Getting a travel visa for Russia is fairly straight forward, but will require a visit to their embassy after obtaining an invitation letter (which is fairly straight forward as you can arrange them on the internet). Russia doesn’t seem to be going out of their way to encourage tourist though, maybe it’s a suspicion of foreigners (a possible hangover from the Cold War era) maybe it’s the years of high energy prices resulting in them really not needing us economically, either way, the added difficulty makes for a more intrepid destination.

The greater difficulty I had around this time was obtaining a Chinese entry visa that I would need at the end of my trans-Mongolian railway journey. Basically I couldn’t apply for one as I traveled through Europe as they repeatedly told me I needed to apply in my country of citizenship – New Zealand – so in the end I needed to travel back to London to apply and thankfully they had no problem issuing me one. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried as despite what you read on their official websites or heard from others, you can apply for an entry visa in Mongolia as you pass through there. That certainly would have saved me a lot of hassle.

Once back in Poland I would begin the long train journey east to Beijing over the coming month. A friends very helpful Polish girlfriend, Magda, basically organized my bus and train out of Poland to Russia.  It’s certainly a big help to have a local around at times.  So off I went from Plock to Warsaw and onwards across the Polish countryside on a night train bound for Moscow. We would be disturbed at the border with Belarus as they have to change all the under carriages as the train crosses the border of the EU (Poland) and Belarus because the track widths are different to inhibit any army invading the former USSR. Thankfully I would meet a nice local girl - Angela – while onboard which not only helped the time pass, but also helped a lot with the Belarusian border officials and customs officers; my journey was nowhere as bad or scary as I expected it to be thanks to your translating!

No matter what you call it, Moskva, Mockba or Moscow, I arrived there after the comfortable 18 hour (1,462km) overnight train ride. I happened to arrive on City celebration weekend, so security was high on account of recent Caucus’ issues. Although a high number of police and some special forces would remain all week so it appears that is just how things are.  I would spend five days in Moscow at both a hostel, where I had a strange experience with a naked girl on my arrival, and a local Muscovite family home in an apartment block in the suburbs who I had arranged to stay with through couchsurfing. Couchsurfing allows you to connect, and often stay with, local people to better experience life when visiting new places, rather than doing solely the ‘tourist things’ you experience life as a local, it’s a fantastic way to get beneath the exterior and gain a better understanding of local life. You often make friends for life with your host too, Natalie and I have traveled together several times since and still keep in touch nearly 10 years later!

I would also meet Amelia (who, god bless her) asked if I needed help at the train station to buy tickets as it was all in Russian. I really did need the help as buying the tickets at the station for trains on the trans-Mongolian route can be difficult, but half the price than using an agent if you can manage it! You can’t go to Moscow and not go to the ballet, I went to a mid week performance of Swan Lake with Anna, a Russian girl who asked if I needed help when I was studying my map on a corner after I arrived. I don’t think she figured she would end up showing me around and attending the theatre with me too! Who said the Russians aren’t welcoming of lost looking foreigners!! Oh right, I did…

Enduring thoughts from Moscow

  • I’m told there are fewer guys than girls here, and from some of the couples I see here, I believe it.
  • More police and security than expected.
  • Best metro I have ever seen and used. Trains every 90 to 120 sec without fail.
  • A romantic city? Every day I see many people with bunches of flowers

The next destination on my intrepid journey around the world is east via the Trans-Mongolian railway. I’ll stop in Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Ulan Bator before I reach Beijing in two weeks time.

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