Monday, August 29, 2011

Vladimir to Tomsk in 52 hours (Across Russia, Part 5)

Our time in Suzdal was short, but the next leg of our trip across Russia was the big one: 52 hours on a train from Vladimir to Tomsk. One straight shot on the number 38 and a true test of whether I can handle trains or not.

A bit of background might be necessary here: I am SeattleFlyerGuy. The only other experience I had walking into this was on Amtrak from Seattle to Minneapolis, which was a journey that did not sit well with me. I had motion sickness from the edge of Montana all the way across the midwest. It was so bad that I cancelled my return ticket and bought a one-way flight home when it came time to come back. It was not positive to say the least.
The waiting area of the Vladimir Train Station

The 38 pulls in early in the morning

So what would be in store for this trip? What was the train going to be like? What's the bathroom like (a common question for would be travelers)? All that and pictures from all along the 1,500 miles of the trip is after the break.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Food Fridays: Lay's Potato Chips (Russian Style)

I have to admit that food in Russia did not really wow me, so trying to keep in the theme for Russia for the course of the transsiberian arc that I'm currently writing is a little difficult. However, just because I found most of the food to be rather.... meh... doesn't mean that there wasn't an interesting thing to two around. Take for instance, Lay's potato chips...

Yes. Those are crab chips. If this was an Asian brand, it wouldn't surprise me in the least, but this is about as far from what I can imagine Lay's offering in the US as possible. They weren't that bad, really. But there's more!

Yes. Those are shishkebab ("shashlik") flavored potato chips. It's a popular street food, especially as you go into Siberia and a decent cheap eat. However, as chips? They are awful! The taste lingers long, long after you've finished the bag. The first hour or so it's just fine, but when you wake up with that flavor still in your mouth? Regret.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Suzdal (Across Russia, Part 4)

Our next stop after Moscow was a sleepy little town called Suzdal. Suzdal is located a few hours outside of Moscow and once was an important center for trade, administration, and the church. Today, what buildings are left over from that stand in a state of bucolic disrepair or humble use. Life is as simple as the river that wanders through the town.

It's also full of linden trees, which in early summer gives the entire town a subtle fragrance and which my mother discovered that she loved in this town (she would have been happy to stay here for the rest of the trip!). And then there are the chickens.

After the break, we'll take a look around the town with a dozen photos and talk about how to actually get here by bus or train (plus where to actually catch the bus).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Moscow (Across Russia, Part 3)

Our trip to Moscow was overnight on train #1, The Red Arrow, which departs St. Petersburg with the The Hymn to the Great City playing throughout the tracks. The car is comfortable and among the best we were on for the entire trip, but also the shortest journey. It leaves St. Petersburg minutes before midnight and arrives at 8:00 the next morning.

Moscow was the center of the Soviet empire, which at one time seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut. The legacy of the soviet system and communism still is very much present in the city, which is truly a monumental city. You do not need to look far to see a relic of the former system. Whether it's a building like the one above or the omnipresent motif of wheat and the red star (along with the hammer and sickle), these are still very commonly seen in the city.

Even if the symbols remain, Moscow today is awash in money and power. It's highly ironic that directly across the street from Lenin's mausoleum is GUM, where the Russian rich come to spend unbelievable amounts of money. We are talking clothes for children for thousands of dollars, De Beers, Cartier, Breguet, and a grocery store with every luxury capitalism can produce from every corner of the world. The amount of money circulating in just GUM alone is on a level I've never witnessed before.

Of course, not all of Moscow is like that. After the break, we'll visit the amazing Monument to the Conquerors of Space, which was truly one of the highlights of our to Moscow (and far from the beaten path). If you visit Moscow, this is definitely something to put on the list of things to see!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Food Fridays: Food from the Monastery in Moscow

What could be better than food prepared by the nuns and monks of an orthodox church? I've already mentioned that the churches in Russia are quite amazing, but if you keep an eye out you can find little cafes attached to the churches and monasteries that sell some of the freshest homemade food you can get. Near Red Square,there's the zaikonospassky monastery where you can buy little piroshkis and little sweets just outside the main building, but the one that took the cake for me was the little cafe right by the Church of Saint George. Here's the simple treats....

Monday, August 08, 2011

St. Petersburg (Across Russia, Part 2)

This is where is all started.

St. Petersburg, a city built on the order of Peter the Great by an army of conscripted peasants in a place no city was meant to be, is an amazing city today. It was meant as a monument to the power of Russia and as proof of a level of sophistication and elegance in Russia that rivaled any of the European countries. Founded in 1703, soon became the capital of Russia and the home of the nobility and aristocracy of the Tsars. This is were Peter Fabergé crafted his famous eggs for the Tsar. This is where Rasputin would become a legend and killed. This is where the wealth of a nation and the suffering of a nation would meet in revolution in 1917 and Lenin would rise to power.

It was also the first stop on our trip across Russia. After flying in here, we would head to Mongolia, by train, with stops in Moscow, Suzdal, Tomsk, Irkutsk, and Ulan-Ude, before finally getting on an Aeroflot flight back to Stockholm. Over the next few weeks, I'll be covering those here on the blog, so follow me!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Flight Report: The start of a Trans-Siberian Journey started on SAS (ARN-LED)

This is actually the first of a story arch. Between June 22nd and July 9th, I traveled across Russia along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, eventually ending in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Oh, and fellow traveler on this journey was my mother.

Yes. My mother. It was actually her idea, even if I suggested that we actually do it. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, I've heard about Siberia and the untold riches and fortunes that will be made there. Anyone who asks why gets about the same story: Untapped resources, a changing climate that will open up shipping routes along the north of Russia, and the ensuing trade. She decided to visit me in Sweden this June, so I asked if she wanted to go to Siberia. A lot of planning later and soon we found ourselves backpacks and all headed to Arlanda, both thinking, "Wait... In two hours we'll be in Russia?!".

Additionally, I was thinking, "SeattleFlyerGuy is SeattleFlyerGuy. I'm going to spend nearly a week on a train?! What was I thinking!?" (Fortunately, it all went better than expected, but more on that later).

The trip, as I said, starts at Arlanda, just as most of them do with a final look at Sweden. June 22nd is the height of summer, and I always seem to manage to leave Sweden right when the festivities start up. These pictures taken from our SAS 737 show the islands of the archipelago just outside of Stockholm. A few months ago, they would have been griped in ice, but now they're home to supremely comfortable camping sites and endless nooks and crannies for harboring boats. About 1 in 7 Swedes own a boat. It's about as Swedish as wild strawberries, cardamon, and Pantone 301C along side 116C (in other words, this).


What's it like when we land? Find out after the break.