Marnova – of and from a wandering mind…

Marnova's musings on life, media and Mongolia

[Chip off the old blog] Mongolian Mutterings (mainly political)

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Current mood: sleepy

Here is a random thing about Mongolia. I’m going to come back to this post and put all my Mongolia stuff here – keep it all in one place, so you don’t get lost in my rambling mind. 

I wanted to write today because there’s a crisis in Mongolia at the moment. Somehow this country lives close to my heart and I have an inexplicable deep understanding of it and its people.  Mongolia is one of the few places on earth, that massive things can happen and no one hears anything about it…in 1990 when the Soviet Union withdrew its support, overnight the largest non-Soviet communist state was brought to its knees and the world was oblivious.

Politics
For something like 60 or 70 years (sorry, I am no good with dates), Mongolia was a communist state – a people’s republic. The MPRP established dominance and remained in power after the collapse of the communist state and into the infant democracy. In 2004, the MDC (Motherland Democracy Coalition, consisting of a number of democratic parties) seized almost half the available seats in the Great Hural (vs the MPRP’s greatly reduced 38 seats), resulting in a coalition government.

This was uneasy at best, frustrating the passage of very much needed key reform legislation. The MDC and the prime minister, Elbegdorj’s parliamentary base was undermined by ruptures between its constituent parties. As a result, Elbegdorj’s seats were reduced to 26. The general public had little real knowledge of the administration (responding to basic electioneering), but were dismayed by corruption allegations and high levels of unemployement and poverty. This aided Enkhbayar’s (of the MPRP) direct ascendance to the presidency.

10 of the 18 cabinet members resigned a few days ago, forcing the government to dissolve and reform. Previously the communist party, the MPRP is now a kind of pro-market centre-left party, like our Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ in the UK. The legality of these resignations (coup d’etat) has been questioned.

It seems that in all likelihood the Mongolian parliament will ratify the cabinet resignations; leaving a clear path for the institution of a MPRP government. Once General elections have taken place, this would provide endorsement for the new government’s legitimacy. I’m not sure that’s how things should work! Currently, supporters of the Democratic Party are outspoken in their claim that the new government is unconstitutional. The MPRP are also taking this opportunity to oust opponents, such as vice speaker, S Oyun (who entered politics to fly the flag for democracy, after the murder of her brother, Zorig, the night before he was to become prime minister), however – they leave their own speaker in place. The Democratic party has argued that such members should also be ejected as they only hold their positions as a result of negotiations whilst forming the coalition.

As far as I can tell, this resignation has been a long time coming. I first heard of it happening in July. The timing now seems suspicious to me. With temperatures reaching -53 in the countryside, there is unlikely to be widespread protests.

So what next for the country? It is widely known that the MPRP has, in the past, used authoritarian tactics. Since the surprise success of the MDC in the 2004 elections, democracy has been invigorated in Mongolia. Some think that this will act to balance the MPRP’s future conduct. I’m not so sure. A more cohesive government can only be good – providing a more rigorous legislative platform. However, whether it can provide a platform for stamping out corruption, reducing poverty and integrating into world trade flows will remain to be seen.

But for now, it seems like a step back – bully tactics from the MPRP and a clear threat to a fledgling democracy. At best, stability will be provided for gradual reform. At worst, money will line the pockets of wide boys who club together in the ‘name of their country’ one day, but may well use their influence for other means tomorrow.

Will end that there (phew!) – I’ve never felt compelled to rant politics, but here it’s clearer than ever that the fate of whole nations are placed in the hands of a few – and we must trust them to do well.    EDIT:  Not sure what I was up to last night?!  Writing about Mongolian politics?  Ah well, a single shining moment.

Update 31/01/06:  The MPRP are in power.  Mongolians are going about their everyday life.  It’s strange – their desire to just get on with it is both a strength, that has seen them through the darkest days, and a weakness.

More Mongolian wanderings?
I spoke to a Mongolian friend at the beginning of the year. He said there is a monk in the South West Gobi I must visit. So, if I can get the pennies together (need to buy a HDV camera), then I will make my way back in a couple of months.

Are you Mongolian?
It’s an ongoing joke that I look 100 percent Mongolian…causing much mirth to my friends when they introduce me to nomads as such.  One nomad cast an eye over me, decided I was good herding stock and asked me to wait until her (unmarried) son got home – then took me by the arm to milk the horses!

Mongolia is a funny place…
Funny things happen there.  Will write soon.

We were in the western aimag centre, Olgii (where Benedict Allen’s horses were exsanguinated by blood sucking flies) wondering whether to pay the ‘close to the border fee’ and a day’s travel either way to get to the Five Kings (Altai Tavan Bogd mountain range)  There was the possibility, as winter was setting in, that we would not have a place to stay (with nomads, who were moving to lower pastures for the winter), transport (horses from nomads) and the peaks may also not be visible because of snow and clouds.  We were hmmming and haa-ing over this.  At the permit office, who did we bump into, but one of the two Altai Tavan Bogd park rangers (fortunately, Irtzek was not the crazy one!) who was in town buying his winter provisions.  These guys are hard enough to find when you are looking for them!  He said that the weather would be clear for seven days and, if we took him back, he would take us on the ranger’s route that would take us close to the peaks so we could hike and wouldn’t need horses.  On top of that, he took us over a mountain pass that avoided the border guards…it was like an Asian version of the end of the Sound of Music!!

Mongolians can communicate without speaking – they have a collective subconscious.  Or something.  They all know what they are meant to do when, even if they are plastered (drunk).

Visiting a settlement, hours from anywhere.  We went to the bar/restaurant (there was one…)  Pulling up, the sound of the Rasmus blasted out.  We’d shipped up into town for the local countryside rock festival and this was their soundcheck!

‘Practical’ Mongolian tips
If you have a hole in your jeep or UAZ radiator, you can mend it temporarily with a bar of soap (rub to block up hole)
If your aarul (dried curd) is too hard to chew, dip it in your tea and it will become soft enough to gnaw
If you come across a piece of goat’s intestine that won’t go away, no matter how much you chew, tuck it in your cheek and deposit it in the fire later (!!)
When riding using traditional wooden Mongolian saddle (or worse – Kazach padded METAL saddle), shift position slightly every few minutes to prevent doing yourself an injury

Photos
http://www.flickr.com/photos/marnova

How do you get there and about?
With a little determination and lots of luck

Da 2005 Crew


Most of Mongolia is off road.  Transport is usually Landcruiser (those yanks),  Russian jeep or van (driving is a career), motorbike (short distance) or horse (all distances).  At the nd of a long day, after going over a particularly huge bump, fleeing hostiles, we bashed a hole in our radiator.  The picture was taken after we’d hitched a ride back to the local Russian-run mine base.  They were entirely self-sufficient and much to our relief, they fixed our vehicle overnight in their in-house garage.  With thanks to the guys in the pics for their absolute blind faith in their slavedriver boss.  They worked hard, and I think it shows.

****************************************************************
ADDENDUM  Advice about Mongolia that I used to send out:
Mainly because I’ve been asked so much about the food in Mongolia and also because Mongolian cuisine is often misunderstood (if food can be), I’ve written a little about the unique Mongolian diet.

These are based upon my experiences. There are, no doubt, slight regional variations (I travelled capital city, Ulaanbaatar [UB] and Western aimag/district, Hovd). I haven’t included the availabilty of foreign foods at supermarkets and restaurants; they are limited to UB and due to price are mainly restricted to foreigners and the wealthy. The typical diet of meat, dairy and cereal has seen the Mongolians through extremely tough times. It is worth noting that most recipes that appear in Mongolian cookbooks are more flavoursome, Chinese (Inner Mongolian) versions of Mongolian dishes. Mongolian food is generally relatively bland.

There are several reasons for this. The ones that spring to mind are:

1) Steppe doesn’t support much except grass, hence few vegetables and only grazing animals (sheep, goat)
2) Harsh winters (down to -40) – food has to last and sustain
3) Rudimentary cooking equipment (Mongolia has no industries except tourism and cashmere exports, so everything has to be imported, including pots and pans)
4) Food preparation had to suit their nomadic lifestyle and is cooked in the tents in which they live and sleep.
5) Usually they cook once a day (in the countryside)
6) Historically, they believed the ground to be sacred so didn’t eat anything that grew underground…or so I’m told!
7) They are often unadventurous folk when it comes to creativity

Bar bread and icecream, food is not mass-produced in Mongolia. There is simply not a market for it. After the withdrawal of Soviet support and imports, they relearnt to live off/with the land. There is a very restricted range of food available, but what you can find is considered by the Mongolians to be reliable and nutritious – these are the meals and snacks you can get:

DUMPLINGS
These are varations on the same theme.
The national dish is Booz – these are steamed mutton dumplings, the size of a small fist. Encased in a wheat based dough which (made from wheat) can be quite heavy. How good they are depends on the cook. If you’re unlucky, they’ll pad the filling out with other surprise ingredients (eg rice) which just soak up the fat and turn into pockets of wax.
Huushuur – Fried mutton pancakes – similar to booz, but flat and fried. These, along with booz, are quite filling and good accompaniments for a main course, or eat a couple as a small meal. They are widely available.
Bansh – the same as booz, but smaller and usually fried or in soup. Less common than booz or huushuur.

PASTA
Can you believe Mongolians have pasta? It is made of wheat (no egg) and is usually eaten with mutton and a minimal (hardly noticeable) amount of vegetable. I don’t know the name of this. The shapes vary. Although usually overcooked, it is usually a safe bet and palatable..extremely common around UB. I don’t know if this is a food of choice with in the home, or just sold in guanzes for convenience.

RICE
Goulash – boiled rice with stewed mutton and a little gravy (minimal amount of veg might be present). Actually my favourite most probably because I was bought up on a diet of rice with various veg and meat, but there isn’t much more to be said about it. You don’t get much option anyway – you just have to eat whatever’s cooking in that guanz.

SOUP
There are various takes on mutton soup. The proportion of soup, mutton and mutton fat can vary wildly. Same advice as with all food – drink it quick before the fat solidifies. They are usually fairly tasty.
There are some other soups at http://ulaanbaatar.net/food/soups.shtml but I did not come across any of these!

** These are the 4 most common meal types to be found. To complete the set…

SALADS
Usually pickled stuff that doesn’t go off quickly, such as carrot and cabbage. These are few and far between and NOT eaten as a main course. Even within Mongolia, salads that are noticeably flavoursome are known as ‘Chinese salad’.

SNACKS
Bread is usually in small pieces (in various decorative forms) and sweet (I think originally to preserve, now because they are accustomed to the taste) – these are sold in big bags very cheaply at kiosks. Sometimes they are super stale, so people dip them in tea. Kids love this. Bags of bread are also useful token gifts for your hosts when you visit nomads.
Aaruul is dried yak and goats curd – if your teeth are tough, then you can gnaw or suck on them as they are, if you are a dental weakling, dip them in tea to soften them up (resulting in curdy tea!). Aaruul vary wildly from being cheese-like to plasticky.
Ice cream is rumoured to have its roots in Mongolia (along with pizza and yoghurt, brought back to Italy by Marco Polo – as far as I can tell, this is unsubstantiated). They are sold in dedicated ice-cream shops and are usually little more than coloured iced water. An American friend living in Mongolia commented that he was going to stop buying anything other than the while (‘milk’) ice creams so that he would stop anticipating any semblance of flavour.
Confectionery and biscuits are imported from China and Eastern Europe (eg Czech Republic) and other places accessible on the railway.
Fruit is rare as a snack, but children sometimes eat tomatoes, arnitka (tiny, tart apples). Apples and watermelon are common in Western Mongolia in the summer.

DRINKS
Tea (Milk tea) is extremely milky and salty, sometimes with rancid butter added before serving (occasionally with tea!) This is the standard drink in guanzes and ‘restaurants’. It is made by boiling the water, tea (cut from a brick for convenience, imported from China or Central Asia) and salt together, adding milk and boiling again.

In the summer, there are zillions of milk based drinks and products, the most common is Airag which is fermented mare’s milk – usually offered in gers. About 3lcohol content, this is fermented further to produce shimiin arkhi which is about 12Both are acquired tastes and very different to any kind of western dairy product.

Sometimes hot mutton fat/soup is served – this needs to be drunk quickly whilst hot.

BARBECUE
Forget the Mongolian Barbecue (restaurant chain with their plethora of ingredients and condiments) as you know it. As I discovered, it is actually a specific and traditional delicacy (not day-to-day food)…
Khorkhog – Mutton is put in a sealed container (metal or clay), layered with hot stones and vegetables and cooked slowly…The hot stones are meant to be held after…to help with any illnesses etc
Boodog – A countryside variation on this is using marmot – it is gutted (via the neck or mouth) then cooked by putting hot stones inside and barbecuing. A soup forms inside.

AND THE REST…
* Food…I need food…
– They usually sell food at guanzes (a shack or metal container with a couple of tables and chairs in them). They will have one or two dishes and you go in and ask them what they have that day…
– Meat is bought from meat markets (within the flea markets, found in the aimag [district] capitals) – all parts of the sheep are available. Inspect your meat for signs of greyness and flies…as cuts offered to foreigners can be far from healthy. Bring your own bags.
– Snacks and limited tinned/boxed provisions are available from kiosks and small family-run stores called ‘delguurs’.
* How is it cooked?
– In the countryside or in guanzes, food is generally heated/cooked on pans on a metal plate over a dung fire.
* Why does everyone insist on wolfing down their food?
– All Mongolian food needs to be eaten immediately and fairly quickly otherwise it becomes greasy/waxy.
* What can I expect to taste?
– They use few herbs or spices – usually just salt. I have heard of wild onions and garlic being used, but never came across this personally. Regardless, the taste of mutton fat permeates throughout.
* Mutton? Is it omnipresent?
– They usually fry using mutton fat.
* How do they make it through the winter?
– In the countryside (and ger districts), meat needs to be dried to last through the winter. This is usually done in early December, one cow and seven to eight sheep is enough should feed a family of five through a long winter until breeding season (when they switch to a dairy based diet). In the Gobi Desert, this will more than likely be camel meat, in the mountains – yak or goat. Meat is dried in strips (‘borts’)in the ger then reconsituted for cooking or powdered to make a soup.
* What if I’m vegetarian?
– I only met one vegetarian on my travels – she survived on cereals and biscuits (and was looking very healthy for it!) Vegetable soups etc more than likely contain mutton or are cooked with mutton fat. As for the Mongolian attitude to vegetarianism, this was said in all seriousness, remembering that the consumption of meat has been key to their survival…”anyone who is vegetarian, and not for medical grounds, must be insane.”
* I’ve found the shop, but nobody’s at home…
– Mongolian men are often drunk by mid afternoon, combined with no semblance of regular opening hours, try the Mongolian knock which consists of knocking hard on the door continuously someone opens it.
* Do I really have to…?
– If you are offered food by a Mongolian, it is considered bad form (in fact rude) not to accept and finish (even if this might happen to be a ram’s head), although if you have a Mongolian companion, they can accept on your behalf.

THE MYTH OF THE FAUX PAS
There are various customs that are supposed to be observed when eating /drinking eg. when accepting and drinking the tea, use your right hand. However, I did not notice a strict adherence to these rules and, almost definitely, offence will not be taken if you are foreign. A Mongolian commented to me that, from what he could tell, the importance of these traditions were often exaggerated in Mongolian travel books, he felt that they did this to make the destination seem more quaint and attractive to tourists and to sell more books. Cynic? I don’t know what you mean!

HYGIENE? WHAT’S THAT?
Bar restaurants, you’ll be eating alongside the flies (except for the most prestigious guanzes in UB). Out of UB, there is little running water, so the routine goes a little like this…pick up dung, put on fire to heat oven, handle raw meat, cook, serve to horrified customer. If you’re lucky, they’ll clean your plate with a cloth out of the dung box! I just gritted my teeth, said to myself that it didn’t make the locals ill…and partook. I was fine (see footnote below).

The food is hearty although it will seem heavy at first. If you go to Mongolia, you’ll soon find that this fare is just what you need to fuel a hard days horseriding. It’s real back-to-basics food and vegetarians will have their work cut out for them. Although the food is high in fat, few Mongolians have any problem with cholesterol and the food doesn’t have any preservatives or additives (making it a bit of a lottery whether the bread you buy is stale or not!) In my mind, Mongolians have it right and eat to enable and support their way of life; they aren’t hung up about calories or carbohydrate content and are healthy and extremely strong for it. I missed herbs and spices (I grew up in a Chinese take away!) but began to enjoy the taste of the unadulterated meat and milk instead. In fact, I miss it.

As a footnote – you need a hardy stomach or time to adjust to the high fat content and subtle (some might say limited) palate. Whilst I gorged (I actually liked some of the food a lot) on goulash and booz, every other traveller I met (without exception) was stricken with indigestion and stomach maladies. Also, the quality varied vastly from guanz to guanz, so unless you want to forgo the entire experience (and do foreign restaurants), ask around for recommendations, ignore the smell of mutton fat and dig in!

Want to know more?
Article on the history of Mongolian cooking with some adapted recipes
http://www.9v.com/crystal/kerij-e/docs/cooking.htm
Tourist board article on Mongolian food (interesting reading for anyone who has travelled in Mongolia)
http://www.visit2003.mn/food&shop/food.html
Mongolian diet in general
http://www.pheast.com/global/mongolian1-01.html

Trans sib stuff

Get the trans-siberian handbook (I can’t remember who it’s by, but can find out…), it has all the info you will need about the train experience! 
VISAS
Chinese visa is easy to get as long as you leave enough time.  They prefer bookings done through agents and will charge more for individual applications (not much more though)
Mongolian visa is easy to get.
Russian visa is the most difficult.  A standard tourist visa (30 days) is quite easy but you need to have proof of entry and exit from Russia as well as accommodation – there are agencies you can go through who will ‘deal’ with this for you though (ie book a pretend hotel somewhere…)  The other option is an ‘izvisheniye’ (invitation) which allows a 3 month stay.  Unless he knows a Russian or a business willing to invite him (extremely time consuming, mine took over 3 months to organise), then the only route is to go through an agency. 
Russian and Chinese bureaucrats are extremely…bureaucratic.  Good luck if your friend wants to get his Russian visa in China (it’s altogetherly doable but will probably be frustrating and time consuming) 
Destinations on the trans sib…
CHINESE DESTINATIONS…if you’re coming from Beijing, it’s pretty much direct to the border.  Keep your window closed because you’ll go through a desert and wake up with a mouth full of dust if you don’t (hmmm…wonder how I know this…)
Beijing – well, plenty to see and do.  Try to get food from stalls and night markets – shouldn’t be too difficult getting veggie stuff. Of all the usual tourist things – the Forbidden City is awsome and transcends the crowds that traipse through each day.  Cough up and get Roger Moore’s dulcet tones guiding you around the palace…Beijing is phenomenally huge, but it’s worth walking a little around it.  I did from the North Entrance of Beihai Park to Tiannanmen Square, wander around the old hutongs (narrow streets) while you can if you can because they’re being torn down at a scary rate. Queue up to see Mao in his mausoleum early in the morning – it’s a very kitsch experience and you won’t find anything like it elsewhere.  Refreshingly most tourists in China are from other parts of China and their enduring reverence for Mao is quite charming, combined with the sale of packaged plastic flowers that get placed in tribute to him, then no doubt resold as well as the absolute Mao-ribilia kitschfest that you exit to is definitely the place to pick up a Mao clock…Other than the Forbidden City and Great Wall, the other unmissable sight is trawling out of bed pre-6am to check out the activities at Beihai Park – where Beijing denizens go to do Tai Chi amongst the trees, dancing, playing badminton, doing calligraphy, talking to songbirds and generally ‘doing the things that they do’ before they go to work. 
Erlyan – the train gets it wheels changed and you get 6 hours in this border ‘town’ (it only exists because of the train).  You can go and watch the wheels being changed, or head outside.  The arrival of the international train is the main attraction on the town’s social calendar – the ‘town’ (a strip of buildings) buzzes with Chinese people saying ‘hello’ and grinning inanely at the foreigners.  Fruit is available to buy buy the crateload (aimed at Mongolian traders)…there are also ‘restaurants’ that are little more than someone’s dining room.  Very, very weird (80s disco music is played over the tanoi), but completely enjoyable, even at 3/4 in the morning.
MONGOLIAN DESTINATIONS….Ulaanbatar, a tough town but unlike anywhere else on earth.  See the outrageously huge gold buddha at the Gandan monastery (that survived Soviet climes only as an example of what had been destroyed) that is very Indiana Jones.  Ok, it’s not sounding very cool, but it’s impossible to describe!  Witness the Bogd Khan Palace and Soviet Monument to the south of the city as they crumble away.  Traditional music show is very good.  All things in UB are hard to find except accommodation – lots of people waiting as you get off the train.  I recommend the Khongor www.mandarinmedia.com/projects/khongor – the landlords are nice, the place is clean and the location is convenient (these are all on Mongolian scales of course!)  Try the Mongolian nightlife – the clubs are mad!  Watch yourself though – although they’re not out for fights, Mongolian men are usually blindingly drunk very early on and extremely strong (as are the women!)  Flea market is bedlam and quite scary but a really experience if you want to brave it – gangs of pickpockets, so don’t go alone.  The State Department store is a bit of a spectacle (ex-soviet store) and also a pool hall that has a huge head of Lenin in it (I mean, the size of a house).  It’s easy to find tours or drivers to take you to the Gobi or countryside (you can’t go to Mongolia without going to the countryside and doing some horseriding and visiting nomads!) – I am still in touch with my guide and could put you in contact if you wanted.   Western Mongolia is for the brave – 3 days in a jeep or one day in a Mongolian aeroplane (possibly the freakiest experience of my life).
RUSSIAN DESTINATIONS…Small Siberian towns are quite samey – devoid of young people and full of old people or depressed workers.  Many of the factories have shut down, leaving the inhabitants in poverty.  You’ll see them selling wares on the short stops on the journey.  Having said that, I met a couple who were travelling around on the other railway (I forget the name of it…might be BAM) and had a great time although they could speak fairly good Russian.  Think it depends on your luck as to what places you decide to jump off at and whether you end up staying with someone who is cool or not.  The international trains have a good mixed bunch of people on the train and draw the big crowds (with accommodation touts) at the train station.  The local trains on the main line are slow and Russians usually just bed down for the journey.
Naushki – border town. Dead boring and your train will leave your carriage here for 7 or 8 hours before another train comes and picks you up.  Make sure you get some roubles (In Mongolia?) before you get here or have some good food to eat.  Hopefully there wll be cool people to hang out with (I shared a coupe with the Mongolian International Checkers team who were a real motley crew, but cool and good fun).
Ulan Ude – industrial town in Buryatia (Siberian republic – Buryats are nomadic Asian Russians).  A sprawling city – depressed and in quite a dire situation.  It has a nice ethnological museum that has examples of Buryat architecture from yurts to Old Believers’ chapels.  It is open air in a big park and you have to knock on the door to get the old lady, who lives in each one, to open it up.  Stark, quite dramatic countryside – there is a remote datsun (Buddhist Monastery) about an hour from Ulan Ude that is worth visiting if interested in Buddhism.  It survived the Soviet regime only because of its remoteness.  Main religions are Buddhism, Shamanism and Christianity.  It’s not a big tourist destination, so not sure how easy it would be to jump off the train and find a guesthouse.
Irkutsk- Huge town.  Not much to be seen except some streets of traditional wooden buildings, and stuff you can see in other Russian cities.  Art gallery is OK.  They have a traditional performance a few times a week in the centre for tourists that is quite amusing and surprisingly enjoyable.  Most tourists stop off here to get to…
Lake Baikal – Deepest lake in the world (oxygenated to the bottom) – with stunning scenery surrounding (we caught the change of leaf colour).  Lots of good hikes and I’ve heard of people diving in Lake Baikal although it’s pretty cold all year round.  Lots of nice little villages – easy to find a place to stay, but would arrange it before hand as you may end up paying through the nose to get to Baikal (can’t remember, but think the drive is a couple of hours long).  Get the ferry to Port Baikal and walk along the old railway (you can only get to the town by boat as the road and railway was flooded to make the current track)
Novosibirsk
I didn’t stop here, but some people do get off here…don’t know if much is going on.
Ekaterinburg
Very odd town.  Used to be a closed purpose-built city (so only factory workers were allowed in)  It has a reasonable ballet and the whole Romanov history (although all trace of it has been removed!).  Some nice countryside nearby (the Ural mountain, although they are more like modest hills!)  This is where Europe meets Asia (some people go out to see the continental marker…yawn).  Can go rafting in the summer.  As with all Russian towns, some parts of it are very attractive and nice to walk around.
Moscow
Allow plenty of time for this city – so much to see and experience.  My second fave city in the world.  Good views from MGU in the Sparrow Hills, Kremlin etc is all worth doing – see the ‘new Russians’ and their lack of taste wandering in the underground shopping centre outside the Kremlin (forget the name of it…), see Lenin in his mausoleum (if he’s still on show), absolutely awesome art galleries and museums (def. visit Mayakovsky, but it will all be in Russian so read up beforehand).  I think the black market (gorbushka) is closed now, but no doubt other ones have sprung up and are worth experiencing.  Generally a great city for wandering around and Rough Guide do a decent book on the city that will outline the main attractions.  Summer stuff – the Russian countryside is really nice – if you know any Russians, get them to take you to their dacha (summer cottage) you can also take a boat from the North River station up the river where they’ll drop you off for the day and you can chill out with Muscovites as they splash/laze around.  Winter – Moscow is meant to be v exotic in the winter.  Haven’t been convinced enough to try this yet!
St Petersburg
Stunningly beautiful, although a little of a ghost town (a block away from the main prospects, it can be quite scary).  Peterhof/Peter’s Palace (Peter the Great’s version of Versailles) is definitely worth the 45 minute boat ride.  Hermitage is jaw-dropping.  Canal trips are worth doing because you get to see the facades of the grandiose buildings.  Plenty of nice churches and art galleries too.  Youth hostel is very old school, but OK. 
Tip – Russia seems to have toilet roll shortage (it seems to be cultural not to provide toilet paper in public/hostel/macdonalds toilets) so bring/buy your own.
I recommend homestays all the way – there should be people wanting to take you to stay at their homes at all the major stops (depending on what time the train comes in) on the international trains, but obviously this has its risks and you also might end up in a complete dump!

****************************************************************
“Fall into the Marie”
What’s your slogan?
http://www.thesurrealist.co.uk/slogan.cgi

Currently listening :
Felt Mountain
By Goldfrapp
Release date: 19 September, 2000
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Written by marnova

January 17, 2006 at 1:49 am

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