Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
Trip End Apr 10, 2009

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Flag of Russia  ,
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hey there,
We're already about a week on the road and we've done so much that I basically didn't have time to write a new travelogue. Sorry for that, but here it is.
On the 21st of September we (Inger and I) left Amsterdam Central Station in a fancy ICE train after a great goodbye by loads of people. Thanks everybody! In a few hours we arrived in Duisburg, Germany. Here we had about 1,5 hours to change trains, so we relaxed a bit on the square in front of the train station, but after a while we went back into the station building
after we discovered there were rats around us. Then we got into out train, the Jan Kiepura. We had a 2 person compartment, which was quite alright. In the middle of the night we were woken by the provodnitsa (carriage attendant) because we were in Frankfurt an der Oder on the Polish border and there would be customs. The border control went smoothly and we had another sleep, a bit better this time. Around seven in the morning we woke up en we
enjoyed the flat Polish landscape. At around 10 o'clock we arrived in Warsaw, were we had about a 1,5 hour stop. Warszawa Wschodnia train station is not a very exiting place and we did a little shopping for food (changed 5 euro into zlotys). After Warsaw we moved on (in the same train) towards Belarus. Also the Belarussian border went pretty smooth. Near Brest, the first big city in Belarus the train had to change its wheels because in Belarus (and also in Russia and Mongolia) they have another gauge. The train was driven into a sort of factory and there the whole train was lifted and other wheels were put under the train. Quite interesting. The whole process took about two hours. After that we moved on towards Minsk. The landscape in Belarus was very similar to Poland, except that they were even less villages and other signs of population. We arrived in Minsk at about 10 o'clock that evening and when we got out af the train Russian brass band music came out of the station speakers. We still had to arrange a reservation on the train the next day to Moscow, so that's what we did. It sounds simple enough, but when you can barely read the Cyrillic alphabet and basically don't know any Russian, that's quite an adventure. But after about an hour we got the reservations, with help from friendly Belarussians. After that we went to the subway and after we figured out how that worked, got on the right train and got out at Pushkinskaya station where our prebooked Orbita Hotel was. Everything went fine and around midnight we were sleeping happily. 
We left our - way too heavy - backpacks in the hotel and went into Minsk, to have a lookaround. Minsk is a very clean city, with enormous squares, wide boulevards and very light traffic. Along the boulevards and avenues stand impressive buildings, mostly nice looking, some very ugly. Minsk was pretty much wiped out after the Second World War, so everything is pretty new here. We saw amongst other things, the house were the Soviet Communist Party was originally established, an apartment where Lee Harvey Oswald lived in his twenties and quite a few (ex-)communism related buildings. After that we had an overpriced meal (Belarus is quite cheap except for this meal) and relaxed a bit on a square near the old city centre. We then went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and to catch our train at the train station. After yet again Russian brass band music played from the station speakers we left at around ten o'clock Minsk. I was a little bit anxious because we would not
leave Belarus by midnight, meaning I would overstay my visa. I waited for the border with Russia, but the border never came (it turned out Belarus and Russia have some kind of customs union) and I went back to sleep. 
We arrived in Moscow at the Belaruskaya Station in the morning and got into the subway pretty much straight after we arrived and headed for the Smolenskaya subway station. We had an address of our hostel but no map where the address was on, but I could remember where it pretty much was. This turned out to be a bit more of a problem than expected. Eventually after about an hour we got there. The Moscow Home Hostel is very nice and cosy. After a bit of settling we got on our feet to get into the city. The main street close to our hotel is the Smolenskaya street and this is basically a very busy 18-lane highway. A thing we noticed is that the average car here in Moscow is more luxurious than back home. It's hard to find Lada's here! Via the touristy Arbat street we walked to the Kremlin, where we walked around for about 2,5 hours: great to be in places you only knew from pictures and television. After the Kremlin we walked around the massive Red Square, truly impressive with all the beautiful buildings surrounding it: the Kremlin, the State History Museum, the GUM shopping centre and of course the fairytale-like St. Basil's Cathedral, you know, the one, with the colourful icecreamcones on top. This cathedral is also very interesting from the inside. Along the Moscow River and via the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour we walked back to our hostel, where we had an enjoyable night chitchatting with the English guy Patrick and writing in our diaries.

The second day in Moscow we - along with Patrick - went straight to the Lenin Mausoleum. We were expecting long queues, but we were in and out within half an hour. It was very interesting to see Lenin's corpse, which looked like a fashion doll. After a relaxing tea in the luxurious GUM shopping centre, Inger and I continued walking the interesting walking tour around the old part of Moscow. This tour ended near the Moscow River, so we took a boat tour along the Moscow River towards the Kievskaya train station. From here we took a subway to Gorky Park, which we didn't enjoy much, because it really was a rundown fairground. From here we walked back to the Red Square via the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - which was beautifully lit at night. The Red Square was also quite beautiful, except for the GUM building which was lit over the top. Back in the hostel we had a few beers with Patrick and another English guy, Ben and went asleep around 1 o'clock.

The next morning Inger had a little sleep in, and I went for the Novodevichy Monastery, which was quite photogenic and also very quiet (relatively early in the morning). Back in the hostel we grabbed our stuff and went by subway to the Kurskaya train station. Here we tried to change the Nizhny Novgorod to Yekaterinburg leg of our trip, but although we were helped by a very friendly Russian, we didn't succeed. Around 4 o'clock we arrived in Vladimir, after two hours on the train. The budget hotel in the Lonely Planet had gone upmarket, so we went looking for another, cheaper alternative. During this quest we encountered another enormously friendly Russian guy who helped to get to a basic, but quite affordable accommodation. In the evening we enjoyed Vladimir by walking around and had something to drink in a nice bar.

After a good sleep we packed our gear and left it at the hotel. Via the few sights of Vladimir we walked to the bus station. From here we took a 45 minute bus ride to the very pretty town of Suzdal. This town has dozens of churches and quite a few monasteries, most of them with golden cupolas. Quite a romantic setting I must say. We walked around for hours until we were very tired. After we got back in Vladimir we went to an internet cafe and thereafter collected our bags and got to the train station. From here a train took us in about three hours to Nizhny Novgorod, where we arrived at about 11 o'clock in the evening. We tried to change our ticket another time, but also unsuccessfully this time. This meant we had to stay up until about 6 o'clock in the morning to get our train to Yekaterinburg where we arrived this morning at 3h30. Luckily we were able to get a little sleep in a nice and quiet waiting hall in the Nizhny Novgorod train station until the train left and also in the train we slept for a while in the morning, as well as during the day and again in the evening. I had a bit of a cold, but that's getting better now. We are now in Yekaterinburg and have already seen the site where the last tsar of Russia was murdered along with his whole family. There's not much more in this town, so that's why there's time to internet in the post office. Tonight we will continue our trip towards Omsk.

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