After a ten hour border crossing we finally made it into Russia, and after our second night on the train we pulled into Irkutsk for an early morning start. A lack of time and the ridiculous temperatures led us to book a tour, which took us through the foggy city to see a few sight before heading out towards Listvyanka. On the way we stopped at the Siberian village museum, where we managed to completely ignore the area's architectural history and spend some worthwhile time on the snow slides and swings.
Listvyanka sits on the edge of Lake Baikal, the world's third largest lake which completely freezes over in the Russian winter. We spent some time on the ice, with Sammie complaining that her eyelashes had frozen and her feet were numb whilst I saw how far I could slide on my knees. We finished the tour in the fish market, where the taste of the fresh Omul was good at the time, but not worth our clothes stinking of fish for the next few days.
After a night in the house of a Russian woman who was a little eccentric and more than a little racist, we were back on the train for the longest leg of the trans-Siberian. The four day journey began well, with more beautiful landscapes and our discovery of Russia's litre tins of beer. Eventually despair set in when I was washing three days worth of grime off my body in a sink next to a blocked toilet. This despair only increased after another day of living on powdered smash potato and cup noodles, whilst genuinely worrying that muscular atrophy was withering our legs away.
Eventually we arrived in Moscow, walking to our hostel from the metro at 5.30am after passing a guy slumped in a corner with a face full of blood. We trekked out through some pretty heavy snowstorms into the heart of the city, checking out the Red Square and St Basil's Cathedral. Sammie was trying to avoid going to another set of unnecessary churches and museums, whilst I was trying to convince her that the Kremlin was pretty essential viewing in Moscow. We went to the Gulag museum before finding out that it has recently changed location, so we tried again the next day before finding out that it is closed on Mondays.
After nearly missing our overnight bus to St Petersburg despite arriving at the station four hours early, we managed to make it to our new hostel in the centre of the Old City, surrounded by lavish buildings and churches. We spent the first day here exploring some very impressive cathedrals and sites around the city, before treating Sammie to some traditional Russian canteen food for valentines day.
For the final day in St Petersburg we walked around the Hermitage Muesum, 399 extravagant palace rooms filled with art and culture. After feigning interest at some of the Picasso's and Da Vinci's on show, we soon lapsed into laughing at the genitals on centuries old statues.
A night bus out of Russia meant that we had only spent 3 of the last 12 nights in a stationary bed, with that we were both getting a bit run down and sick. We headed to Riga and met Matty and Laura for the weekend, where I considered the perfect antidote to my worsening stomach bug to be a few pints and a couple of cheeseburgers. I spent the next day in bed whilst the other three explored Riga, a city where art seemed to consist of putting human breasts on animal bodies.
The rest of the weekend we spent exploring a few nice bars and restaurants, before visiting the infamous Riga Hat Museum and heading to a cracking game of ice hockey. At this point we decided to cut the trip a couple of weeks short, with the pair of us a bit run down we decided to save some money and head home.
And so, with our last big trip finished we headed home permanently for a life of mortgages, careers and mild depression. We've been lucky enough to see some amazing things and meet some amazing people in our time away, and we're hoping we can read back through this in a few years time to relive some of our favourite moments. I hope you've enjoyed reading it.