Visiting Russia was achieving a dream. There, people showed me how much Russians are generous, sociable, friendly and warm. Who said that smiling in Russia was exceptional?
Train to Moscow
As I already told in the previous post -> UKRAINE , I was in a hot 3rd class wagon. Once again, as I find it comfortable and it was cheaper, I get an upper bed. The one here had less space towards the celling as on top was the space for the luggage.
Next to me, in the upper bed was a Russian guy with whom I didn’t get to chat too much. Bellow us to women, one from Russia and the other form Ukraine. Between them all the three spoke in Russian. None of them spoke English. However, one of the woman helped me a lot with my passport, offered me to sat next to her, and told me about her family. If you wander how we get to talk about all that, just by willing. My favourite international language, hand shaking! She even introduced to me a lady from England that was crossing Eurasia and was about to catch the Trans-Siberian. In one week, she would be in Vladivostok. That would be the fast way for me. I prefer always to take the long way.
1515 Entering Russia
The passport control on the train took one hour and a part form the surprise of the policeman and the soldiers that escort him when they knew that I was Spanish, we had no other surprise. As a little anecdote. One of the soldiers started playing with a kid and at the end gave his phone number in a paper to the mother.
Moscow is the capital city of Russia. Heart of the Soviet Union in the past and of the communism. That is something that you can see and feel all around. AS the USSR was the “victorious” of the Second World War and the Communism ended progressively, all the monuments and symbols of that time still everywhere. There is a debate if they shall remove some of them or leave them as part of their history.
Also, the communist even being non-religious and non-monarchical, they left many churches and palaces as treasures of the city with a didactical purpose. Other buildings that had been demolished or destroyed during the communism were rebuilt as they were originally.
The city is a huge city perfectly connected with a concentric and radial underground. In the heart of the city is the Kremlin and there are big open areas everywhere. Not only the red square for political demonstrations, but also green gardens and parks. Even if there’s people all around the city, I never felt Moscow as a busy, crowded city.
One of the most amazing thing in Moscow is the Underground or Metro. In the city centre, most of the stations are masterpieces. That is due to the fact that the USSR government wanted to make the labourers that they were the power of the city and that all this was made for them as the communism was great for everyone. Anyway, also the new or more contemporary stations in the outskirts of the city are also impressive. However, these ones have no trace of Communist symbols.
My host in Moscow sent a friend to pick me up at the train station. However, it took us almost an hour to find each other. As I couldn’t find her I looked for some open Wi-Fi next to the station and contacted her.
She took me to Lepold’s house and told me a little about the city, where to go and what to eat. Then she went to work and left me alone. I took my time to have a shower and waited for Leopold to meet him.
With Leopold, I spoked in French as he wanted to improve his French speaking. The first moments he asked me several times to slow down. I was so excited for being in Moscow that I forget about it.
We ate something and he took me for a bike ride around the city centre. It was already night and a bit cold, but I really enjoy passing by the Kremlin, the Red Square, and the Church of Jesus the Saviour.
Church of Jesus the Saviour
Me and my new host at hos favourite metro station
Also, I start to learn how was Leopold. He told me about his life in Russia and his family. With him I felt like I will bother him if I asked too much, so I just let him tell me rather than inquiry him as I tend to do sometimes.
Back home we had a tea and went to bed.
Leopold went to work in the morning and when I woke up I went to visit the city centre. I started next to the Bolshoi Theatre and walked to the Red Square; around the Kremlin; across the river at the Church of Jesus the Saviour and back to Old Arbat Street.
I didn’t want to visit any monument as first I wanted to have an Idea of what was Moscow as a city. At least the heart of the city.
History museum and the Red Square
Church of Jesus the Saviour
As happy as if I were in Moscow
I must say that everything was clean and all the buildings were well preserved. It was because it is the capital city and have to be impressive? Probably. I doubt that all Russia will be as impressive as Moscow.
Regarding the security, there are police everywhere and bag and metal controls in every entrance to a public building: Commercial centres, Monuments, Museums, and the Metro. I felt completely save.
As I’ve been told, Putin recently renew all the police department, the former Militia, to finish with the corruption and to grant security. All the police officers were young fitted agents.
Back to my tour, Old Arbat is a long commercial street were the youth goes for shipping. It is one of the alternative areas of Moscow. At the end of the street is the Palace of Justice. One of the Staling Imperialist Style towers. There are seven in Moscow – and one in Warsaw. Also, next to Old Arbat is the house of the Russian architect Melnikov. As an architect, I had to visit it.
Walking along Old Arbat Street
Melnikof Studio House near Old Arbat Street
Pace of justice
After a long day walk I went back to Leopold’s to meet him there. He planned to take me to the Russian Bath.
He prepared everything, even after asking him what did I need to go, his answer wasn’t clear to me so I just helped to put everything into a bag to go together.
The Russian Bath is basically a big sauna next to a shower and some cold-water baths and out of the wet area a big room like a restaurant where you can drink and eat. Locals use to come once a week or a month to relax after work. They talk about football, politics, women, and hobbies while they have a Vodka or a bier with some shrimps.
We ate some snacks and drunk water as a first-time experience. We spent 15 minutes at the sauna, whipped each other with a plant they use to open the pores and then a cold bath, a shower and 5 to 10 minutes resting at the bar. We did that like four times in two hours.
After the experience, I felt completely relaxed. Back home we had a tea and went to bed.
In the morning, I tried to get early to the Kremlin to avoid the crowd and the tours. When I get there, I found no one. Not even someone that could tell me where was the entrance.
Finally, I found out that it was closed on Thursdays. Every board was in Russian, so I couldn’t understand anything so far. Disappointed, I started thinking what to do then. At that point I saw two men struggling looking where to buy a entrance to the Kremlin. I approach them and told them that it was closed. They appreciated the information and after telling me that there were about to stay only one day in Moscow, I decided to take them around and showed them the little I discovered with my host.
Former KGB building
I showed them the former KGB building, the Bolshoi and the Old Arbat Street. We ate together and then they went to catch a flight to Siberia. There were two men from the U.S.A. One of them was married with a Russian and was about to move to Alicante. They came to Russia to pick their car and made a Road Trip across Europe to Spain. As you might see, we had a lot in common to talk about.
That afternoon Leopoldo was about to meet with some friends so not to bother him I had a date with a girl from Couchsurfing. Vika showed me the University, Another Stalin Imperialistic Tower, she showed me the fanciest supermarket I had ever seen and took me for a cheap 50% reduction dinner. I felt a really good with her and we talked about many things. She was of those smiley people I like to encounter.
University of Moscow
The fanciest Supermarket ever
Back to Leopoldo’s, his friends still there and we chatted and drunk together. They didn’t speak a fluent English, but we get to understood each other.
Once they left Leopoldo and I we had our goodnight tea while I told him how happy I was feeling in Moscow.
I woke up after Leopoldo left the house so I had breakfast and went out. Not to end what he had in his house I went every day to the supermarket next to his place and brought some products like fruit, bred and chocolate for both of us. He almost never took of what I brought.
Days were getting colder little by little. Winter is coming. As Leopoldo told me, normally by this time of the year it is much colder and rainy. I felt lucky. As the day was uncertain about the rain I took an umbrella and went to visit the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
Total disappointment. It is as an History museum filled with replicas. I can understand it might be good to have some replicas as support to teach the kids, but then it should be much cheaper the entrance fee. Create a replica it is much cheaper than preserve an original.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
In the afternoon, I went to try to accomplish one challenge. Elise sent me a letter to Moscow. As I have no address she sent it here. I told them to send it to the central post office, so I could pick it up there. The challenge was to recover the letter.
I went to three post office from one they send me to another. No one spoke English so I had to explain myself with a paper a pen and mimic. There I found what a different make someone willing to help against someone who doesn’t care.
At the end I didn’t get the letter as Elise happened to drop it at the post box rather than presented at the post office where she would have get a number to follow the letter. Pity!
Le Corbousier in my challenge to receive my letter
As in Russia I get a SIM card, I contacted some people to meet in Couchsurfing and we went for a beer. What started with some beers at 8 pm., ended at 4 am. with gallons of beer. We had fun though!
Moscow fast CS meeting
I was alone at Leopoldo’s as he went to meet his family in a village at the outskirt of Moscow. How gently that he left me alone. I even ask him twice if he would have preferred me to leave. I really get to feel like home with him. I cleaned, cooked, and did everything I would have done at my house.
After lunch as I woke up a bit late, I went for a relaxing walk at the park next to his place. The day was again uncertain, cold, sunny and rainy from time to time. The perfect day for a walk on a big park with nice views to Moscow, some Orthodox old churches and a forest to get lost.
I wanted to relax after last day non-stop. So back home from my walk I cook some dinner and watched a movie. I had an invitation to go to a birthday party that night though. It happened to be really easy to make friends in Moscow so far.
As that morning, the weather was cold but it was not potentially rainy I went to visit the Kremlin. This time I didn’t care about the crowd. I just went there. And yes, it was full of tourist everywhere. AS you may imagine there is a hard security control to get in. It is there where Putin works.
At the queue, I get confused and at the beginning I stopped in the groups one. I thought it was the only one. But it is not. There is one for independent visitors that goes much faster.
Inside of the Kremlin you can visit most of the area and the Orthodox Churches. Also, the Kremlin museum, but you cannot take pictures inside of the buildings. Also there is normally possible to visit one of the towers, but that day it was closed due to the wind. I guess they fear that the tower may fall down. If not it make no sense to me.
After the visit to the Kremlin, I attend a Couchsurfing Pic-Nic at the Gorky Central Park of Culture. To get to there I walked along the river watching the monuments and observing people all around. Someone told me not to smile too much in Russia and that Russians weren’t close together when they were walking in couples. All lies or inventions, they behaved the same as does people in the rest of Europe.
At the Pic-Nic I met a lot of people and I end up talking with a girl that was learning Spanish by her own.
Later on I had an appointment with another girl from Couchsurfing. A designer. With her we walker her favourite street, Old Arbat. She wanted to show me the house of Melnikof even if had already visited, we went back. What I wanted was more to learn about her life in Moscow rather than the city. I really liked to meet her and get to know many things of Russia with her. Also, we spoke about design art and architecture. We disagreed in our appreciation of Zaha Hadid, but that made it much more interesting.
As it was about to be my last night at Leopoldo’s I get home before him to cook something for him. I prepare “Pisto” for four and none of us eat more than one dish. Hope he liked it as I left him food for the whole week.
This was my last day in Moscow and I was not in a hurry to get to visit anything. I knew I was leaving many big parks and monuments behind, but I was happy of my Moscow experience. So complete.
On Facebook I get suggested to visit the Orthodox Churches at the south of the Kremlin. Half way from Leopoldo’s to the city centre. So that I did. There are all in line along the main street and when I get to the end I had a magnificent view of the Red Square and the Kremlin from the other side of the river. I spent most of the day walking the area.
Back at Leopoldo’s I went for him to get back from work to say farewell and went straight to the train station where I had something for dinner.
Once again a 20 hours night train. This time the destination was Volgograd. Once again in the upper bed of a second-class wagon. However, this time everyone in my compartment was speaking English.
At the compartment, we were two girls, one was a teacher of Russian and the other her chines student. They travelled to Moscow to solve some Visa issues. The fourth was Irakli. There I met a great friend.
Irakli lives in Volgograd and came to Moscow for some businesses. I spent most of the ride talking with him. Also with the girls, but he told me a lot about what to do and where to go in Volgograd. I know that if I hadn’t a place to stay he would have host me. He happened to be originally from Georgia when the USSR. So when I told him that I was going there he offer me the contact of his friends to help me.
I think I have never found someone more generous than Irakli. He might be in the top class with my mom.
Volgograd, former Stalingrad. The city changed his name to the city of the Volga, the river after the Troika. Locals didn’t want their city be named after Stalin as they believe that he committed so many cruel actions.
The city is 120km. long and host only one million inhabitants. It is a linear city along the Volga and you may take from one to three hours to drive from one to the other side of the city. Hopefully, the few touristic places of interest are in the city centre near the train station.
It is more an industrial city rather than a touristic one. Their main business is the metallurgy industry. Due to the global crisis, their economy has fall down and many factories stopped their production.
I get to Volgograd in the afternoon and walked to the Hostel I was about to stay. It was raining. I went to the address of the Hostel and I couldn’t find a trace of it. As I thought that I might have been wrong, I walked in the other way of the street to see if I could find it out. It wasn’t there either. I asked some police man and private security where was that address. No one spoke English, but they helped me a lot. Finally, they all confirmed me that it was where I started to look for it.
I was checking the comments of other guest to find the location. The place had a 9.4 on Booking it shouldn’t be so difficult to find it. But yes, it was. It was in the back of a building and without any indication. Once I get to the hostel it was a regular house adapted. They simply change the furniture of the rooms to bunkbeds and that’s it. The toilet was disgusting. Soo disgusting, that I changed my stay from two days to one in the fact. And for sure I didn’t have a shower even if I felt as I need one.
However, I spent the night there as I wasn’t in the mood to look for another place. I just went to the supermarket to buy something for dinner. I cooked and while cooking I was drinking a beer. When the landlady saw me, she freaked out and explained me that I could not drink Alcohol in the hostel. I apologised and she explained me that was the law, but I could finish my beer. My solution, and I did it in front of her, was to finish a bottle of juice I had from the train and refill the bottle with the beer. She couldn’t do but smile to me.
After eating I spent the night talking with a Israeli guy that had a strong bond with Russia. He told me about his travels in Russia and worldwide and about Israel. We had a good chat, so good that I forget to ask his contact. Like him there will be lot of people that are going to light my day, gave me an interesting chat full of knowledge and then vanish from my life into the world.
First thing in the morning, moving out. I checked for another hostel in the area and move there. Not even booked online, just get to the place and asked for a bed. Again, the girl at the reception spoke no English, but we get to communicate. Half an hour later I was clean and on the road to visit the city.
As I told, Volgograd is about to mayor streets along the river. I walked one, Lenin Street, north. In the way, I found the Tourist information, where I decided to stop to ask for a map of the city and some advice.
There were three ladies working there. The three of them spoke English, and one also French. I spoke in both languages with them. Anastasia, the one who spoke more directly to me, explained me all I could do in Volgograd. I guess they were happy that I came in as they interview me about how I was there and my trip. I end up telling them all my story.
Such a nice encounter. We even exchange contacts. Ans they offered me to help me in whatever I might need in the city. What a kind and generous ladies.
From there I walked to the Stalingrad Battle Museum. What a shame that it was closed and it was about to be closed just the days I was in Volgograd. At the beginning, I thought they were restoring. But all the police control all around the museum made me think differently.
I continued by the house of Pavlov and the Lenin Square North to the site of the new Stadium for the World Cup. It was under construction, I could see the structure, what already caught my eye.
Then I get below the hill of Mamayev Kurgan – Motherland – This is a huge monument of a women holding a sward leading Russia to Victory. This hill is a memorial to the Russians dead in the World War and to the victory against the Nazis.
On the way to the top there are several memorials to the working class and the army. Before getting to the top, on the right side is the monument to the unknown soldier. I get the chance to see how they change the guard. Event that happens every hour.
Unknown Soldier Memorial
Behind Mamayev Kurgan is the Army museum and a little soldiers’ cemetery.
It is a long walk from the hostel to Mamayev Kurgan, but I walked back again. In the way back I ate something in a menu restaurant next to the University and cross the University to feel the environment and then I continued next to the river back to the Stalingrad Battle Museum. Pretending to be a tourist I tried to reach the gate until a Policeman stopped me and told me that It was closed.
I crossed the railway to visit an Orthodox Church that Irakli suggested me. And in my way back to the hostel I had the chance to see the sunset and the night coming up from the top of the Train Station.
Train Station Night
I thought it was early to get back to the hostel, but there was not much to do around. Against my feeling I bought something to cook at the hostel and went back in. At the hostel, there were only two other guests that seemed more to have been there for a long term. We slept all in the same room. Also, there was a guy at the reception. Well, all the three of them were watching a stupid film in the TV. None of them talked to me neither said “Dobro” to answer my salutation.
I had all the day in Volgograd and I had already seen almost everything interesting. I had only one other suggestion from Irakli, a church to the south. I decided to walk there. First I walked to the riverside next to my hostel. The Volga is impressive. I could imagine the people having a sunbath in summer in the other riverside. I walked south and crossed a bridge to the real Volgograd. The side my hostel was, was more bureaucratic and touristic. The other side was full of people walking on the streets, shops and commerce all around. It really made a change. I walked watching people and I realized that there was a big community of students from India and China.
The Church was a long walk south, but I had plenty time to walk back. I spent my time visiting the vivid areas of the city to see people behaviour. Walked to a mall and a street full of fast food restaurants. I ate at one of them and continued my way to the hostel where I picked my backpack
That day Irakli called me, he picked me at the hostel and took me for a ride in his car to the other side of the Volga. He showed me the little things I couldn’t visit as they were a little too far. What a genuine great guy. I wish I would meet him again.
He dropped me at the train station to catch my train. The entrance of the train station is the fountain of the film Enemy at the Gates and I couldn’t avoid sending a picture of it to me best friend Laura with whom I had shared a lot of comments about the film when it was released.
That afternoon I had another 20-hours train to Sochi. At that time, I was already an expert on how to travel by train in Russia
Tips to travel by train in Russia
I prefer an upper bed in a 2nd class wagon. They are cheaper even some times that the lower bed in a 3rd class wagon.
Over the door you can place your backpack and access to it whenever you need it without disturbing anyone.
If you want to chat with someone get a cabin with people, if not, the best option is to get one empty and probably you can get the whole cabin for you on your own.
There’s no plugs inside of the cabins, but there are two pairs of theme in both sides of the wagon. Approximately between the second and third cabin in both sides. Getting a bed in one of those cabins allow you to plug your device and keep an eye on it from inside the cabin.
Normally people starts buying their places from the centre of the wagon as is the farthest from the toilets that might be smelly sometimes. I prefer however to take the one that’s in the other side of the cabin of the wagon assistant. Is quitter.
The waggons assistant will serve you hot water for free all the ride and help you with any issue. That makes people walk to that side more often than to the other.
As you have hot water all the way I suggest to bring Noodles that you can cook with the boiled water in five minutes, and some bags of tea or soluble coffee. Also, some chocolate, nuts or chips to share with the other people in the waggon. That makes friendship in matters of minutes no matter the language.
I had the chance to travel on my own most of the way. The waggon was half empty. So, I spare as if it were my room. Just a guy came in for a while and went out all the night. I bet he was working on the train. And sometime in the night a couple occupied the two lower beds for not even 5 hours. I even play music with my phone.
Sochi is a little city in the coast of the Black Sea. It is a summer tourism city that during the high season receives Russians from all the country, specially from Moscow. It is considered to have a microclimate that mild the cold temperatures of Russia. For sure, most of the businesses here are related with the tourism.
Also, is one of the main trading ports of the Black Sea what has a big influence in Sochi’s economy and infrastructure. However, if the name of Sochi sound familiar to you is probably due to the Winter Olympic Games of 2014. Hosting this event Sochi built a mayor Olympic city with modern architecture next to the border with Georgia.
Even if everyone told me about the good weather here, I get in a tropical style rainy day. I had to cover myself and my backpack with my raincoat and as I was wearing my sandals to be comfortable at the train, accept that my feet where about to get wet.
I walked under the rain to my hostel. Even if it was raining, the temperature was good and some lights of sun trespassing the clouds were predicting a sunny afternoon.
I get to a hostel ran by an Italo-Russian family that barely speaks English. Just the daughter did. However, Italian and Spanish are friendly languages, so we get to understand each other. As I wait for the check in I did the laundry and had a shower, so I could be ready as soon as possible.
Before coming to Sochi I have been struggling to find out my way out from Russia. My visa is going to expire, and my plan to go to Georgia from Sochi has been changed when I realized that crossing Abkhazia was a problem. Abkhazia is a region in the north of Georgia on the border with Russia. Recently, 2 years ago, they claimed their independence from Georgia. The point is that only Russia recognize Abkhazia as an independent country.
Georgia still recognise the region of Abkhazia as part of their territory, but they have no control on the border with Russia. So, if I get to Georgia across Abkhazia, when I get to Georgia police control I would be considered to have entered in the country illegally. This would not only difficult my way out from Georgia, but also can take me to four years of prison. No need to take the risk.
The other option to exit to Georgia is to surround Abkhazia. The problem is that will take me a couple of days. So, I will have to run to get it before my visa expires. I also checked if there where ferries from Sochi to Batumi, but they only work during the high season.
Talking with Jan, a friend from Malaga that I will meet here in Sochi we found another possible solution.
Jan is one of my sailor friends from Malaga. We meet thanks to the events I used to organise back there and came really good friends. He came to Sochi at the same time as I did not to meet me but to sail from Sochi to Varna, Bulgaria in a Tall Ship Regatta across the Black Sea. As there where several vessels leaving Russia we thought that maybe I could find a place in one of the vessels before I get there.
Maremoto-Jan and I
Jan was part of the organisation, so he knew most of the people of the event. He started asking for a place for me before I get there. How ironic is life sometimes, that he found a place for me in a boat with a Vanuatu flag made in Bilbao whose captain is called Rodrigo.
To join the crew, I had to get to the port as soon as possible, to meet the captain, arrange with him my inscription and also with the Regatta and the Customs. Lot of paperwork to do in so little time.
Once ready, I met Jan at the shipyard. Meeting him in Sochi, dressed as an organizer of the Regatta was weird but amazing. As social as he is, he started introducing me people of the Sailing world. He really welcomed me to his sailing family.
After a little tour around we went to Atyla, the Vanuatu Sailing ship of Rodrigo. There he explained me what was to be a member of his crew and how would be my day-a-day as Trainee. He asked me to think about it before taking any decision. It just took about one hour to confirm him that I wanted to joining the Atyla Training Ship.
Documents fulfilled I was welcome to join the vessel whenever it pleased me. I decided to do it the following day.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with Jan from one corner to one another of the decks and meeting new people.
The night was the Crew Party. All the crew members of all the vessels had a party in every city they visit. This time was in an hotel where we had beers for free and some snacks. Basically, Potato Chips. There I met for the first time the crew of the Atyla and end up talking with a Russian guy that was about to leave the vessel the day I would join it.
At the end of the night Jan get lovely lost and I walked back to the city with Chuck. In the way, we met a random Russian guy with whom we spoke about the political situation of Russia, Putin and as I like to say, we fixed the world.
To be continue…