24.05.2009 - 04.06.2009 27 °C
please excuse the very delayed update! in russia we had no computer that would let us upload photos. we've also been very busy seeing so much, so its been hard to find free time! we hope you're all well, and we love hearing from you. keep the facebook and email updates coming. we miss you!! we've been having a blast though! Here is a bit of info on what we did in russia.
russia was incredible! a vast language barrier - a huge change from the comfort of the uk. trying to find our accommodation at 11pm in moscow was eventful! quite a shock to the system. everything is written in cryillic (no english anywhere)! we had to try and turn the cryillic alphabet into letters (and words) that we could understand and easily memorise - this was quite fun. we did find our hostel eventually, with some help from a lovely pharmicist who walked us the 20 meters to where we needed to go - woops. hey, it's confusing with no english anywhere! all pharmacies are open 24 hous in russia too - odd! we stayed in moscow for 4 nights at the Lenin Hostel - which was basically like a mini hotel, which we were not expecting. we had a private twin room with a tv. so we got to watch rambo and richie-rich in russian - it doesnt get any better than that! haha.
the highlights of our 4 days in MOSCOW:
- St Basil's Cathedral. such an amazing structure - like a gingerbread house. incredible architecture. ivan the terrbile (so terrible, so very terrible) blinded the architects after they completed it, so that they could never build anything as beautiful again. unfortunately it wasnt open on the day we were to see it, as they randomly closed it. not cool. oh well, from the outside it was simply spectacular!
- the red square. just being there after reading about it was surreal. we spent a while there, strolling in the sun, taking it all in.
- Lenin's Mausoleum - creepy! Heidi got told off for talking and "lingering". Ben thinks its a wax body.
- The Kremlin - not a lot was open, however we saw a couple of nice churches and a quartet of priests singing. it scared us when they first started - one of them had a loud voice!! we also spent time lying in the sun in the secret garden looking for 4 leaf clovers.
- russian canteen style restaurants - Grimaldi's (as Heidi calls it. not sure of its real name) and Mu-Mu. we ate lots of borscht (delicious - hot borscht is better than cold borscht though) and beetroot salad. they love their beetroot here.
- cool metro system. marble everywhere, and really really underground - seriously deep - very long escalator rides!
- the people. most people speak zero english, and there were frowning faces everywhere in moscow. we adopted this look on the metro to try and fit in and not look like tourists. it was fun.
- getting lost. kind of annoying, but still fun. you cant avoid it in russia - cryillic = not so easy to follow/memorise.
next we caught the train to St Petersburg. a 7.5 hour journey in a stinking hot train with only 1 window and no breeze. we were dripping with sweat. ew. the guy sitting opposite us kept giving us the evil eye. heidi tried to make friends with him by offerring him some biscuits. he declined, however we think that softened him up a bit.
we spent 8 nights in St P. we arrived at 8pm on a Wednesday, and the sun was high in the sky. we were here during the White Nights - where its bright basically ALL night. our first impressions were:
- beautiful city - stunning, colourful buildings (bright green and yellow and peach colours). quite a typical 'European' feel.
- smiling faces - quite a contrast with moscow
- english written beneath cryillic - again, contrasting with moscow (a welcome relief indeed)
- gorgeous weather - very warm and bright blue, cloudless sky (around 27 degrees every day).
we found our hostel - Zimmer Nice hostel, which is right off Nevsky Prospekt (the main street in St P). it was such an incredible location. 2 seconds from the palace square and the winter palace/hermitage. right opposite us was a great bakery too, where we bought dark rye grainy baguettes for breakfast every day - they love thier dark rye in russia, its the bomb (heidi thinks so)!
we spent our 8 days in ST P as follows:
- wandering around the gardens - the summer garden (the best - we had nice picnics here), the admiralty gardens, the field of mars
- going for runs in the morning around these gardens and along the river neva
- exploring the hermitage museum - so much to see, so little time. a day there is not enough! it was amazing seeing the Tsar's quarters - the library was amazing. we also saw a real mummy! a mummified body from 1000BC. it had toenails! ew.
- spending a day at the peter and paul fortress - a great museum there on the history on St P. we saw the tombs of Tsar Nicholas 2nd, his wife, and his daughters (they havent found his son's body or the other daughter's body yet after their murder in 1918)
- visiting the Leningrad blockade museum - incredible what those poor people went through. this museum is off the radar, however its well worth the visit and deserves more credit. the little old russian lady (who was said to be the english-speaker at the museum) spoke very little english (more like russian with an occassional english word thrown in for good measure), yet we appreciated her attempt at explaining everything to us
- seeing the russian ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre, twice! we saw the nutcracker and then swan lake (ben surprised heidi with tickets for swan lake. smooth! we had champagne. it was perfect). swan lake was especially outstanding.
- eating blini - russian pancakes (like crepes) filled with various delights. we had ones with creamy muchrooms, ham and cheese, and also mince meat. we also tried chudu - another style of pancake, which was nicer. it was thin and flat, and filled with cottage cheese - it was so tasty. also on the topic of food, it must be noted that they are obsessed with mayonnaise and dill! they love them! they put them in everything!
- enjoying the sun - we both got thong tans - foot thongs.
so, despite the extra effort it took to get the visa and navigate our way around the language barrier, we are so happy we visited russia. it is truly an incredible country. it opened our eyes to a brand new culture. one doused with frowns, incredibly stunning buildings and museums, gorgeous parks, and mayonnaise and dill.
we'll add photos soon, and we promise to give more regular updates. we're yet to tell you about our fun in prague with justin and matt. we'll also update you on italy soon! (rome, sicily and tuscany so far - including a day on a vespa.)