A Travellerspoint blog

Russia

St. Petersburg

Beautiful architecture, canals and rain!

storm 17 °C
View From Menopause to Mongolia on kelshell's travel map.

We have spent the past two full days touring around on sightseeing buses and boats. We had no idea that St. Petersburg was built around so much water. It has a canal system and the Neva river cuts down through the city. It is bordered by the sea of Finland. Helsinki is a long ferry ride away and we considered ferrying there to get to Tallinn, Estonia tomorrow but we're taking the bus instead. St. Petersburg has a lot of beautiful old buildings with decorative embellishments. At times historically it was owned by Finland. The weather here is cool and wet - not what we expected for August. But we were constantly hot before so shouldn't complain. Navigating the metro was easy as in Moscow. We visited a few of the more beautiful metro stations and will include these shots with the rest of the St. Petersburg photos. On this, our final night in Russia, we met a man near our hotel who could not understand for the life of him why we would want to visit here. He is not happy about many issues in his country. Seems the stereotypes about Russia are true according to him.

Palace on the Neva river

Palace on the Neva river

Amazing architecture

Amazing architecture

Cityscape in St Petersburg

Cityscape in St Petersburg

St Catharine's Cathedral

St Catharine's Cathedral

Harley Davidson Rally

Harley Davidson Rally

Beautiful building

Beautiful building

Dome

Dome

Wow

Wow

Mosque near our hotel

Mosque near our hotel

Mosque dome - beautiful

Mosque dome - beautiful

St Petersburg a city of canals

St Petersburg a city of canals

Mosaic in subway

Mosaic in subway

Subway lighting

Subway lighting

No not in a museum but the subway

No not in a museum but the subway

Incredible subway station

Incredible subway station

More subway shots

More subway shots

Numerous detailed statues in the corners

Numerous detailed statues in the corners

Subway shot

Subway shot

Couldn't help myself - subway pic

Couldn't help myself - subway pic

Posted by kelshell 11:47 Archived in Russia Comments (3)

From Moscow to St. Petersburg

We are getting good at this travel thing... Or are we?

rain 17 °C
View From Menopause to Mongolia on kelshell's travel map.

Shelley and I had to say goodbye to Moscow, even though it was a short visit, we enjoyed it very much (despite our sad hotel room). While in Mongolia we decided to book our passage to St. Petersburg on the Sapsan fast train. Given our poor internet connection these tickets were challenging to book but we managed. Given we did not have access to a printer in Mongolia, we decided to print our tickets in Moscow. On the morning of the 4th we enjoyed our final breakfast in Moscow then went to print out our train tickets at the hotel reception desk. After Shelley grabbed the papers sitting in the printer, i hears a slight gasp when she said "Ohh shit my birth date on this ticket says I was born in 1941!" I immediately felt a pang of dread as I was the one who managed to get through on the booking site and booked the train tickets. I was sure I had put in Shelley's correct info, and yet here were, once again, dealing with an issue that could potentially mean we get kicked off another train in Russia. We both felt deflated and were hoping for the best thinking that maybe they wouldn't check the tickets and match them to the passport as closely as they do in the airport. So, we packed up our backpacks and headed to the train station via the metro, knowing full well that our bloated turtle-like body outlines might prove to be a challenge on the busy subway. As we trodded to the metro station Shelley wondered if she should somehow sabotage the date part on the ticket by smudging it, or peeling an orange that we we carrying and get juice right on the 1941 part. In the end we, with full confidence, we handed the train tickets to the man checking tickets. To our relief he merely scanned the name and made sure it corresponded with the ticket booking he had on his small electronic device he was holding. Happy day! We made it on the train and on our way to St. Petersburg. This fast train was amazing. Roomy, comfortable, and made for a quick and smooth ride. I would travel this way always if I could.

We had decided that we weren't repeating our 100 dollar cab ride in St Petersburg so were supposed to Google the train station to hotel metro directions for St Petersburg before we left while we had WiFi. We were so flustered about the train ticket error we forgot so arrived in St Petersburg without this information. It was darn near impossible to get WiFi anywhere without a Russian sim card so we began asking people for help. A nice young guy found out that we only needed to go 2 subway stops then walk. You would think the metro signs would be apparent but no, they were a different color here and you had to buy tokens from a machine - no nice ticket lady! Asking for directions using the word "metro" caused one young lady to recoil from Kellie in fear as she backed away and a taxi company to tell me they "no have language." Onto the metro finally. Then the walking began. Our 10 minute walk became 30, with Kellie ready to pack it in and hail a cab. After countless directions we were honing in on our location but couldn't find our hotel. I told Kellie to sit and wait with the stuff while I started walking down the street. I asked a guy at a swanky business if he knew where the mini otiel Parusa was and he indicated that I follow him. Around to the back of the building to a secret door, he pressed a buzzer and the door opened. Into a labyrinth of dim hallways and finally we were buzzed through and a man said "Kellie, from Canada?" No signs, no entrance but he had a computer with our booking.com information up on the screen. He said he'd show me the room and then I could go get my friend and then pay after. He took me up an elevator the size of a fridge and to a surprisingly nice room - same price as the dive in Moscow! I went to get Kellie who was beginning to worry and said, "you've got to see this." She followed me in through the endless doors with pass codes, etc. and took one look at the elevator saying, "will we fit?" We got upstairs after registering and went out for a great meal. Our host has a great sense of humor and that's nice to see here. Russians seem to be nice and friendly to each other but very few are nice to us when they hear English. More on St Petersburg tomorrow.

Comfy fast train to St Petersburg

Comfy fast train to St Petersburg

Shelley (looking good for being born in '41) settling in on train

Shelley (looking good for being born in '41) settling in on train

KelShell on train

KelShell on train

Two cocktails in St Petes after a long day

Two cocktails in St Petes after a long day

Carpatio beet root salad yummy

Carpatio beet root salad yummy

Trying the local honey cake- very good!

Trying the local honey cake- very good!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GACPmyq4I9A

Posted by kelshell 13:28 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Moscow - we made it!

Surprising city

sunny 26 °C
View From Menopause to Mongolia on kelshell's travel map.

We had to get up at 2:30 a.m. to get to the Chinggis Khan airport. We had left a note with the front desk about needing a 3:00 a.m. cab after booking our flight but were really not sure if we would get one. We came downstairs to find our kind hotelier asleep on the couch in the lobby. He popped right up and proceeded to get his own car to take us to the train station. No, airport we said. No problem, he replied. The airport is way further than the train station so after arriving we paid him generously and hugged him. Such a wonderful person! We flew to Irkutsk and were processed through immigration with no bells, whistles or alarms sounding. A very strange airport configuration - leave the international building and walk 50 feet to the domestic airport. This airport had only 2 floors and was very tiny. We had 6 hours to wait so we settled in with a preloaded movie. Long flight to Moscow and after arriving we found the "official" taxi stand. 5300 rubles later (100.00) we arrived at our hotel. It looked nice but check in was very laborious. They couldn't seem to find our reservation. This after receiving an email 2 days before from booking.com saying we had cancelled our stay and sending messages back and forth through spotty WiFi. Finally we were told to go out and around to building 6. So not what we'd booked online in March! A derelict building with a decrepit room awaited us. Kellie couldn't get over the tiny bathroom with the sink ready to fall off the wall! It literally was falling off and held in place maybe by a thread of grout! We dropped our bags and headed out to find the metro and go to Red Square. After walking further than Google maps showed a lady and her daughter led us to the station. We navigated easily with our downloaded map only needing assistance as to which platform we needed for the correct destination.

Getting off at Red Square was a treat. Met by a carousel reminiscent of Disneyland, we walked through an archway to see St. Basil's Cathedral in front of us. We wandered around taking photos and admiring the architecture. We wound up in an upscale mall bordering the square and ate dinner. In Russia it is typical to weigh the portion of food you take so confusingly the price you see on the menu is not necessarily what you pay. However we did well coming in at around 8-10 dollars for our dinner. We navigated the subway back to the proper stop (we had walked way too far the first time) and came out right near our hotel. We discovered that the subway system in Moscow was really easy to navigate and well set up for foreigners. Cyrillic can be legible to us if you count the letters in the word and see some familiar letters and patterns.

The next morning we went to the real hotel (building 7) for what turned out to be an amazing buffet breakfast. We headed back downtown and decided to take a double decker bus tour. We got off in a really trendy part of town and had a wonderful meal and hookah finale. We had finally found a bank to pay our fine in despite being told at the border by our Lieutenant that we could pay at any bank. To get back to the trendy area we had to pass under the street and happened upon the buskers playing in the attached video. We had been forewarned by the British couple on our Gobi tour that the subway stations in Moscow are stunning. So after researching the most beautiful stops we found several of them on our way back to the hotel. The next post will have those pictures.

Entrance to Red Square

Entrance to Red Square

Church in square

Church in square

Selfie in Red Square

Selfie in Red Square

FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender

St. Basil's Basilica

St. Basil's Basilica

Cafeteria meal

Cafeteria meal

Enjoy

Enjoy

Upscale Pym mall

Upscale Pym mall

Mall fountain

Mall fountain

Evening in Red Square

Evening in Red Square

Is this sign really necessary?

Is this sign really necessary?

Imposing statue

Imposing statue

Bolshoi theater

Bolshoi theater

IMG_0796

IMG_0796

Bolshoi

Bolshoi

Government building

Government building

Bus tour sights

Bus tour sights

Kremlin crennellations

Kremlin crennellations

Key to my heart tree

Key to my heart tree

Moscow river

Moscow river

Selfie on Moscow river

Selfie on Moscow river

Passenger bridge over Moscow river

Passenger bridge over Moscow river

Olympic building

Olympic building

More buildings from tour bus

More buildings from tour bus

5 magazine style menus for one restaurant

5 magazine style menus for one restaurant

Two great cocktails after a day of touring

Two great cocktails after a day of touring

Enjoying borcht in Russia

Enjoying borcht in Russia

Eggplant starter

Eggplant starter

Shelley and her first hookah experience

Shelley and her first hookah experience

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZjz8YU546s
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsrFZEGZN8E
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yke2zT0tBjE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSXRcWn0JAg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLs-KHIxDEg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XMBE0orNj0

https://youtu.be/eoR3xxdRdyI

Posted by kelshell 14:23 Archived in Russia Comments (7)

Second day Russian experience

How to get back to Mongolia

So the previous night we had asked when the train went back to Ulaanbaatar. We had been told 5:00 pm and the train only went to Sukhbaataar (Mongolian immigration point). Since we had arrived there in the dark and the train windows were required to have the shades pulled before the stop,we had no idea what was there. So we went to sleep wondering what the new day would bring.

We awoke late of course and were still being guarded. We ate some of our groceries and stayed in the room. A little while later a female guard came to ask us if we wanted to go to the cafeteria. We declined. At about 2:30 we asked our guard if we could go to eat. He was a friendly young man with some very minimal English. He took us outside and we started walking down the road. And walking. And walking - in the heat - for about 15 minutes. He took us into a restaurant which was empty. We ordered a cheap meal and then walked back. It was time to pack and leave. Back into the big area again we could see a one car train with what we surmised from the lettering was Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar (both Mongolia and Russia use the Cyrillic alphabet). After more than an hour immigration began processing the train passengers. Our young Lieutenant had more papers for us to sign and resign (lots of errors so lots of resigning). He told us that the train would take us to Ulaanbaatar which surprised us. He then smiled and said, "you are free to leave. But you must pay fine or..... (we waited)... you will not be able to visit Russia in future" (does he think we will want to - really??). Now I must say that we had been told the night prior that our fine was 2000 rubles and payable within 60 days only via bank transfer which we were given the information for. Once escorted to the train and on board our passports were returned and then an argument broke out between immigration and the train hostess as she kept demanding our ticket. She relented after the immigration guy brought her more paperwork. We were sharing a lovely young Dutch couple's private berth (like our first one) as they were disembarking at Sukhbaataar anyway. Apparently the Lieutenant had asked everyone on the train who would share with 2 ladies from Canada and they were the only ones who had room and didn't mind. Our story circulated quickly so we had a lot of well wishes from Norwegians, Dutch and Danish passengers on the one car train.

When we arrived in Sukhbaataar we were processed back into Mongolia (luckily Canadians don't need a visa for Mongolia or we'd have been screwed). It was a one hour stop which stretched to two. Kellie was worried we would be kicked off the train here so she wanted to stay on. I went to find water and when I came back the train was closed up. Someone told me where Kellie was so we sat in the shade with our cold water. We had a lovely visit with a lawyer from Calcutta who was not surprised by our story. When we went back to the train the attendant invited us on and then followed us to the berth, nastily indicating we had to get off and buy a ticket and take another train. She was getting more worked up at our lack of understanding as we had agreed to go into the station and buy a ticket. Our lawyer friend stayed with us while she went to get her phone to translate. Her translation said buy ticket for sit on other car. Since it was only one car we were confused. She then typed 100,000 MNT stay here. We said we would pay that no problem as we had gotten more tugrhik out at the ATM. The lawyer laughed and said she was making 50$ and we had a first class berth now to Ulaanbaatar. Reverse bribery - is that extortion??

Posted by kelshell 20:07 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Train to Moscow - trip interrupted

"You have broken the law of the Russian Federation. You must come with us now!"

sunny 30 °C

Well we don't know how to tell you this but after all of our careful planning, we messed up on a little detail in a very big way. In order to get our Russian visa we needed an invitation from a person or business in Russia. We had difficulty getting this but finally found a way and got one from our Moscow hotel. We are booked there August 1-4th. We didn't even think of asking them to issue the invitation for July 28th as we were taking the train which crosses the border from Mongolia to Russia in the middle of the first night. 8 hours from Ulaanbaatar the train stops at Mongolian immigration. The immigration officer took one look at Kellie's passport with her visa for Russia and immediately said you have a problem. We both said "why?" and she said "your entry is for August 1st and today is the 28th of July." It dawned on us immediately what we hadn't accounted for. This stop for processing was over an hour so we were trying to figure out what to do. Once she came back on board with everyone's passports, Kellie asked her if we should get off the train. She said she had no idea what would happen at the Russian border (one hour later by train so we don't know which country governs the no man's land in between) but that we could try and see what happens. We now know we should have gotten off the train.

We tried to lie down for the hour long ride to the Russian border stop. Kellie had her pyjamas on as we had settled in for the four day trip. When the Russian immigration boarded the train, the lady who arrived at our berth barely looked at Kellie's passport before saying very sternly in heavily accented English, "You have a big problem. You have broken the law of the Russian Federation." She went on to say that this was very serious. She called over someone else who turned out to be the Lieutenant of the immigration station who was about 12 years old! He got on his cell phone and then she told us to pack. Then she talked to him again and said wait. This happened one more time. We were hoping they were going to waive the few days. But no! She said this has happened before for the exact same reason. We were asked to collect our belongings to come with them. By this time 3 more immigration officials had arrived and were standing in the doorway of our berth. Kellie asked if she could get dressed and they said yes but wouldn't let her close the door. After the woman intervened she was able to close the door. Within about 1 minute they were knocking on the door saying, "must faster!" Then again. We were trying to pack as well.

We were escorted into the station and told to sit. These people were all about 19-25 years old. We were kept sitting there for 2 hours with the occasional message of, "you must pay fine." They all kept coming on and off the train and in and out of the building and 3 different offices. Once they cleared the train (I kept telling Kellie they were going to let us back on and she said no they're not) the train pulled away and there we were. We were told to write in English on plain paper what our "translator" (original immigration lady) told us - addressed to the Lieutenant : "I do not speak Russian. I need a translator. I do not need a lawyer. I do not have financial hardship. Later when she read back this statement processed in Russian I said, "maybe we do need a lawyer" and she laughed and said "there is not one here so can't. "

After this all of the other officers were watching us while literally reams of paperwork were processed. They kept bringing paperwork out for us to sign. The whole time our translator was reading out in English what we were signing but who knows. During our long wait I had read a big board with Russian legislation on it poorly translated into English. It looked as if the fine could be between 2000 and 5000 rubles (about 40-100 dollars). Finally they took me into a separate room where a young cadet was taught how to take my fingerprints. Of course the older officer (who sort of appeared during all of this) was not very gentle and was explaining to the cadet the whole time as if no one else was in the room. The young Lieutenant was at a computer still processing paperwork. Kellie later told me that she asked where I was and was told that I was being fingerprinted. She then had her mugshot taken (yes front and both sides). After my fingerprints were done I had my mugshot taken and went back into the larger room. Kellie was then taken in for her fingerprints. By now it was about 3:30 a.m. I had asked a few times to use the bathroom but was told to wait until we were finished. The "translator/immigration lady" had told Kellie the bathroom cost 100 rubles. She then told us the "restroom" was 630 rubles. Kellie said, "I thought you said 100." Turns out they really meant a rest room like in a shitty airport lounge. We were led there and could use the included in the price bathroom. With a guard outside our door. And no passports. I don't think we would have gotten very far with our backpacks, day packs and 4 food bags (expected a long train ride remember!) anyway but we must have looked like a flight risk!

So, as Shelley has painted an accurate picture of our ordeal I thought I would add some additional thoughts. While recognizing that we did make a mistake regarding our entry date to Russia by 3 days, their response to this infraction was extreme in my view. Yes, it is Russia and I know I can hear Eli and Quinn saying "don't go to Russia all you will have is trouble." Boy were they right! Right from the train the Russian officials treated us like criminals and it wasn't just the processing of things that we associate with criminality (like mug shots and fingerprinting), but the overall attitude, tone used when speaking to us, and lack of respect. In addition to the late night, no sleep, and inability to use the bathroom, it was an odd feeling to be under guard. Shelley and I did have to pay for a room to rest in, which had 2 beds, but we could not leave this area and were diligently watched by our guard whenever we moved to go to the bathroom. By the time we settled in our beds, exhausted and not quite sure how we were going to be deported back to Mongolia, Shelley needed to take her pills and decided on swigging them back with the only liquid we had... vodka!!

Off to Moscow

Off to Moscow

Posted by kelshell 20:58 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

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