Showing posts from September, 2006

second person siberian

It's when you fight your way through the hordes and out of Moscow's metro and walk into Yaroslavsky Station that the sheer scale of the journey starts to really hit you, when you look at the time-zone markers under the diagram of the rail network, and the way those numbers mount up as the track sweeps eastwards: +6, +7, +8. Eight time zones. A third of the world. On the platform, in the night, the #2 "Rossiya" running from Moscow to Vladivostok seems to run on forever, although it's actually only a train of some 20 cars - "wagons" in Russian. Your first-class wagon is near the middle of the train, and your two-bed compartment boasts saffron drapes and mirrors, a selection of Cyrillic-language newspapers, a radio and even a television - although the only channel it gets is CCCCC, the Closed Circuit Corridor Camera Channel, to save you from sticking your neck outside your door. Mikhail and Natalya, your provodnitsas , or car attendants, introduce thems


So this is Moscow. Eh. You can keep it. Mostly it's a sprawling labyrinth of concrete towers, shopping complexes, BMWs and construction cranes. My timing probably has something to do with my reaction - the Kremlin is closed to the public this week, the Bolshoi is entirely wrapped in scaffolding and canvas - but I'm confident I'd take St. Petersburg over this town any day of any week. There are some cool bits. The metro is indeed magnificent (but its grandeur is threadbare, and it's full of barricades that herd people into seething bottlenecks.) GUM, on Red Square, is surely the world's most beautiful shopping mall (but it's still a shopping mall.) The sculpture garden across from Gorky Park is quite cool (but Gorky Park itself is disappointing; most of it is occupied by a tacky amusement park.) The Kremlin, St. Basil's, and the Alexanderovsky Gardens are a bit like having a colossal fantasyland castle in the heart of the city (but sort of throw the gloomy

the hermit of the hermitage

I am posting from an Internet cafe inside St. Petersburg's rather staggering Hermitage Museum. I know, I should probably be looking at art. But one can only walk down so many colossal galleries, passages and corridors, beneath fifty-foot-high ceilings carved and gilded and filigreed and hung with chandeliers the size of Volkswagens, past what seems like half of all the world's classical (ie pre-1920) art, before one needs another breather. To paraphrase my travelling companion M., one gets the sense that Peter the Great took his chief architect to Versailles and the Louvre, then turned to him and said, "You see? Like that. Only much bigger ." I'll probably upload pictures and expand this into a real post tonight. eta: OK, pictures tomorrow. Most Russian internet cafes aren't so good at the extra services. So I could totally live here. I mean, if I spoke Russian. And if it was always summer. It's all monuments and palaces and gardens (not parks) and orna

initial impressions

Dump any notion you ever had of Russia as a drab and dowdy place. St. Petersburg is swimming in colour, seething with life. I've only been here a day now, but it's already staking a genuine claim to becoming my favourite European city. That despite the fact I got pickpocketed in the metro this morning - for the first time ever anywhere - amidst the press of the shoulder-to-sholder crowd. Fear not, all I lost was a day's spending money (R800/US$30); my ID, credit cards, and US$ stash are tucked away rather more securely. And a good thing too. The puppet theatre where I am staying is, alas, closed for renovations. (Had I known this, I would have stayed elsewhere, but it's comfortable enough in a Stalinist-hostel kind of way. I have my own room; I'm kinda too old for dorm beds nowadays.) Arrival Mild culture shock hit before I ever got out of the airport: I ordered a Pepsi to change money, and got a Pepsi Cappucino, coffee flavour cola, which tastes pretty much like

Into the iron curtain

No matter how often I travel, the day before I'm always hit with a sudden panicky bolt of holy crap I'm going to _____ tomorrow! And today is such a day. In this case the blank is filled in by "Los Angeles." No, that wouldn't normally cause such panic, or indeed count as travel at all - but this time I'm taking the Long Way Round. In particular, I'll be going entirely overland from St. Petersburg to Shanghai, primarily via the Trans-Mongolian branch of the Trans-Siberian Railway. I'm reasonably prepared. I have acquired visas, and booked flights, and accommodations for the first few nights, and even train tickets for the first few and last few legs. But, er, I haven't actually packed yet. Hey, there's always tomorrow morning, and it's not like I carry much with me. I'll be blogging and hopefully flickring from along the way, as time and availability of Latin-alphabet keyboards permit.