Tag Archives: Russia

Sour cream blinis and Vodka…St. Petersburg

We had managed to go almost an entire month in Russia without having a drop of the country’s most famous tipple, vodka. We thought perhaps we’d be offered some on one of our many long train journeys, but instead we’d been reprimanded by stern police guards for having a beer we’d bought on the station platform! However, luck was on our side on our last night, in our last city, our hostel hosted a Bilini (Russian Pancake) party complete with ice-cold “Fire Water”. We were taught the proper way to drink it as well, always start with two shots in a row, a bite of something salty after each, and absolutely no sipping! It was an ideal end to our time in Russia, a country not known for its generosity had been good to us that night!

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Moscow, where every woman has a tiny dog

OK so this might not be strictly true…not every woman in Moscow had a tiny dog or a dog of any size for that matter. But it was definitely a city where some people have a lot of cash and they’re not afraid to show off about it…chauffeur driven car with blacked out windows anyone? We became distinctly aware that wearing hiking boots and a fake Northface jacket were not considered the height of elegance and was probably not going to get us into many bars or restaurants. So after a quick dash to H&M and some footwear purchases later, we were ready for what this great capital had to offer.

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Nuns in the snow…Kazan and Suzdal

Having now jumped the border into Europe, the continent was very keen for us to know it, and greeted us with a sight that we had not seen for a very very long time…. Rain!! Holding onto the hoods of our waterproof jackets to battle against the wind and the cold rain we made our way to our hostel in the city of Kazan, and decided the sights could wait until tomorrow…

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Birch trees and Russian Priests… Crossing Siberia

Ryan was awoken to discover the man with a small boy sitting on his lap were talking to him. We had already been in the cramped, musky platzkart (3rd class) carriage, for thirteen hours and we had another eighteen to go, but it seemed for our neighbours that their stop was coming and this was their last chance to speak to the strange non Russian speaking foreigners. Through the man’s limited English (entirely consisting of ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ and ‘my name is…’), our limited Russian (mainly consisting of ‘piva’ which means beer and ‘banan’ which means banana) and our trusty phrase book we managed to work out the boy was called Alexander and that the man was from Uzbekistan. Another guy, who may have been some kind of travelling religious preacher, emerged and could speak some English, well enough to tell us he’d been to the Netherlands to see a life-size recreation of Noah’s ark. Our conversation ended with handshakes and everyone saying ‘paka paka’ or bye…we had made friends on the Trans-Siberian railway.

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Cracks in a frozen lake…Irkusk and Lake Baikal

All women must cover their heads as they enter a Russian Orthodox church, so I throw my scarf over mine as we went inside Znamensky Monastery in Irkusk. The air was thick with incense and candle light, which reflected off the golden images of Christ which hung on every wall. We then noticed a crowd off people to our left, around a priest and a small number of nuns dressed in black. As their a-capella, harmonising song floated through the air, I realised they were praying over a dead body lying in state. I was torn between an urge to get closer to see the body up close and a childish fear at the prospect. As the service reached its climax the singing got louder, until all the congregation blessed themselves and departed. Considering this was our first full day in Russia and none of us had ever seen a dead body before, the country was getting off to a memorable start.

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A train full of eight year old gymnasts…across the Russian border

As the stern looking babushka descended our compartment steps, complete with red hat emblazoned with a hammer and sickle motif, our train could not be going anywhere but Russia. She would be our provodnitsa  ( carriage attendant) for the thirty something hour journey from Ulaanbaatar to Irkusk in Siberia. Something about her appearance fulfilling every stereotype of an older Russia lady (in my head) made the prospect of finally getting to ‘The Mother land’ all the more exciting.

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