Tag Archives: Russia

15 Highlights from Our Trip to Russia, Amsterdam and Germany

~ by Maria Benner

We just got back from a month-long trip around the world!  We flew East from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.  Then we flew to Irkutsk.  If you’ve ever played Risk, these places probably sound familiar.  Next, we flew to Kaliningrad, then Amsterdam, and the final leg was from Frankfurt back to Anchorage.  In total we spent 29.5 hours in the air.  The reason we went on this epic journey was because my Mom always dreamed of seeing Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world, and then we visited family.  So here are the 15 most memorable highlights of our trip.

1. Seeing the Pacific Ocean from the other side in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.  The beach had black magnetic sand!

Black sand beach (the sand is magnetic) on the Pacific Ocean in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

Black sand beach (the sand is magnetic) on the Pacific Ocean in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

2. Eating delicious red caviar every day in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

Red caviar (salmon roe) in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

3. Seems like each town in Russia has at least one magnificent church.  They are beautiful!

Kazan Church in Irkutsk.

Kafedral'nyy Sobor Svyatoy Zhivonachal'noy Troitsy in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

Kafedral’nyy Sobor Svyatoy Zhivonachal’noy Troitsy in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

Monastery of the Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elisaveta

Monastery of the Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elisaveta.

4. The food in Russia is ridiculously delicious, and very affordable.  Meat, bread, potatoes, beets, cucumbers, dumplings, and of course borsch are the main staples of the Russian diet.  Look at these huge chebureki (kind of like Indian fry bread with different fillings like meat, or potatoes, jam, cheese, etc.)


5. Riding a train that was pulled by an old Soviet-era steam engine.  We rode this train along Lake Baikal just like in the good ol’ days.

Soviet-era steam engine.

Soviet-era steam engine.

6. Seeing the seals that live in Lake Baikal.  They are called Nerpa in Russian.

7. Learning about Shamanism, and visiting holy Shamanistic sights on Lake Baikal.  People tie ribbons to these posts while making a wish, and when these ribbons blow in the wind, the wishes get sent to the gods.

8. Seeing the beautiful clear, clean blue water of Lake Baikal.

Lake Baikal.

9. Riding around in Russian vans called “Uaziki” around Olkhon Island.  These vans have a lot of clearance, and can do some serious off-roading.

10. Swimming in Lake Baikal.  Sorry, no pictures.  There was a banya (Russian sauna) on the beach, so we reserved it for an hour, and got to warm up in the banya, and then dive into the icy cold waters of the lake.  We could only tolerate the cold water for 30 seconds max, before running back to the banya.

11. Russian parties, and shashliki (Shish kebab).  We went on an overnight trip to a former Soviet summer camp that had been remodeled into a resort, and our new Russian friends brought enough food for a month.  The pork was marinaded in mayonnaise and vinegar with onions, and it was delicious! 

12. Boat tour on the canals in Amsterdam.  In this photo you can see seven tunnels if you look closely.

Tunnels on a canal in Amsterdam

13. Driving on the Autobahn in Germany at 180kmh (112mph). I only got to drive that fast for about ten seconds before there was a speed limit zone, and after that there was a traffic jam.

14. Riding all over Germany on the amazing trains in first class.  When you buy a Eurail Pass, you automatically get first class.  I wish America had trains like this.First Class on a German train

15. Seeing the incredible painted ceiling at Asam Church Maria de Victoria in Ingolstadt, Germany.Asam Church Maria de Victoria Ingolstadt, Germany

There were many more tremendous moments on this trip, and I wrote down everything that happened every day in my journal.  We’re happy to be back home, but that was a trip we will never forget.  If you haven’t been to Russia, I highly recommend going.



15 Highlights from Our Trip to Iceland, Russia and Germany

~ by Maria Benner

We just returned from an epic trip to Iceland, Russia and Germany.  The trip was my mom’s idea — she wanted to show us the real Russia.  On the way there, we had a layover in Iceland, so we decided to extend it for two days, and on the way back we extended our layover in Germany for a week.  In Iceland we stayed two nights in Reykjavik.  In Russia we flew into Moscow, took a train to a small village called Izmaylovo, then cruised from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  In Germany we flew into Frankfurt, and took the train to Bacharach, then went on a boat ride up the Rhein River to Koblenz, and took trains to Baden Baden, Munich, and Rothenburg.

So, here are 15 highlights from this month-long journey.

  1. The sights on the Golden Circle route in Iceland, which are Þingvellir National Park with a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, the Geysir that shoots water 70 meters in the air, and the incredibly gorgeous Gullfoss Waterfalls.

2. Red Square in Moscow.  This was my third time visiting Red Square, and each time I can’t believe I’m standing there, because it’s such a famous and powerful place.  I was hoping Putin’s motorcade would drive out the Kremlin gates, but no luck.

3. Going on a hay ride on a little buggy in a small village called Izmaylovo in Russia with our new friend we called Uncle Bob.  We also cut birch branches for the banya.

Hay ride

4. Taking a real Russian banya, which is a Russian sauna heated by a big brick stove.  We made brooms out of birch branches and whacked each other with them.  Supposedly that’s good for blood circulation.

Russian Banya

5. Going for a walk in a pristine Russian pine forest.

Russian pine forest.

6. Once we got on the river cruise, our ship had to go through many locks, which are devices used for raising and lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways. Here’s a time-lapse video of the last lock we went through.

7. The Pogost in Kizhi, a church built without a single nail.  It has 30,000 wooden shingles on the onion domes.  The church was being restored, so this is the best picture I got of it, without showing the construction work.  Restoration should be complete in 2020.

The Pogost in Kizhi.


8. The Vodka Museum.

Vodka Museum in Russia.

9. St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, which took 40 years to build.  Those green columns are solid malachite.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

10. Peterhof Palace, the Versailles of Russia.

Peterhof Palace

11.  Staying in a castle hostel in Bacharach Germany.  The castle was on top of a hill, and there were 400 steps up to our room.

Burg Stahleck Castle

12.  Seeing the Lorelei on the Rhein River, which is a rock headland.  Legends say that a maiden named the Lorelei lives on the rock and lures fishermen to their death with her song.  In high school we had to memorize a very long poem in German for Frau Fischer’s class, and everyone had to recite it in front of the whole class.


13. Bathing in the mineral waters of Roman baths called Friedrichsbad in Baden Baden.  The Romans were the first to construct bathing facilities there in order to benefit from the special water.  Men and women all bathe naked here.  Sorry, no pictures.

14. Drinking beer at the famous Hofbräuhaus in München.

15. Last, but not least, is the tour with the Night Watchman of Rothenburg.  This man came up with a genius idea to dress up as the night watchman from several centuries ago, and do a one-hour tour every night in English.

The Night Watchman of Rothenburg

This was definitely one of the best trips of my life!  Thank you Mom for making it happen!!!