The Mayan Highway (Mexico, Belize, Honduras)

I entered in to Mexico through Cancun once l left Cuba. My initial plan was to stay in Cancun but after meeting Igor in Havana, he told me to take a bus straight to Playa del Carmen which is about 40-minutes south of Cancun and l while l can’t speak about Cancun, Playa was beautiful and l fell in love very quickly. I spent 3 nights here where l stayed in the Yak hostel and joined a few of their activities including a class on how to make mojitos, which turned into more of a learn to make a mojito and then drink as much as you can with the remaining time left in the hour. While at the Yak, l saw a guy called Viktor from Sweden who l had actually met in Cienfuegos in Cuba and a Turkish-German guy by the name of Kc (pronounced Casey) who has actually been travelling for 3 years and only going home for a few months here and there.

Viktor left after my first night (remember him though), and then that was when l met Kc and we formed some laughs over the next couple of days. On the 3rd day we joined the hostel in playing volleyball but with the volunteer that was taking us to the net, not having any interest and literally walking off to go swimming, we did what we could. Here we met a beautiful Israeli girl by the name of Shani and our duo turned into a trio. We played some South American guys in a 3v3 beach football game and as we were playing for drinks, they thought they had it in the bag, however when Shani beat all 3 of them in one run, l think they became a little scared….. we won the game and they paid up.

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Playa del Carmen beach

I left Playa and headed to Tulum via a collectivo taxi, which was cheaper than the bus at only 40 pesos and once again l was on my own. I heard that Tulum beach was beautiful but also the town was close to Coba. I arrived into Tulum and realised the beach was 7kms away from the town so while l did visit it both days to have a swim, would l say it is worth it? My answer is no. My second day in Tulum l headed out to Coba which is a group of Mayan ruins, and while not on the wonders of the world list like Chicken Itza, said to be beautiful in its own way because its set more in the jungle and it is beautiful and cheaper, the only problem is the bus to Coba. It leaves at 10am and doesn’t return until 3pm and once you have spent about 2 hours at Coba (I was walking too and not cycling), you are left with a lot of time to kill and there isn’t much to do in the town. The story of the day though is once l had visited the big popular temple, l went out to the further one and not many tourists went this way so l was alone on this track and as l headed around a bend, a person was waking the other way and it could have been anyone but on second look, l couldn’t believe it but Viktor made an appearance.

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Coba’s main temple

When l first entered Mexico, l wanted a few days to relax and do nothing at all to a point where l could sleep and not be questioned why l was being so lazy. I had the opportunity to space out and do this in a town called Bacalar. Bacalar is situated about an hour north of the Mexico-Belize border and inland but is situated on a lagoon but known as the lagoon of 7 colours. To get here, you have to take a bus and ADO is the main first class bus service in Mexico. The cost is about 220 pesos. I stayed at Blue Monkey hostel which was right on the lagoon and had its own jetty so l could walk straight down in the morning and dive straight in for a morning swim, which l did take advantage of every morning. I spent 4 nights here and was the perfect time to rest. I should also mention that on my third night, Viktor made another appearance and we both stayed the final 2 nights and then headed off to Chetumal via another collectivo taxi costing 40 pesos each.

Here Viktor and l separated again as he headed onto Caye Caulker and l was staying in Chetumal for a couple of nights. I only decided to stay in Chetumal due to the sole reason that when l was in Cuba, l was speaking to an American lady who told me to visit the zoo here as it is more of an eco-zoo. On my 1 full day l had there, the owner of Downtown Hostel in Chetumal lent me his bicycle for free and l rode up to the Mayan museum which is one of the best in Mexico to learn more about the Mayan culture and life. It cost 73 pesos to enter and while it wasn’t all that big, it was still nice to see and learn a bit of world history. I moved onto the zoo after this and it looked like a rundown place from the outside. It cost me 20 pesos to enter and once you are through the front gates, its well looked after and all the animals looked happy but then again, l’m no animal expert. The camel looked like it wanted to spit on me or anyone who walked past (I say anyone because being midweek, there was about 20 people there and 2 school groups), and as l also had plenty of time looking at animals by myself, l did spend some good quality time with the monkeys trying to play games with them.

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Chetumal sign

After Mexico, I headed by bus into Belize, once again without much planned except that l wanted to take the boat from Belize to Honduras and it only runs once a week on Fridays. I had booked 2 nights in Belize City and when l arrived, it quickly dawned on me why a lot of people say not to stay in Belize City. It is not that the city is dangerous but more the fact there is literally nothing to do in the city. I met up with Viktor again (I know, it’s funny to think we didn’t plan any of this) and we both had a look around on trip advisor for what to do and when number one is a small bridge on the main road, we decided to move onto San Ignacio where we could conduct a day tour to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave or better known as the ATM cave. The tour cost $95usd ($125aud) but it was completely worth it except that we were not allowed to take cameras due to past incidents with tourists and the Mayan artifacts.

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Stock photo provided by Mayawalk tours as we were not allowed to take cameras on the tour

Viktor and l separated once more (and at time of writing, we have not crossed paths again) and l headed onto Dangriga on the coast of Belize where l was planning to take the boat from on the Friday. I was told that Dangriga is the cultural centre of Belizean music however when l arrived and l asked the information lady about where to go to experience this, she kindly informed me that is wasn’t until the weekends which wasn’t going to work for me, so l went for a walk to see all l could in Dangriga which, if you could believe this, is less than Belize City. I was the only one at my hostel for the first 2 nights which was right on the beach which could make things look up, except for the fact that the water a dirty brown colour, at least l was entertained by the local Belizean premier league football team training every night right out front my door.

Friday came and l was excited to get moving again after a couple of unexpected rest days. I walked onto the jetty as where l was instructed to get the boat from however was turned around by a bus driver telling me l was in the wrong location. Walk back a different direction for 15 minutes before l find a travel agent to get clarification, turns out l was in the right place to start with. The boat arrived and once l had paid for my ticket, $67.50usd ($89aud) one way which includes departure tax from Belize, the rough sea crossing to Honduras began.

I arrived in Puerto Cortes, which is the major port town of Honduras, where l experienced a rude start to a new country. I was highly ripped off by the money exchange man and then being no other taxi service around (I needed to take one to the local bus station) l used the same company the guy works for and his friend would stop at a bank for me, but when the first ATM didn’t work, he took me to another 2 and charged me an extra 50 Lempira (). It doesn’t seem like much, but in central America and being a budget backpacker, then that could mean money towards a whole meal. I was shoved onto a local bus to take me into San Pedro Sula where l planned to stay a couple of nights and while the city was large, it didn’t have all that much to do either while it is also known to be one of the most dangerous cities in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, it had a vibe of everyone was watching you.

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The ‘international’ jetty to Honduras

I spent 2 nights in San Pedro and then took the long slow bus journey down to Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua to visit Gabriela who is a friend l met in Myanmar and then onto the rest of the country which will be in the following blog.

Below is the ferry option to Honduras. Note before, the times have changed and it actually arrives in Dangriga at 11am with arrival time in Honduras around 4pm. Starla ferry is the company and they do have a website.

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Cuban Delights

Everything you know about Cuba, forget it.

If you have read any of my other blogs, you will understand that I have a motto, that if anything can go wrong, it will and the start of my journey into Cuba was no exception. As mentioned in my last blog, I arrived very early back into Nassau and after I waited until McDonalds had opened for breakfast, I headed to the airport to wait 10 hours until my flight into Cuba on Cubana Air. I knew before this time, that the airline had already delayed my flight until 7pm however I had a feeling I should just jump back online and re-check my booking. It’s a good thing I did, as my flight had actually been moved and the new date was for 2 days later!

I’m not going to lie and my stress levels went through the roof. I asked a lady for help and she said she would be right back. 2 hours later and she hadn’t returned so I found another person who gave me a Bahamas number for Cubana Air rep, who I called and explained my situation. He was able to get me on a new flight with American Airlines through Miami into Havana which had me settled, but of course, the problems didn’t finish there. I arrived in Miami thinking everything would be fine but when I went to board the plane, I was informed that the tourist card I had originally acquired while in London was only good flying from any other country from America and besides all my arguing that I was only re-routed through America because my original flight was cancelled, the lady didn’t care and said I had to purchase a new visa (apparently a special one) that you need if coming from America and I wouldn’t be boarding the flight without it. The cost was an additional $100usd.

Ok, so I’m now in Cuba and finally rejoicing that I made it but still the problems continued. I had to wait an hour and a half for my bag to show up at baggage collection and then without realising that Citibank is an American bank, my card wouldn’t work and I had no access to any of my money so all l had on me was $12usd which I changed for an amazing $10.45cuc. Just to be clear Cuba has 2 currencies 1 is cuc which is the same as usd and the other is peso which is about 1usd to 24peso. I met a girl at the airport who I shared a taxi with into the city and she was awesome enough to trust me to Paypal her my half when I could and let me keep my 10.45 so I could eat.

I checked into my hostel and Enzo, the owner, was just as awesome and understanding and even lent me 20cuc until I could get money which would come in the form of some life saving from the parents to my Australian account. If you are wondering why didn’t I just Internet transfer the money back to my other account, well Cuba is very behind with internet and is not very good at the best of times and besides, Citibank’s website was blocked from within Cuba.

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I just had to get a photo of Cuba street in Cuba

I spent the first and second day of my time in Havana walking around the old town and checking out all the sites and taking what I would consider ‘me being artistic’ photos with Julia and Charlie who I had met around the hostel. On the third day, I decided to head onto a town called Cienfuegos which is south of Havana. I traveled to this town via local trucks that are converted into bus style vehicles and after a hour waiting on the side of the road and a bit of hitchhiking for the remainder 65kms.

I found accommodation in a little place on the Main Street for $15cuc a night in basic private room and when I say basic, it didn’t even have a toilet seat. I spent the next day walking around town and the plan was to head out a waterfall called El Nicho however like nearly every country I have traveled too, the taxi drivers want more money than it is worth so that idea came to a quick stop, where instead I took a day to relax and just walk around the city with a friend I met in Havana who happened to be here at the same time. A cheap place to eat in Cienfuegos is Restaurante Las Mamparas. It is on the main street and head to the back of the menu for the cheap set menus.

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Cienfuegos sunset

I left Cienfuegos via a collective taxi, a collective taxi is when they put everyone they can find into a car a drive you to your destination, which cost me 20cuc for a door to door service (the bus cost 18cuc and is not door to door). The plan was to kill a night back in Havana before I headed onto Vinales which all worked out fine except that I arrived nice and early back in Havana so I could have easily headed onto Vinales that day.

Collective taxi was again the choice for the following morning to get to Vinales and this time costing me $3 more than the bus for $15cuc and also part reason it decided to rain on the way to the trucks. Vinales in the providence of Pinar del rio is the main tobacco growing region in Cuba. They do not roll the cigars here but only grow the leaves. I didn’t have accommodation booked in Vinales, so the plan was to walk around to find a casa. The cheapest I could find was $25cuc but with a little negotiating, I managed to get a room for $20cuc a night which was great except for some minor flooding in the bathroom. I spent the first day walking around the city, which there isn’t much to see. The next day, I met up with Esther who I met on Couchsurfing and we spent the day visiting anything in walking distance or at least what we thought. Our first stop was a tobacco plantation where we were told there was a mural painting on a wall but the tourist information lady actually meant it was not there and further so we started the walk which was going to be 5kms each way however at the plantation we asked a danish tour guide where it was and on our walk, she stopped the bus and gave us a lift to the painting and to the best, as described by everyone in the region, Pina Coladas in all of Cuba.

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The pre-historic mural painting

On the way back, we were offered a horse cart back to town for $5cuc but unfortunately Esther misheard and gave the man $10cuc  and it came by chance that I came across Monica, another friend from Havana, int he centre of town. She joined us and we walked down some back roads towards a cigar factory and we were offered a horse riding tour of about 4 hours for $10cuc (in town, most places will ask $20cuc. I have added a picture below with a pointer on a map where you can find this tour). We accepted to do the tour the next day and the cigar factory was not that exciting as it turned out, it was a leaf preparing place before they were sent to Havana to be rolled.

My final day in Vinales and the 3 of us went on the horse riding tour where we visited a tobacco plantation and was shown every process from growing the tobacco to how cigars were rolled (the place even gave us a free cigar each and offered us a mojito for $3cuc which I happily accepted), a Cuban coffee plantation and a walk in a cave where they charged us $2cuc each to guide us through and tell us that a rock looked like different animals. During the ride, Monica’s horse showed to me why it should be number 1 and as it raced to pass my horse, it lashed out and kicked my horse with my leg in the way. I was lucky to walk away with minor damage because she was riding one big horse.

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Tobacco plantation half picked

The final 2 days I spent back in Havana given that 1 of the days was a bus travel day before my flight into Cancun, Mexico and the rest of Central America.

Tips:

  • First and foremost, you will read most places on the internet saying that the local pesos can not be used by tourists. That is a lie as you can pay for everything in local money and the only things that really accept only cuc from tourists is accommodation, taxis and any special tours.
  • In Havana, anything you do in the old town will be considerably more expensive than the outer suburbs.
  • Internet access. When you find a wifi zone, there will be a booth where you can buy access cards for 1 hour up to 5 hours or as I did, there will be men around with there own modem box in a backpack who will sign you in to those wifi for 1 hour for $1cuc. I found it generally works better in the evening/night.

You do not need to pre-book most accommodation. There is a lot of choices throughout every city and generally you can just turn up to find a place. Depending what time you turn up, booking the first place in Havana wouldn’t hurt but one guy I met, turned up to find his hostel was actually closed.

Below l have placed the map location of the $10 horse riding tour location and the cheap place to eat in Vinales. The red markers are the locations and the green one is the main square of town. Both map screenshots are off maps.me app for accurate positioning.

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The red marker is where you will find the cheap horse riding. Jorge luis (l believe was the mans name).

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Once again, red marker is the restaurant (the bar across the street you can buy $1 beers and is also a wifi zone)

Bahamian love

The Bahamas. A country of overs 700 islands and cays, which they will constantly remind you about and a currency that is 1 for 1 with the US dollar and quite expensive as everything has to be imported in from the USA.

I flew in Nassau, which is the capital of the Bahamas, without anything booked other than my first couple of nights’ accommodation, a flight out and a plan to visit the swimming pigs. I flew in with Bahamas air and even though the flight is only 45-minutes, if you have a bottom that is bigger than a small child, there is a good chance you will not fit in the seats properly.

Once l had landed, there were only taxis from the airport (which l have later found out that there is a bus, but they are not allowed on airport property) and had to bargain to get a $20 ride into town as my accommodation or more-so tent in the front yard of an Airbnb hosts property, would not be ready until 3pm…. I arrived at 9am.

I proceeded to head to the ferry terminal as l was told the cheapest way around to other islands, to which l found a ferry that worked a very tight schedule to me but would work for $70 each way in an overnight journey which would save me some money each way on accommodation. I headed back into town and found a bar to sit and relax until 3pm and with $3.23 local beers, it made the afternoon fly by all that little bit quicker. I headed onto my Airbnb or should l say tent after another taxi ride which l paid $15 for but was later advised it should have been $10 and worked out my plan for the remainder day of my stay.

There is a bus system in Nassau which is not properly signed anywhere you go and you just have to ask around for where they pick up in downtown, however each bus is $1.25 for any trip and no matter what, every bus goes to downtown during its route. I spent my second day walking around downtown checking out the city but as l was being strict on my budget, l couldn’t enter any museums. I did spend some money however on a conch salad, which is a fresh made salad with conch (a sea creature kind of like a mussel), and a highly praised local dish which also acts as an aphrodisiac for me.

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Sunset from the overnight ferry to Exuma

Day 3 and l was off on my ferry to Great Exuma island with is one of the southern major islands with its main city being Georgetown. My ferry was a basic main cabin shared with locals as it was actually a freight ship and the beds l was told about, well they came in the form of 3 seats next to each other which it was possible to lie down on. The ride took 12 hours which was 2 hours faster than expected even though we were hitting 3 to 4 meter swell and the boat was moving all over with a lot of people falling sick. My Airbnb hosts, Mel and Freddie, on Exuma had kindly offered to pick me up, so l had to wait around for the next 2.5 hours for my ride but was worth it as Freddie proceeded to show me all the main parts of Georgetown so l couldn’t get lost.

I spent my first day walking around Georgetown, checking out the sites to see, the crystal clear blue water that is actually real and not just a photoshop trick in the magazines and sampling some local cooking at the local fish fry. What is a fish fry? It is a series of little shacks set up on the water where the locals consider the real food of the Bahamas is cooked and served. Each island has their own fish fry district and is usually cheaper than any restaurants.

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View from my Airbnb in Exuma

Day 2 of Exuma was the main reason l decided to head into the Bahamas in the first place. I had booked a tour with Exuma water tours to take me to the famous swimming pigs. The tour started with a sightseeing section of expensive private islands like the one owned by  and Tim Mcgraw/Faith Hill’s private island. Our first stop was off at a cave we had to swim to get in to which was close to a sunken drug plane, followed by the pigs. This is a sight to see, the story is that they were shipwrecked on the island and they survived by learning to swim which now they are now protected by the government. We then moved onto swimming with a sandbar, nurse sharks, lunch and a visit to the endanged rock iguanas of the Bahamas. The tour cost me $200USD but the day was worth every cent.

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Pig Beach

The following day, l headed back to Nassau in the afternoon, again by overnight ferry that was a smoother ride than the first one and onto the airport for my flight to Cuba.

Tips:

  • The bus from the airport is 12b. You might have to wait 30-minutes but the bus will come despite what all the people like taxi drivers say at the airport. To catch the bus, walk to the far left of the terminals and walk down the road to the roundabout out front, wait on the side of the road and hail the bus when it comes. To return to the airport, the bus leaves from McDonalds in downtown. Its across from the Hilton hotel. A taxi will cost about $25 for the same journey.
  • Each bus ride will cost $1.25 no matter how far you go and every bus route will go via downtown in its route.
  • There is another version of the Fish fry in Nassau at the ferry boat terminal which is not as nice as it looks like a back street but the food is still fresh and the people are all friendly
  • Mail boats. These exist as the cheapest option in The Bahamas to travel around, however they run on a very loose schedule and to book a ticket, you can speak to a captain or the company of the mail boat. The offices are not open on Saturday or Sunday.
  • Buy sunscreen or anything you can from America/home country before entering the Bahamas. As mentioned, it is expensive and sunscreen cost me $15 for a bottle.
  • The ferry company l travelled with was Bahamas Ferries and while they told me the journey will take 14 hours, both way was only 12 hours so be prepared for an early morning arrival. There is basic food and drink available for purchase on the ferry.
  • Tiki Bikini is a bar you will want to visit if you would like to have a drink. For $10, you can get 4 beers and 4 shots.
  • Bus 11 or 1 will take you from downtown to the ferry terminal.
  • You must try the Soda Goombay. It’s a pineapple soda and very delicious.

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A small train ride from Mongolia to St Petersburg

Yes, the heading is a joke because it isn’t a small train ride but if you haven’t worked it out yet, l was on the trans-mongolian train. It is the same as the trans-siberian and the only difference it the direction the train changes at Irkutsk.

Train Leg 1:

I had a late train out on Mongolia at 8:50pm on the 4th November to head to Irkutsk in Russia. I had a 2nd class cabin booked for this leg, which l found out later you can only take 2nd class (middle option) as there is no 3rd class option (the lowest) out of Mongolia. I shared my cabin with 2 ladies from Norway who had just been working in China for the last 3 months and were excited to be going home to their own beds which l had to laugh about and then sadly think about the comfort of my own bed after being away for so long. The train ride was straight forward but was going to take 1 and a half days to get to Irkutsk mainly with a lot of the hours being spent at the border crossing. Our border crossing took combined about 10 hours.

We arrived at the Mongolian border side at about 4am and had to wait until 9am for customs, so when l got off the train was quite unusual to see our carriage sitting alone with no engine or other carriages hooked up. The reason was simply they only needed one carriage to take across the border and a Russian engine must come pick up the carriage. We were cleared by customs at about 10:30am and we were off again for the next 30 minutes where we stopped again and this time for the Russian border control to inspect everything and they are stricter than the Mongolians, this time having dogs and photography equipment on the train to see who is who. We then left and headed for Irkutsk.

Irkutsk: A small town situated on the east side of Russia in Siberia. It is located next to the biggest lake in Russia called Lake Bikal which everyone mainly visits the city for the lake… except me. I booked only 1 night in the town and didn’t have much time to get out and see the lake so l decided to spend my time in town and experience Russia for the first time. The city alone is beautiful and it offers some nice churches and a tourist route they call the green line. The green line is a painted line on the footpath that takes you around to all the main sights of the town. I spent some time in an art museum of a famous Russian artist however l can’t remember his name. I struggled to find any places that serve traditional Russian food in town and there is no night life however l wouldn’t have been able to talk to anyone due to the fact in Siberia, not many people speak English.

Tips:

  • I was told the time to visit Lake Bikal (if you don’t go in summer) is in March when it is completely frozen over and you can ice-skate and conduct other activities on it.
  • I bought a sim card in Irkutsk for the whole country for 300rub ($6aud) which was unlimited data

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one of the mainchurches in Irkutsk

Train Leg 2: My first 3rd class experience. The carriage is open beds and each carriage holds 52 people but you only get 2 power sockets per carriage, but 2 toilets and a hot water urn for your beloved minute noodles that will become your diet for any leg of the trains. Here l was offered vodka by a local for the first time and this was more than once while he tried to explain to the young Russian lady next to him that l am Australian. That was about as exciting as this leg became except for when l went to sleep l had every bed around me full, however when l woke, l had 1 lady left. It seems everyone just disappeared overnight, don’t worry, they didn’t, they just departed at a stop earlier in the morning. This trip again was approximately another 36 hour ride.

Novosibirsk: My next stop along the route was here in bigger than Irkutsk yet still a smaller city than most Novosibirsk. Everything that you would most likely want to see in the city is situated along the main road or if not, then most likely a maximum 10-minute walk off it. The town has a famous arts centre with a square in front of it named after Lenin, a central park of its own where the fountains would most likely be turned on in the summer however most days that l was there, the temperature was an average -15 degrees Celsius. The city also has a main church like all the other cities of Russia, apologies as l cannot remember the name but l couldn’t visit it anyway due to it being completely locked up while l was there. One place l do recommend for a drink and a good night is Truba jazz bar. Cheap beers and good music to relax to out of the cold, they also serve food which l was told by the other hostel people l went with that it was tasty. I met some of the most genuine people throughout Siberia, for example when l ordered a taxi from the hostel to the train station, it turned up 5 minutes late and the reception guy paid for my taxi, given the cost wasn’t much but the thought and offer was a pleasure.

Tips:

  • Be careful in Novosibirsk, because l accounted one place at dinner where the place had no English translation and the man charged me extra because he knew l couldn’t put the right price to things on the board. How did l work it out? Russian keyboard on my phone + matching letters + google translate = answers

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Lenin Square in Novosibirsk

Train leg 3: This time the train ride was shorter at only approximately 15 hours, it was a nice change. I had booked 3rd class again which was empty until about 1am when we stopped at Perm and what seemed like a million-people piled onto the train but the worst thing about it was the noise from people getting on but when you book 3rd class, you really can’t be picky. There wasn’t much else about this train ride except the start. I arrived at Novosibirsk with what l thought was enough time to get onto the train, but without making it to obvious, the train terminal you arrive at it different to the one you get the long-distance trains from. The other terminal is only about 200m away but they don’t make it an obvious thing.

Yekaterinburg: One of the largest cities in Russia outside of the obvious Moscow and St Petersburg and situated close to the border of Asia and Europe. This city was one of my favourite stops and l personally would have liked to stay an extra day. I arrived around midday and decided to get some washing done which wasn’t dry by the time l went out and when you’re in -15 Siberia, it isn’t that much fun having damp pants. My first night l went to a Kontinental hockey game (KHL) as it was a recommend one thing l must do while in Russia.

The journey there was easy and while google maps was helping the conductor lady on the tram was persistent and wasn’t going to let me walk to the arena by myself, so for the next 20-minute journey, she walked up and down the train trying to find someone to walk with me so l didn’t get lost. She found one lady who could speak a little bit of English and she was lovely too as she was going to wait with me at the ticket line to help with translation but l didn’t want to hold her up from her husband and told her l could manage. I don’t know the rules however their l am, sitting in the cheapest seats for 250rub ($5.50aud) googling the rules, l gradually picked up on what was happening. Getting home, l decided to get an Uber as the temperatures were dropping fast and my phone only had 40% battery which l thought would be enough but it was that cold that my phone was using more battery to keep warm and l was losing about 5% every 5 or so minutes.

Day 2 I went for a walk around town and started with the Boris Yeltsin museum in the Boris Yeltsin centre (Yekaterinburg is the home town of Boris), which l highly recommend to anyone to go see as it’s in both English and Russian and it was a great insight to the country’s history. I proceeded into town, visited downtown, Dr Scotch pub (which is a Scottish pub but was recommended on lonely planet for some unknown reason as it is just a pub), the Beatles monument (they never visited the city but it has 3 whole walls dedicated to them), the largest tower in Yekaterinburg that you can go to the top for 360 degree views and the famous cathedral called Church on the Blood where it known that a Tsar royal family was executed.

As l said, l had run out of time, but there are a few more things you can see in the area like a monument about 12kms out of the city marking the border of Asia and Europe.

Tips:

  • The tower cost 300rub to go up and while it does get you entry into a museum in the tower as well, it’s all in Russian so there wasn’t much point
  • There is a red walking line in the city that you can follow and to get more information, stop by the information centre where the lady piled me up with more maps and books l could possibly carry.

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Church on the blood – Yekaterinburg

Train Leg 4: The best train leg of my journey without any challenge. I hopped onto the train at 6:30am and this time l had booked 2nd class for the 24-hour journey to Vladimir. I accidentally woke the one of man up in my 4-person cabin but he wasn’t worried and went to the bathroom, so while he was gone, l unpacked and put my cup on the table, he came back, saw my cup and proceeded to reach behind his pillow, pull out vodka and pour it into my cup. He didn’t speak much English so for the next 8 hours we had a very broken conversation, but l found out he was a hunter and he had me try some salty pork he had killed and cured himself, oh and about another 10 shots of vodka. I thought he had run out about 5 shots in between us but he had a new bottle sitting in his bag. Another man joined our cabin later in the day who could speak English and he translated between us where they asked me questions about if l liked Russia and the unusual one for me if l preferred Trump or Clinton.

We bought some beer at our next major stop and snacks to share and by the time l went to sleep, l was in a very happy place (thank you vodka!). I departed the train early the next morning and was a little sad not to continue along to Moscow.

Vladimir: A very small town situated about 4 hours outside Moscow. You can complete seeing this town in half a day and l only stopped here to see another town and break up the train ride. They town does consist of a main gate that is the centre attraction of the city and a nice church but you must go in the morning otherwise it will be closed.

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Vladimir

Train Leg 5: 4 hours outside of Moscow and was still offered sheets and my own bed space but didn’t need them as l was going to stay awake and take in the final leg of my train ride.

Moscow: I was excited to be here, while the train ride was a great adventure, l could place my bags down for more than 2 days in a row and have a rest. The first night l visited Red Square where the Kremlin is located along with St Basils Cathedral (even though l thought it was in St Petersburg). A walk around the Kremlin walls is possible and you will find the tomb of the unknown soldier which is guarded all year round no matter what temperatures hit Moscow.

Over the next few days’ l visited the Kremlin and the cathedrals inside the grounds plus the armoury which l highly recommend as it is Russia’s biggest collection of gold, silver and items gifted to them over the centuries. It cost 700rub ($14.5aud) but it also comes with a free audio guide so you know what is going on inside but doesn’t include entry to the cathedrals but you walk into them and sometimes the ladies employed to check tickets don’t care so l got to visit a couple of them. I also went to another KHL hockey game, this time to watch CSKA Moscow with 2 kiwis and as they had no idea what was happening, l was more the expert now so l could tell them what was going on and tried to find a bar to have a drink which l found some trendy places that charged 300rub for a simple corona however l did manage to find a bar that served 500ml local craft beers for 190rub ($4aud). Mostly everything in Moscow is located around Red Square and 4 days’ l found where probably too long but everything is my own opinion.

Tips:

  • The metro is Moscow is brilliant and it costs 50rub ($1aud) per ticket to get you anywhere in the city)
  • Moscow is a little like Sydney where it is confusing roads in every direction and navigating can be difficult so if you don’t have a sim card, l recommend leaving Red Square the way you came in otherwise you could think you are walking in the right direction but 30-minutes later be further away than what you started.

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Tsar cannon inside the Kremiln grounds

St Petersburg: My last stop in Russia and the one city l was most excited for. I flew this time from Moscow as l managed to get a ticket for 30euros ($42.50aud). I stayed here for 5 nights which seemed about the correct amount of time. The first night, l went and watched a Zenit St Petersburg Russian Premier league game and bought the ticket for 400rub of a man out front selling his friends membership card for the game and l just handed it back to him once l was in the stadium. Day 2, I visited the Hermitage museum which is ranked in the top 5 largest museums of the world and the price to enter is 600rub but once again a local man approached me and sole me a ticket for 400rub because locals get local price. The Hermitage is nice but l felt that l had seen a lot of it in the Louvre and probably didn’t get a much enjoyment out of it as everyone else.

Over the next few days’ l went on the free walking tour offered in the city which l highly recommend, went to a soviet donut café as their recipe is different to what l was expecting and they are delicious, visited a soviet arcade game museum where most of the machines still work and you can play them.

Tips:

  • The metro is Moscow is brilliant and it costs 35rub ($0.72aud) per token to get you anywhere in the city)
  • It didn’t happen to me, but about 1am in the morning, the bridges over all the islands in StP open so make sure you are on the correct side of them.

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St Issacs in St Petersburg

I stayed in hostels all the way through-out Russia and have reviewed all of them through the website below.

Irkustk – Ushanka Hostel

Novosibirsk – FunKey Hostel

Yekaterinburg – Hostel R.E.D.

Vladimir – Dostoyevsky Hostel

Moscow – Fasol Hostel

St Petersburg – Soul Kitchen

For more photos, please head to instagram and follow theworldaccordingtoaginger