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'umm I think your on my bed'
Russia
'ooh look a silver birch tree?'
Monday 10th September 2001 Moscow

Wahhey - We land in Moscow at about 3:30 pm Russian time and I finally begin to feel that we are actually doing this. After the months of planning and the last few days of stress I finally relax and begin to think of what's ahead...

... for about 10 minutes when we then come up against a wall of passengers all herding their way through passport control.

Sarena got her first experience of a foreign toilet on this trip whilst we were waiting to pass customs (2/12 hours) and came out looking a little pail - plenty more of that to come!

After 3 1/2 hour flight we landed in Russia at Sheremetyevo Airport, and then stood there for the next 2 1/2hrs just waiting to get through the Visa checking sham desks. The room was packed and it became very claustrophobic and was a huge relief to find the driver who was still waiting for us (bless him) outside the customs area. We quickly found out that driving in Russia was an eye opener, and at one point the driver used the pavement to get round congestion caused by yet another accident we encountered.

I found the scenery was not unlike I had imagined, everyone lived in flats and there was not a house to be seen. It was quite built up but still maintained a lot of woodland and open spaces and as we got closer to our destination you could see the buildings were become more plush and money was being spent on the shops and housing. We arrived at our Hotel which seemed fine and fell into our room which was very basic and small but adequate enough for us. Dinner was quite strange though, as Toby was always given his course first and I didn't get my meal until he had finished his??? the portions were very small and my starter actually came in a dish the size of an egg cup and my main meal consisted of 2 chicken wings with nothing else!!! So we stuffed ourselves with beer and bread and decided to retire for the evening and try and ring my mum, but it seemed we couldn't ring England unless we had a special card thing. So I did try mum....

Tuesday 11th September 2001 Moscow

Our First full day in Moscow. We had and early start as we had arranged to beshown around Moscow for a few hours to get our bearings. Leana was very helpful and showed us how to use the Metro and the major parts to visit. Infact she didn't stop walking for 4 and a half hours. So I was quite relieved when she told us the tour had ended. I gave her 100 rubbles as a tip which I then worked out to be about 2 pounds ( generous aren't I).

During the day we managed to see a Pickled Lenin, Goose-stepping Soldiers, a dusty KGB building and a fine art collection dedicated to Pushkin. Overall I am impressed with Moscow, the buildings are a little run down but the people seem very friendly we were hardly hassled by anyone.

Well I slept like a log and awoke to a breakfast of beetroot and salad.. We then met our tour guide for the next few hours called Leana who then proceeded to walk and talk for the next 4 hours.

I found Red Square was just like the James Bond films and was full of young soldiers much to my delight...(Lorna will confim this). We saw a pickled Lennon who looked just like a wax dummy, but with lots of makeup!

We went into a food hall which used to be a Palace and was very beautiful, still containing the massive chandeliers and ornate ceilings. I was then getting hungry so we went off to a Mongolian restaurant which was quite bizarre but tasty. The Fine Arts Museum was huge and the contents were varied, but as I am not educated in the way of the arts I found a lot of the pictures quite bland and my feet were finding it hard going by this time.... We decided to have some dinner in another strange restaurant with strange food and then went back to hotel for a quick game of pool and then bed.

Wednesday 12th September 2001 Moscow

Visited the Kremlin today, very interesting, inside the walls are 5 chapels an armoury and a treasury, we only managed to visit the chapels which were full of historical artefacts (not much English translation though). We caught the train at 23:30 from Moscow. It was a bit scary as we found our compartment on the train had been preoccupied by a Mongolian smuggler so was completely full of clothes and chandeliers!!!. When the squatter got back to the compartment and found us standing there he was not happy and tried pulling me out of the room. When I showed him our tickets he snatched them out of my hands and ran off. We were not sure what to do as no we had no room and no tickets. Luckily a really friendly Mongolian came up and found us an empty compartment at the end of the train with no other passengers to share with - Bonus...

...I picked the top bunk and feel a sleep pretty much instantly.

I found the Kremlin fascinating and full of beautiful churches, one of the places we went into had all the clothes, furniture and jewellery which were stunning. They also had a big thing on the Anastasia Romonova from the Royal family who supposed to have survived. We then went to an Internet cafe where we answered all the lovely emails ( though I have to say Tobes got way loads than me!) Later on in the day we got taken to the train and need I say more, Tobes has described it down to a T. I do have to repeat about how naffing cold it was though, I have now caught a lovely cold thanks to the train. Could never look a cup-a-soup in the eye again........

Thought about mum a lot on the train and sent everyone my love hope it all got though..

 

Thursday 13th September 2001 Siberia

Woke to a beautiful sunny day, Led on the bunk most of the day with my head out of the window watching the scenery go by. Went for a small walk along the train to find that all the tourists were in the front carriages whilst all the Mongolians were at the back with us! The day was fairly eventful at the back of the train as every stopped caused a riot of Mongolians rushing of the train to sell their contraband to Russians waiting on the platforms. Several minor scuffles ensued as people fought to get their hands on some of the goods. All the Mongolians in the carriage seem very friendly towards us though. Although I am a bit weary of one Guy who is MASSIVE. I am guessing he may be a wrestler (Mongolia's National Sport).

Used the skanky toilets today but if you hold you nose there not so bad!! We laid around a lot and Tobes slept a lot!! I found the stops the most interesting because of all the Mongolian people selling all the bizarre stuff they had with them, from boot polish to microwaves. The scenery consisted of hundreds of silver birches and could leave the window open all day as the weather was very warm, that soon blinkin' changed though......

Friday 14th September 2001 Siberia

Bloody Cold!!!! The weathers changed and the carriage doesn't seem to have any heating. Luckily Sarena's well packed provisions of cup-a-soups, noodles and hot chocolate kept us going through the day. Had a scary moment with the Mongolian Wrestler whilst waiting to use the single toilet at the end of the carriage - a Mongolian girl started banging and rattling the toilet door then walked away. When the wrestler stepped out only I was there to great him and got a threatening fist and the words 'STOM' shouted at me (I must find out what that means), Managed to jump off and one stop to buy some stale bread and fat laden salami which was actually quite tasty although very garlicky, which Sarena enjoyed immensely (NOT!)

Again spent most of the day sitting around the cabin as we were wary of leaving as it seemed everyone had a key apart from us. Toby was nearly beaten up by a huge bloke in the toilet which I found highly amusing!!! The further we got into the journey the poorer people seemed to be at the stations, very worn faces and shabby clothing but found a lot of the women dyed their hair red and looked quite strange. It was now getting extremely cold and as everyone knows I hate the bloody cold. But Tobes did produce a couple of beers from the restaurant cart which cheered me up.

Saturday 15th September 2001 Siberia

This is getting hard now - its still very cold but have discovered the front of the train (were we should of been) has some kind of heating or is least significantly warmer then the Mongolian section. I caught the Wrestler making Go - Go noises to a Mongolian baby in another compartment though which cheered me up a bit.

We are starting to feel a little trapped in our compartment now as we have no one to watch our bags if we both leave, and all the Mongolians seem to have keys for the door (the triangular locks are all the same as the ones on the Gas access doors in the UK) and often open our door to peer in even after we have locked it. Spent the day shivering and looking at the bleak Siberian (endless forests of silver birch) scenery and watching the frantic station trading at every stop. Getting a bit sick of noodles and cup-a-soups now, So we risked leaving the compartment locked and went to the Restaurant Carriage for Dinner. No menu just beef stroganoff which was pretty tasty and warm. Kept us satisfied for at least a couple of hours through the bitterly cold night. Our bags remained intact!

Went down to the food cart today for some nosh and were very surprised at how good the food was. Should have gone down before today, but quite wary of the security in our cabin. Previously in the day Tobes had bought some horrible salami that I just couldn't eat and the bread tasted of plastic? There was always a drunk Mongolian bloke on the train who was very funny and always said hello to us in a slurry kind of way, he had to be shoved into his cabin each night by some poor woman... Went and had some dinner in the restaurant today, by god it was good to eat solid food again!! might take a while for my stomach to adjust. Didn't sleep again that night as it was so cold so now I'm desperate for some sleep but still in good spirits.

Sunday 16th September 2001 Siberia

Went passed Irkutsk and Lake Baikal today. It was massive seemed to take most of the day to go past just the southern corner of it. Quite an interesting day was spent watching the Mongolians hide their stash before the our arrival at the border tonight. Even the carriage attendants were helping them to find place to hide things.

Visited the dinning carriage again for dinner to find two Brits (Matt and Lorna) from London that had got on at Irkutsk They were really nice and told us that 20 or so other people that they were also travelling with are on the train and are all doing the same Mongolian tour as us. Great!, Also discovered that the train was running 3 hours late. - Bags still intact

We thought we would try to get some sleep before our arrival at the border at midnight in hope that it would take our minds off the cold. No luck - we were constantly invaded by Mongolians looking for space for their contraband.

Arrived at the Russian border checks. Mongolians got off fairly easy although it still took several hours to pass. We then arrived at the Mongolian border checks who were obviously more concerned with the Mongolians and very soon found a load of smuggled goods under the floor just outside of our door. Needless to say the train was severely delayed and we at got no sleep with all the commotion. We didn't set off again until 7 am - beats or 2 1/2 hours customs check at Moscow Airport.

Another cold day and I'm finding it quite hard being this cold all the time, can't sleep at night as my feet have lost all feeling and once my feet are cold then bang goes a good nights kip. We went down to the restaurant cart again and had some chicken which was nice and we met another couple who were doing the same trip as us, they were very friendly. Had some more beer as I thought this would help my sleep but to no avail....

We found out from Matt and Lorna that the train they had caught before was wonderful compared to this one as they had carpet on the floor! and were quite shocked at this train. All the people who are doing the trip with us were staying at the front of this train getting drunk all the time and having wild parties which is where we should have been so we seemed to be missing out on all the fun.

Came to the Russian border tonight so they kicked us out of bed to take our passports and then got off the train for about 3 hrs to give them back and check the rooms, seeing if we had smuggled anything in the cubby holes. I tried to get back to sleep before we met the Mongolian border but no sooner had I stuck my head down then the Border control people were on board checking our passports again and asking lots of questions, where we were staying and what we were doing etc. I found the Mongolian woman soldier very intimidating and once she had checked our cabin she and the rest of them pulled up all the floors in the corridor and found the hidden goods so that held us up for ages. So we had no sleep what so ever.

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