30 June 2009

Burtyatia school - Mikhaylovka


Mikhaylovka is 1200 inhabitants. About 500m from the main highway, the village is more or less surrounded by a cow gate, so the cows are kept in the village. Two roads have asfalt: the one from the entrance and, prependiculary, one connecting the school to the "club". Other roads are made of dirt. All roads have cow shit around. At one side of the village runs a river, 25km long at that point, with clear water were kids swim in the summer.
The school has kids from 6 to 18 years old, about 180 of them and 40 teachers. Twelve graduated this year. The school reminded me of and old primary school. There were two old sport fields, one concrete for basketball and other grass for other sports (volley, football, fight, etc). The toilets were outside, a barrack with 5 holes for boys and 5 for girls, no separation between holes (only between sex). There was an anfitheatre were we saw a ridiculous graduation cerimony with teachers, parents and students, each group at its time, singing and saying bad memorized poems. There was also a canteen, looking again from a very old primary school.
At the middle of the paved road it was the commercial centre with three shops. One was shut, other almost and the survival one sold basic things, mostly in big quantities.
The sum was made using abbacus (we saw this multiple times all around Buryatia) and there was a credit notebook. The other edge of the road was the "club" which comprised a gym/auditorium/theater, a kitchen, a small room and a library which was closed most of the time (even if the timetable would not say that). It seems there was also a projector room but it was broken. The library had some hundreds of books, 2 computers and 2 paid internet kiosks used by no one. They had no money to buy new books and were living of books donations. There were no english books.

A kindergarten and 20 sheeps were in front of the "club". The village administration building was also on this road, a small one floor house with repainted offices, couple of computers, no internet. The village had also a post office else where.

Makhailovka houses were made of wood with, sometimes, colourful roofs and windows. Each had a garden with banya, some cumcumbers, potatoes, a dog and toilet - small barrack with a hole. Our home garden also had two pigs, and others had cows stable. There was electricity with fluctuating current, telephone and TV. No radio signal was received here, nor mobile phones worked. There were water stations across the village with mechanic pumps taking water from couple dozen meters below.

Houses had usually a summer kitchen, not so insulated part of the house, with an electric stove, a table and several small buckets for all kind of purposes (milk, washing dishes, dirty water, clean water, etc). There was also a hand wash basic, which we would fill with water and with a small lever we could wash the hands. The used water would go to a bucket below. The next room had as central piece a wooden stove used mostly in the long winter and, depending on the house, more or less separated spaces with boards or vertical hanging carpets.

Our house in Makhailovka had a light courtain door to our room, where there were two beds. One wall was cardboard up to 30cm from the ceiling and two others were outside walls. There was a small winter kitchen were the cooking part of the big brick made wooden stove was; a living room with a TV, a buddha corner some books and pictures and, behind some cupboards, it was the other room of the house with a double bed where the daughter and sometimes also the mother slept. Our host family had a quite big banya building where in the first room they stored the pig's food and the second room was the banya itself with the iron made wood stove with hot water container and stones for steam. The room had dry side to sit and wet side to wash, where the wooden floor had holes. The toilet was about 50meters from home. For us they bought toilet paper but usually they used newspaper. Our family had a second house ('house there' - дома там) where mother and step-father would stay and where they milked their cows.

Our host family was composed by Lisa, the library responsable; Valery, her second husband; and Irina, daughter of Lisa and student on the 3rd year of English-Chinese studies. Her english, however, was like a high-school student in Europe.

English was one of the most amazing things people, including young, did not know. Among the graduated students that year from school only one would be able to articulate some sentences with very limited vocabulary. Other amazing thing was the alcohol available in the schop and the amount of chronic alcoholic one would cross in the streets of so small village.

During our stay once we had a young alcoholic guy who did not believe we were living there and wanted to force us to go to his place. His girlfriend shouted to him to leave us but he ended up to enter our house and sit down until we found Irina who explained him what we were doing there. He drunkly apolagized himself. Other time a very drunk old men, in need of vodka, followed us asking for money until we got home. Kate had to stay a while with us until he left. Cheap vodka costs one euro the bottle!

People are in general small for European standards and seem 10 to 20 years older. Life expectancy is around 60 years old. The oldest people in the village was a couple - she 95, he 94. Retirement age in Siberia is 50 for women, 55 for men (in European Russia is 5 years more).

People's diet was dased on dairy products and meat. From the milk they would do several products - cheese, kefir, tvorak, vodka. The meat was mainly boiled in a soup or mashed and put in 'buuzi'/'pozi' (Buryati/Russian), the Buryati national dish. To drink was always tea with milk and the table was always with cookies, candies, sugar and home made bread. Cumcumber, radis and cabbage where the vegetables found on the shop and planted at home. Eggs and potatoes and apples were also easy to find (most people had potatoes field in their garden).

On our arrival to Mikhaylovka the head of the administration received us in local costumes giving us milk to drink from the left hand - milk is symbol of cleaness -, a cloth with traditional drawings and a glass of vodka over a bank note (of about 1 euro), which we should keep for luck. This vodka ritual was repeated several times during our stay. and as soon as our glass would be empty they would refill. Soon we got to know that we are not obliged to drink and the only mandatory elements of the tradition is to accept and touch our lips at the end of the (long) toast.

While in Mikhaylovka we participated to two annual summer parties called Sur-Harban. One on the village level and the other on district level. It happens in a big green area where they built a stage. On the stage people sing and dance. There are sport competitions of wrestling, volley, rope pulling and a horse riding race. All ages participate on the wrestling competition and the aim is to make the opponent to fall or to lift him up from the ground. Some drunks also take part. The volleyball is for school ages. Around all this there are people selling 'buuzi' and tea and couple of shop-cars selling either food, clothes or ustensils. The party lasts all day and big part of the village participates. Jurgen tried some judo class and I organized a garbage hunting game. Both did not have much success.

On the district Sur-Harban 40 villages were represented, each with their own yourt, also part of a beauty competition. As honorable guests we made a tour of couple yourts where always we were offered food and vodka. Once, however, we had the most distingable honor with means 'sheep head'. See Eva's entry about this.

The shool in Mikhaylovka was a success. Children gave us several 'thank you' drawing at the end. About 15 children from 8 to 14 participated regularly. One day some more come from a summer camp in a nearby village. With the usual more than 30 minutes delay (usual in Russia, trains excepted) we started with english class and games, then Eva gave a health class with some painting session, I gave a children rights class. After we follow with some judo, aerobics and journalist class. In the evening more aerobics. The second day of school was similar, small re-arrangements in essay to keep children more active and focused. A dip in the river followed. Last day we organized a treasure hunt around the village with questions broken-up in separate locations and questions about our classes and about us. Children run it all for 40 minutes in two teams.

After this we left to Engorboy, not before having one more pic-nic with the head of administration, our host families and white wine (there were drivers). It was then a 3-hour drive in mostly non-asfalted road.

24 June 2009

Buryatia Experience Part 1: Departure from Ulan-Ude and arrival in Mihailovska

As most of you already know, we decided to participate in a volunteering project organised by a young russian student from Moscow, but originally from Buryatia which is a republic in southern Siberia. We were going there to teach something to the school children there, and also to experience their way of life.

The departure from Ulan-Ude was scheduled for the 24th of June, 6:30 am. All we knew was that we were supposed to go in a minibus. We still didn't know that we would experience the real russian way of travelling....

We were a group of 5: Kate from Canada, Juergen from Austria, Ayuna the organiser from Moscow, and the 2 of us.

Actually, to get to these remote places, a few minibuses leave every morning from the bus station. You just go there, wait, and when a bus arrives, jump inside to get a seat. As we were a group of 5 with quite a lot of luggage, we were supposed to have 5 seats reserved in one of the buses, which was supposed to pick us up at our hotels. But it didn't turn up, the driver had decided to drive to the train station... So we ended up waiting for an hour at our hotel, being driven to the bus station and waiting there for another hour or so. Finally, our driver turned up and we got our 5 seats. This was already a good example of how things work here. Don't plan ahead or you'll be disappointed....

After one hour we alreday stopped for "lunch" (it was 10:30 in the morning) and then drove for another 4 hours non-stop. Of course there was the usual drunk guy who was a bit annoying, but he fell asleep after some time and we didn't hear him anymore. It was a very scenic drive, the landscape becoming greener and hillier, with meandering rivers and a few small villages. Once there were cows on the street, once there was a group of running horses, and once the driver almost ran into a group of men who were doing repair work on the road.

At some point we arrived at a checkpoint. This being a border region, we needed permits to go there and our passports were checked (which consisted in writing down our names and a phone call to the boss, without noticing that Kate didn't have her visa with her). When the passport procedure was over, we were told to get out of the bus, this time for a welcoming ceremony by the head of administration (Svetlana) from the village we were going to (Mihailovka), which consisted in some chanted speech in Buryat, offering a spoon of milk (white foods are supposed to have a "cleaning" function) and the handing over of a coloured scarf. During the whole time, the other passengers waited patiently.

When we arrived to the village, we were introduced to our host families, who all lived in very tidy wooden houses with big gardens and a banya. We immediately got food, and then had a good wash in the banya.

The village had one asphalted road, the others were non-asphalted. Cows were wandering and grazing freely in the village. All the houses were wooden, often with colourful windows. No house had individual water pipes. Every street had its water pump station where people went to get water. Toilets were outside, "hole-in-the-floor", often far in the garden, but clean. Our family also had a few pigs, two dogs and a small potato field behind the house. The main foods are milk products, cow's meat and potatoes. Almost everything is produced for self-consumption, hardly anything is sold. Life seems very simple there. I also noticed a strong, mainly female community, with all kinds of activities (library, dance group...). All in all people seemed very happy there.

23 June 2009

Ulan-Ude

This must be one of the cities where we've stayed the longest. We arrived on the 18th June, in order to prepare and relax before going to our volunteering "project" in the deep countryside (we will leave tomorrow early morning). So we've had quite a lot of time to spend here. The weather has been everything you can imagine - from 5 degrees rainy almost snowing to over 20 degrees sunny. We have spent quite some time on the Internet (you might have noted a few new posts and photos...), sleeping incredibly late every morning, wandering around the town.... and trying to survive the Russian restaurant- and cafe-food. Our breakfast was different every morning, prepared by our violet-haired landlady, and included fried eggs, hard bread with misterious meat spread and tomatoes, kasha (some kind of Russian cooked cereal - we had the version with about 200g of butter each...), blini (pancakes) and omelette. In cafes it's usually meat with or without something else. Salads are some cooked vegetable with a lot of mayonnaise. Soups are nice but with a lot of grease on top. So, not surprisingly, my stomach started to strike after this mornings 2 portions of omelette (2 portions because I ate Miguel's) and only started digesting several hours later, after a mini-sandwich of herring and a big cup of muesli and yogourt (bought in the supermarket). Let's see how this goes in the deep countryside...
Otherwise, it has been a bit boring but very relaxing to spend a few days here, often not doing much. We still have visited a big buddhist Datsan, a very colorful heap of painted temples and wooden siberian houses. Afterwards we walked a bit in the village, and seeing an interesting-shaped hill we wanted to hike there, but we were stopped by 3 men in a car. We finally understood that we could not go there because it seemed to be a place reserved for men and women were not allowed! So, we went back to the bus stop, on the way passing a drunk guy who apparently wanted to change some Rubles for "Deutsche Mark"....
One day we also decided to visit the History Museum. It was raining and cold, and our landlady really wanted us to go there. So we paid for 2 of the exhibitions, one about Buddhism, the other about Buryat history. Well, some of the exhibits were quite entertaining (especially the ones about Tibetan medicine), but otherwise it was the usual Russian museum experience: underlit rooms, water dripping from the ceiling into buckets, all kinds of objects shown in the same showcase (but there were english descriptions!). Not such a bad place to spend an hour or so.
Tomorrow we'll be off into the "Russian Wild" until the 7th of July. I'm sure we will have stories to tell and pictures to show!

21 June 2009

Pictures of people

Better than landscapes pictures are people pictures, mostly of people doing their job, if they work in a colourful fruit shop, or are the host of our train wagon, or just if they are on the street with a nice or different style. While I usually try to make pictures of these people 'en cachette', it would be much better just to announce myself and ask if I could do a picture of them. Couple times I've tried but people are ashamed and say 'no'.

Have you ideas, experience how can I make pictures of people with their agreement or should I just stand as a journalist and picture them?

20 June 2009

La cuisine Russe


L'image la plus habituel qu'on a trouve quand on a propose de faire la cuisine chez quelqu'un que nous a heberge. Oui, ca c'est la table de la cuisine. Et il n'avait pas de chaises, ni couteaux a manger. Mais cette fois il avait du detergent a vaisaille. Et oui, ca c'est avant qu'on a posse nos choses!

Two weeks away

From Tuesday (or Wednesday) next week, that means 23/24 June and for two weeks we will be in the yellow pins marked on the map above. we will be there participating on this voluntary project in two Buryati villages near the Mongolian border, where most of the children never saw foreigners. 

Eva will try to give some basic health and hygiene ideas and I will try to raise their wareness about human and children rights. Maybe doing some BodyCombat if weather and conditions allow (if there are speakers, CD player, etc). Today we already met Jurgen, an Austrian guy who will be teaching some Judo. There will also be Kate, a Canadian girl and Ayuna, a Moscovite which is also Buriaty and will be translating and organizing things. 

So, when I mean by away, is because we believe there might not be internet there. And mobile phones seem not to work (following our research on the russian operators webpages).

Web page of this volutary project is: http://buryatiasummerschool.narod.ru

Ulan Ude market


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
This is our first day in Ulan Ude. Raining, cold, windy (it could almost be snowing). This picture was taken at the end of the day, when the market sellers were already preparing to pack up and go.

Train stops 2


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
This is just one of the many ladies that wait for trains on the platforms in small train stations, to sell their food to the passengers. I liked the hat of this lady :-)

Moscow time

Now is 7:30am, Moscow time. This is the only time we can see if we go to Ulan-Ude's train station, at all the screens, all the clocks, all the guichets.

In Russia, like many other things, also the trains run as Moscow. In this case using Moscow time. It means that, when we are in Ulan-Ude, where now is in reality 12:30, and use the machine to check train timetables, all the times that appear have a 5 hours decallage. So if we want a good train to leave from here in the morning, let's say, between 9 and 12, we should look for trains leaving between 4 and 7am. Then if we want to arrive to Vladisvostok, which is MT+8, we have to pay attention that trains arriving later than the 16:00 in the computer, means they arrive later than midnight, local time.

But which makes things more crazy, is that usually the ticket windows have a strict timetable, each window a different one. Example: opens at 8, closes at 18, lunch break from 11 to 12, technical break (or pissing'n'smoking break) from 10 to 10:15 and from 15:15 to 15:30. BUT... these are MT - moscow times. So let's make the conversion and hope, that after your 30 minutes wait in queuing you do not hit one of the break times and have to wait a bit more. Or else just do like Russians, look at timetable of all closed windows, check which one will be open soon and just queue there.

Well, we already found that is easier to buy ticket on the internet (with help of a Russian person) and then just go and pick at the station, where they are creating special boths only for this. But no one knows about them, not even at the station (as we realized in Omsk), so you just have to go around and discover yourself where they are (usually in the service center which works from 9 to 17... MT).

Ah, also the dinning-car in the trains have a timetable, Moscow time we believe. But not always specified and we did not try them yet.

The picture on the bottom is the train timetable which we find inside the train we are taking. This timetable had two columns, it was a 5 nitghts train from Moscow to somewhere really in the East. We just did about 24hours, from Omsk (Омск) to Krasnoyarks (Краснояск).

Train stops


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
During the long trips, trains sometimes stop for more than the usual 2 minutes, which means that everybody gets out to strech the legs, make their little children run around (so they will be tired and sleep) and buy food. This picture was taken during one stop somewhere in Siberia.

Remont again...


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
... this time it was the road being repaired, with asphalt produced in this old-fashioned little wagon.

Russian trains


This is to give you an idea about Russian 3rd class wagons. Usually there are also some pairs of feet sticking out :-)

19 June 2009

Being taken care of in Russia

There are a lot of things here in Russia that make travelling very tiring. But from time to time we meet people who would turn the world upside down in order to help us.
In Omsk we stayed with Tanya and her son, who we found through couchsurfing. From there we went on to Krasnoyarsk, but hadn't been able to find a host, so we were thinking of going to a hotel (which sometimes also has its advantages, as we have a bit more privacy). When we were in the train, Tanya sent us a message saying a friend of hers, Polina, could host us in Krasnoyarsk but we would have to sleep on the floor. Well, we preferred something marginally more comfortable than the hard train benches so we said, no, thank you, we will find a hotel, no problem.
Getting off the train in Krasnoyarsk, I had not yet put my foot down on the platform, I heard someone call my name. It was Polina with a friend. Tanya had told her our train number and wagon number and they were waiting right in front of the door! She had arranged a couch for us at a friend's place, come with another friend who spoke english and another friend who had a car to take us there. Wow. We were quite surprised by this...
So we all got into the car (a japanese car, driven by this friend who was wearing racing gloves, speeding up the car as much as he could... I know why I don't want to hitchhike in this crazy country...). On the way we met Polinas friend who left us the keys to his flat. It was in a building surrounded by forest, a nice view on green hills (the fact that there was no toilet paper and that everything was pretty dirty was important to me then and set off an acute attack of homesickness in me, but it already seems just like a funny anecdote now). Polina then showed us the city and took us hiking the following day.
The other "connection story" I already told in a previous post, when a hotel room got reserved for us through a friend of a friend while we were sleeping in the train.
Our experience is that Russian people, especially towards the East, don't have the opportunity to travel so much abroad and would be afraid of doing what we are doing, travelling in a country whose language we don't know. So, there is always somebody to help us, show us the city, and nobody believes that we are actually able to buy a train ticket by ourselves!

Train ride with Buddhists

In order to complete our "train marathon" to get to Ulan-Ude in time, we took another 24-hour train trip from Krasnoyarsk to Ulan-Ude. I was already very tired from two bad nights on an uncomfortable couch in a dirty flat and somehow regretted having bought 3rd class tickets again. During one of our last trips we were seated close to a group of young men drinking beer, one of them completely drunk... I was not keen to repeat the experience.
When we entered our wagon, we noticed a bit number of couples and families with children who seemed to know each other. Later we learned that they were all Buddhists travelling from Tomsk to Irkutsk, where an important buddhist meeting was going to take place. We learned this from a man that we had already noticed because he was smiling more than the average russian. He came towards us asking whether he could just talk to us a bit. Of course! So he talked about Buddhism and we about our trip and our impressions about Russia, he thanked us and went back to his group.
I don't know much about Buddhism but I just noticed that hardly anyone in the wagon was drinking alcohol, and nobody had beer for breakfast (and also, the smell was not as bad as usually).
Later in the afternoon, somebody took out a guitar and started singing russian songs. It was very nice and looking out of the window at the Siberian countryside with its green fields, low hills and birch trees while listening to the music was undescribably beautiful.
Close to us was a family with a small blond boy of about 3, who pretended to be driving a car with an imaginary steering wheel every time he walked down the corridor to go to the bathroom. Later on the corridor was transformed into an imaginary motorway for toy cars with his older brother and another small boy.
In the compartment directly next to us, two pre-adolescent brothers occupied mostly by peaceful card games, interrupted about every 2 hours by a friendly but noisy fight.
During this trip we received an sms message saying a hotel room had been reserved for us in Ulan-Ude (arranged by Ayuna, our Moscow friend). When we arrived there, the owner (a lady with violet hair) was already waiting for us at the door. The room is cozy, there's a private bathroom and hot water, and this morning we got each 3 fried eggs for breakfast (poor Miguel...).
So, even if our last train ride was nice, we're taking a break here for a few days before leaving for our Summer School in Buryatia.

Russia pessimistic opinion

The general sentence we decided that defines our feelings with Russia is:
Lack of consideration of the society towards the individual

16 June 2009

Dictatorship in Russia?

When travelling we generalize from single contacts with people, so a reader should be very careful on taking by true what we write.

After three weeks in Russia, this is by far the toughest country I've ever travelled. Not knowing the language (but able to read, which is better than in Japan or Taiwan, where I've been) together with the lack of any tourist information (not even for Russian people) and the strange - sometimes for us seem like rude - and most ofter illogical way of being of the Russian 'service' - can be supermarket, bus, ticket seller, etc. - and no respect for others by any so-called 'car driver' makes very stressfull and energy consuming to travel here. But at same time very special and very interesting in a sociological point of view.

Yesterday when making a tour in Krausniarsk with our host she tells us that the music going loud from the speakers is saying "We like Putin, we like Putin", or something similar. In Europe a song like this would be just for fun and not go more than once in a radio station. Second interesting point, when for the second time we ask about Kasparov and his opposition to Putin and his enjailment... "I don't know, never heard about it". The media in Russia is known to live in a auto-censorship, the television is all state or governement owned.

Well, without a break with the past, without much information about the ex-gulags, it is difficult for us, europeans, to make another judgement. But I hope to be wrong.

14 June 2009

Small world of CouchSurfing

The CS world is small in Russia. Talking with Filip, the Spanish which was going from Ukrain to do a 6-week Russian course in Novosibirsk, he tells me, along with the beer at Tanya's place, that he hosted at his place, back in Ukrain, a english guy who was left at -30 degrees in middle of nowhere in Mongolia. "Me cuenta algo mas sobre el", I asked in my Portunhol. And he was talking about Rich, who we met in Yaroslavl last week - and who told us the same story.

Train ride with Sergei

During our train ride from Omsk to Krasnoyarsk, we met Sergei. He was in the same compartement and going to Novosibirsk. Thanks to our dictionary we managed to communicate a bit with him, even if he didn't speak any English. He had been in Germany (but didn't speak any German either). I don't know how old he was. From the state of his teeth I would have said he was at least 70 and badly in need of third teeth, but I guess he was not even 50.
(I have never seen so many people, even young, with such bad teeth as in Russia).
He offered us home-baked cakes and sweets.
In this train a young woman came regularly pushing a cart with some food, the usual instant noodles, packs of biscuits and Snickers. We had already two bulging bags of food and drink with us, but Sergei always wanted to buy something for us. First it was biscuits (we already had a big box) and a bottle of water (we already had 1.5 litres). Later it was a pack of crisps (to accompany our beer...).
When we had our dinner, Miguel just about managed to persuade him to take a sandwich of ham and cucumber, but he wouldn't accept anything else from us.
When he left the train in Novosibirsk, he left all his food and drink for us (the biscuits, the sweets, the bottle of water, even his tea bags). We took part of it but had to leave the water and tea in the train, it was just too much.

13 June 2009

Omsk


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
In Omsk we were shown around by Tanya and her friends, and we went to this park to make a fire, eat sausages and be eaten by mosquitoes.

11 June 2009

Train ride from Kazan to Omsk


This was our first really long train ride. 28 hours, 3rd class, side berths (which are more comfortable for a long trip during the day, but less comfortable for sleeping).
In a compartement close to ours, there was a group of young male Russians who spent the whole trip drinking beer (I actually saw one guy eating instant noodles once during 24 hours) and sleeping. One of them got completely drunk at 2 pm and had to be lifted into his berth by his friends, from where he tried to "escape" twice but then fell asleep for the next 12 hours.
In the compartment next to ours, two women (who I took to be mother and daughter). The mother, already elderly (but I'm sure she was not more than around 40), was wearing light blue pijamas that were a bit too tight around her (slightly fat) bottom and also a bit too transparent, showed off every time she went to the toilet. She spent the time sitting on her bed, trying to talk to her daughter and playing with her mobile phone.
The younger one (the daughter) was in bed, wearing a very short silky bathrobe with red roses, and looking very sullen all the time. She spend all the time in bed, either sleeping or playing with her mobile phone, except for a few moments when she sat up gracefully, put on her very high heel leopard sandals, to eat a yogourt and then brush her hair, before lying down again.
Further back in the wagon, a middle aged woman with a slightly crazy look on her face, travelling with a very tiny dog that was shivering most of the time and being photographed a lot by his owner.
Russian women usually dress up a lot, but in the trains most of them are about as un-elegant as possible, wearing sports clothes (at the best) or tight pijamas (at the worst).

10 June 2009

Travel Literature


Travelling in Russia means a lot of train travel. Long train travel. Looking out of the window is nice but not so entertaining (birch forest-village-old factory-birch forest etc) so a good book is an essential companion.

Well, on our last train journey I finished a great book (which always makes me feel a bit sad, like having to say goodbye to a travel companion). It was Paul Theroux's "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star". I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes travelling, especially in trains. He went on a train trip through the middle east, India, Asia and Russia. It's interesting to read his experiences and reflections about travelling.

Now I will switch to reading some books in German (fortunately I bought 2 books in St Petersburg, as here I would not even find a decent book in English - except for Romeo and Juliet for russian students with a cheesy picture on the front).

Free night in hotel?

We arrived yesterday at 23:30 to Kazan in Tartastan republic. While looking for hotel, at one place they say they were full (but we did not believe), second place the room was too expensive for us and third place, already at 00:20, they had a room, bit expensive, but we accepted.

Everywhere in the papers they put we check-in the 10.June and checkout 11.June. This morning after breakfast we went to tell we want to stay one more night. They told that it is already registered that information... So we think that they think we just arrived and we did not sleep already one night there.

Lets see tomorrow when we do the checkout if they ask for something. Anyway we know that because of this, for sure today we did not get our room cleaned.

Kazan

Last night we arrived in Kazan. For once we decided to take a day train which took 8 hours from Nizhny Novgorod to Kazan, but it was comfortable (this time we had 2nd class seats, whereas for sleeping we prefer 3rd class). After some logistic challenges (we arrived just before midnight without hotel reservation, one hotel was full, the other had only a really expensive room, the third was finally ok) we got a nice enough hotel room with a functioning bathroom (hot water, enough pressure in the shower, toilet paper, 3 towels per person) and had a relaxing sleep. Breakfast was a buffet with russian pastries, pasta, salads and some strange things that I don't know the name of.
The weather is nice (warm but just not too hot), Kazan is a pleasant city with several mosques, which makes for a welcome change after all the orthodox churches. 50% of people here are Tartar and everything is written in Russian and Tartar. Tartar is mainly written in cyrillic, although, according to LP, they would like to use the latin alphabet (which was refused by Moscow...). The city center is quite nice, although more and more western luxury shops are opening everywhere and you almost feel like in any european city (except for the almost fallen down building appearing somewhere...).
So, we will stay for another night in our nice hotel room (first time we are in a hotel in Russia, we enjoy it!), relax in this city, use some of the several Internet places (to satisfy our readers), before going on a surely long train trip. We have to be in Ulan Ude in 12 days at the latest... not much time for such a long way.

08 June 2009

View of the Volga in Nizhny Novgorod


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
We did limited sightseeing in Nizhny Novgorod as we were tired from an overnight train journey. But the weather was nice and warm, and we had this nice view from the Kremlin.

Cleaning...


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
Impression from Nizhny Novgorod

07 June 2009

Photos!

I finally managed to upload some photos to flickr (but they are still not organised, so not public) and put some of them on the blog. So have a look at some older posts to discover what's new!

06 June 2009

Yaroslavl


Yaroslavl
Originally uploaded by eva_p
Yaroslavl is one of the "Golden Ring" cities. It has a beautiful Kremlin and a lot of more or less hidden churches. In this one, people were preparing a celebration and putting grass on the floor and decorating the church with birch branches.

05 June 2009

"Remont"


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
is a word we come across a lot in Russia. It means "repair" and can be used in all kinds of contexts (mobile phones, cars, shoes, buildings, churches). This is a picture of the cathedral in Rostov Veliky's Kremlin (one of the "Golden Ring" Cities around Moscow), it was in "remont" when we were visiting.

04 June 2009

Impressions from Moscow

After four days in Moscow, here are couple of picture impressions of it.
Arrival at Leningrad voksal, one of the nine train stations, after the night train where we met Oleg.
Russian (Moscow and St. Petersburg) metro, where we spent several hours in the middle of all the people. The metro is beautiful and impressive. Stations are 50 to 75 meters underground so they can be used as shelters in case of war.
Red Square and Kremlin, the basic Moscow. We went there the first day and also to near the university where we have a panoramic view of the city.
An excelent contemporary dance show where Jolanda took us.

Jolanda, friend of Thomas (Eva's brother) and who lives in Moscow for five years now studying cinema. She was our saviour in the big city reliefing us from all the stress we were gaining there. Спасибо!

03 June 2009

Internet places - a nightmare

We decided not to take computer, not even a small one, with us for the trip. We do not regret and would do the same if we would start now. Taking small computer means one more thing to take care, that should not receive shocks; means an extra transformer/cable/weight; means an extra worry when leaving luggage on place you don't trust so much; means a feeling of obligation of writing/using it whenever possible which could mean carrying it whole day in small bag (even when battery run out).

But on the other hand our experience with internet places is far from the best. While at our hosts we can use the computer, we tend to minimize the time there as we want to share the time with the hosts and also because either only me or only Eva can be at the computer. But usually is from our hosts computers, which are fast and more virus free, that we access our banking to see how much money we have left.

Internet places, I wrote already about them once, are usually not friendly places. Either the computer have virus and are slow or hang (like where we are now in Moscow), or the owner of the place is by your side playing games and smoking, or the keyboard works badly, or... Well, we are loosing the patience on the current one. Kids running around while playing some games, computer that constantly hangs, half of the features that do not work... And this after more than one hour of way from our hosts to this internet place, as moscow is enormous...

02 June 2009

Making friends in Moscow


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Originally uploaded by eva_p
Miguel made a new friend in Moscow.

Moscow architecture


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Originally uploaded by eva_p

01 June 2009

What you do when travelling?

(question from a CSer) For me (probably us) is mainly to get lost in the streets, try to see a bit the main monuments. Sometimes to see a temporary exhibition going on, someother times trying to find things (bar, places) we like and which are not in the guide book. So, basically, walk.
When we are monte in the countryside we like to explore a National Park by bike or hiking or kayak.
With Couchsurfing also talking with the host is an important part, to talk about everything and nothing, to experience their house, meet their friends, cook for them. This includes to go to supermarket, buy a SIM card, understand how the country where we are works.

Russian train experience

Train left on time - 22:02. First carriage was 3rd (plaskartny) class. We got the wagon edge upper berths. Russian third class has not closed spaces of 6 beds. Two lower ones where we sit during the day; two upper ones where all matresses and blankets are during the day and two on the other side of the corridor (russian trains are larger than europeans ones), being the lower one transformed on 2 sits and table during the day. The luggage can be put under the lower sits or on a shelf above the upper berths.
The side berths is 180cm long which makes turning and staying with straight legs a bit unconfortable for me. After checking the tickets for second time (first time with passport at entrance of the train), the wagon responsible distributes a bag with towel and bed sheets. This responsible can also serve tea from a wooden fire heater at one edge of the wagon. We can all use this hot water, and we plan now to buy a small mug to make tea/coffee ourselves.
Tickets are quite cheap in third class, we paid 575R each (about 13EUR) for night train to Petrozavods (about 600km).
More train experiences will go in other posts. Last night on the train to Moscow we talked for a while with a Russian guy which at some point, while Eva was on the toilet, told me 'Maybe you want now to make the berth to your lady?'... And Eva got her bed nicely done by me.