Written by MALUSE on 16 Jun, 2012
I've been twice to Leningrad but never to St. Petersburg. "So what?", you may think, "I've been to many places twice and to others not at all." That may well be the case, but here we're talking about the same Russian city. Its first name…Read More
I've been twice to Leningrad but never to St. Petersburg. "So what?", you may think, "I've been to many places twice and to others not at all." That may well be the case, but here we're talking about the same Russian city. Its first name was Saint Petersburg, this was changed to Petrograd in 1914, to Leningrad in 1924 and back to St. Petersburg in 1991.Every year in the middle of June I remember a special night in Leningrad. I used to teach Russian at a secondary grammar school in Germany and went to Moscow and Leningrad twice on a one-week school trip with a group of students. We flew to Moscow and stayed there for half a week, then took the night train to Leningrad for the other half and returned to Germany from there.It wasn't possible then to organise individual trips. Adults had to go with Intourist, the state-run tourist office. We had to go with Sputnik, the sub-organisation for youngsters. Before leaving the group leader (me) had to send a list of wishes, what we wanted to do and what we wanted to see, as well as a list of all names, addresses and passport numbers in twenty copies. (Wherever we went in Moscow and Leningrad, we would find someone waiting for us with a copy of this list in their hands. Spooky).At the airport groups were welcomed by an interpreter/chaperon/watchdog who accompanied them all the time, no matter if they knew the language or not. In our case she (it was usually a woman) had our wish list which had transmogrified into a strict programme with some of our wishes but also items we hadn't dreamed of like visiting a summer camp on the Baltic Sea for the children of a textile factory in Leningrad (which turned out to be quite enjoyable) or a discussion with a group of Young Pioneers, the youth organisation of the Communist Party (we didn't go).For my second trip I had asked a friend to accompany me with whom I had studied Russian at university. The group consisted of fifteen well-behaved 17-year-old girls. I knew they wouldn't be trouble, but one can't do such trips alone. If a teacher has to accompany someone to hospital, for example, there must be someone who can stay with the group.When we arrived at Moscow airport, we found a woman waiting for us, crumpled, crinkled and dead-tired. For some reason the Moscovite interpreters/chaperons/watchdogs were all occupied and Sputnik had called someone from Kiev. Ludmilla had been on the train longer than we had been on the plane which explained the way she looked. She turned out to be the best possible choice! She had been in Moscow and Leningrad many times, wasn't interested in making us 'work off' the items on our programme and, above all, wasn't afraid of any reprehensions. We studied the list together, she asked us if we wanted to go to wherever we were meant to go. When we declined, she called the people and simply said that we wouldn't come. She was a real treasure. She often stayed in her hotel room having seen the sights innumerable times and embroidered blouses with folkloristic motives. (She later made a beautiful one for my mother). We did what we wanted to do which was mainly walk around and inhale the atmosphere.When we were in Leningrad my friend and I decided to thank Ludmilla by inviting her big-style to one of the best restaurants, the one on the ground floor of the 5-star Grand Hotel Europe on Nevsky Prospekt in the centre of the city. Nowadays we couldn't afford a night out there any more, but then, in the Soviet Union, we were rich with our Deutsche Mark against the Ruble. There were several other groups of people dining together, many from Western Europe. I'm not especially impressed by caviar, but we had it there, red one and black one, together with blinis (a type of thin pancake) and other specialities up and down the menu, accompanied by champagne from Crimea and a shot of vodka in the end. There was a small orchestra with a very good singer, a tenor, who specialised in Italian arias. No idea why he didn't sing Russian songs. Maybe the musicians thought that foreigners feel good when things aren't too foreign for them. (Which is indeed often the case). When midnight came, the festive evening ended rather abruptly. A grim, elderly charwoman appeared with a bucket full of water and a floor mop and began cleaning the floor between the tables. So we left. We went to the nearest underground station, not drunk but tipsy enough to take the wrong underground train. Our hotel was far away from the centre somewhere in the periphery. When we noticed that we didn't recognise any of the names of the stations we passed, we got off. It was after midnight then, but not dark. The days in the middle of June are called the White Nights in this northern city. This is a period when many great cultural events take place. The sun shines until 10 / 10.30 pm and starts shining again at around 5 am. In between the sky is light grey. We had no idea where we were, our interpreter had never been to the outskirts before. Understandably, as all sights are in the centre. The good thing for my friend and me was, of course, that we had someone with us who could speak the language perfectly. But this didn't help much as at that time of night the streets were empty. We didn't feel too good as you can imagine. After some time the door of a high rise building opened and a young couple, dressed normally, and a young woman in a long nightie came out together with a dog which they wanted to walk. When they heard that we were lost, they decided that the dog wouldn't mind where it was walked. We were already near our hotel but approaching it from a different side, so we hadn't recognised the area. When we saw our hotel, we parted thanking our three saviours profusely. Our students had also enjoyed the light night and walked around at a time when it was already pitch dark at home but none had such a nice story to tell. You can imagine that I have fond thoughts when thinking of this city and its people! Close
Written by sararevell on 24 Aug, 2007
When we decided to book tickets for the Trans-Siberian I really had no idea of what life would be like on the trains. The first train from Moscow would take three days to reach Irkutsk and I wondered if there would be enough to divert…Read More
When we decided to book tickets for the Trans-Siberian I really had no idea of what life would be like on the trains. The first train from Moscow would take three days to reach Irkutsk and I wondered if there would be enough to divert us.We boarded the train in Moscow close to midnight so our first few hours were spent sleeping. On our first day, we became friends with our neighbour Sam who was traveling to Perm for the upcoming 1st May holiday celebrations. He spoke excellent English and introduced us to the elderly gentleman sharing his compartment who was returning from Moldova where his daughter lived. He lamented the desperate state of life in Moldova and also Georgia where he said unemployment was high and job opportunities scarce. He told us how he drove trains on the Trans-Siberian route during World War Two and was now able to travel by train and in first class at no cost.By 7.30pm the train had reached Perm and we said farewell to Sam, sad that he wasn’t traveling to Siberia. Besides being an excellent translator, we learnt a lot about Russia from him and his roommate and they had kept us entertained that day with their stories and wonderful senses of humour.While the second and third days were quieter for us, we managed to fill the time with reading, journal updates, eating, drinking tea and jumping out at various station stops to snap photos and get a breath of icy cold air. It was good to step outside although we always stayed close to our carriage, even at the longer stops. At every stop you hear the melodic clinking of metal against metal as station workers tap critical connections up and down the train to ensure that nothing has come loose since the last station.We tried to follow significant landmarks indicated at certain kilometer markers in our guidebook but sadly it seemed that we passed the majority of them, including the Europe-Asia Border Obelisk at kilometer 1777, in the dead of the night. I began to wonder if doing the journey in reverse and starting in Beijing would have allowed us to see more of the major sights during the day.We relied on two books for our journey: Bryn Thomas’ “Trans-Siberian Handbook” and the Lonely Planet’s “Trans-Siberian Railway”. I would have to say that Thomas’ book was the more detailed and accurate of the two but it was also the most recently published. In addition to reading up on the scheduled stops for the day, we also brought along some fiction. “War and Peace” is apparently a popular Trans-Siberian literary companion but we opted for two more manageable but equally fitting novels: “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” by Slavomir Rawicz and “Peking to Paris: Prince Borghese’s Journey across two Continents in 1907” by Luigi Barzini. Both are fascinating reads. The first is about a prisoner of war who made the impossible journey on foot from Siberia through Mongolia, China and Tibet to India. The second records a race that follows almost the same route as the present day Trans-Mongolian and Siberian railways but one in which the competitors traveled all the way from Peking, through Mongolia and Siberia to Paris completely by car. Incredibly, Prince Borghese and his three-man team completed the race in the space of two months.Looking out of the window of our peaceful first class train cabin, it was hard to comprehend how anyone could survive being out in the Siberian wilderness for very long. Even now, towns and homes are few and far between and the environment looked bleak. On the morning of our second day, we began to see patches of snow, which grew in size the closer we got to Irkutsk. We also couldn’t help but notice that the landscape remained fairly unchanged for a long time. It wasn’t until the final day that the lines of birch trees stuck in the hard mud gave way to a flatter, greener and snowier terrain. There was also one very depressing and unnatural feature, which I doubt would have been apparent in Rawicz and Barzini’s time. From Moscow to Irkutsk, there was a constant stream of litter dumped out by the tracks, which seemed to reinforce what I’ve read about Russia’s appalling environmental record. I have to say that if one thing destroyed my idea of the Trans-Siberian being a romantic epic journey, the discarded plastic bags and other rubbish was it.Another aspect of traveling along this route which surprised me was the lack of station vendors. So many accounts tell of persistent sellers offering cheap souvenirs, coveted handicrafts or local delicacies. I don’t know if it was just because they didn’t hang around our carriage (as obviously the train is quite long) but we saw very few hawkers. The only place where they seemed to be in abundance was at Lake Baikal where I bought the Omul, otherwise they were very restrained. This fact seemed particularly unusual at the Russian-Mongolian border where we were stuck for hours in the middle of the day. There were a couple of people displaying their wares on a bench but the main station shop was closed for lunch! I don’t know how often trains pass through here but I was amazed that they wouldn’t be taking full advantage of a bunch of trapped foreigners with time to kill and rubles to discard.The border crossings into Mongolia and China would have been fairly painless had we not had to wait around for 5-9 hours at each stop. At the Russian-Mongolian border it took 7 hours before the train even crossed into Mongolia. Our carriage with its guardian provodnitsa was left alone, detached from any engine for hours and we couldn’t wander too far as homeless children begged for empty glass bottles and offered to exchange rubles for Mongolian Tögrög. With our visas all in order, an onward ticket in hand and only two backpacks, customs and immigration was no problem for us although interestingly when entering Mongolia we had to declare if we had SARS or not.For some unknown reason, the crossing into China took almost half the time as the crossing into Mongolia. This is hard to understand when you consider that in addition to clearing customs and immigration, you also have to wait while all the bogeys on the train are changed out for the narrower standard gauge used in probably every country in the world except those that fell within the former U.S.S.R. In our guidebooks it indicated that passengers had the option of leaving the train before it moves to the bogey-changing shed but if that opportunity presented itself, no one in our carriage noticed. We all stayed on board (with crossed legs as the toilets are closed for the duration) as our carriage was shunted to and fro and eventually elevated so the wheels could be changed out beneath us. It’s an unusual sight watching the wheels of your carriage roll away into the dark of night. At 1.15am the toilets finally re-opened and everyone scrambled to be first in line after what was certainly a very unique border crossing experience.The trackside littering had cleared up once we reached Ulan Baatar, but then it would take an incredibly resilient race of people to dump out their rubbish across the Gobi Desert. Through Mongolia the views are fairly consistent. Sand, sand dunes and the odd cluster of gers are all you really see on this route but it is in some ways more dynamic than the Russian taiga as it’s not every day you can take a train through a desert. Once we crossed into China the landscape changed again and almost immediately you become aware of the population increase. Fields everywhere are neatly ploughed and even the smallest green spaces have been cultivated. People ride bikes along dirt trails beside rice fields. The flat plains give way to misty forests, which eventually reveal glimpses of the Great Wall of China. Not long after, the trees are replaced by towering blocks of offices and flats and the air becomes soupy with a smog that welcomes you into Beijing. Close
Describing the Mongolian dining car will be a short exercise as for most of the journey through Mongolia, there wasn’t one. From Irkutsk to Ulan-Baatar we relied mostly on supplies bought in Irkutsk. We stocked up on bottled water, orange juice, biscuits, beer, yogurts and…Read More
Describing the Mongolian dining car will be a short exercise as for most of the journey through Mongolia, there wasn’t one. From Irkutsk to Ulan-Baatar we relied mostly on supplies bought in Irkutsk. We stocked up on bottled water, orange juice, biscuits, beer, yogurts and also a few “instant” meal pots that only required the addition of hot water. We bought some instant noodles but a couple pots turned out to be instant mash potato, which was a little strange but not totally unappetizing.Four painfully slow hours after leaving Irkutsk the train reached Lake Baikal at midnight. At this station, vendors patrolled the platform with buckets of smoked Omul fish. I’d been foolish enough not to buy any in Listvianka so you can imagine my joy when I was presented with this final chance to try some before the train turned south towards Mongolia. For a few rubles, I purchased one Omul fish without even leaving the train. I took it back to our cabin and made short work of it. Its taste was reminiscent of mackerel and all the better as it was enjoyed with a crisp Russian beer.Once the train reached the Russian-Mongolian border we hunted around for a shop in which to spend our remaining rubles and resorted to buying more biscuits and other unhealthy snacks to see us through to Ulan Baatar.A Mongolian dining car was eventually attached for the stretch from Ulan-Baatar to the Chinese border. It was incredibly ornate with carved wooden partitions and red and gold seats. Sadly we didn’t have a chance to dine there as the over-efficient service on Train 024 included a boxed lunch at noon, which was delivered directly to our room. The meal included an improvised club sandwich constructed out of 3-4 slices of white bread with layers of tomato, cucumber, salami and lashings of mayonnaise. In addition there was an assortment of pickled carrots, cabbage and red pepper as well as two blocks of rice, seaweed sushi and a piece of breaded fish in a gravy sauce that tasted like kidney! It was definitely a curious collection of bites but it held me over until we reached the border.The next morning and we were in China and the exquisite Mongolian dining car had been left behind and replaced with the Chinese car. What the carriage lacked in beauty however, it made up for in cuisine. We ordered two plates of sweet and sour pork with rice and two cups of tea. It was the first truly tasty meal we had received on any train and was a sign of things to come in China. The sauce was less sweet and the batter less stodgy than the western equivalent but this was a good thing. The bill for the two of us came to reasonable $8 and once our dishes were cleared away we were invited to vacate our seats, as this was one dining car doing swift business and they needed our table. Close
The Trans-Mongolian journey from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar was a very different experience from our first train. The accommodations were far more basic and the carriage interior was a stark clinical white with no noticeable efforts of decoration. The cabin configuration was the same but…Read More
The Trans-Mongolian journey from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar was a very different experience from our first train. The accommodations were far more basic and the carriage interior was a stark clinical white with no noticeable efforts of decoration. The cabin configuration was the same but this time the beds were hard and unmade. We had clean white sheets, and a slightly tattered, bristly red blanket for warmth. They did provide a towel although the bathroom amenities were also very basic and there was no paper or soap in the toilets and most definitely no shower room.We had to ask for utensils such as mugs for tea and a spoon for eating the delicious yogurts we discovered in Russia. The provodnitsas were more elusive and seemed less predisposed to providing helpful information such as the length of station stops. There was no train schedule available so stopping times at platforms were guesswork on our part. These very minor inconveniences and discomfort added to the greater sense of adventure we felt on this leg of the trip, especially when we reached the Mongolian border, which had the appearance of a wild west outpost.The first class carriage from Ulan Baatar to Beijing, however, couldn’t have been more different again. The cabin and the corridors were clad in laminated wood, giving the carriages a warm, orange glow. In the room, two bunk beds were situated one above the other on one side of the cabin, leaving the other side free for a small single seat where you could sit and watch the Gobi Desert roll by. Unfortunately the windows were covered in dust inside and outside by the pervasive desert sand although some of the taller people made an attempt at cleaning them at various stops so we could get better views. The upper bunk bed could be pushed up against the wall, allowing the lower bunk to become a long seat during the day. The bunks seemed wider than the others on our trip and were soft and cushy and there were plenty of blankets and sheets on hand.There was a private bathroom with a sink and a shower for every two cabins. The bathroom had two doors so you would have to lock your neighbour’s door when you wanted to use the shower, which was essentially an extension hose from the sink unit but worked quite well. There was also a shallow closet for hanging coats and within which we found a large flask for storing hot water from the samovar making it more convenient for us to refill our white teacups as when we wanted. And just when we didn’t think the service could get any better, we were served a complimentary boxed lunch to our cabin at noon. In these conditions, we could have gladly stretched out the journey time from Ulan Baatar to Beijing train for a day or two more if conditions had allowed. Close
(continued from Part I) Our beds consisted of two cushy bunks, with large puffy pillows, a substantial duvet and an additional blanket. There was no danger of getting cold as the heating was kept at a comfortable temperature. It was, however, a sharp contrast to…Read More
(continued from Part I) Our beds consisted of two cushy bunks, with large puffy pillows, a substantial duvet and an additional blanket. There was no danger of getting cold as the heating was kept at a comfortable temperature. It was, however, a sharp contrast to the outside temperature, which was so cold that it often sent us running back to the train for warmth at the infrequent 15-20 minute platform stops.The cabins were decorated with four metallic landscape pictures (the locations of which I couldn’t quite discern) and three large mirrors. The curtains were a strange blue and yellow shiny silky material with colours matching the bedcovers and the narrow blue and gold rug that ran down the middle of the room. There were also thick pull-down blinds on each window, which eliminated the light altogether if needed. Piped music played on speakers as we had boarded the train but thankfully there is a volume button within the compartment, which allows you to turn it off.At the end of each carriage is the infamous samovar dispensing a never-ending flow of hot water. On the first morning, my husband came back with two fresh cups of tea with milk in glass cups, which we would wash ourselves and re-use over the next three days. All in all, it’s somewhat of a luxurious camping experience.I saved the best for last: the story of how we found the shower. In the room next to us was a young guy traveling from Moscow to Perm. He spoke excellent English and we were extremely fortunate in that we were able to spend our first day on the train in his company. My husband told him about the legendary on-board shower that we had read about in our guidebooks. Our new friend promptly asked the provodnitsa, who confirmed that there was a shower in wagon five. We in turn asked the provodnitsa in wagon five and lo and behold, she unlocked the door to a shower room. Granted, the shower was more of a dribble but there was enough water for me to have a hair wash the following day. So if you happen to travel on the Baikal, take a look in wagon five, or employ the services of a willing Russian speaker to find out where the elusive shower is. Close
Departs Moscow Yaroslavsky Station at 11.29pm from 5 Komsomolskaya Ploshchad.We arrived at Moscow’s Yaroslavsky Station in good time for our 11.29pm departure. Missing the train when traveling on the Trans-Siberian didn’t seem like a wise move so we tended to show up 1-2 hours before…Read More
Departs Moscow Yaroslavsky Station at 11.29pm from 5 Komsomolskaya Ploshchad.We arrived at Moscow’s Yaroslavsky Station in good time for our 11.29pm departure. Missing the train when traveling on the Trans-Siberian didn’t seem like a wise move so we tended to show up 1-2 hours before the departure times just to make sure that we were in the right place and knew exactly which platform our train would be departing from. Even at the late hour Yaroslavsky Station was especially busy so it took us a while to find a seat in the vast waiting room. We then searched for an ATM so we could withdraw enough cash to last us for three days although when we found out that most of our meals would be included it negated that concern.About 45 minutes or so before the departure, we carried our backpacks down to the platform and were soon allowed to board the train. We found our wagon fairly easily and the provodnitsa showed us to our compartment. Each wagon is assigned its own provodnitsa. Ours was a short, firm but friendly lady, bundled up in a blue overcoat. She worked shifts (though we rarely saw her “night” counterpart) and was responsible for sweeping and hoovering the carriage corridor and each compartment at least twice a day. She would also lock our compartment from the outside when we wanted to visit the dining car.The room was small and cosy with single bunk beds on either side separated by a flip-up table. With only the two of us, there was plenty of space to store our luggage as well as wall hooks for hanging coats and towels. Both beds lifted up to reveal storage space underneath the entire length of the bed and above the sliding door, there was a television screen with space around it for more bags. The TV monitor hooked up to a DVD player and the provodnitsa had a collection of DVDs, which she showed us in case we wanted to watch a film. She asked us on numerous occasions and seemed amused that we were able to keep ourselves occupied the whole time without watching a single film during the entire trip.Before we discovered the joys of the shower room, we took an improvised wash in the bathroom, which consisted of a metal toilet and small sink. As one might imagine, it isn’t the prettiest room on the train but it’s bearable and regularly cleaned and you become quite adept at stabilising yourself as the train jerks abruptly from side to side. In the first class wagon, they provided us with a small travel kit that consisted of toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, wet wipes and a shoehorn. There was also a timetable left on the table, which detailed the time of every single stop between Moscow and Irkutsk and for how long the train would stop at those stations (continued in Part II). Close
Svezhy Veter Travel Agency426000 Izhevsk Karla Marxa 228a, RussiaTel: firstname.lastname@example.org www.sv-agency.udm.ru There are various ways to book tickets for the Trans-Siberian train. We had read stories about people who just turn up and buy once they’re in the country as this is one way to…Read More
Svezhy Veter Travel Agency426000 Izhevsk Karla Marxa 228a, RussiaTel: email@example.com www.sv-agency.udm.ru There are various ways to book tickets for the Trans-Siberian train. We had read stories about people who just turn up and buy once they’re in the country as this is one way to obtain tickets at the cheapest price. On the flipside, by doing this you risk not being able to find tickets for your preferred departure date.We were taking some fairly expensive camera equipment with us and thought that traveling in a first class compartment would be a safer way to go. We also needed to be in Japan within about a month of leaving Moscow so we decided that buying our tickets in advance would probably be the most sensible thing to do.We found the Svezhy Veter Travel Agency through online and guidebook research and they looked like an established company. The final price, which was close to $1,000 per person for the entire trip, was a little higher than we would have liked, but when you consider all that this included it wasn’t too terrible. In addition to the actual train travel all the way from Moscow to Beijing and organizing our two stops along the way, the price included the six nights accommodation on board the trains as well as two meals a day for the three days we were on board the Baikal train from Moscow to Irkutsk. The final ticket price is dependent on how many stops you make (it’s cheaper if you don’t make any at all) and also on the level of accommodation you choose.There are other companies that arrange package tours for the train journey. One company, called "Vodka Train" caters to the 18-34 year old age group. We met four people traveling on this tour and whilst they traveled on their own on the train, assigned guides met them at each stop. They had to share a four-person compartment but were fortunate in that their group size was small and they all seemed to get along so well.There was a mixture of other ages and nationalities on the trains, some like us who had arranged their tickets and accommodation independently, and others who were traveling in small groups and had tour guides meeting them at each stop.Our first point of contact with Svezhy Veter Travel Agency was to email them with the dates we hoped to travel on. We wanted to leave Moscow around April 29th and make stops in Irkutsk and Ulan Baatar so they advised us on taking the following schedule and calculated our ticket price from this:29th APRIL - Train 002 "Rossiya" leaving Moscow at 21:22 and arriving in Irkutsk on 3rd May at 02:33 Moscow time (All the trains in Russia run on Moscow time, irrespective of where you are!) OR Train 010 "Baikal" leaving Moscow at 23:29 and arriving in Irkutsk on 3rd May at 04:30 (which was 9.30am local time).5th MAY - Train 364 leaving Irkutsk at 15:10 (local time) and arriving in Ulan Baatar at 06:20 two days later.11th MAY - Train 024 leaving Ulan Baatar at 08:05 (local time) and arriving in Beijing at 3.30pm the following day.Once we confirmed the trains and dates with them, we pre-paid for the tickets by credit card. It was somewhat disconcerting having to pay the full amount up front to a company half way around the world but I guess we can vouch for their honesty now!Our schedule funnily enough followed exactly that of the Vodka Train group. If you have more time, I would definitely recommend spending more time in Mongolia than we did. There isn’t much more to do in Listvianka than we covered in our two days although if you go during the summertime, there are greater opportunities for hiking and camping at other parts of Lake Baikal which could extend your stop there out to a week or more.Tickets for the Trans-Siberian are only issued 40-45 days prior to the travel dates. Given our travel plans, we arranged with the Svezhy Veter Travel Agency to pick up our onward tickets at each stop. We were sent email instructions with details of where we should go in Moscow and Irkutsk to pick up our tickets and who we should ask for. It all felt akin to a reality TV treasure hunt but when we arrived at the various offices, our tickets were waiting for us. The only time we experienced any problems was with the tickets from Irkutsk to Ulan Baatar. There is no first class section on this train so in order to have the compartment to ourselves, we paid for all four berths but had mistakenly only received two tickets. It was resolved eventually but involved a long and painful drive across Irkutsk where the rush hour traffic is unbelievably bad! Fortunately in Ulan Baatar we had the option of having the tickets delivered to our youth hostel, which we gratefully accepted.Overall, purchasing and obtaining the tickets through Svezhy Veter was easier than it would have been trying to negotiate with our limited Russian language at the Moscow train station. Admittedly it costs more, but we were able to lock in all our departure dates without having to worry about whether we would be get a bunk or not. Trains across Siberia and Mongolia are not a daily occurrence so booking ahead, especially if you want to make stops in more remote towns in Siberia and Mongolia is probably a good idea.If you do book through Svezhy Veter (or any agency for that matter) I’d strongly recommend asking them exactly what your ticket includes. We met a friendly, English-speaking Russian on the Baikal train who examined our tickets and after checking with the provodnitsa, informed us that we were entitled to two complimentary meals a day in the dining car. Svezhy Veter had made no mention of this to us, which seemed like a major omission of information. Even though their booking service is efficient I got the sense that their system is so standardized that beyond giving us the ticket pick-up details, they neglect to provide any additional information to their customers. It seems like it would be a courteous and helpful gesture if they provided their customers with a leaflet or email with Trans-Siberian advice and tips such as the one we received from the HOFA homestay organization in St. Petersburg. Close
Written by marif on 23 May, 2005
Petrogradskaya Storona is the Russian name for the Petrograd side of St. Petersburg. Consisting of five islands joined by numerous bridges, this is St. Petersburg's oldest and most treasured historical area. The best way to come here is to take line 2 of the metro…Read More
Petrogradskaya Storona is the Russian name for the Petrograd side of St. Petersburg. Consisting of five islands joined by numerous bridges, this is St. Petersburg's oldest and most treasured historical area. The best way to come here is to take line 2 of the metro to Gorkovskaya Station, from where you can reach the main sights in a couple of minutes. For a good orientation of your whereabouts, take Bus 46 which crosses the Neva over the Troitsky Bridge and continues along Kamennoostrovsky prospekt.
Gorkovskaya adjoins Alexandrovsky Park, a medium-sized green area of walkways and streams shaded by old trees. If you walk west from the station, you'll reach the Planetarium and the Wax Museum; farther west, next to the children's fun park, you'll come across St. Petersburg's zoo, home to numerous animals, some of which are still living in poor conditions and neglected habitats. Gorkovskaya station leads south towards Ioannovsky Bridge, the footbridge that joins Alexandrovsky Park to Zayachy Island. While crossing the bridge, look towards the small adjacent beach and the boat rental stand nearby. In summer, it is not unusual to see local swimmers enjoying a swim in the heavily polluted waters of the Neva.
Just opposite the bridge, St.John's gate leads to the front courtyard of the Peter and Paul Fortress. There's nothing to see here but the ticket and Tourist Information Office next to the gate has free brochures and souvenirs for sale. You can wander as much as you like in the fort's courtyards but entry to the attractions requires separate tickets. From St.John's gate, walk straight to the opposite side. From here, St.Peter's gate leads to the heart of the fortress and its main attractions. The whole complex is ringed with bastions but Nevsky Gate, constructed along the south stretch of the bastions overlooking the Neva river offers a splendid view of the Winter Palace, St.Isaac's Cathedral and the Admiralty.
The big building you see on your left as you enter through St.Peter's gate is the engineer's building which houses an interesting museum about the town's architecture. The smaller building next to it is the senior officer's barracks, in front of which you can't miss seeing the statue of Peter the Great, an unusual out-of-proportion, bronze-cast statue depicting the ruler seated on the throne of Russia. The building on your right, opposite the statue is the Grand Ducal mausoleum which houses numerous exhibits about the reconstruction of the fortress. The highlight is without doubt the adjoining St.Peter and St.Paul Cathedral whose 122 metres high needle-thin spire is the city's highest building. Designed by D. Trezzini and recently restored to its original splendour and grandeur, the cathedral has an unusually plain exterior and a magnificent Baroque interior. Don't miss the redecorated gilded pulpit and the numerous burial vaults and marble tombstones with the remains of the Russian tsars, including those of Peter the Great.
The building south of the cathedral is the former Commandant's house, now occupied by the St.Petersburg Museum of History. The small building to the north is the house of the Russian Navy. Here, an exact copy of the boat used by Peter the Great is preserved. The huge building in front of the cathedral's entrance is the former Mint which has recently opened for visitors.
If you still have time after visiting the fortress, walk back along the footbridge, cross Kamennoostrovsky prospect and continue east along Petrovskaya naberezhnaya until you reach the little stone building that encloses and preserves the small log cabin from where Peter the Great supervised the construction of the city. If you continue farther east along the embankment, you'll reach the Cruiser Aurora, a unique ship museum that contains numerous interesting documents and photographs witnessing the ship's agitated history.
The most impressive of St. Petersburg's suburban parks, Petrodvorets, or Peterhof, is a spectacular park-palace complex with a unique array of fountains, gilded statues, wooden bridges, and well-manicured gardens. The best time to visit is in summer, when all the fountains are in operation and…Read More
The most impressive of St. Petersburg's suburban parks, Petrodvorets, or Peterhof, is a spectacular park-palace complex with a unique array of fountains, gilded statues, wooden bridges, and well-manicured gardens. The best time to visit is in summer, when all the fountains are in operation and live bands perform daily in front of the Grand Palace. The park is quite large, and the scattered attractions can only be reached on foot, so be prepared with adequate cover in case it rains. In summer, it often does.
Suburban trains to Petrodvorets leave from St. Petersburg's Baltic Station. Do not expect comfort, since pre-war carriages with wooden benches more suitable to shift industrial products than humans are still used. However, they always leave on time and cost next to nothing. They are always crowded with locals, so be at the station 10 minutes or so before departure time. After a 4-minute trip, get off at Novy Petrodvorets and follow the crowds towards the adjacent bus station. Take any bus from here (except bus no. 357) to the fifth stop on Sankt Peterburgsky prospect, where most people get off, and follow them towards the park. You'll soon reach the park's extensive upper garden, decorated with a huge fountain topped by a statue of Neptune. This garden leads to the park's main gate, where you must buy a ticket for admittance to the ground and gardens.
A short, pleasant walk from the ticket booth brings you right in front of the Grand Palace, a huge and magnificent building originally designed and supervised by Peter the Great himself. Enlarged and modified by architect Rastrelli for Empress Elizabeth and reconstructed after World War II, when it suffered complete devastation, it is now an outstanding monument of architecture inside and out. Its ornate interior, decorated with splendid chandeliers, is a vast museum of fine art and antique furniture. All rooms are equally impressive, but the study of Peter the Great stands out for its wonderfully detailed sculptured panels. Entry to the palace is on a guided tour only, so it's advisable to arrive early and join the queue for the next tour in English.
The splendid Grand Cascade facing the Grand Palace is the main reason why you should come here. Rows of terraced fountains, highlighted by splendid gilded statues, are the park's main attraction. More trick fountains and water spouts triggered by hidden switches complete the picture. Partly designed by Peter the Great himself, this wonderful conglomeration of fountains and water canals is the venue for numerous theatrical or musical performances. Stroll around the Grand Cascade and along the main water canal, which runs directly towards the sea terminal and the Gulf of Finland. From the wonderful bridge along Marlinskaya aleya, enjoy the picturesque view of the rising Grand Cascade, backdropped by the magnificent elevated exterior of the Grand Palace.
If you walk east along Marlinskaya aleya and take any path towards the sea, you'll reach Monplaisir, an elegant and cosy palace that was used by Peter the Great to entertain guests. The halls and rooms of the palace are much more splendid than the exterior suggests. The main hall has extravagant marble floors and a wonderful painted ceiling, while the small study overlooking the sea is furnished with a unique Chinese-style writing table and matching showcases. The building adjoining Monplaisir, called Catherine's Building, was used as the living quarters of Catherine the Great when her husband, Tsar Peter III, was arrested and subsequently murdered. Alexandria Park, a huge green area with overgrown trees east of Monplaisir, is the best place for a peaceful stroll away from the crowds. The only interesting building here is the English-style cottage, which has renovated rooms displaying an exhibition of Russian art.
The area west of Alexandria Park is known as Lower Park. Numerous large fountains, smaller trick fountains, and stone statues adorn the straight forested walkways and elegant wide staircases. If you walk west along Marlinskaya aleya, you'll reach Marly, a medium-sized palace built for Peter the Great to host special guests. From here, take any path towards the shore to reach the small two-storey pink-and-white Hermitage. The second floor of this palace houses an unusual dining area, equipped with special lifts capable of hoisting the table, complete with dishes, from downstairs without the need of waiters.
If you still have time before returning to St. Petersburg, walk back through the upper garden towards Sankt Peterburgsky prospekt. If you walk east for about 200m, you'll see the five-domed Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul on your right. It is a huge church with splendid exterior works in Russian Orthodox-style architecture. It's always closed, except in the evening after 5pm, when it opens for a couple of hours for an evening service. If you happen to be here during this time, do not miss its impressive interior.
Written by Ksu on 23 Jun, 2002
I’d like to tell you about the history of this place. In 1900, during a trip to Paris (it was Repin's 5th time in Europe; the first one was after his graduation from the Academy, when he won the Gold Medal and a six-year scholarship,…Read More
I’d like to tell you about the history of this place. In 1900, during a trip to Paris (it was Repin's 5th time in Europe; the first one was after his graduation from the Academy, when he won the Gold Medal and a six-year scholarship, which allowed him to travel abroad nearly three years), Repin met Natalya Borisovna Nordman (she was the "love of his life"), and then moved to her country estate "Penates" in Kuokkala (at that time this territory belonged to Finland). Natalya Borisovna and Ilya Efimovich Repin together organized the famous Wednesdays at the "Penates," which attracted the elite of Russia of those days. It was a bohemian place frequented by artists, musicians, and actors: A. Kuprin and V. Mayakovsky, Korney Tchukovsky and T. Kyi, F. Shaliapin and Koni – they all attended his house parties on Wednesdays. Nordman died in 1914. Before her death she left her estate to the Academy, and now it’s a filial branch of The Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Fine Art. Even after Nordman's death, Repin lived in "Penates" for 16 years. But the museum itself was founded only in 1940, and already in 1948 Finish Kuokkala was renamed Repino. The place for "Penates" wasn’t chosen accidentally; in those days, and even quite recently, it was the area of a health resort. Now you can see plenty of dachas there (it a quiet and pleasant land). In those days, less than 3 thousand people lived here (I mean, their permanent residence); though there were not many places of entertainment in this place, nevertheless twenty thousand people came here every summer – it was the highest density in the countryside, the most crowded place near St Petersburg. For city dwellers Kuokkala has been a magnet since it was founded as a summer residence area in the early 19th century. In the memoirs of Lydia Tchukovskaya (she was the daughter of one of the most famous Russian specialists in literature – Korney Tchukovsky), you find that, as children, they disliked all the summer residents who came to Kuokkala by the suburban train. "…And fresh air… and around only deep snow, and skies, and no one around, and pine-trees, -- sometimes I’m envious of my life there…» these are the words of Korney Tchukovsky, who was one of the neighbours of Repin. He also said once, already being in Peredelkino, that the people who lived in Kuokkala could count themselves among the most fortunate in Russia. Before the death, "handicapped by the atrophy of his right hand, Repin couldn’t produce works of the same quality". Nevertheless he trained himself to paint with his left hand, and he did his best to succeed in it. He was completely absorbed in what he was doing. During the last years of his life Repin lived under the pressure of financial strain. In 1926, a group of Bolsheviks sent by the Ministry of Education of the Soviet Union helped him financially to force him to return, but he didn’t do that. They greatly resented his refusal to leave Finland to Russia. Up until the last days of his life Repin didn’t leave his "Penates". Later, these country houses, like "Penates", turned into dachas; I mean the very notion of country house became outdated. This is why, now, we don’t have any country-houses; they were associated with wealth, luxury and dignity, and belonged to the richest families in this country. Our dachas are much smaller and cheaper. It’s interesting to note that the word "dacha" has become widespread in use. It was derived from Russian, as well as such words as "sputnik" and "perestroika" (there are few derivations from Russian into English but "dacha" is among them), a great number of famous Russian people of art had their dachas. Reading "Anna Karenina", or "War and Peace" by Tolstoi, you can see more clearly that heroes and heroines are very often shown at their country houses not far from Moscow and St Petersburg. It’s a pity but now there are few places where you can see more clearly what the notion "dacha" means, yet "Penates" absolutely justifies this name dacha.I would suggest that you walk in the picturesque surrounding area of coniferous forests, which stretch for miles. I suggest making a round in the Penates, starting from the cottage and back to it. No one would see you around; walking at a slow pace, only the squirrels will be your fellow travelers. Here every pond, path, bench, and even artesian well was made according by Repin's own hands and according to his own desire. There are four angles of the park. Begin from the house, and then move to the summer "Theatre of Osiers and Isis," where the performances took place. Vladimir Mayakovsky read here his verses. The way we take lay through the forest till we reach "The staircase of Sheherisada;" now the pine trees around are so high that even if you climb on its top, you wouldn’t see the Gulf of Finland. Nothing disturbs the silence of the grave of Repin (he died here on September 29, 1930), where are always fresh flowers. On the way back, we come to the above mentioned artesian well. Repin himself preferred this healthy cold water to the water-pipe and even now we can drink water from it.
If you are not in a hurry, you will be able to appreciate every detail of this "magnificent temple created by nature and man." Repin himself observed this area from the balcony "Aeroplane," which you can see on the pictures. In 1914 Repin wrote to Switzerland to N. B. Nordman, "My aeroplane gives me wonderful sunbathes... I have never seen anything like this, that is why now I am writing on it." He was absolutely sure that the air and his tendency not to close the windows in winter time let him live a long life. So...Breathes there a man with soul so dead,Who never to himself hath said,This is my own, my native land!Whose heart hath ne’er within him burnedAs home his footsteps he hath turned,From wandering on a foreign strand?By Sir Walter Scott