A Travellerspoint blog

Katyn Forest

Everybody's favorite killing ground

-17 °C

The Katyn forest is a slightly hilly pine forest growing on sandy soil... The pines muffle the sound and the sand makes it easy to dig.

Stalin was the first leader in the modern era to start adding high calcium soil ammendments... He buried a few thoudand dissidents and potential enemies of state there in the 30's

Then, it was time for Stalin to shoot and bury about 6000 Polish Officers prisoners of war. This was followed up by Hiltler with about 135 000 Soviet prisoners of war... All this in what today, and probably in the 30's and 40's, is a very pleasant setting that would make a fine Provincial Park in Canada.

Not surprisingly, there are no markers for the victims of Stalin's purges. More, surprisingly, this park is all about the Polish officers killed by the Soviets. This is a very public acknowledgement of a war crime committed by the Soviets.

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The memorial also has steel plaques representing the major faiths of the victims... Christians, Jews, Russian Orthordox, and Muslims. The only other memorial that I have seen that had a religious component was dedicated to the war in Afganistan (also in Smolensk).

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The memorial to the Russian POW victims is basically just a Russian Orthodox cross and a series of footpaths in the forest... not real markers or plaques.... very strange given the number of the victims...

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I will have to research how this particular memorial was allowed to exist... It just doesn't seem to fit the pattern.

The Katyn Forest is the last official stop on my Doom and Gloom Tour. It is a tragic reminder of what men can do to each other.

Back to Moscow tomorrow for some regular tourist stuff.

Marc R

Posted by TeflonCDN 07:54 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Smolensk, Part II

-17 °C

I spent yesterday walking around people watching, going to museums, and walking on top of the old kremlin walls. It is a mixed tale... These walls could be part of a World Heritage Site but...., they are in desperate need of repair. The stairs inside the walls are in bad shape, and if you slip, there is plenty of broken glass to cushion your fall. The pics are of the sections that are in the best shape.

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After braving the steps to make it to the top of a tower you get two very different views... Looking out over the wall you get great views of the surrounding hills. But! If you look down into the towers, and at the base of the walls, you are treated to heaps of broken beer bottles and other trash. These old fortifications deserve better.

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More proof that Smolensk doesn't get alot of visitors = Museums dont' have different prices for foreigners! the sculpture Museum (25R) is worth a visit. the most impressive works are carved out of natural stumps of wood. Neptune, a mermaid, and pan were particularly noteworthy. On the funny side, this museum requires you to wear slippers in order to prevent damage to the floors... I think they are a little too late!

This is one of the most famous landmarks in Smolensk, the Assumption Catherdral.

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Once again, the streets were covered with young folks last night. It is a great atmospere as most of the people seems to be very happy to be out and about. Roller Hockey and Volleyball seems to dominate the street activities here.

Back to Moscow tomorrow.

Posted by TeflonCDN 23:07 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Smolensk

-17 °C

I made it from Anapa (way down south) to Smolensk without any problems. Aeroflot from Anapa to Moscow, then a 5 hr train ride to Smolensk.

Smolensk is one of the Hero Cities that I wanted to visit. These poor folks were run over twice, once by the Germans, and once by their liberatators.

This town's resisitance was vital in slowing the German advance to Moscow. There was also a very strong resistance movement which made things difficult for the Germans when they were camped out in front of Moscow during that first winter.

I am staying at Hotel Centralnaya, right in the middle of town. I will be here for 4 nights. Accomodation in a decent room is 2150 R, the second most expensive so far. I need to fully recharge before going back into Hostel mode for my last 3 nights in Moscow.

For the first time in the trip, I actually have hills to climb when I go for walks! What a nice change. Walked around the central part of town a bit last night... the guide book said the young people make the city vibrant = streets filled by 16-25 yr old folks all night! At night, it seems that 95% of the population is under 30!

I spent today day walking around town and stumbled upon a ceromony at the eternal flame where three veterans from the battle of Smolensk were honoured. I then visited the Smolensk WWII Museum and became aware that the children's (10-12) group visiting the museum seemed to be more interested in me than the museum's stuff. One of them was even brave enough to try an talk to me!

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I then spent the rest of the day visiting the central marketplace that is located on the Northern side of the Dnepr River. Once again I was getting the kind of looks that made it clear that they don't get too many tourists in this town. I haven't had this reaction in any other town that I have been so far.... kind of a strange feeling.

The market was very busy with all stalls doing a brisk business... except one! It seems that not alot of folks shop for fake fur coats on May 18 when it feels like about 26-28 C outside. Perhaps someone needs a basic marketing course!

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Unfortunetly, some the of Doom and Gloom aspects are back. The young folks out drinking at night are happy. The one's out drinking at 10:00 am are not. I guess that is a part of Russian life...

For the people at work.... There were a number of folks selling eggs in the market... I full sunlight for hours. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that they don't clean the eggs before bringing them to market = they are very natural!

Happiness and Joy

Posted by TeflonCDN 05:35 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

A Break in the Doom in Gloom Tour

Anapa is Heaven... what is it doing in Russia???

-17 °C

Getting here

The Train

It took and 17 hour train ride (Volgograd - Krasnodar) followed by a 3.5 hour bus ride but it was worth it! The train ride was through the steppe. The same vaste plains that swollowed-up Hitler's Army's. I can't imagine the German Army walking across them during the summer heat for a few months before starting the real fighting!

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My bunk mate in the train was a Captain in the Airborne Division. We had a good conversation with the aid of his bad English, my bad Russian, and the dictionary from time to time. The only subject that he clearly did not want to discuss was the recent scandals with the hazing rituals in the Army. We found other stuff to talk about.

The Captain got off a few hours before I did and I used my time alone to practice whining for lower prices on my hotel room...l didn't want a repeat of Volgograd.

The Bus

I had my first Police check while on the bus from Krasnodar to Anapa... it seems that everything in my papers was in order but three other passangers were removed from the bus for a more serious interogation. This caused a 20 minute delay.

The drive to Anapa was great! It reminded me of the approaches to the Eastern Townships near Granby... At least until there were oil rigs in people's backyards and Camels by the side of the road! The bus ride was pleasant except for the heat. The driver seemed very conciencious and didn't hurtle along at high speed. Yeah!!!

The Town

Anapa is a very pleasant little town. The Black Sea is great. I will be in Anapa for 5 days (until May 18) => I needed the rest. The place is clean... the people are not always drunk... no 14 year old kids drinking a 2L beer at 10:30 in the morning. The people here are happy = what a nice change. In fact, people in Volgograd seemed more on the happy side as well. I wonder if the happiness scale goes up the farther away from Moscow.St-Pete's or if it is the further south = nicer weather, that is responsible???

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My Room

My first choice was all booked up and that was probably the truth as they did not try to upsell but refered me to another similar hotel instead. I didn't follow their advice and went inland for a few blocks instead.... The bottom line is:

- brand new hotel
- very quiet location
- tile floors, heated in the private bathroom + towel heater

All this for 750 Roubles per night. 5 nights in paradise for less than one night in Volgrad! YEAH!!!!!!!!!!

I will probably go the Saratov next but for now I will get on with the much needed relaxation!

Re, The Language

I have come to the realization that the biggest factor for success in communications is the other person willingness to try and understand!

Re. Visa Registration

The hotel didn't have its own registraton stamp and they were unable to convince another Hotel to register me for them. I had to go to the local post office and the immigration office. The whole process took 4.5 hours. One of the business partners of the Hotel was called in to fill out the paper work... It would have been impossible without her! Word of Advice... only stay in places that can register your visa!

Happiness and Joy

Posted by TeflonCDN 02:24 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Off to Krasnodar on a night train

I am on my way to the Black Sea. I have had enough of the cities and I am heading to Anapa for 3-4 days to decompress. It is a small Black Sea resort where you can rent a room or appartment from the locals. There is also a sanitorium with full board for about 1200 R/day according to theguide book(around $45 CDN)... but they have been a little off before => The big advantage is I could eat with alot less worries and have a relaxing time.

I went to the train station to book a ticket. I had missed the morning train to Anapa and had to book ticket to Krasnodar instead. Booking the train ticket to Krasnodar took about 15 min. The lady was delighted that I could not speak Russian... she kept speaking louder and faster! Hmmm, isn't that normally the American way?

I will arrive in Krasnodar at 12:00. If there are no trains to Anapa, then I will go to Sochi, a big family oriented Black Sea Resort.

Volgograd is very pleasant place. I have had the first nice weather (no jacket required) here... barring the last two days in St-Pete's which didn't require 2 jackets.

Happiness and Joy!

Posted by TeflonCDN 00:38 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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