Palace-hopping in St.Petersburg

Russia is dodgy. Stunning architecture, fascinating history, but let’s get it out of the way first, it is dodgy. When a tour company has a budget for bribing officials at the borders, you know something is not quite right. Not even 20 minutes into the country and our Top Deck bus was pulled over by the Police, a pay-off amounting to AU$20 settled any potential prison visits and we were back on our way to St Petersburg.

Welcome to Russia!

That aside, Russia is absolutely beautiful. It is not like any other country in the world (besides the ex-Soviet States that have since claimed independence.) The bright colours of Cathedrals and Palaces provide a stark contrast against the grey concrete of the many communist apartments. When the sun peeks out, the gold highlights on buildings reflect the opulence of the country’s varied past.  Continue reading


Moscow More Often

I had been in Russia for a few days now on a Top Deck ‘Red Star’ tour and was getting used to the language, over-presence of authority, tasteless hotel breakfasts and the imposing communist statues that dot the cities. I no longer felt intimidated by any dodgy looking local walking in my direction and I had even mastered public transport (which when written only in Cyrillic can be a nightmare!)


Our tour group had previously visited St Petersburg and a quaint country town called Novgorod in the previous days. Many a vodka had been sampled (note: it’s usually cheaper just to buy the whole bottle in a bar) and the usual bonds that come with a tour group were starting to be formed.

Moscow seems like a giant city of organised chaos. The mega-metropolis sprawls out for kilometres and is home to over 15 million people. The extremes of wealth and poverty can be seen in a single glance with the city being home to the most billionaires in the world, yet most of the population live a very simple life.  Continue reading

Time Travel to Tallinn

Estonia is a hidden gem in the world of European tourism lying amongst the Baltic States on the Gulf of Finland. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, the country is coming into its own and travellers are starting to take notice of this small country neighbouring Russia.

Its capital, Tallinn, is a mix of medieval and modern. A small part of the city known simply as Old Town is surrounded by fortified walls and houses a multitude of historical buildings laced with cobblestoned streets. This is in vivid contrast to the rest of the Tallinn which is emerging as an independent city eager to cast off its Communist past and enter the world arena.

The majority of places to check out are in Old Town, although you could also visit the beach or some of the city’s beautiful parks if you venture far enough. Within the historical walls though there are many nooks to explore. I came across an old Dominican Monastery down one small street. The moss-covered stairway crept up to the door along the side of a wall lined with oil lamps.


Old Town Monastery

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Holy Espagna, Batman!

It was Easter in Spain and I had flown down to Seville to witness one of the most interesting religious festivals in the world. The Semana Santa or Holy Week showcases multitudes of Catholic processions by those wishing to be cleansed of their sins for the year. Participants don long robes in the identifiable colours of their local church, complete with a very large pointed hood that covers the face so that they can only see through two holes in the front. Envision the Ku Klux Klan in various colours but without the hate crimes and prejudice. Their pointed hoods are supposed to hide the height of the person while their face is hidden so that people cannot identify the ‘sinners’.

semana santa procession

The various sized groups walk through the streets of Seville carrying candles, banners and various antique relics from their church. Some go all out and place their revered statues of Mary and Jesus on giant, gold-gilded floats covered in flowers, mainly red and white roses. I assume that those who have committed the worst sins get the punishing job of carrying these floats around from underneath!.  Continue reading