Yekaterinburg (also known as Ekaterinburg) is a large city in the Ural Mountains, a low range that essentially marks the unofficial border between Asia and Europe. After a 50-hour train journey from Irkutsk I arrived here on another hot July morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this big city. Most guidebooks suggested it was a bit bland and some just glossed over it all together. I had two reasons for stopping there; I needed to break the journey somewhere between Irkutsk and St Petersburg, a journey that would probably involve a change of trains in Yekaterinburg anyway. Secondly, I had been interested in Russian history since I studied it in high school and Yekaterinburg marked the place where the Tsarist regime ended forever because this was where the last Tsar and his family were killed by Bolsheviks in 1917.
After a 70-hour journey from Vladivostok my train arrived in the Siberian city of Irkutsk early on a summer’s morning and I quickly found a taxi to take me to my hotel in the city centre. I arrived several hours before check-in and assumed I’d have to store my bags then walk around until my room was ready. Continue reading “Trans-Siberian Railway: Part II”
Despite the fact that I couldn’t read my ticket the helpful people at RealRussia who had booked my trains provided me with a detailed English translation. That sounds simple but these four pieces of paper covering my four legs of Russian rail travel ended up being some of the most valuable things I possessed on the whole trip because absolutely nothing else was in my own language. So I knew that I was in Carriage 10 on the Vladivostok to Novosibirsk train but as the huge locomotive stood at the station I just couldn’t figure out how to find that carriage.
When the Iron Curtain came down the world changed as did the course of history. It was a momentous event that I witnessed on television as a teenager along with millions around the world. Like many of my generation and the previous one, the threat of nuclear war had always hung over us and for me it had been a reality since I was born. Even in far flung New Zealand I had frequent nightmares about seeing a mushroom cloud from our farm and the ensuing panic as I realised we would all slowly die from radiation poisoning. So one of the things I remember most vividly when the Cold War ended was slowly coming to understand that the Americans and the Russians were now unlikely to blow each other up and destroy the rest of us in the process. It was an immense relief and had a profound effect on me. Unfortunately my nuclear holocaust nightmares didn’t stop until I was in my twenties when they were suddenly replaced by ones about plane crashes. It doesn’t take a genuis to figure out what those ones stemmed from.
The final few days of my trip had arrived. In some ways it felt like I’d only just landed in the US and in others it felt like I’d been driving for a whole year. My goal was to see the famed Avenue of the Giants before heading to Sacramento to complete the final preparations for my upcoming rail trip through Russia. I’d then make a final drive to San Francisco where I’d catch my flight over the Pacific. I had five days to complete this last leg of my road trip and started out from Yreka, California.
As I drove away from Glacier National Park in Montana I had a feeling that my road trip was winding up and that perhaps I’d seen the last of the wonderful sights I experienced on this trip. Once again I was wrong.
I don’t know about other people but I always get stressed when I’m asked where my favorite place in the world is. There are so many variables that it is impossible to answer accurately and I don’t want to give a half-assed answer to such an important question. For example, the Lake District is one of my favorite parts of the UK for scenary, but I hate it when it is crowded with tourists. Morocco is my favorite exotic country but I hate shopping there as I get harassed so much on the streets. London is my favorite place for shopping but not on weekends and only for clothes. And so it goes on.
I crossed the state line into Wyoming after a fabulous day of driving through the prairie grasslands of the Dakotas and a visit to Mount Rushmore. I quickly found myself in high desert on wide sweeping roads bordered by sagebrush. It was late afternoon and I’d been driving since 6am so I was trying to get to the closest town in Wyoming with cheap accommodation and ended up in Gillette.
The name did it. As long as I was driving on something called the Beartooth Highway it didn’t really matter what it was like. All I knew was that it was listed as a key Montana/Wyoming scenic byway and that it was closed for much of the year due to snow so I figured it must be at a fairly high altitude. It turned out to be one of the best drives I’ve ever done but it wasn’t for the faint hearted.
I regret that I didn’t do Yellowstone with a friend. Not because I was lonely (there is no chance of that there) but because we would have exchanged knowing looks for the rest of our lives and whispered ‘This is Yellowstone all over again’. We would do this whenever someone was rabbiting on about something nobody else cared about at a completely inappropriate moment, forcing everyone to politely smile and listen all whilst awkwardly knowing that a social faux pas was taking place. You see instead of doing my usual solo driving I decided to take a day tour to Yellowstone and that meant the presence of other humans that were not of my choosing.