Published: July 13th 2011July 9th 2011
I got off the train in Yekaterinburg and more or less straight onto another train going to Zlatoust, a small city/town in the Southern Ural mountians and arrived there in the morning. Around this time I realised that I was not in Siberia anymore which made me a little sad. For a start the English teacher from the train initially just said she was from a small town in Siberia, as if it was a long way away, and Valentina, my couch surfing host in Zlatoust told me there probably are bears in the forrests in Siberia but not here (since I'd mentioned I was a little worried about camping in Taganay because of bears).
Valentina picked me up from the train station and we went back to her typical Russian flat - a tiny one room plus small kitchen and bathroom place but she was not into furniture so it was actually quite spacious. She is an English teacher so her English was obviously really good and she was moving to St Petersburg in a week so it was lucky I caught her (the only English speaking couch surfing host in Zlatoust). We sat around all morning chatting
and relaxing then went to visit her mum and then went out to a lake about 60km from Zlatoust towards Miass (the start of the lake region with over 200!) with her friend Vasa and his son to go sailing in his yacht. We were also going to camp by the lake but Vasa's wife didn't end up coming so we went back to the city late in the evening. We were sailing for a few hour which was really nice, the weather was perfect and there was enough wind to move quite fast. We stayed up late drinking tea and talking so also slept quite late the next day. Once we got moving we decided to hitch back out to the lake and got there around lunch time to meet Vasa on his yacht. We had lunch and went swimming (well we dove in then climbed straight back on the boat since the water was absolutely freezing since the water comes straight from a number of springs) and sailed a little but the wind was really strong so we mainly hung out on the boat just off the shore.
We came back to town in the evening when
Valentinas friend from Chelebynsk came round who spoke enough english for me to talk to him mostly without using Valentina as a translator. The next morning we went hiking in Taganay with a few other people. We hiked to the first peak - little Taganay which has great views of the peaks further along and the surrounding area. Being in Zlatoust meant I'd made it to Europe but if we walked a few more hours we would've crossed back into Asia. The peak is only just over 100m so it was quite an easy hike and we spent alot of time up the top, climbing around on the rocks and taking photos. The Russians really love to take photos! We came back to town in the late afternoon and just hung around until I had to go catch my train which didn't leave until 12:30. The weather was amazing the whole time I was there so I was lucky - apparently it's the first nice weather they've had this summer. Vasa came and gave us a ride to the train station and see me off which was really nice and without them there its likely I would've missed my train
since it was on a platform you couldn't even see and no information other than what was announced on the loudspeaker was given.
I travelled in kupe (second class compartment style) to Yekaterinburg since there were no platzkartny places left. It was not much different apart from all the extra space but since I was only on it at night which I spent sleeping this didn't really matter. I arrived in the morning and had until 4pm before my next train to explore the city. I had one less hour after putting my bag in the left luggage room. It appeared everyone on my train also had a connecting train that day so the line was epic! After this I walked to the main center stopping at the park area with a few big churches and the Romanov death site. From there I walked along the river, to see yet another Lenin statue, down the main walking street, and just around until it was time to head back to the station. I got into abit of a panick once I arrived since I found 3 left luggage rooms but none of them were the one I left my bag
at. I found it eventually, near a separate entry for suburban trains but of course I didn't have to stand in line for an hour here too so I didn't miss my train or anything. I travelled kupe again, for the same reason as last time. It was very very hot, even with the window open and unbearable when the train was stationary. I also had terrible hayfever and sore ears which kept me up most of the night.
We arrived in Kazan at a quarter to six in the morning. I tried for the 4th time to buy my ticket out of Russia but failed again. I know I should be able to but since I don't know what they're saying apart from that I can't buy it there, I can't really do anything about it. I walked along the Volga river from the station then the Kazanka river which had really good views of the Kremlin and took enough time for the town to wake up. I went into the Kremlin where I got caught in a thunderstorm and massive downpour which gave me a few hours break from the hayfever. I walked around all the parks,
walking streets, other main streets, but it's a small place so I was done by about midday. The place has a very European feel to it and reminds me of my Europe trip years ago only much smaller and easier to manage on foot. I managed to use up the rest of the day before catching a 10pm train to Nizhney Novgorod, wait 2 hours, then catch another train to Vladimir. This part only took 2.5 hours and they have 'seated' carriages which were very fancy and new feeling.
On arriving in Vladimir I went straight to the bus station and got on the first bus to Suzdal which only takes about 45 minutes. I'd read you can camp by the river around town which was my original plan, at least for the first night but I felt like shit and didn't want to spend a night in such close proximity to grass so I went to the hostel they have there now. It's a really nice, big place but quite expensive and no kitchen! This is ok, I have my camping stove but when I tried to cook dinner I realised it has broken at some point in
the last few weeks so had to g back to good ol train food - anythin that only requires hot water. I went for a walk along the main street and past a few monasteries in the afternoon and sat by the river for a while. The town is Unesco protected which prevents too much development so its still this old rural town but has a decent amount of tourism infrastructure. By that I just mean theres a hostel which makes it easy to stay there on a budget and get some information. But it really is a rural place - only some streets are sealed, and if they are there are pot holes everywhere, there are chikens and other farm animals roaming the streets (apar from the main road that is), and the place is surrounded by fields and meadows. I loved it! The only problem was that I finished all my books waiting for th train to Vladimir and thre were no English books to exchange at the hostel and in a small place like that you kind of need a book.
I had a lot of time to spend here so I really took my time.
On the second day I hired a bike and rode way out of town into the fields. It was fun but fields get old eventually. The scenery didn't change much. I passed through some small villages, almost got attacked by horrible dogs, then rode around closer to Suzdal. I went to the Kremlin, looked at the wooden churches of the architecture museum (from the outside, cheapskate), sat at various places along the river, and got horrendous hayfever again which now has the effect of giving me pain in my throat and ears so bad I almost cry every time I swallow. Heaps of people came to the hostel that day so it was packed and I had lots of people to talk to.
I was catching the 2am train to Moscow since it was the cheapest I could find. Once in Suzdal I found out you can hop on any of the local trains (elektrischka) which cost about a quarter of the price I paid for a short trip on a long distance train. Oh well. So I had the morning to go to two of the monastries which I had always been too inappropriatly dressed for the other
days, have lunch, then catch a bus back to Vladimir. Vladimir semed quite nice but by this point I was definitely churched out and thought I should save myself fo Moscow. One thing though - excuse me Vladimir but where is your Lenin statue? I need it for my collection!
In the evening I sat on the hill behind the church which has really nice views of the river and surrounding area until it got too cold. I spent the rest of the evening at the train station, initially outside since it was a sauna in the terminal but got driven inside by annoying old Russian men who kept hassling me. There were no resting rooms but a waiting room where you could stretch out on the bench seats so I even got a little bit of sleep.
The further West I come, the more people speak English. Not very much but enough to say the price or a few words in English when they realise you're a foreigner. If they can't say anything, they are at least more patient at trying to be understood. The provotnitza on my trip from Kazan to Nizhney Novgorod made a big
effort and was probably the happiest provodnitza I've ever met!
There are more photos below