Monthly Archives: January 2014

Lara is found!

Our first stop today was to the Saturday market where we found “Lara”.
My new hat looks and feels just the same as the megabucks ones. Conclusion : its provenance – off the back of a troika.com. Guilty conscience? No, when I think of the £400 we saved. Happy days.

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Just had to pose by the Bentley. Not in the market! Below is a market shot.

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We headed into the city centre for lunch. This was in a coffee shop next to Cartier and opposite the Bolshoi restaurant. After all Lara does have her standards to maintain. Our afternoon was spent traipsing the streets with periodic forays into shopping malls to warm up. It has struck us as odd that the malls seem to contain only Valentino, Jean Paul Gautier, Ralph Lauren etc. We have yet to find the Russian equivalent of Next or Wallis let alone Lidl or Aldi.

We headed for the Gulag museum. Having been to the museum at Hiroshima, and the S21 Interrogation Centre at Phnom Penh we thought we should complete the set.
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We were wandering somewhat aimlessly when we came across this open air exhibition of modern sculpture.
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This was a fascinating find, particularly the Russian attempt to emulate the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer.

It had been a long day of walking and our throats needed lubrication so we decided to head back to the hotel.
We’re now sitting in the warmth enjoying a beer while I do this post. We plan to have dinner here before heading back into the city centre for our 23.45 train to Harbin. At least we will be going down the 66 steps to our local metro but there will be loads of others to go up with our luggage – no steamer trunks though! Just a reminder that the next post is likely to be in 6 days time.

In search of Lara

John is no Omar Sharif and I am certainly no Julie Christie but he wanted to buy me a “Lara” hat so this morning we headed for the GUM department store. It is actually no longer a single department store but is now a large very upmarket shopping mall like an enormous Princes Square. Found shops selling furs no bother. Prices – big bother. Anything from £350 to £500. My Omar did not want his Lara that much!
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I haven’t worked out how-to rotate this but it’s me in front of the GUM.
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OK, now I have worked out how to rotate the original image but not to delete!

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Inside the GOM

Inside the GOM
John had read in Lonely Planet about a posh grocery shop where you could buy top quality caviar. Yum. Next stop. Wow, this was Valvona and Crolla meets Harrods food hall. What a wonderful shop.
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At £500 I think not….but it was nice to look, sadly we looked with our eyes and not with our mouths!
On the positive side, by not buying a hat or caviar we have saved ourselves the best part of £1000. Pollyannaski rules!

Having done the main tourist sights last time here, our visit to Red Square was brief.
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We took the opportunity to wander round the old quarter. Seeking respite from the cold (-18 this morning) we investigated a historic building which had been pointed out on our bus tour yesterday. It turned out to contain an indoor market which consisted of nothing but honey sellers – about a hundred stalls in all. Russian bees are obviously very very busy bees.

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Honey stalls

Our next stop was the Arbat. The Ann Summers bordello that we found last time was no more, it must be the cold. Don’t know if it was the cold or no Smiths but we didn’t have a beer. It was interesting how different the street was in winter – no more than half hearted hustlers and no Lenin lookalikes at all.

Now fighting with my tablet to get this published with a large vodka waiting as my reward. Ismailovo market beckons tomorrow.
I may manage a post tomorrow before we go on the train but if not I don’t expect to be able to post until we reach Harbin a week today.

From Russia With Love

Our train arrived on time at 8.24 this morning, not bad after a 13 hour journey. We had donned extra layers before leaving the train. My personal travel agent had everything sussed for the metro but he could do nothing about the rush hour people and all the steps. We realised there was no way we and our luggage could compete with the never-ending stream of Muscovites pushing their way to the escalators so opted for a less popular escalator resulting in a longer but quieter route which sadly involved negotiating many more stairs.

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The Moscow underground is a fantastic and cheap system which has loads of very long and very steep escalators. In fact I had just commented to John how difficult it must be with a pushchair when a guy moved in front of us in a wheelchair. This particular escalator was, at approx 400 metres, the longest and steepest we have been on. I must confess, to my shame, that I had the very selfish thought of concern for my own safety. After 2 metro changes, masses of steps and buckets of sweat we made it. The last lot of steps were 66! Donnie and Cath will remember this with their steamer trunks.

We were lucky to be able to access our room so early in the day and freshen up before heading off out. My personal travel agent had sussed out the availability of a multi-journey metro ticket which saved queuing each time. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to find the office where we were to collect our train tickets for Harbin. Next came the most amazing coincidence. We were puzzling over our directions when this Russian woman, with not a word of English, noticed the crude map we were holding, stopped and then motioned us to follow her. She led us between apartment blocks and a children’s playground into an unassuming building which turned out to be our destination and her place of work. Serendipity.

Tickets secure, the rest of the day was our own. We opted for a bus tour which allowed us to see the sights in the relative warmth ie. above freezing (midday temp was minus 15.)

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After a pit stop for tonic, we came back to the hotel early to get warm and catch up on the blog. The latter being slightly more than problematic. I couldn’t work out how to post a blog I had saved in draft and internet access was just a smidgen wayward.

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Have just finished dinner in the hotel’s buffet restaurant – no serenading as we had last time, possibly because it’s now run as a Best Western.

Will try to attach a couple of pics….. then to bed.

Impressions of Helsinki

Where is everybody? After we had collected our baggage we walked towards passport control. I asked my personal travel agent if we were going the right way because there were so few people about. We went straight through without queuing at all. We didn’t have to queue at tourist info either. We waited at the bus stop with only a few others. The bus drove straight to the city centre with no holdup – this was rushhour. We were lucky enough to get a table by the window for dinner in a restaurant in the main square. There were few cars and even fewer people. It was almost eerie. My personal travel agent reminded me that in the whole of Finland there are not many more than about 5 million people – as if my geographical knowledge had ever extended to that!

I took some photos to post here but discovered that I had forgotten to swop my SD card for a micro one. I’ve remedied that now.

It was minus 14 this morning when we set out. We have spent the day walking around the city centre but making frequent forays into shopping malls to warm up. They must expect that as seating areas are provided. Everything is VERY expensive so there was no temptation to buy. Checked out the cost of fur hats M – approx €350!! We did manage to get a mortgage for postcards and fridge magnets!

One interesting point – we didn’t see a single cat or dog. Conclusion – it was Was waaay
too cold.

We decided to go to the station early and wait in the warmth for our train. It was built in the 1950s by the famous architect Alvarez Alto. This is a photo of the main waiting area. Note how crowded it is not.
Oops, I tried to attach a photo and found they were all video clips. I will have to get this sussed.

We’re now on the train. It left bang on time. This is a recently refurbished Russian train and is really comfortable. The thermometer is showing 21, lovely to sit in but way too hot to sleep in. There’s no pleasing some people!

We left it a bit late to go to the restaurant car as they were closing early before we got to the Russian border. What we had was nice though. John had herrings and I had a chicken concoction.

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Now we enjoy the delights of Russian immigration and a bogie change before we are lulled to sleep. Note to Lord Smith – toilets have been refurbished too and are really clean.

Beginners guide to the cold.

Brrrr! It was minus 12 when we landed but it’s a very dry cold. It is not really snow underfoot, it’s more like masses of frost on the footpaths where the snow has been cleared. Love my bearpaws and my down coat. Did really well in finding this hotel just a few minutes walk from the station. It’s a lovely big room but has definitely seen better days. Reminds me a bit of the Station hotel in Inverness. Time to have a g+t now before dinner. 🙂

Sorted!

Passports – check

Euros, rubles, yuan and won – check.

credit cards – check.

guide books – check

pharmaceuticals – check

hats, gloves and scarves – check

sunglasses – check

thermals – check

layers x lots – check

The “Bible” (with apologies to Deuteronomy and his pals) – check

Sorted. Online check in to Helsinki done. Ready to go!

Booked our trip to the Demilitarized Zone. It is unsafe to go there if you are not part of an organised tour. As these tours are very popular and John is very keen to go we thought we’d be smart and book now. Our wills are up to date!!