Posts Tagged ‘Moscow’

Kazan – minarets and church towers

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Grave of the Unknown SoldierMe at Red SquareYesterday I took the metro downtown, and walked around Moscow, but not really for long. I saw the changing of the guard at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, with the soldiers marching in that peculiar way without bending their knees! Then I went to the Krasnaya Ploschad, Red Square, took a picture of Lenin’s tomb, and marvelled at St.Basil’s cathedral. The cathedral was built between 1555 and 1561, after Ivan the Terrible’s victory over the stronghold of Kazan, where I am now. Then I walked around the Kremlin, before I went to meet the couchsurfer, Arthur, who helped me get the train ticket.

The Moscow metro is worth a mention. Most of the stations, at least those close to town, are almost breathtaking in their decoration. Taking a trip on the circle line, and getting off on each station, to walk around for a few minutes, is like being in the world’s busiest art gallery! Another thing I’ve noticed is that russians read a lot! I’ve seen countless people at the metro, dangling around from one arm, with their gaze firmly stuck to a book in the other hand!

After I’d gotten a ticket for the night train at 00:35, I went back home, and had some supper. I spent almost an hour getting what I needed for a really good Russian meal, in an overcrowded supermarket at a mall near Kievskaya. When I finally reached the check out, however, the cash registry broke down… I literally left my groceries on the counter and walked out. I went to another supermarket, but by then I was so hungry that I grabbed a frozen pizza and some coca cola…

My host Jimmy with his kitten               I spent a nice evening with my host Jimmy and his two cats, before I went to catch the train to Kazan. Being me, I was of course a bit on the late side, so when I reached the Komsomolskaya metro station, I had to RUN to Kazanskii station to catch the train. (You try running with a full 85 litre backpack on your back, and a stuffed daypack on your stomach, and you’ll soon find out that it’s not necessarily a good idea…) I managed to huff and puff, soaked through with sweat, up to the train as it was about to move out. Luckily the provodnitsa (train car manager) let me on! As soon as I got through the door, it closed, and the train started moving.

My two train trips so far have been on “platzkartny” in an open sleeping car, which is the lowest fare you can get and still have a “bed”, and it feels quite safe.  So far I haven’t met anyone who speaks English on the train, but everyone is very eager to try to communicate, and I had hardly even sat down on the the train last night before the guy next to me insisted I try some of the food he’d brought! After a while we made our beds, and climbed in. A roll-out-mattress, pillow, woollen blankets, clean linen and a small hand towel are included in the price, and handed out by the provodnitsa. It is, however so excruciatingly hot in the trains, that the blankets are absolutely superfluous. To put it that way, if my bedroom at home was that hot, I’d forego both pajamas, blankets and sheets. I lay on my bunk watching a couple of episodes of a tv show I have on my computer, before trying to go to sleep, but because of the heat it got pretty late before I managed. When I woke up around 10:30 this morning, the view from the window was hypnotizing, with the White Birch standing amidst the black trunks of other trees, like ghost trees, and all covered by a thin layer of the year’s first snow, and still some snow drifting through the air.

Kul Sharif MosqueThe train started moving right on time, but at my arrival in Kazan it was an hour late, so I got here around 14:30 instead of 13:25. Pavel, my host, had taken time off from work to come meet me at the station, and hence lost an hour more of work than planned! Pavel is actually not a couchsurfer, but he lives with his boyfriend, Michael, who is. Michael, however, is out of town but Pavel has agreed to host me nonetheless. He’s a really nice guy; not only did he wait for me at the station for over an hour, he’d also bought me food, so I could eat as soon as we got home.  He’s at work again now, but tonight he’s taking me to a sort of show that some of the international students here in Kazan are putting on, so I’m having a latin-american evening in Russia!

I also need to get train tickets to Yekaterinburg, preferably for late tomorrow night, because I unfortunately need to keep moving, if I’m going to be able to get out of Russia before my visa runs out on November 30.

MOCKBA – a true metropolis

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Ok, so I haven’t had time to write for a while, so I’ll do a quick update.
In Novgorod I was hosted by Aleksey and his family, but unfortunately Aleksey was very busy and had to work the whole weekend. On Saturday I spent the day in the centre of Novgorod, which has a beautiful historical Kremlin, or Fort. (The Novgorodians call it Detinets, “Young Men’s Compound) Next year the city will celebrate its 1150th anniversary, so unfortunately everything was undergoing renovations. Still, I got to see a museum with archeological finds from the town, dating back to it’s viking heritage, (it was called Holmgard, the capital of Gardarike), complete with a viking sword and viking dragon broches! It also had an impressive collection of russian icons.

On Sunday, Aleksey drove me and his mother and father out to a small monastery  a place called Peryn, outside the city, dating back to 995 AD. Then he drove us to St.Yuryev Monastery, where he left us because he had to work. His mother works as a tourist guide, and knew very very much about everything we saw that day. Unfortunately, she didn’t speak much English, so there was very little of her knowledge that she managed to communicate to me. Being a guide, she also knew the people at the ticket stands, so we got in everywhere for free! We hitched a ride with a tourist bus from St.Yuryev to the nearby museum of wooden architecture, where I got to try my hand at weaving and spinning, and try some old Russian children’s toys!
The buildings in that museum were moved from 26 different locations in the Novgorod region, and dated from the 16th to early 20th century. In the museum we also met a Swedish girl, who turned out to be Aleksey’s swedish teacher in university!

After catching a bus back to the centre of Novgorod, we also went back to the museum where I’d been the day before, but this time I got to see the treasury, which had so much gold, silver and jewelry that one could get almost dizzy! Last we went to the St.Sophia cathedral, which is the oldest stone church in Russia, almost 1000 years old, and still standing, still being in use! I’d been there the day before, but this time, with Aleksey’s mother, I got to go to a place that tourist normally can’t get to; up on the choir’s gallery! There were some amazing iconic frescoes, almost as old as the church itself!

Sunday evening I took the night train to Moscow, and I arrived here Monday morning at 5:32am. I was supposed to meet my host, Jimmy, at 7:30, but my phone didn’t work in Moscow, so I couldn’t get hold of him. Eventually, when the shops opened, I managed to get myself a new sim card, but by then Jimmy was at work, he works at the American embassy, and he couldn’t meet me before 5:30pm, which meant that I lugged all my belongings around Moscow the whole day! When I finally met up with him, we also met with Luka from Italy, with whom I’ve been sharing a room the last couple of days.

Soon after we arrived in his apartment, a huge place in a secure area, where many of the foreign ambassadors live, he got an sms about a couchsurfers’ meeting at a Banya, a Russian bath house, that same night. I really needed to relax after carrying all my stuff around all day, so I decided to go. I met some really nice people, and we had a lot of fun. We had a private area all to ourselves, with a pool table, karaoke, two sitting groups, a Turkish steam bath, a Finnish sauna and a cold water pool. One of the girls, Arina, were celebrating her birthday, and there was a lot of vodka and beer going around. After a while some of the guys cooked up a plan to have a strip show as a birthday present for Arina, but I don’t know if she was more flattered or embarrassed… 😛 The only thing that was a little disappointing, was that it wasn’t a REAL Russian banya with the Venik (bunches of birch twigs with the leaves still on), so I’ll have to try again later.  😉

Yesterday I was in good shape, since I’d managed to turn down most of the vodka in the Banya, but I was still too exhausted from carrying around all my stuff, so I stayed in, relaxed, washed some clothes and uploaded some photos and log posts. In the evening I went out to the weekly CS meeting in Moscow, and met some of the people from the banya, and many other couchsurfers. The Moscow CS community is very active!

Today I’m going to go around the centre of Moscow WITHOUT all my luggage, and just enjoy it. I’m meeting up with a couchsurfer I met yesterday, who’s helping me buy a train ticket, seeing as that is apparently one of the most difficult things you can do as a foreigner in Russia…