Andy's Meanderings 2008 travel blog

Me and Mother Russia.

Luda, a kind twist of fate.

The Flour Mill.

The heading says it all, but you live and learn I guess and history usually does teach us that we don't learn from history, so I'm sure what that means is that I should have really..... fuck me what a start and I haven't even had a drink yet!!!!

Sorry... lets start again shall we. I'm currently in Volgograd, which, if you check the map, is South of Moscow, about 18 hours in a train. I have been here 3 days already but have to stay an extra night also due to Russia Rail issues, will explain. It has been great to be honest, very nice town and some historical places that I really wanted to visit. This is "Stalingrad" where the German army arguably met the beginning of the end in the battle that saw the city obliterated and approx 1mil Russian lives lost and many Russian hero's born. Not to mention horrific losses on the German side. It was major battle. The movie "Enermy At the Gates" with Jude Law as Vasily, the Russian sniper hero, is about this battle. If you have seen that movie you'll know what I mean.

But... it could have all been so much worse if not for a little twist of fate!!

Have to tell you about my last night in Moscow first!! Had some dinner then went back to the hotel and decided to see if my English mate was there so I could take some more abuse! Turns out he wasn't but there were some nice looking ladies in there and a few other couples. So I walk up to the bar and order a drink turned around to check these ladies out again, and they are looking at me with big smiles and those "funny" eyes!! Quick check to make sure my fly was up and then it dawned on me!! Prossies!! In the main bar of my hotel if you please??!! WTF is that all about!! So anyway heres me trying not to make eye contact but it was hard coz its such a small bar! (No pun intended!) Luckily this big fat Belgium bloke comes in, eyes light up when he sees the girls and he just plonks himself down next to them and starts this conversation in a really loud voice. It was painful, but hilarious as well, some of the shit he was saying. I was just cracking up at some of the stuff he was coming out with and as I say - everyone could hear it all. The people behind me were English as well and another guy there was a Yank I think. I was just shocked there were prossies inside the hotel and at the bar!! Anyway he walked off with one of them, 200 euro lighter, from what I could hear!! Very funny though, I actually ordered another beer and stayed longer to listen in!! hahaha! How fucking sad am I??!!

So I managed to get away from Moscow without any issues. Found my carriage with a Rusky in side, we tried to talk but couldn't so we shared some food and waited to get going. He ate like a fucking pig and I thought no way can handle this for 24 hours, and he ate and ate and ate!! He gave me a corn on the cob and I was just thru my first row while woody fucking wood pecker had finished the lot!! Corn all over face and everything. Funny now... but earlier!!!! What a noise he made!!

Once we got going I had a walk around and bumped into this absolute stunning looking woman in the hall way. And Lads, I mean stunning. I have photos!! hahaha! I just nodded and smiled and she smiled back in a non Russian way, so I thought she must be non Rusky. Anyway I had a read and wished the time away and decided that a beer would be nice as it was about 4pm, so I went in search of the dining cart. I walked past her again and asked if she spoke English, which thankfully she did. She told me where the cart would be and I could tell from her accent that she was actually Russian. This is where my fate changed. If it wasn't for beer I may not be talking to you right now!!!

When I got back to the carriage she was looking out the window again so I stopped and thanked her and we got talking. Turns out she was from Volograd but lives in Moscow and works as an actress, went to Canada to study so learnt good English there. Mainly does stage shows but apparently is currently on TV now in some series I didn't undertsand... "Neighbourski" or something!! hahaha! No I have no idea! And she has also done some movies. Her mother has breast cancer so she was going home for a week or so to visit her and help out. She was on her own so came back to our cabin and we had a few beers and vodka's (my roomy did, not the girl) with my roomy and had a good chat, with her translating for us!! But turns out when I told her what I was doing that if I turn up in Volgograd with no booking I will find it difficult to get a room. Even when they have rooms they don't like non Russians staying without a reservation. She was really concerned and so she gave me her mobile number and said to call her if I had any issues but also said she would like to take me to the sights I wanted to see and be my guide for my stay! She was very proud of her City and what it had achieved. Her family had been there for generations and had seen it all. So she was very patriotic about the place. Something I have noticed across the country from many people!

So the next morning I bade my friends farewell and went in search of a hotel. As Volgograd is not really a tourist destination the good book only has two pages worth of info on it. And only two hotels listed. I tried both and sure enough what Luda (the girl on the train) had said was true! I asked if they knew any other hotels in the city and they said there was one more in a park near by. I tried to find that but couldn't. I was sweating big time at this stage of proceedings and began to worry probably more than I have done thus far! I sat down and had a drink and a smoke to gather my thoughts and rest. Decided to head to the post office which I had seen already and get on the internet and do a search for hotels in Volga! After much pointing and sign language I managed to get a pc, but it only had Russian language. I was asking the lady to change it for me to "Inglanski" but she either didn't understand or couldn't do it! I know how to do it but when the keyboard is in Russian I have no idea how to navigate thru it all!!! I was so frustrated. I had spent about 90 minutes walking around and still was no closer to finding anything. The other problem I had was my phone was low on battery, so if I did chose to use my wild card and call Luda I might not be able to speak for long and once phone died I would be knackered and totally lost!!

I called Luda, reluctanly seeing as she had just come in that morning to be with her sick Mum and here I am, some randon guy on a train with nowhere to go calling after 2 hours of being in town! Anyway she was very helpful and said to give her a few minutes and she would check with her parents re more hotels! I went off in search of the one in the park and eventually found it. By this stage I was soaked and my hair was even wet with sweat, I must have looked a right state, so it was no suprise when they said they had no rooms!

A message from Luda said to get a taxi to some other hotel, Lusna I think, can't remember the name now, but I had asked the park Hotel about that one and they actually rang them and said no rooms also!!

By this stage I had been about 3 hours in town, hot and worried! Then Luda sent a message saying get a taxi to "Kristina" (Thats a great Omen in itself) hotel and ask for Natalia. Turns out Natalia is a friend of the family and Luda's Dad had called around his mates to see if they could help. I managed to get a room, but its about 10 minutes by taxi outside of town, which at the end of the day is no drama considering what I may have had to have done otherwise!! Train station or church was looking good for a few days kip!!

You'll also never guess either!! I was dying for a pooh!!!!

So all was good again. After a shocking morning I was knackered so caught some sleep before heading out to look around! The town itself is quite nice, if not a touch sterile. Seeing as the whole thing has been rebuilt since 1943 its not too bad! The parks are nice, all "Fallen Hero Parks" in honour of those that fought and died for the country with statues and plagues etc - which is nice. Eternal flame and things like that. And lots and lots of little cafes and bars lining the boulevardes. It is nicer than anywhere I have been so far in Russia. Still loads of people drinking on the streets, which you see everywhere!! Small and compact, so after a short walk you've seen it all as well. A nice little port or docking area on the Volga River which would be jumping in Summer judging by the amount of closed bars and shops that are there.

In the evening Luda sent me a message and said her and her parents were having a walk around town and I could join them if I wanted. I was so so greatful for their help that I couldn't even think about saying no. We met, her parents speak no English, but her dad was in a rock and roll band, guitarist, and can sing all the old Rock classics by Led Zeppelin, The Stones Nazareth etc. Luda told me in the days when his band were doing lots of gigs they would sing mainly Eurpoean/Western songs but had no idea what they were singing about as the words meant nothing to them! (So they understood Stairway To Heaven like us all then!!) We had a great 3 way conversation about music, it was brilliant. He was impressed with my tastes as they were similar to his, so when we did sit down for a drink he made sure we had plenty of Vodka!! hahaha - Crazy! It was good fun but all the same they were really concerned for my safety and just couldn't comprehend how anyone would travel like this! It was weird really, but travel is just not what they do so they have little concept of it. So the parents left and Luda took me to a cafe for a few drinks. Was a great night and she told me some great stories of her acting and how passionate she was etc. Supposed to be a quality singer as well. We planned to meet the next day at 11am for a tour to the Museam and Memorial to Stalingrad, but I was worried that her parents would want her to be with them, she was cool with that and said it would be OK, but it did cause an issue!!

I ended up finding a bar near my hotel and seeing as it was early still, well about 11 I think, I went for anther drink. It was actually a pokie place, so I had to have a go didn't I! Well I couldn't stop winning. It was crazy, so about 3 hours later I'm pissed off my head walking out with a wad of money! I'd met all the staff and they taught me how to swear in Russian and all pissed themselves at my attempts!! Was a good laugh, and yes I did make it home safely!!

So I slept in the next day! Woke up at 11am didn't I! I felt like a right Twat! I rang Luda and she didn't sound too impressed - but was OK. We met and went and saw the Stalingrad Museam which has an amazing model of the city post battle and also a panorama of what it looked like from a hill close by. It was amazingly good. They also have Vasily's sniper rifle in the museam! Also next door was the only building they have kept from the war, just a shell of the old Flour mill, which ironically was built by a German company back in the 1890's!! As you can imagine we spent a few hours at this place and it was well worth the visit.

Next stop was what is called Mamaev Hill. Its just to the North of the city center, 3 km's, and alot of fighting went on there. They have a massive Statue of "Mother Russia". Its akin to Statue of Liberty but much bigger and the woman is very well built and strong looking!! Its actually 83m high, which includes a sword she is wielding around. I love it!! Took some pictures which I will down load when I get a chance. They also have a very moving memorial up there that has an eternal flame and very sombre haunting music playing. Its a very tear jerker type place. Luda was very quite while we were there and I think she was quite emotional. (I was looking for the beer kiosk!!) No seriously, it was a moving memorial and they have done a great job. Its hard not to feel emotional when your there.

There is a church near by and Luda is religious, so wanted to show me it!! I didn't have the heart to tell her how I felt so I went along. She bought all these candles and bread and stuff and they wrote her name in a book. Apparently they will now prey for her mother at this church every day for one whole year! She then lit candles and placed them in these holders and gave me two and said, "Light these and place in holder and remember for your Mother and Father" I nearly fell over. We had spoken alot on the train about our parents, with her Mum being sick etc, and obviously knew about mine and hadn't forgotten! It was a nice gesture and one I respected even with my attitude to religion! I walked off while she went around, crossed herself, touched the ground and kissed this picture and that picture, put her forehead on this one and then had a drink of water! No wonder she was thirsty after all that effort just to get out!!

We had a walk around "Mother Russia" and I really enjoyed the place. Once down the bottom of the hill we got a beer and had a sit down to relaxed abit, we had been walking for hours by this stage and her Dad had been calling to find out where she was!! By the way she is 34 years old, so not some young teenager, but still she had come home to visit her Mum so I felt extremely guilty about stealing her away! We headed back into town and said goodbye. I found a nice little cafe and had some dinner (Pizza) a beer or two and headed home for an early night! That is the thing I have noticed all over Russia. They love Italian food and Sushi is really popular also! No Thai or Indian that I have seen, but an Italian on every street!! Love there Salads also! Everywhere you go you're asked about Salads! My favorite has been beer and pestachio's!! hahaha! Czech beer is popular here and I've been having some tastings!!! They also have a really nice Tuborg in a green bottle. Its about 450m and had a ring pull top. When you pull the ring it whistles and then makes a pop when you pull the top right off! I like the sound so have had a few of those also!! hahaha!! Told you I was a dickhead!!

Next day I got up late and had a walk around town! Same streets and they were all still there! I went to a Fine Arts Museam to pass some time (Wanker). And just walked around some more. I was ready to call it a day and have dinner then head home at about 6 when Luda sent a message and said she'd had enough and needed to get out. So we met for a beer and got some dinner down at the dock area. Was great coz she ordered all this Russian food, local fish, salad and cheese etc, which was so tasty. Had a really good night and stayed for a few beers afterwards! She loves the River area and was happy to get away and relax for awhile, so we both were greatful!

I was supposed to leave today, but got a call from Luda this morning telling me that her Father had heard there was problems with the line down south and trains yesterday and today were cancelled heading that way and that I would need to leave tomorrow instead! I was pretty pissed off to be honest, I'd seen what I needed to see and if not for Luda's company would be bored shitless staying anymore than one night!!! I gave my ticket details to them and they called back and said all was OK for tomorrow, they also called the hotel and organised for an extra nights stay!! Amazing people!! Or is this a trap?? Russian Bride agency is run from there house and Luda is a predator!!! hahaha! I can only wish!!! hahaha! Only joking, she is a great bird and its a great laugh, I've had the best times in Russia when I've had Russian people with me, like in Irkutsk with Helen/Elena and now here with Luda! Very happy its worked out this way!!

So I have another 24 hours or so here and then its offski! Sochi is next on the agenda and Luda called the hotel I want to stay at last night to make sure I had a booking and there would be no issues so again that is great! Once I get there I'll head to the Dock and try and organise a ferry ticket to Istanbul. Hopefully I only have to wait a day or two for the ferry! But I wont hold my breath!!

Take care folks, all the best!

Cheers Andy.

Happy Birthday Steve and Shane for the 22nd and 23rd! Hope you both had great days.

Heather from basketball, hope all went well with the op and your up and about and recovering already. Thoughts are with you and I wish you a speedy recovery!! I shall light a candle in my next church visit for you!!! NOT!!!!

Rhani, thanks sweetheart. Love to Chris and Dakota, miss you guys heaps.

Lynne, thanks for that. Having a ball as you could well imagine. Keep save and Take care. xx

Jo and Phil, great to hear from you and thats such great news!! And I'm serious! I hope it pushes out further still, I'll need 6 months to recover from this trip!! Take care and thanks again for writing!

Simsy, let me know mate, I think I do know that bar, isn't that the gay place you lost your.... no don't worry, I know what you mean!! You love that place! Twat!!!

Chalky, love you Marra, crossed over messages but still great to hear from ya! Love to the family! Ha Way the lads!! I often look at the sky and think funny things aswell, like "Is that plane going to crash???" hahaha!

Kym, you can give them the address if you like, no drama, I have no issue about who reads it and what they think. By the way you don't realise what the hell you have just triggered by saying that about Hedleys Jokes!! He is called Hedley by the way, well his name is Ian but his nickname, and second name is Hedley. We thought it was so stupid that we decided we would call him that since form 3!! hahaha! Its a good job he is in Scotland for awhile, some slight relief. I must admit the last few have been crackers!! Thanks for your message, hope all is good and you have had no more fires!!

Labrine, problem is I can't fucking cook! Thanks for the message, great to hear from you. Say hi to the troops for me. I hope D'Arne is copping well and Linda and Rhonda are well, as well as Tony, who is responsible in a big way for all of the above!!

BL. I nearly wet myself when you sent that!! hahaha! Classic comedy. I didn't even think about that at the time. I was in tears mate! hahaha! Thanks for the birthday wishes.

Hedley, Enjoy Scotland, hear from you when you get back. I had something to tell/ask you but can't remember now what it was. It can keep. Hope to see you in Europe somewhere!

Take care.

Cheers Andy.

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