The train from Irkutsk to Moscow chugs along for more than four days through the Russian countryside and we were going a little crazy by the time we finally arrived. Three bottles of vodka and countless games of cards were all we had to stay amused during the long days. Snow lined the streets and well dressed women with stilettos and stoney faces marched past us as we exited the station in Moscow. We checked into Godzillas hostel at five am and caught up on the Winter Games while we waited for the city to wake up. Nothing opens early in Russia and everyone stays up late so it was eight before we could find some food. After meeting our latest honchos (two typically beautiful Russian Uni students) we set out for the Kremlin, the Armoury and Red Square. We spent a good deal of time at the Armoury checking out the Tsars' sweet rides - giant gold covered carriages and sleighs. It turns out Catherine the Great and Anna I were both fond of toy boys and opulent transport. St Basil's Cathedral and The Church of Christ the Saviour were pretty incredible but the 98 metre high monument to Peter the Great sitting on the edge of the frozen Moscow river was insane. The best bit is many locals think it looks too much like Columbus and actually hate it. Uncle Lenin's mausoleum was also on the agenda but we had to wait a couple of days before he was seeing visitors. On our last night our honchos led us with all our gear up a snow covered hill to the lookout over the city. Some of us were a little dark by the time we made it to the top but the view was worth it. You can see all seven of Stalin's skyscrapers including the university which was lit up like a bad-ass Soviet Christmas Tree.
We took an overnight express to St Petersburg and woke up to sleet and the strangest hostel I've ever been to. The permanent residents sleep on the floor in the lounge and breakfast required a fight to the death to get milk for your cornflakes - great location though. The city was built on a wasteland by Peter the Great when he decided to move the capital there in 1703 and every second building is either a palace, castle or museum. Our last honcho was a Russian, German and English interpreter with amazing knowledge of the city and Russian history. It was always going to be a museum tour with the Hermitage and also the Russian museum but both were pretty up there on the epic art scale - just a little Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Picasso and Van Gogh. The Winter Palace was worth the visit by itself with dozens of palace rooms still done up as the Romanovs had them. We went to one amazing restaurant after another with Italian, French and Japanese being the local favourites. The bars also didn't disappoint as we got to know some of the Russian brews and enjoyed a little more vodka. On our second day Vladimir took us to see a 100 year old Russian ice breaker. The place was in upheaval with cleaning and touch ups as we found that Princess Anne was due to tour the boat. Too many good memories to list - will definitely be back here again. Unfortunately this was also the end of Vodkatrain and we parted ways with two of the three Aussies we had been travelling with. Kiah, who is far more attached, is now following us to Berlin and Amsterdam.
Rachael and Jeremy