Travel Through Trans-Siberian Russia

I traveled to Russia with the inexperience of a young traveler. It seemed like a good idea to visit Russia and get closer to Siberia and I assumed that the trip was taking place. At the beginning of June we made the plan to St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Trans-Siberian and Lake Baikal.

At that time, low-cost travel was non-existent and the best chance to get to know two of the country's most important cities was to visit a travel agency. We buy the flight ticket to Moscow and back to St. Petersburg, as well as transfers, accommodation and a cabin in the Trans-Siberian Railway for a price that was quite adequate.

I love to travel, and when I say this I do not want to say that I like to ride on airplanes, trains, buses or cars. I like to see new places and also places that have literary, historical, photographic, geographical or artistic ideas. I enjoy beautiful things, even if they are natural (from Patagonia to beech trees) or that are human creations (both the Pyramids of Egypt and the picture of the Meninas).

I love getting closer to how people live (even knowing that, no matter how small the territory, a visit hides more than what it shows). I enjoy, above all, that feeling of being alive that travel increases. Ordinary days tend to have, well despite my regret, many moments that pass without having been lived, the days of travel (for better or for worse) are intense. I always appreciate that feeling of having lived a lot.

From my trip to Russia, I regret several things of not having a travel blog then and that the DSLR had not come to my life yet. But above all, it's about the camera. And that is my great regret because Russia has undoubtedly been one of my favorite trips, and Moscow that great surprise.

We landed in Moscow, with even more snow. We were already in the homeland of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Pushkin, in that of Tchaikovsky, Korsakov and Shostakovich, in that of Lobatchewsky and Kowalewsky, in that of the tsars and Rasputin and in that of Lenin and Stalin.

The landing was a tense moment because the plane skidded a little on the runway. It was three in the afternoon and it was almost night. The cold that entered the plane when the doors opened is really hard to describe. It was just a preview of what I expected for the following days. Wow! Pure emotion that moment.

I arrived at one of the smaller airports in Moscow. Therefore, the facilities were quite basic. The emigration was divided into two groups with Russians and Belarusians on one side and the rest of the world on the other. I joined that team to wait for the entry stamp on my passport.

The wait was a little long because several of those who preceded me in the line were asked to show some papers but in my case, they did not ask me anything. When I got to the counter, the officer said something to me in Russian and showed me with a hand a piece of paper that had a dotted line and handed me a pen.

Then I went to take the luggage and later I had to walk to the other terminal of the airport because in the terminal there was no exchange facilities. Do not ask me how I knew that in the other terminal there would be one. It was only intuition because to everyone I asked, nobody spoke English.

From the basement of the Vnukovo airport there is a train that goes to the center of Moscow and connects with the subway of the city. The three ladies who sell tickets at the entrance to the train, as expected, did not speak English. So I looked at the ticket that was given to me by some Russians who were in front of me. I looked for an equal and ready I ​​had my ticket to get to Moscow. The trip from Vnukovo to Moscow takes about 40 minutes and there is only one station where one can get off: Kievsky. That's where the fun begins.

It was night, it was cold and I stared at the piece of paper trying to understand something. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. I went down to the subway and started looking for the names I said in the mail. I found it hard to find the Kievska station and then moving through the subway combinations were really tense moments.

I was not sure if I was on the right path, that terrified me but at the same time I was amazed with the Moscow metro. The arrival in Moscow is more chaotic. There is a queue that almost leaves the station to buy the metro ticket and again the stairs to hell. They say that the longest escalator in the world is in Tokyo but these I think are bigger.

I stayed for several days at the hostel, located on Petrovsky Street (or something like that), about 15 blocks from the Red Square and the Kremlin. The hostel was located in a very old building, with huge marble stairs and very large rooms. It was weird to be a hostel. I had the feeling of being in an apartment in Moscow, with several friends, from different parts of the world!

I did not have the slightest orientation in the neighborhood but after leaving things in the room they assigned me, I went for a walk to have my first trip to Moscow. The desire to know the city exceeded the cold. To go that it was already night and the cold had descended to 20 degrees below zero, there were enough people in the street. I was a long walk on a boulevard located in the center of the avenue that passes in front of the metro station.

The Christmas decoration of the place is really wonderful. The boulevard is full of pine trees and snow, that gives it a very Christmas frame but it also seems that Russians love urban decoration at this time. There was deer, pine, polar bears all made with colored lights or even, with ice.

I tried to get to Kremlin without success. Moscow is a city too big to walk at night and without a map. I looked for a cafeteria to have a warm drink before going back to the hostel. Taking a Kafe (coffee) can be a bit difficult in the country where people kill the cold with vodka. After queuing, when I asked for the coffees they told me that it was closed and I went to the other one. But by the time I reach it had also closed (they had the coffees prepared but they did not give them to us). There were no more coffee shops, but immune to discouragement we went through the terminal to find the coveted coffees and some scones with something sweet inside.

Everything seems different in this country. Moscow is quite hostile to the traveler who does not speak Russian but it is a beautiful city so any bad time is worth it. It's a question of patience and of keeping the smile in spite of everything and you end up getting where you want.

I landed in the city full of hope to enter that country that is almost a world. Because of the terrain it occupies on the globe and because it would be the most different thing we knew until now. I return to the hostel and after some rest ventured to our first walk at sunset of the red city. The first thing we did was to enter the first museum, the subway.

It was five in the afternoon and a tide of people came and went from the subway. The lines at the ticket counters were huge and I did not even understand the access to the platforms. I do not even know what I bought between the pushes of the Russians who were fighting to get their ticket. I went down the platforms by some endless escalators. The Moscow metro is really built very deep.

The stairs are four or five times more extensive than those typical of Buenos Aires and the luxury, dazzled me. There are chandeliers illuminating, marble of different colors, a floor that shone and a crowd of people. I took the metro line 5 through a station and then two stations on line 7. The subways pass with a really good frequency. Every minute and a half or two minutes a new subway arrives at the station. From line 7 I went to line 9 and from there I had to look at my piece of paper with the instructions.

Reading from home seemed easy but when one has just arrived in Moscow, it is night, it is cold and he has no idea where he is standing, these simple instructions are complicated to meet.

Exiting the metro at six o'clock in the afternoon on the last working day of the year was a true daring. A tide of people climbed and took me practically. I managed to get rid of their synergy because I had to go to the other side. I went out onto an avenue that seemed quite important, with a huge boulevard in the center and a lot (literally a lot) of Christmas decoration. I walked a couple of blocks to get to the hostel.

The cold bit into my bones because I had not yet been able to put on the winter clothes so the icy wind went through the jeans and pullover and froze me. The Moscow subway is one of the most beautiful places in the city. Its works of art, vaulted ceilings, walls with artifices and steep stairs makes you forget that you are going to get on a public transport, it seems that you are entering a real palace. Nothing to do with his brother from St. Petersburg, but that will be described later.

After guessing at the stop that we had to get off, we went outside looking for a sign of a street, to place ourselves on the map that the guide provided. And there came surprise number one. The streets were Cyrillic (their alphabet) and obviously we did not understand. And now how to do to interpret your alphabet and understand what it said to locate it on the map? Looking for transcripts we did it. What's more, I ended up reading with his alphabet without having to look at the chop.

Once centered, we headed straight to Red Square. How not! I was impatient to see the Kremlin and the well-known St. Basil's Cathedral. The square is simply wonderful, magananima, shocking. It allows you to imagine those Lennin speeches before millions of Russians, you go back to the past and you remember the parades with hundreds of communist flags on a bunch of soldiers making lines. It is so big, that the colorful Cathedral of San Basilio becomes small to the detriment of the enormous dimensions of the square. Now it is understood, as every May 9 could enter the tanks to celebrate the Russian victory over Nazi Germany.

In the Red Square is also the Lenin mausoleum, which you must enter and not stand before the body, nor laugh, not even gesticulate. The Russians have great respect for the deceased politician. I'm not very inclined to see corpses (call me sensitive) I dared to see the idol. The truth is that it does not "give little" or anything, rather reminds the wax dolls of the museum in Madrid, but well done.

Next to the Plaza are all kinds of souvenirs in stalls and humans. I say humans because you can take a picture with Lenin and Stalin if you want. Yes, I have one, I confess.

The city of Moscow is giant, I had not seen anything like it so far. And in fact after traveling already a lot, I think it's one of the biggest I've ever known. And since we are like that, we kicked it for the most part. So much, that my Achilles tendon said: here I abandon you. And I started having a horse tendonitis that became a very painful lump on the back of my foot.

But since Russia only travels once in life (as to most of the faraway places, not out of laziness, but because of the great variety of places to visit) continue as a Spartan, walking the rest of the trip. While the thing was going well, the problem was to stop and start. But the city deserved the effort (and the risk of breaking my tendon, although I did not know that).

Moscow is an industrial city by nature. Stalin left his inevitable mark, with the great constructions that rudely decorate the city. Huge concrete blocks that would make Moscow recognized all over the world. From the Stalingrad station, you get the best views of a set of buildings commissioned by Stalin. The city deserves a quiet journey through its streets, its peculiar buildings, its Orthodox basilicas. There are many things that have to do. And one of the ones that surprised me most was the gastronomy.

I did not go to Moscow with the intention of enjoying their food, but in the end I enjoy their gastronomy. The borscht soup made with beet, meat, potato and sour sauce, the blinis and sirloin stroganoff are delicate that will make you palpitate. Another thing that I could not stop eating was the stuffed potatoes.

Moscow has climbed to one of my favorite cities without a doubt. If I had ten lives ahead I would certainly repeat. I love their food, their cultural wealth, their architecture, but their hospitality leaves a lot to be desired.

The first two days I took my legs to the air but suddenly his incessant friend arrived the cold. The last day we were in the city the scratch was palpable. We got on the Trans-Siberian to go to our next stop to St. Petersburg. We booked an entire cabin, because we did not want to be aware of our bags when sharing a room and being able to sleep comfortably. Which we would not get at all because of the rattle of the train and the celebrations on the train. The locals had won some league and the vodka flowed right and left. The snow fell on the road until we got off the train in an icy city.

When we leave the station you realize that we are not in Europe. I do not know, it feels different. On the bus to go to the center nobody speaks any English although here they still seemed nice. The ticket is charged to you later. You first ride and then someone will approach you to charge you, and they charge you for the luggage. Before reaching the metro, we passed through a monument to the heroes of the World War II that leaves the Russian cemetery in Berlin at the height of a model of Tente. Underneath the statues there is a very large room with showcases with things of war, film projections, communist symbols.

The metro is not far behind, with its super-inclined escalators. Well, only one at a time, nothing of several flights of stairs to reach the platform. For what? if you can put a huge one and with an inclination of fifteen. And nothing of fixed stairs, four mechanics - two lit, one to go up and one to go down - and a lady controlling each section to see if it ignites any more or breaks down or something.

The city is beautiful with the bridges over the Neva, the temples of Saint Isaac, the Virgin of Kazan and the Savior of the Spilled Blood, the Duma tower and the summer garden, the Nevsky avenue and the fortress of Saint Pedro and San Pablo. The Hermitage Museum is great. You cannot choose between so much wonder, but I was delighted with The Virgin with Child by Leonardo da Vinci and The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt.

It is one of the best museums in the world, especially in painting, and is in some beautiful palaces (although the lighting is not completely achieved, natural light produces brightness and contrasts in some paintings and the good visual angle is not easily found, if it exists). I would visit it again with pleasure. We only approached 5% of what it contains.

The Yusupov Palace is an architectural jewel and reproduces with wax figures the plot and murder of Rasputin. In Pushkin, Catherine's palace gives an idea of ​​how the zarinas lived and of their love of dance. Peterhof is wonderful, the gardens with their fountains and the shore of the Gulf of Finland invite you to stroll and enjoy the scenery. More than gardens are beautiful landscaped forests, I imagine inviting friends.

Next day we walk on the north side, next on the east, and then take a horseback ride through the south. We had a lot of luck with time. It only rained the day we arrived and we did not have to get wet. The good temperature was especially pleasant for the men because it highlighted the style of the local women. The heels, miniskirts, necklines and elegant gaits of the girls were striking.

Oh! and what with the White Nights at two o'clock in the morning the sun has not yet been fully set and by three o'clock it is coming out again. Fortunately for sleeping we never had problems. With the arrival of these dates it also seems that the school year or similar is over and that the students have parties. They are very cute, dressed as penguins and princesses, dressed in gauze and fly in the purest Sissi style. There is a Miss Village Party with drinks all the time.

Getting around in St. Petersburg was not very complicated. We took a ferry to Peterhof, a bus to Pushkin. The buses are vans with seats with each of a color, shape, and size. How little we had traveled! This way of moving between cities is the general trend in the world. The subway was discounted, although everything is written in Cyrillic.

Well, everything, the little that is written, because on the platforms it does not clearly state the name of the station and you have to count stops to know when to go down. But at least there is a tourist office in St. Petersburg , near the Hermitage. The issue of ticket prices also has crumbs, for foreigners everything costs as much as double or more than for locals, even audioguides are more expensive. We were still surprised by these things that we have seen in half the world.

In Pushkin we had to go two days because on the first was closed, as there was a party that night at the palace. The groups went in and a watercolors vendor who was there told us that paying 1,200 rubles per head could get us for the entrance that was about 500. Their system is curious. They charge you for entering the park and then charge you to enter the palace.

In Peterhof they had the same policy. They charged us as soon as we got off the boat to let us enter the gardens with the fountains. And then if you wanted to enter the palace you had to pay again and more if you wanted to enter with the camera. The second day, we arrived at 10:15. The palace opened at 10: 00 and until almost 1:00 we could not pass. We stand is queue for three hours in the sun.

Last day, we have to catch the train at 6:45. They tell us, in the hostel, that we cannot stay, that there was an error and that the room was already reserved for others. It offers us to change to a "hotel" for the same price for that night. We accept it. The "hotel" has no sign, name, or anything. The rooms are bigger but also very old and they take us there.

One picks us up at the hostel and takes us to the middle of the street. There he leaves us with a girl who takes us to the door of the building and tells us to go up to the fourth floor. But hey, it's better than the hostel and there we spent the last night.

One of the nights in St. Petersburg we went to dinner at a restaurant that our guide advised. It was hard to find because it was not at all in the tourist area. In fact, there did not seem to be many tourists in there. When we arrived we could not see the inside and we thought we had made a mistake. There was also no sign. After a few laps, as we approached the windows we saw that there were people.

We went to the door and before arriving we opened the security that had three monitors with cameras outside. We had been watched all the time around and it had not been valid to open. We asked if they had a letter in English as Cyrillic may be fine to get off at a subway station, but to order food and that if we can pay by card. After an affirmative answer to the questions we go inside.

We ate very well, to go rolling for less than 50 euros with show included with some singing and dancing with the typical costumes.

Time passed quickly. I do not think it is a recommended trip, but I'm glad I did. What impressive forests, tundra, vast plains and, above all, rivers: Volga, Irtish, Obi, Yenisei, Angara! What a clean sky full of stars that seem very close! Some of the cities on the road are very large like Yekaterinburg, Tyumen, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk.

The small towns had charm. The people of the town went to sell to the platform products that they had made at home or that they collected by the forest. The prices were very cheap and everything invited you to buy. Life is not easy for the Siberian peasants, but they were not trying to cheat you or charge what they could have. They are used to selling their own neighbors, the foreigners of the train were very minority.

As we went forward, we noticed the climatic changes, the different agricultural products and the different traits in the people with more and more Mongolians and the people of the province. The schedule on the train and at the stations was still that of Moscow, but each day was dawning more than an hour earlier. That was Asia, another world where everything was possible.

To say that I had a great time, that I'm glad I caught the Trans-Siberian, sounds like the fox and the grapes (or Stockholm syndrome), but it's true. The clearest proof is that I overcame the "no shower" without any effort and without realizing it. I was left with the regret of not having been able to enjoy more of the passage through the Urals because it was already night when we crossed them and because the train passes through a valley (almost gorge) that does not allow you to get an idea of ​​the height of the peaks and the amplitude of the mountains.

Novosibirsk made me especially excited, because as a child we studied in geography of the low temperatures that it has (who have told me about the limit of -35 degrees for normal life). It is the capital of Siberia. The rivers are more impressive than the Amazon or the Nile. The forests on the right and left accompany the tracks (I imagined it more desert) and the sense of immensity and mystery (which I suppose even greater in the long icy winter). Lake Baikal is a must see, but you cannot go through Siberia in one jump, without calmly tracing something of it.

When you get to the lake you find first the Angara River (which you confuse with the lake because of its immensity). You will run out of words when contemplating it before you (that what we have seen is just a bit). It is bigger than Holland and Luxembourg together. It travels more than 700 kilometers in a northeasterly direction, it has a depth of more than 1600 meters. It contains 1/5 of the freshwater of the whole world. It has endemic flora and fauna. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains.

It has 300 rivers that pour its waters into it and only one river (the Angara) through which it drains. It is always changing, its waters are crystal clear and allow to see more than 50 meters deep. It has some bacteria that oxygenate and clean, a body disappears completely in three days. It has tides like an ocean and can be on the same day become a calm lake or raging sea (there was a strong storm on the second day of our stay). Absolutely beautiful and magical.

Throughout this area lived primitive tribes with shamanic religions. The Tartars arrived (Turks and Mongols) giving rise to the "Buryat" and remains of a culture that mixes Chámanico and Buddhist rites (Chinese influence). The Russian settlers soon spread through Siberia (they arrived in Alaska, which was Russian for a time) carrying their religion (Orthodox) and customs and giving rise to white Siberia. They were accompanied by many peculiar groups, such as the old Christians with their prohibitions of using steel or metals, or drinking alcohol.

It is a hard and difficult land, rich in resources, with very diverse people and inhospitable climate. The same train, the town of Listvyanka and the city of Irkutsk show clearly the decline. The city of Irkutsk was founded in 1661 and was very beautiful at the time when it was inhabited by gold magnates and fur traders. There are still beautiful stone and brick houses, but the old city seems phantasmagorical and empty. It produces a strange feeling, that we were very lucky with the restaurant.

The food was excellent and cheap, although on the dessert menu was plums with chocolate and elaborated chocolate. It was scary to walk around the city at night and the hotel was the most obvious proof that one day it was magnificent, but now it's just old. The 60 kilometers from Listvyanka to Irkutsk take you from a natural paradise (although I do not know if the locals perceive it that way) from 2500 very scattered inhabitants, to a city of 750000 inhabitants on the bank of a river, also precious and enormous.

It has nothing to do with Moscow or St. Petersburg. They are too far away. Irkutsk is very close Mongolia and China. It communicates mostly by train and through it pass Trans-Siberian, Trans-mongolian and Trans-manchurian. I would have liked to have five more days to go up to the Arctic by the shore of the lake, but it will have to be left for another time.

These are some of my memories (I have many more) of a wonderful trip that no agency can provide. I repeat that surely the Russian character is not as "hard" as I thought and someday I will have to return to give it another chance and the enjoy architecture and art again, together with the people.
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