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The Red Arrow

St Petersburg to Moscow

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St Petersburg to Moscow – on the Red Arrow – 22nd September

I had been looking forward to my first overnight train trip for a while, all of my journeys so far had been during the day. The journey from St Petersburg to Moscow can of course be done during the day time and recently can be done in around 4 hours on the fast train. However, the traditional way of doing it is by overnight train. The Red Arrow is the most prestigious of the overnight trains, it is a Russian Institution, each night travelling from one city to the next from midnight to 08:00 each morning. If I was going to travel overnight then I was going to do the Red Arrow. I had thought about booking it in the UK and paying agency fees but in the end I had managed to purchase all of my tickets in Russia for Russian prices which was a real bonus.

As the train departs music of the Russian national anthem plays on the speaker system, you are shown to your cabin by the courteous staff and you are given your bedding. I was not totally accustomed to the practice but watched others and followed suit. A big surly German guy came in smelling of Vodka, he broke the ice immediately in the cabin by shaking everybodies hands vigorously before crashing out in a drunken stupor. I spoke briefly to a Belgian guy but then insisted that he get off my bed because I was fooking knackered. I had been waiting around for the whole day to get this damn train, I had had to check out of my room at 11am and had been essentially homeless for all of that time, naturally I wanted to sleep.

Anyhow, Rio, a Japanese guy who was in St Petersburg on business waited for me to depart, and whilst he was there I asked him to take a photo of me by the train……

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If you look hard, i am behind all of those people.....Thanks Rio, it’s a keeper that one…..

Arriving at St Petersburg, the Russian anthem played again, I had had a good sleep and was ready to tackle Moscow and the Moscovites…..Bring it on!!

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A Smiling Russian???? Never!!!

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Inside the Cabin....

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Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 05:02 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow the train red petersburg rio st arrow anthem Comments (1)

Middlesbrough Ultra's??? Pah....

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View Overland debacle on beatski's travel map.

Middlesbrough Ultras pah?

I have been to the Riverside Stadium where I have been mixing it with the Middlesbrough FC Ultras in the South East Corner. Man, those guys are mental, jumping up and down, flying the flag for Middlesbrough. Adding a bit of that electric atmosphere to what would have been a dull midweek game at the Riverside. The fact that there are only 27 of them makes no odds. They are a threatening bunch of kids. I saw them once all do the conga and then turn their backs from the pitch. The stewards can’t control the volume of people standing and shouting they are totally outnumbered. It is completely crazy, of course I felt slightly intimidated when I was there that one time, but knowing I was a Boro faithful I figured I was in their camp and that I would be safe enough. Phillip, the 15 year old ringleader from Nunthorpe School was giving orders to his contingent of school disciples and they did as they were told. He started the chanting, he would instigate the dancing and the chanting. My favourite was when they all started to play tigs off ground. Man those guys really know how to tear a stadium up.

So I figured that I have been there and done it, I have mixed it with one set of ultras, so what is the big deal, bigger numbers equals a bigger game of tigs off ground ey?

The Riga match I went to was strange, no tigs, no dancing. A total of nine away supporters holding a banner up “Noone likes us but we don’t care”. There were no police or stewards on duty, the 100 or so home supporters had paid the ridiculous fee of about £1 for their ticket. Beer was being sold for £1.20 and a programme was 20p. Most of the home supporters didn’t have their own teeth, I'm not sure if that guaranteed you free entry to the game or some sort of concession. It was an embarrassing episode. The game finished 1-0 to the home side, there was some applause, but I just wish my mate Phillip was there to tear this place up and show them what real supporters get up to.

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a quiet game of football at Riga Vs FK Ventspils...
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Check out the away fans, try and count them...

In St Petersburg, it was a different story.

5 times I was frisked going into the ground. The first were the riot police, they were fully kitted up with the helmets, batons, body armour and in the numbers like you wouldn’t believe. Then there was the second layer, the police, don’t trust the police I have been told. He grabbed my nuts to see that I wasn’t carrying anything there, he wasn’t impressed, I was nervous wasn’t i? Then there were guards, then there were Army, and then finally there were the gates, you had to pass through a metal detector and get frisked one more time before you were allowed in.

Poor Phillip, I pictured him stood there trying to do the jovial conga trying to convince the Zenith fans that he was a proper Ultra, yeah honest man, My Mother says I'm crackers… “Watch this boys” dancing the jig, being all jovial and that. What would these boys make of his antics?

I had gone with Jack, a guy who was doing the Trans-Siberian from East to West and had been teaching English in Taiwan. We blended in, we had our hoodies up, scarves on wrapped round our head and watched the proceedings. The chanting was incredible, big TV screens around the stadium orchestrated songs by scrolling the words of the home sides anthems. For the illiterates at the match, their job was just to look menacing, and that was probably about 95% of them. We tried to look menacing, but I was brought up in Boro and our Ultras are A* pupils from the local comprehensive from nice neighbourhoods.

Jack and I got cocky, we had a conversation out aloud about football. We got sussed; some men turned around and spoke to us in Russian… Shit….. “Nyet Ruski”…. “Where you from?” he asked in English, it always surprises me how these illiterate unemployable Vodka guzzling, “I've got no forehead” Russians can speak English. A conversation went on about Roman Abramovich and Arshavin, loose connections with Russia and Zenit St Petersburg. Ruski started conversing with his friends, more of them arrived and then at half time they all left and then arrived with more. I started panicking; I needed silly Phillip to start dancing to create a distraction so that Jack and I could get the hell out of here. Silly Phillip had got me in this mess, thinking I was all hard-core.

Flares went up in the stand opposite, flags got torched the noise escalated. The naked away fans made a run for the home supporters, the riot police waded in with their batons, a few got over the fence but were kicked senseless by some guy with a brolley.

“What do you reckon Jack, we should make a beeline for the exit on 80 minutes ey?” It was a rhetorical question.

On 80, we both made a dart for the exit; the away supporters were doing a fine job of creating a distraction for us to get out of there. We shot out of there pushing past anyone in the way, head down and hands in our pockets.

We got out of the ground, away from the stadium, through the barriers of police and into the Metro, no sign of a waiting party to greet us which was nice. Back to the hostel, give me a beer I need the toilet!!!

Wait till I see Silly Phillips Parents.

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Riot Police
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More of them!!

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Away Fans
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Prematch

Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 10:37 Archived in Russia Tagged football petersburg st Comments (2)

Boring Post, please move on.....

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View Overland debacle on beatski's travel map.

Yekaterinburg – 26th September

This is a boring post, so move on or skim read. So in this dull narrative I’ll give you an idea of how I started out, how I fumble my way around and also where I have been so far. The blog I had never intended on being a chronology of what I have done that day, I got up this morning, farted, scratched my arse and went to the toilet before I had breakfast….. Big Wow, don’t bother, I don’t want to know!!

So currently I am in Yekaterinburg which is the official capital of the Urals region of Russia and Russias fourth biggest City, quite industrialised and polluted but it is a city where Mr Boris Yeltsin was born and where Nicholas II was executed. I will then be taking the train to Irkutsk where I will be there for a period (maybe a week??) travelling to Lake Baikal to do some mountain biking, before I get a train somehow to get to Mongolia where I hope to arrange a 10 day tour of the Gobi Desert where I hope to stay in local Gers with Mongolian families. At this point in time I have only booked my train tickets to Irkutsk and only the accommodation, I have a vague idea what I want to do, but I tend to leave it open so that I can change things around if I need to. I have been a little more disciplined in Russia because of the Visa restrictions and the time I am allowed in the Country so I have had to plan more than what I would expect to do once I have left Russia.

So very briefly from the beginning, once I had put my notice in I started the preparation of my trip which was not so much of a lot in reality, I applied for my Russian, Mongolian and Chinese Visa and made an outline plan of what dates I would be visiting each country. Getting the Visa was not such a big deal, I had to fill out few forms where l had to tell the embassy some ridiculous information such as:

a) What countries have you visited in the last 10 years?? - China
b) Where are you staying for your entire trip? – China/Russia
c) What provinces do you plan to visit? – China

Filling a form in isn’t difficult. However, I had to tell a few white lies when filling them in of course, as I had no idea where I was going to be in any of these places. I knew that once I had the visa I was pretty much free to do what I wanted and go where I wanted, with the notable exception of Tibet. There are some certain requirements to register your Visa once you are in Russia but in reality it reads worse than it actually is. The difficulty for the people who I have met whilst travelling has been obtaining the Visas whilst they have been abroad and they have had to visit embassies etc. I did it from the comfort of my home so there was no real inconvenience.

Whilst I was in the UK the only thing I had booked was the train out of Middlesbrough to London and from London to Cologne. This is because you can get cheaper deals when you book in advance in the UK. On the continent that’s not necessarily the case. I didn’t need to book any accommodation because in London I was staying with Mr and Mrs Kenty, and in Cologne I stayed with Sick Boy and his brother Stick Boy (aka Mark and Peter). The rest then I pretty much just made up on the run. Hostelworld.com and seat61.com have been my main sources of information, hostel world naturally to find somewhere to lay my head, and seat61 is a great website to use for how to travel in Russia and Europe by train.
Although I am pretty much planning most days on the hoof, I still have to have a vague itinerary that I am working towards, I wouldn’t need this if I didn’t have Visa restrictions, but I think once I am out of China then I will be a bit more free and may not need this anal chart.

So the chart I am using is shown below, its more comprehensive than the extract below, it helps me forecast timings and manage my budget (which I haven’t really set, I just want to be sensible). Yes, I am a weirdo, and most people I have met don’t have ‘useful’ tools like this, I guess I just like spread sheets. But as well as the blog, the spread sheet is helping me document my travels.
My Anal Chart, which actually doesnt view well on HTML,

Trains Day Date Stopover Cost (£)
Boro:London Friday 02-Sep-11 1 £65.00
London:Cologne Saturday 03-Sep-11 3 £92.50
Cologne:Berlin Tuesday 06-Sep-11 3 £26.85
Berlin:Warsaw Friday 09-Sep-11 1 £36.11
Warsaw:Vilnius Saturday 10-Sep-11 3 £24.63
Vilnius:Riga Tuesday 13-Sep-11 2
Riga:Tallinn Thursday 15-Sep-11 2 £10.00
Tallinn:St Petersberg Saturday 17-Sep-11 5 £26.85
St Petersberg:Moscow Thursday 22-Sep-11 4 £53.00
Moscow:Yekaterinburg Monday 26-Sep-11 1
Yekaterinburg Tuesday 27-Sep-11 2
Yekaterinburg:Irkutz Thursday 29-Sep-11 2
Irkutz Saturday 01-Oct-11 5
Irkutz:Ulaanbaatar Thursday 06-Oct-11 1
Ulaanbaatar Friday 07-Oct-11 14
Ulaanbaatar:Beijing Friday 21-Oct-11 1
Beijing Saturday 22-Oct-11 5
Beijing:Shanghai Thursday 27-Oct-11 14
Shanghai:Hong Kong Thursday 10-Nov-11 7
Hong Kong:Japan Thursday 17-Nov-11 21

Once I arrive at a place it is always tempting to plonk yourself in a taxi and say drive, well that is the easy way out if you know the language but since I am a REAL foreigner then I have to plan this out by using google maps, directions from the hostel website, and public transport. Being able to get your bearings in a city that you have just arrived in is difficult and I often realise how much of a vulnerable, helpless soul I am whilst I am carrying my entire 12 month existence on my back. So these of course are the times that I think I carry some risk. But I have managed so far….

When I find my accommodation then of course I want to see the city, meet new people and find out more about the place. It’s not difficult to find out information on a place and I am often surprised by how friendly people are. No sooner have I absorbed a city then I am preparing to leave and have somewhere else to go. It seems unrelenting at the moment and I feel like I have aged 5 years already!!

Being able to take breaks from travelling is important, and having the relative comfort of a home helps me recover from the manic hostel living. I have managed to take a well needed break from hostelling it by being invited to stay with Vincent, a former work friends’ son who is living out in Moscow. It has been a blessing to be with people of some familiarity and a bloody comfy couch. Vincent, Ali and Dasha have been great hosts and I owe them a lot. Ali showed me around the Kremlin, Dasha taught me what to drink to recover from acute alcohol poisoning, and Vincent taught me that tough Scots get sensitive when watching museum films about the Cold War.

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But I need another holiday and break from this relentless movement across the globe.

So in warmer climates, i.e. not Siberia or Mongolia, I will find a place preferably by the beach and stay there for a while. It tough, but I’ll be damned if Michael Palin is going to have all the fun.

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me with a gun!!

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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A not so stoney faced Russian woman...

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The Red Arrow, train from St Petersburg to Moscow

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My Catalogue Pose by St Basils nr the Kremiln

Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 09:45 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow red trip st russia planning arrow concerns checklist basils Comments (2)

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