Friday, 29 October 2010

St. Petersburg Russia

Three full days on a train, I was excited about this! It was fun for a while, but it got to be too long as you might imagine. I was really missing my bike, and I wished I hadn't done this, but I tried to make the most of it.

What surprised me is that the landscape looked the same the entire way!!

Those 2 ladies at the window came well equipped with heaps of food. They kept trying to feed me! I had my cheese and bread as I had done before. Nataliya also warned me that I was not carrying enough food for 3 days.. but I came off the train with left overs, no worries.

The train stops often with passengers getting off or on. And always a kind lady out the door wanting to sell something. Berries are still happening.. How can you refuse buying anything from that lady!?

Thank goodness I had a big fat book I had just brought with me from America. I was meant to read it on the plane to Moscow, but I never did. I knew I shouldn't be carrying it on the motorcycle, but it came in darn handy for this trip more than the plane anyway.

Well, that's a little insight to 3 days of my life on a train. I'm really glad for the experience, I had wondered what travel by train would be like for many years. I think it may have been a smidgen more interesting on the bike. Lesson learned..

So !!!! Now I arrive St. Petersburg!! I hadn't necessarily planned to go there early on, and therefore know nothing about the place. Lord have Mercy!! What a large European looking city!! Culture shock!!

I walked around the city with my mouth wide open. I have been to Europe before, but I just totally forgot that people live this way!! Especially after traveling through modest and quiet Siberia for so long, this place blew me away.

And then I start noticing the city has quite a collection of naked men - everywhere!


I found a whole group of them in the subway mosaics!!

My question is: Did they really live this way, or is it for the sake of art? St. Petersburg is so far north and would rarely have weather worthy of so much fresh air.

I could put in heaps more photos, but I imagine the men reading this are getting a bit bored.. sorry!

This city is chocker block full of culture. I somehow missed the culture boat when I was born. I must have hopped on the adventure boat instead.. But I can appreciate all the hard laborious work the people did to create such a beautiful city!

I really just want my bike... I try riding around in the subway to satisfy the need for travel and movement. I like the experience once again, but I'm not much of a big city girl and ready to move on.

I enjoyed meeting young Alexander Permyakov, who interviewed me for his Russian Expeditions magazine.

I have attached a link to his October issue.. as those of you know from my facebook post, it's all in Russian, but very impressive photography and worth a look.

Anyway, Alexander showed me around St. Pete. a bit more, and ended up being a huge help when it came to communication with the shipping company regarding my bike.

Good news - my bike has arrived, hallelujah! I was all cultured out, so just in time...

Alexander guides me to the shipping yard, along with another wonderful helper, Ilya. I know, how many Ilya's can one country have!! When we broke the bike down in Novosibirsk, I knew I didn't have all the tools to put it back together. So I was introduced via text message to Ivan.. and he sent Ilya out to help. Good thing too, because the bike arrived with a flat battery! I have never had a dead battery! They had my key in the ignition when it arrived and I can only assume they didn't have it turned off properly. Because once we gave it a jump start, it was all good.

Ivan had me come to his shop (Harley shop - yay!!) to have a good check of all things himself. He agreed all was well, and I felt good.

I love this photo of them though. Ilya on right and Ivan next to me. He kind of looks like the scenario of the devil over one shoulder whispering to me to do bad things, and I am missing the angel over the other shoulder to correct that advice! Don't get the wrong impression of Ivan though, he was super duper helpful and as usual Russian custom, neither he or Ilya would take any money for their time spent on me.

And all boys together. Special thanks to Alexander for helping me sort things out in Russian and showing me around.. very cool, and love your magazine!

Well that concludes my sidestep and dance with an excursion to St. Petersburg, Russia. Now let's get back on that dag-gone bike and RIDE!!!!
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Mongolia to Novosibirsk Russia

After a good sleep in my wooden yurt, I take off early again to get back to Novosibirsk.. and back to more familiar faces.

First stop,  a big drink of  much needed fuel!

I still waited to eat though. Hungry as I was, I could have found something in this town, but I knew I wanted to go back to the café at Aktash… Back to the same place I had been before.  I had my order prepared in my iphone translator.  Borscht – of coarse!!  Plus mashed potatoes, which I can not say for anything in Russian, Goulash, tea and bread.  An absolute feast!  Eyes too big for my stomach as expected, but I didn’t care.  I gave it a darn good try!  Stomach may have shrunk a bit over the last few days, so I gave it a good stretch out.  

Through the Altay mountain range again..

Such a pretty road.. well worth the trip even if you don’t venture into Mongolia.

I see trees again..  I was wondering where the trees in Mongolia go.  I love fall, and it’s a gorgeous time of year to be riding a motorcycle in Russia.

The weather gradually took a turn for the worse.

It was drizzling and then came full on rain for the rest of my 500 km ride.  I knew where to go though.  To my next familiar stop, Ust Muni.

Back to the wonderful mini hotel and the family who fed me once before.  I must be like a cat.  Returning to the home that feeds you..  ;-)

The gate was shut.  I knocked and no answer.  Why would a hotel gate be shut and locked?

They finally came out in the rain, opened the gate and welcomed me in.  Turns out they are closed.  I don’t understand fully, but what I am thinking is that they are only open on weekends, or they had just had their final weekend and closed for the season.

Doesn’t matter, she is happy to see me, and they gave me my same room back.  Took me straight into their very fancy house and let me take a nice big warm shower.  As soon as I came out, as history repeats itself, she had a big bowl of borscht waiting for me and some home made pastries just pulled from the oven!!  Lucky lucky me!!!

Next morning, my next 500 km’s are uneventful.. Rain and flat highway..

My previous Novosibirsk house host Mark has invited me back as well.  From my gps settings, I ride right through the city and up to his garage.

Park the bike and time for welcome home celebrations!!  (I know, it's not my home.. nor my family.. but beggars can't be choosers ;-)  It's just another great example of extreme Russian hospitality.

The night includes a welcome surprise, Australian wine!!

Mark on guitar and his good friend Alexander “Sasha”.. They are University mates and I get to hear many of their uni songs.  Marks wife is missing, she is in Moscow and returns Monday.

Novosibirsk in a young city, only around 100 years old, with the first bank opening in 1906.  I ask what is the main industry to the 3rd largest city in Russia and they tell me #1 is Intellect!  Intellect an industry? This explains why there are so many universities in that town. And no surprise that Marks 14 year old son Gleb, is a physics major.

As I stayed for the weekend, that young boy studied Friday night, out at 8 AM on Saturday and again on Sunday!  Who studies all day on Sunday!!?? (I obviously didn't..)

I asked Mark if this is required with work from his special school, and he said no, he and his mates really just like studying physics!  I was impressed.

And younger son Ilya “Ilushka”, was just too cute.. we had such a good time.

Okay, kids to bed, we bring out the serious alcohol - and more serious songs.  I loved listening, even though I don't understand the words, it really really sounds good.  Had nothing to do with the drink I just had!

Next day, Mark takes me all over Novosibirsk running errands.

One goal is to find a way to get help my freezing toes on these cold days.  We went to the market.. completely run by Russian mafia!  Or at least used to be..

I don’t doubt it though.  While Mark is negotiating my heat pads to put in my motorcycle boots, this guy is not happy about me taking photos.  Mark told me after how he had to convince the man I am an Australian tourist.

This next guy totally looked the mafia part.  But angrily turned away quicker than I could take the photo.

A massive market, you could walk for days in there.  I’m glad I’ve got Mark with me. It's clearly a rough place, with serious business.

Time to get Ilya from school.. I’ve never been in a Russian school before!

And then drop Ilya to “Babushka’s” Grandma’s house.  Mark's Mom, a wonderful lady, who I also stayed with one night before I left.   I've had to stay in one spot longer than I would like, but what I enjoy so much is seeing real life in Russia and being part of it.  Really get to know the lifestyle, custom, etc.  Noticing so many similarities and differences.  

At one point, I ask Mark if he preferred their lifestyle during Communist times or now.  He actually preferred the old times, saying that the people were far more of a community than they are now.  He does like having a mobile phone, but other than that, people were closer back then.

And the remainder of the day on tour of Novosibirsk!

Next job is to get the first of 2 ice creams for the day.  Spoiled… I am spoiled, I will be the first to admit!!!  ;-)

I found this far too cute woman on a park bench…

And then for a lovely stroll along the Ob River.

Not quite the quality as an Australian beach, but it’s the company that counts!

The last section of the original bridge over the river.  The reason this city exists was due to this first Trans Siberian railway connection between Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Siberia.

And to finish out this day in the life of a Russian family, I am taken to good friend Nataliya’s house for pumpkin soup… 2nd pumpkin soup in Russia !! It’s not common here at all, and yet I’ve had it twice.. Remember once at Tatiana’s in Yakutsk, and now!  Yum!!!

Nataliya works for an American man, and she speaks English fluently.  It was great to meet with her as she is a keen world traveller and her house is FILLED with great things she has bought all over the world.  (Makes me a bit jealous, because I can not buy much of anything since there is nowhere to put it on motorcycle).

I ask Nataliya the same question whether she preferred the Communist times or now.. and complete opposite answer to Mark.  Everybody's different, and I'm glad!

I loved my time in Novosibirsk even more the second time around!  However, as a travelling guest, I had out done my 2 night quota as a visitor (by another 2 nights) and was very ancy to get going.  

I had lost a bit of time going to America, and another week behind diverting to Mongolia.  Now I am in a serious race to get out of Siberia before the snow comes AND to get to where I need to go before my Russian visa expires!  Add to that fact that I need to go very far north again into even colder country so I might continue my original travel plan to Finland and Europe.

We did a thorough survey of 10 day weather forecasts on my sites and on Mark’s Russian sites, and the outlook was grim.

Since my next goal was originally to connect through Moscow, and it was all highway and delivery trucks for 1753 miles or 2821 Km, I opt to find another way taking into account the freezing weather ahead.

Decided to take a train to St. Petersburg which was to take 3 days. On the internet I learn they take motorcycles.  Great!  I can cut my time in half and travel through these next few days of freezing rain under the roof of a train!

Turned out through Mark's research it would not be advisable to put my bike on the train, and they are very unreliable and things get "lost".  After many phone calls and meetings from Mark (gee whiz I feel guilty the time he has put into my project), he feels that I must put the bike on a delivery truck separate, and fly or train myself.  This was a big learning experience for me.  I should have just left when I was supposed to and conquered the weather if I had only known that I was not going to make up the lost time.  Sounded good from the start of the plan, but it went down hill from there.. and we were too far in it to back out. (well I could have technically, but the guilt of time spent from Mark would have been overwhelming for me)  I ended up getting rather stressed about the whole situation until Nataliya calmed me by saying that Mark is so professional and experienced, she would advise I stick through it, and what the heck - I get a new experience of train travel in Russia - it's like no other train ride in the world!  ;-)  Too right.  

I chose the train to St. Petersburg because it was the closest point for me to get off and over to Finland where I want to meet one of my sponsors, Rukka.  

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