Saturday, January 27, 2018

Transmongolian Rails Part VII - St. Petersburg

Back on the train again, and I wasn't unhappy about it. They are a really nice way to travel, especially when you've been brutalized by airport and airline alike. We had crossed an entire continent without having to deal with a single taxi and takeoff, and life was good. We'd come so far and we had managed to pull it off without any hitches. There are very few things I'd have done differently, and we could really revel in the last leg of our long journey. After a quick high-speed rail trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg, we'd have a couple days there to check out the Hermitage, then go home.

After passing some typical scenery, we arrived in an older station, which still had the amenities we needed. We were just passing through; we were riding their metro a few stops and walking a few blocks to our hotel. Security is tight, like in many Metros around the world, and of course, like Moscow, St. Petersburg was having a Victory Day celebration of its own. 

There were a lot of people out for the festivities. I had purchased a two-day ticket to the Hermitage in advance; while the advance purchase was a great choice, we could not see the museum that day because of the holiday, which I'd not been expecting. It was cold and windy, so we just walked around a little bit. Russia had really surprised me; while it seemed fully Asian to me, I would learn on this trip - Russia is absolutely European. St. Petersburg is a completely Euro-style city.

After a quick tour, we headed back to our little hotel. There were some fireworks nearby celebrating the day, so we walked out to watch for a bit.

The next day, it was time to see the Hermitage. Not having been the day before meant I had committed my husband to spend our entire day there. I'd need it; the place is absolutely massive and there is no shortage of stuff to see.

While you might start off with some ancient artifacts, almost every imaginable type of art is represented there in some way. We even saw a live performance of a choir while walking through the many rooms of the huge palace.

Right from the start, the crowds are plentiful, but the scale of it is such that you can get away from the people once you start to move through the rooms. We ended up returning to some of them several times - it is difficult, unless you are on a tour, to see it in a systematic way. For us, it was easier to just go where the huge tour groups weren't, and we were able to see it all.

Some rooms hold treasures of tremendous magnitude, while others are more understated.
They were all an enjoyment. This is a world-class museum.

We were finally coming to the end of our tour, and we'd started to get into some of the more obscure collections held in the museum.

Finally, the city, and my stomach was beckoning. 

It would soon be time to head back to the airport.

After a last look around the city, we turned in. The following day we took a bus to the airport, which didn't turn out so bad - we got the right one, anyway. Our flights were unremarkable, and once again, we were stateside. We would end up doing a rail journey around the United States later in the year. In the end, I think the Russian train we took was nicer... but the natural scenery in the US is stunning.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Transmongolian Rails Part V - Siberia to Moscow

Traveling through Russia by rail turned out to be very easy. They have a nice website for the Russia rail system which is easy for foreigners to navigate. In the end, we relied on a travel agency to organize our tickets on the Chinese and Mongolian sections of our journey because we simply could not find another way to buy them in advance, and we didn't want to take any chances. But securing our own tickets for the Russian sections of the trip was easy enough. The compartment we selected wasn't especially cheap (and there were cheaper options) but it was downright luxurious. We had a wonderful time experiencing Siberia by rail as well.

We experienced all kinds of weather on this trip. It was downright warm in China when we departed, and by the time we got to Russia it was freezing cold, complete with snow, even in late April. The train was warm though, and you didn't have to step outside if you didn't want to.

We passed through woods, journeyed by abandoned factories, and stopped at modern cities.

The staff and fellow passengers were a diverse and friendly lot.

Not all of our stops were during the day. Most of them were pretty short so there wasn't much journeying beyond the station, but there was time to hop off and check out the stuff on sale. Even at odd hours, there was action on the platform when the train stopped. There wasn't commotion either; I had no trouble sleeping though stops when I wanted to.

There were more cities and towns with greater frequency as we got closer to Moscow.

Before long, we were there.  It was off the train and into the metro, and into our hotel for a quick rest.

The next day, Moscow would surprise us. I was expecting a typical day of touristy stuff at the Kremlin. Instead, there was a massive rehearsal for the Victory Day parade, to take place the next day. I try to heck up on holidays when I travel and this one had gotten by me. It made for a wild and challenging day that was unforgettable. Check out the many photos from the Moscow, and the final St. Petersburg leg of the trip.

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