Sunday, June 21, 2009

Helsinki, Finland - Day 73:Preparing for our Trans-Siberian journey

Tomorrow we leave for St.Petersburg. We will be embarking on what may be my life's greatest travel experience - a journey that will take us from Europe to Asia on the world's longest railroad.

I am scrambling to make sure we have our accommodation sorted out in Russia. Train travel and finding short-term apartment rentals in Eastern Europe was rather painless. If Ukraine is any indication, I am fully expecting that language is going to be my biggest challenge in Russia and finding accommodation will require a lot more patience. As of now we have made home-stay bookings through HOFA, which arranges lodgings with English speaking Russian families. While this will give us the 'authentic' Russian experience, we are weary of what to expect.

I am also very anxious of the police harassment that Lonely Planet points out in Russia - especially Moscow and St. Petersburg. My biggest concerns are the numerous reports on racist attacks directed at non-Caucasians. Amnesty International has put out an alert on the situation and even President Medvedev has acknowledged the problem. While planning this trip in NYC, I had several inhibitions about bringing Isaac to Russia and I am still a little torn on whether I am doing the right thing.

The Trans-Siberian leg of the journey will be the most strenuous series of train rides we will be taking, making this segment almost like a marathon with scheduled pit stops along the way. Our visa is valid for only a month and we have to make it from St.Petersburg to UlanBator (Mongolia) in this very tight time frame. So as to keep the stress of traveling with our toddler to an absolute minimum, we have planned it as bite-size rides - each train will be less that 18 hours and by making them overnight rides, we will be able to have our son sleep through a better part of it. En route, we will be stopping at 9 Russian cities with a 2 day break in each city. The only exception will be St.Petersburg and Moscow where we will be spending 4 days each.

T says I am going into Russia with far too much pessimism and dread and it's true that in my mind, Russia is almost synonymous with the mafia and xenophobia. I am hoping to be proved wrong.

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