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Russia Part One

14th July 2014 Entered Russia at the Koidula check point with no queues but took two hours to pass through both Estonian and Russian border posts with no trouble. The officers of both countries were polite, cheerful and helpful. We were able to get car insurance ($100 for two months) at a petrol station at the border. A further fee of 150 roubles ($5) road toll, so have some roubles or go to the nearby shop and change Euros or US dollars as I did.

So far the roads aren’t bad nor the Russian’s driving, as we had heard, and there were no more bread queues as we shopped at probably the biggest supermarket we have ever seen, in Pskov, a provincial city, fully stocked. Judy was able to get beauty products that she hasn’t been able to get since Sydney. This supermarket was like Woollies, Big W, Bunning’s and Super Cheap Auto all in one. I wonder what they will be like in a big city?

Our first night in Russia and we are wild camped (bush camped) just off the highway, on our way to Saint Petersburg, should get there tomorrow.

15th July 2014 Driving into Saint Petersburg we see a huge, grand city, the size of Sydney, with wide streets, some with eight lanes surrounded by six storey centuries old buildings, golden spires and domes adorn palaces and churches.

The Olgino Hotel has a camping area, which is past its former glory but has pleasant parkland, the Wi-Fi works and Visa card is accepted. The reception staff is friendly but I’m slightly miffed that no one is paying the slightest attention to my excellent Russian speech.

We thought we had the place to ourselves but the German contingent from Estonia has just arrived, thirteen mobile homes, and, unbeknown to ourselves we have made camp right in the middle of their “booked” area. However they seem to have accepted us. One of their number had a bad crash here in Russia, a write off and unknown injuries.

I later found out that his injuries were not serious.

18th July 2014 Wow! The Hermitage, which is Peter the Great’s palace, is a museum/art gallery, indescribable. More Rembrandt’s than the Louvre, sculpture, period clothing, Egyptian section, Da Vinci’s, Michael Angelo’s, what can I say. As a bonus you walk around these beautiful rooms in which the nobility lived.

Getting around is easy by public transport. The Metro runs at double speed with a train every one to three minutes depending on time of day and cheap. It is day here till midnight so you can fit a lot in.

People are helpful. We got talking to an old Babushka (Grandmother) as we got off the bus, and the next thing you know she is volunteering to be our tour guide to Pushkin, which is meant to have an even more glorious palace than The Hermitage.

We visited the Peter and Paul Cathedral in which all of the Tsars are interred and the Spilled Blood Cathedral (built on the spot where a Tsar was assassinated? Alexander) then took a Neva (river) and canal boat ride. A lot of these buildings have golden spires and when you see them in the flesh they are very impressive.

The Babushka was right, Ekaterina’s palace and grounds, in Pushkin was even more impressive than the Hermitage. The Russian nobility’s wealth must have been huge, too bad about the peasants.

It took us four hours to get out of Saint Petersburg due to traffic jams.

Apparently Vladimir Putin regularly frequents a local eatery in Pushkin.

Russia is pretty well right up to date now. Plenty of Landcruisers, Mercs, Range Rovers, good roads, huge hypermarkets, no drunks and plenty of ATM’S. I believe they put a man into space once.

Now camping on a small lake on the road to Moscow.

Judy wrote her first Russian word today, in Russian, it was Pushkin, and what a word to start with. One of Russia’s greatest literary masters.

Just heard about the Malasian airline plane that was shot down over the Ukraine killing many including some twenty eight Australians.

19th July 2014 Popped into Novgorod to see their Kremlin, fortress and church, impressive as usual and finished the day wild camping on one of the most beautiful spots yet. A halcyon day on the small Tvertsa river just out of Torzhok (and if you can say that you must be a Russian).

We met another overlander couple at a road stop, Hauke and Ragnhild aka Rags (of Max Hunt website), they are professional hunter/ travellers on their way to Kamchatkaand are just ripping their way through Russia to get to the remote wildernesses.

This trip seems to get better and better by the day, and I’m saying this ten months into the trip.

Tomorrow we enter Moscow.

20th July 2014 Saint Petersburg is a village by comparison to Moscow. Massive buildings, sixteen lane roads in the middle of town and twelve million people in residence. It took us all day to find a hotel to stay at and even though it was a Sunday and traffic relatively light I found it very difficult to get from A to B as there are many through roads and one way roads. Very hard to pick from a map.

Subways are very expensive here, not the train but the fast food franchise, however our hotel room is only $80/night. It is central, clean with good facilities provided such as kitchen, gym, cinema and bar. Not bad value as we had heard that Moscow is THE most expensive tourist city.

We have had perfect weather in the high 20’s by day and cool nights.

21st July 2014 We started off the day slowly trying to sort out the parking. There are no parking stations, which will take the height of our car, but you can park in the street and pay an astronomical fee, the problem is that their system doesn’t recognise our number plates (or is it a problem?). Anyway we didn’t get going until midday. From here the day really happened. We got to the Mongolian embassy by metro (the stations are like art galleries) and got our visas that afternoon, paying express US$320 total. In fact the Metro trains are like a conveyor belt, a train coming as little as thirty seconds apart and costing two thirds of bugger all for a ticket.

Had a most delicious lunch of Khinkali, a Georgian dumpling and walking it off along Arbatskaya a shopping and tourist precinct before arriving at Red Square. It looks so drab when you see it on all of those old Red Army parades but drab it aint, being surrounded by not only the Kremlin but an astounding Saint Basils cathedral and other monumental buildings. The scale of Moscow is incomprehensible but if you want BIG forget Red Square, just go to your local shopping mall. You see we used to get stories like this: Moscow has a butcher but sometimes the meat doesn’t come in and there are shortages, also bread lines, look again buddy!

I’m hoping to get a peek into Lenin’s tomb tomorrow ghoul that I am.

23rd July 2014 Yesterday we visited the Kolomneskaya gardens after sorting out our Sony camera, which had a problem with its viewfinder, we found a repairer but also bought a new Canon as a back up.

Today another huge day starting with poached egg on spinach, eggs benedict and two coffee’s = $50, yes these guys have got the gist of capitalism. Next, Lenin’s tomb, he’s is in there alright, for how much longer we do not know. It was a strange sensation, the crypt was very dark and there must be many accidents on the steps leading down to the body, which is bathed in an eerie glow. As I walked past him he gave me a wink but I don’t think anyone else saw.

Next, went on a tourist bus ride followed by a visit to TSUM, a David Jones +++, but not before stopping at the Kamchatka, opposite for some piroshky almost as good as Mum’s.

On the way back to the Kremlin, in a subway, was a three piece, string quartet. Yes that’s right, a three piece that sounded like four or rather forty musicians. The sound was just great.

The Kremlin, again words escape, many cathedrals, the biggest cannon never fired in anger and a huge Tsars bell.

 

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