25 juni 2013

Sailing Russian style

Sailing Russian style
If you travel through Russia, you need friends. Friends who help you through the city of St. Petersburg, friends that organize a festival on a little island, friends that help you open a bridge which hasn't been opened for a year and friends that give you a place to stay on the ship dock of the village Vosnesenye
And in the end you thank them with a toast...obviously with vodka.
In this case all the friends come through Daniil, the organizer of the Adventure Race 80 and captain of Piotr I, Peter the First, the leading ship in this regatta.
But this till is Russia, and even if he arranges everything beforehand, it doesn’t mean everything goes as planned.
The first part went quite all right. We sailed through the city and all bridges were open and stayed open till we were all through. Even the little festival at the lighthouse in Osinovets was ok even though the hundreds of people that were supposed to give the 'festival' festival feeling weren't there. But maybe my interpretation of a festival isn't quite the same as a Russian. But then again, many friends were involved and we were even allowed to climb the very old lighthouse of 74m high!
I think the friends further east on the river Svir didn't get their bottle of vodka on time. According to what we heard by the time we arrived at the bridge, which would open around 11 am, the bridge couldn't open because of the heat. For 12 hours we anchored while many cargo ships, named Volganeft 3012 and Volganeft 3013 and so on, happily sailed by being just high enough to go under the bridge.
Around 11pm we saw many guys appearing at the bridge and finally after 45 minutes they got the bridge to open. A little squeaky and slow, but it opened!
While being watched by people from the village the parade of yachts continued upstream. We are quite a show for the people alongside the river; sailing boats are not a common thing going up the river.
Since all ships have to go through two huge locks (an ascend of 15m!) it was quite easy to go through them. The next challenge was again another bridge. We were told, 9am it opens. So after 3 hours of anchoring and trying to get some sleep, we all hurried towards the bridge. And what did we do? Waiting. Not because it was too warm, not because we weren't on time, just because they decided that our reservation should be cancelled.
This time we only had to wait for 6 hours and eventually it wasn't so bad after all, I mean, what's six hours on a trip of 3 weeks?
At the end of the river Svir our leader of the troop, Daniil, met some guys who work for the administration of the river and the whole region around it. They were going around in a small boat along the river and were curious about all the sailing vessels that came by on their river. They found the leading ship and talked with Daniil. Through them our biggest friend was found. They arranged a special place for the 12 ships on the floating dock in the town of Vosnesenye so this time we didn't have to throw the anchor out.
We were told there was going to be a crew party so Uta (the other mate of the Anne Margaretha) and me went to our friend Daniil on the ship Piotr I. There we witnessed a small get together with Daniil toasting with his new made friends of the river. The crew party never took place, the organizers were too busy toasting on their new made friends, and we just sat silently with them (since we don't understand or speak any Russian).

24 juni 2013

St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg: A big modern city with big streets, huge buildings and a bustling life. Through the cathedrals, musea and palaces you sense the history of town. The thousands of people, cars, tourists, advertisements, MacDonalds, hipsters, skaters, drifters, wifi-points and coffee shops makes it a modern town. the fact that almost every historic building has at least one facade packed for construction makes you feel that there's money, there's money to restore the city.
It's snowing in St. Petersburg, it's snowing little white fluffy things...I guess it's a sign of the spring, or of the famous Russian white nights you have here in the city from May till somewhere in July, nights that hardly get dark. Before the sun can settle down behind the horizon, it's almost time for it to get back up again. Again a place where you can completely forget about time and forget to go to bed. The next few weeks it will only get lighter and lighter at night tilll we reach above the polar circle and won't see darkness at all.
During these white nights, the bridges in St. Petersburg open up for a few hours. If you happen to be on the 'wrong' side, it's bad luck. You either wait (which can go up to 3 hours) or you have to take a long detour. Like I experienced after a drink in the bar with my fellow mates.

After a few loud nights at the 'yacht club" on Krestovsky Island where the rich and famous drive there big Mercedes to party all night, we sail of on Sunday night. This time the bridges of St Petersburg do not open up just for the big cargo ships that go up and downstream on the Neva river, but as well for us sailing up the river. It's beautiful to experience the city from the water. We can enjoy the few hours of darkness when the city is lit up by small lights and the facades of the winter palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress and many other sites make the town look even more magical.

Upstream we slowly sail up the river Neva to another part of Russia. It's gonna be an interesting ride. There will (hopefully) be some sailing, there will be numerous visits to old monasteries, churches and places of the past in the Karilian area. The Finnish battled the Russian for many years and their past present is still noticable.

Twelve boats, lead by Peter the first, sailing up the river Neva to conquer the Russian waters, I'm curious where this trip will take us.

12 juni 2013

The train to Russia

About ten years ago I stood on a platform at central station in Amsterdam, I can't remember where I was going, maybe Berlin, maybe just some town somewhere in the Netherlands. Maybe it wasn't even ten years ago, but just five. Anyhow, It was some time ago that I was standing on a platform at Central station of Amsterdam. On the other side of the platform there was a train, waiting to go to Moscow.  All the way from Amsterdam to Moscow... The thought I had at that moment was: I want to go with that train one day.

Just two days ago I finally took that train. Unfortunately it wasn't exactly the same train since they split it in half. Nowadays you have to change trains in Warsaw. Somewhere in Hannover they connect 2 wagons of the train to Moscow, which now leaves from Basel apparently, and the rest of it is connected in Warsaw.

My neighbor asked me why I didn't just take a plane to St. Petersburg. Yes, it would be much quicker, but I like to travel slowly, if I can. And a train is a perfect way of transport to go from one place to another. You see the world changing while you stare outside. You can take your coffee in the bar and you can put your head down if your sleepy. it's a different world, and it's a world I like to join every now and then.

In my compartment there's a older Dutch lady who has never travelled with a night train before and is surprised every time she finds another little things that try to help make our stay in the fully booked six bed compartment more comfortable. She finds it quite adventurous, climbing on her bed with the small ladder, finding out that there are different kinds of light you can switch on or off and the possibilities of the beds being made into seats.

It makes me aware of all the nights I spend in trains around the world. Some were disgusting, others rather fancy, some where carriages where you slept with at least 8 people around you, other times I had carriage for myself.  But every night train is a special kind of world. It has it's own rules and regulations, it's own awkwardness. Staying in a couchette means you're sharing your most vulnerable moment with a bunch of strangers in a very small and enclosed space where you constantly bump into each other.

What do you wear when you go to sleep? how often can you go up and down your bed without disturbing your neighbors underneath you too much? where do I leave my luggage, and what about my smelling shoes? Without saying much to each other somehow there's always a way things happen. And the akwardness is the same everywhere, whether you're on a nighttrain in Maroc, in China or in  Poland.

I feel at home in these weird little worlds on wheels where different cultures come together to travel further on.