#5 Russia (final) August 6, 2015

DSC02606I walked downtown Khabarovsk to see the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, the biggest Russian Orthodox church in the far east. My guidebook didn’t even mention it. Actually it was only built in 2004 and even though my book is newer than that, I kind of get the feeling it has been some time since the Lonely Planet DSC02610people have actually been here. The church is supposed to hold 2000 worshipers, which sounded much larger than it actually was. Of course in the Russian Orthodox there are no pews in the churches, so I suppose 2000 people could stand in there, cheek by jowl. The icons were outstanding, I DSC02616thought, even though probably new.

From there I walked back over to the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin. Then I went back to my fancy DSC02605coffee shop and had a mocha. I also saw a house that was one of the outstanding 1890’s houses. There are many like this from the 1890s—-very pretty.

DSC02617On the way back to the hostel, I walked past a theatre, and sure enough, it was playing “Anna Karenina.” That’s the trouble with having to rush through these cities—-if I had more time I could do some things like attend this play. Even though in Russian, I’m sure I could follow the plot!

I had a nice conversation with young Ivan (also had a Chinese name) who is from Beijing. All these young travelers think it’s hilarious when I say I haven’t been to Russia since 1982—-many of them weren’t born then! Even having been in China in 2002 elicits, “Oh, a long time ago. Everything has changed now.”

On to Vladivostok!

In the afternoon I took the tram to the train station and boarded the train for Vladivostok, the end of the line.  All the train rides were fine, except this one!!  When I got on at 5:30 there was a mother, father, 9-year-old boy and 2-year old girl; then an unrelated young man, and me, in a compartment for four!  The little girl screamed, yelled, and objected to everything for 4 hours.  It was HOT, HOT, HOT in the compartment and the train lady said the A/C or really air cooling, I think, was off.  The windows opened only a crack.  Finally it became clear that the father—a great big guy, was not going to sleep in there.  After four hours the little girl finally went to sleep and we, five, settled in for the night.  It finally cooled off by midnight so it wasn’t bad after that.  So, I think I’ve had enough train riding for the present!

DSC02619We arrived Vladivostok at 6:30 AM—-I was finally there! This is where (ex-husband) Burt’s father was sent as a soldier at the end of World War I in 1918. He was stationed here for two years, until 1920. It had something to do with the Bolshevik Revolution, I think. Yes, that says ‘‘Vladivostok’ DSC02662on the train station.

I could walk to my hostel! It was a little tricky to find, but I did. It was the first hostel where I didn’t have to take off my shoes, although I offered. It’s also in walking distance from the downtown sights.

in addition to lots of DSC02629pretty 1890s architecture, there are also some nice looking modern buildings. All of these cities where I have stayed on my way to Vladivostok have been very nice, including Vladivostok.DSC02623

I did walk about some, especially by the waterDSC02625—-the PACIFIC! —-to see the bathers and the boats.

Eventually I had lunch at a Japanese restaurant. The majority of tourists in this city are from Korea, Japan or China. There are some Russian tourists, too, but I haven’t met any Europeans yet.

DSC02646As I came out of my hostel the next day, I noticed a statue that I hadn’t noticed before, that looked just like Yul Brenner in “A King and I.” When I checked it out and spelled the words on the statue, SURE ENOUGH I spelled ‘Brynner.’ It turns out he was born in the house next door to my DSC02647hostel building, and has visited Vladivostok many times for film festivals. What a surprise. His grandfather was a big influence in starting this city in the 1890s and another city near here that is a big mining enterprise.

When I visited the Arsenev Regional Museum, there was a picture of him there, too. ThisDSC02650 museum was started in the 1890s—-both the building and the museum. It has a wonderful history of this area going back to prehistoric times. The Jin dynasty was active in the 1100s and left some interesting grave sites. The museum DSC02652also had many stuffed animals including, of course, the Siberian tiger. They certainly are magnificent animals. Let’s hope the Bloomington dentist doesn’t get his hands on one of these!

I did trek to the Assumption Church while looking for a funicular that was supposed to whisk me up a hill DSC02638for 60 seconds. I couldn’t find hide nor hair of it, but the church was pleasant. On the way back I caught a bus that was going my way. After about a mile, it turned off so I got off at the next stop and doubled back to proceed on my way.

DSC02660I followed this up with linner, after another long walk. I had a nice salad, and then blood pudding—-not so different from the Norwegian blood sausage that we had as children (and adults, too, thanks to Ingebretson’s Market in Minneapolis.)

Back to the hostel to wash some clothes (every one of the hostels has had a washer for our use) and rest a bit.

My last day in Vladivostok was misty/foggy. I walked about, anyway, down to the water.DSC02668 Surprisingly there were people exercising on the beach and one person was swimming.

On my way back I met two YOUNG sailors—-they’re DSC02663babies!

I took a photo of the big grey building that contains my hostel, way over on the left. Next door is the light-colored house where Yul Brenner was born, and you can just see his statue in front of the house. I see Wikipedia says he died in 1985—-so long ago!DSC02673

My desk clerk helped me check in for my flight back to Moscow for Tuesday, and I went over to the train depot and bought a special ticket for a train that goes (a long ways) to the airport.

The next morning I got the train to the airport, and then the flight to Moscow. When I arrived Moscow I got the aeroexpress train into the city to a station that connects with the subway system. This time I managed to take two subways to near my hostel, although I will admit I had to ask for help three times. Those fancy subway stations are amazing.

DSC02680That evening I had dinner with Elia and Igor, friends of Jim Rice’s. Elia was so kind as to buy all my train tickets for me. They picked me up and we went to a lovely Georgian restaurant, had good food and a good visit. We also walked around some in the downtown Moscow area. Moscow really is a beautiful city, now with many pedestrian streets. We ate outside in perfect weather.

DSC02685Elia arranged for a man to be my guide the next morning.DSC02694 He took me around to many beautiful places such as a monastery, government buildings, like the mayor’s office, and special churches. We also saw a statue of Rostropovich, the cello player, although theyDSC02698 pronounce it Ros-tro’-po-vich, while we say Ros-tro-po’-vich. Russian is hard to pronounce correctly! We also saw a statue of Khachaturian and one of Tchaikowsky—-how nice that they celebrate musicians instead of just war heros.

We ended at Red Square where there was a long line for Lenin’s tomb, so once again, I won’t have seen it.

We did walk through GUM department store. What a change from 1982. These days it is chock full of expensive shops and merchandise—-Bring Money!! He asked me if I would like to use the toilet, which, he warned me would cost the DSC02721equivalent of $2.50!

Earlier I had commented that Russians really seemed to like Putin. He agreed, and went into a long story about one reason why: in the ’50s Khrushchev had given away the Crimea to the Ukraine. He said it was ridiculous as almost all of the people who lived there were Russian and spoke Russian. Over the years, the Ukrainian government had insisted they speak the Ukrainian dialect. Enter Putin—-whom he said was only responding to the request by the people who lived there that they wanted to be part of Russia. A referendum was conducted that showed 97% were in favor of joining Russia. In the meantime, my guide said, Obama was interfering and spent $5 billion of the American tax payers’ money which only resulted in the Crimea going back to Russia, as was proper. (I think a free press is a good thing!)

Another interesting sidebar: I had noticed a display of flowers and candles on a Moscow downtown street. I asked my guide what that was about. He said that so and so (I couldn’t get the name clearly) was shot and killed on that spot in February. Since this man politically opposed Putin, it was thought at first that Putin had had him shot. But upon more information, it turned out that a man from ISIS was responsible, not Putin. (One wonders why ISIS would be targeting that particular person)

My guide really had shown me lots of wonderful things, had impeccable English, but would not be able to accompany me into the Kremlin. I thanked him and he left me then, and I went to the Kremlin on my own, which was easy to do.  I reacquainted myself withDSC02726 the beautiful churches behind the Kremlin walls, as well as the many governmental buildings, along with the Tzar’s Cannon—-the fanciest one I’ve seen.

One more lunch at the Metropol Hotel, and that about did it for my trip.

Now this morning I am getting ready to depart Moscow by two metro rides, a train to the airport and then it’s off to NY-JFK and then another flight to MSP. I’ll be home by tonight!

This trip really was wonderful—-it certainly exceeded my expectations. I was very surprised that all those Siberian cities were so pleasant—-nice museums and churches, beautiful streets, interesting architecture, and nice people! And, of course, Elia and Igor added a special dimension to my time in Moscow.

Posted in 2015, Russia | 3 Comments

#4 Russia, July 30, 2015

DSC02412I boarded the train in Irkutsk for Ulan Ude for a 9:03 AM departure. The trains run ON TIME here! I hadn’t slept enough, so when I was given bed linens, I made my bed and took a 1 1/4 hour nap. AH, much better. When I awoke, we were passing on the east side of Lake DSC02400Baikal, as we did for several hours. (It is 400 miles long!) At some point near noon, a woman was selling smoked fish, which I bought, as many train people did. I was going to take her picture handing me the fish but she had a fit! I apologized and photographed the fish on my table! Isn’t that odd?

The fish was superb, and with a couple of oz. of vodka that I had left over in a bottle in my backpack, it went down easily. We were finally into some small mountains. While it was overcast, I did get some DSC02395photos of Lake Baikal.

I discovered that there was a dining car one down from my car. For linner I had beer, a
salad, and wild salmon caviar. I suppose that is unforgivable for the environment, but I couldn’t resist. DSC02407Yum! I now know a fourth word in Russian—-pevo for beer. There were signs all around the dining car that they would take Visa. It’s amazing here that virtually everybody takes Visa, even the hostels, which normally don’t as the price is so low, it would cut even further into their revenue. Well in spite of the signs, the train dining car didn’t take Visa. No big deal, but unusual.

When I left the hostel in Irkutsk, I tried to tip the person at the hostel who had done many kindnesses for me, but she absolutely wouldn’t accept any money. Interesting! I got a taxi to the train station, and we departed.

One day I did such a dumb thing, I think it is worthy of reporting. I went into a small supermarket to buy water and a beer. I found the bottle of water, and then saw that the beer was in a refrigerated cabinet with a window, as usual. I pulled on the door to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. (They are often locked) I made a motion to a clerk, and he indicated to ‘go ahead.’ I tried again, but it didn’t budge. He came over and indicated that there was no window, and to reach in and take the beer. We learn by doing!

On the train, In the early afternoon I was given a paper sack with a bottle of water (welcome!), a package of instant coffee and a cookie—-those sandwiches that they gave with ice cream a hundred years ago. I tried the coffee with the steam contraption, but it was undrinkable. I enjoyed the cookie.

I got settled in a nice hostel in Ulan Ude, met some Europeans and had a pleasant evening. There are quite a number of Buryats (a tribe of Mongolians) in Ulan Ude.

The next day I went sight seeing. I took a minibus way up high to the outskirts of the city toDSC02419 a Buddhist Temple.

It was pretty new; there were many Mongolians there worshiping.

The monks were ‘throat singing;’ a way of singing that produces a very low tone—-perhaps a full octave lower than DSC02420a normal bass voice.

From there I took the bus back and walked to the other end of the downtownDSC02434 to see their cathedral.

There were pretty pedestrian streets on the way. This is a very pretty DSC02431town.

I have neglected to tell you about the most central landmark in this town—-Lenin’s Head! It’s just a block from my hostel and anchors a bigDSC02445 square in the center of town. All directions are given here in relation to where it is from Lenin’s head.

There were many weddings happening on this Saturday. They seem to go ‘all out’ with limos and many decorated cars. Then DSC02444they seem to be photographed in front of all the landmarks, as well.

Can you stand another statue of Chekov? This one practically begs one to join him on a park bench. Notice he’s carrying an umbrella here, too. The caricature in Tomsk had him with an umbrella in a silly way.DSC02441


I did stop in and look at their Ulan Ude City Museum. The 1890s house it was in was worthwhile, but without being able to read Russian, the rest was kind of lost on me.

I’m finally meeting some travelers from the Netherlands. Usually they are almost the majority of people in hostels but here the majority have been Russian. And, of course, the Dutch are all fluent in English.

Some learnings: When the address is 56-55 and a street name, that means that it is #56 on that street and 55 is the apartment number. You go to the entrances and look for a dumb little sign over the door that says: 1-40, which means you use this entrance for apartments 1-40. You go to the next entrance and see 41-60. Yes, that’s the right one. You press 55 on the keypad and hopefully somebody buzzes you in.

On a menu, there are two numbers next to each dish. For example, 200, 350. That means it is 200 grams of whatever, and it costs 350 Rubles.

When you see vodka on a menu, there are two numbers: 50 ml 110. That means you get 50 milliliters (my med tech friends will understand this—-it’s about 1 3/4 oz) and it costs 110 rubles.

By the time I go home, I’ll be quite proficient!

I did have a scare the other day, though. My iPhone offered me a free app to download for free music. So I did. A little while later when I went to put on one of my audiobooks, they were all missing! It said something about now my books weren’t in music, but were in audio books. Well, they weren’t. I have about 25 recorded books for this trip, and would be lost without anything to read/listen to! A young man at the hostel tried and tried to help me, but wasn’t familiar with Apple. I finally went to bed but was so consternated that I didn’t sleep well. The next morning when I turned on my iPhone, there were all my books!! Thank goodness. Apparently there was kind of a delay in implementation.

Sunday I walked a long ways to get a bus to go out of town to visit another Buddhist Temple—-Ivolga Datsan. I asked for the Banzarova Bus Station as indicated in my guidebook and finally found it. When I asked a woman “Ivolga Datsan??” and pointed to minibus number 130 in my guidebook, she indicated “no” and pointed way over there. I walked over to where she pointed and she indicated no, and came over and motioned me to come with her. We walked about five blocks to a small bus stop and she indicated by blocking off the ‘1’ in ‘130’ that I would need bus number 30. When it finally came (she waited with me) she shouted instructions to the driver. In the meantime I had asked if I could photograph her but she adamantly said, “No.” Off I went to another bus park, where I saw bus 130 and boarded, asking if this was to “Ivolga Datsan.” It was.

This Temple was built in Stalin’s time (!) in ’46. I did see the ‘old’ small temple, but manyDSC02465 more larger and more extravagant ones had been built in the last 20 years.

There were DSC02454many cottages for the monks, but I think they also were for other people to come and stay.

There were various ceremonies going on with cymbals and drums and singing.DSC02463

On the way back into town, I photographed the suburbs of Olan Ode—-not a tree! DSC02475Going back to my hostel, the bus passed right in front of it, which I happened to see so I told the driver I wanted off. I’m sure he couldn’t understand me, but assumed that is what I wanted.

I went to the Fine Arts Museum and for the first time was sold ticket(s) separately for each DSC02479section that I wanted to see. I bought ‘Buryat’ and ‘Russian’ and ‘Photo’ for me to use my camera, so had three tickets. I was escorted into my proper section and couldn’t go ‘next door’ into another room. The Buryat art was fine—-a lot of horses as you would expect and the Russian was a lot of portraits, which I have been seeing. However, in all the museums so far, they all use highly reflective glass to cover the oil paintings so you can hardly see them, especially if they are kind of dark.

Linner on Sunday was the BEST! I had three items and they bear copying off the (English) menu as to their descriptions:

Seneyskaya Gornica Fat moderate salt with the meat layer, baked potato, green onions, garlic, onion rings and garlic croutons of rye bread.
A Greek salad—-routine.
Mongolian Boozy The national dish of chopped meat Borgoickoi lamb wrapped in fresh dough and steamed.
The first dish was what my dad used to eat when we butchered our own pork on the farm DSC02482in the ‘40s. It’s side pork, or salt pork—-kind of like bacon but not smoked and very fatty, from the side of the animal. My dad loved it—-my sister and I wouldn’t touch it!. The meat layer just means a tiny strip of lean in the fat; the baked potato was like French fries but oven baked; the onion rings were raw onions in rings, and the garlic croutons were perfect! I enjoyed every scrap of this.

The third item was dumplings—-very good and juicy. They were served with three sauces.DSC02486

Went to bed early in anticipation of an early morning rise to board a 6:30 AM train to Khabarovsk. However, the hostel really filled up that night and there was lots of commotion. I didn’t sleep much but I think it was more because I didn’t want to oversleep.

I walked to the train and we departed right on time. I had a compartment with two roommates—-Natalie (30s, very pretty) and Alexie DSC02515(20ish, very handsome). Neither spoke any English, but before long I met Ivan, (36, with his family) who had learned some English in military school. He was very kind and helpful.

I was kind of dreading this 2 1/2 day train trip, but it turned out fine! I DSC02511slept on and off a lot, and all night, too, so I got rested up, finally.

The scenery was more of the same ‘Siberia’, mainly flat and pine/birch trees. I did see a little haying activity once, and a few animals once, but not much. I saw quite a few small villages and we stopped in a few large towns/cities. Then we would often spend 18 minutes (Ivan would tell DSC02496me) and I could get off the train and walk around a bit on the platform. My roommates were very pleasant and the time went surprisingly fast.

Each morning a young woman brought a paper sack for each of us with a small bottle of water, a tea bag, plastic flatware, 2 small pieces of bread, and a small chocolate bar. There was also a powder mixture, called ‘coffee mix’ which I tried with the hot tea water, but it was undrinkable. i did have the tea, though, with the steam heated contraption for hot water.

At noon a young woman came around asking for food choices. She could say “Chicken’ and “fish” and I chose chicken. I motioned to her that I was going to go into the ‘restoran’’ car first and have a ‘pevo’ and she understood. When I did, pointing to the beer that was DSC02495displayed, the same young woman was in there, preparing steirofoam containers of the food that she was going to distribute to everybody in their compartments. Well, she brought me mine in regular dishes with regular flatware—-was this because I was the only foreigner on board? Or if you buy something in the dining car, do you get to eat there? Anyway, I did.

DSC02526I slept surprisingly well, and since the bathroom was kept immaculate, cleanup in the morning was fine. The second day I had ‘fish’ and again ate in the dining car. This time when I entered, it was plumb full of people—-apparently having a staff meeting as they were RR people. Or maybe a union meeting? One woman with gray hair held forth with great animation, and another man seemed to rebut her remarks. No, I don’t think they have labor unions. Anyway, again, my soup and fish with potatoes were brought to me, while I drank a beer. All fine!

The next morning I was planning to have breakfast in the dining car. The waitress didn’t give me a menu, but motioned to me, did I want to eat? I nodded, yes. She brought me 2 fried eggs, a slice of salami, a piece of cheese and bread. When I gestured to pay, she indicated ‘no’ as it was part of the train ticket. And this time I hadn’t ordered a beer. By the time I got back to my compartment, my roommates had received steirofoam containers with the same food.

When they board, virtually all the passengers on the train change their clothes, hanging up their outfits that they were wearing and now wearing lounge clothes—-loose shorts and a tee, and scuffs. I wore my same clothes and my regular shoes, as I wasn’t prepared for anything else.

When my roommate, Natalia, left the train at Birobidzhan, she asked Alexie something and he got off the train with her. When he returned, he gave me three refrigerator magnets that he said were from Natalia. What a lovely thing for her to do! The magnets say Birobidzhan on them in Cyrillic, and I shall treasure them.

Ivan and family also got off in Birobidzhan. I had asked him about that city as a Jewish community as my map said that there was an Autonomous Jewish Community around there. My guidebook also mentioned seeing historical synagogues in that city. Ivan said they had all gone to Israel.

At last I arrived Khabarovsk at 1:00 PM local time. I found the Kakadu Hostel, very nice. I caught up on my emails and then went to find a restaurant. I walked quite a ways with nary a restaurant in sight, but I came upon a supermarket. So I ducked in there and bought some sandwich provisions, fruit and tomatoes. Back to the hostel and made use of their very nice kitchen facilities.

DSC02527The next morning I became acquainted with Khabarovsk, a very nice city. I took a tram and luckily sat next to a ‘communicator.’ I said the name of a street—Muravyova-Amurskogo—-and he got it! I acted out “if the tram turned there” and he shook his head ‘no’ and made his fingers walk to show me that I would have to walk. He showed me when to get off and I did.

The architecture from the 1890s is quite spectacular with many examples on my walk. DSC02528

By and by I came to the Cathedral, which had been rebuilt recently after being destroyed DSC02530by Stalin.

From there I went to the Far Eastern Art Museum. There was a special exhibition on Chinese Heilongjiang Province Print Art. There was no English, but a docent, who could speak a bit of English, gave me a program, which apparently was left over from 2011 when it was in America. These DSC02539prints were lovely and amazing. The rest of the museum was lots of Russian portraits and icons, and some DSC02549Japanese porcelain. I did see a painting that I thought I recognized as a Surikov and it was! What fun.

From there I went to see the Archeology Museum which had reproductions of some petroglyphs that I would have like to have seen, but I would have to make do with these. The museum was kind of a disappointment, as were the petroglyphs. Maybe the real thing would have been more interesting.DSC02556

I was thinking to go on an hour cruise on the giant Amur River, but I had some time to kill—-the Archeological Museum didn’t take long! I found a lovely outdoor coffee shop and had an iced coffee, DSC02557which was very good!

The cruise did go, as promised, and the weather was perfect with a nice breeze and the chance to sit outdoors but in the shade on the boat. There were probably about 35 people on the one-hour cruise and it was very pleasant. The skyline from the river is very beautiful. It is so nice the wayDSC02592 they have developed their riverfront with beautiful DSC02533promenades, benches, and museums. And it is well used. I think I was the only foreigner on the boat, but there are many Russian tourists.


Tomorrow I shall do my last train ride to Vladivostok, the end of the line. These cities have been very worthwhile—-I only wish I had had more time in each.

Thanks to all of you who have emailed me—-it’s always fun to hear from you all.

Posted in 2015, Russia | Leave a comment

#3 Russia, July 23, 2015

DSC02151From Tomsk, leaving at 8:00 PM local time, it was two train rides to Krasnoyarsk, and I arrived at 8:40 am local time. Svetlana, the hostel young lady, met me at the train, and DSC02149drove me to the hostel—-how nice! It was in a good location to see things, but I was pretty tired from all the train rides. Sleeping on a train is not like sleeping in a bed! So I took it easy that day and only visited two sights. One was the Surikov Estate-Museum. He was an artist that painted in the 19th C. and this ‘estate’ where he lived is preserved right in the middle of this city. There is a wooden house—-all furnished with lots of pianos and samovars, a couple of DSC02161sheds, a growing vegetable patch, and a bronze statue of him on the lawn. It was fun to see how a well-off person lived in the 1890s. Clearly he is a local hero.

Then I walked to the Intercession Cathedral from 1795, which was very beautiful. Russians seem pretty religious. There is lots of activity in the churches in off hours, and I notice that the majority of women and girls wear a headscarf when they DSC02167enter. There is also lots of candle burning, and the churches seem very well kept up.

The trains are getting less modern the farther from Moscow one goes. It was that way in China, too, when I went all the way west to the Pakistani border. The latest I’ve been on are so rough—-they remind one of a bucking bronco! Sleep is pretty much impossible. The toilets are also not the modern (airplane) kind, but flush directly onto the tracks. So this trip kind of ‘goes back in time.’

DSC02180More sight seeing Sunday. I started with the wonderful Regional Museum, that even had some English in the explanations. It was on DSC02179the river bank in a ‘20s Egyptian Temple building! I thought the stars were the full Wooly Mammoth skeleton and a mockup of a Wooly Rhinoceros that lived about the same time in these parts. There were some DSC02187petroglyphs around Krasnoyarsk that I wanted to see, but not enough time and energy. But the museum had some artist’s reproductions, so I got to see these. As I was leaving the museum, a man asked me in German where I was from. I said, “America.” He said, “Obama!” and seemed to make a negative exclamation. I nodded my head in the affirmative and gave a thumbs up sign and said, “Obama Good!” He seemed to make another negative exclamation and then said “Obama-Iraq!” I nodded negatively and said, “No, Obama-Iraq—-Bush Iraq!” He said something else, and I turned to go. Then he put out his hand for me to shake, which I did. A political discussion!!

From there I moved on to the Surikov Art Museum in a beautiful little 19th C. mansion. I DSC02199saw some of his paintings as well as some by others. I looked in on one more church but that didn’t amount to much. So I grabbed a bus and asked to be put off at a particular street, which they were pronouncing the same as I was, but apparently neither the conductor or the person helping knew where that street was. When they said for me to get off off, I discovered that I was about six blocks too early! So a pretty long walk in the hot sun prepared me for several small bottles of water with my linner. I had pickled herring (nothing like you’re picturing, and VERY good), a salad, and then venison in cowberry sauce. I had seen people on the street selling DSC02208these little red berries. I think they grow wild and are a July specialty of the area. I enjoyed it all very much, after the ‘platinum’ vodka.

Back to the hostel where I met my new roommate, (except I was leaving that evening) Alena from Moscow, who could speak quite a bit of English. She was also going across Siberia, but ducking into China before Vladivostok. She thought it was strange that her longest trip DSC02210ever would be within her own country—-yes, Siberia is BIG! My domestic flight back to Moscow from Vladivostok will take
9 hours!

Well, the trains are getting older and the tracks bumpier, the further from Moscow I go. My overnight train on Monday night was so lurchy and jerky that I really didn’t sleep much at all. I even took a taxi to my hostel—-not really kosher if you’re a backpacker! I got a bed in a 10-bed dorm without a window! And it was very hot. After I showered and ate, I fell into bed about 7:00 and slept for a couple of hours, but woke up very hot. I asked if I could have a bed in a room that had a window. Well, I got a much nicer situation—-a very roomy 8-bed dorm with a 10 X 10 balcony, as well as an open door/window! It cost an extra $5 a night, bringing it to $16/night—-I’m a spender, all right .

DSC02221On the train, as I got closer to Irkutsk, I saw crops growing, instead of just grass, and also the villages were bigger and more frequent. Clearly the population is heavier around here. Until this time, the landscape was very flat. Now it was more rolling hills, kind of like Wisconsin. There is quite a logging industry here, too, as I see logs being transported by train. Actually I was DSC02388
on lots of night trains, so I didn’t see large areas of Siberia while traveling. I see many of the Russians in Siberia are very blond—-they look like Swedes!


In my Irkutsk dorm I met two lovely Russian girls from St. Petersburg, who were fluent in English. How nice! We had a nice chat before they went out and I went back to sleep!

The next morning the hostel provided coffee, tea, and cookies for breakfast. Nobody drinks coffee here—-only tea. Well, the girl made some BREWED coffee for me. Only thing was that she didn’t have the top seated properly so the coffee didn’t decend. It was also VERY weak, and by the time I drank it, not hot. I drank it anyway, but asked if I could make myself another cup, and so I did. This was hot and strong, and not bad.DSC02230

Tuesday I walked quite a long way in the hot sun to see the Znamensky Monastery, apparently a nunnery. In the church they were having a little service with about four singers—-very nice. By the way, people don’t know I’m taking these pictures—-I use my DSC02237long lens and, of course, no flash.

Back at the hostel, I met Daniel and Sabina, a Danish couple, and had a very nice conversation with them. It’s amazing how all the Europeans speak fluent English with hardly an accent. Later I went to see an art museum, which I found but which wasn’t open. Drat. Then I looked for a particular restaurant which was DSC02240right nearby—-found that, too, but it wasn’t open either! So I walked toward the hostel and chose the first restaurant that I came to. I had an African waiter——first African that I’ve seen on this whole trip. He was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the lost boys, perhaps? He was pretty young. He spoke some English, so they had him wait on me.

DSC02243Wednesday was my day at Lake Baikal, the deepest lake on earth. It is 400 miles long and about 40 miles wide; it is 1600 meters deep; that’s almost a mile! It was formed 25 million years ago by tectonic plates pulling apart, which they still are. It gets wider by two centimeters a year. It’s the oldest lake in the world, as well! It has more water in it than all five Great Lakes combined! We’re talking BIG, here!

I took a minibus out there—-it’s 40 miles from Irkutsk. I went to Listvyanka, but this reallyDSC02283 isn’t a town, only a resort area for people from Irkutsk with some hotels, restaurants and a lot of boats. I took a boat ride with about 20 Russians—-I was the only foreigner DSC02248on board. Luckily for me the guide spoke impeccable English as she had gone to high school in New York on an exchange program, and then had worked in San Fran and Las Vegas. What a cute girl.

I had to wait about 1 1/2 hours for the boat
DSC02247ride, so I had a beer and dumplings with dill, at 10:30 AM!! The weather was beautiful although kind of hot. I didn’t even stick my toe in the lake—-but I could see that the water was really cold by the reaction of a few strapping young men who attempted going in. I’m told it completely freezes over in the winter.

When I got back to town, it required a nap. On the way back to my hostel, there was a DSC02289sidewalk fountain keeping the children entertained and cool. Fun for everyone.DSC02302

The hostel plays (softly) endless DVDs of Joe Cocker and Sting. I am so ignorant of this music that it’s good for me to see/hear it.

My last day in Irkutsk was spent walking around to many of the churches and museums. Raising of the Cross Church from 1758 was bizarre, but satisfying. When I left I walked a little wrong, but I’m getting to know some of DSC02299the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet so I can figure out if I’m on the right street, that is if I can find a street sign. Actually in this town some of the signs had English spellings below the Russian, which helped a lot.

DSC02321Next was Volkonsky House Museum. This was a rather lavish house with spiffy furnishings that was used in the 1850s by a Countess who followed her husband into exile. However, her exile was kind of high class. Apparently she gave parties, balls, and soirees for this 10-year period. I think they returned to St. Petersburg when his sentence was served. There was the house, and several out buildings for servants and horses. The DSC02319rooms had lots of piano fortes and music boxes. It was fun to see. My guidebook says there is a wonderful book about her called, “The Princess of Siberia” by Christine Sutherland.

DSC02307Another bizarre church—Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, but fun to see, had every square inch of interior surface covered with murals. There were more churches, too, but enough is enough for you. They are wondrous, DSC02325though.

DSC02336The weather has been beautiful, if a little hot. Sleeping without A/C is just doable, and by morning it is really comfortable with a top sheet. Fans would help, but Russians seem to be cold easily. They wear a lot of clothes—-long sleeves and light jackets in the hot weather. Not all do—-certainly not the young, pretty girls.

Siberia certainly has a lot of statues, especially relating to war. I suspect my dad would DSC02326have said not to do that as it glorifies war. Even in these small cities there are many, many. There are also beautiful parks, flowers and fountains. Today I passed a lovely flower bed with young women grooming the flowers. Quite a summer job, I think!

DSC02348This town has a ‘Green Line,’ which really is a green line going down the sidewalk. It corresponds with a tourist map which takes you around to many museums and points of interest. That’s really a good idea. I don’t think it’s unique to Irkutsk, but it certainly makes sight seeing easier, especially when you have trouble reading the signs.

My last thing to see today was the Sukachev Regional Art Museum. I had stopped there DSC02356
yesterday but for some reason they weren’t open as advertised. It was a very good museum, but it’s too much work to figure out the artists’ names (let’s see—P is R; backwards 3 is e, etc) so I didn’t so I didn’t exactly know what (or who) I was looking at. However, then I came upon familiar stuff—-Matisse cut-outs and Salvador Dali’s far-out pieces. There were also some Marc Chagall drawings, too. And a DSC02360few paintings from the 1920s to 1960s that
reminded me of the ones in the Russian DSC02364Museum in Minneapolis.

Much fun just to observe the folks going
about their business, though. Like anywhere I go, there seem to be communicators and non-. No matter how I carefully pronounce something, some people just turn away and shrug. Others listen carefully and then ‘get it’ and are very helpful.

It has really been nice to have four nights here in Irkutsk. Tomorrow I move on to Ulen Ude with a train ride from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Not bad!

Posted in 2015, Russia | 1 Comment

#2 Russia, July 17, 2015

I think I neglected to tell you in my #1 Russia email, that my plan is to go from Moscow to Vladivostok (on the Pacific) by the Siberian Express train. Actually I’m not really on the Siberian Express as that one goes straight through—-6 1/2 days! Who would do that?——people do! I’m dong the same long distance, but stopping in nine cities/towns along the way. I want to see something of Siberia.

DSC01966I got a taxi to go to the Nizhny Novgorod train station on Sunday at 4:00 AM to go to Yekaterinburg. The sun had risen at 3:30 so it was light! When I boarded for a 5:02 departure, I found that my train seat was a bed in a car with all beds, since most of the people had come from Moscow and were sleeping. I was given 2 crisp sheets, a pillowcase and there was a blanket if needed. I made my bed and went to sleep.

It rained off and on, but later it quit. The scenery was very flat with birch and pine thickly obscuring the view on both sides of theDSC01970 tracks. Occasionally we would pass a small village with wooden houses.


I got slightly acquainted with a family of mother, father and 12-year-old girl who shared my space. They couldn’t speak any English, although at one point the mother ventured, “Who do you live?” When I’m asked that, DSC01982people seem to respond positively when I say, “USA—America.”

Later I went to the dining car (about 4 cars down from mine) and had lunch. My DSC01985Russian salad and good whole wheat bread wereDSC01983 satisfying. I think most passengers had brought their own food/snacks or bought snacks from the woman who runs the car—like Ramen noodles. They drink a lot of tea and there is a steam contraption with hot DSC01989water available. The RR provides mugs that look so Russian!

The train bathrooms were kept very clean and well supplied; the car was heated as it was cool and rainy outside; the ‘car lady’ offered me tea and made sure I was awake when it was time to get off. Finally it was, (20-hour ride) and I was in Yekaterinburg! I arrived at 1:15 AM Moscow time, but 3:15 AM local time. The trains all keep to Moscow time, so as I go through time zones (there will be seven) my tickets all say Moscow time, even though my iPhone automatically registers the local time.

I got a taxi to go to my hostel. Unfortunately he either couldn’t see or couldn’t read, and couldn’t find the address, which was off-putting since I had shown him Russian written instructions and the street was marked on my map of ‘central.’ After going around and around I asked him to take me back to the RR station, which he didn’t understand; finally I used the translation on my iPhone which did the trick. I had seen a big hotel right across from the RR station and pointed to it when we got there. I got a nice room for parts of two nights (!) (I was going again at 3:15 AM the next day), which cost $55, plus it included breakfast!. Besides I could walk across the street to the RR station the next morning at 3:15 AM for my next train ride!

DSC02022After a sleep and breakfast, I did some sightseeing—-this is the town where Tzar Nicholas II and his wife and children (including Anastasia, which they proved with DNA not so long ago) were shot in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. A big church has been built to honor them, called Church Upon The Blood. (Do you love the name?) Only the basement was open (top being rehabbed) but that was pretty fancy.DSC02009

Nearby was the Chapel of the Revered Martyr Grand Princess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna, a small wooden building to DSC02017honor a royal great-aunt, a nun. She was thrown down a mineshaft, poisoned with gas and buried.

DSC02021Across the street was the Ascension Church, and a park honoring the actual place where the Romanovs were shot in a house, now demolished. The ‘demolisher’ was Boris Yeltsin who is from this town and was the governor of this province in the ‘70s. He demolished it because he feared it would attract anarchists.

I tried to see the Museum of Fine Arts, but it was closed on Mondays—-but the building was said to be remarkable. It is the Kasli Iron Pavilion that won prizes in the 1900 Paris DSC02023
Expo. Maybe in 1900 it was more impressive! There was also a small pedestrian bridge nearby with many padlocks on it. Somewhere I read about this idea, but can’t remember what.


Ah, a MacDonalds here in Siberia; noticing a couple— she wearing a hand crocheted cape with the ‘Pineapple’ design (my mother used DSC02032DSC02037

to make doilies like this); touring the History Museum with photos of Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin, and buying DSC02036some fruit from a DSC02038vendor rounded out my day.

Next morning, I walked across the street, actually through a subway, to the train station and got the 1:40 AM train (3:40 AM local time) to Tomsk, a 28-hour ride. This city is actually off the Siberian Express direct route, but my guidebook said it was a worthwhile town to see.

DSC02056On the train I was in a compartment with two adult women and two children. That made it quite full! I did see that a number of the compartments only had two people in them, but—-! The scenery was completely flat green grass—-where are the Ural Mountains? I didn’t see any. Sometimes we would stop for 15 minutes or so while they refueled? rewatered? the train. At that time, the ‘car lady’ used an implement DSC02050and touched the wheels of the train—-I had seen this on a video about the Siberian Express. Another man also used a big wrench and checked the wheels, too. This train was not as modern as ones closer to Moscow. Some of the places DSC02051that we stopped had very elaborate train stations.

We arrived Tomsk at 6:00 AM Moscow time which was 9:00 AM local time (now 3 hours ahead of Moscow). Tomsk, too, DSC02058has a fancy station. I had a terrible time finding my hostel and then finally when I found it, they didn’t have my reservation. I did get a bed, so no harm done. I checked in and then went sightseeing.

The Oppression Museum was within walking distance. There was no English, but I gather that many of the pictures were of people either executed by Stalin or sent off to the Gulag. There was a map of Russia showing the local prisons and the ‘correction DSC02063
camps’ (love the name?) and a very nice English speaking young man who told me some of the stories. For instance, there was a local man who was a prisoner of war in a German prison camp, which he survived. When he was released, Stalin sentenced him to 10 years in a ‘corrective camp’ for treason. Treason? Yes, they were supposed to fight to the death and not be taken prisoner. Well, he survived that, too, and, now over 90 years old, still lives in this town, a friend of this museum. My English-speaking friend (who works for the museum) has met him.

DSC02068It was my linner time so I invited my friend to join me, which he did. We had a most interesting discussion on many things—-Russian economy, Putin, Joseph McCarthy, nuclear energy, oil prices, etc. He said that in the ‘80s economically it was very bad—-his family didn’t have enough to eat, except for their garden. Then in the ‘90s this area became very lawless—-mafia stuff. But the last 10 years have been much better economically until the ruble lost it’s value at the beginning of this year. Earlier it had been at 20 to the dollar; in January it was 100 to the dollar, and now it is 55 to the dollar.

After, he returned to work and I went back to my hostel to nap.DSC02077

Arriving in Tomsk, I did some sight seeing, starting with Lenin’s Square with the statue of
Lenin. Nearby was Epiphany Cathedral; again we DSC02071DSC02073couldn’t go upstairs in the main part.

The best was a Chekhov Statue. My guidebook says that in his diary he said thatDSC02079 Tomsk was a boring town with dull people and no beautiful women. On the town’s 400th anniversary in 2004, this bronze statue was unveiled to get even with him!

I stopped in at the Tomsk Art Gallery, but found it lackluster.DSC02093

Moving on I photographed the Red Mosque, built in 1904, which was used as a vodka factory during Soviet times. Now it has opened again asDSC02109 an active mosque.

There is a great tradition in Siberia of wooden houses, decorated with lacy designs carved in wood. Tomsk has a good supply of these.DSC02110

This city has many beautiful parks and beautiful young women DSC02097(contrary to Chekhov’s findings!) I
asked three if I could photograph them today, but only two agreed. Still, very glamorous. This is a university town with about seven universities here. However, these girls were not students, although two of the three could speak some English. There was a positive reaction by them when they inquired what country I was from. One time when a person asked my country and I responded, “USA, America,” he said, “Then why would you come to Russia?” I think he meant it as a compliment to the USA.

I have found quite frequently when I ask to take a photo, that people turn me down, although pleasantly. This has happened at least 20 times, so far. Perhaps it reflects times past?

I am enjoying the vodka as an aperitif. Yesterday it was served so nicely in a thick, carved DSC02114 (1)glass with the remainder in a nice carafe, both had been in a freezer—-all the better!

I do have to comment on how clean things are. Both the railroad bathrooms and the bathrooms in the hostels are impeccable! Except for Moscow’s hostel, all others have been more than clean!

There are a few people in these cities that speak a little English, which surprises me. How many people would you find on the street that speak Russian in the USA? I gather they study it in school.

DSC02138Some of the people staying in these hostels are Russian workers who have come from elsewhere to work in these cities. They stay more or less permanently at the hostels. Some guests are Russian tourists. I have only encountered about five foreigners, so far, mostly from the UK.  I did run into Anita from the UK in the Coffee shop.  She is attending medical school butDSC02095 took a year off to travel.

My last day in Tomsk, I again chased down some landmarks, but mostly that’s an excuse to observe the local people going about their daily lives. I had breakfast at the “Traveler’s Coffee House” and had a good latte, and a salmon sandwich (there really wasn’t anything else for breakfast!). But what a DSC02088DSC02089sandwich. The Russian bread is SO GOOD! Another church—-another wooden house, all DSC02113DSC02116fun to see. And then the people!

Thanks to all of you who emailed me—-it’s fun to hear from you! Hope you’re all fine—-I am!

Posted in 2015, Russia | Leave a comment

#1 Russia, July 11, 2015

I arrived in Moscow in fine shape and took the aerotrain to a station quite near my hostel. DSC01656There I got a taxi and soon was settled in. I was in a room with several people from Siberia—-where I’m going! The walls and beds are fine, but the carpet was very dirty—-and we can’t wear shoes in the hostel! I think that’s shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped. DSC01704I had lots of trouble getting money from ATMs at the airport, so I changed a Ben Franklin (I only brought two for emergencies) and tried some more ATMs in town. It turned out I had three problems: 1) I was actually overdrawn in my checking account! A while ago I did a clever thing—-the bank used to take money out of savings if I was overdrawn, but I had that changed since I didn’t want to be taken prisoner while traveling so they could clean out both accounts. (How clever of me!) 2) the bank really did think there was fraud as I was on the machines in Russia. However, I travel a lot and I have never reported my goings to the bank before and it has always worked. Not now! 3) When I tried to call the bank number the call wouldn’t go through. I texted Claire and she checked into it—-for some reason there was an international block on my phone. Now that’s fixed——in fact it’s all fixed so I HAVE MONEY! I walked a short ways (this hostel is in a good location) to the Kremlin and Red Square. ItDSC01673 was a beautifully sunny day with poofy clouds so it was fun to photograph. I tried to see Lenin’s Tomb since I hadn’t seen it in 1982, but it was only open from 10 to 1 so I will have to see that at the end of my trip. Also St. Basil’s church is DSC01677closed for renovation. Then I had an exquisite lunch at 3:00 at the old, but lovely, Metropol Hotel.  I had a big beer (the weather is perfect for sight seeing, but it’s still warm in the sun) and then wild salmon caviar with blini, dill, onion, sour cream and quail eggs. The quail eggs were loped off at the top so you could see their slightly runny yolks. It was so GOOD! Then I had cold borscht with warm potatoes, which was very good, too. Some beautiful dark and light bread rounded things out, and oh yes, IDSC01692 had a beautiful perfect cappuccino, too. The lovely stiff linen napkin protected my blue jeans from any DSC01694crumbs! I spent the rest of the day struggling with my computer. When I got a new Mac recently because my old one was no longer supported, I was able to put the same programs on my little travel computer. I thought I had tried everything I needed for traveling, but it seems it has a mind of its own, and won’t do what I tell it to do. Obviously I’m telling it wrong, but now what??! The next morning I got up early after spending a jet-lagged night to go to Vladimir on the train. First I walked to the closest metro stop—-I had to ask several people the way, although I pretty much knew it but was making sure that I was going in the right direction. DSC01705The metro people were very helpful and sold me a ticket (about $1) and pointed me in the right direction. The name of the stop was very challenging, but I also knew pretty well how to pronounce Kursky Vokzal, which is the name of the train station to which I was going. It’s right next to the unpronounceable one—-Chicalovskaya. Going down, down the long escalators in the Moscow subways is thrilling!  I remember these from 1982. When I got on the subway, I, again, said the name as best I could and then added ‘Kursky Vokzal, and a man nodded “yes.” When I got to the train station (easy to see upon getting out of the subway) I showed my ticket to a ticket seller who could speak English! She put me on my way, and while I did have to ask some more people for reassurance, all was ok. The train was very nice, and on time. It also had a visual that told which station was next, DSC01708etc, in both Russian and English, and they also announced it audibly. That’s so nice—-in Europe I’m always wondering where to get off—-they announce nothing. I had such a nice conversation with Lydia—-Leeda, for short—-who could speak some English. Our conversation was DSC01715slow but satisfying. I asked her what she thought of Putin, and she said she liked him. She said Russia needed somebody strong and clever and that she thought he was both. Obviously she is one of the 80% approving of him. I was trying to use my new app, which translates English into Russian, which didn’t work very well. I finally figured out that there weren’t enough bars of service on the train going through the rural areas. When I arrived they announced that people could only disembark from certain cars, and not my car. So I went into the next car and got off from there. Vladimir is a small city (300,000) and that is so nice. From the train station I could walk to the hostel—-only 350 meters (think three football fields) but it was all steeply uphill, some with steps. This hostel is very nice, very neat and clean. The proprietor speaks good English and put me on to visiting the town next door, Suzdal, since it has many old Russian beautiful buildings as does Vladimir. Vladimir was the capital of Russia way back in the 11-1200s for awhile. DSC01743I did spend time in a couple of churches, (Russian churches are so RUSSIAN).  Their beautiful Assumption Cathedral was wonderful, with parts from the 12th C. Another smaller St. Dmitry’s Cathedral had stone carving showing King David entrancing animals and DSC01767birds with his harp.DSC01763 I also visited a history museum, and the Golden Gate (a gate DSC01731from the 1200s that’s over a street coming into the town) and walked a ways to a lookout point. Here I almost came to grief when a muscular young man came very fast on a bicycle and nearly hit me. I was standing on a sidewalk, but that didn’t matter, apparently. We both yelled, but he managed to swerve/stop at the propitious moment, so no harm done. Vladimir, my landlord, had put me on to a restaurant nearby that I looked at on my way to the ‘sights.’ It was a serve yourself with a tray like in a cafeteria. I could see that they had wine (no beer) so I was trying to ask if one could buy a glass—not the whole bottle. I thought I acted it out rather well, but I couldn’t get an answer. So after my sightseeing I came back to eat and asked three men patrons sitting at a table with a bottle of wine with their food. They understood right away, and said, ‘yes,’ (actually they said, “Da”) and pointed at the wine across the room. It was quite an elaborate process! The cashier came over when she saw me rummagingDSC01796 among the half empty wine bottles. She indicated that SHE must do this, and I must not. So I pointed out the one I wanted and she went to the kitchen to fetch a certain measure. She held it at eye level and carefully filled it to a line, and poured it into the wineglass. I said, “Thank you,” and reached for it but she indicated “no” and proceeded to fill the special measuring glass again to half the amount and pour that into the glass as well. OK, I had just the right amount of wine for lunch! The food was excellent—-a kind of moussaka, only with pork instead of lamb, and mashed potatoes instead of bechamel. Then I had a really good salad and some cabbage veggie dish, also very good. DSC01861The next day I went to Suzdal on the bus. It was raining, but later it stopped and was fine. Suzdal is chock full of old Russian churches and Monasteries from the 11-1200s. Most have been rebuilt after fires or just added on in later centuries, but they were spectacular. There was a museum of old buildings that had been collected elsewhere and reassembled here. I DSC01837mentioned to Vladimir, my landlord, that the wooden churches reminded me of the 12th century stave churches in Norway. He said that these were from the far north—-not so far from Finland, Sweden and Norway. I wonder who copied whom. I hired a taxi to take me around, which worked beautifully. I saw eight DSC01869churches or monasteries in 1 1/2 hours. Then I took the bus back to Vladimir. What a nice day! When I got back, I ate linner at the same restaurant, and had the lady measure out some wine, again. Vladimir and I had a nice conversation about things Russian and American. We were joined by a young couple from the UK. Vladimir is also an admirer of Putin, for the same reasons. He said that things had improved economically a lot over the last 10 years until last year when the ruble lost so much of its value. Still, like everywhere, there are many problems. That’s one fun thing about hostels——the discussions that one has. I had such a nice train ride this morning—-a very modern train. I went from Vladimir to Nizhny Novgorod, kind of hard to pronounce. I walked to the train from the hostel, then when I arrived at this town, I got a bus (having to ask a dozen times) showing the name of the street where I would get off, which my landlord in Vladimir wrote out in Russian. I finally got the right bus, and was DSC01960checked in pronto. What a nice hostel. It’s located about 100 yards from the Kremlin in this town. I walked over to explore—-the Kremlin walls from 1500, the beautiful government buildings, then the lovely Cathedral of the Archangel Michael. Here DSC01952 (1)there were many war monuments (too many!) along side the River Volga. My guidebook says that Moscow is Russia’s heart, St. Petersburg is DSC01943Russia’s head, and Nizhny Novgorod is Russia’s wallet. Back in the 1200s it was a business town, since it is at the confluence of the Rivers Volga and Oka. After my exploring the Kremlin and visiting the National Center of DSC01955Contemporary Art, I ate linner at a cafe in the pedestrian street on which my hostel is located. (Four kinds of meat with a bit of lettuce!) After that a nap, then writing this and doing the pictures. I hope you are all fine. I am enjoying Russia, although the language is challenging. Still there are more people that speak some English than I would have anticipated. However, reading signs is a challenge since they are all in the Cyrillic alphabet. I do know the word for ‘restaurant’ though—-it’s like PECTOPAH—-in our letters. In theirs it means ‘restaurant.’ Tomorrow I will be leaving the hostel at 4:00 AM for a 5:00 train; arriving Yekaterinburg at 3:10 AM the next morning (20 train hours with a two-hour time change.) I hope my hostel will let me in at that hour——many won’t. Hope you’re all fine——

Posted in 2015, Russia, Russia | Leave a comment

Wales, 1985

Wales, May, 1985

Jeanne, Bob and I flew to London, rented a car and set out for Wales, where we would meet our friends from Berlin, Gisela and Wolfgang. They were also bringing another couple, Gisela and Peter. Our objective was to explore Wales, but especially the ‘Little Trains of Wales,’ which are narrow-gauge railroads, used previously for hauling, but now Golden Pheasant Hotel--Nice Breakfastare really just volunteer-operated tourist trains. Wolfgang has a special interest in trains, so we shall see what that is all about.

On the way to Wales, we stopped for a night at Burford, King Henry VIII's Barber went to this Churchstaying at the Golden Pheasant Hotel. We were so impressed with this little hotel, as they set the breakfast table for three, especially for us, and gave us all free newspapers to read with our morning coffee.

We explored Burford some, discovering a plaque at the church that said that King Henry VIII’s barber was from Burford and was buried here.
The Churchyard Where the Barber Was BuriedThe barber was an especially trusted person, as every day the barber would be holding a straight-edged razor to the neck of the king—which might make a king nervous, one would think.

WalesThe next day we arrived in Porth Penrhyn, experiencing the exotic spellings of place-names that one encounters in Wales. We pushed on to Fairbourne where Gisela had rented a house. Although we really didn’t have explicit Fairbournedirections as to where we would meet, this was a small town and we assumed it would be self-evident. Well, it wasn’t! We booked rooms at the main hotel in town, and soon Gisela showed up there Looking For the Others
looking for us. It turned out that we stayed at the hotel, because the rented house was not big enough to accommodate all of us. When we were all united, we celebrated with a beer!

Together At Last in the Hotel

img757We took our first trainride on the Fairbourne Railroad—an ‘out and back’ excursion. It Fairbourne Railway
was very small but charming.

On the Boat--Bob and WolfieThe next day we all took a boat to

Barmouth,Taking a Boat to Barmouth which was across an inlet from Faribourne. The weather and scenery were beautiful!

Another ride on a railroad—this time the Ffestiniog from Porth Madog Harbor to Blaenau Ffestiniog. This is quite a famous one of the Little Trains. It runs for
Fairbourne Railway14 miles each way.

Festinog RR

Ffestinog RR

From here we could continue on to see the slate mines. There were piles of slate tailings from the mining industry from long ago.

Slate Mine

Slate TailingsWolfie had a detailed map which allowed us Stileto take a long hike to the Abergavenny Castle Harlech Castle
ruins, walking through sheep pastures, going over stiles, climbing over fences, etc.

We continued on to St. Mary’s Priory, which was a St. Mary's Priory 13. C.country church built in the 13th century. img821From here we came to Dolgellau Falls.

The town of Harlech and Harlach Castle wereHarlech Castle next on our ‘outing list.’ This is a huge castle, which we explored quite fully. There is a img858plaque in town, which explained that a more recent Lord Harlech had laid the stone of that house in 1908.

At Harlech CastleWe explored Portmeirion, a img873bizarre town with elaborate Italianate architecture. It was created by a Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who fulfilled a childhood dream of building a village “to my own fancy on my own chosen site.”img878

From there we drove on to view Mt. Snowdon, the highest point in Wales. The countryside Mt. Snowdonimg891was very beautiful; we took walks to view the ‘just opening’ rhododendrons that grow wild on the hills. The pinkish hue on some hills would become bright pink in a few days. Then it was Tea Time in Snowdonia. We often stopped for tea on our travels through Wales.Tea Time

One of our walks brought us to Gelert’s Grave. The Faithful Hound of Llywellynlegend was that in Beddgelert, Llywelyn the Great left his faithful hound, Gelert, to guard his infant son while he went Beddegelerthunting. When he returned he was horrified to see the cradle overturned, and Gelert covered in blood. Thinking that the dog had attacked his son, he slew the hound, only to then find his son unharmed under the overturned cradle. Nearby there was a dead wolf, which Gelert had killed to protect the child. Present day promoters of tourism had built a mound of stones with a plaque to commemorate this event.

That night the seven of us celebrated with a party at their rented house. Interestingly, we saw the sun setting in one direction and the full moon coming up in the other. Jeanne, Bob The Sun Goes Down...and I had brought a couple bottles of wine to the party, which we had bought at the hotel. They were soon gone, in spite of them being some of the worst bottles of wine that I have...And The Moon Comes Upever drunk. Still this seemed to be the only option in this little town for keeping the party going, so Gisela and Wolfgang made a run back over to the hotel to buy some more. We were dancing, singing, and having such a good time that we didn’t pay any attention to the quality of the wine!

Welsh Hyland RR

Another excursion took us to the Hysbysrwydd, Siop and Parc. (Can you pronounce the name of this place? I can’t either!) From there we rode on the Welsh Hysbysrwydd Shop and ParkHyland Railroad. These little trains are such fun to explore. They are mostly all run by volunteers, who give their time, expertise, and money to keep them going!

Not far from here we encountered an accident that had just happened. A man had somehow run into the front of a shop!An Accident!!

Investiture Setting

Another castle—this time Caernarfon, the site of Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales in 1960. This is truly an impressive
large castle with a lot of history.Jeanne, Bob, Gisela, Wolfie-Caernarfon Caslte

At this point our
friends from Berlin departed for home, and Jeanne, Bob and I carried on alone.

Another train–
the Snowdon Mountain Vale of Reidol RRRailroad—gave us a chance to admire the scenery hereabouts.

From here we explored two towns—Tenby and then Swansea,which is really a city.


Next was a stop at Tintern Abbey.  It is a beautiful ruin showing former days of glory!Tintern Abby

Caerleon -Roman Amphitheatre- 2nd C.Another stop along the way toward London was the ancient Roman amphitheater of Caerleon  from the 2nd century .  It was interesting to be able to make out the old seats.

On the way back to London, we went a bit out of our way to see Winchester with its wonderful Winchester Cathedralcathedral. (Remember the song, ‘Winchester Cathedral’?) Inside the cathedral we discovered Jane Austen’s grave—she died in 1817, and further down the street was a house Jane Austen's Housewhere she had lived her last days.

On to the London airport. While we were waiting to board our plane, we were delayed a bit while members of the British Royal Family (Princess Alexandra, I think) were being met and greeted. They were whisked away in a fancy car with flags flying. And soon we were jetting back across the Atlantic and home.img030

Posted in 1985, Wales | Leave a comment

#3 (final) England, May 11, 1980

Our next destination was Portsmouth with Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory. We toured the shipLord Nelson's HMS Victoryand discussed afterwards, that we needed a plan to reconnect if we got separated, which we had done around Dorset. Somehow, we didn’t do it——and when we left Portsmouth, we DID get separated.

Royal Pavillion
We stopped off at Arundel Castle, another BIG house! Then we journeyed on to Brighton, with no sign of the other three. We stayed overnight here and toured the Brighton Palace, that Victorian meringue of Asian fantasies. Interestingly, our car had Bob’s suitcase and my suitcase was in the other car.

The next day we thought that maybe if Burt waited out on the highway he could catch the other car and we could be together again. Although he waited for about three hours, he never did see their car.

While Burt was waiting on the highway, Jeanne and I went into the very grand Grand Hotel to have tea. It was early in the day so nobody was in the large bar area. Jeanne asked the maitre’d if we could have tea, and he nodded yes, and gestured for us to go in. We seated ourselves in the first area (we were alone) and didn’t see any wait staff. Thinking we were in the wrong area of the large bar, Jeanne decided to ask the maitre’d if we should sit in another area, and he said, “Fine!” We still waited some more and still no wait service. Now Jeanne thought it would be nice to sit by the window, but not being sure of getting
wait service, she again went to ask the maitre’d if it would be OK to sit by the window. An exasperated maitre’d waved his arms and said, “It doesn’t matter, Madame!!!” punctuating img172each word with elaborate gestures of his arms.

When Burt returned from the highway with no luck spotting our friends we pressed on. In Eastbourne we saw Brits playing boules on a beautiful lawn; further along we came to the place where during the Battle of Dunkirk inDunkirk-World War II France, the British, and other Allied forces were evacuated during World War II. Every boat available was pressed into service to cross the channel and save the soldiers. 338,000 men escaped aboard 861 boats.

img179And there were the White Cliffs of Dover! Of course we were old enough to remember the sentimental World War II song about them.

We stopped to see the site of the Battle of Hastings, and the ruins of the old Hastings Castle.Canterbury

And soon we were in Canterbury. This city, was founded around 200 AD by the Romans, later became the capital of the Saxon kingdom of Kent. When St. Augustine came to England in 597 AD, his base of operations was here. After Thomas Becket was killed here, it became the most important pilgrimage center in northern Europe. This inspired Geoffrey Chaucer to write his “Canterbury Tales,” which I remember reading in Canterbury CathedralFreshman English in school. It is still a town with many students.

The Canterbury Cathedral is spectacular edifice with every nook and cranny boasting some historic story. One suchThomas Becket Died Hereis the place where Thomas Becket was killed, and is the most sacred place in the cathedral, with its perpetually burning candle.

We decided to finish our tour at Canterbury and head back to London. We assumed that our compatriots would again stay at the Muralyn (that was our plan) and so we telephoned the Muralyn from Canterbury, asking if our party had returned. They said they had not! Well, we figured they must be doing the same thing as we were thinking to do, so we left Canterbury, heading back to London.

On the way we stopped to see Chartwell, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, but only could Chartwell-Churchill's Housesee it from a distance, as our way was blocked.

Arriving back in London, our party WAS there, and the receptionist at the hotel that we talked to wasn’t aware of that. Well, all’s well that end’s well. We soon learned about their adventures—-given Wolfie’s interest in little trains, they had taken the 11-mile Kent and East Sussex Railway train from Tenterden to Bodiam village, which is very near Hastings. They had also dealt with not having Bob’s suitcase and stopped to pick up toiletries for him. They had stayed near Rye at two B&Bs as there wasn’t enough room in one, and when Gisela and Wolfie came to pick up Bob the next morning, he was having such a good time over breakfast with the children of the family that it was hard to tear him away!Taxi to the Airport

The next morning Gisela and Wolfie left by car for Berlin, and we took a London cab to the airport to go home.

Now we’re home, thinking about what an action-packed 10 days that was! One could spend years in England visiting all of the historic spots.

Posted in 1980, England | Leave a comment