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Published: April 28th 2006
Afghanistan War Memorial, Yekaterinburg
A monument dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in the Russian-Afghan war in the 1980's
Well a lot has happened since last we posted. We left you on our first day in Moscow and this city is in stark contrast to the Czarist splendour of St. Petersburg. While the streets are grand and imposing - the architecture is strictly soviet and almost entirely grey. This time we were staying a little out of town and had to make use of the impressive Moscow Metro to get around. More on this later....
Our first stop in Moscow was to the Bolshoi New Stage. This was an absolutely amazing spectacle to see. We watched The Nutcracker ballet with the music of Tchaikovsky and I think we were both shocked at how much we enjoyed it. The theatre was stunning. The performance was under two hours, but we could have stayed forever, so enchanting was the performance. The tickets were worth every rouble!
Moving on we took a trip to the centre of Russian power - The Kremlin. We visited Red Square on what happened to be the 136th anniversary of Lenin's Birth. There was a Communist Party March to Lenin's Mausoleum taking place. It was a strange site to witness lots of American
tourists standing around watching the march sipping on McDonald's coffees. I wonder what the party members felt about this. They laid hundreds of red roses at the Mausoleum and at the graves of the former communist leaders outside. I found it strange to see the grave of Stalin getting by far the most roses left upon it! We couldn't figure that out..
Also in Moscow we had time to go to St. Basil's Cathedral and into the churches within the Kremlin Walls. On the opposite side of Red Square from the Kremlin we went to the impressive GUM State department store.
Overall though our impression of Moscow was that of a city that has been taken over by what we have heard called the Nouveau Russki. These are essentially yuppie Russians who storm around the city clad in designer gear and clutching mobile phones close to their ears. The overall vibe is not that friendly to the tourist on a short term stay - but yet again once you integrate with the locals and make a (rather sketchy) effort to get by with the language they often turn out to surprise you be being warm and friendly.
Soviet Moscow is alive and well however, but it exists mostly underground. The Moscow Metro system is probably the most impressive in the world and it's dominated by the theme of the Proletariat. Brass statues of Russian workers are stand proudly in the grand station halls and intricate ceiling mosaics depict scenes of the Soviet past.
Soon though it was time to leave and we set off on the first leg proper of the Trans Siberian train. This was a journey of 1812 KM from Moscow to Yekaterinburg on the #56 Ural Service. This took 26 hours and we travelled "Kupe" which meant we were sharing with two others. Our fellow travellers turned out to be really nice and were from Perm. Ellada from Perm had good German and we were able to speak to her and ask her loads of questions in German. She worked in Finance and was really interested in our working lives in England as we were in hers. It was fantastic to have someone to explain the "Bahn Kultur" to us and all the do's and don'ts when living on the tracks. The train was really modern and even had a shower!! Our cabin
The Mekano Set play Red Square
The Saint in search of his new bass sound!
was situated next to the samovar (hot water boiler) so the tea was flowing for the whole journey. I love the samovar (Madden here!). I might get a new T-Shirt saying "samovars rock" instead of "tea rocks"!
Yekaterinburg is in Asia but still 230 odd KM short of Siberia. On arrival we really struggled to find the hotel as it was hidden away in The Academy of Geology Building. It had no sign outside and it was 10pm at night - very dark and cold. It's is a pleasant town to stroll around and seems entirely obsessed with Geology! The reason being that is made all its money from providing mining equipment to the nearby Ural mines. It's amazing, in comparison to Ireland, how many natural resources the Russians have.
Today we went to a Monastery just out of town that is the supposed death site of the Romanov Dynasty in 1918. These were the last Czar family of Nicholas II and are now considered Saints to the Russian Orthodox church. Our guide was really good and took us around town on our return. He brought us to a alcomat (a Russian supermarket almost entirely dedicated to Vodka!)
to show us what Vodka to buy for the train ride ahead that will take up the entire weekend! There was so many kinds of Vodka, from cheap Smirnoff (Russians wouldn't be caught dead drinking the stuff!) to nouveau Russki Kaufmann in its designer bottles.
Tonight we leave for Irkutsk and Lake Baikal!!!! It's the largest fresh water lake in the world and most probably colder than here. I am not looking forward to the cold. I am already wearing all my clothes at once. I might take to wearing my rucksack rain cover as a final insulating layer. Brr, last year it was -36 here. I would have never gone outside the front door!!
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