What an early start on the train. 6.30am and the train pulls into St Petersburg on time. Our mini bus is waiting and we pile in with all our luggage. I think the driver is very surprised at the amount of bags we have. After check in we are allowed to have breakfast in the hotel and then venture forth to explore this wonderful City.
As we stroll along Nevski Prospect we decide to try the Hop on Hop off bus. Its very cold so we are glad its not open topped. English media to help us along and we pinpoint the main places we want to see, including shops!
By the time the tour has finished it is time for lunch. A Burger Bar? Why not. Not what we were expecting as its very good food and very fast. Jenny and Helen want to go to the famous book shop on Nevski Prospect. It really is quite something with books in all languages as well as sweets and chocolate and souvenirs. Just down the road is The Church of the Spilled Blood. a must see, so off we go along the canal. Its very picturesque and we eye up the boats with a view to having a cruise tomorrow. The church is massive and packed from floor to ceiling with painted walls. It feels very serene. As we leave the Church we head for the market stalls along the canal bank and yes you guessed it. More shopping. We are going to need extra bags with the amount of shopping we are doing. We have walked about 15 kilometers today so we are going to arrive home fit but tired. Dinner in the hotel and off to bed to get a good nights sleep.
It.s the Faberge Museum today which is just across the river so it.s not a long walk. Words can't describe the splendor of this place and the beauty of the exhibits. I could stay here for hours just looking at the eggs. A quick coffee in the Faberge coffee shop and we make our way back to the markets to finish off some shopping. Lunch in a very up market restaurant which was fab.
What next? Oh yes a Canal Cruise, Jenny barters a children's rate for us, after all, we are still children at heart. Its very relaxed with the option for coffee and cake. The Guide suddenly produces English ear phones and this makes it much better to understand. The Canal leads out into the Neva River which is very wide and very deep in places. We see the Peter and Paul Fortress and learn about it's history, but we have decided not to visit as we all want to see the Hermitage tomorrow and there would not be enough time. Too soon we are back at the Quayside and look- there's a Sweet shop. Yes, you guessed it. More shopping
Our evening meal takes us to a Georgian Restaurant just along the road. Very different food from what we have experienced so far. Another busy day so we head back to the hotel. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Our third overnight train journey over, we were glad to see Alexander, our tour guide, waiting on the platform to help us with our luggage and to find the minibus to take us to our hotel in Moscow, giving us just enough time to drop off our luggage before setting straight out on our tour of Moscow. Thankfully, being Saturday morning, we didn't have to face the traffic jams that we experienced when we arrived just two weeks ago! Plenty to see and so much history to take in; amazing architecture architecture, plenty of photo opportunities. Our mini bus driver dropped us off by the Cathedral of Christ Our Saviour. A fascinating history of a grand building which appeared to be well established but in fact wasn't completed until 1997. Built on the site of an earlier, smaller church, I preferred the smaller more personal Church rather than the opulent newer Cathedral.
By this time Alexander could see we were all flagging, so off to the food hall for pancakes - what a choice, 8 different fillings between us, 4 savoury, 4 sweet - these didn't last long!
Next off for the tour of some of the famous underground stations of Moscow. These vast caverns, each one decorated in a different style , so ornate, plenty more photo opportunities!
Finally time to say goodbye to Alexander and for the first time since we arrived in Russia were were on our own, no one to tell us where we needed to be and when - could we manage this? of course, We're all members of Trefoil Guild!
Woke up to a bright and sunny day, not realising there had been a (very) light fall of snow over night. Not enough to build a snowman, though Audrey managed to make a snowball, as Jenny can confirm!
So today we've decided to visit the Kremlin. First stop the Metro and to buy our multi ticket for the 8 of us. The lady sitting under the'We Speak English' sign could not understand the difference between 16 and 60, so you can guess which car we ended up with! No problem, we just have the potential to visit almost every Metro station in the next 36 hours. Thankfully the card is very good value and a great way to travel.
First stop St Basil's Cathedral, where Helen made her Trefoil Guild promise, what a memorable experience. From there we headed off to buy our tickets for the visit to the Kremlin and the Armoury, while four of our group stopped to visit it Lenin's tomb of the way.The cathedrals inside the Kremlin wall are beautiful, the wall paintings all so different, The Armoury to me seems to be a bit of a misnomer, with so many stunning artefacts, beautiful gowns and outfits, thrones and carriages, impossible to take it all in.
After all this culture, we decided to visit GUM, the famous 19th century shopping mall, once the largest in Europe, for a chance to rest our feet and enjoy an (non-alcoholic) drink. Our day took a downturn from here when one of our group discovered that her purse had been taken from her bag. Straight back to our hotel at this point to make sure bank cards had been cancelled.
Walking back to the hotel after dinner, snow was falling which lifted spirits again.
Early start as we were wanting to make sure we could get places on the English speaking tour of the Bolshoi Theatre. Arrived at the theatre doors at 10 am for the 11.15 tour, relieved to be given green wristbands to fast track us to the head of the queue. Such a beautiful building, only wish we could have seen a performance as well.
Later we explored St Basil's Cathedral where we heard 4 Russian men singing a capella singing in one of the chapels - magical.
After a walk down Arbatskaya we headed back to our hotel for our last dinner in Moscow before catching the overnight train to Moscow.
Da svidaniya Moskva!
Thursday 19th October
We went on an excursion to Sviyajsk Island by minibus, with Space Scouts George and Anne and our guide, Gary. Unfortunately we got pulled over by the police and the driver was missing a vital piece of paper (the 5 documents he had weren't sufficient), so he had to get his boss to come out with the right one. We waited for 40 minutes, but eventually got on our way. It was very cold and windy on the island. There was our first mention of Stalin, as the monastery had been used as a labour camp, and there was a memorial to the victims of Stalin. It was quite odd, there are statues of Lenin all over, but Stalin doesn't get mentioned. We couldn't see inside the monastery as it was shut for renovation, but we did get to see 3 churches from outside - a wooden one, a stone one, and a brick one. We got to go inside the brick one, which was covered in icons. We had lunch - noodle soup, salad, meat triangles and apple pie. We got back to School 33, where we were greeted by children in dress, and got the tour of the school. Then we had a meeting with teachers, talking about Scouting/Guiding and introduced them to various games which encouraged teamwork.
Jenny and I went with Aida to the 'Leader of the Year' ceremony which was out in the middle of nowhere. We did start wondering if Aida was going to blindfold us, tie us to a tree and let us make our own way home...(as her scouts do for a badge!) One of Aida's scouts, Nastya, who had translated for us earlier in the week was taking part in the competition, and this was the launch event. There were songs and dances in Russian, then Jenny had to make a speech encouraging people to be helpful even after the awards were over (the award is for self-presentation and for doing a community project).
Friday 20th October
We were met off the train in Bugulma by Ramilya who is the Scout leader and Lily who was interpreting. We took taxis to the Hotel Plazma and although it was still very early in the morning, we were able to check in and settle into our rooms. The first meal of the day arrived - continental breakfast.
We walked to School 3 which was nearby and were welcomed by some of the English teachers. After dropping off our bags, we were taken to the canteen for breakfast! The fruit salad was very refreshing but it was swiftly followed by a bowl of porridge and then an omelette. There were also other cakes, chocolates, fruit and of course tea. Little did we know that there was much more food to follow throughout the day!
Next we were taken to a very impressive assembly hall full of teachers and senior pupils and were sat at a desk with microphones. We introduced ourselves and then answered a range of questions with Lily interpreting. Helen and Hamish were interviewed by the local newspaper. The pupils left and we did some activities with the teachers. We told them a bit about Scouting, played some games and did some craft. After this we were taken on a tour of the school and met some of the Scouts who asked us some more questions. We sang some songs before it was time to return to the canteen for lunch.
Lunch was another huge meal starting with noodle soup, followed by sweet and savoury dishes and tea.
In the afternoon we were taken by minibus to Karabeche. We visited the war memorial. the sports centre and a recreation area beside a reservoir. What was waiting for us there but afternoon tea! There was the usual spread of sweet and savoury dishes and tea served from a samovar. We made a valiant job of eating as much as we could but it was all getting a bit too much! We went for a walk along the shore and the scenery was lovely.
We then visited Karabeche school where we were greeted by children in national costume. We watched a display of singing and dancing which was excellent and then did some games and singing with the teachers. We had a tour of the school and visited their museums before ending up in the canteen for tea. Yes - it was the usual spread but this time we had a special treat - balish which is a big round pie filled with potatoes, onions and beef. No one could face eating this so Ramilya took it home for her husband who was delighted.
Finally we were driven back to the hotel where we were all ready for an early night after our overnight train journey and a very busy day!
Sunday morning dawned but no lie in for us- we were being picked up from the hotel at 9.am to travel to our first training in Ufa. A short walk to the bus stop then a short ride to the Orbit Youth centre. Nervous anticipation was running through the group and by 10.30 scouts were arriving for the 11.am session. Orienteering, games, discussions on the promise as well as a bin bag fashion parade were some of the activities for the children. Our afternoon session was for leaders in scouting so we changed some activities to enable them to consider how they could use the activities in their units.
At the end of the day we were given Tea with a variety of sweet cakes, biscuits and black tea to drink.
Before returning to the hotel we were taken to for a short walk around Ufa and ended up in a square with water fountains. Here we sang happy birthday to RADS and released white, red and blue balloons, before returning to the hotel.
Monday 9th: we made our way to the bus station to catch a mini bus to Isimbi. Little did we know what was in store for us: what an adventure the intrepid TOPAZ team were embarking on. As we left Ufa the roads were wide with very little traffic and we all settled down for the journey. Not long after the roads became extremely bumpy- the bumpier the road the faster the driver went. We were bumping around all over the place and hanging onto the back of the seat in front in order to remain in our seats. Was I on a bus or a horse??? Finally totally shook up we arrived in Isimbi where we were transported to Biksyan for our home stay. The houses were beautiful and the hospitality matched. However I wonder just how many dumpling one can eat in 24 hours- dinner, supper & breakfast- the family dog eat very well when we left.!!
Whilst in Biksyan we held a session for teachers; after removing the desks and creating an informal circle we soon had the staff laughing, talking and having great fun with building towers using cocktail sticks and marshmallows. We woke to a fantastic sunrise, cows and sheep walking down the road to the fields nearby, frost and the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees. The group were then driven to Salavat for our next training session
Today we bring you our first proper blog Eleanor reading a poem about our journey from Heathrow to Ufa.
we're here :-)
We have arrived in Ufa and it is after midnight so we will update you tomorrow on our train journey from Moscow to Ufa. As for tonight our zest has been restored by this classic lemonade.
In 2 weeks we will be meeting up at the Thistle Heathrow. A busy time ahead with final preparations.