Trip of a Life Time Part Five – Denmark and Russia
Hello folks. Slowly, I am coming out of hibernation here with the next instalment of my recounting the story of my very first solo, round the world trip in 1999. I need to learn to balance all the things I do it seems – work, writing and other important hobbies for me. This means a little bit of pulling back on the blog. Maybe to 3-4 posts a week I think. It may be slightly more sporadic, but I have learnt in 2014 that travel blogging – seriously – really involves a lot of energy, time and dedication. But I need to write at a rate that’s sustainable. I worked 40 hours plus this week, I’m writing scripts and filming short stories as well, I’ve been sick (almost back to good health I’m glad to say) and thinking about my hopeful next trip, tentatively planned for Feb-March next year. So, please be patient. Meanwhile, last time I wrote about my 1999 trip I was leaving India, on a flight to Copenhagen. Hot was to turn to cold, to frosty, but the adventure was not to slow down at all!
The plane ride to Copenhagen was longish I guess from Delhi. My Star Alliance ticket included – Thai Airways, Luftansa, Air New Zealand, United and SAS (amongst others) and so I was on SAS most of the time in or around Europe. Except when I was on Luftansa. That’s a pretty decent list of airlines right there when you consider quality, safety and service.
It seemed from the second I hopped on the plane, my gut which had been giving me nothing but hell for the previous three weeks, suddenly could cope with food again. I think I had a dozen bread rolls on that flight! From 40+ I was delivered to Copenhagen, which was having late March/early April maximums of around 9 degrees.
I was staying with family, and this particular group of family I hardly knew at all so it was strange. I had instructions to get to a station, actually a long way from Copenhagen, and so it was all rather strange. I only had three or four nights there, not sure what I was thinking exactly, and I only went into Copenhagen the once.
The first night I ate like I hadn’t eaten in months, with a fair bit of red wine to help it down, and then woke an hour into the night to bring it all back up! I went for a bike ride the next day in the late afternoon and got lost, it got really cold and the sun went down and I was lucky to make it back to the house. Then I went into Copenhagen for a day, saw a couple of museums I don’t really recollect, saw the Little Mermaid, Denmark’s most known… ‘thing’, and marvelled at people sunbathing because the mercury briefly hit 10 degrees!
And then… I was off to St Petersburg! Just like that, SAS had me flying to Russia, one of the places I was most excited about visiting on my trip (alongside Egypt and Iceland). A couple of hours and I was there, it was even colder! Still the odd pile of snow here and there, I passed through no-nonsense customs and went to change money. Worried to try anywhere else, I went to the seemingly only exchange booth in the airport, and waited for the man to return to serve me. St Petersburg is a huge city, in 1999 the airport was comparatively really small! A man came up and asked if I wanted to change money, when I said I was waiting for the booth, he shouted loudly so everyone could hear ‘This man is crazy!’ Russia was going to be interesting!
A bus took me into town, and somehow I found the YHA above Sinbad travel, not so far from the railway station. The hostel was, to say the least, sanitised. It felt like a hospital but it was clean and spacious. I was transfixed by the toilet bowls – they seemed to be backwards compared to those at home! With the pipe at the front and this little ledge which flooded when you flushed carrying your excrement forwards and into the pipes! (it’s amazing what sticks in your mind)
I met a bunch of people from various places. Well, Germany and the USA principally! The Americans had sewn Canadian flags onto their backpacks so no-one thought they were Americans, and the Germans wanted to party all night every night. I went to a couple of clubs. One was a lot of fun, vodka was around a buck fifty a shot and so so smooth, the other night we stayed out until after 6am, different club, not so fun. The first night out I was told off for being too loud in the queue – ‘Yankee – Go home!’ I was told. Hmmm. I was going to point out I was Australian, but that might not have made much difference.
For a couple of bucks I also saw a symphony, perhaps the best night out I had in my 7 days there. I did get out and about a bit too – walking, marvelling at the cheap beer sold in roadside kiosks, the trolley buses, the Hermitage which I decided was too expensive to visit (I did get in there when I returned in 2007).
The Alexander Nevsky Monastery was nice though, the church was peaceful and beautiful, and on the whole St Petersburg quickly shot to my favourite city of the trip. The wide boulevards, the way everyone ignored you and had a permanent pout on their faces, the icy rivers, the sense of history and the way the entire city appeared to be around 6 storeys in height, honestly, I loved it!
But it was time to take the overnight train to Moscow (there’s a blog on that somewhere I did a few weeks back). If I thought St Petersburg was big, big was about to be redefined. The hostel was hard to find, involved traversing the really complicated Moscow metro, but find it I did 12 floors up or something in what was mostly an apartment block. The rooms had four single beds in them and an attached bathtub which is pretty rare when you’re talking hostels (and yes, I did use it). I met an older Australian guy there who had been at some bar up a couple of floors and got into a fight and ended up in hospital. Actually, he told me it had happened a few times. It was all… very interesting!
Moscow was so huge, and I spent a lot of time working out the metro system. I remember one station where like five lines intersected and trying to find the right platform took 25 minutes (including a fair bit of walking). You combine the complexity, the walking and the Cyrillic only signs and you do have a fair challenge!
The Kremlin was pretty cool, full of churches and important buildings. Tourist had lines they weren’t to cross, and when my back foot accidently stepped over one, I got a whistle and a command to move from one of the guards. St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s tomb are in Red Square, which was very special, although I missed the chance to actually see Lenin as I got there too late.
I popped up in various parts of Moscow via the metro, seeing the Gorky Park Amusement Park, and some of the ‘Seven Sisters’ – Soviet style apartment blocks apparently commissioned by Stalin. And then, it was basically over. 11 days in Russia, opening eyes and amazing them too. I took a train followed by a bus to the airport in the evening – my flight to Egypt, via Frankfurt, was to leave at 7am, and getting there by taxi at that time of morning (considering I’d need to be there around 5am), so I decided a night at the airport was the way to keep costs down.
What can I say about Russia? It’s delightful, scary, amazing and HUGE, all at once and much more. It’s one of those countries you really MUST visit. Having said that, Egypt held almost as much excitement for me, and the plane was hurtling down the runway shortly after 7am, and that’s where I was heading!