Visiting the Biggest Country on Earth

A Country that’s almost on the news everyday and I haven’t been there yet ? I’m talking about Russia.
The biggest country on earth, historically a lot in common with Europe and partly being part of the old continent and also of Asia.
Wonder how life is there, how Russians are. Since this is my first visit to Russia I decided to do a classic trip visiting its capital Moscow and Sankt-Petersburg.

Kremlin

Starting in Moscow.

One of the biggest cities in the world, a lot of traffic, took me 1 hour to get from the airport to the city centre and its only 30km !
I saw big expensive cars, but also old lada’s, yes they are still present which is nice, it gives you a feeling for Russia, you realizing you really are in a post-sovjet country. On some buildings still the hammer and sickle is showing and the red star.

What is there to see ?

There is a lot to see in Moscow, everywhere you go you see nice buildings in different styles, but since my visit was only 2 days, I did the classic touristic sites such as : The Red Square (which was half closed because they were preparing for some military festivity), off course the famous Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin with the Tsar-bell and Tsar-cannon and its many cathedrals and churches with golden domes.

On my way to the Red Square

The gate through which I entered the Red Square

preparations for celebrating the Russian army – Red Square

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

Tsar-cannon

Tsar-Bell

Cathedrals and churches behind the Kremlin walls

However the first place I went to see was the Novodevichy Convent aka New Maidens’ Monastery a Unesco site surrounded by a park behind big walls with twelve towers. The most famous building at the convent is “the Cathedral of our lady of Smolensk” which was under construction so I didn’t get to see that. To be honest all the cathedrals in Russia are nice but they all look a bit the same to me, it’s the little towers and the golden domes that make them all look beautiful and spectacular looking in the distance. When you drive into the city you see them domes standing out from these Orthodox Cathedrals and churches it has something special.

Novodevichy Convent

One of the towers of the Novodevichy convent in my back

Next stop was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour situated on the northern bank of the Moskva River, on the backside of the cathedral there is a bridge over the river from which you have a view on a big statue of Peter the Great standing in the river on one side and a view over the Kremlin on the other side of that bridge.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Statue of Peter The Great in the Moskva River

Then I made my way towards the red square, where there is a big mall next to it, the GUM department store, there I had lunch in a Russian restaurant on the top floor, really good and not expensive at all, besides tourist a lot of locals were als eating there, can’t remember the name of the restaurant but there are many places to eat, besides restaurants, there are shops and even a movieteatr.

GUM Department store

A nice place to see Moscow is at Vorobyovy gory (Sparrow hill) from here you can see a great panoramic view over Russia’s Capital city, its adjacent to the Moscow state University which is just another bombastic building, real piece of architecture.
It’s easy to get there by metro, you step out at Vorobyovy station and from there you just walk to the observation point up hill.

Moscow State University

Panorama of Moscow with the Luzhniki Stadium, which will host the Opening Match and Final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Vendors selling Russian suvenirs, the Matroshka’s

Russian hats

Putin shirts

Going down the Metro

Speaking about metro, the one of Moscow is worth a visit many stations are well decorated, with sculptures, glass work, statuettes, mosaics on walls and ceilings. It’s really an underground palace, if only the metro in Brussels could be like that.

look at the ceilings in the metro, decorated with Mosaics

Walls are also decorated with Mosaics

“Mir” which means peace

Hammer and Sickle, the symbol of the Soviet Union

Metro station decorated with glasswork on the walls

 

 

Statuettes as decoration

   

 

 

 

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Brisbane & Lone Pine Sanctuary

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What everybody want’s to see when visiting Australia are the typical Australian animals that you can only find Down Under. You can catch them in the wild, but even better is to see them more up close or to even hold them in your hands. If you would like to have the experience of holding a Koala in your hands, head to Brisbane’s Lone Pine Sanctuary.
It’s the oldest and largest Koala park since 1927. There are also other animals which you can have an encounter with, feed and pat the Walibi’s and kangaroo’s. In the cafeteria next to the kangaroo reserve you can buy food for the kangaroo’s. Also if you had your picture taken with a Koala, the photo will be on display in the cafeteria, ready to take your souvenir home.

Lone Pine

Lone Pine Sanctuary

The picture with the Koala is not included in your park entrance ticket, but to me it was worth the extra money. I might never see a koala from this close again. Afterall the highlight for me was to have my picture taken with one of these adorable Koalas, the symbol of Australia just like the kangaroo.
The platypus, Dingo, Tasmanian devil and many different birds and snakes are also represented in Lone Pine.

Holding the Koala

kangaroo selfie

Tasmanian devil

Platypus (in my language it’s Vogelbekdier)

Platypus swimming, it moves incredibly quick

Platypus diving

When I left the park, i had to wait for my bus, there is a bus stop in front of the entrance with a terrace and seating area. You can grab a coffee, charge your mobile for free and use the free wifi. There is also fast and free wifi throughout the whole park, so as soon as you got your picture taken with the Koala you can put it online on your instagram 🙂

Chillin out with the kangaroo

Feeding area

Feeding the kangaroos

Brisbane as a city was also a nice surprise, easy to walk around, the city centre is not that big, but I liked it more than Melbourne in a way. Nice skyline by the Brisbane river and for those who talk about a great vibe, well Brisbane has it. In the city there is a free-swimming pool that locals and tourists can use and a nice rainforest experience were you can walk through a mini jungle. Brisbane was a nice and surprising worth to stay a couple of days.

Brisbane

Brisbane skyline

Brisbane River

Victoria Bridge Abutment

Melbourne vs Sydney & The Great Ocean Road

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Melbourne

Ok Melbourne, straight forward you didn’t impress me much.
I don’t understand what all the fuzz is about between Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, so maybe it’s a good thing Canberra got the title of being capital city of Australia, although I don’t know much about Canberra since I haven’t been visiting the city and when I talked to other people locals and tourist they all told me there is nothing interesting to see.
Alright who cares, maybe Melbourne will be nice right, nope forget it, it’s overrated or maybe its me who don’t get easily impressed by another big city.

Melbourne

I started with the free walking tour, just like I did in Sydney to get first impressions and to revisit the parts of the city that I like the most later on. The tour starts at the State library of Victoria at Swanston street. Before the tour started I went inside to see the interior, it’s amazing, with a great view from level 4. I was surprised how quiet it was in the reading room and in the computer room, so many people and such a silence makes it a good place for reading and studying. There are also exhibitions rooms with free art galleries.

State Library of Victoria

View from 4th floor

During the tour I saw old buildings mostly churches, not so old as those in Europe but still nice ones and old enough for Australia I guess, a prison with a nice story, but then again I visited Alcatraz so nothing is going to beat that, however the guide did his best to promote his city, to tell about the different buildings, good commentary added with some knowhow about the past and recent history. Overall the tour was good, but nothing really did stand out to me.
In the tour we make a stop at Hosier lane suppose to be great for its street art and graffiti, really haven’t seen much art or great graffiti , it was disappointing. Later on my Australia trip I was surprised to find the best street art to be in Brisbane. It’s not the most important thing to see in a city, cause street art and graffiti no matter how great some of it can be, a few months later that great wall graffiti that you took a picture off most likely will be gone, covered by some other graffiti, so what’s the point anyway.

The most interesting building that I saw in Melbourne wasn’t even on the free walking tour since it was to far from city centre, so went to see the Shrine of remembrance myself.
When you enter the monument there is a museum about all the wars that Australian soldiers got involved in.

Shrine of Remembrance

 

The Great Ocean Road

The other best thing you can do from Melbourne is to do the Great Ocean road tour and that’s for me personally the only reason why I would recommend someone to go to Melbourne to start from there your Ocean road trip. It can also be done from Adelaide in the opposite direction.

Entrance of the Great Ocean Road

South Pacific Ocean

Before I continue about the Ocean road let me just say this, the arguments from people who like Melbourne more than Sydney are from me as a European tourist completely hard to understand.

The Melbourne vs Sydney thing 

The locals prefer Melbourne because of the good vibe, the food, restaurants, bars etc,… Then some of the backpackers are just like parrots and instead of thinking things through a bit they just copy the same arguments as the locals do.
Locals always see it different from tourists, well mostly;
First of all, there is good food, restaurants and bars in Sydney aswell. When I had a talk with two French girls their arguments were great coffee shops and vibe. I told them you have this in Paris too, why you come to Australia ? You come to Australia for this really, to taste the coffee ? Maybe you should book a flight to Colombia or Costa Rica if you want good coffee.
I don’t even know why I waste my time talking to stupid people. Since when does coffee or vibe make a city better than the other ?
Sydney has the Harbour bridge, the Opera House and great views.
Melbourne doesn’t has the views, they might have good restaurants, but so does Brisbane Every Aussie should be proud of a city like Sydney instead of looking down on it favoring Melbourne because of food and coffee seriously. To those parrot backpackers repeating whatever they have heard without any knowledge or valuable arguments, go home and pour yourself another cup of coffee, may i suggest Colombian probably won’t disappoint you.
Anyone from Melbourne reading this, don’t be angry cause Melbourne is a nice city but it’s not a “must visit place” when coming to Australia. If it wasn’t for the Ocean road I would have skipped it from my itinerary.

Apostle 13 🙂

Back to the Ocean Road

The highlight of the tour is the 12 Apostles, the rock formations at Victoria’s coastline that rise from the ocean. Wind and water from the ocean eroded the limestone cliffs to this spectacular formations. Another nice place on the westside of the 12 Apostles is the Loch Ard Gorge, cliffs with blowholes and narrow openings to the sea. Also the London bridge which used to be a double stone arch connecting the land untill the sea made it colapse. Till this day only one arch remains.

12 Apostles

Loch ard Gorge

London Bridge

 

Australia my 7th Continent

Sydney

Most people visit Antarctica as their 7th continent, for me since I’ve been to Antarctica last december (2016) Australia was the last continent and my 7th continent to visit.
After long flight from Brussels to Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur I finally got in Sydney where I would begin my Australian journey.
On my Australian trip I planned a visit to Sydney,Melbourne and Brisbane aswell as Uluru and the great Ocean road, all on my itinerary.
How was my experience in Sydney well it’s surely one of the nicest cities I’ve been to.
Sydney has the views, from the Harbor Bridge over the bay with the Opera House at the opposite site, it’s the photo image of Sydney you see on every postcard but to see it for yourself with your own eyes it makes it even more beautiful.

Sydney Harbour seen from the Harbor Bridge

Walking on the Harbor Bridge

It’s also a very busy city for the locals, Australians in Sydney you see them in the morning and evening when they go to work or come back from it. during the day you see most tourists and immigrants who run their little businesses. Mostly of them are Asians and they got their own restaurants, bars, massage rooms (Thai massage) etc,…

What to do ?

You can visit the Opera House if you are interested in seeing an empty room and a stage, nothing for me as I have been visiting the Music Hall in New York years ago and it also didn’t live up to the expectations. The MTV Music Video Awards were held there and that’s why I wanted to see it and booked a tour of about 2 hours but it was disappointing so I promised to myself never to tour Music halls or Opera buildings again, I don’t find it interesting. The opera house is nice from the outside and I prefer to enjoy to view of it from different angles when I’m outside, then to check out the empty hall inside. Seen pictures on the internet about it and it didn’t convince me to pay the entrance for that. I’m not saying it’s not nice inside from what I’ve seen on google images, but just not worth for me personally to buy a ticket for.
Same thing with the Harbor Bridge, it’s a nice bridge and in Sydney they are proud of it, and how it’s been made. One local guide who I had been going on tour with to the Blue Mountains had allot to say about the history of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and about the possibility to climb it.

Opera House

It’s a nice huge bridge to climb and you have various climbs you can do, depending when you want to go in the early morning or the late afternoon. Prices differ from how long you want to go. Climbs of 1,5 hour or 3 hours.
I personally found it to expensive and also the fact that you can’t bring your camera or smartphone to take pictures is lame. They take pictures for you but then they off course sell it and for the high price that you pay to climb that bridge they could have include the pictures of the experience in the price. So I think they like to rip you off as much as they can for this experience.
Also they make you wear a ridiculous blue suit, why ? I don’t know cause I once saw a Touristic program on tv about bridge climbing in Germany. The bridge was over a highway and you had the nice view of the highway and the natural environment behind it. No crazy suits, smartphones and cameras allowed, so yeah why are there so many rules here, it beats me.

Under the Sydney Harbor Bridge

In general compared to Europe no matter what excursion you want to do in Australia, its expensive cause even day trips that I did to the Blue mountains and the Ocean road later on from Melbourne weren’t very budget friendly. Again in Europe you would never pay this much for day trips. I won’t be comparing prices here , since there are many agencies and many similar tours you can book, but when you do a little research on the internet you will see the difference if you look for daytours from Melbourne or Sydney or let’s say from Barcelona or Athens.
Australia is expensive and it reminds me of Argentina which for backpackers isn’t the most budget friendly place either. Ask backpackers who travel around South America and they will tell you. Trust me, believe me it’s true 🙂

The first thing you can do in Sydney to get to know the city a bit is to go on a free walking tour. They start at on one of the most important streets of Sydney which is St. George street between Town Hall and St Andrew’s Cathedral.

St Andrew’s Cathedral

If you have never on a free City tour before then I explain it :
You turn up at the starting place of the tour (info can be found on http://www.imfree.com.au/sydney/ ) your local guide in green t-shirt will tell you about the city during this 3 hour walk. There is one at 10.30 am and another at 2.30 pm. You can leave the tour at anytime you want and since it’s a free tour you don’t have to pay, but you can give the guide a small tip at the end of the tour to show how much this tour was worth for you. Most people do give something for the effort the guide did to tell you a bit more about his or her city.
I took the morning tour which is the same as the one in the afternoon, I preferred to go in the morning so then in the afternoon I could go and explore the highlights of the tour again by myself.

The Sydney Tower with its 309m over the Business district is the highest construction in Sydney from which you can have a magnificent view over the City

Another place that I visited which was not on the tour was the Anzac War Memorial in Hyde Park. This monument is a tribute to remember all the Australian soldiers who died and served their country in the many wars all over the world.

Anzac War Memorial

Bullets in Hyde Park

 

Ushuaia The end of the world

Ushuaia is for those who don’t know the most Southern city in the world and the place to be if you want to head out just like me to the southern ocean sea aka Antarctic sea to go on a fantastic journey to Antarctica. See my post here and be the first to like it 🙂

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Fin Del Mundo sign close to the pier

The only reason why I came here is because of my Antarctica trip but it doesn’t mean that Ushuaia isn’t worth visiting, it is if you are doing a South America trip and for example you are coming from the South of Chile it’s just a short flight to Ushuaia and from here you can go up north again in Argentina. Most backpackers end up here when they came from Chile, but the majority of the people flying in to Ushuaia do this for one main reason and that’s to go to Antarctica.

As I said before Ushuaia is worth a visit, it has a nice city centre, touristic shops trying to sell you anything that involves Antarctica from postcards to maps and T-shirts with Penguins on them.

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Souvenir shop selling Penguin t-shirts

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Penguins having a coffee or a tea or perhaps enjoying a warm coco

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The small streets going up and down reminded me a little of San Francisco, some buildings have nice street art, but the main street where are the shops are and bars and restaurants is Avenida San Martin named after José de San Martin who was a Argentinian general and a national hero of Argentine history.
If you still need any gear for your Antarctica trip then there are enough shops who sell them, from special outdoor shoes to trousers, flees and coats.

First thing I did in Ushuaia was to look for the Ushuaia “Fin Del Mundo” sign translation : “End of the world sign”
It’s this kind of place that tourists who came so far to the most Southern city of the world want to have their photo taken with it.

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This was my first selfie

Little outside the centre there is a park called Plaza Malvinas with a monument to commemorate dose who gave their lives in the Falkland war against the UK.
Argentina still considers it as their land and at the port of Ushuaia I saw a banner on the wall in spanish that British ships are not welcome in Ushuaia.
The war of 1982 still not being forgotten with all the names of the lost soldiers displayed on the monuments wall.

Here I am at the Plaza Malvinas

Here I am at the Plaza Malvinas

War Monument

War Monument

30th anniversary of the War Battle

30th anniversary of the War Battle

You can also visit an old prison, now a museum kind of like Alcatraz and here again Ushuaia reminds me of San Francisco although this prison museum is not on an Island.
I did not visit it as I have already visited Alcatraz which to me still is the best prison to visit if you are interested in these kind of things.
There were some places in city centre with souvenirs of prisoners and prisoner puppets in the streets were displayed.
I stayed here 3 full days prior to my Antarctica trip and had a nice time.

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Prisoner puppet announcing the departure hours of a touristic city train

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street art

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Fidel Castro wall painting another form of streetart

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro wall painting, another form of street art

Monument of Evita Peron

Monument of Evita Peron

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Belgian Polar Expedition leader Adrian de Gerlach also has a monument in Ushuaia

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Banner at the Port of Ushuaia

Banner at the Port of Ushuaia against Britain

Ushuaia Port sign

Ushuaia Port sign

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Kayaking in Antarctica yes or no ?

I read a lot about kayaking in Antarctica on the internet prior to my trip and eventually decided to give it a chance. I never done kayaking in my life, so it’s special to try it a first time in a place most people don’t start their kayaking career to say the least.
Kayaking was fun and much easier than I thought it would be.
It was a great experience however since I was in Antarctica on a 9 days trip with only 4 days in Antarctica itself (because the other days you spend on the boat making the crossing over the Drake Passage) I don’t recommend it to anyone who’s going for a similar trip, here is why, first of all it’s not cheap and in a short period, kayaks only go out a few times, when weather conditions permit, this means no heavy wind, snow etc,…
Also you have to make a choice and this is the part I didn’t like.
If you go kayaking, other people go with zodiac on land making a continental landing for example. If you come so far to Antarctica, the last thing you don’t want to miss is a continental landing, so you can actually officially say you set foot on the Antarctic Mainland. I only have been kayaking once and enjoyed it, but in my opinion its more worth considering doing kayaking if you go on a longer Antarctica cruise, those of 12 or 13 days, these cruises visit more Islands and you can skip a zodiac excursion to one or more islands and go for the kayak option then to skip continental landings on a short expedition like the one I did.

The thing is, I read on the Internet on several blogs, that it’s a must do, and that it’s a great experience, to be honest for me the experience of kayaking was indeed great as it was my first time ever.
Is the wildlife, the snow, the ice, the water nicer seen from kayak then from a zodiac?
In my opinion not, the views are a bit different cause you get to see things from a different angle or get up close to wildlife, like seals sleeping on the ice shelfs  then you see it from the deck of the ship or while you in a zodiac.

Kayaking boat were for 2 persons

Kayaking boat were for 2 persons

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Here I am in the front saying hi, to the camera

Once you go for Kayaking, you get the gear from the kayak crew leader.
The green life jacket that I have (picture below) is only for kayaking.
You get another life jacket when you go on zodiac excursion and there is another one in your cabin for use in case of emergency on the boat.
The gloves are with holes so you can shove it over the paddlestick and they protect your own gloves against splashing water. You also get a rubber suit, with rubber kayak shoes.
The kayak shoes you only use when you go out kayaking, when you go out with a zodiac on land , you take other boots which is also provided by the crew the first day when you are on the ship. So when you go for a Antarctica cruise, you just come with your regular shoes as the rest is provided anyway.

Still on the boat in my kayaking gear waiting for the kayaks to be pulled out

Still on the boat in my kayaking gear waiting for the kayaks to be pulled out

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picture taken with my phone

Penguins on ice

Penguins on ice

seals sleeping, they don't seem to care about our presence

seals sleeping, they don’t seem to care about our presence

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My Top 3 Adventurous travels

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Top 3 Adventure

Adventure in the Mountains

Adventure in the Mountains

 

My Top 3 Adventurous Travels till now are my visits to following countries :

  • Trip to Peru with the crazy flights over the Nazca lines (link)
  • Bolivia Salt flats of Uyuni and the way to get there (link)
  • Darvaza Turkmenistan’s hell on earth  (link)
Darvaza my Turkmenistan Adventure

Darvaza my Turkmenistan Adventure

 

On Adventurous trips I saw people having some better equipment with them then I had, from backpacks, to sleeping bags, solid hiking shoes, torches, all kinds of gear.
A good blog where you can read about what gear to take on your travels is thesmartlad.com/

Check it out !