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Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

St. Petersburg, Part II

In Asia, Mystery Trip, Russia on October 8, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Peter the Great's resting place

Palaces and more palaces, it seems like there was always another one to visit.  We interspersed these visits with more walks through the city, a trip to the Peter and Paul Fortress, eating, finding good coffee and croissants, and climbing the stairs to our hostel at least 3 times a day.  Physically exhausting?  Yes.  Worth it?  Absolutely.  I’d go back and do it all over again.

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St. Petersburg, Part I

In Asia, Mystery Trip, Russia on October 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm


St. Petersburg is the most romantic, beautiful, and magnificent city I’ve ever been to.  Five days of constant walking and sightseeing was nowhere near enough time to take it all in.  The sights and sounds were overwhelming, all were amazing, and it became impossible to distinguish one great day from the next.  Fortunately my camera kept it in order and looking back at it with time to spare reminds me again of how magical it was.

One More Word

In China, Mongolia, Mystery Trip, Russia on October 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

“Gratitude” is the word that has come to mind most often on this trip.  I’ve been to China, Mongolia, and Russia, and each country has given me sights, adventures, and gracious locals to help navigate the trip.  It has reminded me that people are generally kind and generous, it just takes leaving your comfort zone to find them sometimes.  So next time you see someone in your hometown who looks a little lost or wayward, take a few minutes to encourage them through something small like a smile or something bigger like a minute of your time to help them out.  Trust me, you will be a big shiny angel in someone’s memory for the rest of their life.

Grateful thanks goes to:

China – Tina, Joe, and Lily for showing me the Great Wall in their own style, and taking the time and money to treat me to fresh fruits and local restaurants.

Mongolia – Rob and Marlene for spending an entire afternoon catching up after 20 years, feeding us dinner and ice cream cut with a knife, and sharing their thoughts and experiences in the country.

Russia – Tarana and Shura for an unforgettable trip on the Transsiberian; Anya at the Baikaler Hostel for exceptional service, you’re bound for great things!; the entire staff (but especially Nadia) at Mir Hostel in St. Petersburg for making everything here comfortable, easy, and cozy; Grafin Restaurant for two of the best evenings and meals EVER in any city I’ve been to.

Special hip hip hoorays to:

Andres – Beijing would have been a little dull but your company and awesome conversation ended up being the nicest way to start the trip.  I’d travel with you anywhere, anytime.

Doris – a travel buddy who turned out to be one of the best decisions on this adventure.  Your unique insights, sense of humour and laidback style were exactly what I needed.  So glad we’re still smiling and still friends at the end of it!

My mom – for giving me an appreciation of Russian history and for encouraging me (read “financing”) to check out St. Petersburg.  She may be slow to come on board but once she does she’s my biggest cheerleader.

My shoes! – for holding my feet up for countless miles of walking and hiking.  Really, I can’t believe I’m still standing.

Thanks also to everyone who dropped notes along the way, the international adventure is always sweet but thoughts from home are sweeter!

That’s all from this side of the water.  With love from Russia (and China and Mongolia).


In Mystery Trip, Russia on October 5, 2012 at 12:19 am

I’m going to call it – St. Petersburg is the most romantic city I’ve ever been to.  More so than Paris because it’s autumn and that automatically makes it much more intriguing, more than New York because it’s relaxed and lends itself to couples holding hands and strolling down even the busiest streets.  The palaces are gorgeous and the river is magical at night.  Two evenings ago we went to hang out at the cafes on 7th Line on Vasilievsky Island.  Instead of taking the metro back we decided to walk as the evening was warm and clear, and all the buildings lit up on the other side of the river made the city look like a fairy land.  Late night fishermen were casting their lines under a waning moon, the bridges were lit up with sparkling lights in honour of the home team’s football victory, and everywhere people were out enjoying the night.

St. Petersburg is worth the visit and one should definitely stay longer than 5 days, if only to have more time to soak it all in without destroying your feet in the process.  We had to walk though, we did not want to miss a thing and the whole city is so beautiful you could blink and miss something impressive.  Of all the things we’ve done and seen, so far I think the gardens at Tsarske Selo were the most magnificent.  The turning leaves made the grounds even more impressive than they already are, and the human artistry mingled with nature’s beauty combined to make every picture frameable.  I know people go to the Hermitage to see the art and the Jordan Staircase, but for me the most wonderful part was the ceilings.  If you go, don’t forget to look up because they are artwork in themselves.  And of course the fountains at Peterhof are even better in person – pictures do not do justice to the beauty of the sculptures framed by shooting water.

Both Doris and I agree that the people in St. Petersburg are prettier than those in Moscow, although in general the Russian face is stern and serious.  She figures smiles don’t come free here, even at McDonald’s.  Having said that, all over people have been generous helping us out whenever we look lost, and when they do smile they are beautiful.

Our flight leaves tomorrow morning at 6am which means we’ll have to be at the airport in the middle of the night.  In honour of this last blast we’ve decided to go without sleep and have booked ourselves a final fanfare.  Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre, late night dinner at a fancy restaurant, all followed by a midnight stroll to watch the bridges rise between the city and the islands at 1am.  Then we’ll catch a cab to the airport for a 6 hour layover in Frankfurt.  Fortunately I have friends there who are picking us up to take us home for hot showers and breakfast.  After that it’s one long flight back to Vancouver, my own bed and bathroom and laundry.  It’s only been three weeks but it feels like one blissful lifetime.  This definitely is the life.

Last Stop

In Mystery Trip, Russia on October 2, 2012 at 6:21 am

We are finally sitting still for more than 1 hour so I’ve decided to do a more detailed update than the last few miniscule posts.  The trip has been crazy busy since Doris and I met up less than two weeks ago.  We enjoyed Mongolia and Siberia was lovely.  There was a fresh powdering of snow up in the hills as we went to Lake Baikal and the crisp autumn air threw everything into sharp relief.  We flew out of Siberia after a quick 3 days and landed in Moscow and warmer weather.  Our hostel was two metro lines away from Red Square so when we left it in the morning we did not return until later in the evening.  No chance for old lady naps or just kicking back, but when you’re on a whirlwind tour of Russia what can you do.

Moscow was amazing as everyone said it would be.  Fast-paced and frenetic, huge and sprawling, beautiful and weighted in history.  We were fortunate enough to have landed during the annual City of Light spectacle and so spent a few evenings watching the light shows and all the people enjoying them.  During the days we saw as many cathedrals as possible, and as mentally predicted it only took about four of them before we figured we’d seen them all.  Our last day there it started raining and as we were without umbrellas we took to the cafe culture in the Kitay-Gorod neighbourhood and enjoyed too many pastries while waiting for the rain to let up.  Finally, the rain won so we were forced underground, but all was not lost as the Moscow metro stops are works of art.  We spent most of the afternoon hopping from station to station taking pictures and being in awe of how beautiful they all were.  Eventually we headed to our train station for our final transit on the Moscow-St. Petersburg Express night train.  All good things must come to an end and so instead of landing with wonderful cabin mates this time, we were saddled with an uptight blond (I’m guessing she’s a librarian) and a macho Russian male.  I did not know that one could consume so much garlic that it would be toxic but such was his odour.  The journey, however, passed without event and we arrived in St. Petersburg at 8am.

You don’t know how crazy and busy Moscow is until you land here where it is comparatively quiet and far more serene.  It is very easy to understand why people rave about it.  Fortunately this time our hostel is only 3 minutes from the Hermitage and so we can come and go and take old lady naps if necessary.  Last night we went to a Russian cultural show at the former palace of the Grand Duke Nikolay Romanov and enjoyed champagne and caviar during the intermission.  Afterwards we found a shi-shi restaurant in the same neighbourhood and dined on steak and salmon.  It’s easy to forget that when the guide books say it’s pricey here they are generally speaking to the backpacking demographic.  Our dinner was about the same as eating out back home, and I’d have to say it was possibly better in comparison.

We headed to Peterhof today and once again needed to remind ourselves we are working professionals now and do not have to take the metro to save coins.  Instead we took the hassle-free hovercraft, or flying ship as they call it, and saved about 2 hours of transit time.  The palace was beautiful, and even more amazing once you consider the restoration job it had to undergo in order to get it back to its former splendor.  I’m not keen on all the gold, I do not understand why the uber rich require that much gaudiness in their surroundings (Donald Trump).  They also had to be immune to the misery of building it all on the backs of slaves and exploitation.  It’s magnificent to look at but I think it’s important to remember how it all came to be.

Tonight we’ll go find an ethnic restaurant and hopefully consume some borsch(t) and other Russian favourites.  We could go out clubbing afterwards, our hostel has flyers for the “Barack Obama Bar”.  Not that I want to go, but it says something about the American leader when the Russians name a bar after him.  Can you imagine a “Stephen Harper Bar”?  Or big, bronze statues of him riding a horse, saluting the air, all throughout the cities?  Please, leave comments if you feel you could describe such an apocalyptic world.

Moscow Album

In Mystery Trip, Russia on October 1, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I grew up in the 70’s hearing stories about the Iron Curtain and the countries behind it.  Of course Russia was at the top of the list – cold, mysterious, and ruthless.  They were also our greatest nemesis in hockey, Canadians still talk about the Canadian-Russian match of 1972, ahhh Tretiak.  Things have changed drastically since then, obviously for the better in many ways for the citizens of the country.  Still, those images and stereotypes have stuck in my mind.  Then we get off the plane in Moscow and everything changes.  Misconceptions are firmly banished and you land in a vibrant, beautiful, and cosmopolitan city.  It’s true that you could comfortably spend a week sightseeing in Red Square but there is so much more to explore.  Three and a half days of walking and navigating the subway system and we didn’t manage to get even a tenth of it in.  Definitely need to go back and take more time to take it all in.


In Family, Mystery Trip, Russia on September 30, 2012 at 12:05 am

I did not have much of a relationship with my mother’s father.  I remember Grandpa Suderman as a quiet, austere man.  I’m not even sure he spoke English because he never said anything to me or my brothers and sister.  I don’t remember him acknowledging my mom.  When we visited he sat at the head of the dinner table, quietly eating, maybe thinking about what we were all talking about, maybe not.

When I was six, Mom got a call that Grandpa was unwell, so she packed up and took me with her to be with her parents.  Because he was in a poor state when we arrived I was pretty much left to my own devices while everyone attended to his needs.  The first night there I walked into his room to say goodnight to my mom who was on duty.  Other people were in the room, probably my grandmother and other relatives.  I asked if I could give him a hug goodnight but they all said no, he was too weak.  Then he said, “Let her come,” in English (aha!) so I went over to his bedside.  I think I climbed into the bed and for the first time received a hug from him.  My task was complete, I jumped back to the floor, went to my room next door, got into bed and fell asleep.

Grandpa died that night.  When I awoke I could hear a strange noise coming from the bedroom, Grandma and my mom were standing at the foot of the bed, staring at his corpse and crying.  I was just a kid so I went off to play.


Mom told me later that one of Grandpa’s biggest memories was visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow.  For some reason it made a big impression on him, and because of that I wanted to see it myself when I finally arrived here, 34 years after Grandpa’s death.  Maybe it would provide a connection between us – I would have seen something that was important to him.  We had to wait until Saturday to go because it was closed on Friday.  We walked by it a couple of times while we visited Red Square and I felt myself getting closer to building a bridge to my past.  Finally the day came and we headed off to get in line.  Who knows why but the mausoleum was closed to viewers.  Apparently this happens a lot, they shut it down for no apparent reason.  I was only a little disappointed, I wasn’t overly keen on seeing a grossly preserved, deteriorating body of a man who altered the course of Russian history.  What was I trying to accomplish with this observation?  Regardless, I was close enough that in the end it really didn’t matter.

I wonder though, if seeing it would have given me and Grandpa something to talk about when we meet again?  Or would I still be persona non grata?  Does it even matter?  We never had a relationship and I don’t miss him.  But still, he is my past and something in him must surely be in me.  I would hope if someone told him I had been to Russia to try and connect to him, he would say once again, “Let her come.”

Hey Ladies! (and Fred)

In Mystery Trip, Russia on September 28, 2012 at 3:52 am

This is a shopping mall, the most beautiful one you’ve ever seen!


My Backyard

In Mystery Trip, Russia on September 28, 2012 at 3:51 am


Kuzma, where are we and what do you see?
Dmitry, we are in Russia and I see Alaska.

Russian 101

In Mongolia, Russia on September 27, 2012 at 11:50 am

I decided we’d be in big trouble if one of us didn’t learn a bit of Russian, so on our flight from Irkutsk to Moscow today I learned the Cyrillic alphabet.  Good thing as no one really speaks English here, very few street signs have English translations, and while the metro stops are listed in both Russian and English on the maps, nothing inside the station tells you where you are if you can’t read their alphabet.  Fortunately there are a lot of English, Arabic, French, and other languages’ words which the Russians picked up, so if you can figure the words out phonetically, you’ll find yourself reading something you’re familiar with.

It took awhile to sort ourselves out from the airport to the hostel, not because of the language barrier, but because no one seemed to know where our street is.  It’s an odd side street that points off a main street like a spoke and I guess locals don’t come here unless they live here.  I asked one nice looking business guy if he knew this street, he said ‘nyet’, and then proceeded to look it up on his phone.  Couldn’t find it, and as we said ‘nyet problehm’ and walked away, we noticed him accosting people on the street to ask if they knew where it was.  He finally found a young woman who pointed it out to him and he victoriously waved at us and then the street with a big smile on his face.  See?  Once again nice people are in abundance on this planet.

When we finally found the hostel and got to our room, we discovered we would be sharing it with a young Armenian woman and many other Russians.  More on that situation in another post.  This girl started telling me about mannerisms here and said everytime Westerners say “Excuse me” in Russian (‘izviniste’ in case you’re wondering), Russians think they’re dealing with a crazy person.  Those niceties are non-existent here and you should replace, “Excuse me, could you please pass me that book”, with “Give it to me”.  I’m all for it, I love the directness of that approach and that you waste much less time trying to be all polite and P.C.  She also said we should stop saying “please” and “thank you” so much because it’s stupid.  I asked her when I should use “Excuse me.”  She looked at me for awhile before saying (read this with a deep Russian accent), “I know the state of your mentalization and I know you’re not crazy, but you should not use that.  Ever.”  As for my ‘mentalization’ I could give her the numbers of a few of my friends who might challenge her on that statement.

Hopefully my Russian vocabulary will grow over the next week and a half, it would be nice to acquire some words in a new language, and now that I know the alphabet, I can also go back to Mongolia, the Ukraine, Khazakhstan, etc.  One lesson learned now, a whole world opened for later.  спокойной ночи.