Written by 80 Ways Tim on 25 Jul, 2005
Before we left, my mum organised a 'Bring & Buy' sale to raise funds for the trip. The idea was to sell enough junk to pay for our Trans-Siberian railway tickets. Friends and family gave vast quantities of goods for sale at the event, displaying…Read More
Before we left, my mum organised a 'Bring & Buy' sale to raise funds for the trip. The idea was to sell enough junk to pay for our Trans-Siberian railway tickets. Friends and family gave vast quantities of goods for sale at the event, displaying both the level of generosity they had and the amount of rubbish they kept.
That day, we filled out a church hall with books, CDs, games, clothes, cakes, and general junk ranging from garden gnomes to hairclips, crockery to a wheelchair. Unfortunately, what we were lacking were customers, so I took it upon myself to wander the streets of Esher, carrying cakes baked by mum in an attempt to draw customers. The greedy pedestrians soon devoured the first cake, and Thom and my brother joined me for a second round.
The goal was not just to sell cake but also to draw people into the hall so that they'd buy more goods. One of the few people that fell for our sales pitch was a guy called Paul who was wheeling his daughter down the road and agreed to have a look around (albeit only because we didn't have any change for his ten-pound note).
After we gave him the whole story (excitedly showing him the day's Guardian, whose pages we had graced with two sentences describing our project), he told us he had taken the Trans-Siberian himself and had a great time. He also gave us a little tip.
When he went on the train, he took a bottle of whiskey from home and gave it to the chef in the restaurant car as a gift. For the rest of the journey, he maintained, he received extra large portions and particularly attentive service. He recommended that we do the same, and we did.
From the duty-free store on our ferry across the Channel, Thom picked up a bottle of Scottish whiskey. I had envisioned a small, hip-flask-sized container, but Thom brought back a great big bottle containing the best part of a litre of spirits. He had to carry the thing in his backpack for over a week, but now that we were onboard the train, the time had come to deliver our present.
It had always seemed like a good idea: buy a bottle of whiskey, give it to the chef, get extra food. But the reality suddenly seemed different. Who was to say the chef would appreciate the whiskey? Who said he was a whiskey drinker? Who said he was a he? Who said he wasn’t a petite little Chinese women who made a mean chicken chow mein but wouldn't touch spirits with a barge pole? Naturally, we did some reconnaissance first.
"He's this big Russian guy with a big moustache and a funny leather waistcoat that looks like a gun holster," Thom said excitedly. "He looks like he'll appreciate the whiskey."
Now we still had to present him with it. It wasn't a normal social situation, walking up to a complete stranger and giving him a bottle of whiskey. What did we expect, that he'd welcome us with wide-open arms, thank us in perfect English, knock back some whiskey, then give us a mountainous portion of food for free? Well... yeah. But now that we were there, the likelihood of him giving us such a response seemed all too unlikely, and we were a bit hesitant as to how to proceed.
We figured we should introduce ourselves first, so we went down for some lunch, and whilst he was serving us, I looked up. "What is your name?" I asked in Russian. Kak-vaas za-voot is how I remember it and how I said it. To my surprise, it worked, and "Victor," came the response. "And you?" he asked with an upward nod of the head. Brilliant! We had broken the ice that would soon be filling our whiskey glasses. That was, of course, the other problem, as Thom pointed out: "You realise he's going to expect us to drink some of this with him."
So, armed with our Russian phrasebook and the translation of what our trip was all about, we marched into the restaurant car and handed Victor his prize. I feared a look of complete bewilderment—a look that said, "Why the hell are you guys giving me a litre of whiskey!?"—but instead, because he wasn't going to drink while serving, he told us to come back at six o'clock .
We had a date with a Russian guy and a bottle of whiskey.
...to be continued...
Written by 80 Ways Tim on 06 Jul, 2005
The train was just like any other and the cabin pretty standard, but somehow, to both of us, it was the most exciting place in the world. Grinning so much that my cheeks ached, I had the distinct feeling that our journey was officially underway.…Read More
The train was just like any other and the cabin pretty standard, but somehow, to both of us, it was the most exciting place in the world. Grinning so much that my cheeks ached, I had the distinct feeling that our journey was officially underway. Thom’s "end of the beginning idea" might sound a little melodramatic, but that’s just how it felt.
The Trans-Siberian (or Trans-Mongolian actually) was the only leg of the journey that we had really booked in advance and one of the very few parts that we had always been resolute about. I had personally been looking forward to it for months, if only because it would give an enforced opportunity to relax. No rushing around; no need to do anything during the days (indeed, not much opportunity); no Internet, so no chance to organise things; just time to kick back and relax.
One of the (many) unknowns about the train, for us, was who our roommates would be. Five days straight in a room with two strangers leaves all sorts of possibilities open. Our first companion arrived, and after a few tentative exchanges, we worked out that we both spoke English, and things were easy from then on. Her name was Zoe, she was from Australia, and like us, she was headed for Beijing via Ulan Bator.
Our next arrival was quiet little Mongolian girl. We said hellos and exchanged names (Aza was her name, I think), but the language barrier kept things at that to start with. A friend came into the cabin with her, and they set about sorting things out. Whilst we were happy to just sit back and stare out the window (the train wasn’t moving yet), they were keeping themselves busy. First, they flicked down these metal bars from the walls that they used as steps to gain better access to the storage compartment above (we were aware of neither the purpose of the bars nor the existence of such a compartment). They flicked a switch and lowered one of the overhead bunks, then lifted up the seats that we were on to reveal yet more storage and also our bed linens. This wasn’t their first time.
As the train jerked to a start, Thom and I cracked open a celebratory beer (a fond favourite brand we hadn’t seen since being in Kyrgyzstan) and revelled in the elation of having gotten this far. But our Mongolian companions were not done. They returned in numbers, piled into our tiny cabin, and closed the door with a (not entirely) reassuring grin.
The girl climbed onto her bed whilst a woman—we presumed her mother—passed up a screwdriver. Off came a hatch in the ceiling and down came some more packages. Yet more secret compartments we weren’t aware of! But hold on a second—why would you need a screwdriver to access a cupboard? Why were they bringing things out of the ceiling? They then proceeded to remove the main ceiling fitting and bring out more bags of stuff: deodorants, jeans, jumpers, etc. The three of us exchanged bewildered looks of amusement as thoughts of smuggling operations ran through our heads and our level of entertainment, already high from having just made it onto the train, reached a peak!
This was too good to miss, so Thom dug out the camera and started to film. There was the young girl up on her top bunk, the mother piling up parcels that filled the cabin, sprawling over the seats and our knees like a room filling with water, and various accomplices opening and closing the door to shift the goods elsewhere down the train. The mother didn’t appreciate us evidencing their acts and shook her head. We complied with the request, of course, but it only further sealed in our minds the idea that we were sharing a cabin with a quiet little Mongolian girl who was, in fact, the head of an international smuggling network.
Following Thom’s lead, I had decided to get a haircut—a shaved head, no less. Our Rough Guide listed a place with English-speaking staff that might help to avoid embarrassing mistakes. We set about finding it, suffering from the usual problem of trying to read road…Read More
Following Thom’s lead, I had decided to get a haircut—a shaved head, no less. Our Rough Guide listed a place with English-speaking staff that might help to avoid embarrassing mistakes. We set about finding it, suffering from the usual problem of trying to read road signs in Cyrillic. A hairdresser’s came into view, but soon after walking through the door, I realised it wasn’t the international haven I was hoping for. No problem—I only wanted a grade 3.
The options, however, were 3mm, 6mm, or 12mm. Now, I thought that ‘mm’ might correspond to grade, but I also didn’t want to get the shortest one. The 12mm sounded like a lot of hair, so I opted for the middle ground—6mm. It was shorter than expected, but then, I could always cover it up with the top hat to avoid looking foolish, right?
Two years prior, Thom and I had made two daring attempts to be the first British people to climb a mountain in Kyrgyzstan called Peak Gorky (there’s a bit more info in my other journal, ‘Good Morning Kyrgyzstan!’). Named after the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, we were particularly keen to find Gorky House. Conveniently, it was just around the corner, and with the exception of a large-scale road block and a parade of black limos in our way, we got there quickly.
It really did just look like someone’s house, and I wouldn’t have thought otherwise, had our guidebook not said so. A series of quirky little red arrows directed us inside, through a maze of corridors and down some creaky wooden stairs. A burly security guard directed us to a cloakroom that was largely empty except for a little old lady rocking on a chair. She didn’t respond to either my Russian greeting or my "Hello" in a Russian accent. She might have been asleep, but then, her newspaper seemed to be moving in her hands. Asleep or deaf, though, she really should have noticed us as we banged on the desk, spoke loudly, and ultimately fell about laughing as filmed the scene. The guard upstairs suggested we hit her on the head, but she had arisen of her own accord upon our arrival.
Gorky’s House was not as exciting as his 6,000m mountain, but it proved to be far superior to his park. Aside from the mountain link, I’m a big fan of the Martin Cruz-Smith novel, so Gorky Park was a definite on the Moscow hit list. However, I had assumed it was a nice green park that we could wander through, but it was in fact a rather cheesy theme park filled with screaming kids and fairground rides.
All we had left for the day was to catch the train. THE train. The train to Beijing via Ulan Bator, over about 6,000 miles and 6 days. It left at half-past eight, and we made sure we were back at our hostel with plenty of time. We had toyed with the idea of one last meal in a Russian restaurant but stuck with our hotel to save time.
We had given our guidebook to the helpful hostel staff and were thus left clueless for our journey to the station (though the staff, proving their helpful status, had given us directions). On the underground ride there and throughout dinner, in fact, Thom had seemed a little distracted. He was, like me, excited about our Trans-Mongolian train ride—what he referred to as "the end of the beginning" of our trip.
Thom was still recovering from his playground incident, and whilst he managed to carry his rucksack, I was burdened with his man-bag and all food bags. When the train finally pulled into our stop, Thom headed straight out the door and started powering up the escalators. Due to muddy ground (or something similar), the subway system in Moscow is particularly deep underground, and its escalators are correspondingly long to the extent that no one ever walks up them—apart from Thom and, apparently, me. I was huffing and puffing behind him under the weight of about six different bags, without enough breath to shout, "What’s the hurry?"
Outside, Thom was looking back and forth, eyes wide and looking slightly flustered. I pointed to a sign that had our station’s name (one of four different train stations) printed on it. We hiked down there, matching pace with the escalator from a minute ago, and realised our guiding star was in fact a restaurant. Thom looked more frustrated. He wasn’t excited about the train, I realised, but worried we were going to be late: "If we miss this train, we’re screwed."
He was right, of course, but we did have about an hour before it left, and everything had worked out well thusfar, so I hadn’t really been worrying about it. Inside the first station we could find, we pointed to our desired station’s name on a piece of paper (written out in Cyrillic for us) and gave the international shrugging/confused look to say, "Where?" "Here!" came the reply as the lady pointed to the floor. She was clearly confused. We tried two other people, but they all said we were in the right place.
A large electronic display board outside confirmed that we were in the right place and that we were sufficiently early for our train to not have arrived yet. And even when it did, before we could work out where our platform was, a helpful attendant, presumably upon seeing our big backpacks, pointed us in the right direction, and we boarded with plenty of time to spare.
Written by 80 Ways Tim on 29 Jun, 2005
It’s raining in Moscow, and it’s putting a real downer on things. The Kremlin just isn’t as exciting as it should be, and our first impression of Russia is not what we’d hoped.
A quick piggy-back ride past St Basil’s Cathedral, and we marched off again…Read More
It’s raining in Moscow, and it’s putting a real downer on things. The Kremlin just isn’t as exciting as it should be, and our first impression of Russia is not what we’d hoped.
A quick piggy-back ride past St Basil’s Cathedral, and we marched off again through the rain. I decided to save weight by not bringing a waterproof (inspiration that Thom is no doubt thankful he didn’t receive), and thus my hoodie is getting damper by the minute. We’re heading south and decide our route would be far nicer if we could walk through some of gardens surrounding the Kremlin.
Lining the streets are some dodgy-looking military characters. Clothed in long, dark ponchos, with their hoods up and their heads down, they look like Ringwraiths from Tolkien novel. Two of them are guarding the entrance to the park, so we head in their direction to see if we can gain access.
Their English is not better than our Russian, but we manage to work out that they want 10 dollars for access. I figure this isn’t an official toll, so I decide to barter:
"I don’t have any dollars, I’m afraid, but I do have something better than money..."
What, you may be wondering, could I be offering?
"An exclusive 80 Ways badge!"
The guards instantly recognize the international currency of the 80 Ways badge and let us pass.
Inside the gardens, we suddenly realize that they are rather deserted. Deserted, that is, apart from a large procession of people dressed in pink frocks, suits, and brightly coloured umbrellas. Unsure of what exactly we should be doing, we decide to join the parade.
It was all fun and games for a while, until we reached the end of the park. Tickets were apparently required for us to proceed any further, which was a shame, because we could see a big carnival in the distance with fairground rides and giant inflatable clowns. For a moment, we considered trying to blag our way through with a combination of the 80 Ways badge and the top hat as a carnival prop but decided better of it.
Thus we headed back to our border guards, one of which I was pleased to see wearing our badge.
Came the reply once more. Now, I know there is no fee for getting onto the streets of Moscow, and I told the man as such. Suffice it to say that, with no common language, the message was not relayed, and he repeated his fee. "Ah," I thought, "this guy’s playing hardball." I offered him another badge, this time a blue one, which I explained was far superior to his friend’s red version. Again, "10 dollars" was the response, and he was looking quite serious.
It wasn’t funny anymore.
I told him that we weren’t going to pay and that we had to get out, but obviously the words were wasted (even if he had spoken English). He was staring at me rather intensely and grabbed my arm when I tried to walk past. He seemed quite stern, but I noticed his friend looked rather more hesitant. There was something about their half-hearted effort to charge us on the way in, and now this similar attempt on our return made me think these guys weren’t as serious as they made out, so I decided we should just push past. Thankfully, just as we were about to go for it, two partygoers from the parade approached. We took the chance and walked past as the guards were distracted.
Dubious policework, but it certainly added a bit of entertainment to our rainy day!
Written by suartd on 08 Aug, 2006
The best way to get around Moscow is definitely by Metro. It is so cheap (400rub for 60 trips) and extremely efficient. At busy times there is a metro every 40 seconds and even late at night there is a metro every 5-6 mins. You…Read More
The best way to get around Moscow is definitely by Metro. It is so cheap (400rub for 60 trips) and extremely efficient. At busy times there is a metro every 40 seconds and even late at night there is a metro every 5-6 mins. You can pretty much travel anywhere in the city on the metro.
However, the real beauty of the metro system is not the cost of the efficiency. It is the stations themselves. The stations on the brown line (circle line) are decorated so beautifully with stained glass, chandeliers, statues and mosaics. There are no two stations the same.
A great way of seeing these stations is to do a tour of the circle line. Getting off at each station will allow you to see the wonder of these stations.
Taking photos on the metro is no longer allowed due to terrorist attacks a few years ago, however, tourists taking photos of the stained glass and mosaics is still a common sight. Just don't get caught.
I highly recommend a tour of the metro to see transportation system that Russians are so proud of.
Written by 80 Ways Tim on 22 Aug, 2005
Sitting in my flat, planning our route around the world, there were two destinations I couldn't wait to lay my eyes on: China and Moscow.
I'd heard so much about Russia, and since reading Martin Cruz-Smith's Gorky Park, I'd become a big fan of the Soviet…Read More
Sitting in my flat, planning our route around the world, there were two destinations I couldn't wait to lay my eyes on: China and Moscow.
I'd heard so much about Russia, and since reading Martin Cruz-Smith's Gorky Park, I'd become a big fan of the Soviet Union, so I was anxious to get to Moscow.
Moscow has the biggest population of any European city and boasts plenty of cool sites. The most obvious one is probably the The Kremlin, a big Russian citadel in the centre of town where the President hangs out. In its centre is Red Square (also the title of a Martin Cruz-Smith novel), which is surrounded by Lenin's Mausoleum, the luxurious GUM Department Store, and the photogenic towers of Saint Basil's Cathedral.
Having read the book, I was keen to check out Gorky Park. I had pictured expansive greenery that would make for a pleasant afternoon stroll and was thus rather disappointed to find it was in fact a children's theme park that required paying to enter. If you're looknig for a big ferris wheel, then Gorky Park's the place to go, but don't expect tree-lined avenues!
During our stay, we read a newspaper article claiming that Moscow was the fourth most expensive city in the world (Tokyo, Osaka, London...) and the most expensive for a cup of coffee. Naturally, our next destination was a swanky cafe for just such a beverage. I found it to be pretty reasonable (I'm a Londoner, but I've been to plenty of cheap places). Costs on the metro are rock-bottom--somewhere around 20 cents a go. We even ate some really tasty, inexpensive Georgian food on two occasions (although we did deliberately follow our guidebook's recommendation of low-priced restaurants). There are plenty of cheap stalls selling most things you could think of, from snacks to batteries to clothes and more. If you take the time to look around, it shouldn't be too expensive a city to stay in.
Accommodation might be a little harder to get on a budget. I don't think there are many hostels in Moscow, but we found a good one: G&R Hostel International (or 'Hostel Asia'). It's quite a ways out from the centre, but with the underground as cheap as it is, it wasn't really an issue. In fact, the subway is a tourist outing in itself. Some of the architecture is quite special—by far the most impressive platforms I've stood on underground. The main circle line is particularly exciting (we went the long way around on one occasion just to see some more places!), with many of the stops looking like palaces. Apparently, it's illegal to take photos down there.
Another highlight of Moscow, and no doubt the primary reason for many a tourist's visit there, is that it is the departure point of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The longest railway in the world (some 6,000 miles) stretches all the way to Vladivostok on the east coast or, alternatively, down to Beijing. The five-day journey is without doubt one of my fondest memories of the whole trip.
Written by KDKerr on 13 Jun, 2005
Within Lonely Planet's Moscow Guide, there was a section called "The Great Moscow Police Tourist Rip-off." Mention of this scam didn't appear within the Rough Guide to Moscow, and I didn't see it take place for the first 2 days I spent wandering around the…Read More
Within Lonely Planet's Moscow Guide, there was a section called "The Great Moscow Police Tourist Rip-off." Mention of this scam didn't appear within the Rough Guide to Moscow, and I didn't see it take place for the first 2 days I spent wandering around the city. I assumed it was a form of corruption that had been purged from police practice... that ism until I saw it in action at Krasnopresnenskaya metro station.
Moscow's metro system is known for being safer than its St. Petersburg counterpart. There is a stronger police presence within the Moscow stations, which decreases the ability for criminals to engage in pick-pocketing and other petty crimes. Unfortunately, one officer working at the top of the escalator leading down to the brown "ring" line was supplementing his income by harassing tourists.
He stopped everyone that could be identified as non-Russian to check their travel documents. He was so adept at his side job that he could round up numerous tourists at once rather than just concentrating on them one at a time. My nephew and I were fortunate enough to notice the shakedown and avoid it.
From what I've read, officers like this will review your travel documents (passport and visa) and find an error, even if nothing is actually wrong. They will present you with the option of visiting the local police station and paying a fine to correct the problem, which could take hours, or letting you pay them directly. The fine can be as much as 2,000 rubles ($74), and the officer may even provide you with a phony receipt.
To avoid being scammed by these unscrupulous types, my tour director recommended that you act as stupid as possible. For tourists staying in local accommodations, it is common to leave your passport and visa with the hotel until the end of your stay. The police are very aware of this practice, so you should state that you are a tourist and show them your hotel keycard. If the police insist that you are in violation, ask them to write out the ticket for you. Here, you have a friend, and it is called paperwork. Remember, these officers are trying to take advantage of a quick money-making enterprise. They don't want to spend the time and effort to complete a bunch of forms when they can find a more compliant victim.
If you find yourself in this situation, Lonely Planet suggests that you make a note of the officer's seven-digit ID number before handing over your documents. Apparently, personal accountability can be threatening. Additionally, having a mobile phone handy to state you are going to notify your country's embassy of the problem is a strong deterrent.
If you ensure that you don't look and act the part of a tourist, I think you will avoid the problem all together. However, use these tips if you aren't so lucky and be aware of the officer awaiting your arrival at Krasnopresnenskaya metro station
Written by thbslawson on 08 Mar, 2005
As you exit customs to the main floor of Sheremetyevo 2, you'll be greeted by a barrage of annoying, pushy taxi drivers who want very badly to charge you around $50+ dollars to take you to your destination. There's a much cheaper route to…Read More
As you exit customs to the main floor of Sheremetyevo 2, you'll be greeted by a barrage of annoying, pushy taxi drivers who want very badly to charge you around $50+ dollars to take you to your destination. There's a much cheaper route to go, though, and you'll be able to get to almost any main hotel in Moscow.
Before you leave for a trip for Moscow, make sure you get a map of the metro, either from a travel book or online.
First, don't even make eye contact with the taxi drivers or say anything to them. Don't even say "nyet" or they will begin to follow you.
Second, exchange some money at the airport. The exchange rate is not the best, but it will help you get started.
Third, go out of the main doors and look for some vans that are obviously designed to carry passengers. These are the "Marshutka" vans. Some go to Sheremetyevo 1, and some go to "Rechnoi Vockzal." You'll want the one for "Rechnoi Vockzal." If you don't speak Russian, just stick your head in a van and say "Rechnoi Vockzal" with an inquisitive tone. You should either get a "da" or a "nyet" (yes or no). When the van is full, the van will go. The drive to Rechnoi Vockzal is about 30 minutes.
The marshutka as of February 2005 was only 25 rubles. If you have extra luggage, the driver may ask you to pay for an extra seat, but this has never happened to me with one suitcase and a small shoulder bag. It is a little cramped at times, though.
Rechnoi Vockzal is a main metro stop. As you enter the doors, you should see a desk where you can buy metro rides. As of February 2005, five rides were 60 rubles. Again, if you don't speak Russia just walk up to the window and hold up 5 fingers while handing the person money. You'll receive a card that you'll insert through the machines that lead to the escalators.
If you have luggage, look for person sitting in the booth by the card machines. Simply walk up to the booth. She will motion to you how many times you will need to put the card through for both you and your luggage. This can be done without speaking.
From this point on, use your metro map to figure out where you want to go.
MAJOR TIP: Before you visit Russia, take an hour one afternoon to learn the Cyrilic Alphabet. It is not hard, and it will make your trip to Moscow much easier. Your metro map from a travel book may use Latin characters, but the signs in the metros still do not. You'll fare much better if you can at least sound out the words.
Written by Wasatch on 12 Jun, 2006
Our biggest problems were before we got to Russia, in getting our airplane tickets. Screw up was piledupon screw up by both Orbitz and Lufthansa. At one point I counted 18 phone calls needed to get Orbitzto understand that their computer and Lufthansa’s…Read More
Our biggest problems were before we got to Russia, in getting our airplane tickets. Screw up was piledupon screw up by both Orbitz and Lufthansa. At one point I counted 18 phone calls needed to get Orbitzto understand that their computer and Lufthansa’s computer did not have us on the same flights, andnobody was sure which one was correct. Our next trip was booked on Expedia.The government of Russia seems committed to discouraging tourism, and they do a good job of it:1] A visa will cost about $200 per person, done through a visa service for $60-80 extra fee. Theoretically,you can save the service fee by doing it yourself, but that’s a bad idea. You will have to get a letter ofinvitation from whoever is booking your trip– we tried, and it never came. Best to use the recommendedvisa service, who will have all the papers the Russian government requires. 2] Arrival at the Moscow airport after 17 hours of airplanes put us in very bad mood– 115 minute wait at passport control, unclear signs, and pushy mobs of stampeding Russians. It took about three minutes to clear passport control on our return to the USA. 3] The Kremlin is government property– 73-minute wait to get through the gate in the Kremlin wall– hundreds of visitors lined up, only one metal detector operating. 4] The State Hermitage wasn’t quite so bad. It only took 45 minutes to get into the museum. 5] Signs in the government operated metros in St Petersburg and Moscow are only in Russian.Metro is complex, and the signs are in Cyrillic. I had a metro map in Russian, but the Cyrillic alphabetcomes in two very different written forms. My map was mostly in one version, the metro signs in the other. Also, especially in St Petersburg, there is a high risk of pickpockets (see my Experiences entry on safety).We arrived in Moscow on Friday and did our 2 days of touring Moscow on the weekend. It wasn’t untilwe experienced St Petersburg on a workday that we fully appreciated the Moscow tour guides’ commentsabout how lucky we were to have to deal with weekend traffic. Lucky meant taking only 45 minutes to go1/4 mile in a midnight traffic jam.Returning from Peterhof to St Petersburg, a trip of 12 to 15 miles, one of the busses from our group took overfour hours to make the trip.Since our travel agent indicated that the MS Tolstoy’s Cruise Director went above and beyond in fixingproblems, I’ll tell you some of the things she did. On arrival day, the Tolstoy’s restaurant served dineruntil 11pm. Since we didn’t get there until 10:30pm due to passport control, we got to eat when werebeginning to doubt it would happen.The bus that took over four hours to return form Peterhof, 15 miles away, missed lunch and was scheduledto go to the canal cruise after lunch. The Cruise Director kept in touch by cell phone, sent the bus directlyto the canal tour dock, and dispatched box lunches to the canal dock so the passengers would not misslunch.The next day, traffic also delayed the daytime tours, and the whole ship was scheduled to go to the balletthat evening, which never could have happened with the normal four course diner schedule. The CruiseDirector split dinner into two seatings. Salad and the main course were served as soon as we got back tothe ship. Then, after the ballet, we went back to the Tolstoy’s dinning room about 11:30 pm for soup anddessert.Each bus tour was accompanied by a tour guide/lecturer and one of the ship’s English speaking staff whobrought up the rear of the group to make sure everyone was there. One morning in Moscow, I asked tourguide Masha if she had ever lost a tourist. Emphatically, she said, “No!!” So it happened about two hourslatter. The missing person had established a reputation as a pain in the a__ within the first half hour of theWelcome Briefing, and was well known to members of the group of which he/she was traveling. They alltold the guide, “Don’t worry. He/she is like that. Went off on her own. He/sh will get back to the ship.” Nevertheless, the tour guide was upset. Lots of cell phone calls were made. Two of the ship crewaccompanying the touring groups were dispatched to search the neighborhood, and regularly reported bycell phone that they had no luck in finding the missing. Eventually, a call came from the ship that the straylamb had returned by taxi, to Masha’s obvious relief. Two points here: 1] lots of people would abandon the guided tour from time to time, but they followed protocol– tell the tour guide and the ship person you are leaving, and establish where and when to rejoin the group; and 2] note the effort the staff made to find the missing. They can’t be faulted in the least. They won’t let you get lost unless you really work at it.Dinner frequently took 1½ - 2 hours on the two other cruises we went on. The Tolstoy dining room crewwas much more efficient. I never timed it, but I never got antsy, which means it can’t have been muchmore than one hour at the worst.The bottom line is that this was a very well run operation, and problems were seldom caused by anythingthe cruise people did.Close
The usual sources of tourist information have dire news about public restrooms in Russia. On the whole,we found the facilities better than we expected.Some charged a fee, 5 to 8 rubles (20-30¢). Many were free. All were clean, but many look shabby. They ranged from…Read More
The usual sources of tourist information have dire news about public restrooms in Russia. On the whole,we found the facilities better than we expected.Some charged a fee, 5 to 8 rubles (20-30¢). Many were free. All were clean, but many look shabby. They ranged from squat toilets* (fee, in the GUM Department Store on Red Square) to Austrian quality.**Be on the lookout for is the location of the toilet paper. It was quite common for there to be a single roll forthe entire restroom located outside the stalls. You have to tear off what you think you will use and take itinto the stalls with you. Error on the generous side. Remember to check– this is not a lesson you want tolearn the hard way, or perhaps I should say the messy way.All our a bus tours had restroom stops, ranging across the full gambit of quality per above. If you are onyour own, look to McDonald’s or the lobbies of the better hotels. The larger tour buses are toilet equipped, but we were not encouraged to use them. At least some werelocked, necessitating a request to the bus driver through the tour guide to open the thing.Always carry a pocket/purse pack of Kleenex and Immodium. If you are changing planes at the Frankfurt airport, be sure to visit one of their restrooms and watch whathappens when you flush the toilet– it washes and dries the seat.WC is widely used as an identifier. In Russian, look desperate and say, “twah-let”.* The stall contains a hole in the floor with two raised footrests on either side. Squat and let loose. ** We have found on our travels that Austria has, on average, the nicest public restrooms of any country.Close