Saturday, October 21, 2017

Day 19 - The 16th Century in Siberia

We departed early for a two hour drive north through what could have been the Parks Highway in Alaska. Tall birch and spruce or pine lined the two-lane highwsy as we wound through small farms, open fields, and small mining and industrial communities. We drove through the city where Tchaikovsky was born-a hamlet of 30,000- then crossed several rail lines. During the Cold War this area was famous for itstank  and artillary factories, airplane manufacturing, and this is where Rusdia built their nuclear weapons. 

Winter is upon us now with snow flurries and brisk wind. It was warm in the bus until we reached Nizhnaya Sinyatchiha, a small Siberian village for an extensive tour of the Museum of Wooden Architecture and the Transfiguration Church. 

There we were met by 25^ -COLD-and a charming local guide. "Oh no, not another outdoor museum," was quelled quickly as we toured a beautiful simple church museum with fabulous painted parts of farmhouse walls, shuttters, doors, and furniture as part of the exhibits.  

Outside we wandered thegtounds. This collection of buildings were rescued by one man who made it a life's work to relocate and renovate these beauties...and once again our experience was unique and fullfilling. 

A warm lunch of local cuisine was followed by a sleepy ride back to the city and a free evening. 

Day 18 - Our First Day in Siberia

Our first day in Yekaterinburg included a visit to the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Museum. It was a huge comlpex celebrating the life of the father of democracy in Russia. Yeltsin is their George Washington and welearned  many things about this "people's president" that we were not exposed to in 1991-3. He was wuite a kind fellow. 

Afterward we took a short walk through the mainsquare  before visiting the Cathedral on Spilled Blood, built as a memorial to the royal family that was  murdered in 1918 at this site.  

Following lunch we viewed the mass graves of 18,000 victims of Stalin's genocidal rage. He murdered over 26 MILLION people during his reign of terror. BASTARD!!!

Following two somber events we drove out to the marker representing the border between Europe snd Asia. There we were treated to music snd dancing by alocal  group of costumed entertainers. Our guide certainly knew how to change the mood. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Day 17 - Yekaterinburg

We slept like babies rocked back and forth in the gliding train. The cold crept through the glass as if the windows  were open. Winter has arrived and we have lost two hours through the night crossing time zones. 

The landscape overnight had gone from its fall grren to   shades of yellow and brown and most of the leaves were gone. There were light patches of heavy frost on the northeast side of the hills. Rolling fields growing into foothills.  For our Alasks friends, think Matanuska Valley from Willow north and you are looking at this part of Russia. 

The birch and spruce stand tall and tightly together like soldiers huddled and guarding the Siberian front. The term "we are not in Kansas anymore" seems totally appropriate. Groundwater has formed in the vast bogs and small stresms ribbon the plain. There are ponds of collected runoff everywhere. 

Small wooden farmhouses dot the rolling hills with whisps of smoke curling out of chimneys; occasdionally forming into small towns. There are a lot of people out here.

Little by little our carriage awoke and we could hear giggles and chatter through the thin walls. The gas samovar at the end of the carriage heated water for tea and coffee. Noodle bowls purchased from a market the night before became breakfast. 

The Ural Mountsins, the offical border between Europe and Asia are a short distsnce to the east. We are now 1/3 of the way across Russia. We have traveled 800 kms since last night. 

We arrived in the city at noon and were greeted at the station by our guide, escorted by coach to our hotel, and checked in. The balance of the day was free time to explore a bit, do laundry, and get ready for the busy days of sightseeing to follow. It is now time to bring out the heavy gear. It is cold outside!!!  Snow forecast for this week and we both have colds...thanks to a few who claim "aren't sick" as they hack, cough, sneeze snd spit across Siberia. Ballet for some tonight. NyQuil for Bobbie and me. 

Day 16 - the Island Village of Sviyazhsk

We started off a bit later with a stop at the "cathedral of many religions."  The unique private project if one man, the structure had over twenty spires of varying desin, pyramids, buddhas, and even an alien soaceship. It has recently been damaged by fire so we could only view the exterior and it was worrh the stop. 

For the next hour we crossed the Volga...agaun...and headed further west to Sviyazhsk, a small island fortress surrounded by water ftom three rivers.  On the island we saw two monasteries, their cathedrals, high walls and a small village of tenivated houses and shops. It was a nice departure from the busy cities and a chance to see some countryside. 

We returned to the city to gsther our bags...they are growing in size and number!  Our train departed at 8pm. Party started at 8:01pm. 


Day 15 - Tartarstan

Our train was entirely comfortable, four berths to a cabin, well appointed, well lit, immaculate and modern. We settled in quickly and were fast asleep in minutes. The ride was smooth, the train stopping often at various stationd to board passengers. The nine hours passed quickly. 

We woke to personal alarms at 5:30 and packed our stuff for disembarking. We had arrived in the capitol city of Kazan in the autonomous region of Tartarzan.  While we are still in the Russian Federstion, this region enjoys certain autonomous liberties seperate from Moscow. 

We were met by our guide Veronika, stored our bsgs at the hotel, enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast, and were off and running.  

We enjoyed an extended tour of this truly beautiful city. Wrapped in Tartan cultural aspects, we first walked to a vista where we were presented with a panoramic view of an extremely modern city with distictive architecture and impressive infrastructure.  1.3 million peoply occupy Kazan. Our hotel is in the city center with city hall, the opera house, and parliament a few blocks away. 

Next up we visited a newly constructed Tartan "village" of shops and restaurants, local musicblaring from   loudsoeakers while a team of gardeners groomed the autumn flower beds and trees. 

In a small wooden Tartan house from the 1700's we were treated to a food demonstration preparing "chak-chak," a lical oastry reminescent to funnel cake and rice crispie treats. The authentuc costumed presenters were charming and informative and the tea party following the demonstration was a lot of fun tasting traditional treats. 

Next up was a visit to a local mosque. There are lots of them now as we travel through the Islsmuc part of western Siberia.  Once we cross the Irals there will be plenty  more. We were asked of course to cover our heads and remove our shoes, however in this Suni facility women and men share the space. 

Lunch was at an upscale Uzbekistan restaurant. That got everyone talking about next year.  The food and decir were great. Aftetward we drive over ti the kremlin to visit the new ekabirayely decorated mosque built in 2011, the Cathedrsl if the Kady of Kazan, and the oresidents palace. 

We ended our day back at our 4^ ultra/nice hotel for a free evening of recouping energies and personal time. Ahhhhhhh!

Day 14 - Nizhny Novgorod

A quiet and telaxed morning preceeded a nice city tour of the 12th largest city in Russia.  NN was a locked city to outsiders until a few years ago because of its strategic location and industrial complex-military we surmized.  Spanning the Volga snd two other large rivers it is s hub of activity for commerce and two million people.

Our reserved but well-spoken guide led us on a three hour tour of several architectural highlights including churches, a gathering hall from the 1600s, a spectacular cathedral with uniquely decorated onion domes, and ending inside the walls of the local kremlin.

We had six hours of down time waiting until evening to board our overnight train to Kazan. This would be the first sleeper car experience for some. 

The afternoon was soent shopping the local stores, enjoying the spa at the hotel, and exploring the surrounding area. We were transferred to the station in time to board our nine hour ride. We split up into four-passenger  cabins, two up and two down and settled in for the night. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Day 13 - Suzdal to Vladimir - Trans Siberian to Ninsky Novgorod and. goodbye to Beloved Family

SORRY...NO PHOTOS...We got another late start; plenty of time to check paperwork and prepare for a busy and involved day. A short druve took got us to the ancient capitol of Russia, Vladimir. There we were met by out local guide Malina who eloquently shared with us the highlights of her city. 

First up was a stroll around the high ground of themain  cathedral with stunning views of the river and vast forests to the east. The catherdal was just finishing Sunday services so we were allowed in to view the candle lit atmosphere, the scent of incense wafting through the air. It was yet another unique experience. 

We continued ou rstroll in 40^ light rain viewing a stunning small church from 1111. Walking back through the park we boarded our bus for a short ride to the golden gate. 

The Golden Gate is an arch, 60m tall and a steep climb up the stairwell brought us to the exhibit room where we viewed an awesome three dimension diorama done in perspective. A recorded presentation in English with special lighting brought to life the story of the Tartan seige of the city, the valiant effort to hold them off, and the ultimate victory that saved the city and gave the gate its name. 

Next up was the museum of Crystal and Applied Artswhere  we viewed beatiful examples of Russian lacquer, needlework, and blown and cut glass. 

We bade goodbye to our guide and went on a two mile walk across grassland to view yet another very old church. Some road traditional carriages across the plain. 

Lunch was in an elegant banquet hall before boarding the evening train to Nitsky Novgorod. Upon arrival wewere  transferred to our hotel for the evening. Tonight and tomorrow would be a no Wifi zone for most.

We said goidbye to Don, Dianna, and Aleana. It may be a while before we see them sgsin snd we enjoyed one last family dinner together.  Plans were made for Christmas  2018 in the Balkans.  

Day 12 - Suzdal

Finally...a slower and more casual day!  We got to sleep in, have a later breakfast, and we were off at 11AM.   It was s short drive to the Museum of Wooden Architecture where we were met by our local guide Nadia. We toured several houses, windmills, and barns from the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Next up was the Monastery of Spaso-Efimius with its huge walls, beautiful cathedral and vast gardens. We listened to a tenor quartette sing a magnificent acapella aria and were serenaded by the bell tower in the garden. 

We walked to the kremlin to view the earthen embankments and museum before crossing the river and to a really lovely restaurant for a late linch. 

Afterward we enjoyed free time in the market before individually making our way back to the hotel. This evening we had a potluck snackarama in the lobby of our hotel block. As usual it was Tom and 15 ladies. The other guys hid out in the bar until it was safe. 


Day 11 - A Day in Rostov the Great, Perestavl, and Zaleski

Today was a big drive day visiting three different sites further north. The people are beginning to display a mongoloid morphology...almond eyes, high cheekbones, pale completions and rounder faces. They are beautiful.  And it is getting colder every day and hotter every night. Woof!!!  This is our wonderful guide Natalia. She is so very charming. 

Our first stop was at the kremlin (castle/fortress/monastery) in Rostov the Great...and yes, that is the real name of the town. We were met by our guide, another Natalia, whose English skills were quite impressive. We toured the grounds, the chirch, the museum, and walked the walls. So very cool. We sang acappela in the sanctuary and marveled at the 1200 AD accousitics!

We enjoyed the gift from Natalia I, a special mulled warn beverage that was perfect on the brosk morning. From there we viaited yet two more churches...yep, lots of them this trip, and viewed more ammazing frescos and architecture. 

A short drive took is to the village of Pereslavl (Peres=my maternal family name, and Lavl=village). Those Prussian Jews certainly did get around!  There  we were joined by another local guide, Galina, a woman of 70 or so with a cane and a warm smile. Natalia I interpreted for us and we viewed the White stone cathedral from 1100ish and walked the dirt  walls of the old kremlin, as well as another nearby monastery. 

From there we drove to Zaleski for an elegant lunch and a bit of relaxation in a beautiful and classy restaurant.  

We ended our day with a two hour drive over rolling farmland eastward to Suzdal and our Rusdian frontier styled hotel. Very cool.