What seems tranquil that wasn’t

Will you travel to a gulag? Don’t know what that is? There was a really dark period of history in the story of Russia and its legacy remains till this day. Though from the onset one might not get the feeling that a lot of bad things happened here.

The location itself is definitely exotic enough.

This story from the Daily Mail covered it all (link). And the pictures that you will see in the link may suggest Solovetsky is a beautiful place to visit, albeit a little on the difficult to reach since it is ~100 miles from the arctic circle. Remember our post about this dream cruise (here)?

But the point is – some places appear so peaceful today when one strolls through it, but back in the day, there could have been carnage or immense suffering and destruction that took place. Well ‘Solovi’ has all the trappings of it all. One might bump into a monk, but the places were meditation and prayers take place today was once home to a brutal regime of torture.

Dark tourism some call it. Though there are also natural wonders such as the many arctic terns that nest in the islands as alternative sights of interests.

So here is one more of the exotic locales we wrote about in the vastness of the Russian federation (previous ones here). Will this inspire you to make the journey there?

How we got to Russia

Not in a Lada.

You might recall that we finally touched Russia and added it to our handprint map two years ago. And in our journalogs (here and here) we shared the daily activities of the group tour. Fortunately we did not mis-goose step our way in Moscow and initially it was rainy… but we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Did you wonder why we chose a group over independent travel? As you might know, we try our best not to join group tours.

So what were the considerations for making our initial journey with a group? In our little essay, we recounted the events leading up to our final decision to be part of a chaperoned group rather than getting around by our own wits. Read here all about it. We have to say that despite all the reservations we had, we quite enjoyed that trip even if it felt a little ‘herded’. You know what we mean huh?

For an initial foray into a country with language completely different from anything we know, it was definitely a great introduction. Some day, we will plan a return journey getting a little off the beaten track. But not before we check off all the must sees first.

Have you been to Russia? What was your plan and journey to Russia like?

Let’s go to Oymyakon…

Coming from us you’d think Oymyakon is a place in Japan. Well it sort of is…close, about 2200km north of Hokkaido across a stretch of ocean….heheh

So where the hell in the world is Oymyakon? If you Google it, you will see that it is located in the eastern reaches of the Russian far east. So you thought that -27°C is cold? How about -90? Fahrenheit!! For those who remember how to convert this to Celsius – thats approximately -68°C… enough for cars to be useless there, or so we read.

Incredible as it sounds, there are actually 500 souls (give and take a few) living in this village according to the Huffington article.

Such a cool pic.jpg
Lifted from the article. Cool or what?

It is reported that this is the coldest permanently inhabited town/village in the world. And the pictures in this article come from an Amos Chapple who visited this remote and cold (lol – understatement) place of inhabitation. Why of all places he, and apparently a female partner (who models in the photos) visited such a location is beyond us. Wait…why do we tropical folks went to the slightly less cold Harbin is a wonder too! Btw if you look at the photos it’s sure damn cool – no pun intended.

Can you hear Suan in the background going all excited about how awesome this photo looks? For the backdrop and fashionable model that is…

Hmmm, for that matter why do we (humankind) climb the highest mountains, dive the deepest oceans and trek the driest deserts? Because there is an insatiable thirst in our species to get out there and explore the ‘unknown’. We wrote about (here) how NatGeo is sponsoring Paul Salopek in his trek to the ends of the world.

Alright, so this place is not exactly unknown. But it is the novelty of the experience and the memories of “roughing” it out that was probably what went on in Amos’s head. We think.

Shall we make a journey to Oymyakon?

Journalogging Russia!

It here!

Crossing out this bucket list item has been something we talked incessantly about for 2 years. So, good riddance! We mean good to have ridden all the way to Russia…on a flying aluminium tin can that is (you can see how much respect we have for aviation).

In all sense of the word, Moscow appears forbidding. Perhaps it has to do with the many Soviet era buildings. The architecture was probably designed to impress upon the proletariat the awesome power of the state. Hence, aside from the area around Red Square, we were not really inspired to explore more of the city. However if you are into raw power, then continue reading here.

St Petersburg on the other hand was simply fabulous! We cannot find another word.

Culturally, the city has some of the best museum in the country if not the world. And that the weather happened to be beautiful when we were there made it even more memorable. If you add in the beautiful palaces, canals, women, gardens etc, then you have a really explosive mix of sights, sounds and wonder to energize your exploration here. Curious? Read all about it here (best viewed with a wider screen desktop)

Wonderful weather at last!

Finally we had all sun and clear skies for the last 2 days. The internet in St Petersburg had been spotty at best and I could only get the wifi signal if I stood at the room door! Anyway, after a 4 hour 5 minute train journey back to Moscow from Petersburg we had a Thai dinner before checking in and posting this. There is a story behind this, but this will have to be the subject of a separate post.

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Watch for our story on this.

A quick reflection of our past 7 days:

  • Russians are not unfriendly as we thought. We had great conversations with many everyday people.
  • The rouble’s depreciation has taken its toll on the locals. Incomes stagnated but proces had risen. Not nice.
  • The economic sanctions did not seem to have reduced availability of luxury items. Still see many luxury German cars, the wine and cheese remains available…
  • Sights here and in St Petersburg remains as jammed pack as before. OMG, if you could only see and feel the crowds like we did…

So life goes on here despite what the media out there paints for us. You’ve gotta come see it for yourself. The country is not as draconian as we imagined it to be. Certainly no goose stepping soldiers all around! In fact, we hardly saw police presence at all throughout the journey. Perhaps they are all in plainclothes.

There are so many stories to tell! Our journalog and country will surely come up in a few weeks’ time.

Soon, we will be taking the flight home. Then it will be a lot of work to prepare for the next trip. San Francisco, here we come!

Goose stepping in Moscow

Even though it has been raining for the last 3 days, we had been making the best of it. At least in the center of the city it seems very orderly and reasonly clean, yes traffic is terrible (the guide told of what a Russian minute is) but organized. IMG_1283

Yesterday we went to Izmaylovo market after a visit to the Vodka museum. Did not know that there were so many small vintage and antique stalls and shops here. So many locals mulling over soviet era pins, badges and medals.IMG_1290.JPG

Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time and only took a quick glance over the wares on sale. There were old silverware and brassware added to the mix, which really excited Mel. Too bad no budget nor luggage space to buy anything! Then there was the high end stuff, the intricately crafted ceramics, paintings from Soviet times and crystalware. We learn something new every day!

Look out for our next post, we will be on the way to Saint Petersburg!