Ha, see what I did there in the title? Just because this blog doesn't get updated as much as I'd like these days, doesn't mean the pun gun's got rusty.
It was to be ten days of northern Russia. Starting and ending the trip in St Petersburg, we hiked through a forest in Priozersk; camped on the shores of Lake Ladoga; explored the island of Valaam; wandered through Petrozavodsk; walked, cycled and rowed our way around the Solovetsky Islands for four days and met a lot of lovely people.
I don't know about the rest of the world, but in the UK we get a pretty negative impression of Russia. It's very Putin-centric and the media defines Russia as a nation by the actions of one man. Just imagine if the UK was defined as a nation by the actions of David Cameron? The man is a robotic Etonian sh*t who should be fired out of a cannon into shark infested waters.
The Russia we saw is full of beautiful landscapes, friendly and welcoming folk who love the great outdoors, immense historic monasteries, St Petersburg with as much culture and as many hipsters as any other European city and long summer days in the north where darkness never arrives.
And the banya. Lets talk about the banya. It's a bit like a sauna, but you pour warm water onto hot rocks, which creates very hot steam and increases the temperature of the room to, in our case, about 80 degrees centigrade. When it gets too hot, you get out and take a cold shower or jump in a lake or some snow if such a thing is nearby. But that's not even the best bit. You get to whip each other with birch tree branches. After an hour of hot banya, cold shower, hot banya, cold shower, and a bit of birch branch flagellation I was so relaxed I could hardly move. It was amazing. (A lot of people have remarked that the whipping sounds a bit homoerotic, but take from it what you will...)
Who was I whipping with birch branches? Nick, who I have seen many countries with mentioned on this very blog and Alastair, aka the International Gentleman Traveller or IGT. Some say he's forgotten more about backpacking than you or I will ever know, some say he speaks all the languages of the world including the ancient tongue of the lost city of Atlantis. All I know is, we would have been utterly screwed in the northern reaches of Russia without a Russian speaker. Not to mention the fact that he had an entire travel itinerary lined up for us and an extra tent. Me and Nick owe him big-time for an amazing adventure.
The pictures below start at day two because day one was mostly just us getting to Russia with a three hour detour to Riga, Latvia caused by the incompetence of Polish Airlines. Although we did have some incredible Georgian food in a St Petersburg cafe.
Day seven: We rented bikes again and embarked on a day which included about 30km of cycling over tricky roads and some rowing through Lake Krasnoye and its canals. The canals were built by monks 500 years ago. The water in the canal was so still it was like a mirror to the surrounding forest.
A view of the Hermitage without two prancing fools stood in front of it.
Want to read more about the trip from Nick's perspective? He even made a film of our trip which will probably appear soon here: twentysomethingburnouts.com