A Travellerspoint blog

Russia

Cossack's and Siberia

July 12th

overcast 26 °C

After a refreshing rest we headed off with our local guide, Natasha, (what else would you expect) to Talsty, an historic recreation of an early Cossack fort and village from the mid 17th century. Historically the Cossack's were looking for independence from the rule of the Tsars and
headed out on their own into the wilds of Siberia. It was already populated by a local indigenous people who were in many ways similar to their Mongolian neighbours.

The Cossack's made excellent use of the heavy timber and built fortresses entirely of logs, their construction techniques not requiring a single nail.
The The layout of the fort looked very official. there were places for the senior officials to administer the business of the area such as collect taxes, settle disputes, and conduct all the business of the community.
They had space for their official records, all appointed from Moscow (20 days travel away) to ensure that they were collecting all the taxes from the far flung provinces. Taxes were mostly paid in sables which were also used for trading with the merchants and traders who travelled through ,mainly from China and Mongolia, with exotic goods like spices, silks, porcelain and other luxuries. The local indigenous people were given freedom to continue their lives as before as long as they too paid their tax in sable furs.

The village was full of evidence of the life of the early settlers from the beautifully decorated Russian Orthodox chapel and the school house that was quite reminiscent of early Australian school rooms, major lessons though were based around religion rather than literacy and numeracy. The teacher lived in the school house building and was well respected by the community, who were responsible for collecting firewood, cleaning out the school etc as a service to the teacher. Apparently now respect for teachers in Russia is not as good, teachers are in fact being encouraged to seek sponsorship for their salaries, hope that doesn't spread.
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From Talsty we travelled to Lake Baikal, this amazing expanse of water about which we knew absolutely nothing, much to our shame. As the largest body of freshwater in the world it contains 80% of the freshwater in Russia and when John asked if you could walk around it he had second thoughts when told it was over 2,000 km, quite a feat, even for him.

In the winter it freezes over and it becomes a great centre for winter sport. People drive over it, skate on it, fish through ice holes and every winter there are always a few accounts of cars that have disappeared through cracks in the ice. The whole area abounds with stories just like dream-time stories to explain the the natural conditions, one being that if you wash your hands in the lake you will appear 5 years younger, if you wash your face 10 years and if you swim there you will be forever young.We tried but we're still awaiting the results.
Irkutsk has the cheapest electricity in all of Russia thanks to the massive hydro scheme built along the River Agarra, Russia certainly does big rivers.

There is a beautiful Orthodox church which was built by a business man as a promise to God after he was saved from a near fatal drowning accident on the lake. Whilst some of the Orthodox churches were destroyed during the Soviet era many were re-purposed and since the 90's have returned to their original use. We also visited the local market which was selling, among other things fish from the lake which was prepared mainly smoked or dried.
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John managed to loose his second credit card to an ATM beside Lake Baikal he now has one to last him for the rest of the trip!!!!

Having regained contact with our Airb'n'b host we were picked up by Anton from our hotel and whisked away through the streets to our accommodation, this turned out to be just around the corner from where we had been searching in the rain the previous day. It was at the back of restaurant and shops and you entered through a dubious doorway to be confronted by stairs that seemed reminiscent of the worst tenement buildings of poor US. Anton at once shouldered my heavy suitcase and bounded up the three flights of stairs made of concrete and so old that the tread in the centre of each step had worn away and no matter how precarious the stairs, you dare not touch the handrail because of the uncertainty of what the substance was that coated it.
Our apartment had seen better days but it was home! It made us appreciate all the things we take for granted

Posted by Seniorcitizens 07:01 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Irkustk and Beyond

July 13th - 15th

sunny 28 °C

We checked out Irkustk over the next couple of days, a proud but fading city which has definitely seen better days but which retains the fine bones of its former glory.
The central area has many of the original traditional homes rebuilt after the fire of 1870 which destroyed 70% of the city (which was built of timber). The older buildings have a very distinctive style, built of unpainted timber which is now very weathered but you can still see where it was once decorated with detailed lace type trim and very colourful and patterned shutters. These homes are now protected but are in desperate need of care and restoration, which is supposed to be carried out by the owners, but as the owners are often the poorest there is no money for this work. Few have power or running water, many are still using a well, so the chances of them being fixed are fairly slim.The street we were living on, Karl Marx Street was crowded with ornate Georgian/Victorian style buildings which were once the preserve of wealthy merchants and businessmen. These were once very grand homes and it was not hard to imagine finely dressed ladies and gentlemen mixing in society and leaving their calling cards.
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During the Soviet era (1917 onward) these were all re-purposed for use by the government and outside each building you can read the story of the building and its alterations and use, these too are evidence of the fading glory of the once affluent few.
We visited a museum and observed their pride and fascination in the archaeological finds of things like Mammoth tusks, skeletons of a woolly rhinoceros, a three thousand year old human skeleton as well as stone age tools etc. A lovely lady with no English at all took it upon herself to take us around and show us all the wonders the museum had to offer.
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On the 14th we organised to arrive at the station at 10.30 as our tickets told us that our train left at 12.00, unfortunately no one had explained to us that the timetable always operates on Moscow time, Irkutsk is 6 hrs ahead so we now had 6 hrs to fill whilst waiting for the train, time we unfortunately could have spent exploring more of Irkutsk but which we spent instead in the Irish Pub over the road from the station. Oh well!
Onto the train and heading for Yekaterinburg the final destination of the Romanov's before they were all assassinated by the Bolsheviks exactly 100 years ago on July 17th.

The train is a fascinating experience in itself, it brings together such an interesting collection of travellers (including us!!!) We are travelling in considerable luxury compared to other travellers but it still stretches our adaptability, sharing one toilet with all the other people in the carriage. The toilet is locked when we stop at a station but there is no warning that a stop is imminent and the time can vary from stop to stop. It is great to get off the train and spend some time in the fresh air, dodging those who've gotten off for a smoke. At one station we got off and crossed over another line to the platform and after checking out an old Soviet engine on display we watched an extremely long goods train come through on the line we had just crossed and it stopped, blocking our way back across to our train. No worries there was a crossover foot bridge, up we went but there was no exit down onto the platform our train was on, so we had to come down on the next platform, run the full length of the train, cross round at the back of it and then come down the other side. The following day a couple of Russian ladies in the cabin next to us got caught on a station and the train pulled off without them!!!!!! Massive panic ultimately they had an incredibly expensive taxi ride all the way to Yekaterinburg. That sure made us more careful getting off.
Food is a bit touch and go, every so often with no explanation a lady will appear at our door with a basket of something unidentifiable to buy if we want. We also tried out the dining car, surprisingly empty for such a busy train. John had an amazing Borscht soup which I was too 'chicken' to try, silly me and I had pancakes with salmon and greens which essentially was a pancake wrapped around a piece of smoked salmon with a piece of parsley on top.
Our conductress comes around periodically with a vacuum cleaner, a cleaning cloth or a mop and bucket and tells us something in Russian??? and then proceeds to either clean around us or kick us out into the hallway while she works. It makes you feel like you are really grubby passengers.

Fifty six hours on the trans-Siberian; Ready to get off in Yekaterinburg 10.00 pm taxi to our Air B&B sensational, very happy and relieved. As we drive through the city we see many pilgrims heading for the 'The Church of the Blood' to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the last Tsars of Russia

Posted by Seniorcitizens 07:02 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Bolsheviks V Romanovs

July 17th

sunny 28 °C

P1010134.JPGWe arrived in Yekaterinburg at 10 pm on the night of July 16th. On our drive in the taxi to our Air B&B we passed the Church of the Blood which was erected, in 1990 on the site of the house where the Russian royal family was assassinated exactly 100 years ago.P1010166.JPGIMG_20180717_122325_BURST001_COVER.jpgP1010144.JPG
They were all murdered sometime on the night of the 16th or early morning of the 17th of July 1918 by the Bolshevik revolutionaries who feared that the white Russian forces were about to enter Yekaterinburg and would gain a strategic victory in liberating the Romanov family.
We saw 100's & 100's of people all making their way to the church and found out later that there was to be a memorial time there until about 2.30 am. Following this, the pilgrims headed off walking to the monastery (about 20km away ) that was built on the site where the remains of the Romanov's were found in the last 20 years. Approx 100,000 pilgrims walked during the night, all led by the 72 year old patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.P1010135.JPG

We arrived at our Air B&B to be warmly greeted by Svetlana and after our earlier experiences it was perfect, 12th floor,overlooking the lights of Yekaterinburg centrally located with all we could need. Hooray, cracked it at last
We started the day by following a tourist line through the city which is much more cosmopolitan than Irkutsk, cars are smarter curbs and footpaths more organised, lots of high end brands on display. it is a lovely city (1.5 million) built on its access to rich deposits of iron ore which made it an industrial hub of Russia from the time of Peter the Great.

Wandering along we found a statue of Pushkin on the corner of Pushkin street and we were richly rewarded when we decided to explore further. The street had a string of literary museums the best one honouring an early Russian writer Rusheknekov. We went into his house and which was a postman's stopover house and saw wonderful artefacts dating from his life and the mid-1700s. For some reason that was not really clear to us the guide was delighted to see us and talk with us, she insisted on repeatedly taking our photo in lots of parts of the museum
which I think she was wanting for some kind of promotion!!!!!!

We visited the Church of the Blood on a very significant day, it was full of pilgrims who had come to remember the royal family. A Russian Orthodox church is very different to what we are used to. There are no seats for people to sit on, it is overwhelmingly elaborate with gold painted icons, massive chandeliers, incense burners and the layout has lots of quieter sections. I have to have my head covered and in this church John had to wear a wrap around skirt to cover his legs as he was wearing shorts (well at least that is what they implied). Believers repeatedly cross themselves, they bow to the front and queue to kiss the various icons, often prostrating themselves on the floor.
It is such a strange sight to see a tough looking Russian man behaving like this, I was trying to imagine some Aussie blokes doing that in a public space!!!
There was heaps of information about the Royal family and in many places they had been turned into icons & saints with halos. The stories told about them in the panels was maybe overdoing it a little. Whilst they didn't deserve to be murdered the way it happened I am not sure if they hadn't become in death much more perfect than they had been in reality.
Enjoyed wandering the streets and looking at the old buildings and visited a terrific museum of the city in the afternoon which included a really creative display focusing on the gulags and their political prisoners.

Sorry I have gone on so much but it was a real highlight to be here on the 100th anniversary.
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 10:01 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

On a Pilgrimage

July 18th

semi-overcast 25 °C

Decided to explore the Monastery we had heard about which was 20+ km southwest of Yekaterinburg, we braved the metro which despite being a lot smaller than Beijing (only about three lines) was much harder to decode. You purchase tokens that allow you to enter the station, we had a rough idea of the station we needed to get out at but could not decipher it from the map. Using google translator we asked a lady on the station and she told us that she was getting out at the following station and she would show us when to get off. In the meantime I had decided to attempt to use an ATM with one of our two remaining credit cards, Yep that's right the machine "retained" my cad, that is three down in three weeks and dwindling cash!!!!
We also took an important precaution before we left the station, we took a photo of the name of the station so that if needed we could seek direction on our return,great thinking but I started to notice our station name in lots of different places and we eventually worked out that the word we had photographed was 'entrance'!!
We got off at the correct station and had to look for a bus stop, took a few tries but found our bus 223 which did not leave for a further hour and a half. When we eventually got on we had no idea how long the trip would take and we couldn't ask, it was not hard to pick the passengers who were intent on making the pilgrimage to the monastery, the women were wearing head scarves and the men wore religious symbols. After an hour in the hot bus we pulled up in front of a series of beautifully made log style buildings, many with the gold cupolas on their roofs in ornate patterns. It was set in a beautiful, peaceful wooded valley and is an active monastery for the Russian Orthodox church, there were about 15 different buildings at the site, many highly ornate churches filled with icons. I also had to cover my head during the time we were there and after a while the physical impact of wearing a head veil imbues you with an altered sense of self, perhaps calmer or more respectful!!
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The Monastery was built at this site because it is centred around the abandoned mine entrance where the burnt remains of the Romanov's were dumped 100 years ago. There is a reflective platform around this space where people can spend time, it is tastefully adorned with images of the members of the Royal family and quite a powerful space for those many Russians who felt deeply about that part of their history.
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We finished up in the Refectory and whilst waiting for soup we saw a couple of ladies in the line in front whom we had seen get on the bus with us and with whom we had been exchanging warm greeting throughout the day. I wrote a message on google translator to ask if they were going back on the bus we had come on together,they tried to explain "no" they were going by train but we needed a young girl in the line behind us to explain. She had some English and as we talked she and her father had booked a taxi to return to Yekaterinburg where they had been staying, (they had come from Moscow especially for the memorials and devotion around the 100th anniversary. They offered to take us back with them and we spent the most wonderful hour chatting to them in the car on the way back. Not only did it remove so much of the pressure of travelling but we had such a lovely time finding out about them and sharing tales. Anna shared that they had only become Orthodox in the last three years as a result of learning about their history and the practice of Orthodoxy before the Soviet era. She was really excited to share the significance of it in their lives and we too were happy to talk about our understanding. Whilst initially the practice can seem archaic and superficial there is genuine depth and love in their actions and beliefs. In one respect I could see the spiritual response to the honoring of icons as somewhat akin to the response that may be observed in evangelical churches in Australia during the singing of choruses.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 10:20 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Borscht and Museums

July 19th

rain 24 °C

General housekeeping trying to email Australia to see if we can sort out the mess with our cards!! Not easy at Bank First on call waiting!!
One highlight was finding a bank that had real people and via google translator explaining our predicament we collectively stood around together holding our breaths as I attempted to withdraw 20,000 Rubles., a big sigh and smiles all around from the lovely staff who had helped as the card slid back out of the ATM

Continued to enjoy the sites of Yekaterinburg; churches, museums and a fine arts gallery as we awaited the departure of our train on the next leg to Kazan , and finished up in our favorite coffee shop where they do a 'mean' Borscht .
Followed the "Red Line Around Yekaterinburg".
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On boarding the train to Kazan we were unable to find our compartment until the conductress came on and woke up the lady asleep in our compartment, unceremoniously booting her out. We settled down for the night looking forward to waking near Kazan, the city where Australia lost its first World Cup play off against France.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 23:56 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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