Sushu's Travel Journal

July 12, 2010

On the Trans-Manchurian

Filed under: Europe — Tags: — admin @ 11:25 pm

So this is day 3 on the trans manchurian. The km signpost that we just passed said 4262.This means that I am over 4000 kmfrom Moscow and about halfway done. The train is relatively comfortable. In my room we started with woman who is a piano teacher from Italy with a daughter my age and a son slightly younger – the age of the young man returning from his year of mandatory military service. He is shy, but also fiercely proud of being part of the great military review last year. He got off at Per yesterday. The last one is a Chinese chef making his 2nd annual trip back to wife and son in Harbin. The woman lived in Siberia for 16 years when she married to a Russian soldier. After the divorcE 10 years ago, she went back to Italy. This is the first time she has bbeen this far back to Siberia in 10 years.

Typing on the Kindle is slow going. Suffice to say that the land is majestic and the people few. My cabin m.ates communicate in a combination of Chinese Russian and Italian/Spanish. I buy breakfast and lunch from the ladies on the oplatform, but enjoyed dinner at the dining car enough to go back and brave the Russian menu

July 8, 2010

7/8

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:25 pm

Took 4 hour bus to Novgorod.  Provincial town has 2 hotels, and as we discovered, only 2 restaurants.  But the river is beautiful and we chanced upon an Orthodox service in a 1000-year-old church in the middle of the kremlin.

Today is a day of travel — train back to St. Petersburg and then train to Moscow and then the Trans-Siberian, so no more internet until I get into Shanghai.  Wish me luck!

July 7, 2010

7/7

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:23 pm

Just a quick update today because I hurt my lower back yesterday and spent the online time looking that up instead. 

Instead of the walking tour, we did a boat tour.  Man, so many pretty buildings and parks, mostly built by Tsars and Tsarinas who "felt like it" or to commemorate a special occasion, or for their lover, etc.  I’m in awe of the amount of resources and manpower at their command — These buildings are all decorated with statues and friezes and other crazy stuff.

Then we spent 7 hours in the Hermitage, which is a giant palace with lots of European artwork.  Impressionist paintings always look better close-up.  Also caught some nice Reubens and Rembrants.  What was most amazing, however, was this exact duplicate of Rafael’s Loggias from the Vatican.  (http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/05/hm5_5.html).  At around hour 5 was when my back started feeling crappy.

Then we went to dinner at this little Russian restaurant.  The meat dumplings here were even better than the last place.  I got chicken breast stuffed with egg, and a cauliflower soup.  Soups remain delicious.  There was some sort of party there, where people were getting up to make speeches, and then singing songs while playing the guitar or accordion.  A dude also made bird chirping noises with 2 rubber bands.  It was very amazing, we felt like we were guests at someone’s house.  A man walked around trying to toast everyone, and when we left, an old man kissed my hand.  It makes me really want to learn Russian and come back to Russia properly– The food is yummy, the people are nice, and the art is awesome.

July 6, 2010

7/6

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:23 pm

So we’re in St. Petersburg.  St. Petersburg is very different from Moscow.  Whereas Moscow has these very stern and solemn buildings and squares, St. Petersburg felt like a Scandinavian city, and reminded me a lot of Copenhagen — wide canals, tree-lined boulevards, neo-classic and rococo facades, countless stands selling hotdog rolls.  There seems to be more artists here, they’re more relaxed and I’ve seen many just relaxing on the grass in a park. 

Yesterday we took the hydrofoil to Peterhof, which is a Versailles-like palace that Peter the Great built away from St. Petersburg.  It was very pretty.  Aside from the Versailles-like fountain stuff, Peter also built some smaller retreats closer to the seaside in the Dutch style.  This is also when I discovered that the Gulf of Finland is (a) very shallow, and (b) very polluted and brown.  :(

Peterhof was mostly populated by Russian visitors.  Like YuanMingYuan, lots of locals go there to relax at the beach, walk in the park, eat ice cream, and frolic in the fountains.  For locals, entrance fee is only 140 py, which is like 5 dollars.  In addition to the stately marble fountains from Tsar times, there were also fun soviet fountains like fake trees and flowers that squirt water.  It was a great place for relaxing and people-watching.

After getting back from Peterhof, we wandered the streets until we found the restaurant we wanted but they asked us to come back in 30 minutes or so (of course, my question about putting ourselves on a list was meeted with a shrug).  There happened to be a cute little park across the street with a statue of Pushkin, so we bought ice cream and relaxed in the park.

The dinner was super-yummy.  I got a salad that had slivers of tongue, yellow bell pepper, cucumber, and cheese.  Smothered in mayo and dill, of course.  I also had a meat and veggie soup with sour cream and dill.  (I’ve had very good soups in Russia).  Finally, I had meat dumplings that looked reminescent of wontons, served in a little urn, and smothered in sour cream and dill.  CS Bear had some really good Beef Stroganoff, with a delicious light sauce.  What made the dinner perfect, however, was the music.  A very passionate violinist and a very laid-back guitarist. 

Today we’re going on a formal walking tour, so I’ll talk more about city monuments tomorrow.

July 5, 2010

7/5

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:19 pm

So it got dark at midnight, and then got light at 4am in the morning. I woke up and finished my journal-comic of the previous day, and posted. Then I went back to sleep and woke up again at 11am. The Lemur made yummy breakfast omelettes, and then we headed out to Red Square and the Kremlin.

When walking through the Red Square, I couldn’t help comparing it to Tiananmen. It’s longer but narrower, and of course the buildings that flanks it are European styled. The Lenin mausoleum was closed, but I was surprised at how unremarkable it seemed from the outside. Sure, it’s red and black marble, and with austere corners, but it blended into the background of the red walls and buildings. Unlike the Mao-soleum, there aren’t triumphant statues and youths standing guard. Maybe it’s because Russia is no longer Communist, and so has a different relationship to Lenin. For example, outside the Red Square, next to all the street vendors selling matroyshka dolls and communist kitsch, there were many "personalities" that you could take a picture with. Sure, there’s Homer Simpson and Spiderman, but there’s also Lenin and Stalin and Tolstoy. Several Lenins, in fact. One Lenin-Stalin combo actually staged themselves in the setup of that famous photograph, except now you can sit between them. When I look around at the people here, I can’t help but wonder about the generation gap and the difference in life experience and outlook of the last 20 years. The people dressed up as Lenin and Stalin probably remember a very different portrayal of Lenin and Stalin in their youths.

The Kremlin was pretty cool. Of course, we couldn’t visit most of it, lots of police making sure we only keep to the tourist section, which is essentially Cathedral Square and a park. The churches were pretty amazing. I’d never been in an Orthodox cathedral before, so I was completely blown away by the floor-to-ceiling covering of various icons and religious and historical paintings. The icons stare at you eerily, and I can totally believe that there’s a spirit behind it. I also finally figured out the whole iconostasis thing — it had made no sense when I read about it. I especially loved all of the Jesus icons — each of them had the same markings of hair and facial style to show that it’s Jesus, but each of them slightly different — gaunt Jesus, haggard Jesus, sad Jesus, fierce Jesus. Up on the ceiling inside each onion dome was also a Jesus icon, which we dubbed Sky Jesus. The plaques that were in English mentioned all sorts of artists and styles that I knew nothing about. I’m sure that’s how western tourists feel like in Dunhuang. We also discovered that the Russian tour guides leading Chinese tour groups spoke very beautiful Chinese. Made me wonder what sort of foreign language requirements and options are available in their public school.

After the Kremlin I went to fetch my Trans-Siberian tickets, but ended up causing us to miss the train to St. Petersburg, so we had to try to switch train tickets to a later train. That was quite an ordeal. We ended up standing in 3 lines — one to find out which window to stand at, one to return the previous tickets, and one to buy new tickets. It took an hour and a half, and I think they might have accidentally only returned me the money for 1 of the tickets, but by the end of that hour and a half, I didn’t want to wait in another 1/2 hour line. Maybe I’ll do it on my way back.

And now I’m in St Petersburg!

July 4, 2010

7/4 — Moscow night

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:18 pm

Met up with the Lemur and CS Bear downstairs from our apartment at 6pm Moscow time. Apparently the street downstairs from the apartment is a pedestrian way filled with cafes. We’re also about 5 minutes walking distance from a Kremlin and a 24 hour supermarket that turned out last night to not be 24-hour. I got a nice cold soup at the cafe, and then after briefly unpacking at the apartment, we headed out to buy train tickets and then find a restaurant that Joanne saw on the guidebook as having Central Asian food and on the river.

Train tickets were relatively painless, despite the fact that no one spoke English. CS Bear had a whole dictionary in his shorts pocket, so we looked up the word for “tomorrow”, and the rest worked out. What was more complicated was figuring out the subway. It took us a while to realize that standard subway signs are in blue, and are not related to the color of the metro line, despite there being a light blue and a dark blue metro line. Also, exits are not always entrances. So we totally took the wrong line, but it was all right, because the subway stops are breathtaking — wrought-iron chandeliers, arches with filigrees, mosaics of Lenin leading the Revolution, etc. I didn’t bring my camera last night, but what I loved were the small details. Even the lamps on the escalator were beautiful and stylistically in tune with the rest of the station. The metro trains come once every 3 minutes or so, so we never had to wait long, and they went super-fast, so going on the wrong line wasn’t too bad. Tickets were about 25py, which is a little less than $1. The trains themselves aren’t high-tech or jazzed up with lots of ads or monitors, but they were super-functional and clean. They were also designed for tall people — not many low hand-holds.

The restaurant we went to was called “1001 Nights”, and it was actually on the river, but tied to the river’s edge — it bobbed whenever a riverboat went by. I got horse meat with noodles. The horsemeat was very tender, and its juices drenched the large flat noodles under it, making it very tasty indeed. I also got a salad. Salads here are mostly composed of 3 or more of the following: cucumber, tomato, radishes, eggs, meat, potato. I sense that this isn’t a very leaf-based society. Every half hour or so, they would crank up the music and a bellydancer would make her way around the tables.

After the restaurant, we walked the 3 miles home along the river, encountering an amusement park with a mock Space Shuttle, and a large statue in the river that seems to be Peter the Great standing on a ship that’s on a wave that has lots of little ships in it. It was bizarrely awesome. (Our first view was head-on, like this, so it was hard to figure out what it actually was as we slowly walked towards it. (Here’s some better views) Next to the statue, on what the map said was a chocolate museum, was a roof-top rave.

We stopped by McDonald’s for ice creams and water at midnight, and made it home shortly thereafter. It didn’t feel that late, thought, since the sun had set at around 11pm. I woke up at 4:40am and the sun was up again. Yay Northern Hemisphere in the summer!

July 2, 2010

7/2-7/4 — The travelling part

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:15 pm

The flight from San Francisco was delayed 4 hours because the plane that left Dusseldorf was delayed. The reason it was delayed was that they encountered a technical issue shortly after leaving Dusseldorf, had to re-land, and fix. Although the delay has been frustrating for everyone involved — the pilot, the passengers on 2 planes, all the missed connections and the ticketing agents who had to deal with grouchy people and pay the cost of hotel, etc — I’m still glad they made sure the plane was safe instead of having people die. Sure, I miss a day of Moscow, but at least I’m not dead. Germany is also not a bad place to be stuck — sure, I have no Euros, so I’m kinda stuck at the airport hotel, operating within the confines of the hotel vouchers, but most people speak English very well, and everything is organized, courteous, and functional. I turned on the TV and flipped through a lot of dubbed American shows, and ended up on some German family comedy, perhaps like 7th Heaven. I wish I understood German humor — serious one moment, silly antics the next. The show seemed to be about a priest and his family, and has dramatic moments around buying fishing bait in a shop, and not being able to sleep at night because the neighbors were having loud sex.

Dusseldorf airport is really weird. The airport lobby was like a real lobby — with clusters of armchairs and cafes and stores. It is spacious and airy, more like a train station than an airport. The dominant airline here is Air Berlin. Many screens tell you which counters to check in. I like how fluid the space is. From there I go a few short paces to customs, or “PassKontroll”, which is a different world altogether. The space is winding and cramped, with many cordoned off areas. The area seems more like a “behind-the-scenes” warehouse area, with unadorned walls that have parts unpainted. There is no air conditioning. From their I enter the gate area, and once again everything is air-conditioned, bright and airy. I felt like I was in a shopping mall — stores and shops line the hallway, duty-free perfume assaulting my senses — with the gates nowhere to be found. The gates turned out to be tucked behind the stores, as if up a side alley. At the gate, everything is once again coarse and functional, two gates in one small area, with a door beyond leading to stairs down to the tarmac, and with just enough seating for the early-arrivers like me. No outlets to be found, and on one column, a clear un-painted outline of something that used to be there but was ripped out.

There are no drinking fountains here — maybe it’s not required by law? Travels abroad always makes me think about federal regulations.

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