Friday, 21 August 2009


After a little time at home I have had time to think about the trip.I am so glad I went, it was an experience of a lifetime . When I got back I thought I had enough of travel ,at least lone unstructured travel,but now I am ready to start planning the next trip!
The trip met my need for a challenge ,new experiences and personal growth. What I had not expected was the spiritual experiences.
All I can say is until you get there you can have no concept of the size . It is possible to travel for days and the landscape not to change at all even when that landscape is man made. The parts I visited are neither beautiful nor spectacular with one exception the rivers . We followed a river for 6 hours on the train from Murmansk which must have been 500 m across and which no one could tell me its name. While the Volga is just huge like the Mississippi .

Had I not learned the language I would have not made it past Murmansk.I coped OK with the hygiene factors( food,travel, accommodation) but I failed every time I tried to hold a conversation and it showed me just how good you need to be to converse.This did not mean I did not get a lot from people but there is nothing like a natter and 6 weeks without one is a long time.
I am not alone in having a greater expectations of my ability than reality. Lenin who was a gifted linguist and learned German from an early age ran into the same problems the first time he was abroad as he reported to his mother.. "I asked a train guard a question,he answered and I did not understand him.He repeats the answer more loudly ,I still don't understand him and so he gets angry and goes away.In spite of this disgraceful fiasco,I am not discouraged and continue distorting the German language with zeal," I can relate to Vladimir Illiych completely.
Physically I had expected them to be short and stocky while mostly they are tall slim and often blond just like their Nordic neighbours. I think J Conrad was right " don't forget what is Divine in the Russian soul is Resignation" This no doubt comes from 1000 years of suppression . They are certainly stoic,generous ,inquisitive ,aggressive, and darkly they are insular to the point of xenophobia . However I was glad I spent so much time with ordinary Russians who are just trying to survive and have decent lives just like the rest of us and in the most part tried to make me welcome.
I think Russians are to a large part defined by their Orthodox Faith ,similarly I think it is no accident that Stalin spent time training to be a Priest. It speaks to that importance that faith after only 20 years since the collapse of Communism public worship is such a part of the landscape .The Orthodox Litany is very moving ,I certainly felt the presence of God in the ritual.
I have very mixed feelings about Russia but in the end I can not see how the Country works . It is as if the people and the Government and the bureaucracy are not connected but go on despite each other.That is so alien to me that it made me very unhappy. I hope for the sake of the lovely people I met that I am wrong about the lack of sustainability at the core of their state .
For those contemplating visiting ,do go , but if you do not speak Russian stick to an organised trip . Love John

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


I had hoped to spend some of my last day at the Monastery of the Caves a quite famous monastery in Kiev based on as the name suggests some caves used by the early monks to live in and now used as a repository of mummified bodies of monks .The complex also has a magnificent Cathedral .However it is the only time my Lonely Planet Guide let me down for despite following its guidance I could not find how to get there. So I spent my time reliving some sites in the Centre including the surprisingly small Dynamo Kiev ground.
So to the Airport and again the Con artists!
I was looking at the board waiting to find out where to check in when the man stould next to me started to ask me about the security netting over my back pack. During telling him as to how it worked how much it costs and where it can be bought from I found out he was a 67 yr old New Yorker called Mike who was born in the Ukraine now involved in construction in Kiev. After some pressure I agreed to join him for a tea in the cafe while we awaited our flights to be called. We had no sooner sat down than another man started up a conversation initially in Russian .At this Mike became very glum and would not give my new "chum " any eye contact.I found the whole atmosphere rather strange and sat back to find out what was going on.
The dominant Russian took the conversation through football ,UK and Russian, then asked Mike what Americans do at weekend ,to which he replied bar b q and play gin rummy a strange reply I thought.What is the Gin game the Russian asked ,cards was the reply . I like cards he said I play a German game called Skat. Mike asked what that was and the Russian produced a pack of cards and started to write down the points system. At that a man on the next table said are cards and moved to join us despite an obvious lack of enthusiasm by Mike and the Russian. I could not believe what I was seeing it was like something out of a 1950s gangster movie.By this time I was starting to disengage ,for while the con men interested me, I didn't want to get too involved. You are not listening John the Russian said, no I said I have no interest in cards or card games .So why am I explaining this the Russian said I have no idea I replied, ask Mike. At which the younger guy said I am going then,Mike said he had to pay for his drink and the Russian said there is an old Russian proverb when the circle breaks the components are dispersed . He smiled and left. Clearly I must look a right mug !
The rest of the journey was uneventful B A did us proud the tube and West Coast Pendalino were very crowded but it was good to be home in Lancaster for 10 00.
I will do another blog on my thoughts on the trip in a day or two .
Love John

Monday, 3 August 2009

What no chicken!

Well settled in Kiev, sorry for the delay in posting but it has taken me this time to find somewhere to do it , all Wi Fi I'm afraid Chris has been here too. The trip here was reasonably straight forward though I had a challenge at the airport over whether I had the right to be in Rostov at all. Clearly the concept of a country wide visa is still an issue away from major centres .It was sorted in the end ,no issues in Moscow.
Kiev is pretty relaxed with lots going on. The churches are magnificent and again there is a Paris feel with wide tree lined streets .The river is not as wide as the Volga but still pretty big .I went on a short sail the 1st day which was great and so decided to take a 4 hour trip up to the lake above Kiev created by the H E scheme . 2 young local couples joined me at the table and in Ukrainian style offered me a beer. Then food was produced and I was again asked to join in . All was OK till just after the turn round to come back. I only just made the heads in time before throwing up I had to visit again before getting back. I didn't want to upset my hosts who seemed OK but I must have appeared pretty miserable sort of person . A dash into toilets on the dockside ,throwing up twice in the street( what humiliation) and 3 times back at my room rounded off my day !!
A very quiet following day was had.I think the problem was some of the food had obviously been reheated .
The same day as the sail I had my 1 st encounter with street crime. I was just about to go into the metro when a small package of dollars dropped on the pavement in front of me. This is a well known scam where the tourist picks it up hands it to the dropper and then told there were 2 packages , the tourist must have stolen one. I side stepped the package but another man ,I think an accomplice, picked it up handed it back then I found myself being thanked and suddenly we were in the 2 package routine! I became strident in English( one of my few skills!) and suddenly there was a plain clothes policeman asking me what was the matter . He spoke good English and I told him .He asked me and the other guy had we taken it we said no and I produced my wallet and offered my passport.He told me to go ,he would deal with it. It is a power full scam because most tourists carry foreign money and could not account for every piece. Fortunately the policeman recognised what was going on no doubt from past experience .All part of life's rich tapestry !
I was going down the Babyn Yar the site of the massacre of 30,00 Jews and 70,000 others by the Nazis the memorials especially the one put up in Soviet times are very moving unfortunately the Jewish one has been vandalised !
I had hoped to visit the Chernobyl site but have been unable to sort it out as a key manager at the travel agency was sick. However I did make the Museum which is rather worthy but the last room with hundreds of pictures of the children affected and their toys moved me close to tears remembering those days in 1986 chasing the cloud and its deposition .It alone made coming here worth while.
Well home tomorrow all being well .Love John

Monday, 27 July 2009

In the land of the quietly flowing Don

The trip from Astrakhan to Rostov on Don was straight forward if a little tedious.I had to go back to Volgograd which meant an early (0400) start and was into Volgograd about 13 30. Having left my luggage at the station I went off to a cafe I had used when in town . I had no sooner sat down than one of the waitresses came up and said you left this last time you were here , it was the luggage token from the hotel.What was amazing was that i had only been in the cafe some 5/6 times and it was a week since the last time. good to find an honest and interested member of staff.
I have to say giving back the token to the hotel was more difficult with questions about had I paid the storage charge had I proof of I D etc ,in the end I just put the token down and left.
That day is the 1 st day I have had any stomach problems , nothing drastic just out of sorts.
I think it is just the heat , still felt better as the day went on. Over night to Rostov which proves to be about the size of Volgograd built in the same way on one bank of the river which rises up a couple of hundred ft above the river while the opposite bank is flat to the horizon .
What was interesting is that the steppe north of Astrakhan is of very poor quality with hardly any trees or agriculture while that north of Rostov is very fertile with lots of trees and intensively cultivated .A lot like east Anglia.
The hotel was hard to find especially as the taxi man dropped me well away , like 400 yds with no directions. However Russians are great at helping and within minutes I had a detailed instruction. It was worth it as the hotel is very new in what is at 1 st looking a rather dodgy neighbourhood.On closer inspection it obviously has been very run down , like the rest of the town but is now pulling itself out with the usual Russian building boom.
The most spectacular thing is the market which must be 10 times the size of Bury and very busy . The town has a feel of Paris with wide tree lined streets and the usual Russian parks.
I went to the Museum which reminds me of the one in Bury when I was a lad worthy but not very informative .They have lots of mature ladies to direct you round.Later I was photographing a spectacular piece of Socialist Realism street art when one of these ladies recognised me from the museum and started to tell me about Cossacks. Unfortunately in very fast Russian so all I could say was spaciba at intervals. I am not sure whether it is my charisma or white legs that make me so recognisable!!
Yesterday I went for a sail on the river which is very busy with commercial traffic all of which are sea going size . The anglers wade out to within 50 yds of the main channel which must make the sport exciting at times.
I had hoped to go to Azov today but the ladies at the station wouldn't sell me a ticket I don't know why as they just said NYET . That's life here some times. It has rained today so perhaps I am better here in town . Well I leave Russia on Wednesday for the Ukraine it has been great if at times challenging ,lots of love John

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

What no Hats

I am well settled in Astrakhan .It is a pleasant town with a Kremlin very similar in design to the one at Novgorod only triangular in plan.The Kremlin has a number of lovely buildings within its walls , with a particularly beautiful cathedral with restored frescoes.
The rest of the town is a mixture of old some what run down areas with what is clearly a major building boom clearing these areas and building large office and apartment blocks of a very high standard. Like many Russian towns it has a number of well laid out and maintained parks. The difference here is that they are smaller than say Volgograd .They are like London squares ,you turn a corner and there one is a pleasant surprise.Most Parks have statues ,the ubiquitous Lenin in his square is some what exposed given it is not a park but a newly paved area rather a challenge in over 40 deg hard sun.
I have been here a couple of days longer than planned ,one because I decided I wanted to see more one because I could not get a seat on a train to Rostov on Don,perhaps that should have warned me.
The hotel is fine and on the river and I have found two good places to eat.
Yesterday I went to the fish market which was smaller than I expected given this is a major river and sea landing spot. also the fish were mostly not fresh but dried and salted ,a local delicacy (chernoyer ) or smoked .There is an interesting church alongside the market which appears to have been open in Soviet times.
Yesterday I came to the conclusion I am going to fly back from Kiev. I had not intended spending a lot of time in Warsaw or Berlin and in total to get home it would be some 5 days on trains.
There is an Aeroflot lady at the hotel and she confirmed she could get me a flight to London on B A for 5,500 Rb ( 110 pounds !!). So off I went to the station to get the ticket for Rostov to Kiev which I knew had a daily service. However I was told there is only one ticket available on that train between now and early august and that on the day I arrive in Rostov.
This was a major issue and on the way back to the hotel I was doing a complete re plan as I have to be out of Russia by midnight 31/7 .However Aeroflot to rescue, I am now flying from Rostov to Kiev via Moscow. I would have liked to have trained but there we are. Again I got very good support from The Aeroflot rep and at least sympathy from the train ticket seller.
Public transport in Russia is plentiful and cheap. Some of the vehicles are over due replacement , I think the cheapness of fairs does not generate enough revenue.However there is extensive use of minibuses ( Transit size) that roar around towns stopping when hailed and dropping when requested .Similar to the Belfast black cabs I think. Well I had seen these in every town and so I finally used them here. A challenging ride with the driver taking the fixed fare( 11 Rb /21p) blasting everyone with his horn and weaving in and out of traffic .
Speaking of new things since it has been hot I have noticed0n the streets sellers of a dark liquid in plastic cups and bottles filled from an aluminium beer keg the seller pressurises with a hand or foot pump.Having seen lots of people drinking this, when I saw 2 city types and a policeman drinking it I tried it .It is called Kvas very refreshing and tastes of molasses, I have since learned it is beer made from bread.
I woke up this morning to find the Navy in town. Anchored in the river outside the hotel is a Destroyer ( TATAR STAN ) and a smaller frigate (ASTRAKHAN) along with a fast patrol boat.I assume they are on a good will visit from the Black Sea fleet.
And no hats, I have not seen a hat or coat made from the skin of new born lambs. I assume the Astrakhan reference is because long ago this was the port of entry rather than the source of such clothes,in the same way Windsor chairs got their name.
Off to Rostov tomorrow my last Russian port of call.Love John

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Russia moments and the Volga

I had a couple of Russia moments I want to share to hopefully help capture the experience.
In order to sail down the Volga I needed to shorten my stay in Volgograd When I alerted the hotel reception they said no problem just present your self when you want to check out and we will do a refund.Years of battling Western hotels on similar itinerary changes made me doubt this.However on the day in question I went to the reception and explained what I wanted to do . After a few repeats to cover my language issues she explained it would be fine but unfortunately they did not have the 2,400 Rb (50 pounds)to give me could I come back in a couple of hours.I said no problem and did just that.By this time they had scraped together the money the issue was how to do the paper work .
It was agreed I would cancel my original reservation and they refund the payment.Then they would re bill me for the new shorter stay and I would be left with 2,400Rb!
The point being that the reception staff were never less than help full they just had to figure out how to beat the system. This sums up a lot of my experience systems and sometimes the people driven by the system have a long way to go on customer focus but in general they are trying.
When I got to Astrakhan I had a different problem ,other than the hotel that Lonely Planet recommend has changed name and a new one opened with the old name ,resulting in a little 2 and froing! The hotel said they had a room but when I presented my passport they said it was inadequate where was my itinerary , stamps by other hotels in my passport and my flight tickets out of the Country.When I explained that I had none of these they said they could not accommodate me. The issue for me ,other than being homeless, was if I was an undesirable how would putting me out help.However in the end I produced my invitation which shows points of entry and exit and hopefully that is OK. I know we are very near to Grozny with all the implications to Russia but again it is applying a system without understanding why.Incidentally this is the 1st time this has happened.
The 3rd incident was a piece of old Russia something straight out of Pasternak .I was sitting in one of Volgograd's many tree lined perdition walks ,awaiting the hotel having a whip round for my 50 quid, when there appeared this procession. It was led by several young men carrying crosses , 4 priests carrying icons including one of the murdered Imperial family .There were some 300 in the procession mainly late middle aged and old women but with a fair number of younger people. They were singing hymns and the priests praying .There was a substantial police presence not as in the past to arrest them but to clear their path of people and cars. I asked at the hotel what it was about but they did not know,however I caught the tail end of a news statement ( no sound just the Rolling Stones!!) which indicated it was some kind of commemoration or anniversary of the killings.
Now a few more questions:
Why is it that even in the middle of large cities Russians can buy direct from the grower superb in season fruit and veg at cheap prices?
Why when Russians go off for a pleasure trip they are happy to take grandad ,baby and a few aunts .Ensuring the family stays strong.
Why is it on a Sunday afternoon young fathers take their infant and wife for a stroll and ice cream in the park instead of abandoning them while they go down the pub to watch football.
Finally the trip down the Volga. The Alexander Nevsky is a quite large river ferry ,now a bit long in the teeth,no air conditioning not good in 35 deg high humidity when trying to sleep.
However enough carping the 20 hour over night sail was wonder full with the quiet of the river and the blackness of the night only broken by camp fires of fisher men and campers. The early morning similar with no one up and just the soft drone of the engine and the lap of the water.The scenery is not spectacular ,trees and low sand embankments but in the several 100s of miles we only saw a hand full of villages and no towns. I am relay glad I took the river route, and for the 1 st time I had a berth to myself.Lots of love john

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Great Questions ?

Well back again ,I see Brendan is a reader I hope my spelling is not bothering him but I can't get spell check to work so you are all on your own. Not done a lot today as even hotter but I hope to get some shots after dark tonight .
I have been musing on what I have seen and it has led me to some questions. When you visit a country it is not the Economic and Political infrastructure that impacts but the little things that leave you guessing.
So for me here it is :
Why do Russian doors open outward?
Why is it that members of a nation that spent most of the 20 th century queuing walk straight to the head of a long queue and demand attention?
Why is there a shortage of 10Rb notes ,in fact at 20p each why do such notes exist at all ,even if they are crucial to getting through a day?
Why is it that even in hotel restaurants there is always at least 1 T V set on with the sound muted and a totally unrelated musical sound track playing?
Why do hotel bedrooms not have rubbish bins and their bathroom sinks no plug?
Well I am off to get some food ,boat down the Volga to Astrakhan tomorrow.
Hope you are all well,love john

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Onward and Downward

As I said in my last note I had wanted to try the local municipal banya or Russian bath house. However when I got there the keeper of the door was none to pleased to see me saying it was the day for ladies so I departed before he called the police . There was no way of knowing this fixing of gender days so I will have to try again else where though I will be checking if the same applies.
On my last day in Novgorod I went out to an open air museum for traditional wooden structures particularly farm buildings and churches. It is a lovely site by a small lake and is use for weddings. There was one on at the time with extensive traditional occurrences such as threatening and insulting the best man,the bride burning a posy and much singing and laughing at what I guessed were double entendre.While this sounds rather contrived it was well done and it was clear the whole party enjoyed themselves.
The train left on time and I found I was sharing with only one other, a soldier going back off leave( Maxim) .He had a bit of English so between us we managed to have some conversation.
Into Moscow at 05 30 after depositing my luggage at the station for Volgograd I set off to Red Square who's name has nothing to do with the Bolsheviks but has had that name for some 400 yrs and is a corruption of the Russian word for beautiful. It sounds stupid but it is just like the pictures. The one exception the Lenin Mausoleum is much smaller than I thought some 20 ft tall with the reviewing platform we used to see the Politburo on only some 12 ft up. I got some good photos around the square and the Kremlin including the Lubianka ( or the New Zealand embassy) not clear from the map. Then off for a 13 30 start for Volgograd. This time I shared the berth with a mother and daughter the latter about to go off to Moscow State University . They were visiting the mothers parents and were from Chelyabinsk ,which happens to be Irina's' mothers birth place.
The Hotel Volgograd is a large hotel very nice and central. I have to say the weather is a bit extreme for me , in the high 30s and I believe into the 40s at noon. So lots of water .My first day was spent at Mamaev Kurgen the centre of the battle, a mound some 102 m. high which now has the most spectacular war memorial I suspect anywhere . It is a 72m. high depiction of Mother Russia holding aloft a further 11m. long sword . As part of the complex there is a rotunda with lists of a small proportion of the dead and an eternal flame. All in all a very moving place making you remember that within a 3 Km radius of this spot but mostly on it 700,00 Germans and some 1,000,000 Russians died between august 1942 and the end of January 1943.( yes six months )
Today I went to the museum of the battle again very well done with lots of relevant material including a lot from ordinary soldiers. Interestingly this is the only place I have seen with extensive reference to Stalin.
I am off to Astrakhan on Friday by boat overnight down the Volga should be good.It is late I am tired due to heat so hope to say more tomorrow .Love to all John

Friday, 10 July 2009

Novgorod the Great

Good journey down though seats as hard as nails.Hotel very good and Novgorod could not be a greater contrast to St Petersburg. The town is quite small ,relaxed and clean with a lot of well laid out and maintained parks.

On the 1st night I had a second 'Russian with drink on him" experience.I went into the hotel bar and sat on a bar stool next to a man on the phone.When he had finished it was quickly clear he was very drunk and wanted to be my comrade.Vodka was offered and a list of questions asked ,I was thinking of Irina's warnings and how I might get out of it when the bar maid gave him the cold stare and with a lot of noise he paid up and left.

I spent yesterday doing the sites which include the very large Kremlin and a number of outstanding churches including St Sophia which is possibly the oldest building in Russia and the source of the onion domes seen through out Russia. I stayed for part of the service which was very moving, completely sung .The congregation stands through out as they would have done in a western church in the middle ages, the only seats being along the walls for the infirm( weakest to the wall).

Another ticket buying experience at the station!All was going well with tickets from here to Moscow and from Moscow to Volgograd ordered!Then the lady showed me the price on her calculator,I did not allow for there being Kopecks and I thought the price was 40,000 Rb(about 900 pounds!!). At that I started to panic , when I produced my card she started to panic ( no cards) in general no thinking going on. If I had thought ,I could fly home for that ,she expected me to have the cash and no one would routinely carry that amount.but all sense and Russian had left me . I wrote the amount down and asked was this right but she was not listening she had printed out the tickets and had no payment what was she to do. But all was well , the man behind me said its 4,000 you forgot the kopecks! I produced the money she wept ,I laughed and I then departed .Lancaster station was never like this.
Well I hope to try a banya this afternoon . Love to all

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Last day in St Petersburg, I had hoped to be away this morning but there is only one train to Novgorod.I don't think that is right but that is what the ticket office says. This might mean an extra day there, but that might be a relax day.
Yesterday I went to the Peterhof which the Russians call the Versaille of the north. The gardens are beautiful and the water cascades are amazing.The tour I took also goes in the main palace who's decoration is stunning if very much over the top.
The 2 things that particularly impressed were Peter the Greats own palace( mon plaisire ) for its modesty and the fact that the whole garden ,cascades and main palace has had to be totaly reconstructed after the war. The Germans devasted all that they held either for loot or as a scorched earth as they retreated.However there is a story,not from russians , that Stalin had the main Palace bombed because Hitler had bragged he was going to have a new year diner there.
The Germans came within 10 Km of St Petersberg and besieged it for 900 days.During that time 1,000,000 St Peterbergers ,soldiers and civilians died. To put that into context, if I need to ,Britain and U S lost 700,000 combined. With 27,000,000 dead no wonder the Russians call it the Great Patriotic war.
The only down side here is that as time goes on my Russian is getting worse I hear words on the street recognise them but do not know what they mean.That is why I am thinking of a day off in Novgorod.
Hope my readers are all well.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Still With Love

That was just a test so on with the heart stopping story. I left Kirkenes is a mini bus with 5 Russians and 2 Norwegians bound for Mumansk. Within 20 minutes we were at the border and had passed the Norwegian control. The Passport Officer spent some 10 minutes scrutinising my passport including a lot of use of a very strong magnifying glass.However eventualy I was passed through and the Customs took no interest in me. That is more than can be said for our driver and the driver of another car. 4 hours later the other car , the 5 Russians ( in others cars passing through) and 1 Norwegian had gone leaving me , a Norwegian angler and our driver who was clearly in some serious trouble over some industrial electrical components.
Eventualy our driver arranged for a car to take us to Murmansk. The driver another Norwegian was going to a wedding . The drive was exciting dodging pot holes and on coming lorries I am VERY glad I abandoned the driving option.However our driver gave off an air of quiet calm.
We paseed through Nickel , not likely to win a Russia in bloom award. It is a combination of Rotherham, the Taff valley and Avon Mouth 40 years ago with high rise housing to match. Joseph Conrad said the heart of the holy Russian soul is resignation ( thanks Melissa) it will certainly be needed there.
Mumansk is little run down very like Kirkenes but on a much bigger scale,however I understand there are plans to drill for oil off shore ,if so both towns ( if not the environment ) will benefit.Frankly there is not a lot to do but I got used to using buses ( they have clippies !!) asking the way and generaly trying to blend in. Then came the buying of the ticket to St Petersburg. Russian lady train ticket sellers have a justifiable reputation for terrorising supplicants ,mine was world class but efficient. I amazed the on lookers with my speed of being dealt with especialy as I was speaking Russian though I am not sure the on lookers felt that . I still find it funny , if it was at home distirbing, that you need your passport/ I D to buy train tickets and board.
Then came the train, I was due to spend 27 hours on the sleeper and was travelling coupee which is a 4 person compartment with 2 upper and 2 lower bunks. The lower bunks go 1st I was verck ( upper) .My companions were Ludmilla and her grown up son Andreyev going to visit her grand children in Latvia and Sasha going to a new job in Siberia.We settled in with some little unease of sleeping with strangers but soon the compartment was quiet . The following day the ice slowly broke due more to Andreys' English than my ear challenging Russian .Of course the Babushka came through with the goods and for lunch we had roasted chicken, potatoes and salad. It made my contribution of fruit and chocolate look a little thin .We parted on very good terms at St Petersberg with Ludmilla and Sasha of to Riga and Sasha facing another day on the train to Moscow and several on another to Siberia.
The St Petersburg metro builds its ticket sellers at the same factory as the state railways I am still recovering from just buying 10 tokens . However it is all worth it when you get on with Stations like Palaces the trains clean and often.
The hotel is very different from the International Standard Poliarni in Murmansk . The Veste is clearly family run with a rather laid back approach , though somewhat more expensive , I assume that is due t it being St Petersburg and on Nevski Prospect.. The room is huge with cooking and facilities.

From Russia with love

sorry there has been a break in comms but the nly conection I could find in Murmansk was Wi Fi I assume Chris has visited!!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Kirkenes At Last

I am now in Kirkenes.The flight was from Bodø to Tromso,then on to Kirkenes,all pretty painless.It is clear that without planes life would be pretty difficult in northern Norway.

The bus to Murmansk goes twice a day and I am booked on the 1400 tomorow. I understand it will take 3 to 4 hours .I am not sure what is going on here ,the tourist info people didn't know , but all the hotels are full.Fortunaly they were able to fix me up in a private home ,well a flat in a private house so I am better off than in a hotel.

Kirkenes is not a beautifull town .I assumed it would be like a northern Scotish town,bleak but handsome . It is a little down at heel with a number of businesses closed.The street signs are in Norwegian and Russian so I assume there must be a large trade across the border.There are a number of large Russian fishing vessals tied up in the harbour.
Well Russia tomorow , coming this way has not been easy but I am glad I did.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Vladimir and the Arctic Circle

Just after I posted my last missive I was sat on the station steps with my worldly goods arround me , all I needed was a polystyrene cup and a dog to supplement my stipend when a loneman joined me. He was wearing a Norwegian football shirt and had a distinct sway and a drunks animated face. He asked me for a cigerette i said i did't smoke and he started to discuss the meaning of life . It was then , it had been a long hard day, when I realised I could understand him. This is remarkable as I am finding Norwegian impenatrable. However he turned out to be a Russian or at least a Latvian whose 1 st language is Russian. Soon he was hailing me as a long lost friend despite occasionaly my pronounciaton defeating him.Well only my trains impending arrival stopped him from making me his brother so we parted as new Tavarich ( you were right about drunken Russians Irina ).still he was at least friendly .
The journey to Trondsheim was fine though the heat meant I got little sleep( I am not sure why I am in itallix but you will have to put up with it as I can't turn it off.The time of year meant it was never dark and the scenery was stunning.Similarly the train to Bodø ( pronounced boda) When we crossed the Arctic circle at 1 st it looked like you would expect , tundra , then it went back to lush valeys ,stunning and beautiful.
I have been agonising as to whether to stick to the ground which from now means bus and 2-4 days or fly to Kirkenes. I have decided to fly , while it will mean I will miss a lot of country it6 will ensure I get the full 30 days in Russia.
For a word from our sponsor the hotel I am doing this from ( the Bodø Hotel) has the most helpfull staff ansd I heartily reccomend it.
Well next stop Kirkenes and the test as to if I can get from there to Murmansk on thursday !

Monday, 29 June 2009

Well here we are in lillestrom after an eventfull day. I flew from Liverpool on the 1205 by Ryan to Oslo (Torp ) which is rather like saying London (Manchester ) as Torp in a 1hr 40mins fast train ride from Oslo. Still I saw some wonderfull countryside . I am now waiting for the Trondhiem night train then in to Bordo in the morning arriving at 17 30 tomorow night.Norway is a bigger place than you think. It is also incredibly expensive .A sandwich( all be it a large and very nice one) beer and coffee 15 pounds !.I am starting to sound like a misery but be warned if you are planning a holiday here.
The weather is very hot and humid still no complaints there.The people are very helpfull ,friendly and speak English so travel is relatively painless. However long distance train travel seems foreign to the Norwegians .
More later hope ALL !!! my readers are well

Monday, 8 June 2009


It has been a little while since I posted mainly due to not much happening on the trip front.More than can be said on the political one but there has been enough of that in the news media.
  I now , courtesy of " Select-a-Room " ( who provided an excellent service) ,have  a hotel booked for my first 2 nights in Russia. It is at the Poliarnie Zori Hotel in Murmansk . 
 This week I am going the final collection of all my kit and doing a trial pack to check weights etc. Boring stuff for my readers but critical for ensuring I don't have to pay Mr Ryan any excess baggage while not going without key items.
I had hoped to post a picture of the baptism of my new grandaughter but the technology defeated me. More practice required or my journal during the trip will be boring.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

tick borne encaphalitis

I had my second injection against encaphalitis yesterday which will give me protection  for my trip. I understand that the tick is already widespread in Austria this year so it looks like a good investment ( £167 )
  Otherwise preparations  are almost complete except the language which appears to get farther away with each attempt to learn  words . It looks like I will have to fall back on the English stalwart of shouting !

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Vanouchka and Visa

I have now recieved my Visa. The problem online was mine ( apologies to supplier) and in the end it arrived in less than a week.So we are all ready apart from a couple of items left to purchase .
I fly to Oslo on 29/6 followed by train and bus to kirkines. I will then cross border on the 2/7 to Murmansk .
The Russian language continues to frustrate ,with me forgetting two words for every new one I learn !

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

new vanoochka but no visa

Quiet on the blog front as I have been busy becoming a grandad for the 4th time ,Orla born 1745 0n 6/4.
I am also having trouble getting a visa ,not because of any problems with me but the web site the Russian embasy require you to use .I can now fill the form out on auto but still get thrown off at the end.I understand that applying for a visa to come to the UK is much worse though that does not make me feel any better. Looks as if I shall have to go to London.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

the start

I'm John marshall and I am starting this Blog ( a new experiance thanks to Chris Conder )
because I am going travelling in Russia . I'm 62 a retired Environment Agency manager and this is my gap year,actualy 6 weeks ,trip. I had originaly intended driving to Vladivostok but time constraints have lead me to go by train arround European Russia.
I have been learning Russian for just over a year with Irina who tries hard to knock her language into my skull each week .I can order beer so thats ok.
I will try and share my plans with you over the next few weeks I fly to Oslo on 29/6/09 ,and keep you abreast of developments while I am there.Hope you find it interesting .
Today I started the process of getting a Visa , I am limited to 30 days as a tourist ,hence the train and only part of the Country this year. I hope to go to Siberia next year.