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The Trans-Siberian Railway: A Trip of a Lifetime! πŸ‡·πŸ‡Ί

It’s a trip of a lifetime

The Trans-Siberian train trip is a journey I dreamed of for so many years. After months of careful planning, I was finally able to make this dream come true. In September 2018, I started this epic train trip from Moscow all the way to Irkutsk in the Middle of Siberia. During this trip, I made stops in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and lake Baikal.

The Trans-Siberian Railway is a network of railways connecting Moscow with the Russian far East. With a length of 9,289 Kilometres from Moscow to Vladivostok, it is the longest railway line in the world. The trip across Siberia is a unique experience, it is not like any other train trip in the world and that’s not only because of the distance. Rather, it’s about the unique rituals and traditions of this train ride which you will never experience elsewhere.

In this blog, I will share with you the details of my trip in addition to my personal impressions and some tips and recommendations . I believe it will be my longest blog as there is an incredible amount of information to share about this epic train ride.

The Trans-Siberian train makes a stop in Omsk

Planning for the trip

I recommend that you plan for your trip ahead of time. First of all, you will need a visa to Russia if you are a European or North American. Therefore, you need to prepare for your visa application in advance. You need to get your train tickets, and you need to decide which cities you want to visit along the way and what to pack for the train.

Trans-Siberian Railway map

You have the freedom to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway either Eastbound or Westbound. Most of travellers start the trip in Moscow. They either have a journey all the way to Vladivostok or stop somewhere in the Middle of Siberia just like what I did. Some others take the train from Moscow and continue the journey towards Ulaanbaatar (capital of Mongolia) or even Beijing, China.

Visa

For most of North American and European citizens, you are going to need a visa to travel to Russia. If you want to know more about the Russian visa policy, click here . For more information about the Russian visa process, click here . Furthermore, you may want to start your trip or end it in China and in this case, you will have to pass through Mongolia so you might end up needing a visa for these two countries in addition to the visa to Russia. click here to find more information about Chinese visa policy and here to find more information about Mongolian visa policy.

Tickets

I highly recommend you buy your tickets from the official Russian Railway site as this will save you a lot of money. To access the English language page of the official Russian Railway site, click here. Some international travellers prefer to buy tickets from agencies such as Russian Railways as it’s slightly easier to do so but they will be charged more than the official Russian Railways website.

Russian trains have 3 classes: Π‘Π’ (Spalny Vagon) is the first class. It’s 2-berth compartment. One Spalny Vagon car accommodates 9 compartments so that’s up to 18 passengers in one train car. Each car has 2 toilets and some new train cars have a shower room for a fee. Second class is known as ΠšΡƒΠΏΠ΅ (Kupe). Most of international travellers choose this class for the trip. Each compartment has 4 beds. Each train car accommodates 9 compartments so there will be up to 36 passengers in one train car. The third class is known as ΠŸΠ»Π°Ρ†ΠΊΠ°Ρ€Ρ‚Π½Ρ‹ΠΉ (Platskartny): It accommodates 54 beds in one car in an open space. It’s the cheapest way to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway and probably the most adventurer way to travel but definitely not the most comfortable.

My beautiful 1st class compartment

If you are going to have your trip in the summer and you are planning to get 1st class tickets, you must buy tickets months in advance as 1st class tickets usually sell out quickly. About the cost of tickets, it depends on type of train and on the fare you are getting but as an estimate, expect to pay around 130 USD for a first class ticket for every 24 hours you spend on the train. For example, if you are planning a journey from Moscow to Novosibirsk, that’s about 46 hours train journey and the cost of ticket will be around 260 USD. For second and third class tickets, cost is significantly lower (around 1/4 the price of 1st class ticket). When you buy tickets, you buy separate tickets from one city to another so that you can make stops and enjoy Siberian cities. Some people buy 1 ticket from Moscow all the way to Vladivostok but I personally don’t recommend that as you will be spending 7 days on the train and you will miss the chance to explore other cities.

Summer in Siberia can be surprisingly hot and trains can be overcrowded with travellers so I recommend that you avoid peak summer months. I would say, May, early June, end of August or September are good months to do this trip. I did mine in early September and the weather was fantastic.

What to pack

Most of Russians who travel on train for days bring their own food and drinks. I recommend that you do the same! There is a restaurant on the train but food there isn’t always great and it can even be expensive. I recommend that you pack some food such as instant noodles, instant mashed potato, pastries, sandwiches, bread, coffee powder, fruits, vegetables, tea bags, etc. There is a hot water boiler “Samovar” in every train car which you can use as much as you want. One of the most important traditions of Russian train is sharing; Russian people are hospitable and they will share their food with you and you should at least offer them some of what you have.

You also need to pack some books; bring some Russian literature books for Dostoevsky or Leo Tolstoy as reading that in the middle of Siberia will bring you a lot of joy. Download some movies and series as you may not have wifi all the time. Get some card or board games. I also recommend that you bring body wet wipes especially if you are planning to spend more than 1 night on the train as you may not have an access to shower. There’s a large space to store you luggage inside the compartment so you shouldn’t worry about that.

The train conductor “Provodnitsa” will give you a warm welcome (but that depends on her mood) and will bring you a clean mattress, cover, and a pillow case. A train ticket usually includes one meal even if the trip is for multiple days, you will still get 1 meal only and you will have to pay for anything extra. Provodnitsa should be your best friend on the train and let me tell you a secret, Provodnitsas love chocolate so get her a bar of good quality chocolate as a thank you and she will take an extra care of you. It also helps if you speak some Russian as most of them don’t speak any English.

Moscow – Where it all started

I arrived in Moscow from St. Petersburg with a high-speed train. I spent 2 nights in Moscow where I met my friends, visited some sites, and prepared myself for the big trip. I stayed in Izmailovo Hotel which is the largest hotel in the world that was built for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. I had a nice stay there and spent a great time with my Russian friends. I was happy to be in Moscow but I was even more excited about the upcoming Trans-Siberian train trip.

Boarding the great train

At the day of departure, I was full of excitement about the trip. I had to board the train from Kazansky station. I checked out from the hotel and headed to the station where my train leaves.

There are 9 railway stations in Moscow and it’s interesting how they are named . For example, if your train is heading to/arriving from Minsk, Belarus then train departs/arrives from/in Belorussky station. Trains to Kiev, Ukraine depart/arrive from/in Kievsky station and so on. Trains to Siberia usually depart from Yaroslavsky station. However, since my train was heading to Kazan first, I had to board the train from Kazansky station in Moscow.

To board the train, you simply need to head to the platform, go to your train car as per your ticket, show your passport to the Provodnitsa who will check your registration and allow you to get inside the train. I was so delighted when I entered my compartment, it’s a place that’s going to be home for 26 hours. I expected to share the compartment with another passenger but no one showed up so I had the whole compartment for myself until I reached Yekaterinburg.

The compartment is very comfortable and even spacious! There are hangers inside the compartment, a large storage space, TV that I never used, a power socket, a food basket and amenity kit. In addition to these amenities, each traveller gets a clean pack of mattress, bed cover, pillows, and towels.

I felt happy like a kid when the train started to move. A few minutes later, the Provodnitsa entered my compartment to take my order for dinner. 20 minutes later, my dinner was being served. The Provodnitsa was very cheerful and friendly but sadly, I only knew a few phrases in Russian so wasn’t able to have a long conversation with her. It helps a lot if you know some Russian as people on the train are always willing to have interesting conversations with travellers.

After finishing my average meal, and since I didn’t have anyone in my compartment, I needed to socialize with people so I went to the dining car, ordered a drink and a few minutes later, I met some cool people from the Netherlands and Russia. I had a crazy evening with these guys and then I realized that myself, 2 Dutch girls and 1 cool Russian guy will all stop in Yekaterinburg so the Russian guy offered to show us around the city of Yekaterinburg, which is his hometown.

After spending a nice evening with the new friends, I returned back to my compartment and spent the first night on the train. I had a good sleep and I woke up at around 5.00 am . When I woke up, we were already making a 30 minutes stop in Kazan. I had no energy to get out of the train so I decided to stay in my bed. One of the things I regretted after having this trip is not having a stop in Kazan. I guess it was a mistake and I hope that I will be able to visit Kazan in the future. I slept again for 1 more hour then woke up and had my morning coffee and some pastries for breakfast. At around 10 am, we arrived in Agryz, a small town in the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia. The train made a 15 minutes stop there so it was an opportunity to get out of the train and walk around a bit. I noticed the name of the town written in both Russian and Tatar languages. Also, people started to look different as there were more people with darker skin and Tatar features and less Slavic looking than in Moscow so I realized that I am getting really far away from Moscow. After the short stop, I boarded the train again, read a chapter, listened to some folk Russian music and then went to the dining car to meet my new friends and made plans to meet in Yekaterinburg next day.

Two hours before arriving in Yekaterinburg, the train made a 28 minutes stop in a village called Druzhinino. The village was more than 2 hours away from any big city so I was amazed of the tranquility and peace there. The air smelled so good, weather was perfect and the sun was about to set. Being in the centre of all that brought a real happiness to my heart. Anyhow, I returned back to the train and in 2 hours, we arrived in Yekaterinburg where I spent 2 nights.

Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Urals

I arrived in Yekaterinburg around 8.20 pm. It is the 4th largest city in Russia and it hosted some football matches in 2018 FIFA World Cup. I arrived there after spending 26 hours on the train and after crossing 2 time zones. The distance I travelled from Moscow so far is 1,816 Kilometres.

Yekaterinburg is a beautiful city located East of Ural Mountains, the city is the gateway to Siberia but its residents like to be called “Urals” rather than “Siberians” so I realized that 26 hours on the train from Moscow still didn’t get me to Siberia yet.

I spent 2 beautiful nights in the city; visited the church of all saints where Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia and his family along with members of the household were murdered by the Bolsheviks. I also met my new friends there, visited some nice parks and cafes and had delicious Russian pancakes. I also visited the roof top of Vysotsky skyscraper where I had an amazing view of the city.

After spending 48 hours in the city, the time has come to go back to the train station and to get ready for a new train ride to Krasnoyarsk. The train ride was for 35 hours.

A train to Krasnoyarsk, the heart of Siberia

I was waiting for my train at the platform, my train had arrived and this time I am boarding it with confidence as I became familiar with Russian train rituals so I was sure I wasn’t looking like a fool who was exploring everything on the train for the first time. The train left the platform at 21.42 pm. I also booked a first class ticket for this route and once again, no one showed up in my compartment. I probably felt good about it as I needed to rest. I read something and then converted my seat into a comfortable bed.

Next morning, I woke up at around 6 am and realized that I am finally in Siberia. At 6.41, we had a 15 minutes stop in Siberian town called Ishim. It was my first time to step a foot on a Siberian soil so I got myself outside the train and walked along the platform enjoying the fresh morning air. A few minutes later, I returned back to the train, had my morning coffee along with a breakfast I already packed.

In Ishim, Siberia

Travelling in “Spalny Vagon” or simply first class is very comfortable and the positive side of it is that you get a lot of space and a lot of time to yourself but the negative side of it could be the lack of interaction with other travellers. One of the greatest things about the Trans-Siberian train trip is the experience you have with the different kinds of people you meet on the train. There is a better chance to meet people when you travel in the 2nd or 3rd class than in the 1st class. However, it was my first time on the train so wanted to try the comfort of the 1st class and I guess that it was a good choice.

At 11.04, we made a stop for 16 minutes in Omsk which is one of the largest cities in Siberia. Arriving in Omsk means that we have already crossed 3 time zones and we travelled for 2,676 Kilometres from Moscow.

I returned back to my compartment and I got myself busy with a bunch of things; was watching the massive Siberian land through the window, reading, texting with friends, and even napping! I was waiting for the next long stop which will be in Novosibirsk, the 3rd largest Russian city and the beating heart of Siberia.

Exactly on time, at 19.52, the great Trans-Siberian train arrived in Novosibirsk. The stop was for 51 minutes so it was a good opportunity to wonder around the station, to make photos, and to buy some food. When the train approached the platform, some locals were standing by the platform selling different kinds of fresh food and souvenirs. I got myself some pastries and potato stew for dinner. I wasn’t going to visit Novosibirsk now but decided to make a stop there on the way back (I flew from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk and spent 2 nights there).

Novosibirsk Train Station

I returned back to my compartment to find out that I will have a company for the next 12 hours, my compartment neighbour was a middle age Russian man. First thing he did right after saying Hello was sharing a pack of chips with me. Russian people are generally hospitable and they can become very friendly once they get to know you more. His English was limited and my Russian was terrible but we still managed to communicate. Later in the evening I went to the dining car hoping to meet some people to socialize with; I met 2 Russian women in their late 30s, had a nice chat with them and then returned back to my compartment and decided to sleep. I was excited about my next stop next morning, which is, Krasnoyarsk.

Krasnoyarsk

The train arrived in Krasnoyarsk at 8.53 am. I said to myself “Now I can say that I am deep inside Siberia”. Arriving in Krasnoyarsk means that I travelled for 4,065 Kilometres from Moscow and crossed 4 time zones. The city is the 3rd largest in Siberia and its cultural centre. I had only 30 hours to spend in Krasnoyarsk and that was probably another mistake as the city definitely worth spending more time. I ordered a taxi from the station to my hotel, checked-in and had to get some sleep on a real bed after spending 2 nights on the train. Later in the afternoon, I was so excited to meet a great friend of mine who lives there and who showed me around some beautiful spots in the city.

In Siberia, you will see many right-hand drive cars imported from Japan. When I saw a car like this for the first time, I thought there is something completely wrong and I was wondering how would a right-hand drive car drives on the wrong side of the road than what they were designed for. A few minutes later, I started to see more and more right-hand drive cars. A bit later, after meeting my friend, we went to my friend’s car and to my surprise, her car was also one of these! I was in disbelief and even said “How are you able to drive such a car here?” and her cold Siberian response to that was “Easy, you just get used to it”.

We drove the car uphill to a gorgeous spot where the beautiful Paraskeva Pyatnitsa chapel is located. This chapel is one of the symbols of Krasnoyarsk and it decorates the 10 Russian Ruble banknote. We entered the chapel; my friend picked up a scarf, covered her hair and prayed (women must cover their hair when they enter an Orthodox church). I was standing there, watching, and thought of “how similar religions are”.

Paraskeva Pyatnitsa decorates the 10 Rubles note

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit other important sites in Krasnoyarsk such as Stolby Forest Reserve, which is located outside the city. I promised myself to do that next time.

Next day, I was heading to the train station to take my last train ride of this trip and this time to Irkutsk, which is 17 hours away by train from Krasnoyarsk. I was picked up by a deaf taxi driver who was extremely friendly, he asked me where I am from (by typing on google translator) and I managed to tell him that I am Canadian. He was so excited when he read that and then he explained to me that he loves Hockey so I showed him images from my phone of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and of some legendary Russian players who played in NHL. He was so delighted and I was glad that I met such a genuine person.

The last train ride

My last train ride which was from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk was about to start. I entered my compartment and I found a man in his 50s surrounded by a massive amount of books and food sitting there! I later realized that he boarded the train in Moscow and he’s going to Khabarovsk which is 6 nights away from Moscow. Therefore, he’s been on the train for 3 days! I greeted him and then unpacked and made myself comfortable. He was hanging a Marine suit so I realized that he’s in Russian Navy. A few minutes later, he wanted to start a conversation but we struggled to communicate because of language barrier and then later he told me that he served in East Germany before the fall of Berlin wall and that he speaks German. I speak some German too so we ended up communicating in German!

It was my last night on the train so I went to the dining car to celebrate that; met some travellers from Germany who were heading to Vladivostok without making any stop (it’s 7 days on the train from Moscow to Vladivostok). I am glad I made stops in some Siberian cities as there’s a lot to explore in Siberia. Just before midnight, the train made a stop in a Siberian town called Nizhneudins. The German guys wanted to go outside for a smoke so I joined them. I returned back to the compartment and went to bed as I needed to wake up very early next day.

I woke up at 6.45 am, I was supposed to arrive in Irkutsk at 7.43 am so I changed, had my morning coffee and prepared myself to bid a farewell to this great train.

The train arrived in Irkutsk, my epic train trip is over! Travelled for 5,153 Kilometres and crossed 5 time zones across Russia, the largest country in the world. I admit that if I regret something, it would be not continuing this trip either to Vladivostok or to Mongolia or China. My last stop was Irkutsk and I made a stop there to see the lake Baikal which is the largest fresh water lake in the world.

I had a weird feeling when I realized that my train trip is finally over and that everything I will see and do from now on will not involve any Russian train ride. However, the trip isn’t over yet as I still have 2 days to explore Irkutsk and lake Baikal and then I’ll be flying to Novosibirsk, which was my last stop in Siberia.

After travelling for 5,153 Kilometres

Irkutsk

Irkutsk is a mid size city in Siberia (600,000 inhabitants) and it has a nickname of “Paris of Siberia”. The city is a gateway to the nearby Lake Baikal but it also has a lot to offer. In the 19th century, many Russian artists and nobles were sent to exile to Siberia for revolting against Tsar Nicholas I and many of them ended up in Irkutsk so the city became centre of intellectual, art and social life.

In my first day, I went out to explore the city. The following day, I took a bus from Irkutsk bus station to Listvyanka on lake Baikal. Trip took around 1.5 hours each way.

Irkutsk is a nice city and just like other places in Siberia, I found people there incredibly hospitable and genuine. In Irkutsk you will see more and more Buryat looking people who mainly live in the neighbouring Buryat Republic but many of them reside in Irkutsk as it’s not far away from their homeland in Buryat Republic. Seeing them made me realize how multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Russia is, It’s just incredible.

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world. It contains more fresh water than The Great Lakes combined, imagine? It is also the deepest and the oldest lake in the world. It is the sacred sea of Siberia and one of the most gorgeous natural sites in the world. In the winter, the surface of the lake freezes for 4-5 months. I loved being there in the end of the summer (I was there in September) but I wish to ice skate on the surface of the lake someday.

I had a day trip to Listvyanka which is a town on lake Baikal and had the opportunity to hike along the lake. Listvyanka is only 1 hour away by bus from Irkutsk main bus station. It’s a nice town and there you can find traditional shops selling local products and souvenirs such as Omul dried fish, wooden products, or even fur! The lake is one of the most gorgeous sites I’ve ever seen in my whole life and there are numerous activities you can do when you are there. Sadly, because I didn’t have enough time, I couldn’t arrange for a trip to Olkhon Island. It’s one of the things that I truly regret not doing and I really hope that I will have the opportunity to be there again so that I visit that stunning looking island.

Listvyanka is a nice area if you want to explore the Baikal lake for the first time but if you want to be in a remote location and isolated from the rest of the world and to experience a real tranquility then I believe that visiting Olkhon Island is a must.

After spending a great day at the lake, I said to myself that I should have dedicated more time for the lake as there are some gorgeous sites to explore along the lake such as the island or Circum-Baikal Railway which is historical train ride which runs across the Northern shore of the lake.

What a gorgeous lake!

I returned back to the beautiful city of Irkutsk in the evening and had a delicious dinner there. It was my last night in Irkutsk but I was excited about another trip I will be having next day; I was going to fly to Novosibirsk with Russian S7 airlines. I was looking forward to seeing a new Siberian city.

In the early morning, I headed to Irkutsk airport and boarded my flight to Novosibirsk. I flew with S7 airlines and the flight was generally comfortable and on time.

Novosibirsk – My last stop in Siberia

I passed by Novosibirsk when I was travelling on the train from Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk. I didn’t want to miss the chance to check out Siberia’s capital and most populous city so I decided to visit the city on the way back.

I landed in Novosibirsk, rushed to my small hotel, had a rest and then went out to explore the city. Novosibirsk is a large city; it is the largest in Siberia and the 3rd largest in Russia. However, the city has this relaxing big city vibe. The city is full of museums , monuments, boutique stores, shopping malls and some really good cafe and restaurants. The quality of food, drinks, and service I had there was comparable to Moscow and St. Petersburg. I only spent 48 hours in Novosibirsk but was enough to get a very positive impression about the city.

I was invited to have dinner with a group of people who live in Akademgorodok. It is located 30 Kilometres away from Novosibirsk and was built in the 1950s as a mecca for academics. It’s a beautiful town and is worth a visit if you are in Novosibirsk.

After spending 2 days in Novosibirsk, my time in Siberia had come to an end so I was getting ready to leave Russia to a new country, Kyrgyzstan. It was only 2.5 hours flight from Novosibirsk to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan and I flew with the same S7 Airlines.

Summary

Trans-Siberian train trip is more than just a railway trip.

It’s about diving into the deep Russian soul, it’s about discovering the mysterious Russian land, it’s about uncovering the real beauty of the largest nation on earth, it’s about the genuine people you meet on the way, it’s about train traditions, it’s about the majestic scenery , it’s about the powerful trains, it’s about the interesting provodnitsas…

And more and more and more…

It is certainly the best trip I have ever had and certainly a wonderful learning experience. You will meet genuine and interesting people and you will learn about a beautiful culture which was behind an iron curtain for long decades.

This trip is ideal if you want to get out of your comfort zone and explore places which not many people had the chance to visit. It’s not the most comfortable trip as train rides can be too long sometimes but it is definitely worth it. I am writing this blog now and feeling nostalgic about the time I had on the train and in Siberia hoping that I will get the chance to do this trip again.

About the cost of the trip, as I mentioned above, a rough estimate of a seat in a 1st class cabin (Spalny Vagon) is around 130 USD for every 24 hours you spend on the train. Remember that cost depends on the fare and the type of the train. It would cost you 30% of that if you travel in 2nd or 3rd class. Since I am quite familiar with Russian trains now, I believe I will travel in 2nd class if I want to travel across Siberia again as it’s significantly cost effective.

Cost of food, accommodation and transportation in Siberian cities is significantly less than Moscow and St. Petersburg but it’s not always cheap and still not cheaper than some countries I visited such as Ukraine, Georgia, or Belarus. Quality of food is generally good and service is alright.

Don’t expect to hear any English in Siberia. The deeper you get inside Siberia, the less English people you will hear. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from doing this epic train trip. Just learn to read Cyrillic Alphabets and learn some Russian phrases and you will be fine. I managed to get by with my limited Russian and you can always find a local person who speaks English.

The train is very comfortable and clean. Toilets were always kept clean but that can vary from one train to another. In my experience, everything was clean and tidy.

Train is always on time, which is really impressive! It’s amazing to see a train crosses more than 9000 Kilometres that always arrives on time and leaves on time.

Finally, I regret that I didn’t travel on the train for even further than Irkutsk; I should have visited the city of Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryat Republic which is a Buddhist republic in Russia or to go all the way to Vladivostok, a charming Russian city on the Pacific. I regret not planning that but I hope to be able to do it next time.

That’s all I can say about my Trans-Siberian railway trip for now. Please comment if you have any questions and I will be more than happy to answer.

Thank you for reading!

Bahrain, an Oasis Island in the Gulf! πŸ‡§πŸ‡­

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Bahrain is a tiny island country

Bahrain is very small island country (archipelago, to be precise) with a total area of only 760 km2. The Arabic word “Bahrain” literally means “Two Seas”. It’s a country with a long history; a home to Dilmun civilization that was founded over 2,500 years ago. It’s a unique travel destination in the Gulf region with lots of delicious local food spots, interesting local traditions, beautiful beaches, and a relatively laid back lifestyle in comparison to its Gulf neighbours which makes it, in my opinion, a true Oasis in the region.

In November 2019, I had the pleasure to spend 24 hours in Bahrain. It was a very short trip in a tiny country but I still managed to have a good time there and will be pleased to share my impressions about Bahrain in this blog.

The Flight

A couple of weeks before the flight, I was browsing the internet and found out that KLM airlines have scheduled flights from Bahrain to Kuwait and back! I later realized that KLM originally fly from Amsterdam to Kuwait and then to Bahrain. On the way back to Amsterdam, the plane flies from Bahrain and stops in Kuwait on the way to Amsterdam. What was more interesting is the price of the ticket, I booked a return ticket for less than 75USD (it’s very cheap for this region).

I arrived at Kuwait airport; I was the only one at the check-in desk, got my boarding pass and headed directly to the lounge. Luckily, my credit card grants me an unlimited access to selected airport lounges around the world. I make sure to take a full advantage of that whenever I get the chance. I arrived at the lounge and got myself some good food from the buffet, all tasted good! For more information about my lounge access, click here “I arrived at the lounge and got myself some good food from the buffet, all tasted good! For more information about my lounge access, click here; for more information on travel credit cards and perks like free airport lounge use, click here.

I was very excited to fly with KLM after many years as the last time I flew with them was in 2013. I had the option to book an “Economy Comfort” seat for only 18 USD extra for the 1st leg of the flight and I decided to give it a try as I wanted to try their Economy Comfort product to see if it’s worth it in any future flight with KLM.

KLM’s “Economy Comfort” turned out to be really generous in terms of legroom. As you can see in the photo below, I was able to comfortably sit with crossed legs. However, this seat doesn’t give you any extra service so you will be getting exactly the same service as other economy class passengers. Speaking of service, it felt great to get a delicious Dutch Stroopwafels and a bottle of water in this flight although the flight didn’t last for longer than 40 minutes.

The flight was pleasant but very short. I remember that the pilot started to descend a few minutes after reaching cruising altitude. I landed in Bahrain Airport, got myself a visa on arrival for 5 Bahraini Dinar (13.5 USD) and then took an airport taxi to my hotel. Taxi from airport to my hotel costed me about half the price of the return flight ticket. As you can see, Bahrain isn’t cheap at all πŸ™‚

The Hotel

I arrived in my hotel which is called “Arch Hotel, Best Western Signature Collection”. I booked this hotel through Lufthansa’s Miles&More frequent flyer portal. My night in the hotel costed me around 90 USD but it also granted me 3200 miles. I guess it was a good deal since I managed to collect some valuable miles and the hotel room was clean, tidy, and spacious.

I heard a lot about how crazy it can get in Bahrain during weekends and all what I heard turned out to be true. I arrived in the hotel and I realized that the whole area around the hotel including the hotel itself is a huge party spot. It was one of the noisiest and the most crowded hotel lobbies I have ever seen. It was absolutely insane! There are 3 or 4 nightclubs inside the hotel and there are many other clubs and bars in the surrounding area. I had a funny chat with the front desk employee who checked me in and politely asked him to get a quiet room. I told him “As you can see, I don’t look like a crazy party person and I need to get some sleep as I have to wake up early tomorrow”. He probably didn’t expect someone who is checking in a hotel at around midnight in a middle of party spot to have such a request πŸ™‚ I was probably the only “boring” guest in the entire hotel. Luckily, my room was quiet and didn’t hear any crazy loud music from any of the nightclubs or bars in the hotel.

After checking in, I looked around to see if there is anything interesting. The place was full of extremely drunk and even violent people and the atmosphere wasn’t appealing. I walked around and found a relatively less crazy sports bar so stayed there for a drink and a late night snack. After an hour or so, it was already around 2 am so I returned back to my room and got some sleep.

Bahrain National Museum

Next morning, after having an excellent breakfast in the hotel, I wanted to check out “Bahrain National Museum” so I ordered an Uber taxi from the hotel and that costed me less than 5 USD. Entrance ticket to the museum is very cheap (only 1 Bahraini Dinar = 2.65 USD). It is believed to be one of the oldest museums in the Gulf region and definitely one of the most interesting and most authentic.

I had a great time there learning more about Bahrain history and Dilmun civilization while touring the museum. The museum has a large collection of Bahrain’s archaeological artifacts. I found Hall of Dilmun graves to be truly fascinating fascinating.

The Gate of Bahrain – Souk

After spending a couple of hours in the museum, I wanted to visit the old souk to try some good local food and to take a look at local traditions. The Souk is located in Gate of Bahrain which is an iconic attraction in the island. You can shop for authentic Bahraini products such as sweets and spices and you can also try some local food there.

I had my lunch there in a restaurant called “Saffron by Jenna”. I heard about this restaurant from one Vlogger who visited Bahrain. My lunch consisted of some Bahraini lamb meat with Saffron and some sauces. To be honest, I had much higher expectations. I was a bit disappointed.

Bahrain Fort

After spending a few hours in the Souk, I decided to head to another iconic landmark of the country which is Bahrain Fort. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. This fort was founded in 2300BC and was used by various occupants including Persians, Greeks, and Portuguese. It’s a remarkable landmark and it’s quite astonishing that this site was founded more than 4,000 ago. I had a great afternoon there.

After a lovely excursion around the fort, I had a tasty afternoon coffee in a nice cafe next to the fort. A few minutes later, I ordered an uber taxi and headed back to my hotel to pick up my bag pack and then later in the evening, I decided to walk around the city.

Evening in Bahrain

After picking up my super light backpack, I still had a few hours to kill before heading back to the airport so decided to walk around to explore some new places. I found a nice pub called “Grand Yard House” and it was very lively and full of international crowd enjoying their weekend. It seemed to be a really nice spot to hang out and to meet new people. They were playing some football games from European Qualifications and I enjoyed watching that since I am a football lover.

An hour or so later, it was time to try another meal in Bahrain and for some strange reasons, I was craving burger and was told that there’s a great burger place next door called “Bluefield burger” and that it’s supposed to be the best in Bahrain. The burger I tried there was good and tasty but I wouldn’t say that it was exceptional. Anyway, it was a much less disappointing meal than the lunch I had in the souk πŸ™‚

Back to the Airport .. Back to Kuwait

After spending a nice day in Bahrain, I needed to go back to the airport to catch my flight back to Kuwait. When I arrived at the airport, it was too early that the check-in desk was closed so I had to wait for some time before they opened the check-in desk. I got my boarding pass and walked to security and then to the lounge. They have a beautiful lounge in Bahrain airport called Dilmun lounge, it’s probably one of the best airport lounges I’ve ever tried; service was exceptional and the selection of food and drinks was really good.

While walking to the gate, I spotted a beautiful Lufthansa A330 waiting to head back to Frankfurt. I know that Lufthansa isn’t the best airlines in the world but I have this strange loyalty to this company, maybe because I have childhood memories and a long flying history associated with Lufthansa.

Summary

Bahrain is a nice tiny island that can be a cool weekend getaway destination. The country is very small so expect to run out of new places to visit in a couple of days. I personally liked the laid back environment there; I saw many expatriates from Europe, America and Asia who live and work there and who seem to be having a good and relaxing time, especially in the weekend. I am referring to people I saw in restaurants, shops, pubs and museum, not the insane atmosphere which I saw outside nightclubs. I am so glad I didn’t go inside any of these clubs, I sincerely believe that I did the right thing πŸ™‚

Bahrain is a modern country with interesting history and can be a really nice place to visit or even to live, if you have a great job offer. The country is a financial hub in the region as many international financial institutes have a regional headquarters in Bahrain. I also heard that Amazon Web Services have major data centres in Bahrain. Furthermore, the island hosts an annual Formula One Grand Prix race and has a large number of hotels to support many major events.

Bottom line, if you live somewhere in the Gulf region, visiting Bahrain can be very interesting. It’s definitely not as glamorous as Dubai but it can be a cool break if you are into history and local traditions. If you are flying with Gulf Air (Bahrain’s national carrier) and you have a layover in Bahrain, it’s a good idea to go out the airport and explore this country.

One last thing, Bahrain can be a bit expensive especially when it comes to accommodation. Transportation cost is above average and eating out can be costly. It is still cheaper than Dubai though but much more expensive than places I love to visit in Eastern Europe, for example.

That’s all I can say about Bahrain for now. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write me in the comment section and I will be more than happy to answer.

Tbilisi, the Charming Capital of Georgia πŸ‡¬πŸ‡ͺ

Tbilisi is such a beautiful city

In December 2018, I had a quick weekend getaway to celebrate my birthday while visiting a new country and meeting a good friend. Since I have an interest in exploring post-Soviet Union countries, and since I heard and read many great reviews about the beauty of Georgia which is a country that has deep roots in history and very interesting culture and traditions, choosing Tbilisi as a destination to visit was not a difficult decision to make at all.

I spent 3 nights in Tbilisi where I truly enjoyed the charm of the city and the hospitality of Georgian people. It’s true that I saw only a tiny glimpse of this amazing country but I still believe that the experience I had there is absolutely worth sharing.

In this short blog, I will share with you my impressions about Tbilisi hoping that it will inspire more people to consider visiting Georgia someday.

A stroll along the river in a sunny day

In a beautiful fresh and sunny day, we had a nice walk along the river. The sun was shining and everything looked absolutely magnificent. Luckily, the sun decided to show up in my birthday so I couldn’t ask for more…

Cable car to the Mother Georgia statue

The Mother Georgia statue is located on a hill overlooking the city. As you can see from the photo below, you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city from there.

Old Town of Tbilisi

Tbilisi has a charming old town that is full of beautiful stone paths, traditional shops, authentic restaurants and cafes and even wine houses! You can spend hours there wondering around the beautiful paths.

Georgian cuisine is one of my favourites

Basically, everything I tried in Georgia tasted great! Georgian food is truly delicious and it’s one of my favourite cuisines. You can easily gain a lot of weight if you spend a lot of time in Georgia.

Funicular to Mtatsminda Park

Mtatsminda Park is a hilltop amusement park features rides, cafes and a beautiful view of the city. You can enjoy a nice Funicular ride to reach the park. It was nighttime when we went there so I wish had more time in Tbilisi to visit this place again during the day. There’s a very good restaurant up there called Funicular Restaurant which I highly recommend.

Tbilisi at Night

Tbilisi has its own magic at night and it’s considered by many as one of the best nightlight destinations in Eastern Europe. I went to a cool place where a singer was performing Georgian songs and the music sounded to me like a mix of Turkish and Arabic, which is not my cup of tea when it comes to music πŸ™‚ .

Synopsis

Georgia is a relatively small country with a population of 10 Millions. The country is young as it restored its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union about 30 years ago. However, the country has ancient history and traditions and a very delicious cuisine. Georgia saw a huge tourist boom in the last few years and its on the way to become a major tourist destination in the region.

I had a very short time in Georgia and I only managed to see a small part of Tbilisi. I am sure that Georgia has more to offer such as beaches, ski resorts, ancient churches, wineries, and much more. I truly hope to visit Georgia again to explore all that.

People in Georgia are friendly and hospitable. They are famous of knowing how to enjoy life (They love to drink a lot of wine and they love to party and sing) and they are very generous. Nowadays, there are more young people who speak English in Tbilisi while old generation speak Russian in addition to their native Georgian language.

The country is generally affordable, which is another great reason to visit it. For a fraction of the cost in Western Europe or North America, you can truly enjoy a world class experience in Georgia.

I stayed in an Airbnb apartment and it was clean, stylish and affordable. I love to stay in Airbnb when I travel so that I feel that I am more connected to the city I am in. About transportation, I used Yandex taxi app (just like in most other ex USSR countries) and it was reliable and affordable. There’s a good public transportation system in Tbilisi that is reliable and cheap though.

About the best time to visit, it’s really difficult to say. Tbilisi and Georgia in general are popular in the summer but it can get really hot and crowded. Winter time can be grey and even cold. I was there in December and it was nice and sunny and had no issue with the weather but in my opinion, a better time to visit would be between April and June and September to October. If you are interested in beaches and you want to visit Batumi then summer is obviously the right time for your trip. If you want to visit a ski resort, then December to early March should be the best time to visit it.

That’s all I can say about Tbilisi for now. Don’t forget to leave a comment if you have any questions.

Kyrgyzstan; the Switzerland of Central Asia πŸ‡°πŸ‡¬

I simply love travelling across Post-Soviet states so in 2018, after completing my Trans-Siberian Railway trip, I flew from Novosibirsk (the biggest city in Siberia) to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. It was a great opportunity to discover a new country and a new region, which is Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country with a mountainous terrain -which helped them to preserve its ancient culture- located in Central Asia. The country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The official language there is Kyrghyz along with Russian (co-official).

The country has deep roots of history that spans over 2,000 years and a strong nomadic culture. The country has many reasons to visit such as great nature, delicious cuisine, and interesting unique culture.

In this blog, I will be sharing with you some of my impressions about the country of Kyrgyzstan during my short stay there.

Ala Archa National Park

The Ala Archa National Park is an alpine national park in the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, established in 1976 and located approximately 40 km south of the capital city of Bishkek. It’s about 1 hour 45 minutes drive from Bishkek to the national park. We drove there and spent an amazing day. I’ve never been to Switzerland but many of those who did said that the beauty of mountains in Kyrgyzstan is comparable to Switzerland. I spent a full day there where I enjoyed one of the most beautiful nature sites I’ve ever seen. I will leave you to enjoy the beautiful photos below

Kyrgyz Nomadic Culture

A yurt is a large portable round tent covered with skins or left used by nomads in Central Asian steppes. It’s very common to see Yurts in different parts of Central Asia. They are very proud of Yurt and nomadic culture in Kyrgyzstan that even the national flag consists of a red field charged with a yellow sun that contains a depiction of a Yurt!

I had the opportunity to go inside one of these Yurts -probably a fancy Yurt- and it’s spacious and full of beautiful details

Bishkek, the Capital of Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek is the capital and the largest city of Kyrgyzstan with a population of 900,000. The city has limited historical sites but it’s a good starting point if you want to visit other sites in the country. Furthermore, it’s nice to spend a day or two in the city to explore the capital and the largest city of this country. I am a city person and I always enjoy visiting new cities so I had a good time roaming around the streets there.

However, a walk in the city made me feel like time has stopped there in 1991. Many buildings and infrastructure looked old and tired but people were very nice and hospitable.

Kyrgyz Cuisine

Another reason to visit Kyrgyzstan is the delicious cuisine there! You must try Plov when you are in Kyrgyzstan or in any other Central Asian country such as Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan; it’s a traditional dish that consists of meat, rice, and vegetables. It is delicious but I must admit that it’s very heavy πŸ™‚

Furthermore, horse meat is very popular in Kyrgyzstan and I tried it and found it really tasty! You should try it too (if you are not a vegetarian, of course) πŸ˜‰

Summary

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country with gorgeous nature and friendly people. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to explore more of the beauty of the country as I only had 3 days to spend there. I think that I missed a big opportunity to see one of the most beautiful lakes in the world which is Issyk-Kul lake, it’s about 4 to 5 hours drive from Bishkek and totally worth it. I wish I had more time…

People in Kyrgyzstan are very friendly and humble. I actually had a major incident when I was travelling by a Marshrutka (minibus) from Bishkek to Almaty (Kazakhstan), after I had arrived in the central bus station in Almaty, although I am generally a very careful person, I realized that I lost my messenger bag which I had my passports in it (I actually have 2 passports). I almost lost my mind and then I realized that it must have been somewhere in the minibus. I ran back to the station and talked to the management and luckily, with a help of a guy who speaks English, I managed to find the bus driver who ran towards me once he saw me with the bag in his hand! Words can’t tell how happy I was when I realized that I got my passports back so I opened my wallet to give him whatever cash I had to thank him but he refused to take anything. In fact, he just pointed at the sky and said something. The employee from the station who speaks English told me that the driver says that he’s doing this for God’s sake and he doesn’t want any money from me and just asked me to be more careful next time. I thanked him and was so grateful that I got back my passports. This incident told me a lot about how humble and pure some people are although he probably was in need of money yet he refused to take anything.

I flew from Novosibirsk with Siberia Airlines (Their commercial name is S7 airlines), it’s a large airline in Russia and flight was generally nice, short and comfortable (about 2.5 hours). Kyrgyzstan is still new on the world tourism map so there aren’t many direct flights from and to Manas International Airport in Bishkek that connects the capital with the rest of the world; you will probably have to fly to Russia, Istanbul, or Dubai first and then connect from there to Bishkek.

If you ever visit Kyrgyzstan, I recommend that you combine it with another Central Asian destination such as Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. Almaty (the largest city in Kazakhstan) is only 4 hours drive by minibus from Bishkek and it’s a very beautiful city and worth visiting. Sadly, I will not write a blog about Almaty as I was sick during my visit to that city and didn’t end up having a rich travel experience to blog about.

About transportation, I highly recommend using Yandex taxi. It’s safe and affordable.

Like many other Post-Soviet states, English isn’t widely spoken in Kyrgyzstan. In my opinion, you need to learn some basic Russian words and to learn reading Cyrillic alphabets as doing that will make your life much easier.

That’s all I can say about Kyrgyzstan for now! It’s a beautiful country and I encourage everyone to visit it. Leave me a comment if you have any questions.

DDR Museum in Berlin; A Life Behind the Wall πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺ

Deutsche Demokratische Republik

Back in the 1980s, when I was 6 or 7 years old child, Germany was the first European country I’ve ever visited along with my parents. We used to travel there every summer to visit my uncle who lived in West Berlin (he’s still living in Germany). Back then, the city of Berlin was divided into two; East Berlin, which was the capital of the German Democratic Republic (or simply East Germany) and West Berlin.

I was a kid but I still remember some details about crossing the checkpoint into East Berlin and I remember seeing a city behind the wall that looked completely different than West Berlin; people, streets, buildings, and even cars looked different. My mother bought me a small East German flag as a souvenir (sadly, I don’t have it anymore) and then we returned back to the Western part of Berlin where my uncle used to live.

On November 9th 1989, Berlin wall fell marking the falling of the iron curtain and the start of the fall of communism in Europe. 11 months later, Germany was reunified.

I am interested in history of that era so during my recent trip to Berlin, I decided to visit the DDR Museum; it was the highlight of my trip to Berlin and was like stepping into a time machine. I encourage everyone who would like to learn more about the interesting communist era in Germany to visit this fascinating museum.

East German Trabant

This notoriously unreliable car is one of the most significant symbols of East Germany.

East German Food & Drinks

I’m not familiar with any of these brands.. What about you?

Tourism in East Germany

Tourism in East Germany was organized through the state; options were limited as East Germans had a list of destinations behind the iron curtain to choose from. Independent travel was permitted within GDR (German Democratic Republic). I love that post card from Leningrad (St. Petersburg today).

Apartment block in East Germany

It looked pretty much similar to the apartment where I grew up in Kuwait in 80s and early 90s, lots of similarities…

Sport in East Germany

Sport was big in East Germany! They were a very successful sport nation. They were ranked 2 in Summer Olympics 1976, 1980 and 1988 and ranked 1 in 1976 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Furthermore, they qualified to 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany and they managed to blow a big surprise by beating the host nation West Germany 1:0 in one of the biggest shocks in world cup history.

Spying in East Germany

Obviously, just like other communist states, spying on citizens was a daily task by the secret police (Stasi) and its agents. There are many interesting and emotional spying stories that happened during that era. If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend watching the German movie “Das Leben der Anderen” or “the life of others”.

Kids in East Germany

I read many articles stating how good day care was in East Germany in comparison to the situation in today’s unified German. Kids had an innocent and simple childhood which reminds me of my childhood in the Middle East (Kuwait, to be precise).

Workers in East Germany

This is a big topic. To make it short, salaries were much less than in the West and most of the citizens had to save for months to afford a coloured TV or VCR. However, most of the people had similar living standards.

Nudity in East Germany

Well, nudism was another big thing in East Germany! public beaches were packed with naked people and nudity was in fact encouraged.

The Friend zone…

Obviously, East Germany’s best friend were were the other communist countries around the world; Soviet Union was the father and countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Mongolia, Cuba, Poland were their brothers and sisters πŸ™‚

The Presidential Car

The famous general secretary of the socialist party in East Germany (or basically, the president) Erich Honecker enjoyed being driven around with a Volvo limousine.

Just a proof that I was there πŸ˜‰

In summary, it was like a trip back in time. The museum is organized and if you are interested in the topic, you might end up spending long hours there as the museum is full of details. The cost of the ticket is 8.5 Euros and I recommend that you buy a ticket online to skip the queue.

I hope you enjoyed this short blog.

Saint Petersburg, the City of White Nights πŸ‡·πŸ‡Ί

Saint Petersburg is a Gorgeous City

Saint Petersburg is my favourite city in the world. In the last 3 years, I was fortunate to visit this city multiple times. I already wrote a blog about how the city looks like in a snowy winter trip. However, I thought it’s a good idea to share this blog about my impressions of the city in the summer time.

Saint Petersburg is a charming city; I like how the city earned many nicknames such as “the cultural capital of Russia”, “the northernmost metropolis in the world”, “the Venice of the North”, “the city of white nights”. It is truly the cultural capital of Russia as a short walk in the streets of Saint Petersburg makes you immediately feel that you are in an open space museum. Peter the great built the city in 1703 (no surprise how it carries his name).

In this blog, I will list down 15 things you should do, explore, experience, and enjoy during your trip to Saint Petersburg. After reading this blog, I am sure you will understand why would someone call it “the most beautiful city in the world”.

1. Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood

This beautiful church is one of the most remarkable sites of Saint Petersburg. It was built on the site of Alexander II’s assassination (he was fatally wounded there, to be precise). Hence, the name “Saviour on the Spilled Blood”. The church has a gorgeous medieval Russian architecture and contains more than 7500 square metres of mosaic and that’s more than any other church in the world. The entrance fee is only 250 Rubles (3.30 USD)

2. Winter Palace and Palace Square

Palace Square (along with Winter Palace) is another remarkable landmark of the city of Saint Petersburg. Palace Square is the central city square of Saint Petersburg and of the former Russian Empire. Many dramatic historical events took place in this square such as 1917 October Revolution.

Opposite to Alexander column (the focal point of the square), there is the Winter Palace which was the official resident of Russian Tsars 1732 to 1917. Today it is another major landmark of the city of St. Petersburg and it houses one of the greatest museums in the world, the Hermitage Museum.

3. Hermitage Museum

Hermitage museum is the second largest art museum in the world; it has a collection of over 3 million items including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The museum is huge so I recommend that you buy the 2-days ticket so that you can thoroughly enjoy its massive collection. Buy your ticket online to avoid the long queues and always buy your tickets from the official site as international agencies will charge you extra. Click here to view the museum’s homepage. 2 days ticket costs around 23 USD.

4. Grand Maket Russia

This miniature museum is one of my favourite spots in the city. It’s a model layout that represents different regions of Russia from the Baltic to the Pacific. It’s the 2nd largest model layout in the world (After the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg). The place is impressive and will inspire you to visit different parts of Russia.

5. Peterhof Palace

Peterhof (or the Russian Versailles) is one of the most visited sites in St. Petersburg (it’s actually located outside the city). This marvellous site houses Peter’s summer palace. The site is magnificent but can get incredibly crowded in busy summer months so I recommend that you start your trip there early in the morning.

Peterhof Palace is located outside the city and there are different ways to visit it; my recommendation is to take the Suburban train from Baltiyski station towards Oranienbaum but you need to make a stop in old Peterhof station (Staryi Petergof) and then you can either walk or take a bus towards the entrance of Peterhof Palace. On the way back, I highly recommend returning to St. Petersburg with Hydrofoil. It’s more expensive but it’s worth it, you will have beautiful views on the way back.

6. Palace Bridge

Palace Bridge that spans the Neva river in Saint Petersburg between Palace Square and Vasilyevsky Island. In the summer, Palace Bridge draws at 01.50 am so be there 10 or 15 minutes before and wait for the bridge to draw while sipping some hot Russian tea. Be ready to take some great photos!

7. Saint Petersburg Mosque

Many people wouldn’t believe that there’s a massive mosque in St. Petersburg. It was built in 1913 and was the largest mosque in Europe (Outside Turkey) when it was built. The mosque is huge and very beautiful, from outside and inside. It’s a hidden gem.

8. C-189 Submarine Museum

If you are into submarines, you must check this out; it’s C-189 Soviet diesel submarine built in 1954 and now was turned into museum. Ticket costs around 5.5 USD. I had a guided tour and truly enjoyed the conversation with an awesome guide who knows every inch of his submarine.

9. The Icebreaker “Krasin”

This icebreaker was built in 1916 during the Russian Empire era and now has been fully restored and turned into a museum. It’s very interesting to spend an hour wondering inside this gigantic icebreaker which had a long history in exploring the Arctic sea. Ticket costs around 4 USD.

10. Mariinsky Theatre

The Mariinsky Theatre is a historic theatre of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg and was opened in 1860. Here they play one of the finest ballet performances in the World and I was fortunate to watch Swan Lake ballet show there. When you book a ticket, make sure that you book it from the official Russian site (if you buy it through an agency, you will pay extra).

11. Russian Railway Museum

If you are into trains, you will love this museum. I love trains so I spent half a day there. You can see steam locomotives and train carriages from the imperial era in the 19th and early 20th century to the latest electric trains from 21st century. It’s a spectacular museum especially for those who love to see the details of this amazing industry. It’s situated next to Baltiyski station. The museum is huge and some of the train locomotives and carriages are placed outdoor so expect to spend a few hours there. Ticket costs 300 Rubles only (4 USD).

12. St. Petersburg from rooftop

There are many spots where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the city of Saint Petersburg. For this purpose, I highly recommend climbing up St. Isaac’s cathedral. Furthermore, there is a lovely cafe on top of Hotel Indigo called Vino I Voda, the sunset view from there is magnificent.

13. Peter and Paul Fortress

It’s the original citadel of Saint Petersburg founded by Peter the Great in 1703. One of the most magnificent sites in the city. You can easily spend hours there as the fortress houses the city history museum and the Peter and Paul cathedral. All the Russian Tsars are buried there except Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of Nicholas II and his family and entourage were re-interred there, in the side chapel of St. Catherine, on July 17, 1998, the 80th anniversary of their deaths.

14. Kronstadt

If you have more time to spend in Saint Petersburg and if you run out of places in the centre and you wish to explore areas outside the city then I highly recommend having a trip to Kronstadt. In my case, my friend picked me up and we drove there so it was quite convenient but in case you don’t have a car, you can take a ferry from the cruise terminal in St. Petersburg to Kronstadt. The cathedral there is stunning.

15. Food in Saint Petersburg

For many people (including myself), food is a very important topic. I enjoy good food from all over the world and to say the truth, before my 1st trip to St. Petersburg, I didn’t have high expectations about the food there but it turned out that I was totally wrong! Food in Saint Petersburg is incredibly delicious; both Russian and international restaurants are amazing and it generally costs much less than in any other Western European or North American city while the quality of the food is amazing. I tried traditional Russian pancakes with caviar and smetana (sour cream), Georgian food, Borsh (famous Russian soup), Chicken Kiev, even delicious freshly made Russian style doughnuts called “Pyshki” and so many other things. Restaurants there are excellent and chefs are like artists! Enjoy the photos below.

Summary

As I stated before, Saint Petersburg is my favourite city in the world. I love the city and I can’t get enough of it. I wish to get the chance to live there someday; either to work or to learn Russian language.

However, like any other city, the city isn’t perfect as it can be really dark and cold during winter months. Even during the summer, it can be rainy and gloomy. However, I was lucky with the weather in all my trips to the city.

About getting there, the good news is; citizens of a total of 53 countries (including EU citizens) can now apply for eVisa to visit St. Petersrbug and it will be valid for a duration of 8 days to visit SPb and Leningrad region. For more information about visa, click Here. The bad news is, citizens of some countries such as Canada, USA, UK, Australia, and New Zealand still need to apply for a visa in advance as a Russian embassy, consulate, or visa centre. Furthermore, it’s easy to fly to Saint Petersburg as various international airlines have daily scheduled flights there. Also, Saint Petersburg is a major railway hub and connected to many European cities (for example, you can take a high speed train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg and be there in 3.5 hours).

Best time to visit the city is definitely the summer. I visited the city end of the summer and I was once there in the winter. Late Summer was definitely a great time to enjoy the city but I wish to visit it during white nights (June 11th to July 2nd). However, the city will be packed with tourists during white nights and prices of accommodation can be inflated.

I highly recommend staying in Airbnb apartments as there are many good options there with great reviews and affordable prices. Luckily, I had an amazing experience with my Airbnb hosts there. However, there are many other options such as hotels and hostels and cost is generally less than in Europe and North America.

I love the people in Saint Petersburg! They are generally laid back and educated. They are very proud of their city and they know a lot about the history of it. I visited the city a few times so I have many friends there. Every time I go out, I feel that I am out with a city guide who wants to show me a lot about the beauty of their city.

Extra things to visit: Catharina’s palace (I covered it in a previous blog), a walk in Nevsky Prospekt, Kazansky Cathedral, Cruiser Aurora and New Holland.

I can’t recommend Saint Petersburg enough! Plan a trip there once coronavirus nightmare is over! πŸ™‚

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and if you like this blog, just share it πŸ™‚

Moscow, the Centre of the Russian Universe! πŸ‡·πŸ‡Ί

Moscow is a Phenomenal City

Moscow is an incredible place; it is a vibrant city with a rich history and culture. It’s a gigantic city with 12 million inhabitants, 3 major international airports, 9 train stations which makes it the largest city on the European continent and one of the largest in the world. Moscow is an iconic city and the centre of politics, economics, and science in Russia.

I was fortunate to visit many cities around the world but if I want to give one city the title of “The City That Never Sleeps”, I will gladly give that title to Moscow. Furthermore, the city has numerous reasons to attract visitors to explore its magnificent beauty.

I visited Moscow 3 times in the last few years for 2, 2, and 4 days respectively. During my short visits, I managed to explore some interesting parts of Moscow and I would like to share my impressions about this great city in this blog.

Getting to Moscow

Reaching Moscow by air is fairly easy as there are 3 major airports in Moscow; many European, Asian, and Middle Eastern airlines have scheduled daily flights to Moscow airports. Furthermore, Moscow has railway connections with many European and Asian cities; you can travel from London to Moscow or even from Beijing to Moscow by train, if you wish.

Visa

Unless you are a citizen of one of the Visa exempted countries, you will most likely need a visa to Russia. Click here for more information about Russian visa policy.

Red Square and Kremlin

Red Square is the most remarkable landmark of Moscow and the whole Russia; It’s the symbol of power and strength and it’s one the most iconic spaces in the world. It’s the place which any Moscow visit must see first. It’s really hard to describe with words the powerful energy you feel when you stand in the Middle of Red Square.

Inside the Red Square, there is St. Basil’s Cathedral which is one of Russia’s most recognized landmarks. Furthermore, there are many significant sites surrounding the Red Square such as Lenin’s Mausoleum, eternal flame, GUM department store, Kazan Cathedral, Kremlin walls and towers.

I have to visit Red Square every time I am in Moscow; I can’t get enough of this place so every time I go there I end up exploring something new. Red Square is Moscow’s heart and Russia’s powerful icon.

Zaryadye Park

Zaryadye park is a newly opened park in Moscow (opened in 2017) that is located next to Red Square. The park is beautiful, modern and spacious. The park is divided into 4 climate zones (forest, steppe, tundra, and floodplains) which represent the climate zones in Russia. You can have a panoramic view of Kremlin and St. Basil’s cathedral from the Amphitheatres. It was a beautiful summer evening when I visited it.

VDNKh

VDNKh stands for “The Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy”. It’s a gigantic entertainment complex that consists of a permanent trade show, pavilions, amusement park, cosmonaut museum, space ship, and even an aquarium. In the winter, VDNKh converts into a huge ice skating rink that is the biggest in Europe.

VDNKh is a gigantic site; it occupies 2.375 million square meters. You can easily spend the whole day walking around VDNKh going through different pavilions, museums, restaurants, fountains, and all the interesting sites there. It’s difficult to describe this place by words and I wouldn’t call it a park, it’s much more than that.

GUM

GUM stands for Main Department Store. However, it’s not like any other department store or shopping mall in Russia; This place is unique with its history and architecture. It’s beautifully decorated and when you are inside, you will not feel that you are inside another shopping mall. It’s located right next to Red Square and it’s a must visit.

You can find all the Russian gourmet products you dream of in this store in addition to Soviet style lemonade and ice-cream. A friend of mine told me that the taste of lemonade there is exactly the same as in the Soviet time so it was like a taste of childhood for him.

My favourite place inside GUM is definitely the Soviet style restaurant Stolovaya 57. “Stolovaya” means “canteen” in Russian and this canteen style restaurant will take you back in time to the Soviet era. Food there is really delicious, simple, and affordable (still more expensive than other Stolovayas in Russia) but the quality here is definitely higher. You might need to wait in a long line to get inside so try to get there early. I had Chicken Kiev with pasta and mushroom sauce, Olivier salad (Russian salad), and a delicious drink called Kompot.

When we attempted to visit Stolovaya 57 for the first time, the line was too long so we ended up coming early next day and luckily, we managed to get in. I tried Borsch soup in another canteen style restaurant in GUM and taste was good but the experience is nowhere near Stolovaya No. 57, it is the best place to be!

Sparrow Hills

Sparrow Hills or “Vorobyovy Gory” in Russian is one of the highest points in Moscow. At the observation point, you can enjoy an absolutely amazing panoramic view of Moscow including Luzhniki stadium which hosted 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup final and Moscow skyscrapers. If you turn around, you will see the magnificent building of Moscow State University, one of Moscow’s seven sisters.

Bolshoi Theatre

Balshoi Theatre is one of the most respected performance venues in the world. It’s a historic theatre and the largest in Moscow where they play the finest opera and ballet shows in the world. Guided tours are available in English language if you want to see the building from inside. Furthermore, if you have time, do your best to attend a ballet performance or opera show in Balshoi, it will be an unforgettable experience. However, a ticket to watch Swan Lake or Nutcracker ballet performances can be a little bit costly. If you want to get a cheaper ticket, use the official site. If you buy from an online agency, you will end up paying much more.

Balshoi Theatre

Legendary Hotel Sovietsky

Hotel Sovietsky is a vintage style hotel in Moscow. It was built on Stalin’s order and opened in 1952. I am interested in Soviet era architecture and history so I decided to spend a night in this hotel. The hotel offers a unique luxurious and historical atmosphere; there are large paintings of former Soviet leaders and diplomats decorating walls, glamorous chandeliers, gorgeous red carpets, endless corridors, vintage piano, and more. I felt that I am in the 1970s when I was staying there in that hotel. I particularly enjoyed having a light meal in the lobby while listening to beautiful musical piece played by a great pianist.

This hotel felt like being in a mansion and staying there was like a trip back in time. It was a great idea to stay there but I guess I should have stayed for longer than 1 night. If you book in advance, you can get a standard room for about 70 USD and that’s what I did but you can stay in the luxury “Stalin Apartment” for a more luxury and authentic experience. Rooms are beautifully decorated and comfortable. If you want to see a cool video about Hotel Sovietsky, click here to view a video about this hotel by one of my favourite vloggers (Bald and Bankrupt).

Metro Stations in Moscow

Metro stations in Moscow are like underground art galleries. I don’t think there is any city in the world where you can find so many gorgeous looking metro stations like in Moscow; each metro station has a unique design that indicates the era of its design.

There are 17 lines and 220 stations in Moscow metro today. Moscow Metro serves more than 9 million people everyday. It’s one of the most functional metro systems I’ve ever seen. In rush hour, there are trains every 20 seconds and it operates from 5 am to 2 am.

Metro Moscow is cheap and easy to use; 1 way ticket costs around 0.75 USD and you can use it for an unlimited distance so you can spend the entire day hopping from one station to another for less than 1 USD, if you wish.

My favourite stations are; Komsomolskaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsi, Mayakovskaya and CSKA.

Red Arrow Train

If you are in Moscow and want to visit St. Petersburg which is Russia’s cultural capital and it’s 2nd largest city, the easiest way to do so is to take the high-speed train which is called “Sapsan”. However, if you want to have a unique travel experience and to travel between Russia’s two capitals in a fancy and comfortable way then I highly recommend the retro Red Arrow train or as it’s called “ΠšΡ€Π°ΡΠ½Π°Ρ Π‘Ρ‚Ρ€Π΅Π»Π°” in Russian.

Red Arrow train is a luxury overnight sleeper train that connects Moscow and St. Petersburg; the train leaves Moscow to St. Petersburg (and vice versa) 5 minutes before midnight and arrives next morning at 7.55 am. I love Russian trains (click here if you want to read my blog about Trans-Siberian Railway) so I was keen to book a VIP cabin; I planned for it very well so I purchased the ticket 4 months in advance. It can be very difficult to find a ticket for a VIP cabin on this train during summer months unless you buy it many months in advance. I bought my ticket using Russian Railway website.

VIP cabin accommodates up to 2 persons and features a private washroom with shower, a closet, 2 wide and comfortable seat beds, air-condition, TV, and more… Once the train left the platform, the Provodnitsa (carriage attendant) visited me in the cabin to take the order for tomorrow’s breakfast and asked about time to serve breakfast. I ordered pancakes with caviar and Russian style fish salad. To be honest, I expected the food to taste much better but I wasn’t surprised as I read many other reviews complaining about the quality of the food. However, I still believe that it was the most luxurious train ride I’ve ever had in my life and I recommend it if you are willing to spend a bit more. The price of the VIP cabin ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg was around 150 USD.

Summary

Moscow is a magnificent big city. It is the centre of everything Russian and it is the real Russia. You have to visit Moscow if you want to understand the deep and mysterious Russian soul.

I must admit that Moscow is a city that I didn’t like in the beginning. First time I visited Moscow, I arrived from St. Petersrburg (which is my favourite city in the world), I was already thrilled by the beauty of the Northern capital of Russia -St. Petersburg- and I found Moscow incredibly huge and a bit arrogant; I was overwhelmed by Moscow’s crazy traffic and busy metro and I didn’t like how everyone is in a rush. However, in my second trip, I slowly started to understand Moscow and then I realized that Moscow is a city which you need to give yourself some time to understand.

Moscow is definitely the most expensive city in Russia and prices in some restaurants and shops can be on the same level with some other European capitals. However, there are many other things in Moscow which are affordable and even cheap such as transportation (metro and taxis). For taxi, I recommend using Yandex Taxi App.

You will find more people speaking English in Moscow than in other Russian cities as it’s a large and cosmopolitan metropolitan but it still useful to know some Russian phrases and at least to learn how to read Cyrillic letters, it will make life much easier.

I have many friends living in Moscow or who are originally from Moscow. I would say, Muskovites aren’t famous of being the friendliest people in Russia but let me tell you something, once they get to know you and once they realize that they can trust you, you will become a lifetime friend and they will be there for you whenever you need anything! The culture in Russia is different and you need to understand that cultural difference in order to accept Russian people more. Smiling to strangers is considered rude in Russia so they don’t smile but they will definitely laugh with you when they get to know you. They will tell you what they think and that might sound harsh for some people but they will not be fake with you just to please you. If you understand that, you will start enjoying your visit there.

Restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs in Moscow are fantastic. I would say, there are many world class venues for food, drinks, or nightlife. I personally tried fine dining in a restaurant called “White Rabbit” and it was an amazing experience. However, it’s very hard to find a table in the evening so you need to book in advance.

Another remarkable places in Moscow which worth visiting that are not covered by this blog are Gorky Park, Arbat Street, Izmailovo Kremlin.

That’s all I can say about Moscow for now! If you have any questions, please leave me a comment and please share this blog if you like it.

Baku, the Windy Capital of Azerbaijan πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ώ

24 hours in Baku

In August 2019, I flew to Moscow via Baku, Azerbaijan with Azerbaijan Airlines. I had a layover in Baku for 24 hours and that gave me an opportunity to catch a glimpse of a new city and a new country that I’ve never been to before. Baku has a famous nickname, which is, the windy city.

Those who have been reading my blogs and those who know me very well can tell that I have a serious interest in former Soviet Union countries. As of today (April, 2020), I visited 11 ex USSR countries out of 15 and I just loved them all and can’t wait to visit more of them. Azerbaijan was the 10th former USSR country I visited and I am glad I did so.

Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan and its largest city with a population of 2.2 million inhabitants and that makes it the largest city on the Caucasus. Baku is a city that has deep roots in history but it also has a gorgeous modern architecture. The city is a beautiful mix of the past, the present and even the future.

In this short blog, I will share with you some impressions about my quick visit to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan Airlines impressed me

I flew with Azerbaijan Airlines from Kuwait to Baku and then from Baku to Moscow. It was a very good experience. The plane was about 14 years old but leather seats were very comfortable. It was a 2 hours flight from Kuwait to Baku; flight attendants were professional and friendly and they served a hot meal. Food was mediocre though, to be honest. Yet, service was good and professional and flight was on time.

View of Caspian sea while landing in Baku

Landing in Hayder Aliyev International Airport

Unless your passport is from any of ex USSR countries (except Armenia whose citizens are banned from entering Azerbaijan), you will need an electronic visa to enter Azerbaijan. You can apply for an e-visa online at least 3 days before your trip here . e-Visa costs around 24USD and is valid for 3 months. Anyone who has visited Nagorno-Karabakh region is theoretically banned from vising Azerbaijan. Furthermore, you might be asked some questions and even interrogated if they found an Armenian stamp on your passport. However, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting this beautiful country. Baku airport is very nice, clean, spacious and modern. I had a pleasant feeling upon landing there.

After passport control, I ordered a taxi from the airport to my hotel room in old town using “Bolt” taxi app. Cost of trip was only 6 USD for a 35 minutes ride. I guess it was a great deal. I recommend that you stick to “Bolt” taxi app when you are in Azerbaijan, you will save a lot.

Baku in the evening

Right after I have arrived in my small hotel, I dropped my luggage and went out to explore the city. I was starving and I wanted to try the local food so I made a stop in a very nice Azeri restaurant in the old town called Art Club Restaurant where I had a delicious meal and even tasted a pie stuffed with camel meat.

Later in the evening, I went out to explore the city at night; the city was alive, and very beautiful. Streets were packed with people until after midnight. The weather was so breezy and beautiful, it was a perfect summer night.

Baku in the day time

Next day, I had a few hours to explore the city; I left my hotel and headed to the coast line where I had my breakfast in a nice cafe and then continued walking along the coast until I saw the giant Baku Ferris Wheels which is also known as Baku Eye and Devil’s Wheel! Once again, this proves my theory about the obsession of former Soviet Union people with Ferris Wheels; I keep on seeing giant ferris wheels wherever I travel in ex USSR πŸ™‚

Baku Eye

After a few minutes of staring at the details of the giant ferris wheels, I took another taxi to highland park. The view of the city and of flame towers from the park is magnificent. It was a good opportunity for me to take some nice photos. Scroll down to take a look…

Gorgeous view of the city from highland park
Gorgeous view of flame towers from highland park

Heading back to the airport

It was a very short trip as it was a 24 hours layover. I even didn’t have time to have lunch in the city so I went back to the hotel, picked up my luggage, checked out and left to the airport using the same taxi app “Bolt”. Public transportation is very cheap in Baku and I recommend using it if you are staying in the city for a longer time but I had a very short stay and I needed to see many places in a very short time so I ended up taking taxis all the time. Besides, taxi in Baku is very cheap, even a trip to the airport which is more than 30 minutes away costed me less than 7 USD. Trips inside the city costed me between 1 and 2.5 USD (that’s cheaper than a subway ride in my city Toronto).

Baku airport is beautiful and modern. I had a good time there while waiting for my flight to Moscow

I flew with Azerbaijan Airlines again to Moscow and flight was for about 3 hours. It was another nice and comfortable flight. The only downside of Azerbaijan Airlines is that it doesn’t belong to any global frequent flyer program such as Start Alliance or Oneworld.

Summary

I only saw a glimpse of Azerbaijan; there is a lot more to see there in Baku and in other cities too. It was a short trip but I got a very good impression about the city. The city is affordable and the quality of food, drinks, services, infrastructure and accommodation is very high.

Baku is a modern and nice city to visit. It’s easily accessible if you live in Middle East, Russia, Turkey or Europe. Many major and low-cost airlines fly to Baku on daily basis. Another way to visit Baku is to fly to Tbilisi, Georgia and then take a night train to Baku, it’s about 12 to 14 hours journey.

Like other Post-Soviet states, English isn’t widely spoken in Azerbaijan but number of English speakers is growing especially amongst young people. Older generation speak Azeri in addition to Russian. Azerbaijani language belongs to the Turkic language family and Azeri and Turkish are mutually intelligible.

Best time to visit Baku could be April to early June and September to October. I was there in August but the weather was much cooler than the average of that time of the year so I was lucky. It can get really hot there in the summer and very crowded too so try to avoid peak summer months, if possible.

The city hosts major events such as the Formula 1 grand prix race and it hosted the Europa League final in 2019 (Arsenal vs Chelsea). In 2020, the city was supposed to host 4 matches in Euro 2020 and but the whole tournament got postponed to 2021 because of Coronavirus pandemic.

This is all I can say about Baku, Azerbaijan for now. Don’t hesitate to comment if you have any questions.

Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine; an underrated European city!! πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦

About Kyiv

Before you start reading this blog, let me clarify something, after an extensive research, looks like Ukrainian government and most of Ukrainian people prefer to spell the name of their city as “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev”. I personally know that Kiev is the commonly accepted English language spelling of it and I’ve been using “Kiev” spelling for all of my life but I read in different sources that Ukrainians prefer to spell it as “Kyiv”. Therefore, I will use the spelling “Kyiv” in this blog.

Kyiv is the capital and the most populous city of Ukraine. It is a large city with about 2.8 million inhabitants making it the 6th most populous city in Europe. Kyiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe (it was founded 1500 years ago) and played a vital role in the development of the Eastern Slavic civilization as well as in today’s Ukraine.

Kyiv is a beautiful, cosmopolitan, and modern city. However, the city still has a Soviet legacy. Many landmarks from the Soviet era are still visible in Kyiv to this day. I found this an interesting and beautiful mix. Kyiv is truly one of the most underrated European capitals and definitely a hidden gem.

I have a serious interest in Former USSR countries so Kyiv was on my radar for a very long time. Luckily, I had the opportunity to visit the city in August 2018. In this blog, I will be sharing with you my impressions about this beautiful city and some tips and recommendations.

Landing in Kyiv

I flew with Qatar Airways. I missed my connection flight but Qatar Airways compensated me by booking me a nice hotel room even though the next flight to Kyiv was less than 8 hours later. I also got a voucher for an open buffet meal and a transportation from the airport to the hotel and back. The flight was really good and comfortable. Service on Qatar Airways is one of the best in aviation industry so I really enjoyed my flight. Hamad International airport in Doha is one of the best airports in the world. I can’t recommend Qatar Airways highly enough.

It’s fairly easy to reach Kyiv as most of major European and Middle Eastern Airlines in addition to low-cost carriers fly to Kyiv on daily basis. For train lovers, there is a night train that is operated by Austrian Railways; it departs daily from Vienna to kyiv via Budapest. The total journey from Vienna to Kyiv takes 23 hours 39 minutes. Another train option is a night train operated by Ukrainian railways from Warsaw to Kyiv and journey takes 15 hours 55 minutes.

The passport control experience in Kyiv airport was like a breeze; very quick, friendly and welcoming. My intuition quickly told me that I am going to enjoy this country.

There are two airports in Kyiv; Boryspil and Zhulyany airports. Boryspil is the bigger airport and is located outside the city. It’s about 30-40 minutes minutes in the taxi from Boryspil airport to Kyiv city centre. Zhylyany airport is much smaller and located in the south-west corner of the city. There are different options to reach the city centre from Boryspil airport such as Taxi (Uber or Yandex), train, or bus. I was in a hurry as it was about 9.00 pm and I wanted to reach the centre as quickly as possible so that I make a use of my evening so I got myself a local simcard with data plan and ordered Uber taxi to my Airbnb apartment. Taxi ride costed me around 10 USD. I arrived at my Airbnb place, dropped my luggage, had a quick shower, and then went out to have my 1st meal in Kiev in a lovely restaurant called “Balkon”.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square)

Maidan Nezalezhnosti is Kyiv’s main square and has been known under many different names and often simply called as Maidan or (Square). Maidan was the centre of many revolutions in Ukraine especially the 2014 Ukrainian revolution where clashes with riot police became violent and more than 100 people lost their lives during the revolution. There are memorials of the heavenly hundred people who lost their lives in the Maidan around the square.

Independence Square (Maidan)

The Golden Gate of Kyiv

The Golden Gate of Kiev is a very interesting site; it was the main gate of fortification of Kiev, the capital of Kievan Rus in the 11th century. The structure was rebuilt completely by the Soviets authorities in 1982 after it was dismantled in the Middle Ages. The gate is located right outside Zoloti Vorota metro station. The area around the gate has a beautiful street market where vendors sell flowers and fruits. Furthermore, there are plenty of great restaurants and cafes in the area. I stopped at a Lebanese restaurant in the area called Mon Cher, had a tasty lunch there.

Golden Gate of Kyiv

State Aviation Museum

State Aviation Museum in Kyiv is a real paradise for aviation lovers, especially those interested in Soviet built aircraft. I am an aviation lover myself and I have a serious interest in Soviet planes so I was dreaming about visiting this place for a very long time. In this great outdoor museum, you will have the opportunity to see different models of Soviet commercial and military aircraft such as Tupolev, Antonov, Ilyushin, Sukhoi and more.

The museum is located next to Zhulyany airport. It’s a large museum so expect to spend at least 3 hours to check out the aircraft there. This museum provides a rare opportunity to see and even to get inside Soviet commercial and military planes.

my favourite Soviet aircraft is Tupolev TU-154; it’s the master of Soviet sky!! Click here to watch an interesting video about this legendary aircraft.

Aviation Paradise
With the Tupolev TU-154 – The Master of the Soviet Sky

Podil Neighbourhood

Podil is a historical neighborhood in Kyiv and one of the oldest in the city and the birthplace of the city’s trade and industry. It’s a lively area and full of different landmarks. I particularly liked the Ferris Wheel there. Speaking of Ferris Wheels, people in former Soviet Union countries are obsessed with them, you will find a large Ferris Wheels in every major former Soviet Union city and sometimes in smaller towns. Good example is the famous Ferris Wheel in Pripyat (the city that was serving the nearby Chernobyl nuclear reactor).

Arsenalna – Deepest metro station in the world

Arsenalna metro station in Kyiv is 105.5 metres below the surface making it the deepest metro station in the world. At one time, it had the longest escalator in the world (Moscow built a longer one in 2003). It takes about 5 minutes or so in the escalator to reach the trains platform.

The Olympic Stadium (Olimpiyskiy)

There is only one thing in this world that I am more passionate about more than travelling, which is, football (soccer). I am a big football lover; it is the air I breath and it is something I can’t live without. Any football lover must visit the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv as the stadium was the venue of many big international events; it hosted some football matches in 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and it also hosted the Euro 2012 final (Spain vs Italy) and the Final match of 2018 UEFA Champions League (Real Madrid vs Liverpool). It’s the home stadium of Dynamo Kiev, one of the most successful football teams in Ukraine and in the whole Soviet Union. Dynamo Kyiv won the Soviet Union League 13 times (record) and the Ukrainian League 15 time (record), European Cup Winners’ Cup twice, and UEFA Super Cup once.

Museum of Ukrainian history in the 2nd World War

The museum of Ukrainian history in the 2nd world war is a memorial complex located in the southern outskirts of Pechersk district in Kyiv. The museum is situated on a hill overlooking Dnipro river. To reach this great museum, you can either take a short metro ride to Dnipro station and then walk for 30 minutes along the river bank. It’s a nice walk across the river but can be a little bit too long. The easier way to reach the museum is with Uber or Yandex taxi, it’s about 10 minutes from centre of Kyiv by car.

The biggest landmark in the museum is the Motherland statue. It is a huge statue; its height is 62 metres (203 ft) upon the main museum building with overall structure height 102 meters (335 ft) including its base and weighing 560 tonnes. It is an astonishing structure and can be seen from a very far distance. The statue was built in 1981.

Food in Kyiv

Food scene in Kyiv is really interesting! As I stated above, Kyiv is becoming a modern European cosmopolitan city so expect to see different restaurants, bars and coffee shops offering food and drinks from around the world. On top of that, local Ukrainian food is interesting and delicious. I tried different dishes; Ukrainian food, Georgian Food, Middle Eastern, and Turkish food and everything I had tasted great. My favourite Ukrainian dish is Chicken Kiev, for sure! My favourite dessert is Oreshki! Value for money in Ukraine is great so expect to pay there much less than you do in Western Europe or North America.

Leaving Kyiv to St. Petersburg via Minsk

Unfortunately, there are no direct flights between Ukraine and Russia. Therefore, if you want to have a Former USSR itinerary, then you need to fly from Kyiv to any Russian city such as Moscow or St. Petersburg through a third city; the best options are Minsk with Belavia Airlines or Riga with Baltic Airlines. I flew with Belarusian Belavia Airlines and I really loved the flight. I wanted to fly with their Soviet built plane Tupolev TU-154 but sadly, they retired that plane and instead, I flew with a beautiful Canadian jet Bombardier CRJ200ER. I highly recommend Belavia, it’s one of my favourite regional airlines.

Summary

I love Kyiv; it’s a large and modern city and it’s a place where I would like to explore more. It’s a city I can live in for some time. Actually, I thought about spending a few months there to learn Russian language as I don’t need any visa if I want to stay for 3 months in Ukraine (while I will need that in Russia and Belarus). Ukrainian people are friendly and outgoing but because it’s a large city, you have to be a bit careful sometimes. Especially, if you decide to go to a club at night. I am not a clubbing person so I didn’t have any issue but I heard about some incidents there. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting Kyiv.

There is a military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Most governments around the world advise their citizens not to travel to conflict zone so there’s no reason to go there for the ordinary traveller. However, the situation in Kyiv is completely stable and daily life isn’t significantly affected by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Avoid talking about politics when you are there as there is a conflict in the country and you don’t want to express an opinion that might be offensive to a certain group of people so my advice is to avoid discussing politics with people there unless you are doing that with a close friend or with someone you trust.

About the best time to visit, I had my trip in August. It was a bit hot and humid when I was there and that can be a great weather for many people. As for me, I probably prefer a temperature around 20 degrees so probably a visit in April, May or September would be ideal. I still enjoyed Kyiv a lot despite the summer heat. Temperature reached 35 degrees when I was there. Yet, it was a lot of fun.

Just like other former USSR cities (except Moscow maybe), value for money in Kyiv and in all Ukraine in general is excellent so you can enjoy a great quality of food, drinks and services for much less than you pay in Western Europe, North America, Middle East or East Asia.

There are many great churches in Kyiv which I didn’t get the chance to visit; St. Sophia Cathedral, St. Michael’s golden Domed Monastery, St. Andrews Church, and St. Nicolas Cathedral. I am ashamed of myself that I didn’t visit any church in Kyiv but I had some other priorities there and I will make sure I visit them (the churches) in my next visit.

Finally, there’s a very popular tour which many adventurers around the world dream about doing; it’s the Chernobyl tour! I personally wanted to do it but I wasn’t mentally ready for such an experience so I skipped it. I still want to do it in the future. Click here to find more information about an excellent tour agency that organizes tours to Chernobyl

That’s all I can share about Kyiv for now. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Please comment if you have any questions. Stay tuned for more stories.

Brest, the Home City to a Hero Fortress in Belarus πŸ‡§πŸ‡Ύ

Brest is a home of a Hero Fortress

Hero City is a Soviet honorary title awarded for outstanding heroism during the 2nd World War II. It was awarded to twelve cities of the Soviet Union. In addition, the Brest Fortress was awarded an equivalent title of Hero Fortress. This symbolic distinction for a city corresponds to the individual distinction Hero of the Soviet Union.

Brest is a relatively small size city in Belarus at the border of Poland; it’s a very interesting city with a long and complex history and with a significant historical importance. In the last few years, the government of Belarus introduced a new simplified process to visit Brest and Grodna regions for 15 days visa free. For more information about the visa free access of Brest and Grodna regions, click the link here

I visited Brest, Belarus for a weekend in the last week of February 2020 and in this blog, I will share with you my impressions of the city.

How to get there

For most of travellers, they can get to Brest by rail from Poland (which is what I did). It’s about 4 hours train ride from Warsaw to Brest. The journey includes 2 stops at the Polish-Belarusian border. However, although entering Brest and Grodna regions is visa free for most travellers but there is a document you need to fill online, print it out and bring it with you to the train. The whole process of filling the document and paying fees takes less than 5 minutes as you only need to fill passport information and select arrival and departure dates. The system will calculate the cost of visa which includes obligatory medical insurance, a ticket to a museum in Brest and a taxi voucher. The whole thing costed me around 12 Euros and I think it’s a good deal as it includes a museum ticket and a taxi voucher. Click here to apply for the visa free document.

There is another way to visit Brest which is to land in Minsk airport and then to take a train from Minsk to Brest. Train journey takes around 3 hours and there are many trains serving this route everyday.

Train experience from Warsaw to Brest

I couldn’t buy the train ticket from the Polish railway website so I had to go to the central station in Warsaw to buy a return ticket to Brest from there. I recommend buying the ticket a few days before the trip as this train can get full easily. There are 3 trains everyday from Warsaw to Brest. Train ticket costed me around 37 USD (return). 1st leg was in 2nd class and 2nd leg with 1st class. I mentioned in a previous blog that I didn’t find a big difference between 1st and 2nd class seats in regular Polish non high-speed trains; 1st class seats are inside a compartment while 2nd class passengers sit in a 2-2 seat configuration. There was a power socket in my 2nd class seat so it was perfect and comfortable. It was probably too crowded but it wasn’t a real issue for me. In fact, there was a Babushka (Grandmother) sitting next to me and she was trying to have a conversation with me. Sadly, my Russian is very bad but I managed to say a few phrases but she kept on talking and I couldn’t understand anything. I tried to tell her that I don’t understand Russian but she probably didn’t believe me. Anyway, it was a funny experience.

The train ride took about 4 hours and involved 2 border stops; 1st stop was at Terespol which is on the Polish side of the border. Polish passport control officers boarded the train, checked passports, stamped them on the spot. The stop at the Polish side took around 45 minutes. A few minutes later, there was a stop at the Belarusian side where Belarusian officers boarded the train, collected all passports and a few minutes later, they returned them back. The stop at the Belarusian side was much shorter. In Belarus, they usually give you that sharp look and they really compare your facial patterns with the passport photo and thoroughly check your passport. However, I must say that they were generally nice and professional. They asked me if I have alcohol or cigarettes and they also asked me if I have cash. You need to bring some money with you just in case as passport control officers sometimes ask to show a proof of funds.

Arrival to Brest

The train station has a beautiful building that was reconstructed in 1957 (it was originally built in 1886). I had to walk from the station to my Airbnb apartment as my internet connection didn’t work and I couldn’t order a taxi. and since the apartment was a short walk from the station, I decided to walk and that was an opportunity to see the city. The apartment is located in Lenin street, which is a central area of the city and right opposite to Lenin statue. Although the Soviet Union was dissolved about 30 years ago but I noticed that Belarusian people have a peaceful tie with their past as many statues and symbols from the communism era are still there. It was a cool surprise for me to see Lenin’s statue there so had to stop there for a few minutes to take photos.

Lenin statue in Brest, Belarus

I arrived at my beautiful Airbnb space and met my host who is friendly, hospitable and very interesting! The apartment was spacious and spotless clean and I immediately felt comfortable about being there.

Sovetskaya Street & City Centre

Right after I checked-in, I went out to explore the city centre so I immediately followed my host’s advice and went to check out Sovetskaya street which is full of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. It is the busiest street in Brest and it’s truly full of life. You should check out the lamplighter lighting the charming looking oil lamps before dark. Later that day, I found a nice Italian cafe called Pompeii where I had my first coffee in Brest and my first Italian pasta. Taste was much better than I expected and it was a great value for money considering the quality of food and service.

Brest’s centre is completely walk-able, there is no need to take any taxi or public transportation if you want to move from one point to another in the centre unless it’s rainy or too cold. Later in the evening, I visited the coolest restaurant in Brest, it’s called “U Ozera”. It looks like a traditional Belarusian house with beautiful interior, traditional local food and very good service. I wasn’t too hungry so I had some light dishes along with Belarusian pickles. Russian speaking people (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians , etc…) are obsessed with pickles, they literally pickle everything!

Brest Fortress

As you can tell from the title of this blog, Brest fortress is the major highlight of this trip. It was awarded a title of Hero Fortress for the defence of the frontier stronghold during the first weeks of the Nazi army invasion of the Soviet Union.

The 2nd world war is known as “The Great Patriotic War” in the Former USSR countries. It is the greatest war ever fought in their history; Former Soviet Union lost about 27 million people who bravely fought to defend their existence. The war had a significant impact on these countries and there are beautifully built victory monuments and memorials all over Former Soviet Union nations and this memorial complex which I visited in Brest is no exception. I felt a very strong energy when I was at that site and I was emotionally touched by the fact of how people there are still very loyal to those who sacrificed so much and lost their lives defending their motherland; I saw fresh flowers everywhere at the monument which is such a beautiful gesture.

I recommend watching the Belarusian/Russian movie “Fortress of War” before heading there. It’s available on YouTube with English subtitles.

Eternal Flame
Thirst Memorial
Brest Fortress Monument Complex

After seeing the monument, I went to see the actual fortress which was awarded the title “Hero Fortress” for its brave resistance in the war. I was impressed to see it in real life as 6 months earlier, I saw a miniature of it in a museum in Minsk.

Later on, I checked out the fortress museum, I already had a ticket as it was part of the visa document. The museum is nice and worth a visit. I highly recommend visiting this site, it’s a must-do in Brest, without any doubt.

More Belarusian food

Belarusian cuisine is quite rich and interesting. I tried many dishes in Minsk which I really liked so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of trying more Belarusian dishes in Brest. I visited a restaurant called Svayki Kharchenya and had a Belarusian dish which consisted of pancakes with chicken and mushroom. Taste was alright. Probably not the best Belarusian food I’ve ever had but it was good enough.

Brest train station and heading back to Warsaw

In my last day, and after having a morning coffee in cafe Strudel in Sovetskaya street, I left the apartment to the train station. I had time to kill so decided to have my last Belarusian meal. I was looking for a restaurant inside the train station and there was a great surprise! I found a Soviet style restaurant inside the train station and that’s exactly what I was looking for! It was a wonderful surprise. I had lunch there; ordered a salad and a chicken dish and a bottle of water and the whole thing costed me less than 4 USD, imagine? Taste was really good but salad was drowned in Mayonnaise but I was not surprised as I know that these Soviet style salads are always like that. Always expect to see massive amount of mayonnaise when you get any Soviet style salad in a Russian speaking country, it’s another thing Russian speaking people are obsessed with πŸ™‚ . It was a delicious lunch, nevertheless.

Summary

Brest is a beautiful city in Belarus. It is a home of a hero fortress and a very important city in history. If you have any interest in history or in Former USSR culture, Brest can be a very interesting destination for you. You can add Brest to your Belarus itinerary along with Minsk and maybe 1 or 2 more cities.

Belarusian people are generally extremely polite and respectful; that was my impression when I visited Minsk and I experienced the same thing in this trip to Brest. The city is very safe so you shouldn’t worry about getting scammed or being in a trouble unless you go for it. The city is generally quiet especially in winter months but I was told that it gets very busy and active during summer time.

About the best time to visit, I believe it’s between May and September as summer months are the warmest and sunniest, obviously. I was there end of February, it was cloudy but it wasn’t that cold so I guess I was lucky with the weather as it’s usually much colder than what I experienced during my visit.

Brest is a city in Belarus so don’t expect everyone to speak fluent English but number of English speaking people is growing and I didn’t find any problem while communicating with people there. I recommend that you learn some phrases in Russian before you head there or at least, learn to read Cyrillic alphabets, it will make your life much easier.

The value for money in Brest is great. You can get high quality food and drinks for fractions of what you pay for in Western countries.

I will list down recommended places for food and coffee which I tried myself:

Restaurants
-Pompeii Restaurant; Good Italian restaurant in Sovetskaya Street.
-U Ozera; Traditional Belarusian restaurant in the centre
-Svayki Kharchenya; Tradition Belarusian restaurant in the centre (good but not great)
-Restoran Vokzala (Soviet style restaurant inside the train station, it’s excellent)

Coffee shop
-Paragraph Coffee; a really cool coffee shop in Sovetskaya street
-Shtrudel’ ; a cool coffee shop also located in Sovetsakaya street
-Gran Caffe; a nice place but not as good as Paragraph and Shtrudel’

Pubs
-Kafe Bufet; I visited this place on a Saturday night and it was fine (not fantastic but also not too bad)

Extra place to visit: Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park; it’s about an hour away by car from Brest city centre and it’s a gorgeous national park, one of the best in Europe and probably in the world. I’ve never been there myself but heard a lot about it.

That’s all I can say about Brest for now. Please let me know if you have questions or comments.

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