Kiev adventures‏

Hello from Kiev,

I’m writing this as I soak my weary bones in a well deserved bubble bath.  I don’t know what this hotel is costing me, but it’s worth every penny.  It’s heaps better than trip advisor suggested, although the comments about the “ladies of the night” seem to be true – despite all the security downstairs.

First impressions of Kiev.  A little bold and brash like Moscow.  All the cars are new – poor little bobby wouldn’t fit in here.  (I hope he’s still alive Leanne…)
It’s also quite a hilly city.  I almost burst into tears when I walk down a big hill – because that means in a minute or two I’m likely to be faced with a gigantic big uphill. 

A brother and sister from the Russia trip also travelled to Kiev, so we did quite a bit of site-seeing together.  They went out to Chernobyl for a day, which I did think about, but I just wasn’t convinced that it would be 100% safe.  They said it was an amazing experience.  You got to go right into the exclusion zone.  You even visited Pripyat, which essentially is a ghost town.  Everything is as it was left when people had to evacuate.  They went into shopping centres, amusement parks and schools, with books on the ground and writing on the backboard.  Trees are now growing through buildings.  They said it was amazing, like something out of a movie, but really eerie.  Apparently the amount of radiation you experience is the same as a flight from New York to London.  Plants are growing back, but they were warned to stick to the paths.  It wasn’t a good idea to step on the radioactive moss.  You also got the chance to go right up to the plant.  It sounds amazing and I can’t wait to see their photos, but I’m still okay with my decision not to go there.  The Chernobyl museum was enough for me. 

I spent my time in Kiev visiting some of the local attractions.  Including the caves monastry.  It’s a holy site with mummified bodies of monks that pilgrims visit.  Unfortunately South America has wrecked me for any more mummies.  Nothing can beat the mummies in Nazca, Peru.  But it was amazing to see how much the bodies are worshipped.  I thought someone was going to set my head scarf on fire with their candles as they lurched from kissing the tomb of one monk to kissing the tomb of another.  I also visited the War Museum, which is dedicated to Urkraine’s experience in WWII.  It was eerie to see the war camp pictures.  Apparently the museum has a glove made of human skin.  I did see a glove, but luckily I didn’t realise that was what I was looking at.

On a more cheery note Kiev is a city of ice-cream.  The weather is still in the high 30’s, and I succumbed to entering the fountains to cool off.  Next stop is Vienna where the forecast is below 20 with rain.  I won’t know what’s hit me.

Best wishes & lots of love

Lapta

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me.  I need to tell you about the rest of my trip to Russia, but first I better explain those u-tube videos you may have seen on Twitter.

They were made after a game of lapta.  What’s lapta you ask?  It’s a cross between baseball, longball, & British bulldog.  You use a bat that’s a bit thinner than a baseball bat.  You hit the ball (a lot harder than it looks) and then run as hard as you can to the other end of the ground.  The opposing team tries to hit you with the ball (they throw the ball at you).  

Our local guide in Tyumen organised a game with some locals, and a Russian tv crew came and recorded our game and interviewed us for our thoughts on Russia.  The particularly seemed to want to highlight our visit to Siberia.  

The videos you saw from Twitter though were done separately for a blog.  I would send you the link to the blog, but last time I was on it the site was advertising “Siberian Princesses”.  The blog is being done by a girl who used to work in the USA, but has returned to Russia to marry her “politician” boyfriend.  I put politician in ” ” because this boy was way too young to be a politician, and if you were marrying a politician would you have a blog bagging out your country and advertising siberian girls?  We decided “politician” was code for Russian mafia.  The mafia had been on our mind since we witnessed a dodgy deal on the side of the road.  I became known on the trip for my imaginative stories about people.  We would be waiting around and I’d say “see those people over there he’s… and she’s…”.  I’m a bit worried that I’m turning into Dad as he used to do that all the time.

Anyway we had just got off a bus in the middle of nowhere in Siberia and two cars pulled up on the side of the road and I said, “see those cars over there, they are from the mafia…”

Well strike me down if the next thing that happens is the car boots go up.  There was an exchange of goods, handshakes and an exchange of money.  It could have been entriely innocent, but why conduct a business transaction on a side road in Siberia…  Anyway, because of my imagination we were were suddenly mafia conscious.

Opps, I’ve diverted from my original story.  I really am taking after Dad.

So the first video link I sent is of me explaining what we noticed about Russia.  We had to come up with a name for our lapta team and I had suggested the “Dills”.  Which we ended up going with.  Why dills?  Well we’ve been suffering from death by dill on this trip.  Everything has dill in it, tomatoes, potatoes, chicken is served with dill, soup with dill, salad with dill…  And most of us weren’t dill fans.  The second reason for the name was that we were of course going to be dills at the game.

I can sadly report that we were terrible.  Our best player was John Nic the Canandian, then the husband and wife from Australia.  As you know I’m quite competitive and I hate sucking at sport.  I sucked!  Although by the end of the game I had worked out how to hit the ball.

The most embarassing thing was that we were all useless at catching and throwing the tennis ball.  What has happened to our back-yard cricket skills???

At least the Russians got a good laugh and the afternoon was great fun.  The next day I was so sore and couldn’t walk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapta_(game)

Best wishes and lots of love

Hello from Kazan, Russia‏

Hello from Kazan – the home of the wedding meringue.  I swear I’ve seen over 20 brides today and you should see the wedding cars.  They are all covered in flowers and unfortunately they often look like funeral hearses.  It appears that summer is wedding season in Russia and a day doesn’t go past without at least seeing one or two brides.

Kazan is the capital of the Tararstan republic.  Surprisingly the area seems to have quite a bit of autonomy from the Russian federation.  Tartar seems to be the main language, and many people are muslims.  It is on the banks of the volga and Kazanka rivers, and so far I think it’s my second favourite place after St Petersburg.  It’s a bit off the tourist route.  It gets many Russian tourists, but not many English speakers.

St Petersburg has definitely been the highlight so far.  Anyone who loves culture and art should start planning a trip.  The Hermitage was amazing.  Before leaving Sofia from the Blakes Sydney office was telling me how often she visited the Hermitage.  I now understand what she means.  I spent 2 days there and I still don’t feel like I saw everything.  I think you need 1 day to be blown away by the building, and then you need to go back and look at the art.  There are surprises in every room.  I was like “mmm that painting looks familiar – ahh yes that would be because it’s a Rembrandt.”  “Oh and there’s a Picasso, van gogh, Renoir, Monet, etc…”  Then there was the collection of Roman and Greek statues, not to mention the Egyptian collection, etc.  I was blown away by the wealth Russia (or the Tsars) must have had to accumulate such a collection.

Dad/Janice:  You would have loved St Petersburg.

The other amazing thing was the security or lack of security.  There were little old ladies in every room, but you could take pictures of everything, and you get so close to the valuable pieces.  Our guide was telling us a story about someone who as a protest against Russia threw acid on one of the paintings and I can see how easy that would be.

The long evenings in St Petersburg were lovely.  It wasn’t getting dark until about 11.30.  One night we stayed up and went to see the lifting of the bridges.  I was like “so what I’ve seen bridges lift before”, but what is funny is that they all lift up at 1.25am and then stay up until the morning to allow the cargo ships passage along the river.  So you can be in one part of St Petersburg and not be able to get back to the main city until the bridges go back down.  They light the bridges and the lifting seems to be a real event.  The amount of boats and tourists watching the lifting of the bridges was crazy.  On another day we went to Pushkin to see the Catherine Palace.  To be honest there was so much to do in St Petersburg and I could have done with another couple of days.

From there we went to Suzdal – a city of churches and monastries.  We stayed in a Russian guesthouse and the cold war was almost reignited when one of the girls decided to wash some clothes in the bathroom sink.  The Russian lady of the house went off yelling at her and rest of the group in Russian.  The problem was we didn’t realise the city was experiencing electricity blackouts and water to the house was scarce because the pumps weren’t working.

The group is mainly Australians, with 2 people from the US and 2 from Quebec.  One of the US guys is a car worker from Detroit.  He is one of the those annoying US tourists who doesn’t think anything can beat what’s at home, and who likes to go to McDonalds for lunch.  I am determined to find one thing in Russia he likes before the end of this trip.  The other person from the US is a chick who is a teacher, who loves politics and sports.  Perfect you say – sounds like me.  She’s good value and we often spend time discussing politics, taxation systems, black Americans, indigenous Australians, education, the environment, etc.  Luckily we get along because she’s ending up being my room mate for most of the trip.

Now for the weather update.  It’s hot – damn hot!  Russia is having it’s worst heat wave in over 130 years.  Temperatures are in the mid to high 30’s.  Now that doesn’t sound bad, but these building are built for maintaining heat, not for keeping cool.  I will never take air con for granted again.  Check out some of these stories:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10646106

http://english.pravda.ru/russia/economics/20-07-2010/114300-heat_wave-0

We’ve slowly been cracking – first the Candians, then the US and even the Australians are not coping.  My room mate and I have an unwritten rule about being naked.  Sometimes it’s the only way to cope with the night.  I usually try to start in my PJs, as I usually like to have somewhere to go.  If you just sleep in your underwear there’s less to strip off.  It’s also okay to take 2 am cold showers.  Other methods for dealing with the heat include wetting a towel and sleeping on that.  Personally that’s not a favourite of mine because it feels like you’ve had an accident in the middle of the night.

Anyway, that’s it from me at the moment.

I hope all’s going well at home and that you are enjoying the election campaign.

Best wishes and lots of love