A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009

Helsinki to Home!!

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We arrived in Helsinki on Thursday evening after a 6hour train ride from St. Petersburg. We then had a get a bus out to our hotel which was near the airport. On Friday we got a bus back into the city centre and spent a couple of hours walking the cobbled streets around the lutheran cathedral. P1080496.jpgP1080503.jpg To make the most of the fine weather we then walked down to the waterfront and spent a bit of time strolling around the markets situated on the docks seelling everything from raspberries to reindeer hides! P1080497.jpg We enjoyed our short stay in Helsinki and although it's only small it gave us a nice chance to acclimatise to the European way of life! P1080490.jpg

After a short nights sleep, we awoke at 3am and made the most of our free hotel breakfast! P1080504.jpg We then donned our rucksacks for the final time and got the bus to Helsinki airport for our dawn flight home. P1080508.jpg After a short stopover in Copenhagen, we were back in the air and landed in Manchester a little early at about 09:15 and were greeted by family and friends in arrivals. P1080511.jpg

It's good to be home and see everybody that we've missed so much over the past 7 months. Thanks for reading our blogs, stay tuned for one final blog coming up in a day or two!

Can't wait to catch up with you all,
Lots of Love
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 09:06 Archived in Finland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

St Petersburg Part II

overcast 15 °C
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We took a trip out of the city today to go and see Peterhof, which is basically Peter the Greats summer palace on the sea. It is famous for its fountains, and we must agree they were totally fantastic! P1080453.jpgP1080461.jpg We were going to go in the palace, but the queue was massive and we didnt fancy waiting around in the cold and rain to go in. The weather was a bit overcast, but we strolled around the grounds for a couple of hours! P1080464.jpg We headed back on the bus and have spent the afternoon doing boring things like laundry and packing. We leave tomorrow afternoon on a train bound for Helsinki, which takes about 6 hours! We arrive at night and then have one full day there, before we leave the following morning on our flight back home!

Cant wait to see you all,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 07:10 Archived in Russia Tagged automotive Comments (0)

St Petersburg Part I

semi-overcast 15 °C
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The train from Moscow was fine and only lasted 8 hours, and we got to Moscow the same evening. After checking into the hostel, we went for a quick walk around the city and grabbed something to eat. After a poor nights sleep (mixture of mosquitoes and noisy people) we got up early and went to see the Peter and Paul Fortress, which is across the River Neva. P1080303.jpg Most of St Petersburg was badly destroyed during the war and various revolutions, but it has been rennovated beautifully. A canon is fired everyday off the fortress at midday, and somehow we managed to sneak in with a private tour group who seemed to have a vip within it, as there were lots of local press there! haha! We just stayed quiet and smiled for the photos! We were right next to the canon when it went off, and we were partially deafened by it! Everyone was clapping and smiling and chris and I were shouting to each other! Anyway, we were very lucky to get that close, as the 'normal' tourists were held back by a gate, which was a long way from the canon! We managed to get a video of it, but the computers in russia wont let us upload it, so it will have to wait!

After the ringing in our eas subsided, we went into The SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, which houses all the remains of past Russian leaders. P1080273.jpgP1080287.jpg We saw Peter and Catherine the Great and their relatives, as well as the Romanovs who were moved from Yeketerinburg in 1998. P1080293.jpgP1080294.jpg It was quite modern inside, due to extensive damage from the war. After that we walked back across into the city P1080271.jpg and went to The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (lovely title), which marks the spot where Tsar Alexander II was killed. It looks very similar to St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, with multi-coloured onion domes. P1080311.jpgP1080315.jpg

From there we walked across the famous Nevskiy Prospekt to Kazan Cathedral, which is a huge neo classical cathedral also rebuilt after the war. P1080233.jpg We continued walking all the way down Nevskiy Prospekt, which is a huge road full of shops and food stalls and everything you could want. Its the main thoroughfare of St Petersburg, and the locals are very proud of it. It has lots of glorious old russian buildings, making the general facade look very elegant. P1080318.jpgP1080331.jpg

We got the tube to Alexander Nevskiy Monastery after that to go and see the Tikhin Cemetary, where lots of famous people have been laid to rest. Chris was very excited to finally see many of the greatest composers that ever lived, including - Tchaikovsky, P1080356.jpgP1080357.jpg Borodin, P1080351.jpg Mussorgsky P1080349.jpg and Rimsky-Korsakov. P1080346.jpg We strolled around for a while amougst the many russian notables that are buried here. From there we went back to the hotel for a bit and then went out to see the city at night after we had dinner. It may be so, that St Petersburg is even prettier at night as the lighting on the building facades is very sympathetically done. We strolled along the Neva River until we wandered back to the hostel for the night.

After a good nights sleep last night we left early this morning to go and see the world famous Hermitage Museum. P1080246.jpg0P1080253.jpg It occupies one side of an impressive square in the centre of St. Petersburg, with a column commemorating Tsar Alexander I at its centre.2P1080255.jpg2P1080259.jpg9P1080261.jpg We booked our tickets last night on the internet as it says that you can beat the queues, and boy did we beat them! When we got there the queue was massive, we would have been waiting for about 3 hours if we had joined! Due to our forward planning we skipped all the queues and got our tickets within minutes! It was obviously very crowded, but we managed to break away and stroll around. It was truely stunning and lived up to our expections completly. P1080386.jpg The only issue was that very few of the pieces were described fully in english and there was no clear way to move around the building. Apart from that we had a fantastic time and saw lots of famous works including that of Da Vinci, P1080415.jpg Rapheal, P1080416.jpg Monet, P1080425.jpg Renoir P1080424.jpg and Canaletto. P1080422.jpg We left nearly 3 hours later, with very tired legs but we had a great time! From there we plodded down the road to St Issacs Cathedral, which is the largest cathedral in St Petersburg. It too has been rebuilt, but was absolutly stunning inside with frescoes galore! P1080443.jpgP1080444.jpg It can hold a congregation of over 10,000 people, which is a bit larger than most churches in England! P1080446.jpgP1080447.jpg

We plan to go to Peterhof tomorrow, which is the main palace Peter the Great built outside of the city. We are having a fantastic time in St Petersburg, despite the odd rain shower! Its not long now until we return, cant wait to see you all!

Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

p.s. we're having computer problems, I will try and add more photos tomorrow x

Posted by chrisalex 10:35 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Moscow Part III

overcast 10 °C
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We had a lazy day walking around Moscow today, seeing all the things that we have missed out on! We started by getting the tube out of town to see the University of Moscow, which is housed in one of the 'Seven Sisters' - the matching buildings which Stalin placed all over the city in 1930s New York Art Deco style! The view was obstructed by a hill, but we managed to get a photo nonetheless! P1080194.jpg From there we got the tube back into the city centre and got off at the famous Bolshoi theatre, which was covered in scaffolding unfortunatly. After that we went to do some more souvenir shopping, russian dolls galore! The weather has been quite miserable today, but we dont really mind! We put our waterproofs on this morning and kept on trekking!

Once we had bought some more things, we headed off on a walking tour of Kitay Gorod, which is the area we are staying in at the moment. There are a collection of pretty little churches and grand old pastel coloured buildings scatted about. P1080198.jpgP1080202.jpgP1080206.jpg

Tonight we went to see the bright lights of Red Square, which were fantastic! P1080225.jpgP1080230.jpg We went into GUM, which is a very posh department store and walked around the square at night. P1080214.jpgP1080211.jpg We leave Moscow tomorrow morning for St Petersburg, where we will be staying for the next 4 days!

Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 11:45 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Moscow Part II

rain 16 °C
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We walked past the changing of the guard for the Unknown Soldier again on our way to the Kremlin this morning, still goose-steppingingly mad! P1080138.jpg We had to get separate tickets for the armoury so we had to go there first as you are only allowed in as part of a 'tour'. Anyway, we strolled around the armoury, which is a collection of old regalia and russian artifacts from days of yore. Very impressive stuff, and we saw real faberge eggs! After that we went into the Diamond Fund (which is conincidentally and conveniently owned by the Ministry of Finance ), which houses some of the most impressive sparkly gems we have seen, including the largest cut Sapphire in the world (260 carats) and the crown of Catherine the Great. There was also a large variety of gold nuggets and bars on display - again, very impressive - but one can't help feeling that they're unnecessarily showing off a little! Sorry, no pics were allowed in these exhibits!

After that we walked into the Kremlin grounds proper, past the presidential palace P1080140.jpg and went into all the royal cathedrals with their gold sparkling onion-domes. P1080152.jpg There are 3 in total, The Assumption Cathedral, P1080172.jpg The Archangel Cathedral and The Annunication Cathedral, P1080145.jpg all of which were absolutely beautiful inside (again, sorry, no photos allowed). They manage to cover every wall and ceiling with murals and the result was breathtaking. We also had a look at The Ivan the Great Bell Tower, P1080171.jpg and the huge bell to accompany it, which weighs in at 202 tonnes. Due to its colossal weight it has never been rung. P1080158.jpg Next to it was the Tsar's cannon, which had a massive 89cm bore! Like the Tsar's bell, it was too large to be used and remains a showpiece to this day.P1080156.jpg

From there we walked down Arbat Street, which is souvenir central! We bought a few things and strolled the whole length of the street, which had some really impressive buildings on it, with one of the seven sisters at the bottom end! P1080182.jpg We got the tube from the other end and it happened to be a really impressive station, very socialist art deco! P1080188.jpgP1080189.jpg We did some more shopping on the way back through Red Square and headed back to the hotel. P1080178.jpg The weather has been slightly miserable today, but it didn't stop us and it even cheered up towards the end. We have had another fantastic day in Moscow nevertheless and cant wait for tomorrow!

Miss you lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 11:22 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Moscow Part I

sunny 25 °C
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We arrived in Moscow yesterday morning after only 30 hours on the train (pah!), and after checking in to the hotel we spent the day strolling around our little area of Moscow and generally catching up with ourselves. Today we got up early and walked straight down the road to Red Square, which literally took our breath away when we walked in to it. P1070998.jpg Its a lot smaller than we thought it was going to be, but the buildings surrounding it are the most impressive we have seen. We queued and went to see Lenin's Mausoleum first, which took just less than an hour to get through. P1080015.jpg The waiting process wasn't as painful as past pickled people (Mao and Ho), but Lenin managed to look just as fake and waxy as the rest. The mausoleum itself is an striking lump of shiny marble, which manages to blend well with the older buildings in Red Square. After that we walked through the garden behind the mausoleum, to where Josef Stalin got unceremoniously moved to after his popularity waned. stalin.jpg He initially placed himself inside Lenin's tomb, but de-stalinisation during the 1960's led to him being moved to a less impressive resting place.

After that we walked down the square to St Basils Cathedral (or to give it its Russian title - The Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat), which we got really excited about seeing, after having seen it on TV so many times. P1080054.jpg Again, its a lot smaller than we thought it was going to be, but it looks absolutely fantastic. We were shocked to see that the inside is just as impressive as the outside, with lots of stunning small vaulted areas, it felt like a rabbit warren! P1080062.jpgP1080067.jpgP1080076.jpg After finally pulling ourselves away from St Basils at south end of the square, we strolled the length of Red Square, P1080038.jpg which has the Kremlin on one side, P1070991.jpg GUM (Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin - a huge department store) on the other P1070990.jpgP1080020.jpg and the State History Museum at the north end. P1070997.jpg On the north eastern corner of Red Square is the small but visually striking Kazan Cathedral. P1080083.jpg The original structure, built in 1636, was destroyed on the orders of Stalin in 1936 as part of his clearance of Red Square's religious buildings to make way for soviet military parades. We can thankfully see it today as it was rebuilt between 1990 and 1993 based on the original plans. After Kazan Cathedral, we walked through the north western end of the square into Aleksandrovsky Garden to watch the changing of the guard of the Unknown Soldier (goose-stepping galore!). P1080087.jpgP1080093.jpg From there we continued to walk down to the river and across a bridge so we could get a view of the Kremlin, which is fantastic and just as impressive as we thought it would be! P1080104.jpg

From there we crossed back over the river and went into Christ the Saviour Cathedral which, like Kazan Cathedral, was rebuilt recently as the original was knocked down in the 30's by Stalin in order to build a 415m high Soviet monstrosity to Lenin in its place, called The Palace of the Soviets. The plan, quite literally, never got off the ground and the area was used as a gigantic swimming pool until the Cathedral was rebuilt in the early 90's. It was really impressive and beautifully decorated inside with floor to ceiling murals and guilded artwork. P1080116.jpg Even though it has only been a consecrated cathedral for the past 9 years, it was rebuilt true to the original blue prints and retains all of its former glory.

After that we went to the Novodevichy Cemetery, which is basically a who's who of Russian composers, politicians and artists and literary figures. There are around 27,000 graves within the cemetery, so we spent an hour or so hunting out the ones we really wanted to see. The famous composers for Chris obviously - Shostakovich, P1080131.jpg Prokofiev, P1080125.jpg Rostrapovich P1080123.jpg and Skryabin. P1080129.jpg We also saw Boris Yeltsin, whose grave was a funny marble effort in the shape of the Russian Flag, P1080122.jpg and Nikita Krushchev who succeeded Stalin after his death. P1080124.jpg In addition to these we hunted out Tolstoy (author of War and Peace) P1080133.jpg and Molotov (army general who was famous for making explosive cocktails!). P1080130.jpg After that we plodded home after a really brilliant time, we are both loving Moscow at the moment! The weather has also cheered up, so we are back in summer clothes!

We hope you are all well,
Not long until we see you all now,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 07:21 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg!!

rain 10 °C
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эдравствуйте ('zdrast-vuy-te' - hello) from Russia!

Train from Irkutsk left 2 hours late, not a great start to the journey, but somehow managed to be perfectly on time when we got to Yekaterinburg 50 hours later! The trains are fine once you settle in really, we got talking to the only russian woman who could speak english, so that made the journey pass a bit! We arrived in Yekaterinburg in the middle of the night and it was really cold and raining.

We are staying for 3 nights in Yekaterinburg, so we we're in no rush to get things done. Out first day we spent doing laundry and going all the way back to the station (in the cold and rain) to book a ticket to Moscow in a few days time, which we managed to do! After that we walked around the old part of town, which is very pretty with some lovely colourful buildings. P1070973.jpg

Today we went to see the rest of the city, which is much larger than we first thought. We are hideously underdressed for Russia, as we only have summer clothes! It's supposed to be warm at this time of year, so we are hoping it will cheer up on our way to Moscow, but right now it's about 10 degrees and we can't feel our noses and ears! We walked around and went to the tiny Chapel of St Catherine, after whom the city is named. P1070963.jpg There are some beautiful massive buildings here, including the city hall and the surrounding buildings. P1070969.jpgP1070983.jpg Opposite the City Hall is the obligatory statue of Lenin, our second on our trip across Russia. P1070971.jpg There are also some random bronze statues everywhere, including one of the founders of the city. P1070962.jpg As well as this there is a random monument to the QWERTY keyboard, which is basically a life size keyboard made out of concrete. Possibly the randomest thing we have seen so far in Russia. P1070958.jpgP1070959.jpg

After that we walked all the way through town to The Church of the Blood (or to give it its stereotypically full Russian title: The Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land) aka the memorial church on the site where the Romanov Royal family were murdered in 1917. P1070975.jpgP1070980.jpg It was still freezing at this point and we were more than happy to get inside the church, which itself is very modern as it was only built in 2003. Inside it was a typical Russin Orthodox Church, with lots of gold and various altars. In addition to the normal altars, the Romanov family were canonised (made into saints) in 2000 and as such have many altars dedicated just to them. Its ironic that after being killed by their own people, they were also made saints many years later. We took a stroll around the church and then had a cup of coffee afterwards to try and warm up. We had a look at some other churches before getting the bus back to the warmth of the hotel. P1070977.jpg

We are having an ace time in Russia, we think because it reminds us of home (the weather does thats for sure!). We leave tomorrow morning on a 27 hour train to Moscow, which will be a doddle after the trains we have done!

Hope everyone is ok,
Missing you all lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

p.s. For anyone we forgot to tell, we shall be returning to the UK on 22nd August!!xx

Posted by chrisalex 03:51 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Beijing to Irkutsk!

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Got on 72 hour train from Beijing, which although the longest train we have ever been on, it wasn't too bad! We managed to read, eat and sleep to pass the time. The change over at the border took 10 hours, starting at 2.30am, which we were not best please at. We had to get the train searched, get through immigration and get our temperatures taken as well! As well as all that we had to get the wheels on the train changed from Chinese to Russian guage, for which we had to get off the train and sit on the platform for a few more hours! We finally got going and made it to Irkutsk about 2 hours late the following evening, after spending about 5hrs skirting the southern shore of Lake Baikal. P1070919.jpgP1070920.jpg We spent the first couple of hours sorting out train tickets out of there, as Chris had spent his time on the train learning the Russian alphabet and simple phrases we managed to pull it off and get a ticket to Yekaterinburg (Katherinburg) for Thursday evening! This was made even more complicated by the fact that all the train tickets are sold in Moscow time, and we are currently 5 hours ahead of Moscow, so there is lots of calculating to do!

We got a tram into town and got to the hostel late in the evening (it doesn't go dark until about 10.30pm here), and had a well deserved shower (our first in nearly 4 days) and went straight to bed. The following day we had to move from that hostel as they only had a room for one night, so they relocated us to another hostel, which is all fine and dandy. After we moved our stuff we took a walk around Irkutsk, which feels so european despite the fact that we are still as far east as Bangkok at the moment! We went to see the statue of Lenin in the town square (very russian) P1070955.jpg and the various churches scattered around the town. P1070936.jpgP1070947.jpg After that we just spent a relaxing day walking around and managing not to sweat for the first time in months as its about 30 degrees here, but there is no humidity and a nice breeze! We sat in a park for a while and then walked back down the river to the hostel. P1070951.jpg Its great to not be stared at either, as although Russians are the ugliest most unfashionable people we have seen so far, we technically look the same! Although they are rather stern, Russians are ok really! We leave Irkutsk tonight on a 2 day train to Yekaterinburg, where we are staying for a couple of days!

Hope everyone is well,
Missing you lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 21:29 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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