Moscow and Trans Siberian 1 Blog

Trip Start Sep 30, 2009
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Trip End Jan 30, 2010


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Flag of Russia  , Central Russia,
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Arrived in Moscow at 4pm after our long day of travelling which commenced at 3am in Jerusalem. Getting through customs in Moscow was a real eye opener.  No queues at all, just a free for all. Every time we thought we were making ground and getting nearer to the booth, another group would squeeze in front.  No one spoke English so it was useless trying to vocalize our frustration.    When we were finally out of the terminal we jumped into the taxi thinking it would be a 40 minute trip to our hotel.  Not at all anticipating congestion on the motorway, it ended up being another painful two hours spent squeezed into a smallish taxi before we finally reached our destination.  The wait was worth it.  The Intourist Russia had booked us in at the Hilton.  It was posh, clean and the beds were so comfortable, we had a great view from the 13th floor and Robyn and Chris thought a real treat to have their own space, with the kids in a separate room just along the hall.  It was so secure, you couldn't use the lifts without getting past the staunch 007 looking security guard and on each floor there was a myriad of cameras catching anyone who entered a room.

Next day Chris and Olivia took off to successfully secure the Mongolian Visas, while Robyn nursed a sore throat with Ryan and Mitchell keeping her company.  C and O arrived back to pick up the ensconced group and jumped on the underground to the Red Square.  Trying to read the Cyrillic alphabetic was a problem compounded by Robyn and Chris’s aging eyes which struggled with the small print on the underground map, thank goodness Olivia was on hand to read to us.  The Red Square was so beautiful, the churches and Kremlin look so different in real life, we even managed to get into see inside the famous St Basils Church, the temperature much like a freezer.  Amazingly there were only a few small dregs of snow visible.  We headed off into a mall for a very late lunch and were amazed to find how little English was spoken here in Moscow.  It was a matter of pointing to what we wanted and looking at a calculator to see how much we owed them at the end, paying 8000.00 roubles for lunch another new experience.  Mitch and Ryan loved the Pizza shop and came back quite chuffed that they had acquired whatt they wanted, along with the correct change.

Great excitement the next day when we woke up to snow flurries.  Off to Red Square again and had been there only 20 minutes when the snow built up was so great they decided to close the square off.  It was time to retreat into the Gum Mall on the side of the square to get warm again and window shop at all the fancy label stores while we were serenaded with live jazz music. From the look of the prices it is only the Oligarchs strutting by us in their long authentic fur coats who could afford to purchase anything. Back to the common people’s mall to satisfy, yet again, three continuously hungry children.  When we returned to the outside world at 4.30pm we were amazed to find that it was dark and the square beautifully lit, it could have been part of a magical Kingdom.

Headed back to the lobby of the Hilton to kill a couple of hours  before splashing out and eating at their restaurant (the guide book informed us to indulge if we could afford it, and knowing we would be in Siberia and eating dried fish soon enough we savored every mouth full.)

We had checked out previously the route to the railway station (about a 15 minute walk from the Hilton) hence after a fab meal in a lovely place we plummeted straight back down to reality.  Rugged up and in true kiwi style we wheeled/dragged our suitcases through thick snow to our train.  We looked a sight following each other over major intersections and we were all covered in snow by the time we arrived at the platform. 

Moscow to Irkutsk on the Trans Siberian. The train took off on time and we were pleased to find that Robyn and Olivia in their two bed 1st class cabin were only one carriage away from the three boys in their four birth, 2nd class cabin.  The stories of the heating being intense on these journeys were correct.  It was so hot in the carriages, we worried about how we were going to sleep in temperatures of 26C+ - which we have never have back in NZ, on the warmest of nights.  Chris and the boys ended up having a Cabin Provinista (attendant) who loved the heat and they melted in 33C most nights, while she walked the cabin in her thick jersey.

The train was quite full until the next morning when almost half the people exited.  We found a smattering of English speaking people (Swiss, German, French, Scottish and American) amongst the Russians.  The American guys, 26 year old twins were staying in 3rd class (the only ones brave or stupid enough to do so out of all the English speakers we met).  Apparently the carriage is an open bunk room, sleeping 56 and they said the smells, when it was full on the first night, pretty diabolical.

The train stopped every three hours or so and it was a feast of bartering when your feet hit the platform.  The locals have offerings of hot home baked meals, warm potato and onion pastries, alcohol (mainly vodka, the Russian’s Lemonade), bread, salami, wool scarves etc so the whole white platform is a busy market place. The home baking is pretty good so Chris understands why the older saleswomen are rather large. The whole family enjoyed the experience even though at -35C taking the gloves off to complete the transaction almost gave one frost bite.

The formidable Russian Cabin Provinista’s are certainly very controlling over their territory, which they keep immaculate by vacuuming daily and wiping down every surface. They manage to turn out each morning looking like they had just exited a beauty salon – I am sure they have a huge hi pressure shower hidden purely for their exclusive use.  They also hold the key for the doors, to let you off the train at each station.  On one stop with 15 minutes still to spare before departure, they got panicked and took Chris off the train (in the dark of night) with them to search for Robyn, Ryan and Mitchell who had gone looking for some fruit at a store behind the station.  When they were all safely on board with seven minutes to spare, it was still another 15 minutes before the train departed. Olivia again had to deal with her abandonment issues as she imagined the train taking off with only herself left on board.  The panic certainly made Robyn reluctant to venture more than a few meters from the train on any future stop.  Being yelled at by stern Russian woman would make anyone tremble in their boots.

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The Restaurant car is a gamble to eat in, the food is not much to write home about, and financial hardship in Russia has not made things any better.  The cars are apparently run by private franchises so food quality and variety of menus unpredictable.  On entering the car (having averted our eyes from the kitchen to safe guard our appetite) we were presented with a menu written in Russian, by a large waitress who spoke no English.  We did okay and ended up with chicken, chips and a salad, but the bread felt like it was 5 days old and we were not offered any butter to try and moisten it into being somewhat edible.

Having read that four nights was a short time to go without a shower in Siberia, did not make the prospect of not showering while on the train any more appealing.  Two toilets with basins at the end of each compartment are for brushing teeth and washing in.  We have however tended to use the aloe vera wipes that Robyn purchased using hand gestures at the pharmacy in Moscow for washing the bodies.  The (minute) bathrooms are kept fairly clean and boiling water is poured down the loos on a regular basis to stop the water freezing. Robyn did get taken down to the bathroom by the cabin provinista, where she kept emphasizing the sign on the bathroom door which stated "the request in the toilet bowl to throw nothing" and crossing her arms and saying Neyut neyut (No in Russian).  Then with hand gestures told Robyn to go back and explain to the rest of the family what not to do in the toilet.  Someone had obviously committed the cardinal sin of putting paper down the toilet and she thought the Sewter family the culprits.  Very embarrassing experience with all the Russian travelers pocking their heads out of cabins, to see who was getting a grilling. (Robyn wanted to say – look there are just some pieces of toilet paper that simply can’t be put into the bin beside the toilet, there is no place for them except to be flushed away – hence in that respect we were probably guilty as charged)

Robyn secretly wondered how bored she would get as with the restriction of luggage there was only so many books and games the family could take for this leg of the trip.  However there has not been a moments boredom, books were read, copious card games played, iPod listened to, pictures from the camera downloaded and viewed on the laptop, socializing with other English speakers and of course The Blog written. The scenery was captivating it looked like something out of the frozen landscapes of Narnia and Chris especially could be caught day dreaming at the expanse on a regular basis.  The ground is all white and the fur trees branches bend heavily with the weight of the snow.  This magical scenery is interrupted by the many towns and cities whose tiny houses have snow covered roofs and whose industrial areas, belching black smoke from chimney stacks look bleak and tired.  We cannot believe how many people live in the middle of no where in Siberia.  By 3.30pm daylight is fading, so the books, chess seat, cards and iPod become our companions.  We tend to have early nights –well sometimes.

After all trying to smuggle our drinks into the restaurant car to celebrate New Years Eve we were told in no uncertain terms in loud Russian, with yet again much gesticulating, that we could not drink what we did not buy at their counter. All the English speakers on the train retired to a couple of cabins located in the same carriage and had a great time together.  There was some confusion over time zones so we ended up celebrating New Year twice within two hours.  Ryan, Mitchell, and Olivia enjoyed the company of the two Scottish girls their age in a different cabin – lots of laughing could be heard.

With the time difference it meant we would arrive in Irkutsk at about 1.30am Moscow time.  We had all gone to bed really early, but unfortunately the provinista in the boy’s cabin decided to crank the heat up even more that night and with only boxer shorts on and their feet resting against the freezing window searching for something cool, they spent the night sweating from the heat and got very little sleep.

We just loved the sign SEWTER being held up when we arrived on the platform at Irkutsk and were whisked away from the station into a van and dropped at our hotel door.  The local time was 6.30am and we all promptly went to sleep for about four hours.

Next Blog SIBERIA
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Comments

Graeme McChesney on

Hello Sewters,

fascinating stuff. Maybe you could set up a business drilling in Siberia Chris?

symonsfam
symonsfam on

Love your update and had a good chuckle at your description of the stern Russian Cabin "Provinista". I can picture it and then I can picture your and Chris' faces! Love you guys heaps.
Karen xx

Gary Funk on

You guys are awesome! You must be the Kiwi version of Long Way Round (Ewen Mcgregor).

Vicks on

I LOVE the photos of Russia - it looks freezing but the perfect time to visit. I can't WAIT to see all your pictures on the big screen.

Karen Croudace on

Hi all, have so enjoyed following your journey. You will have many amazing memories to cherish forever. Keep warm, Karen C

Doreen on

Hi there all the Sewters,
What a wonderful trip you're all having. I'm glad that we're not in the snow and cold like you are but you'll have wonderful memories of it all and looking back at all the blogs you'll just have a great time.
Alison is back on the ship and went through the snow and cold in London where it was freezing. She was met at Heathrow by old friends off the ship with whom she was going to stay overnight but had received an e-mail before she left to say that they were snowed in so she couldn't stay. But they made it to the airport the next day when she arrived. She had to fly out of Gatwick the next afternoon for Tenerife the next lunchtime. But Gatwick was closed all day the before so we weren't sure what would happen. But as usual God was good and she got out and arrived in Tenerife on time.
This year she was pleased to be back ob the ship as she ha two weeks to get ready for the sail. We talked to her on Sunday night as we usually do and everything had gone like clock work and it was just wonderful. Her life isn't as exciting like yours is at the moment but she is very fulfilled in what she is doing.
Sorry this is so long bye until the next blog arrives. Love Doreen and Trevor.

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