I know, I know; I am a bit behind with my writing. But I have been busy seeing the world.
So, just because I’ve been asked to do so, this is a short resume of my Russian trip.
- It is a beautiful country. If you are into outdoor activities, nature, trekking, camping, wild life, this is the right place for you. Being for two weeks without cellphone connection was the best holiday I’ve had in years. It’s a big country, with many remote areas, very diverse and very stunning scenery.
- People are lovely. Now, this is quite unexpected for me to say (and I’m guessing most people in my country would be surprised to hear this), but the Russians are more similar to Czechs than I’d like to admit. The Russians in Russia, that is. Although I was not leaving for Russia with prejudices that older generations in my country may quite understandably have, I was still surprised how nice and kind everyone was. To be fair, I picked up the language quite quickly and I had learned the alphabet before going, and that helped enormously, and once they understood could understand them, they suddenly became very friendly.
- Banya. The best invention ever.
Minuses. They are not actually minuses, more like a handbook.
- Cities are mostly rather ugly. Except for Saint Petersburg, many old(ish) cities have no historical centres left, either because of wild urbanization in the soviet era, or because they were built from wood, and that only lasts about 100 years. I haven’t been to Moscow, because in my opinion, there is nothing to see in Moscow except for a decaying body of an evil man, who managed to drag his country out of misery only to throw it into en even bigger one, starving a considerable part of the population (and killing the educated elite) in the process.
- Transsiberian Railway – there is this big myth about it as if it was the last adventure available to man and no real traveller should live without doing it at least once. Truth is, it’s actually a bloody boring train ride. It’s ok if you do it in pieces as I did, but if you do the 6 days non-stop from Moscow to Vladivostok, be prepared for staring at birch trees for the entire journey. And no shower. With many people on the same train in the same situation. Got the idea?
- Vladimir controls the TV and the media. And the Ruskies blindly believe what’s said on TV. So I’ve had questions like: “Is it really THAT bad in Europe?” / “What do you mean?” / “All those Muslims…” Basically the way their TV talks about “the situation in Europe” makes them think that european women cannot leave the house because there are horny refugees on every corner waiting to rape anything that moves, and that we all are going to be wearing hijabs within a year. It’s all masterfully crafted and of course quite understandable (from Putin’s point of view): the nation that lives in fear can be easily manipulated, is more likely to blindly obey its leader, and to accept harsh interventions in the semiautonomous republics that may toy with the idea to ditch the “semi”.
- Never, never ever discuss politics with a Russian. Avoid it at any cost. They are not bad people, but they are very ill-informed. (There are exceptions). And if you get dragged into discussion on politics, it does not matter how calmly and matter-of-factly you try to explain your point, at the end you will be labeled as “brainwashed”. The Russians have very special view on modern history. Especially those bits where Soviet Union played major role. For example, I’ve been told that “us Europeans are ungrateful”. Given their country dictated the politics in my country for some 40-odd years, exactly what should I be grateful for escapes me, but that does not matter. “Our soldiers bled for your freedom (“freedom”) and you destroy their graves.” Now, this utter piece of crap comes from an incident couple of years back in Poland, when some drunk idiot vandalized a cemetery of soviet soldiers; however this episode is sold in Russia as standard procedure and official political agenda in all former satellite countries. And needless to say, they believe it. It does not matter if you try to explain that we only destroyed the monuments to all the Lenins and Stalins and similar arseholes, but no one touches graves of foreign soldiers (of either side). We’re not barbarians. But at the end it does not matter what you say. It was on TV, so it must be the truth.
- Also, the Russians interpret their own history in a specific way. They are convinced that the Soviet Union entered the WWII out of their own will to free Europe of the evil of Nazism (and not to defend themselves when Hitler disregarded the Ribbentrop – Molotov Pact that they quite conveniently seem to forget about). Hence the “our boys bled for your freedom” nonsense.
- They have very specific sense of humour, actually quite similar to ours. But they dislike when a foreigner jokes about anything russian. Any kind of irony, criticism, or pointing out that something isn’t working is very unwelcome. They are probably well aware of what you’re saying, and they may even share your opinion, but you are a foreigner and you have no right to joke about Mother Russia. (But to be quite fair this is common to many nations.)
Sorry, I got a bit heated up. Just avoid talking politics and you’ll be fine. It’s a beautiful country, it really is.
The 1 month itinerary:
D1 – 3: Saint Petersburg (here)
D4: Barnaul (here)
D5 – 14: Trek in the Altai and rafting the middle Katun (here)
D15: Flight to Novosibirsk, overnight train to Krasnoyarsk (here)
D16 – 17: Krasnoyarsk (here)
D18: train to Irkutsk
D19 – 23: Lake Baikal/Olkhon Island (here)
D24: Irkutsk, Listvyanka
D25 – 27: Arshan
D28: Ulan – Ude (here)
D29: Departure for Ulaan Baator on the morning train (here)