We viewed the many onion domed churches and paid to go into the Cathedral of the Birth of the Mother of God which wasn’t as golden as the Cathedrals in the Moscow Kremlin but the quieter atmosphere made it more enjoyable. 

Besides the multitude of churches, (Daily Fact – at one point Suzdal had a church for every 12 inhabitants) Suzdal is famous for mead, the honey based booze drink. Church done, mead next. We headed to a tasting room and tried eight different varieties, all fizzy and sweet and all slightly different, based on whatever the lady said in Russian that neither of us understood. We liked it though so bought a few bottles.

Tea was in a small restaurant that did simple Russian food really well. Pork with cheese and prunes for me and salmon for Al, both with fried spuds and sauerkraut. No fancy nonsense, just simple classic rustic food done very well. (Rick Stein rant over)

Home for mead and we realised we’d been done. Classic tourist scam. All was out of date and had no fizz and didn’t taste great. We persevered but eventually folded. Oh well, better to have mead that’s flat than never to have mead at all.

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!

Moscow 22.9.16

Quiet day today.

Woke up to the sound of torrential rain so neither of us had much enthusiasm to traipse around Moscow. The sound is amplified by the huge aluminium drainpipes which spill onto the pavement, making light drizzle sound tempestuous.

We decided to focus on the only task we had to complete while in Moscow and headed off to pick up our tickets for the Trans-Mongolian train. We are starting to be able to decipher some Cyrillic letters and understand metro station names. Moscow is good practise for this as there are no english translations, unlike St Petersburg.

Tickets acquired we headed for lunch at a canteen chain and as usual got over excited at the unusual things on offer and selected and ate too much. Although the rain had got worse we walked home to help digestion as we were both stuffed.

In the evening we explored our local neighbourhood and stuck our noses into a department store. Initially it felt very strange, like returning to a former life where there are shiny things for sale that you might buy instead of just living out of a rucksack. The food court was very well stocked with a tapas bar showing ice hockey and football, a cake stall, wine, cheese, meat stalls, a humus bar and the fish counter had live fish in a tank for you to choose. No bread shortages here.

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) .

St P to Moscow 20.9.16

I awoke very early on my 44th birthday to realise my wife had given me a present beyond imagination. A present I will never forget. A gift that you cannot put a price on. Something you never imagine you will have.

 Bedbugs.

We caught the 7.05 Sapsan high speed train between St P and Moscow. The premier Russian line. It can hold a thousand passengers and travels up to 200kph. There are conductors per carriage that check your ticket, movies and free food like a flight and pointless merchandising souvenirs also like a flight. It was very efficient and unlike British trains, on time.

I know normally our readers are only interested in our food pictures but today you are in for a treat. Hold onto your napkins as I indulge in pictures of my birthday food.

Free chicken butty on train:-

Crimean Fizz and birthday cake Alison pulled out of her hat:-

We caught the tube to near the hostel and as we didn’t have a map turned on the smartphone GPS and walked to the hostel. You know the drill – check in but you’re too early so leave bags and head out but this time we chatted to a young enthusiastic German lad who spoke fluent Russian and English and was on his way home to start his PHD. By the time conversation was petering out the hostel man said our room was ready so we actually did check in.

We walked to Red Square and on the way stopped for a canteen lunch. I apologize for the autocorrect American spelling of apologise but workman tools etc.

Sorry I digress. I apologise for the blurry picture but in my hungry haste it wasn’t taken correctly and I only post it here for historical prosperity.

Anyway Red square was historic and beautiful. Surrounded by destinctive, individual, recognisable buildings but it was an oblong in Al’s opinion.

Wonderful Moscow tube again to an area supposedly good for food. Exit tube and we spied a building which we both wanted to cross a six lane road full of speeding drivers to get a better look at.

Food area is bad but we pass the Finnish equivalent of McDonald’s and our curiosity gets the best of us. It tastes of cardboard.

Full of gas, we walk off the indigestion for the culinary  highlight (so far) of the day of afternoon cake. I didn’t realise my wife was a British imperialist or a Victorian lady but when we travel, 4-5 o’clock for her means cake and tea. I’m not a man to start a row, so acquiesce and order my birthday cake. Triple chocolate with jasmine tea. Lady Victoria has lemon meringue and spiced currant tea.

Bloody special.

Back to the hostel where I was stripped down and hosed to try and remove parasites.

We read, we chilled, we realised our body clocks no longer ring to the 9.30 – 6.30 sleep bell that they chimed to for the last seven years and at 9.30 we went out for food.

The rules of our backpackers prohibited alcohol. Wow. They didn’t mention that in their sales pitch. 

Anyway, now I’m 44 and with age comes wisdom. They may ban alcohol in our backpackers but that’s for the noisy 20 year olds disrupting everyone else’s sleep not for the wiley 44 year olds. For my birthday tea we headed for the supermarket and bought salad, cheese, essential pickles, crab crisps and the prohibited vodka. Can you spot it in the photo?

For this years birthday treat I didn’t clean my teeth, simply gargled with vodka. (Sorry mother and father-in-law, its once a year)

Thanks for all your kind birthday wishes today, I really appreciate them all. We both love and miss you all when we do these trips but I’d especially like to thank Meg, Isobel and Billy my nieces and nephew who sent a wonderful video message. Great singing, keep it up. Your parents want to hear you practice more.

Gillian, this is for you