Wednesday 26 September 2012

Moscow Time

When we left Ekaterinburg, we'd had a busy and tiring couple of days and were looking forward to some down time on the train. Before we'd even stepped on the train we encountered two unusual events. Firstly, as we were waiting at the departures board willing our platform number to be announced we witnessed an old man have a seizure of some kind, then the security guards come in the see what all the fuss was about and the first-aiders come out and take the man off on a stretcher. We'll never know what happened to him, I speculated about where he was heading... I wonder if he ever made his destination. Then as we waited on the platform for the train, an old lady came over to us. Standing as we were, me with my backpacks on front and back and Mary with her (rather large) case. This Russian lady looks from me, to Mary, to Mary's case and back at me. She says something to me in Russian pointing to the case. I have no idea what she said but I answered 'I know, it's simply huge isn't it!' She walked off, chuckling to herself.  Such a funny encounter, and one that had me laughing as we boarded the train to Moscow. 

The next day we arrived in rainy Moscow. We were to meet someone from the tour company at the station, as with all the other stops. As we made our way along the platform we spied a shady looking man holding a piece of paper. Glancing at each other with trepidation, we both said 'I hope he's not waiting for us,' But of course he was waiting for us. We followed our shady character to the car and jumped in out of the rain. What followed was a race through the streets of Moscow, he drove like a mad man and I'm sure I got a little whiplash from that journey! We'd arrived at 4pm, just in time for rush hour. The traffic was terrible. Made worse by the Russians and their awful driving. We got stuck at a cross roads, as the traffic lights had failed and there was complete gridlock. I'd never really experienced anything like it. There was absolutely no way anyone could get through because there were cars every which way. Eventually a police man arrived and managed to get the cars out of the trouble, but it meant we were now facing a different direction. We must have done about three circuits of Moscow before we got to our hostel, hidden in a dead-end backstreet full of cars. Our driver abandanded the car blocking the way to take us to the door and then disappeared. Thankfully it was a very small, but lovely place. Clearly recently refurbished. We were happy to finally have a base for a few days.

We had a city tour the following day, which was great and our guide took us around back streets pointing out architecture and places from famous Russian novels. Unfortunately Red Square was full of temporary seating, Military marching bands and soldiers. Turns out we'd arrived just before a large military tattoo, in honour of the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. Great. 

We spent our free afternoon wandering around St Basil's Cathedral and buying sale items in Monsoon (in the Gum; don't judge)

Our food success in Russia continued that evening as we had an amazing Georgian feast at a restaurant near our hostel. The bread was full of cheese and butter, probably a heart attack on a plate, bit seriously, a delicious one.

A small WWII memorial.
On this memorial the date for WWII was 1941-1945. I queried this with our tour guide, as for us the war began in 1939. She fobbed me off with some talk about a winter or northern war. I didn't think much more about it, until I went to the Warsaw rising museum and realised Russia were buggering about in Poland during the beginning on WWII bezzie mates with Germany.

Church of Ascension, where Pushkin married.

TASS media building, where during the Soviet Union ALL news was produced. (also looks a bit like a TV)

A little bit of England

Ok and Scotland...

Roll over Beethoven and tell ^Tchaikovsky^ the news

The GUM (Pronounced GOOM) famous shopping mall.

The thickest hot chocolate ever. I ate it with a spoon!

Outside St Basil's

Inside St. Basil's

I've got to stop doing this pose.

Mary was happy to see an old friend (Cinnabon)

A-mazing Georgian bread

I can't remember what this was now, but I remember it was lush!

Thursday 20 September 2012


We stopped in Ekaterinburg on our Trans-mongolian trip purely because it was part of the tour package we booked. We didn't know anything much about the city before booking. If nothing else it was the perfect way to break up what would otherwise have been a 5 day train ride from Irkutsk - Moscow! There was enough to satisfy us in Ekaterinburg however; as I mentioned in my last post we took a trip out to the place where the Romanov family were first buried. Our tour also included a stop at the official border between Asia and Europe. This was an added extra we decided on a whim in the booking office in Beijing but it was worth it. We stood for the obligatory photo standing at the border line, but we also indulged in the Russian tradition of a glass of champagne and chocolate, (although the plastic glasses broke and we had to glug it from the bottle; ever the classy Essex ladies.) We also ate at a great restaurant still in Soviet style, which our tour company recommended as a real hangover from the USSR and not one of the many that have sprung up since for tourists. I'm glad we went in Ekaterinburg because it was a much more authentic place than any we saw in Moscow or St Petersburg.

We attempted to go to the War Museum to see the small display about the American U2 plane that crashed in the area amid denials from the US about it being a spy plane, only for the Russian to wheel out the pilot who had confessed all. But the museum was closed. The sign outside said it shouldn't be, but try as we might we couldn't get in!

We also attempted to follow the map to take a short tour of the city, but I misread the map and we ended up completely off the top of it! Finding our way back to the city centre eventually! We had a great time in Ekaterinburg, despite our pretty grim accommodation at the Liberty hotel.

I love how it even had wifi!
A rather grand entrance

'I got more records than the KGB'

Borsch and Smoked salmon pancakes

Deliciously cheesy dumplings
Lenin loved to read :-)
Mary and a big bear in a tutu...

This was one of the memorials for those who perished in the Soviet Gulags. Upon this site hundreds of thousands of bodies were dumped in mass graves and the whereabouts of the site were kept a huge secret. Now the area is a huge memorial listing all the names of everyone who died. It really renders you speechless to see how many names where there. I took a short video to show the sheer size of this mass burial ground. It certainly isn't the only one, which is even more saddening.

Standing between Asia (left) and Europe (right).

Similar to the locks in Korea, people tie ribbons here as a sign of their love <3 br="br">

The closest we got to the war museum

This was called the black tulip. It is a war memorial, particularly for Afghanistan and Chechnya (I have since researched)

Chechnya remembered
The church on spilled blood. The place where Nicholas II and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks

A wealthy merchants house. The prettiest building in Ekaterinburg.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Would you adam and eve it?!

 Russian history is rather bloody, and reads something like an Eastenders script. The most interesting of the dynasties was the Romanov family. Here is their story (soap style).

Peter the Great (exactly as he looked, very weird proportions!)

Peter I (the great) was the first Romanov King. So, ‘e was married to Catherine I –not to be confused with Catherine the great. I don’t know that much about ‘im but down the line a couple of generations came Peter III. And this is where it all starts to kick off. He married Catherine II (she’s the one they called ‘the great’). More fool ‘im really, cos she was at it with all and sundry. In fact, I ‘eard Paul (her first born) wasn’t even Peter’s son! So anyway, she ended up having her husband bumped off, although of course no one knew it was down to her and the people of Russia bloody loved her! Think of that! And she wasn’t even Russian born! Terrible!
She died in 1796 of a stroke, and her son Paul became King. No thanks to Catherine though. She’d tried to stop him ascending and get his son, Alexander crowned instead! What a carry on!
Catherine the Great (and all her lovers surrounding the statue)
Well, Paul didn’t have a good time of it, I can tell you. In 1801 he was murdered too. His son, Alexander is in the frame for this one, but we’ll probably never know now.
Alexander I then took the throne, but he caught typhus after going on holiday. (Gotta be careful when you go abroad, never know what’s in the water!). So, now he’s dead and the second brother, Constantine obvs, should now be King. But, Nicolas (the youngest) has his eye on the prize. What do you think happened? Of course Nicolas becomes Tsar Nicholas I. Well, as you can imagine, not everyone was best pleased about that, and also people were getting antsy about Serfdom and the monarchy in general, so a load of toffs (many who fought in previous wars) organised a coup! (ya know, when you all get together to fight your boss, or whatever). Nicholas was ‘avin none of that though and them lot (the Decemberists) were shipped off to the back of beyond (Siberia). I ‘eard they did a lot of good work there though and helped people get educated and go to balls and stuff so it wasn’t all bad.

Now we come to the worst business of the lot. Nicholas II, all that communist business and that Lenin fella. Well, Lenin and his mates got their revolution, and Nicholas abdicated the throne. He was gonna come to England, but George V didn’t want him to give anyone over here any ideas about a revolution or becoming a republic so Nicholas had to spend his exile in Siberia instead.

One of the Decemberist's houses in Irkutsk
Them Bolsheviks were still wary about having the King alive and people helping them out, so you’ll never guess what they did? Only bloody shot ‘em all! Seriously, in the middle of the night, basement of their ‘ouse! As if that wasn’t enough, they took the whole family, his five children, pets, servants and all after the murder out to an old mineshaft. Then they burned the bodies! It just gets worse and worse! In those days people were all gettin’ suspicious of everyone finding out so later they took the bones and separated them to try and hoodwink the authorities. That wasn’t all though, they also got Alexandra’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth. Poor woman was beaten up and left for dead down another mine. She was the religious sort and prayed everyday for their souls. People around the place were moaning about all the noise and the blokes came back and piped gas into the mine. They filled it in with earth and then left the poor woman there. Turns out later when they found her body she was sitting there, all peaceful, just looked like she was takin’ a kip! Her body weren’t rotten or nothin’!
Nicholas II

Back to the royal family anyway, some novel-writer found their remains in the 70s but he thought the secret police would probably be ‘fter him if he told anyone so he re-buried them! And he didn’t say a peep. Not a word! It wasn’t until 1991 that they were ‘officially’ found again and DNA tested to check they were real. Our own Prince Philip was related somehow (cousin or somethin’) and helped out the investigation. I mean this is the stuff of Jeremy Kyle!

Now all the remains; family, servants and all are buried in a nice little chapel in St Petersburg.

It’s a sorry business, I can tell you. After the remains were identified as the real Romanovs the relatives of this other woman ‘Anna Anderson’ were left pretty red-faced because she’d been posing as the youngest daughter Anastasia her whole life. Sayin’ she’d escaped before the murders, and fled Russia. Turns out she was a Polish refugee! You just couldn’t make it up!

The Romanov's final resting place
During our travels through Russia, from Irkutsk to St. Petersburg we had some excellent guides take us around the cities and explain their history to us. In Irkutsk we visited two of the Decemberists houses, in Ekaterinburg we went to the Ganina Yama, the spot where the Romanovs were burned and initially left in the mine. In Moscow we saw the church where the coronations of Russian Tsars were traditionally held and another were many are buried. Then when we got to St Petersburg we visited the Sts Peter and Paul Fortress, the final resting place of the Romanov family. I really loved hearing about the intrigue and betrayal of Russian history and standing in the spots where years ago all that history, and more was made.

St Peter and Paul Cathedral

Alexandra Romanov

A  little friend we made in Ganina Yama

The remains of the old mineshaft where the bodies were burned

A statue depicting the children

There are eight (soon to be nine) churches on the site, one for each person who died.

This cross stands at the place where some of the remains were found in 1991