Liou's quiet little life...or is it?

Monday, October 31, 2005

It's only now that i have found the time to write you. Have been doing a lot of things in Moscow, and the computer in the youth hostel doesn't support gmail, argh!

Took the nighttrain to Moscow, went quite alright, tried to communicate with an army pilot with which i shared the berth, as well as two other russians. Natasha's mother was so kind to pick me up from the train, at 7.00am! We left the luggage at our hostel, which left me with quite a bad 1st impression: messy, lots of beds in a small space. But actually it's quite alright, and the people are very interesting!

After this we went to the red square and the kremlin....and it was snowing!!! Complete change from S.PB. Unfortunately i was wearing my pair of shoes with holes in the soles - so I found out the hard way. It soaked up the ice-cold water which wasn't too good for the temperature of my feet. And seeing Lenin's balsemed body at 9.00am when not completely awake, was also an interesting experience :) Then I entered the Kremlin (it means fortress in Russian, this was the original city) and lost my tickets after 10 seconds. Fortunately, there was only a church open and I could enter together with a group. This was enough of Moscow and I called it a day around 15.00. Got some groceries and warmed my feet under a semi-hot shower. Instantly met very nice people, for example
- Guillaume, a french telecom engineer working at night in Moscow to replace mobile phone signal receiving equipment. He has been doing this in Africa, Sri Lanka and other countries as well for the last 5 years;
- Noriyuki, a Japanese piano student, who came to Moscow to do an entry exam at the Moscow conservatory, as his favorite piano player teachers there. Fortunately he got in!
- Daryll, working in the paper industry (The Office!!!!) and doing a week of Russia as a holiday.

Have done quite a few things in Moscow:
- seen several museums, as the Pushkin (international art) and Tretyakova. Again I was amazed by the greatness of Russian artists, who are virtually unknown and unfindable in other countries: Serov, Rublev and Repin for example.
- been to several concert. Went to the Bolshoi, famous for its ballet, but saw an opera (lady macbeth of mtensk) which was pretty horrible. Wished I had bought a ticket for the ballet, but it was sold out and didn't want to risk buying a fake or far overpriced ticket from street sellers. Yesterday and today I have been to classical concerts at the Conservatory. Saw a chamber orchestra doing Vivaldi, very nice, and today Yuri Bashmet. didn't know him, but apparently he is a world-famous violin player, and I must say the concert was absolutely incredible. Especially the 2nd part which was more contemporary and experimental. For some parts of the audience it was too progressive, but I absolutely loved it!
- Been to the market to buy woolen socks and new shoes, after my adventures! Lot of workers from Azerbadjan I would guess, pushing huge cars with goods through the market. Very different experience compared to the more European centre of the city.
- Novodechny convent, very nice compound of stunning churches (see photo below) and nice cemetery with graves of people as: Eisenstein, Krushov (former russian leader, but later disgraced because of his reforms), Gogol (writer), Tschechov (playwright).
- Went out with friend of friend (babke), Yrtsen. He is doing a PhD in quantum physics and has been living in Moscow for 2 years now. Went out with him, his girlfriend, a friend of him, and two of his female friends. I was the only one not to speak Russian, and I could only communicate with Yrtsen in Dutch. Managed to learn some russian, and we all went to a nice discotheque to celebrate halloween.
- Saturday evening at the family of Natasha. They live in a type of building called Krushowkidi, or something like that. Krushov had this type of building made to augment the amount of social housing, very typical soviet I must say. But inside was very cosy, albeit some small, especially considering three live there, and they were four before. One common room (dining, tv, books), one bedroom for the parents (which also functions as storage) and one sleeping / computer room for Natasha's sister, Katia. Natasha's father used to work as an electronic engineer for components of Soviet rockets. He wasn't allowed to get out of the country for holiday for several years after this job, because of its confidentiality!
- Today took it easy and went to VVTs, a exhibition centrum constructed by Stalin, and very impressive. Quite absurd as well, as it boasts total soviet architecture, with Indian selling audio/video electronics inside, and Kylie Minogue sounding all around the place. After this took a look at the treasury of the Kremlin with Faberge-eggs, incredible clothes (kaftans of Peter the Great, with a very distinct oriental touch and very elegant as well) and a bit too much jewellry for my taste.

Yesterday had quite an experience with the police. My passport was alright, but Guillaume had forgotten to put a stamp for the extra days he was working. We had to go along with the police to their little office inside the metro station. It even had a nice cute little prison with wooden bench! I thought he was going to have to cough some bribing money, but at the end he let us go without any problem. Still, it's a good warning you should have all your papers alright!

Tomorrow my last day in Moscow, and then I will go for 1,5 day to Soezdal. This must be a very pittoresque historical city with lots of nice churches, about 150-200 km from Moscow. And then I get back the 3rd to get the transsiberian to Irkutsk. I arrive the 7th, so don't forget to email me for my birthday, or even better sms me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Last day in St.Petersburg


Today will be the last day in St.Petersburg as I will catch the nighttrain to Moscow at 23.00. Tomorrow I will arrive there at 7.00, and Natasha's mother has been so kind to say she will pick me up. To people who don't know it yet, Natasha is a Russian friend of Arturo, a very good Mexican friend of mine. When talking with me, she said her family could help me out when I would be in Moscow. And apparently they will.

Only problem so far, is that I have quite a pain in my left foot, or to be precise the heel part of my leg. It's inflammated because of my new shoes and all the walking i did. I am going to see if I can get some cream for that, or I will be taking some good old painkillers.

Three days ago I went out with Peter, the Dutch guy selling posters I mentioned already. He met with three russian girls in a nice pub, called "dacha", the holiday house in the country a lot of people possess. Think retro wallpapers and loads of people: russian drunk men (i haven't seen people that drunk in bars actually), beautiful girls and foreigners, both pursuing specific interests. I was quite surprised at how bold russian girls were in that bar, as several approached me out of the blue. I wonder if they are just curious, see you as a potential way-out of russia, or or just good fun; maybe a combination of everything.

Two days ago I finally went to the hermitage, and it was there actually that my left foot started to hurt, around closing time. It wasn't as big as I expected it to be in terms of square meters, but it contained a hell lot of paintings! Especially the contemporary art section was truly wonderful with Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and other artists I discovered there. Too bad I have had no time to return there, but I am sure I'll go back to this city :)

That night I went and saw a concert by the Philharmonia orchestra of S.P. The first part was Chaikovsky with a truly amazing violon soloist. He was improvising so well and much, and played the whole part without a partition and his eyes closed. I have never heard anyone playing a violin that way.

That night after I went out with Peter to get some beers in a local bar.

Yesterday I made quite a big tour through S.P. seeing several cathedrals, and most interesting of all a museum about the political history of Russia. It used to be propagandistic in the soviet time (you can still see that in the decoration), but now was highly critical of it. Very educational and an intersting insight in the shortcomings of the soviet regime.

And that night I finally went to the Mariinsky, one of the most famous ballet theatres and groups in the world! The costumes were absolutely beautiful, and the dance quite exquisite. But I was a bit disappointed by the fact that it was more touristy than classy (>50% foreign public), and the ballet was not as top-notch as I would expect it to be. But after seeing ballet at the Palais Garnier in Paris, I might be spoilt :)

Today I took the opportunity to go to Peterhof, one of the imperial palaces outside the city. Too bad they close all the museums on the last Tuesday of the month, argh!!!!!!!!! Well, anyway I had a good time walking with an American hippie-woman, travelling in Europe since 2,5 years (!).
Well, I'll be off to eat and catch the nighttrain to Moscow.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

St.Peterburg continued

It is amazing how quickly you adapt yourself to a new situation and get used to a new city in this case. When I arrived, all kind of impressions struck me at the same time, but now they become less, but still interesting.

St.Petersburg is really a wonderful city, and it is truly European. There is a lot of Italian architecture as wel as Paris-like one. It is in the details (as I mentioned before) that you can encounter its socialist past. For example the communist stars in the metro stations, or the Leningrad sign outside the Moscow station.

Yesterday I went on a walking tour with a guide from S.P. and he showed us some smalll streets, alleys and backyards. Very interesting, the only downpoint being a typical american family coming along with spoilt brats shouting and driving around on their steps. The father is on a business trip to work out how the Xbox can be sold. It is officialy not available, because of the great amount of piracy, which apparently is somehow supported by the government!

The tour included an alley decorated by the world biggest Beatles and John Lennon-fan, a visit to a market full with caviar, honey and fish and an art centre accessible through a bunker door! After this I went and bought some tickets for a ballet and a concert of the Philharmonia orchestra.

The ballet wasn't quite what I expected. I based my choice on my guide, saying it was an all-male ballet performing contemporary dance. When I turned up there, the crowd was very mixed, similar to a cinema public, and the stage pretty tiny. There were about 7 dancers, and the main dancer, a lot older and quite pleased with himself; very probably the director as well. It started out with pretty amateuristic choreographies on famous classical music with a beat (think vivaldi mixed with the prodigy). There were some nice things, but I was really doubting if I came to the right place. After the break, the genre was completely different: TRANSVESTITE BALLET. Think "Priscilla, queen of the desert" meets The Lake of The Swans. All the men were dressed up as 19th century ballerinas, with make-up competing with those of drag queens. The tone was comical, performing fine ballet (the dancers are obviously classically trained) as real ballerinas would do, with exagerated gestures and eye-winking. And the crowd loved it, clapping after each performance. Well, quite an experience, and a fine contrast with the Mariinsky troupe I will see next Monday!

Today I went to the Peter&Paul fortress, which used to protect the city and the river from the Swedes. There is the church where the last tsar and his relatives are buried (after being dug up from Siberia, where they were murdered), as well as Peter the Great, the founder of the city. Next to this, an interesting museum about the lifestyle of S.P. in the 19th century, and a very cool, retro, communist cosmonaut-museum. The first complete heritage of the socialist time I have seen here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

From Russia with cold!

Finally, I found a nice internetcafe and send you some news (and life
signals) from Russia! Some people around me playing online games,
watching movies, looking at nude tabloid pictures of celebrities and
an american guy checking out the components of a Kalashnikov.

Only the 3rd day but I already feel I am in a different world.
Everything around me is written in Cyrillic, and although I have
learnt it, I can definitely not recognise the words instantly.
Actually, it is quite funny to read a word letter for letter and then
finally see it's a transcription from English - e.g. ДЖЕКПОТ -> D ZH E
K P O T -> jackpot :) Another one: ВОЯЖ -> V O YA ZH -> voyage (trip)

The trip has been going well so far. My father brought me to the
airport Tuesday morning. No problem checking in and flying out with my
Japanese passport! Found the hostel quite quickly and managed to walk
in the town. Tallinn has a very nice centre so I can definitely
recommend it. It's medieval with fortified walls, but inside you will
also find Baroque buildings. The hostel was only so so, especially
because of the goldfish-food smell in the hallways - what kind of
cleaning products do they use??? Estonian is really a difficult
language to categorize. It has definitely something nordic, because of
the rising intonations. Sometimes I found it akin to Spanish and
French. Also Russian, but that may be because people are actually
speaking Russian - 40% of the town is from Russian origin. Just next
to the hostel there are wooden houses, in the middle of the centre,
very Nordic/Baltic indeed.

Yesterday I got the bus from Tallinn to St.Peterburg. Quite an
experience, not the least because I managed to hop on 2 minutes before
it left, in Liou-style! Apparently I am quite lucky, because they keep
a list of the passengers and hand it over to the customs. So you can't
really hop on without making a reservation first. The bus itself made
some really worrying sounds, creaks which made me suspected the
gearbox needed some oils. But it seemed I was the only one to worry
about this, and the bus continued its journey without any problem. The
scenery was quite beautiful: nordic, high trees with half of their
orange and golden brownleaves. Passing the Russian border was much
easier than I had thought, it took me about 10 minutes. I insisted on
getting a special form to register my foreign currencies (euro's) -
apparently if you don't fill this in, the customs can rip you off when
leaving the country.

The difference between Russia and Estonia was quite striking: roads
were much worse, the landscape seemed more desolate and the building
were almost not maintained. This corresponds much more to my
stereotype image than St.Petersburg!

Arrived on time in the city and got my metro ride! Damn, very deep
escalators, it takes at least 5 minutes to get to the bottom floor.
Apparently built to resist nuclear attacks, although I suspect the
metro existed before the Cold War. (correction: it's built in the 50's, and it's deep because of the marshlands, but also very probably because it can be used as a shelter)

Even if I was tired, I made a hike along the Nevsky Prospekt, the
"champs-elysees" of S.P. Very nice and classy. But nothing prepared me
for the Hermitage and the Winter Palace. Large, richly decorated,
impressive, in one word: imperial! Can't wait to get inside! As the
russians do, I caught a "taxi" to get back from the hostel, that is a
russian who can't resist someone giving him breakfast or drink money -
otherwise it takes about 40 minutes to walk the whole street to my

Today, I went and saw the Russian State museum. And I must say Russian
art is to the same level as other European art. Excellent pieces:
icons, portraits, and even some fauvism & cubism, all before Social
Realism, so no Soviet propaganda.

I also booked my tickets to get my Vladivostok:
S.P. - Moscow: 25/10
Moscow - Irkutsk: departs 3/11, arrives 7/11 (my birthday!)
Irkutsk - Vladivostok: 10/11 - 13/11

Only one and a half day to spend in Vladivostok, but tickets were much
harder to get than I anticipated. So I had to reschedule my trip the
best I could.

Well, that's about it, enough stuff to read for two days I think!
Didn't meet that much people yet, apparently it's really low season.
On the Tallinn-S.P. bus I was the only non-Russian person I think!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Last day in Paris

Tomorrow is going to be my last day in Paris and I actually can't really imagine I am going to be in Russia in three days. On the other hand, I try to rationalize and think about my travel schedule. But of course, that's not going prepare me for the actual experience, luckily!

I have been seeing a lot of friends the last few days: Philippe, a child cartoon drawer, Pauline, our former neighbour in Paris and actress, Eva, my former Polish babysitter. It has been really good to see them again. This reminds me of the duality of my past life; I would spent most of my time in Holland, but occasionaly I would go to Paris and catch on with completely different people in a whole different environment. Until I would go back to Holland and would pause that parallel world. That's probably the hardest thing when living in different places; maintaining the contact with your friends while away.

That's also why I am glad to stay for a longer period in Japan. On holidays I would stay no more than two months, and now it will be at least nine. This way I can settle in and really get to know more about the culture.

Friday I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my sister, and we really liked the movie. Definitely one of Tim Burton's best movies since some time.

Well, tomorrow is going to be a busy day organizing stuff, so I'll sleep early this time...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Approximate overview trip Russia-Japan

Just a quick overview of my trip. This way you will
know more or less where I will be. It's nice to know, but might be
important in case of any irregularities in Russia. The trip is not
planned yet after Moscow, so the dates are only approximates, except for the ferry.

18 October: Paris-Tallin
19 October: Tallin-St.Petersburg
19-25 October: St.Petersburg
26 - 29 October: Moscow (ending date not sure yet)
30 - 31 October: Soezdal (not sure yet)
1 - 4 November: Transsiberian, 1st leg: Moscow - Irkutsk
4 - 7 November: Irkutsk / Listvyanka
8 - 11 November: Transsiberian, 2nd leg: Irkutsk - Vladivostok
11 - 14 November: Vladivostok
14 - 16 November: Ferry Vladivostok - Fushiki (Japan)

16 - 21 November: Uozu (grandparents)
21 - 5 December: Tokyo and around (uncle and cousins)
From 5 December: Work at Asahi Kasei, Atsugi


Friday, October 14, 2005

Musee GallieraParis.... actually a really beautiful city!! This seems silly to say from someone who spent so much time in this city. But I hadn't visited it for almost a year now, and that made me see its distinct and splendid character. As well as its stressed and polluted one btw. Beautiful buildings, grandeur, chic. And people pushing themselves through the crowd next to clochards drinking wine on doorsteps. Hmm...still wouldn't want to live here - or be it for a short while.

Only been here two days, but already lacking time. Tuesday I settled down. Now I have about 20 kg of luggage, and my back was already aching from the short distances I had to walk. This doesn't seem like a good plan for Russia! Definitively need to loose something on the way. Yesterday I took out my fantastic bike (i'll make a photo and post it) and drove to the Palais de Tokyo. Such an ugly neo-classistic 30s building it has some charm - think Soviet, Italian fascist or Nazi temple-like architecture. Lot of kids painting their own piece of art, and I had difficulty differentiating which works were theirs and which were not :)
Today I did two things. Go to an exceptional exhibition of Klimt, Schiele, Moser and Kokoshka. All painters of the Vienna Secession, an artistic group who painted around 1910-1920. Especially Schiele's fleshy portraits and other pictures full of existential angst made a great impression on me. Secondly, I searched for a nice winter coat my father would pay for me as a birthday present. I checked out various stores (Printemps, Lafayette, Dotti), and found a couple of nice models. When I came back home I described them, and my stepmother stepped out of the closet with exactly the kind of coat I wanted!! Well, that saved us some money :) Now, I can buy some new shoes instead, yeah!